The Price of Sacrifice.

What follows is one of my first short stories. That was rejected by everyone. Be nice, please. 


Early on, before Vanessa was born, Saul came to the conclusion that the only thing he had to do to be successful as a parent was to do the exact opposite of what his parents did.

It worked.

Any gaps that were left from his parenting philosophy were filled in instinctively.

He knew he would do anything to protect Vanessa. She was the second female (his wife being the first) that he ever fell in love with.

As time went on, Saul proved himself to be an exemplary father. He attended all of the necessary school functions. He gave ‘Ness advice that he thought a father should give and he was always there for her, keeping her tethered to the ground.

As Ness entered womanhood, her relationship with Saul became a little more distant. It felt natural so Saul didn’t question it. She could only exist as his little girl in his mind now and Saul was ok with that. Vanessa kept in touch with her parents, especially her mother. Admittedly, Saul felt a little put out by this but he didn’t mind. Whatever they were talking about, he knew it was only something his wife could be there for and he was ok with that.

One day Saul came home to find his wife and his daughter sitting at the kitchen table.

His daughter was the first to say anything.

“Hi Daddy,” she said getting up from the table to hug him.

“Hey there, puddin’ pop”.

He could see that Vanessa and her mother had been crying. In the gap of time between saying ‘hello’ and his daughter moving from the table to hug him, nausea swallowed Saul whole. As she went to put her arms around him, that’s when he saw it: A bruise like a small nebula, hidden underneath a small fortune of make-up. Breaking the embrace, He looked from the small nebula to the depths of his daughter’s eyes.

“Did Kenny do this to you?” he seethed.

A venomous rage filled Saul’s soul and made him deaf to the story that his daughter told him. It made him ignorant to any protestations. It poisoned him and began to corrode his being like a flame devouring a dry forest.

He told them what he thought they needed to hear. He knew what needed to be done.

 

Before dawn the next day, Saul found himself in the parking lot of an apartment building. In the apartment building resided Kenny who turned his only daughter, a grown woman, into a little girl again.

Saul sat in his car, still drowning in that tidal wave of anger. He knew that Vanessa needed to feel safe, that she was loved and that this would never, ever happen again. Saul was glad to give her that even if he wasn’t going to go about it the right way.

Saul’s thoughts evaporated as he saw Kenny exit his apartment building.

It was like Saul wasn’t in control of his body anymore: exiting his car, closing the door without making too much noise, none of it registered in his mind. All he could think about was the bile rising in his throat and closing the gap between him and Kenny.

As the distance shortened, Saul fumbled with something in his coat pocket. It all went so horribly fast.

“Excuse me!” Saul called.

Kenny paused by their car, door left slightly ajar.

“Do I know you?” Kenny asked.

“In a manner of speaking, you do. You do know me”.

Kenny had both hands at their side now. They had that far away look on their face that everyone gets when they are trying to make their brain do something it doesn’t want to do.

The dawn of recognition rose on Kenny’s face.

Recognition was followed quickly by Surprise as Saul lunged toward Kenny with a fully charged taser crackling.

Dancing around like a tangled marionette for a few seconds, Kenny bounced off of his car and collapsed onto the ground beside it.

Saul was proud of himself.

He considered the environment for a moment. With considerable strain, Saul wedged the top half of Kenny din his car, while the lower half of his body lay outside of the car.

There was no turning back. The only reality left was that Saul had a job to finish.

A muffled thud crawled up the walls of the apartment building as Saul swung the door shut. The marionette jumped from the shock of the door cutting into flesh.

He opened the door again.

He thought of the pain and fear he saw in his daughter’s eyes; another muffled thud, another jump from the lifeless marionette.

Winded now, Saul was doubled over from the effort.

“Lot less blood than I would’ve thought,” he said aloud.

Groaning as he tried to stand up straight again, Saul put both hands on the door and raised his head to the sky.

“All I ever wanted was for her to be safe and happy. And you ruined that. You ruined that for all of us”.

He brought his head back down to the mess before him.

A dark rage bloomed across his face.

Saul opened the door as far as he could.

A loud crunch echoed off of the walls of the apartment building. Saul was flat on his back besides the car.

 

Saul didn’t realize it at the time, but he was dreaming.

A dying light existed outside of his scope of vision. Saul looked down at a cup in his hand. He regarded it with a benign wisdom.

His surroundings unfolded before him.

Everything that had happened in this dream was like watching a ballroom dance under water, graceful and distorted.

A damp chilled crawled through Saul’s mind as he realized that he was in a cave of loose stone. In the distance he could see that the cave was part of a tunnel system and that he was at a dead end.

Turning his attention back to the cup in his hand, Saul raised the bottom of the cup to his lips and he began to blow. The sound that the cup produced sounded like the horns of war.

A shadow stirred at the end of the tunnel.

Growing in size as it moved down the tunnel, Saul still couldn’t see what was producing the shadow. An eternity passed before Saul finally saw what horrors awaited him.

It was a spider. Nothing more.

Even though it wasn’t more than two inches in diameter, Saul could see that there was something wrong with it. It just looked angry.

Without provocation, the spider picked up the closest sharp object it could find and proceeded to jab at Saul’s ankles.

Saul couldn’t help but laugh at this. Out of all of the possibilities that Saul could have faced, he got a spider that was trying to kill him by human means.

It wasn’t long before the novelty wore off for Saul.

“You’re not long for this world,” Saul’s subconscious intoned to the spider.

With several clumsy movements, Saul picked up the nearest stone and put an end to this nonsense.

To his astonishment, there was a halo of fluid and a tangle of legs radiating outward from the stone.

The legs were still twitching.

The spider that was only a couple of inches in diameter was infinitely larger than Saul could ever comprehend.

Crouching now, Saul scratched the back of his head in confusion.

He pulled his hand away from his head in shock.

It was wet with blood.

Tired of this confused ballroom dance, Saul made for the surface of the dream before his body caved in on itself.

 

It took him a second to realize where he was laying.

“Fuck. Musta’ passed out,” he thought.

Saul propped himself up on his elbows and did a quick scan of the parking lot. There were still only two cars in it, and he was lying next to one of them.

He exhaled a sigh of relief at the thought that luck was in his favor.

Scooting himself next to the car, Saul sat himself up next to the rear wheel on the driver’s side.

Running his hands over his body in search of any adrenaline-dulled cuts or broken bones, he couldn’t help but feel like a damn fool.

“I’m an old man. Old men aren’t supposed to get into situations like this. They’re supposed to manipulate the younger guys to do this shit for them,” he thought.

The only thing left for him to do was to finish what he started.

Saul positioned himself next to the open driver’s side door. Occupying the empty space between the door and the rest of the car the lower half of a Person.

“People seriously underestimate the amount of force necessary to slam a car door on someone,” Saul said out loud.

His head went into his hands.

“Why… Why did you have to be so stupid?” Saul said to the body lying next to him.

Realizing that he would have plenty of time to feel sorry for himself if were to get picked up by the cops, Saul made his first attempts at getting up and dusting himself off since he had woken up.

The parking lot was located behind one part of the apartment building. At the very edge of the property was a swimming pool. Both were connected by a couple of flights of stairs at the far end of the parking lot.

It was a stretch, but Saul didn’t have any other choice.

He sighed. The weight of what he had done was starting to compress his soul. He pulled a modest flask from his pocket and took a snoot full to steady his nerves.

He had just killed Someone. This was somebody’s Child.

Using his foot as leverage against the car, he grabbed the body with both hands and pulled for all he was worth.

For a brief second there was nothing but a ball of arms and legs floating in mid air.

Saul was flat on his back again, the body on top of him.

A small moan came from somewhere in the jumble.

This Person wasn’t dead.

With a quick shove, the body turned into a mass of angles and curves by the rear wheel of the car with Saul scrambling to his feet.

60 seconds went by before Saul had anything in his head that resembled a coherent thought.

The sun, piercing and clear, was beginning to rise. Saul saw the bright side of this situation.

Crouching over the body now, he whispered in its ear, “You should’ve known better”. Saul smiled for the first time in what felt like a thousand years.

He opened the body’s mouth and poured half of his flask’s contents down the hatch, the rest he dumped on the body’s clothes. With all of the spluttering and gagging, Saul couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact that Kenny looked like a fish on dry land.

With a ferocious kick to the head, Saul put all of that nonsense to an end.

“Is everything all right?” called a sleepy voice from one of the apartment windows above.

“What’s that?” Saul called up, feigning confusion.

“I said, is everything all right down there?” the voice said.

“My —– just had a little too much to drink. I’m just trying to get ‘em into their apartment to sleep it off,” Saul called up jovially.

“Good luck with that…” the voice mumbled down.

Saul smiled and waved as he began to crouch down to assist his “son“. Saul knew that even if he were completely screwed, he still had to move fast.

Grabbing Kenny by the foot, Saul dragged them the entire length of the parking lot. Saul paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath.

The stairs that led down to the pool cascaded before Saul’s eyes. As he positioned Kenny for the final shove, Saul noticed a slight tingling in his right arm.

With what little strength Saul had left, he shoved the jumbled mass down the flight of stairs that led to the pool.

“So that’s what ass-over-tea-kettle looks like,” Saul thought as the body made it’s descent.

The body landed at the foot of the stairs. One more drag and Saul was almost home free. As he walked down the stairs to the pool, Saul noticed the tingling in his arm had become a full-fledged pain.

Saul dragged Kenny to the edge of the pool and pushed.

The body slid in with a whisper.

Saul began to head back to his car, arm howling and the pressure closing in around his chest.

Getting into his car and driving away, the world seemed to swim around him.

Was he dreaming?

He didn’t remember making it home.

He didn’t remember his wife refusing to leave his bedside.

He didn’t remember his daughter crying.

When he woke, Saul knew that he was in a hospital. He knew why he was in the hospital. And he knew why he was handcuffed to his bed. Even though his girls weren’t around at the moment, he knew that things would turn out all right. With a tired sigh, Saul closed his eyes one last time.

 

The Girl in the Window.

What follows is one of my first short stories. Be nice, please. 


            Bertram Ward had no trouble finding an apartment after he graduated college. What Bert was having trouble with was reconciling the fact that his apartment was just as unremarkable as his life at the moment.

It was a one-room efficiency in one of those towns that always lauded itself as a “good place to raise a family”. The only saving grace of this over-sized dorm room was that the entire wall opposite of the entry way was fitted with one big window. You could get a nice view of the street if you craned your neck and you could always “people watch” courtesy of the apartments across the way, but that was really it as far as having a ‘view’.

One early evening a few weeks after he had moved in, Bert stood at that very window. A pang of loneliness echoed through his soul. His gaze wandered over to the apartments across the way. The neighboring building was practically identical to his own building in structure.

“Probably owned by the same company,” Bert said out loud, trying to make himself feel less lonely.

A flurry of movement caught Bert’s eye. A young woman who lived in the building across from Bert tore open her blinds.

Startled, Bert busied himself with nothing in particular in the off chance that the young lady across the way saw him and branded him as ‘the creepy guy who lives in the building across the way’.

The girl in the window had long curly dark hair, the appearance of being in good health, and (this is the thing that killed Bert) she was smiling: It drove him absolutely bananas. Was she happy to let the little bit of light in? Was she aware that she had an admirer across the way?

“Who in the hell smiles when they open the blinds at night?” he thought.

Bert immediately began hatching a scenario that would put the two of them in the same room.

            [He could see it now.

            He would walk into her building like he owned the largest pair of balls in the world and attempt to chat up her doorman.

            “Hi there! My name is Bert Ward and I live in the building next door.”

The doorman didn’t cease reading his paper.

“I was wondering if you could tell me about one of the tenants here? She lives on the 8th floor? Has long, dark hair?”

The doorman replied by letting loose with a fart that could only be the result of a half of a century’s of poor diet and hard living. He followed this up with meticulously folding his paper and staring through Bert at the clock behind him.

“Sorry to have bothered you” Bert mumbled as he did an about face and headed back to his room.]           

            The chime of his watch brought him back to reality.

He’d have to be satisfied with the knowledge that he now has something pretty to look at.

“It’s time for bed, anyway” he thought.

 

Weeks went by.

Bert established a routine: Work, home, minimal social contact, rinse, lather, repeat. Every night ended the same way. Bert would look out his window, watching the sky change colors, waiting for her to open her blinds. His day wouldn’t be complete without her.

At this point in Bert’s life, he’s done everything that a single white male was supposed to do. The banality of life after college was keeping Bert from a good night’s sleep.

Maybe a little look into the past would have yielded an answer to his sleeplessness. Maybe all he needed was to be needed at the end of the night. While Bert always shielded himself with the idea that some people are meant to be alone, the idea of having someone as an anchor, someone as a constant resonated with him on a subconscious level.

 

It was another sleepless night. Lying on his back now, Bert stared at a lone bar of light splayed across his ceiling from a gap between his curtains.

Bert knew that a lot of the current knowledge about rest and the nature of sleep was bullshit anyways. Make your bedroom for sleep, only. Only go to bed when you are tired. What you eat affects how you sleep.

Utter garbage. Sleep, as weird of an activity as it is, is a choice. If you want to sleep, you have to really want it. This was a theory Bert put into practice when he attended junior college. To fellow classmates, he was known as “one of the Dwarves”. It didn’t matter what was going on at all, Bert had no trouble sleeping wherever he fucking pleased: his car, the quad in the middle of the grounds (affectionately known as “cancer corner” from the amount of people out there smoking on a regular basis) the cafeteria… It didn’t matter. Bert used all of the white noise around him as a lullaby.

Still lying on his back now, staring at that errant bar of light, Bert truly missed those days. All he wanted to do was to get at least one night of good sleep. He wasn’t asking for a whole hell of a lot, was he?

“I can’t win,” Bert groaned.

The red analog clock in his ‘kitchen’ tick-tocked 5:13 am.

After having a piss that rivaled the output most waterfalls, Bertram couldn’t help himself; he had to see if she was awake.

Cursory glances, double paned glass and a distance of 100 feet could only tell a person so much. Regardless, a part of Bert knew that it was love keeping him up at night.

Throwing open the curtains with a great flourish, Bert stood there for a minute taking in the sky as it was affected by the rising sun.

All reds, oranges and blues, Bert felt a calm wash over him. It was like watching a rapidly changing bruise that didn’t end with that sickly yellowish green hue that all bruises ended with.

After the moment passed, Bert proceeded to flop on his bed and wait.

He knew it wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t start it with her.

Bert threw another glance at the clock. 5:19 am.

“C’mon hon. I’m going to be late,” Bert said to himself.

It never dawned on him that he only saw her when the sun was going down.

She appeared a few seconds later.

Something was wrong this time.

Her smile was gone.

She stood at her window, wrapped head to toe in a blanket, taking in the sky much like Bert did.

There was a sad drop of knowledge in the rest of her face.

“What’s wrong, babe?” Bert said creeping towards the window.

“Didn’t sleep good?” The window fogged at his question.

The girl in the window looked up and locked eyes with Bertram. Jumping at the fact that he had been ‘caught’, Bert tried to play it off like he was trying to get the window open a crack but it was stuck.

She smirked at a little at this.

Bert let his eyes travel back to her. He noticed that her window was open.             He waved at her.

Her smirk bloomed into a smile.

Unable to take his eyes from her, Bert watched on in horror as she climbed up on the window ledge and jumped to the ground below.

Bert collapsed in shock.

He looked like a comma without a sentence.

 

Throughout any person’s life, a wide range of emotions and feelings can be experienced. The more basic feelings that have to do with the senses are the ones that we just barely experience. We cannot say that we know what it means to be truly hot unless someone lights a fire in our flesh just as much as we can’t really say we know what it means to feel cold unless we freeze to death.

There is always some small part of our existence that will fight to keep those things balanced. When Bertram saw that last, little wisp of hair disappear from his view, all sense went with it.

Curled on the floor now in front of his window, Bertram felt the cold that fear brought with it.

“WHAT DID YOU DO??” he sobbed.

Why? Why was the only word going through his head.

Sitting up now, “there’s no way that I saw that. There’s…. there’s just no way. I’m just… just really tired.”

His mind was drowning. Without realizing it, Bert stood up with his back to the window, composing himself. Taking another deep breath to steady himself, he turned around to face the world on the other side of the pane of glass.

She was still standing there. Her window was closed and she was in the apartment. She was smiling that same smile that Bert fell in love with.

Tearing at the window latches, Bert threw the windows open and looked into the alley below. His mind shut down at what he saw.

There was a body floating a top a lake of blood. Dotting the perimeter of the corpse were various medical rescue professionals, a handful of Nosey Nellie’s and a couple of policemen looking up to his window.

They couldn’t (didn’t) see him.

It was Bert’s body.

Bertram Ward was dead. He was dead and he didn’t know it.

The fear that had landed on him when he thought that she had jumped was now fighting for purchase against the warmth of knowledge.

He tore his gaze away from the scene that unfolded below them. She was still looking at him. She was still smiling at him.

He wanted to cry but he knew that the tears wouldn’t come.

She waved him over.

Bert closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he was sitting in her apartment window.

She stood in front of him. Instinctively checking to make sure he wasn’t damaging her blinds, he was surprised to see… that there were no blinds.

There was no furniture.

It was a completely bare apartment.

He looked to her: she was still smiling.

Not knowing fully what to say Bert decided to keep it simple.

“Hi.”

“Hello, Bertram” she smiled.

“What’s happened to me?”

“You’re dead, silly ass” she said rolling her eyes.

“How’s it that you can see me?”

“We’re of the same ilk”. To prove it she reached out to touch him. Bert didn’t feel the hand that he was expecting only a cold, more pronounced chill.

He looked into her eyes.

“Bert, people aren’t meant to be alone. Especially as alone as you were”.

Confusion and then realization washed over Bertram Ward’s face.

“It became too much for you to bare. You don’t remember the last time you went to work, do you?”

“No,” he said with a shake of his head.

Her look changed to that of a mother caring for her child.

“What happens next?”

“Shhh. That’s for me to worry about. Come on, Bert time for you to get some sleep.”

 

Mates of State – Mountaintops

The following is a review of the Mates of State album, Mountaintops. It originally appeared on AltOhio. A copy of the original article can be found here. 


Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel have always had two things in common: their love of music and their love for each other.

After 10 years of marriage and two children, Mates of State return with their 7th studio album, Mountaintops. Released shortly after the release of their cover album, Crushes, Mountaintops seems to be a fitting farewell for the end of summer.

I had first heard of Mates of State via an NPR special. It was the winter of 2006. They were playing to a live audience in between an Ira Glass’ oration. I was completely blown away! It was just drums, keyboards and vocals. The songs were pop songs and the best part about them? They sounded sincerely happy.

The difference between a Mates of State ‘pop song’ and any other pop song is very subtle. Every other pop song has a tendency to sound like it was cut out of plastic. The result is a one sided song that sounds emotional without having any emotion in it. A Mates of State pop song sounds like it was birthed from someone else. It sounds alive and it seems happy that it is.

Since my initial discovery, they have consistently given us the same effort. While there is something to be said for sticking with a formula that works, quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed. There hasn’t been any noticeable musical growth in the 5 years that I have known about their existence.

The album’s opener, Palomino showed promise but every track after that simply struck me as a reiteration of their previous work: more happy pop songs.

You would think that celebrating a 10th wedding anniversary combined with the adjustment necessary to be a parent to a life that you have brought into the world would have issued some sort of creative change in either Ms. Gardner or Mr. Hammel. Sadly, this is not the case. While I must say that, by Mates of State standards, this is a good album, I must also say that it’s just as good as any of their previous work.


The following was a review of the Mates of State album, Mountaintops. It originally appeared on AltOhio. I also agree that it’s weird to have a a ‘so-so’ review posted on your personal web site, but it’s my site and I can do what I want. A copy of the original article can be found here.

 

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Live at the Grog Shop

The following is a review of the first time that I have seen Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls perform. It was also the last time that I have seen live music. Which is a weird revelation to have. The original story can be found here. 


On Wednesday, September 12th, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls played the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights with supporting acts Larry and his Flask & Jenny Owen Youngs.

Prior to this show, I didn’t know what to expect. The buzz around Frank Turner has been growing over the past couple of years. From what I’d previously heard of his work, it was good, but none of it really left a lasting impression on me.

Opening the show was Jenny Owen Youngs. I can’t imagine that being the opening act on a three-band bill is ever any fun. In its most base form, you are only there to warm up the crowd for the acts that are following you. Singing songs about love, sex and T-Rex (the dinosaur, not the band), Jenny Owen Youngs was a pleasant surprise. She reminded me of a young, biker version of Ani DiFranco.

Following Jenny was Larry and his Flask. I can honestly say that everyone at this show was unprepared for this group. Six well-dressed and hairy men took to the stage and proceeded to whip the crowd into a frothing frenzy. If I had to encapsulate their sound or what they sang about, I would have to say that they sounded like rockabilly on methamphetamines. Early in Larry and his Flask’s set, an electrical problem shorted the stage lights out completely.

It’s a shitty thing to happen to anyone in any performing art and I would hardly think that anyone would blame them if they stopped playing. But Larry and his Flask didn’t stop – they didn’t even miss a beat!

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls took to the stage shortly after 10pm. While rather tame in comparison to Larry and His Flask, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Soul were still quite a sight to behold. People were singing along, clapping and enjoying themselves to their highest limits.

Midway through their set, the Sleeping Souls took a break and Mr. Turner played a few songs on his own – one of which involved Gene Simmons.

It’s fairly common knowledge that Mr. Simmons brags about having slept with around 4,800 women and taking a Polaroid of each one, for a collection he keeps in an album under his bed. Sad? Yes. Disgusting? Yes.

All of these are things that Mr. Turner in fact, did bring up. Then he played “Wherefore Art Thou, Gene Simmons?”

Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick! I was blown away! Frank Turner had managed to take a horrible man, a troll like Gene Simmons and (through song) made him human again. Frank accomplished what no therapist, let alone wizard, could ever do.

This was easily the best show that I have been to within the past 10 years. Jenny Owen Youngs, Larry and His Flask, and Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are acts that you do not want to miss the next time that they roll through town.


This was a review of the first time that I have seen Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls perform. It was also the last time that I have seen live music. Which is a weird revelation to have. The original story can be found here. 

The Lady with 8 Kids.

I have no illusions that my place in the grand scheme of things is of little significance. What follows is something that I have been thinking about.


At various points of my life, I have occupied various forms of employment. The majority of this employment has required me to wear an ugly, ill-fitting shirt, put things on shelves, and to care for/be nice to people who don’t seem to understand that I am getting paid far too little to care about their petty and boorish needs.

I don’t take my employment for granted, mind you. Some days are just harder than others. And when you get to be a certain age, you have to wonder if your perpetually sore feet and always aching joints are worth the small paycheck and the hassle of having to show up on time. To be clear, it’s not bad work to be associated with. Overall, it provides you with a sense of purpose.

During one of my shifts, I had observed a pack of gingers heading my direction. It was night time and I was in the toy department. I was reasonably worried. You would be too if you saw a gentle sea of redheads threatening your flower-like exterior.

Riding this wave was a small woman carrying a baby. A quick glance and I had determined that the rest of her pack were actually her children. They all, even the baby, had the same shade of hair, and all of the children generally had the same facial features that the mother had.

Maybe they’re all shirttail relations. There are families like that. But I can’t shake the idea that this lady had birthed 8 children. And she was out in public with all of them, without the father.

The absence of the father is also a bit of a mystery. Is he as involved with the kids as the mother is? Does he buy her toys? With the amount of children between the two of them it’s fairly obvious that she stays at home for the kids while he’s working all sorts of hours so that they can keep the lights on.

To the mother’s credit, all of her children were fairly well behaved, even the baby. What I found the most remarkable was the fact that all of the children seemed to get along with each other. You’d think, with a household that size, that “turf warfare” in public would be a regular occurrence. How could it not be? Kid’s are genetically encoded to act like assholes at all of the wrong times.

Whilst I was finishing up my rounds, I stole some extra glances of the mother. She looked like a mom, put upon and often ignored. There was also something a bit different about her face.

It was hovering around her eyes. Trepidation, maybe? Her children were behaving remarkably. Maybe all 8 kid’s had earned a trip to the toy department? She was tired for sure. She is the matriarch of a village after all, and it was 8pm.

This woman is a career parent. She is going to die as a care-giver. There is nothing wrong with that but I can’t help but wonder if she ever wanted more than children out of life?

In the end, I guess that I have always known what the look on the mother’s face really was. It was resignation. Her life will not get any better than it was, that night when I saw her in the toy department.

Jesus Saw My Mother’s Tits.

One

I wasn’t home much as a teen. At that point in my life, home was a rest stop, a place to regroup, refuel, and exit as soon as humanly possible. Any time that I did interact with my mother, it was usually in passing.

Like most children of the 1980’s, I grew up with my mother during the week and my father on the weekend. Throughout all of my childhood my mother was a commanding presence. And why wouldn’t she be? Her entire career as a parent was based off of her own childhood. She was 1 child out of 4. My grandmother stayed home with the children while my grandfather brought home the bacon. Her mother needed to be in charge and a presence as well. So in essence my mother was parrotting what had worked for her mother. On top of that, my mother had the added handicap of being a working, single mother for all of the 1980’s and most of the 1990’s. When mom wanted my attention, I had to give it to her, regardless of how full of shit I thought she was.

When Jack, the man who would become my stepfather, started becoming more of a presence in the house that I shared with my mother, it didn’t faze me. I did what most teens did when their single parent tries on significant others: I ignored the hell out of him until I absolutely had to interact with him.

It seemed to work well for the both of us. I had school, a social life, and a part time job that was practically a full time job. And him? He had my mother and he sold cars in a shitty part of town.

It didn’t take long for Jack to transition from boyfriend to fiancé, and then eventually ‘husband’. In fact, it took no time at all. Courtship to marriage, lasted about a year and a half. On top of that, they didn’t have a traditional wedding ceremony. They opted to elope and get married in Las Vegas.

Regardless of what the exact motivations were behind my mother’s elopement she was a happier and, dare I say it, more tolerable person to be around when they came back home.

A handful of years had gone by and in spite of of my own inability to comprehend what they saw in each other, they balanced each other out nicely. The thing that made Jack exceptional was his almost preternatural ability to be liked by most of the people that he interacted with on a regular basis. The thing that I had found the most jarring but ultimately grew to appreciate was that my mother actually listened to Jack. For me to have another male presence in the house, that could tell my mother that she was being an ass about any given thing and then, get her to laugh at her own silliness, it was akin to seeing the Big Bang.

What made the new household configuration all the more bizarre was the fact that my father actually liked Jack.

Point of fact? My father would routinely and unannounced stop over at my mother’s house in order to shoot the shit, if he knew Jack was home. More often than not, my mother wouldn’t know until well after the fact that my father had stopped by.

Two.

No one from my immediate family eulogized my father when he had passed away. At the time of his passing, I was about to be 22 years of age and he had seen fit to name me the executor of his estate.

In his 6+ decades of life, my family and I didn’t really know who the ‘real him’ was. When it came to communicating on a personal level, my father had a habit of riding that line between ‘tall tales’ and telling people what he wanted them to know. He seemed to favor this mode of communication as a matter of self-defense.

My father was born in 1938. When he was growing up, he lived in a single parent home. Of course, this is unremarkable by today’s standards. But during the 1940’s and 1950’s, being a child in a single parent home was practically unheard of. And when it was “heard of” the fractured family was treated like some newly discovered species of lizard: a thing to be observed, but not interacted with.

To make matters all the more weird for my father and his brother, their mother, who had to raise my father and his brother, swore off men for the rest of her life.

Completely.

That is to say, she felt that she had such a miserable marriage; she gave up physical, intimate contact all together.

Given his mother’s voluntary emotional detachment, I don’t think my father could be blamed for being as tight lipped as he was. Still, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. In spite of his obvious emotional handicaps and projected parental insecurities, I did like my father as a person. I only wish I knew him as the person that he was, instead of the person that he wanted people to think he was.

Having to plan a funeral is no easy task at any age. An item that I had working in my favor were the level of services that the funeral home had provided.

One of the services that they provided was oration. They had someone, either on staff or in a freelance capacity, who was qualified to eulogize your dearly departed in the event that no one wanted to, or felt up to, the task. Given that I was barely out of my teens, my level of life experience was practically nil, and the fact that I was going through a major trauma, I felt more than justified when it came to taking advantage of this service.

I regret it to this day.

To be fair to the Orator, my family and I screwed him. About a week and a half had passed between the time that my father had expired and the night of his funeral. In that time, the orator had reached out to me on three separate occasions. On all three times, I didn’t have much to give him. I petitioned family members but even they had a hard time trying to summarize who my father was. Being youthfully ignorant and in charge of closing out someone’s life gave me enough to contend with. And, selfishly, I didn’t want to engage in anything that remotely resembled having to think about the person that I had just lost. I had a job to do and I was having a hard enough time as it was.

Looking back on that part of my life, and the night of the funeral in particular, is like being shown a photo of yourself that you don’t remember being present for. You have a dim recollection of what led up to the photo, and, as you stare deeply into the photo, examining every aspect from the lighting to the look on your face, you can guess what you were thinking about as the shutter captured that moment of your time. But, as it is, you can only guess.

For what it’s worth, the Orator, in my opinion did a good job. As I am a grown man recalling a span of time from my younger days, I can’t say that I find the Orator’s success very surprising. Even though he didn’t have a lot to go on (which doesn’t help when you are trying to sum up a stranger’s life), he was a trained professional. If there was one thing that I do recall with absolute certainty, it was the amount of times that he locked eyes with me, as if to say “Jump in here, anytime, pal!”.

What I did find the most surprising about that night was the amount of people that had turned out to pay their respects to my father. Family, people he had worked with, people he hadn’t spoken to in a decades, even people he had impacted by dislocation, they had all showed up. He might have been equal parts tight lipped and storyteller with me but who he was, was certainly in that room that night.

Three.

A year and a half after my biological father had passed away, Jack was diagnosed with cancer as well. From diagnosis to death, he was gone in the matter of a summer. Having someone leave in that manner, who had such a huge impact in your life, and then have them leave as quickly as he did, creates a vacuum that takes years for the surviving family members to regulate.

After Jack died, the thing that I found the most shocking was how small and brittle my mother had become. In the span of two years, she lost the person she knew the longest (my father) and then the person she thought that she was going to spend the rest of her life with. To have to go through that amount of loss in such a short amount of time and then have to eventually wrap her head around having to live by herself for the first time in her entire life was a hard thing to have to watch.

My mother wasn’t the planner that my father was. When it came to planning Jack’s funeral, she was tying off loose ends as they popped up. One of the loose ends she needed to take care of was finding someone to eulogize Jack.

I knew she was going to ask me. Instead of just answering in the affirmative, I pretended to be surprised and gave it an ounce of consideration before I had said ‘yes’. In my defense, I was barely 23 and I wasn’t about to have a repeat of what had happened at my father’s funeral.

For the record, I have thought about this whole event at least once a month it happened. And yes my stomach turns every time.

After I had gotten over my own revulsion at my behavior when I had accepted the task eulogizing Jack, the eulogy itself was a piece of cake.

The night before the funeral, my mother had requested that I spend the night at her house. She wasn’t ready to start adjusting to solitude and having someone else in the house gave her a sense of security. Given her emotional state, declining would not have been an option. My only request was that my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, stay as well as she had wanted to be supportive to both my mother and myself. After my mother had turned in for the night, my wife and I had gone for a late night walk in my mother’s neighborhood. The two of us had been living together for nearly a year at that point and this was the first time that I had been back in the neighborhood since I had moved out.

The thing that had struck me was how small the neighborhood had looked. Perhaps that’s an unspoken facet of leaving your childhood home: once you leave, it’ll never look the same again.

The weather was mild that night. What we talked about, my wife and I, if we talked, is lost to me now. I had all ready written Jack’s eulogy the previous week. Maybe we had talked about how our day went. She was a bakery manager at the time, and I was a salesman presently on bereavement leave. Which is a nicer way of saying that I had spent the day, along with my brother, helping our mother finalize funeral arrangements and clean her house in the event that anyone had wanted to stop over after everything had concluded the following day.

Whatever we had talked about, it was dwarfed by the fact that a block into our walk, my wife and I had come across a home that had every single light on and every single window covering drawn open. Not completely out of the ordinary. Maybe they were having a dinner party and burnt the roast? Maybe the homeowner’s house was robbed and they were presently looking for clues? These are reasonable things to think of and I would not be surprised if past me had thought them as I examined the oddity of that house along with my wife during our stroll.

Everything had become clear as we drew level with the front room windows. The house lights were on for an obvious reason. And the homeowner had made a point of doing so and opening their living room curtains after nightfall so that all passersby could their fireplace-sized portrait of Ty Pennington.

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The summer that Jack had passed away was also the summer that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was popular, reality-tv show viewing.

The next day was Jack’s funeral.

In one of my mother’s more lucid moments, she had decreed that she was going to wear white to the funeral. Purity jokes aside, her reasoning was that Jack’s funeral should be a celebration of his life and wearing black would be the antithesis of that. What she didn’t account for was the dress that she had in waiting, she had bought when she was two sizes smaller. She was able to fit into it and she looked good. But it was obvious that she wasn’t comfortable.

The funeral itself was a church funeral. My mother and Jack being the Christian’s that they are, my mother choosing this venue wasn’t entirely surprising. What she seemed to disregard was the fact that unless you’re recreating the church scene from the Blues Brothers celebrating someone’s life in a church always falls flat. The color scheme is always dark, the seats are uncomfortable, and you’re surrounded by pictures of a skinny guy being tortured to death.

Four.

When thinking about Jack, the type of person he was, and the affect that he had had on the people he interacted with on a regular basis, the following scene had come to mind.

It was two Christmas’s before my father had been diagnosed with cancer; I was working in a local grocery store. After working the Christmas shift, I had come home to my mother’s house, exhausted and unaware that she was having Christmas Eve dinner. Sitting at the table, chatting like old friends were my father and Jack while my mother finished up dinner in the kitchen.

The gravity of that scene spoke volumes about the two men who had recently moved on from our lives. And it was something that I had conveyed to those who would gather to pay their respects to Jack.

When I sat down next to my mother, she had leaned over to thank me and give me a hug. As soon as she leaned over, her top had popped open and her brassiere-d bits were on display for the the priest, Jesus, and the rest of our seatmates to see.

To this day, I consider my mother’s inability to wear right-fitting clothing, and seeing something so wonderfully bizarre as a portrait of a semi-forgotten reality television host, so close to my mother’s home as an indication that belief is a matter of circumstance where death is concerned.

Dying is a thing that happens to everyone, what matters is that the people who are left behind are still able to appreciate the life that they have left and the odd things that are yet to come.

“The” Short Story.

            Springtime: that part of the year when the cold fingers and desolation of winter have been shaken off in favor of the warmth and hope that spring brings with it. That hope is a gift to the youth. It is with hope that people start new chapters of their lives. Hope gives power to the creators whose ideas are nearly realized. Hope is what bonds two lovers together. What the youth doesn’t realize is that this gift won’t last forever. Lives end as easily as they have begun, ideas fall apart, and love doesn’t feel lovely enough.

            It was one of the first warm days of spring. The Young Man sat on the steps of the promenade in the park. With his long, dark mane of hair gently flowing in the spring breeze and his haute couture, he was the picture of youth and virility. Nearby, a Willow tree beckoned, offering comfort and shade.

            Days like these were made exactly for what he was doing: enjoying nature, listening to the birds and letting his thoughts wander while absorbing the sight before him.

            Something moved a few feet behind him. A smile bloomed on the Young Man’s face.

            She was attempting to sneak up on him.

            She was all blonde hair, blue eyes and her Sunday best clothes. He knew at first glance that this was a girl who’s been fought over more than once. 

            After that first glance, he unequivocally knew that there was something strange about her. Her presence was like when you’ve misplaced something very important and you have the inkling that what you are looking for is right in front of you. Whatever it was, the Young Man knew it had something to do with her eyes. He knew that there was something there, something that was swimming just below the surface of those cold blue pools. 

             He was a fly in those Venus flytrap eyelashes. 

            In those few moments that they had observed each other, a dull haze had started to seep in through the Young Man’s mind. Time seemed to hold its breath, waiting for one of these two people to make their move. Before he realized what his legs were doing, he was following her. 

            Laughing and talking like they were meant to love each other, and only each other since the day that they were born, they held each other in the waning sunshine. The Young Man had never done that with just anyone before. For some reason, things felt “different” with her.

            “You know, my mother never told me not to get into strange cars, with strange women”, he said from behind a blindfold.

            She said she wanted to show him something back at her apartment but she wouldn’t tell him what it was and that secrecy was crucial. The Young Man was no fool. If it had been any other woman, he would have sat back down on those stone steps and resumed his enjoyment of nature and all of its offerings. But with her, he all ready knew it was love.

            “Well, fortunate for you I’m not that strange”, she said smiling with her mouth, only. Her eyes, her eyes were saying something else. A small kernel of worry began to germinate in the Young Man’s mind.

            “Said the young lady who was trying to sneak up on me”, he volleyed back at her in hopes of getting just a little bit more out of her.

             He didn’t understand until they had arrived at her apartment why secrecy was an issue at all. 

            As they had gotten out of the cab, the young lady had taken off the blindfold in favor of covering his eyes with her hands. Dropping them away from his eyes, she stood before him, just as lovely as when she first crept up on him, gesturing like a showroom model at the silent behemoth of a building behind her.

            “You… live here?”

            She nodded enthusiastically, eyes dripping with cold fire while her mouth did all the smiling. 

            The Young Man knew something wasn’t right. 

            That small kernel of fear was starting to take root. He knew that he should have been more pragmatic about the entire situation. The only thing that he could do was to look up at this building and wonder where the top ended.  

Tired of his lollygagging, she led him by the hand to the front door. Once he took one look into the frigid depths of her eyes, that fear was ripped out by the root. 

            Like turning off a switch. 

            It was the biggest apartment that the Young Man had ever seen.

            So much space. For some reason, he found elation in all of this. 

            It wasn’t long before she started undressing him. 

            “I know that this may comes as a surprise, but I haven’t been entirely forthcoming”, she said. 

            For a brief instant, there was a flicker of fear across his face. 

            “It’s ok, you can tell me”, he said. 

            “Would you believe that we’ve met before?” she said as she continued to undress him. 

            “Wait, what’s the rush?” he faltered, trying to put some physical distance between the two of them. 

            Crestfallen, she finally spoke. 

            “I’ve said too much. You just seemed so… ready.”

            For some reason it made him love her. It. just… didn’t… matter. Clothing proceeded to be shed.

            He awoke the next day feeling hollow but fulfilled at the same time. The young lady was nowhere to be found.

            After exploring the cavernous and nearly soundless apartment, he stopped to take stock of himself in a mirror. 

            “I always knew that one day my looks would get me in trouble”, he thought. 

            Even with the elation of the other day and with the overwhelming sense of unease, he still liked what he saw reflected back at him: rugged features, slim build, full mane of hair, what more could be asked for? 

            A small noise drained the self-absorption that the Young Man was drowning in. As he followed the sound, the noise grew to a full mutter. 

            That sense of dread was back. 

            Standing in the shadows of the hallway, he took in the strangeness of the site that he had found in the warmly lit room. 

            Sitting on one of the longer couches, the young lady was with four people he had never seen before. She sat in the middle of them. Everyone sat comfortably with their eyes closed and their arms outstretched before them.

            On one end of the couch sat a man who appeared to be entirely composed of knees and elbows and seemed entirely too thin to exist. On the far end of the couch sat a woman who seemed to be having trouble immersing herself as the others have. She was doing her best though. 

            On either side of the young lady sat a man and woman who were like no people he had ever seen before. The man was dressed well in bright colors and had an iridescent quality to his face. It was like the sun was being kept in the container of a human. The woman was a pale beauty, dressed in deep blues and black greens. These people who flanked his love were as opposite as night and day. 

           What completely unsettled the Young Man was that they were all talking in unison but it was unlike any language that he had ever heard. 

            A cold sweat began to filter through the Young Man’s flesh. 

            He walked slowly towards the center of the group, to his love, and knelt down in front of her. 

            As he put his hands on her knees, those impenetrable mirrors of her eyes opened and his mind went entirely flaccid. 

            She smiled, ensnaring him in her embrace. The others applauded.

            Under the applause, he heard her whisper, “Deep inside of your soul, you know it to be true: we’ve met and loved each other before. Just as sure as the sun and moon sit beside me”. 

            He knew that he should be afraid but there was something inside of him that was keeping him from it. 

            “Is it her?” he thought. 

            Eventually, everyone adjourned to the balcony. Reeling in the haze of the moment the Young Man became acquainted with these strange peoples. Try as he might, the only name that would stick in his mind was that of the thin man. He referred to himself as the Conductor. When the Young Man pressed him about such a strange name, he would only say that it was a nickname that he was blessed with given his “god-like” ability to keep things moving.

            Realizing that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with his tall friend, the Young Man went to the railing to asses the past couple of hours. There was something missing. He just couldn’t nail down what it was. It was like someone had brushed up against a part of his memories before the paint had had a chance to dry. 

            It was a cool and cloudy night. The sky looked like a window mottled with steam and streaked with condensation. When he turned around, the strangely dressed man and woman were in the possession of musical instruments and were tuning up, while the Conductor took his place amongst them.

            The Young Man wanted to question all of this but his elation at the sight before him was clouding his judgment. All he could think about was how much he wanted to dance with his love.

            The Young Man and woman had started to dance. There was no rationality to the chain of events that the Young Man had become a part of. The only thing that he knew for certain was that he was happy.

            The others looked on and smiled.

            After the air became too cool to be tolerable, the group agreed that sustenance and libations were in order. As the food was served and conversation politely filled the air, the Young Man began to realize that something still wasn’t quite right. 

            While reaching this conclusion, the Young Man and the young lady had started to eat what appeared to be a grapefruit from their plates. The Young Man began to open the fruit with his hands. He realized that the fruit was certainly more exotic than he had surmised.

            As the juice of the fruit bled through his fingers and dripped onto the plate, he couldn’t help thinking to himself that the young lady was right: they had known each other before. Pushing the fruit’s pit up and out into the atmosphere of the dinner party, the Young Man regarded it with a feeling of regret. It sat there in his fingers; slimy and pulsating like a heart.

            All of those feelings of dread, the weight of the unease of everything, he finally felt assured as the identity of the young lady had finally dawned on him.

            He turned to face the young lady. Regardless of any realizations, the love was still there between the two of them. As he was about to speak her true name, a wave of disgust erupted on her face. Reaching up to his head, she fingered one silver strand, a gray hair.

            Savagely plucking it from his head, she turned and stomped away like a scorned child.

            Turning to read the faces of the “dinner guests” in hopes to find some clue as to the travesty that he had unknowingly brought into being, a shockwave of fear thundered through his body.

            They were all gone.

            The night had turned into day.

            It was like it had never happened.

            Was he going mad?

            The click of a woman in high heels echoed through the apartment.

            Chasing after it, he had found her at the end of a hallway. It was the woman who didn’t seem like she was to be a part of the group. A brief glimmer of hope pin pricked in the man as she regarded him, her entire being radiating disgust. 

            Turning on her heel, she walked on, deeper into the room at the other end of the hall.  

            Storming into the room after the misplaced woman, the Young Man had found her, the young lady, in the embrace of another woman. 

            “They look so… happy”, he thought. 

            They both stopped long enough to look at him. Their faces were polite but it was obvious that they were unhappy with this presence. 

            The young lady gazed at him with those dangerous pools she called eyes. 

            The Young Man heard her speak. Her mouth wasn’t moving. She was speaking to him, inside of him. 

            “Just as the moon and sun sat beside me last night, you know that I am The Dawn. I am of the oldest of the old and we have been acquainted numerous times. I bridge the gap between the days and I exist to rob you of your youth. Eventually you will be like me, Young Man. You will be no longer lovely enough for love. You made your peace with that last night when you realized my true name and yet you still had love for me. Go now, young man, you have served your purpose”. 

            His eyes began to tear. As he blinked them away, he found that he was back where he started, in the park. 

            Unaware of what happened, the Young Man still felt at ease with himself as he moved from the steps to the nearby Willow tree. Watching his son toddle around in front of him, he knew despite the feeling of unease, that things were as they should be. 

Continue reading ““The” Short Story.”