The Shower

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I work out feelings in the shower.
The only place I have the power,
To shut the door,
Let water pour,
And cry undisturbed an hour.

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The Shut-In

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It all started when Melissa left. She took the better half of their music collection, some DVDs he was sure had been his at some point, and most of the silverware. She took the dog, too – filthy, thankless animal.

It was Wednesday afternoon. Joshua could still remember the light beams glowing gold on the hardwood as she threw things into a box. The memory held no sounds, though the mix of metal forks and CD cases had certainly made an interesting symphony that day.

At first Joshua didn’t leave because he was certain that Melissa would come right back, toting that ridiculous box, tugging Gal on a leash behind her. Three weeks later, even his mother couldn’t lie appeasements to him any more.

Somewhere, Joshua had read that it takes fourteen days to form a habit. Twenty-one days inside, Joshua had become fully accustomed to his new lifestyle. The grocery store delivered foodstuffs to him every Saturday evening. Netflix brought him the movies Melissa had walked off with, and then some. He’d finished all his Christmas shopping five months early. Changed the air filters. Detailed the kitchen with a set of toothpicks.

A friend brought him a kitten from a shelter in hopes that another life form might knock Joshua out of the house. Alas, a quick internet search yeilded three vets within walking distance that did house-calls, an online pet medication deliver service, and the same grocery store brought Muffles a full week’s supply of cat food along with Joshua’s Mountain Man Lean Cuisines.

The first week Joshua lived in squalor. No dishes, no trash pick-up, and no change of clothes. At two weeks, Joshua bribed a neighbor’s son to take out his trash for a measly fiver and started eating off plates. On the third week, he even became fancy and started using a tray as he gobbled his meals off the couch, re-watching yet another cut-em-up horror film where women didn’t survive.

At the end of three weeks, Joshua felt like he had already read the internet in it’s entirety. He’d started each morning with some innocent factoid on Wikipedia and found himself well versed in the history of the Third Reich, the evolution of Wysteria plants, and could recite both the long and short term effects of the fiscal deficit, its causes, and what the government wasn’t doing to improve the situation.

On Monday of the fourth week, Joshua’s binoculars finally came through. By Thursday, Joshua could predict the goings-on of all the citizens living on East 14th Street. The old man left for work by foot at approximately four in the morning. His wife always woke up and saw him off with a kiss. The lights in their apartment often went out after his departure and he wouldn’t see the wife again until she’s leave to run errands around 11 o’clock.

There were twelve families living up and down the street. Seven on Joshua’s side, five on the opposite side of the street. Nearly all of them left at the same time in the mornings and came home again in the evenings. Joshua was certain that the man who drove a deep blue convertible was cheating on his wife with the pretty blonde from across the street who was married to the man in the toupee  but he couldn’t prove anything in a court of law, yet.

There were three senile old bats who lived on the upstairs floor of the building on the corner. They would often sit naked on the roof of the building, their tits hanging like sacks of oatmeal past their belly-buttons and their glasses making their faces seem certifiably unhinged. Once, on a particularly sunny day, the three of them had a dance party instead of just sitting around. Joshua was still trying to eradicate the memory, but no porn had been of any help yet.

A month after becoming a fully-functioning shut-in, Joshua was greeted with the sight of new resident moving into her flat on East 14th Street. She was undeniably perfect, Joshua was sure of it. She had fierce red hair, cut short to a bob and adorned with a black skull and cross-bones bow. Her eye-makeup was so heavy he could see the contours of her eyes without the binoculars, three floors up. She was round and it appeared that the softest part of her was a delectable rump Joshua immediately needed to run his hand over – if the double-sided razor edges of her soul didn’t mutilate him first.

Another bribe to the neighbor’s kid provided the apple of Joshua’s eye with some assistance. Although, there was something to be said about watching her bend to try and pick up the mattress single-handed.

For the first few months, Joshua continued to bribe his up-stairs steward for information. Her name was Annalisa, she worked in sales. She had a cat named Corgie. Her favorite color was green. 

Joshua watched on.

It had been five, maybe six months since Annalisa first appeared – almost a year after Joshua’s retreat into his man-cave that the idea of coming outside and meeting Annalisa first started to bubble under the seething current of psychological issues.

Regardless of how perfect Annalisa appeared, the idea that Melissa may one day return continued to eat at Joshua. At night, it had become a ritual to imagine her coming home while he slept, setting her tattered box down in the hall, and slipping under the covers next to him. Now a nightly guilt wracked him. Joshua predicted different scenarios of Melissa finding out about his angel from across the street, each more gruesome than the last.

Still, he persisted during daylight hours with his plan. The grocery store delivery boy remarked that it was refreshing to see Joshua purchase perishable goods for both himself and Muffles. The neighbor kid earned an extra bonus for taking out all the larger pieces of trash Joshua had accumulated and kept his snide under-breathed comments about being half a year too late for spring cleaning mostly to himself.

Netflix took a deserving rest in lieu of a fitness routine.

Eventually, Joshua’s nightly ritual became a well-rehearsed first meeting. Each time Annalisa was amazed by his knowledge of the migration patterns of spotted owls and his critical understanding of the post-modernist’s plight for recognition though the use of unconventional materials. In his head, she always giggled when he mentioned the flash-knitters accustomed to covering bikes and fire-hydrants.

At last the day had come.

A similar golden glow descended upon the wooden floors of Joshua’s living room. Muffles sprawled out in a sun spot and wheezed in a cat-like purr as the beams warmed his belly. Joshua checked himself into a shower, wrapped himself into the freshly pressed suit a local cleaner had walked over for him, and finished himself with a dapper black bow tie decorated with a skull and cross bones.

Joshua took a look out his window one last time to ensure himself that this was the right day, the right moment, and he was greeted with the sight of Annalisa walking down the street towards the bus stop with a spirited step.

Joshua took a moment to himself on the couch. Perhaps that hadn’t been the perfect moment, after all.

A beer would tide him over until his muse returned. Perhaps two. Perhaps more.

At approximately eleven at night, long after even Muffles had given up on this endeavor  Joshua spotted Annalisa strolling solemnly towards her apartment. Her unsuccessful night written across her face, lit by the orange of the street lamps.

Joshua gathered his wits about him, deciding to meet Annalisa on the street as she came up.

At that moment Joshua’s phone rang with the all-too-familiar ring of a certain she-demon, drunk and seeking a pardon. A mistake.

It was as he had always imagined it to be. The familiar open and close of the door, the shuffling down the hall, the body he remembered so well, and the guilt which had made a home of his oft empty bed.

Joshua slept on the couch, unable to reconcile the seeping emotions that came pouring from both halves of the broken home.

At a quarter to five in the morning Joshua heard the scream, at five he heard the sirens. He came upon the window and gazed with his binoculars through the misty morning colored with regret to see the emergency workers carrying a precious stranger’s body in a black bag to an ambulance, a neighbor following close behind, clutching a black skull and crossbones bow.

Divorce Court

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No.

Frank was on his knees, hands clutching at her wrists, eyes searching her face for as much as a twitch of forgiveness.

No.

Marion made an effort not to lower her gaze to his pleas. Instead, she gazed ahead stone-faced, forcing herself with all her might to inspect the marble column ten feet away. The column swirled in shades of pink while the floor was speckled peach. The floor… she caught herself just in time to stop her eyes from wandering down. Desperately, Marion threw her gaze further past the columns, across the hall at a younger couple standing in line, all pearly whites and excitement.

Marion remembered her wedding well. She remembered standing in line with Frank wearing the brand new dress her mother had sewn. She remembered the sensation of absolute rebirth as they waited for their names to be called. The sweat on Frank’s palm as he’d squeezed her hand and looked at her with every promise under the sun shining in his eyes.

No.

Somewhere in that gaze had been hidden away this other, pathetic creature who sat on peach-speckled marble floors and clung to the skirts of women. This shallow grave of dreams that’d gambled their love on some washed-up tart.

Wallace was on her right, as useless now as he was on any other day. As sad of a divorce attorney as he was a man, Wallace had made Marion come to miss some of Franks more subtle charm.

No.

Transfixed on the nuptial couple ahead of her, Marion thought back to the day she’d seen Frank’s adulterous silhouette against the blinds in their bedroom, back-lit by the antique lamp with in-laid turquoise his mother had given them. She’d been out late trying to find a good turkey to roast for Thanksgiving. She’d spent days scoping out different stores, comparing prices, sizes, meat quality. Frank always made a fuss if he had to chew his meat and Marion was dead-set to make the perfect bird that year.

She’d been walking back to the house, laden with bundles from stores and toting a fifteen-pound bird through the Chicago winter when she’d missed a step and slipped on the ice not fifteen feet from their building. It was at that moment, thinking to call to Frank for help, that she looked up to see the outline of her husband caressing…

He hadn’t even had the imagination to find someone outside their building. When she came quietly into the house she found the upstairs neighbor in her bed. Frank, caught off his guard, announced that she’d just dropped in to borrow some salt. Salt.

A decade of commitment, trials, and love and the best he could do was salt. A decade of marriage, for salt.

No.

Marion gazed at the couple across the hall and wondered what terrible things this young bride in front of her was going to live through. Everywhere she looked, she only saw the heartaches-to-be.

She became aware that somewhere to her right Wallace was telling Frank to get up in a harsh whisper. Frank ignored the suggestion and clutched Marion’s wrists tighter, voice broken by what could only be the beginnings of tears, his pleas transitioned from desperate to pathetic.

Marion no longer needed to look at Frank’s face to see it in her mind. The wrinkle between his eyebrows set deeper than usual, the pools forming in the corners of his honey-brown eyes, his strained lips softly whispering to her in a thin line.

No.

Marion’s father had been a kind man, quick to offer a warm word and a smile. Her mother had been put onto the Earth to counter-balance her father’s kindness. Not ten minutes after getting to her mother’s house she had been educated in all her faults, which, naturally, had led to the affair.

If only Marion was a better cook, tidier, had a faster wit, would lose some weight, would change her hairstyle…

If only Marion wasn’t barren.

If only they’d had children, Frank would have been too busy raising a family to stray. He would have bought her a nice home outside of the city with a big backyard and a friendly neighborhood. If only…

No.

Marion stood unmoved, her arms bent at the elbows still pulling from Frank’s grasp. She gazed at this man she had once loved, who had once made her feel beautiful, needed, safe and she missed his embrace and the way he called her name, and the way he’d stroke her hair and call her, ‘kiddo,’ when she fretted. She looked down at his face and tried to summon the strength to forgive him. Here, in the final moments of their divorce she could say one word and absolve him of his past transgressions, go back to being a family, fix everything.

But the image of his silhouette running his hands along the curves of another woman floated before Marion’s eyes, refusing to budge. The way the neighbor had thrown her head back to laugh at something Frank said. The way Frank’s arms wrapped around her waist as he kissed her.

It would be so easy to forgive him and pray the memory fades someday.

With every fiber of effort she could, Marion raised her gaze away from Frank’s face back towards the future newlyweds as they closed an office door behind them to sign themselves up for all the misery to come and whispered her answer.

Writer’s Block

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A blank white screen beckons me forth to a land of neon and pastels where the trees are giant maraschino cherries poking through latex grass by their stems and the roads are paved with rice. Here the characters in my head all talk to me in tongues and mock my disastrous attempt to display them on paper. The fat custodian, the angry housewife, the Lucifer of my nightmares, the anti-heroes, and even the prom queens are waiting for epiphany to strike. I can see them in their taffeta and skinny jeans laughing so loud the whole world might collapse.

None of them will come with me, as if they’re still ripening in a garden of ideas.

I need a drink.

Mania

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Theo sat in the oppressive heat and took a long, heavy drag of his cigarette. The view from the porch was equally depressing, regardless of the direction he sullenly glared in. Towards the back fence all he could see were dried out weeds as tall as his waist. One wrong flick of the wrist and the whole lot would ignite. His whole life up in flames just like that.

Briefly, Theo contemplated the drastic improvement being homeless would have on his life.

His life. Now there was a punch line if he’d ever heard one. There it was, all of it, just as pathetic, just as neglected, and just as volatile as the overgrown yard before him.

A single, momentary breeze rustled Theo’s hair and made him pull his dingy cotton robe tighter about him. Another long drag. He would need to come up with an excuse to get money out of someone, soon. Wistfully, the thought came back to eat at him. Maybe he’d be able to get out of town for a little while, go home to visit his dad. Even being in the same city sometimes helped. Being in the same city as her… He closed his eyes and tried to picture her, but all that came back was the photo he’d saved and the few that he’d dug up online. Her features were beginning to fade from his memory.

Done with his smoke, Theo trudged back into the house. Inside was cooler, though not by much, and a good deal more depressing. The smell of sour milk, sweat, and something sickeningly sweet assaulted his nose as he made his way through the house to the confines of the four-corners of his room. Sometimes he wondered if jail would be so bad.

The cats had been in his things again. Along with the smells of withdrawal and pain he sensed the distinct scent of cat piss. His bed sheets were wet, but he couldn’t tell if that was from his sweat or the cats. He got in bed anyway.

Theo tried to sleep, but now that she’d crossed his mind again he knew there would be no respite. The feelings washed over him as they had for all the previous months, though he was grateful that the mania came less frequently now than it had at the beginning.

How could she have cut him off so savagely? At first he’d tried to call, desperate for her attention, desperate for her voice, but all he got was radio silence. Texts didn’t go through either. He’d sent an email as a last resort but never heard back.

Didn’t she know how much he needed her? Longed after her? Didn’t she know he was the love of her life, that only he was man enough for her, that only he could make her happy? He’d tried everything he could to get her attention but nothing seemed to work.

Laying in bed, powerless to do anything but mope, Theo turned on his laptop in an attempt to let the fixation pass.

After staring at a blank screen contemplating self-mutilation, Theo typed a URL into the omnibox. Videos… the suggestion box’s offerings were all links he’d shown her, once, when she’d come to visit. There was the song he had played her, here was the video they had watched. Theo tried another website, gripped momentarily by anger remembering she had blocked him on here, too.

Theo sighed and reached for his phone. No new messages. Not that he expected any at this point. He tried to call someone, just to talk, to just distract himself, but no one answered.

Instinctively, Theo went back into the heat for another smoke. This time he went to the front of the house instead. The porch here watched over the one-lane road. How many times had he sat there and hoped she might pull up to surprise him out of the blue. That day hadn’t come, and Theo had just about given up hope.

He walked out to the decrepit skeleton of a car and leaned against it. Leaves piled high in places, as though someone had tried to clean the driveway once, but now there had been more leaves piled in a layer atop the ones before. It was autumn already and she never called him back.

The hatred started to swell like a balloon of mustard gas in his lungs. She’d done this on purpose, that bitch. She’d made him love her and then dropped off the face of the earth the moment he wanted to be with her. What a fucking hypocrite.

Theo took another long drag.

He hated her but he needed her. He needed to tell her about the injustices he’d suffered, he needed to tell her the feelings he had, and he needed to hear her voice on the phone telling him that things would get better, that life could be better.

It wasn’t until he felt the heat on his fingers that he realized the cigarette had burnt out.

Theo leaned against the car, hair a jumbled brown mess, eyes sunken in and milky, skin a ghostly shade of grey, lips chapped to hell and pulled his cotton robe closer to his body. The haunting thought of breaking his own leg or stabbing himself in the stomach crossed his mind again. This time, darker things crossed his mind, too. If he hurt himself enough, if he was in the hospital, she’d have to come to see what she’d created.

Scuffing the ground with his boot, Theo turned back towards the house. The still air and heavy scent of musk in his room beckoning to him to lay down and sleep as the noon sun crept higher into the sky.

Angel Eyes

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Mila had taken up jogging. It had been a last-minute addition to a self improvement list she hastily drafted on New Years Eve at a friend’s house the year before. They had been celebrating quietly in a close group because after the year they’d all had no one was in a particularly celebratory mood. Just a quiet evening together with the gang. Simon had brought a few bottles of good wine, Claire had procured an un-pasteurized cheese from a cousin in the Netherlands, and Stephen had brought an exceptionally well-made roast.

It was Claire’s idea to write down their resolutions and burn them at midnight. Mila presumed that the resolutions were more like wishes for a better year to come – a year without break-ups, unemployment, or loss of family members. Her list was short; get a promotion, do laundry regularly, pick up jogging. She added the last bit just moments before they were supposed to start the sacrificial burning and champagne guzzling as the clock struck twelve.

Nine months later the promotion was still mostly out-of-sight, her flat was still littered with laundry, but here she was running along the boulevard as the rest of the world filtered like grain from their offices to their homes.

Every evening after leaving the office Mila pulled on her jogging shoes and went out to people watch along the boulevard. Here a businessman walked at a brusque pace toward the metro, there a mother leisurely strolled with her toddler afoot, carrying a bag of groceries with an artistic baguette sticking out. Two young women dressed in upscale-office chic giggled among themselves as a band of businessmen trailed behind them full of catcalls and bedroom whispers.

Here she ran, holding up the last end of her bargain for a better year.

Mila kept a casual jogging pace, after all she had promised herself jogging not Olympic Gold. At this pace she had worked out a circuit for herself based more off her people-watching than the productivity of her workouts. A mile along the boulevard brought her to a stretch of river-bank where couples and young families ambled about. On either side the river was peppered with cafes aboard boats with enough room for little more than three tables and some chairs.

Watching the young families with small children was Mila’s emotional indemnification. The mothers cooing at their baby’s every breath, the fathers playing and laughing, the children soaking up memories of childhood charm and all of them failing to remember unhappiness. It was a balm for the soul and Mila applied it heavily to her still-healing heart.

It had been early winter of the previous year when this strange resolution had first begun to manifest itself. The sun had been setting just before the end of the work day for a few weeks already and by the time Mila left the 25th floor of her bank building the streetlights were on.

It had been the sort of day that should only exist in the movies. Mila had over-slept after collapsing to bed still half-dressed the night before. Everything she had expected to wear was still waiting to be washed and in her haste to run out the door Mila had managed to leave a smear of raspberry jam across the front of her shirt.

After foregoing lunch, playing catch-up for the best part of her day, and realizing at half-past-two after rushing into the bathroom in a stupefied horror that she hadn’t bothered to brush her hair that morning Mila, walked out of the bank building just as it crossed her mind that she didn’t have a jacket with her.

The bone-chilling winds of winter hit the backs of her ankles and wormed their way to the nape of her neck in a hasty effort to bring her down from whence she could fall no further.

It was by the river, three blocks from the office that she saw them. This time it was a red-head, tall, arms littered with freckles. She seemed pretty and smart and probably had a wit about her. He had his arm around her and the looks on their faces told Mila he’d just said something funny.

He was wearing the blue shirt she had bought him for their two-month anniversary. It was a perfect sky blue and when he wore it his eyes developed an intense glow that made his gaze feel more like probes reaching down into your soul. He had his favorite winter coat on over it, but Mila recognized the color even in the darkness of winter’s twilight.

For an agonizing moment, standing there in the wind without her jacket, Mila felt completely naked – the wind an unwelcome reminder of how little happiness she had in the contrast of the couple’s smiles.

She saw their whole relationship flashing before her eyes, as though this was the death of what they’d had. That gaze, that far-reaching soul-binding gaze. Hadn’t he gazed at her that way before? Hadn’t his arm been draped across her shoulders? Hadn’t they strolled down the boulevard at twilight blissful and unaware.

There, at the end of it all, when the memories of him leaving had swept by, Mila stood shivering, contemplating the couple’s receding backs, and she found herself consumed by pity. She wanted to run up to Red and tell her. Tell her it was a sham. Tell her that she, too, had been fooled by his angel eyes and that he was going to leave her just like he’d left Mila. Warn her that he was going to make her feel like she couldn’t live without him and then walk away.

That night when Mila sobbed into a pint of mint chip, and then a pint of caramel and then got dressed and went the bar across the street to sniffle quietly into a few more pints.

She was drowning, her heart pushing against the weight of her memories like the pressure of the sea bottom. Her stomach felt hollow, as though someone had blown a cannon-ball straight through her. Her head was full and overflowing and so were the silent tears that slowly streaked down her face.

Even in the months that had passed since he’d left, Mila felt then as though she’d ripped open a scab only to make it start bleeding again.

A little part of Mila was also raging. Where was the justice? He pursued her, he had made her fall in love with him, and then he left her with nothing but a memory of those eyes. Yet there he was, happy and content and oblivious to her agony, and there she was, a wreck with a bad hair day.

So perhaps it was the realization that she was she was rotting in a self-made prison of misery and that she was her own gaoler, or perhaps it was third pint, but something started to synthesize in Mila that night.

Now here she was, jogging in the waning daylight past all the happiness and staying one step ahead of the hypnosis he’d put her under. Mila was thinking about her fall wardrobe, her friend’s birthday, the little girl with pig-tails she just passed, a paper she’d forgotten to file for work.

Just up ahead, Mila knew, Pioter was waiting for her to finish the run together. Afterwards they would drink wine and talk for hours and make love. A secret smile drew itself across her face as Mila’s pace picked up carrying her closer to her happiness.

Somewhere behind her through the joyful sounds of the city it seemed that someone may have called her name, but Mila just kept running.

A Night Out

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It would be several more hours before anyone woke up.

She swirled the ice in her glass with a practiced flick of her wrist and set the glass down square on the napkin, exactly where the water-ring had already left an impression. She watched the watched the trickles snake their way down the glass, watched the colors and light alternate as they went.

“Get another started for you?” Mark asked, pointing to the Long Island with his fingers but staring pointedly at her with his eyes. She felt the gaze.

“No, it’ll be good to finish this one.” Mark nodded, satisfied, and went back to washing dishes. He was always looking out for her.

Annabelle took another sip and turned to gaze around the bar. At the beginning of the night the bartenders and bus boys took care to clean the floor and leave neat bowls of peanuts all around. By now, the peanuts had turned to shells on the floor, the bowls were scattered among tables along with remnants of slurped-down cocktails and assorted foodstuffs from the kitchen. Mostly, the unpolished wood and red leather details were covered in trash.

Kenny and Marion were up on the little wooden platform dismantling the K.J. set.

Kenny fancied himself an unsung hero of the karaoke underbelly. The most music, the best kept library of performer’s cards, and if there were an award for enthusiasm, he would certainly earn it. More like, Kenny was the socially awkward librarian of karaoke. Sometimes, his enthusiasm would turn into aggression, other times he lie and say he’d left a set of music at home if he was too lazy to go to his van.

Marion was Kenny’s perfect paramour. A little off her rocker, Marion bought into Kenny’s self-proclaimed stardom and fulfilled the role of groupie and body-guard all at once. Mostly she seemed like an over-attached thrall.

Together, Kenny and Marion scared away customers with their antics and Annabelle had never been fully convinced that at least one of them didn’t have some sort of developmental disorder, but all-in-all they were a couple of older individuals who had found love and a mutual passion.

Annabelle turned back and snorted into her drink. The bittersweet oddity of it all deserved a toast.

At the far end of the bar sat Phil, the obligatory old man. A plump, sad-eyed, red-faced cliché hunched over a beer. Once, when he had finished more than a few-too-many Phil had tried to get Annabelle to go home with him. Mostly, she remembered him being a real gentleman about it when she had said no, with an acidity that could have melted diamonds.

It was all stewing in her gut. The years of memories she had formed here in this dingy bar and, looking at Phil and Kenny and Marion, all the memories to come – that was the most depressing thought of all.

Slipping some wrinkled cash under her napkin, Annabelle hopped from her bar stool and wrapped herself into her coat. The movement had made Mark look over and give her a nod goodbye.

A couple peanut shells followed Annabelle outside into the rain. It wasn’t the pleasant autumn sprinkle from that morning, but the kind that came with cold, worming its way through layers of clothes to find the uncovered nooks and crannies – settling at the back of the neck and the uncovered wrists.

She climbed into her car and turned the heater up, fogging up the windows before starting up the defogger. Holding her hands, sticky from the cold rain, up to the air vents for a moment’s respite. As she watched the fog clearing slowly from her windshield her gaze softened and her thoughts went back to the day she’d had. The mundane evolution of her life – class, work, home, class, work, home, class, work… Was this what her life was going to be? When she graduated, would it get better or become more of the same? Was it worth being alive in a world where everything was so dull and where even the colors were becoming bleached shades of grey?

No one had given her a choice when she was being born. No one has asked her if she consented to living in this world.

For the thousandth time the thoughts began to carry her off. She could pull out to the left and get on the freeway. She could drive out North or East and drive until she found someplace else, where she could be someone else, and everything would be different. She could sell all her possessions for a modest plot of land, waitress at a diner, live on a plain and write in her free time. She could live off the land and have a cow and chickens and grow plants. Maybe one day her car would break down and a handsome fellow would come to her farm to fix it and they would fall in love.

And then…

And then Annabelle’s windows had defogged. She pulled out of her space and down the lot over three speed-bumps, and checking both ways before turning, she went right out onto the street and drove home.

Reflections on Self Worth

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I never really understood,

the benefits of being good.

Or leaving expectations raised,

and taking pride in being praised.

 

Why is it not enough to be

aware of your own artistry?

Why do we seek each other’s nods

in order to rise up to Gods?

 

I’d rather live less carefully

than seem to suffer endlessly

collecting points to feel worthy.

I’ll prove my worth to yours truly.

In Response to Edna St Vincent Millay

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What lips my lips have kissed?
Since your’s kissed mine,
I have forgotten.
And all the other where and whys,
Who didn’t stay till morning.
The dawn is full of hopeful light and happy sighs,
To hear our shameless cries.
And in my heart,
There is no room for pain,
Or unremembered names that not again,
Will cross my mind at midnight,
Till I cry.
Thus in the springtime stands the regal tree.
Nor knows what snows have come and gone.
But knows its boughs more joyous than before.
I do not know what trials may come and go.
I only know that I was lonely once,
And now I am not lonely anymore.

Antebellum

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If there was ever a time that Bree missed smoking, this was it.  A month of communications through friends and a week of curt emails all added up to this day. The sun was pouring burnt light through changing leaves and the sky was the cobalt blue that California only sees for a few days out of the year.

Bree parked her car by the park and walked to Andrew’s house in a considerably slow pace. Three blocks North. There were leaves scattered on the ground, but not enough to shuffle angrily through them. By the time she turned towards his house, Andrew was leaning against his Nissan waiting for her on the street.

She could tell he was upset. His eyes didn’t smile at her and he was wearing his beanie – a sure sign he didn’t have the heart to even do his hair. It struck Bree that she suddenly missed waiting on Andrew while he preened in the mirror. She used to hate it. She used to tell anyone within earshot about how they were late because her girlfriend was having a bad hair day. Andrew would turn beet red and she used to relish it. Now she just wanted to touch his hair and tell him how he was perfect no matter what he did to it.

She raised her hand at the elbow in a restrained wave instead.

Andrew nodded back.

Bree shifted her eyes at the road and Andrew fell in next to her. They walked four blocks before he took a breath, “How are the little ones?”

“Sammie and Tybalt? They’re fine.”

Andrew nodded, intently watching the leaves on the ground.

“They made a mess out of the bathroom last weekend, it took forever to clean up.”

“Oh… I’m-”

“It’s alright, I didn’t really like that floor mat anyway.”

“The one with the flowers?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, it was pretty ugly.”

Bree balled up her fists. They’d fought about the bathroom mat, too. Back in the spring, on their five month anniversary, he’d had the audacity to suggest she get a different mat. They spent an afternoon screaming at each other. Asking Bree to move in didn’t go according to plan. Nothing ever went according to plan.

“So what did you want to talk about?”

They had made a loop around Andrew’s house and were starting a second one. Both knew the path they were on in their sleep.

“I just wanted to say…”

Bree missed him too. She wanted to take his hand and hold it but she crossed her arms instead.

“…If you still want to go to Amelia’s wedding with me, I need to know, because…”

“I… I don’t know Andrew. I don’t want to make this complicated.”

“Yeah… right.”

“Can you get another date by then?”

“I… Maybe I just won’t go.”

“Andrew, she’s your sister, you have to go.”

“I know… she’ll want you there, too. She likes you.”

“Well…” Bree chewed her lip for another block.

South three blocks and East. The park was a sight to behold. In the spring they’d come here every day in the evening as the days grew longer and would watch the sun set into the sea of trees in the West. The park had been green and full of life and children playing on the playground, shrieking on the swings, covered in tanbark. Now the park was a glowing vision of reds.

They walked to their favorite tree. In the October sunset the oak wore a coat of luxurious amber, mahoganies, and rust crowned golden in the light.

“Bree…I-”

“Andrew I’m-”

“Damn it, Bree, let me finish.” That was a first. “Bree… I want you to go to my sister’s wedding with me. And I want to see Sammie and Tybalt sometimes. It’s not fair that you’re keeping both of them and not letting me see them.”

“…Okay.”

“Okay you’ll let me see the cats?”

“Yes.”

Andrew smiled and his eyes smiled with him.

“Thanks.”

“To tell you the truth, Tybalt has been a real terror without you around to punish him.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. He misses you… They both do.”

They sat there for a while watching the sun go down knowing this moment was as precious as the last few green leaves in October. This armistice for the sake of the cats and Amelia’s wedding came at a cost. Bree wanted nothing more than to jump Andrew right then and there… but… no one could ever make her forget how he would dissolve to tears every time she raised her voice. The way he somehow became less himself every time they fought until the boy she’d fallen in love with was replaced with a weepy-eyed scarecrow of what he used to be.

As the neighborhood’s lights started to come on and the sun hid in the West he walked Bree to her car.