Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Promise

"So, the guy's just fucking staring. You know? You know how their eyes get. All wide and scared and wet. Deer in the headlights or whatever the fuck. I don't know. I ain't never seen a real deer. He's not saying anything, just kind of whimperin' a little. Like a puppy. Then, I get this idea. I'm supposed to kill him, right? Not like I got a problem with it, but I just didn't feel like killing anyone that day. I don't know why. Anyway, I'm standing there watching this dude shake, and I take my gun out. Dude jerks back, but I slowly put the gun on the ground. 'Stand up,' I tell him. He does...maybe that was part of it. He wasn't beggin' or bitchin' or any of that usual shit. Kind of had a little respect for him, you know? I mean, it's not like we don't know the guy. Shit, he was in my class until I dropped out.

"So, he's standing up, and I tell him I'm giving him a chance. We fight. Fists only. If I win, he dies. Simple, right? Motherfucker weighs like a buck fifty. I'm smiling, and I start to take my jacket off and he fucking hits me. Hard. So, I drop the jacket and get ready to knock his head off, but he hits me again. I swing and he hits me again. Same place, every time. Right in the fucking mouth. I can taste the blood...and get this, he's smiling. Now, I know I fucked up. I don't know what kind of Jap shit that guy studied, but he moved so fast I couldn't even block a punch. He's just destroying me. And, you know me...I ain't no chump...dude was fast. And strong. So, I'm trying to just get him off me. He does some kind of turnaround kick thing. Next thing I know, I'm waking up on my back and he's holding the gun? I know! I couldn't fucking believe it. So, he's holding the gun, but he's not pointing it at me. He tells me that he's not gonna shoot me. Says it's all a big misunderstanding. I can't fucking believe it. He tells me he doesn't blame me. He understands. Blah, blah, blah. I'm just hoping he keeps talking, so I agree with him. Thank him. All that shit..."

"So, what the fuck happened?"

"What you mean, 'what happened?' I acted like I was tying my shoe and he's still doing one of those...the fuck they called those things in the plays...solilisomething. He's pacing and talking all loud. I had the .38 in my ankle holster. I pull it, but I stay down low. He looks at me and he sees the gun and he freezes...and he starts giving me this line of shit about how he didn't shoot me and we had a deal. I can't shoot him...wouldn't be fair."

"Ha! Fair? That's hilarious."

"I know. He's all pissed that I didn't 'keep my word'. I'm all, 'Brother, killing people is my job, you really think we're gonna shake hands and go get a beer?"

"That's a good one. So, what happened."

"The fuck you mean? I shot him. Then I took my gun back."

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A nice day...

She's right fucking there, man. What's wrong with you? Say something. She's not going to laugh at you. Nothing bad will happen. Shit, she just looked at you... didn't she? She probably knows what you're thinking. She's probably thinking, "great, this asshole is about to hit on me." And what's with that old lady? Why is she staring at you? What the hell kind of stare is that? Pity. That's what it is. Pity? Fuck you. I'm young and you're not. SHIT, that was a crappy thing to think. She's probably got dementia or some shit. Why do you always do this? Why does everyone have to be against you all the time? Who made you so goddamn important?

"Hi, can I help you?"

You need to to say something. Oh, Jesus. Hurry. It's just getting worse. Quit looking at the menu and look her in the fucking eyes. Just ask if she's having a good day. Or order something. DO IT!

"Um, yes. Hello."

Fucking brilliant move, playa. Jesus. Shit, you didn't really even say anything. It's hot. You're going to start sweating. You need to scratch the side of your nose. What's that smell? All the ambient chatter has become amplified. The people behind you are getting impatient. If they'd just shut the FUCK up for a second. You gotta do it.

"Sorry. I distracted. I mean, I was distracted. I'm sorry. I'd like a cup of tea."

She rolls her eyes.

"What kind of tea...?"

What the fuck? Is she fucking with you? How many different types of tea are there...

"We have English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Chamomile, Earl Grey, Jasmine, Green, Jasmine Green, Darjeeling..."

She's saying words. You're not listening. Listen to HER. She's about to ask you for your decision. 

"Uh...just regular old tea?"

You throw out a 'are you having a good day?', but her back is turned. The guy behind you is laughing.

Genius. You dumb bastard. Now, this asshole is laughing. Maybe she didn't hear you. Or she's ignoring you. It doesn't matter. This was a bad idea. Just turn around and walk out. You can't ever come back, but that's cool. There are a lot of cafes in town. 

She puts the tea on the counter and smiles.

"On the house, sir."

Fuck...sir? What the hell is that supposed to mean. She's almost as old as you. You catch your reflection in the glass behind the tea jars. You look like an asshole. You look mad. Why can't you just smile like a normal person? Have a normal goddamn conversation. You should have known this would happen. That you would make a fool of yourself. That's what you do. 

She's staring at you, and you fumble a dollar out of your pocket for the tip jar. She smiles.

"Is there anything else?"

You want to explain it. Tell her about that night when it was raining and you watched her close up the cafe and why it was important. Or just say it. 'I think you're pretty.' That's it. What? Is she going to be offended? Just fucking do it. You came here to do it, so stop over-thinking it. Yes, I hear you clearing your throat, asshole. Why can't anyone be quiet for a second. She's staring at you. It's now or never, ace. 

"Just...well, are you having a nice day?"

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Closet

It lived inside him, but he did not know its form. A vapor perhaps? He did not know whether it was big or small - or what part of his body was being occupied. He merely knew it was there. He heard the scraping sound on his spine. Sometimes it spoke. He did not understand the words, but he understood their intent.

He looked down at the knife in his hand. His vision focused and then blurred out. He blinked it back to clarity. The knife was long and thin. The sharpest he'd found in the kitchen. It dangled as he stared at his naked body in the mirror. He would find it.

God knows why the police showed up. Perhaps he had been yelling without realizing it. They found him, bleeding to death, surrounded by pieces of meat. The man was carved open, but he was smiling. A detective leaned in and the man slowly turned his head.

"Am I going to die?"


"Good. I couldn't find it, but it will die with me."

Matson watched as the man let himself die. He shook his head, swallowed the naseau that was rising within him. Then he heard it. Joe. He had never heard Joe sound scared. It turned his blood to ice. He was facing the open closet with his back to the dead man.

"Matson...Jesus...there's something here you need to see..."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Short Stop

It's that fucking tremor. Hereditary. You look at the gun in your hand, the shaking; you wish your hand was steady, but it doesn't fucking matter. All he sees is the black hole at the end of the barrel. He doesn't hear the words you are saying. He is past that. He has embraced the infancy of fear. A puddle collects, soaking his sneakers. He's trying to talk, but they aren't words. His snot-flecked gibberish doesn't matter. The same way the tremor doesn't matter. Nothing is going to matter in about thirty seconds.

You're not mad. Not in the least. The boss fingered the fuck; you're just doing your job. It is his fault. He knows it. You know it. It makes the dribbling spit all the more pathetic. This isn't fucking murder. This is business. Raul borrowed money and never repaid it. He had his three chances. He never came up with shit. You don't borrow twenty-five grand from the boss unless you're going to pay it back. Raul knew that. This is the penalty for defaulting on a loan.

It's hot as shit in the back room. Sweat pours off Raul's face, and you can feel it...a sheen covering your skin. The pistol grip is slick in your hand. But here, no one will hear shit. Here, you can torch the fucking building and you don't need to clean up any blood. No one will ever look into the fire. An old abandoned building. No one gives a shit.

You tell Raul to just shut the fuck up for a second and, somehow, he manages it. You sit down and light a cigarette. The first drag makes you cough. Fucking bronchitis. After the first drag, it's easier.

So, you're sitting on a crate, smoking. Raul is dissolving. The boss is waiting for your call. You smoke the cigarette slowly and grind it out with precision on the sawdust floor.

"You don't have to do it, Jimmy..."

"The fuck I don't."

"Jimmy...Jimmy, c'mon man. We came up together. We've known each other since we were six."

"Don't mean shit."


"Alright, I'll humor you for a second. What did you think was gonna happen, buddy? What options do we have?"


"That's right. You knew exactly what was going to happen. You knew the risk. You took it. If you thought I was going to protect you because we used to play baseball, you're a fucking idiot."

You stand in front of him. He is still squirming, wet with sweat and fear. He opens and closes his mouth like a fish. His brain is scrambling. You point the gun and a sound escapes the sweaty lips. It is not a human sound. It is like metal on metal. You think about what you should say, but there's nothing to say.

The building is already engulfed in flames when you start the car. You pull out your cell and press one button. A gravel voice. You say three words before you hang up. The car fishtails and the sand and dust join the black smoke spiraling upward. You are not sad about Raul, but your mind wanders as you drive back into the city. He was a hell of a short stop in his day, you have to admit that.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


It was one of those days. Even the sky was sad, ashen and dripping its misery onto oil-soaked streets. Judith sat, watching the children play in the patch of brown grass in front of her apartment building. She loved to watch the children. She no longer went had progressed too far...she did not have the strength. She felt like she was broken. Her mind was diamond sharp, but her body was failing her...letting her down. She tried not to think about it. Tried to watch the children playing tag, running on legs they never doubted.

Judith did not like being spoken to like a child. Most of the nurses understood this. Some didn't. A few realized who she was and would bring her books and magazines to read. Some of them tried to convince her that she should be in a home. She told them she was in a home. Her home. Some of them understood.

Night. It was the night she couldn't stand. Her insomnia was a weight around her neck. She read; she did not own a television. Books were a good crutch, but she craved the light. She needed to see that people still did things that she could not. She watched the young mothers with children in tow - headed to the store - there was always a twinge of sadness. She had never experienced motherhood. The children who played in the brown grass and the nurses were the closest thing to family she had.

They saw her watching sometimes, but they were kind. Curious. It had surprised her. She had always assumed that she was some kind of joke...a caricature...the crazy lady who stares out the window all day. But the kids saw her and, for whatever reason, they saw an ally, not a spectacle.

It happened slowly. They began to do tricks for her. Cartwheels, juggling, feats of daring. It seemed like they were for her, but...

The first wave almost stopped her heart. It was from a young boy. He was all blond hair and freckles, and it wasn't so much a wave as a salute with a smile attached. She waved back without thinking. Now, it was their custom. They waved to her every day. And every day, she waved back, wondering if they knew the unfathomable kindness of their actions.

When the pain hit, she thought she would scream. It was a tearing, breathless horror. The nurse that was on duty was one of her favorites. Courtney, a strong southern girl. It happened fast. Courtney pounded on her chest, willing her to live, but Judith shook her head. She tried to speak, but her lips just barely moved. The nurse put her ear closer.

"Courtney, it has been a comfort to have you here. Thank you."

"No,' just..."

Judith smiled and squeezed the girls hand. The pain was her friend now. Her guide. She knew to follow.

"Courtney...tell the children I said goodbye..."

Courtney knew who she meant and nodded, tears streaming down her face. She had watched the children with Judith many days. She knew.

"Courtney...tell them I loved them."

Courtney kept nodding and crying as she watched Judith die. The life seemed to slip from her body.  It was like one long exhale. Then she was quiet and still. Outside, the boys and girls were laughing, gathering for a game. Some of them looked up at the window and shrugged. Courtney walked down the steps slowly. When the children saw her, they froze.

"Ms. Stupps has passed children. She is not alive anymore."

The children stared, open-mouthed. The younger kids cried outright, while the older kids did their best to bore a hole in the ground with their eyes.

"She wanted me to tell y'all that she loved you. And she did. You were the highlight of her day. Did you know that?"

None of the children spoke, and Courtney was just turning to go inside when the small blonde boy stepped forward.

"Can she still see us, " the boy pointed toward the sky, "up there? Can she?"

Courtney closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Yes, I believe she can."

The children did not play in the grass that day. They covered the sidewalks with pastel chalk. They wrote it big enough so she could see it from way up there. They drew flowers and hearts. They sat on the sidewalk with pastel hands and they did not stop until it was dark. By that time, the whole sidewalk was covered. It was a simple message conveyed many ways, the echo of a dying woman.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Earth

The dirt was brown, but he didn't call it dirt. Earth, he called it. And that was the way he thought about it. Up until the very end. Even as the pains grew in his chest. As he scraped at it, tearing his fingernails backwards, bloody, knowing that if he dug, he would find light. But was he digging in the right direction? Who had brought him here? No time to even think.

The dirt won. It was no contest. He died, filled with it. He consumed it, breathed it deep into his lungs. Choked on it. Died in it. Tasted it's richness. That was years ago and the grass still doesn't grow over that patch. Folks talk about it, but they talk about it the way you talk about something that happened to someone else. In some other town. In a place where people grow up without ever thinking what it would feel like to die like that. Without wondering what kind of person would do that to another human being. Without sampling the earth once or twice to get a taste of mortality.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why I fear my brain.

I fear the things I can't remember. They are like skittering fire ants. They bite when they want to. The bites burn. I don't know how to stop them. I remember many things, but I have forgotten more, and these ghost memories haunt me.

I give myself too much credit with my paranoia. No one gives a shit about little old me. And I don't mean that in an 'I'm going out to eat worms' way. I'm just small potatoes. I'm not complaining. I guess I'd like to be a little larger, potato-wise, but I certainly don't want to win the blue ribbon at the county fair.

I fear my brain. We should all fear our brains. No one knows how they work and they can break us in an instant. You'll never see it coming. Imagine all the embarrassment of a lifetime unveiled in one sleepless night. If you are brave, imagine the world as you understand it...imagine your faith and dreams gone...imagine having the rug pulled out from under you.

I know it is all just electrical impulses and gloop and that's fine. Knowing something doesn't necessarily mean you believe it. When I was young, my Paupa had a green box on his dresser. It was cheap and vinyl and populated by little drawers. Treasures and trinkets. That is how I imagine my brain. A cheap box with one drawer that won't open. And if you think I'm going to open it, you're out of your fucking mind. 

Frustration and hopelessness. I miss playing an electric guitar really loud. Loud enough and I could blot out the entire world. Just me. Fingers stumbling over the fretboard. Mind overpowered by the chainsaw roar.

The world is full of majesty, but I catch glimpses of it so rarely. Like trying to spot an owl in the top of a high, dark tree. This is because I fucked with the circuitry. Maybe some of it was already there. But I stuck a fork into the toaster brain and stabbed until it sparked. A tendril of smoke. I watched it fade into a blackness so profound I could not run from it. 

I am ungrateful. I am fortunate in so many ways. I wish my brain agreed more often. And without assistance from the little blue pills my doctor gives me. They scramble the circuitry, too. My doctor disagrees. I am tired of arguing about it. 

I stand on tip-toed feet. If I was only taller. I reach until I can feel the muscles in my shoulder rebelling. Until I can feel things unhinging inside. I know it's fucking there and I hope that if I keep looking...

No one wants to hear this bullshit. If you made it this far, I owe you an apology. It's all nonsense. I don't even think it has worth. This blithering and philosophical masturbation of the mind. I didn't even want to write today. But the mind likes its guilt. And I'm tired of feeling guilty.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


There's right and then there's right. They ain't the same thing. And folks don't agree on them. But that's 'cause folks lie. They make excuses to turn their indiscretions convenient. Now, me? I done lots of things that folks don't approve of, but I reckon they never hurt anyone but me. I never went in for the sneak deal, and I wouldn't now. So, there's a whole bunch of people doing wrong, and it hurts everyone, but might makes right and right ain't wrong if you look at it right. Right? Least that's the way it looks. Me? I don't look at it. I'd rather have nice dreams and not get busted trying to buck. Worst thing you can do. Even worse than breaking a horse too hard. You gotta remember what's what and who's got the reins. That's everything.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Bullet

         "How the fuck I'm 'posed to tell you when you never fuckin' listen anyway...?"
         "Because I was..."
         "You what? Because you fuckin' what?!?!"
         "I didn't..."
         "The hell you didn't, motherfucker. The hell you fucking didn't. And now you callin' me a liar?"
         "Look, man..."

         The slap was like a firecracker. He was instantly back there, fingers tingling from the M-80s and worms and hearing that bang as loud as all creation. He shook his head.

         "Now, tell me again how I'm a fuckin' liar."
         "You're not a li..."
         "Goddamn right, I ain't no motherfuckin' liar. I gave it to you straight, motherfucker. I fronted your ass. Cause you's 'family'. Now you got it twisted? That ain't my fuckin' fault. You can't get your shit together? Ain't my fucking fault. You ain't never got no money and your woman does you wrong. Ain't. My. Fuckin'. Fault. I don't care if she is my sister, she's your fuckin' problem. And we ain't 'family'."

         He rung his hands nervously. Cleared his throat. Reached down into the hard place where he hoped his courage lived, blind and groping, a deep sea creature.

         "Brother, I will get the money!"

         The second slap was louder. Antoine spit blood and looked at the face in front of him. Where it had been twisted in fury, it was now resigned. This was just part of the job now. It wasn't personal. He might live.

         "Man, I promise on my Momma's life, I'ma get you that money..."
         "What the fuck I care about your momma, bitch? Fuck yo momma. And fuck you. I'm fixin' to put a boot so far up your ass you can tie the laces with your teeth. You get that money. I'm coming back here at this same time tomorrow. You better be here smilin' with five large in your pocket...on top what you already owe. You feel me?"
         "I do. I will. I..."

         But he was already walking away. Antoine waited until the Escalade rounded the corner, and then he started shoving his things into bags and boxes. He threw as much of his wardrobe as he could into the trunk and dumped the rest in the back seat. He was in Reno, days later, drunk and losing money, when he was slipped a piece of paper by a beautiful Latina. He smiled, groggily, and read the note. 'Meet me outside, I have something for you' - cute with a little heart and everything. Antoine slid off his stool and walked to the neon door. He stepped out into the evening heat. He squinted into the darkness. And then he knew. The voice came from behind him.

         "And yo' fool ass comes outside. Just like that. This is too fuckin' easy. Hey, Antoine, you stupid motherfucker..."
         Antoine felt his eyes burn. Tears. He reached inward for the words that could stop this. But he knew there were none.
         "You can't outrun a bullet, bitch."

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I remember bright eyes on a sunny afternoon, twinkling vodka promises. The grass was warm and the sky, endless. It is just a snapshot, but I'm glad I saved it. You had your own gravitational pull. The park existed around you, and you collected puppies and small children and men with tall beers in wrinkled brown bags. They passed by on their orbits, unaware of why they were even there. The children smiled and spun off into sand-boxed oblivion. The puppies leapt and tumbled. I was only barely existing. I was one broken guitar away from saying 'fuck it'. There was an amazing freedom in the apathy and absolution. We smoked and looked toward the gleam of glass windows and the quiet of Mission Dolores. All of San Francisco knew. You could smell it on the breeze. A sun-soaked promise...a warning. Everyone sitting on the grass could feel it. They could have warned me. But I'm glad they didn't.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The things he never said...

He never told you that he loved you, but he did. He used to picture your face when he was scared. You were his talisman. You were the one pure thing, never corrupted; you broke his heart every day and he was grateful.

He never told you he was proud of you, but he was that, too. Not because you were good at sports or made good grades, but for all the reasons you never would have guessed. He was proud because you always stood your ground. You were kind to animals. You were kind, period. You still are. 

He never tried to tell you how to do things his way. You have no idea how hard that was. But he didn't. He watched you discover the world with wide eyes and an open heart. He knew you were frustrated, but he respected you enough to let you figure it out.

He never told you what to do, how to fight your battles. You thought it was because he didn't care, but it was an issue of respect. He knew you were capable. Armored and well armed with the self-respect he helped you cultivate, always in the never knew where it came from.

He never said that, before you, his life was empty. He dulled the edges of it. He was not engaged in living. And then you came along and life shed its bullshit skin and he was so in awe of you. He tried to show you. Lump-throated gestures that made no sense. He bought you a bike when you didn't want one, but it wasn't about the bike. He bought you books you didn't understand, and he hid the pain as he thumbed the pristine spines.

He never told you about the sacrifices he made. He made them gladly. You dreaded his fatigue because it made you feel guilty. He would come home late and eat the warm leftovers from dinner and, sometimes, you even hated him for it. For making you feel. He knew and couldn't explain. His back hurt more every day, and he smiled. He did it all for you, but he did it selflessly. That's why you never knew.

So, now you find yourself standing in a fog so thick that the smoke from your cigarette is invisible. You are dressed in black and ignoring the words from the preacher. You are wondering if he loved you. I mean, of course he loved you...right? You are sweating and your heart throbs and you want five minutes. That's it. You have some questions, but he gave you the answers long ago. He loved you with a simple note when he knew you were down. He loved you with his sacrifice. He loved you when he made up songs to entertain you when all he wanted was to sleep. He loved you.

The service ends and you shuffle away. You are opening your car when you hear your name. You turn, and you see his brother. Eyes red. Tears hovering on hairline lashes. 

"God, I'm going to miss him."

"I know, Benny. I'll miss him, too."

"I was jealous of you. Did you know that?"

"Jealous of what?"

"You really don't know, do you? Well, read this. He asked me to give it to you if anything ever happened."

The envelope is old and brittle. It is browned and smudged and, inside, there is a page torn from a notebook. His neat block lettering. You lean against the car and read the letter. You read it again. You read it until the words are blurry. You clutch the letter to your chest and thank God that he was more perceptive than you. You may not have known, but he did.