Monday, December 30, 2013

The Long View

Tom Heiffner stood thoughtfully, breathing in the stale, dusty air and staring idly at the rolling hills that were his destiny. The hills were his only friends, as much as he hated them. They brought the rain his crops desperately needed. Sometimes they sent storms that left him standing, smelling ozone, and marveling, yet again, that a man's work - a year's worth of sweat - could be obliterated in one night. One night of frost at the wrong time and it was all for nothing. These thoughts tumbled over each other in Tom's brain. But that was nothing unusual, these circular thoughts were his constant companions. The one thing he could count on. Besides the hills.

The sun was dropping fast as it is wont to do in places where the horizon is a long way off. There were splashes of gold, pink, and a deep red that reached down inside him, twisting, forcing his hand. He turned a plug over in his cheek and spit a long stream toward the hills. Folks called them mountains. Folks were wrong. Tom had seen mountains in Colorado. The years had done little to diminish the impression they'd left him with. Grandeur. He knew that was what the mountains wanted him to see, but he only saw something huge that he couldn't control. There was enough of that at home. Even if the mountains were really just hills.

A man gets to where his stomach is his wristwatch when there isn't anything but work. Tom's stomach was telling him that it was time. His stomach had yet to accept the fact that Myra wouldn't be banging the dinner bell. That he would fill the empty hole with coffee, whiskey and corn pone. Myra. Tom squinted at the hills while he pulled a pouch of tobacco out of his overalls ... he'd been stretching it with chaw, it was about through. He spit out the plug and rolled a smoke without thinking, lit it with a thumbnail match. He pulled the smoke in deep and thought about Myra.

He should have known. Love can only do so much. She'd loved him - he never doubted that. And he'd loved her with everything he had, every bit of his understanding of love, however distorted it was. He chuckled. Damn fool, that's what he was. When he had first seen Myra, she'd been dancing up a storm. He was holed up in the biggest town he had ever seen, and she was the most beautiful woman there. He'd watched her all night. And the next. And the next. Finally, she approached him. Fire in her eyes, dress tight and damp - he wasn't sure if she was going to hit him or ask him to dance. She did neither. She led him upstairs. Days passed. Her expressions grew softer. Her lips more welcoming. And then he'd told her that he intended to marry her and take her back home with him. And she'd smiled like she'd won a beauty pageant - which she had. They were married that Sunday, and they left for the farm the next day, Myra sitting shotgun on the old wagon.

Myra hated the farm as much as Tom loved it and for the same reasons. He thought about that now and felt like a chump. She'd left just about the time he'd started to settle into the thing - he was just figuring out what a husband did when she left. He'd waited for days before he realized that he had made the worst mistake a man can make. Worse than planting early. A damn sight worse than planting late. He'd tried to make a flower grow in the desert. He'd let the lights and the music and the glint off Myra's smile convince him that he could turn her into what he needed - a partner. Hell, she was pretty, though. He'd never seen teeth so white. And she'd had this smell ... a little bit of perfume and womanly magic. He didn't know what it was, but some nights he remembered that smell and the hangover the next day was always worse.

The old dog stirred in the dust. Tom slapped his thigh and the dog sat at his feet. He held the big, rough head in his hands and smiled. The dog would never leave. Myra was gone and the weather was a gamble ... the bank already owned his land, but they would never take his dog. God would do that, and he figured he'd follow pretty close behind, the way the dog had followed him for almost ten years now.

"We're in for it now, Dog. You know that, boy? The worst of it. Ain't nothing left to lose. Ain't nothing to worry about neither. This is the finish line ... well, nearly. We got this land and we'll make it pay somehow. Or we won't. You and me don't got fancy notions, Dog. I should have known. Damn fool."

The dog made a keen heartbreak sound and the old man cuffed him gently.

"I sure didn't mean my whining to catch on, Dog. You and me'll be alright. Near dark, now - get up and move, boy. Let's go get us a drink and something for our bellies."

The dog loped slowly, keeping up with the man's long strides. From a distance, they might have looked downright respectable. Had to be something in a man that walked with such purpose, didn't there? Had to be something in a dog that would watch his man like that. It was like the whole damn place didn't exist, just Tom. The dog rumbled happily, his throaty acceptance. It was just exactly like that. Like the man said.  He'd never liked the way that woman had smelled anyway. And he hadn't liked what he did to their land, their home. It wasn't natural, no matter how you looked at it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

4 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have FOUR minutes. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

We unwrapped it, and now it's time to wrap it all back up. All those genuine emotions. I feel as naked as a Christmas pass out prank. The good cheer and smiles stripped me down like cheap electrical.

Every year, collective memory loss and craziness. One drunken uncle, two DUIs, and that chick you knew in High School writes you a schizo email.

I'm not knocking it, and I wasn't knocked by it. I like it. It's like hitting the reset button. Or, maybe it's like you have to unplug life and leave it unplugged for fifteen seconds like the Comcast folks say. They say lots of shit though.

It's grey and a little chilly and I feel lucky to have two tiny people to remind me that it wasn't just one day. Or it shouldn't have been.

We will move forward. Can't go back, and I'm done going sideways. Never trusted those crab scuttles. I'm happy for the righteous and glad that burritos exist. Does anything else really matter. You know, besides friends and family and all that stuff I tamped down with leftover fruitcake.

Friday, December 20, 2013

3 minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have THREE minutes. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

You open your eyes and everything is different. Don't don't know what you've gotten yourself into. The sliding world brings familiar things to you. Your smell is acute. You smell carne asada cooking somewhere. You think about your life and question its legitimacy.

You stand up and get up and what else are you going to do? But the toothpaste isn't where it usually is and, when you find it, you realize it tastes salty, gritty. It does not taste like peppermint. 

You stand and lean against the wall, trying to make sense of it. There is a distinct taste of copper in your mouth.

You want a drink, but you don't know why. You want a shield, a barrier, something to protect you from the newness of the world. You need to relearn everything. Now seems like a pretty good time to start. Or stop as the case may be.

You take the pills that are put in the little boxes. You never forget. They have told you that the pills will fix things. Set them right. You're not sure what you believe, but what do you have to lose?

Friday, December 13, 2013

2 minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have TWO minutes. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

Oh shit, I have to do the Friday free write. Don't do it. They'll understand. You're sick. And what, you're gonna disappoint three people? Is it ego or guilt, man? Or a sweet cocktail of the two. All I know is that coughing is like taking a few hard ones to the ribs. And shit's still a little dizzy, which sounds entertaining, but it the absolute opposite.

Oh well, I can do my two minutes. If the settlers could tame this country, if men can climb Everest, if women can give birth - well, I can write two shitty minutes worth of whining before I go back to bed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Did you bring it?"

"You said you'd be there."

"Christ, Susan. Alright, I'm the asshole again. I suppose it doesn't make any difference..."

"No! Don't do that bullshit martyr thing. Be fucking honest."

"You want honest? Real honest? You think I wanted to go to fucking Washington? You think I wanted to sit in the airport for four hours while the fucking baggers jerked off and..."

"You seriously don't get it, do you?"

"What? I was telling..."

"Fuck the delay. Fuck Washington. Why would you even cut it so close? Why did you even go? Why the hell do we have this conversation all the time?"

"I don't think we have this conver..."

"Oh, just shut the hell up. You're trying to get off on a technicality again. It's fucked up. Maybe we don't deal with this exact situation, but it's always something."


"And stop fucking saying my name. What, is that from one of your 'How to Be The Alpha Suit' monkey books? Make eye contact and always use your colleague's first names when you speak to them. I bet you didn't even bring it. You didn't did you?"

"I, uh...we're not colleagues, Susan."

"I know, you're nice to them."


"Wow, you are such an asshole! Do you even remember what you were supposed to bring?"


"It was your whole justification for this nonsense in the first place. I mean, of course I knew that you just had to schedule a meeting, but you said it was the reason. You told him..."

"OK, fine. Make me a dick. What did I forget?"

"Was the flight full?"

"What? You call me an asshole and then ask about the flight? What the fuck, Susan?"

"Did you eat? Do you want a snack? I can make you a sandwich."

"Why are you twitching your eye like that? What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you drunk?"

The sound was almost inaudible. A small toe shuffling on thick Berber carpet, softer even than the scruffling of the birds that made nests in the eaves. He turned slowly and looked down at the small face, expectant above long pajamas - the pajamas he had brought back last time. They were worn now and he could barely make out the dinosaurs his son loved so much. He wore the pajamas every night.

"Did you bring it, Dadda?"

It came back to him with a resounding crash. He'd promised he'd bring something else back from the Museum of Natural History - something with a dinosaur on it. He'd forgotten it the minute he said it. Now, he felt his eyes begin to swim as he looked at the boy's face, lower lip trembling.

"It's OK, Dadda. I know you were really busy. And Momma told me the plane was late."

He looked at the moving lips, but he couldn't hear a thing. There was a rage of static in his ears, he felt a bit dizzy, steadied himself with a hand on the wall. He tried to speak, but there were no words. He knew if he opened his mouth that it would all come out. All the shame. All the fucked up excuses he used. He looked at the boy and thought what he always thought. I am ruining you, and I don't know how to stop.

The boy looked concerned now, and the wide eyes broke his heart.

"Don't be sad, Dadda. I have lots of dinosaur stuff. We saved you a piece of cake! A middle piece like you like."

The boy was smiling now. He reached out with a small hand. John looked behind him, but Susan was long gone. He felt himself slipping away - he wanted to run, abandon them, cut the cancer out of the family. He was the problem. He knew it. Instead, he took the tiny hand in his.

He ate his cake without speaking. He could barely choke it past the thickness in his throat. It tasted like cardboard. The boy was talking about his presents. The games. All the people - names he did not recognize. John chewed and nodded and tried not to think about how many of the other fathers had been at his son's birthday party.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Saloon

You can sit at the saloon, sideways, eye cocked just right. Careful, bar stools are slippery things. You'll hear strips of conversation, let them wash over you. Don't listen to the words themselves, hear the cringe and jab and sweat of it. Let the tone color your lens. It's been amber for so long. A dark coursing amber that you can swim in, it's so thick. When you hear people clapping, clap. It's the sensible thing to do. It lets the mouth corner booth busters know you're there.

You will smell the sickening sweetness. You'll come to love it. A smell that can't be reproduced. Old beer, spent dreams, epiphanies, and love stories...they make a fascinating perfume. You don't need to think about it. Soon, it will fit you, the smell, like your Grandpa's aftershave.

You'll stop feeling awkward. Conserve words. Another pint. Then: Again. Soon, you only need tap the bar. You tip a dollar a drink. Don't flirt with the bartender. She'll probably appreciate it. Your wife probably will, too - dead or not.

Time passes. You'll know people, but you won't know anything about them. You'll talk about the same things all the time. It's scripted. You play the game and you get your prescription. It comes in a thick glass and, if you hold it up to the light just right, hell - the whole goddamn world is in there.

Sometimes memories will fall on you out of nowhere, leaving you gasping, laughing, wondering...

You can sit at the saloon. That is a guarantee. That is a promise. You won't have to wait for the young bankers to get their drinks. The bartender has no idea what a gimlet is. You do, but you pretend not to. You drink whiskey and leave when you are sated, coated in laughter and the sound of billiard balls cracking. You'll go home then. You'll try not to sway when you walk, which never works. You can't think about it. It's like carrying a drink. You look at it and you're fucked. You look ahead and walk, hell, you won't spill a drop.

The years will pass so quickly. That's the whole point of the saloon. It is a time machine. You pump quarters in and pull hangovers out. You talk about a lot of shit you'll never remember. Sometimes you think about the look on your father's face when he'd take off his belt. You wonder what kind of psychosis it was. He always looked happy, wolf lip-licked and excited. You'll think about that and fucking cry. And cry. And no one will say shit because the saloon was made for sadness.

Hard days add up. Work makes you tired. You'll start calling in sick. You'll be shocked when they tell you how many days you've missed. The time machine, remember?

Sometimes you just got to own your choices, good and bad, man. You need to smile and nod when people suggest skipping a night at the rail. You need to embrace that shit. You've disconnected. You've reached the finish line. Most mornings you'll wake up and wonder why everything hurts so badly.

There is a woman who comes to the saloon and she always stares. You probably had a night. A conversation. Something. It is important that you avert your eyes and embrace the lost memory. She will only bring you humanity - sadness, honestly, love, empathy - and that goes counter to your whole plan. It's a disgrace to the saloon itself.

Years evaporate and you won't even tap the bar anymore. Your glass fills up without you even noticing. You'll give the bartender handfuls of cash. It doesn't matter.

You can sit in a saloon any motherfucking way you want. This is not a wine bar. This is not church. This is yours and you deserve to enjoy it or not on your terms. Don't let them sway you. Don't let them give you the meaningful look. Stop making eye contact.

They'll talk about you after you're gone. Your family will cry acid tears and blame themselves, but they will get over it. The folks at the saloon, they'll remember. In drunken bursts. Remember when he was drunk enough, he'd sing those stupid Russian songs? Remember when his mother died? Shit, I've never seen anyone that angry. They won't remember you, but they'll remember the stories and you will live in some twisted immortality that you never saw coming. Because the stories are you.

There are even some of the old crew who will never sit on your stool. And they'll be angry when other people do. They'll grumble. Look at that kid, it ain't right. It just ain't right. 

The saloon is bigger than anything. It is a place of worship, a refuge, a place to space the pace of life - too fast. That's the one thing everyone in the saloon can agree on. Life moves too damn fast. Sometimes the booze speeds it up. Mostly, it slows things down.

You buy your ticket, you take your chance. Bar stools are slippery motherfuckers. Don't say you weren't warned.

Friday, December 6, 2013

3 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have ONE minute. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

Wide awake with copper taste in mouth. You roll over. Grab the blanket. Think. Just think. From the expanse of blackness, small lights shine through. Shooting stars and snaps, blist, fronks of recognition. You see her face. You wonder how it ended. You look in the mirror, searching evidence. Your eyes are tired. Low. Puffy. You step back and feel your muscles, your arms. Nothing seems to be out of place. You check your cell phone. No drunken texts. No missed calls. This was a missed call, you think. A close call. One that could have been closer.

You smell the cigarette legacy on your denim jacket and you remember the laughing. Your throat aches with it. You want to see it all. A lump forms in your throat and you look yourself dagger deep. YOU did this. No one else. You chose it. And you will choose it again until the days of choice pile up and your ability to choose is revoked.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

He Needed To Die

He tried to open his eyes, but they were glued shut - sand and sweat and blood. He rose to one knee and the pain between his temples took his breath. Sudden. Shocking. It was a color he did not recognize, bright and vibrant in the darkness. He rotated his neck slowly; it sounded like broken glass. He could feel the sun, deadly hot. What the fuck? Then, everything slowed down. He remembered. He was supposed to be dead. He was close to it, now. Not close enough. He pictured the man's face and wished he'd chosen the bullet. His optimism had been folly. The desert does not empathize. The desert takes what it wants.

He tried to spit into his hand, but there was no moisture. He rubbed his eyes, but it ground the grit deeper. Sandpaper madness. Fuck. Where was the man with the bullet? Why had he been so stupid? Hubris. That's what they called it, right? He flashed to a college classroom: girl in the front, always dressed nice, pretty, perfect posture. He'd never spoken to her. Something about heroes. He couldn't remember.

The gun had freaked him the fuck out. That's what it was. The man smirking. I can shoot you or leave you here. He could hear himself begging: Don't shoot me. Just don't shoot me. The big man had looked almost shocked at his choice...which made sense, bullets are fast. But the gun. He'd looked at the end of the gun and just lost it. And there had been some hope in the decision, hadn't there? Stay alive ... it seemed ridiculous now.

He didn't understand. That was the injustice. Why him? What had he done? He tried to remember, but he was so thirsty. His head was so big. So fucking loud. Oh, Jesus. He was going to die, blind, in the desert. He wanted to rise and walk. He wanted to be the man who comes out of the desert. Louis L'Amour revenge fantasies blossomed. But this wasn't a book.

He had done bad things, sure. There was no denying that. But bad enough to die for? He searched through the slideshow in his mind. Some of the slides were blurry. Maybe he had done something during one of the black nights. Maybe it was mistaken identity. It didn't matter.

It was over. He knew it, but he couldn't accept it. Couldn't make it right in his mind. If only the man had explained. He'd asked and he could still hear the laughter. Does it fucking matter? No, it didn't matter. That was clear.

He let his head fall back and he could see the sun, just a redness through his eyelids. He could feel his skin burning. He tried to yell, but his throat was shredded. The sound that came out was something close to a howl. Pain. Fear. He smelled sweat and dry-heaved, gasping as he remembered the broken ribs.

The calm came slowly. Like an opiate ascent. Warmth. Not heat. Not the burning of the sun. A warmth from inside. Some kind of benevolent tranquility. He felt his muscles relax. He was relieved. Confused. Scared. He could feel death coming. He wanted it more than anything. He also wanted to live.

Pieces of the conversation came back to him. He remembered his pleading tone. The disgust on the man's face. Hell, he was disgusted with himself. He didn't know why. It was irrelevant. He did not know where he was. The man would not have left him an out. The desert promised death. And he couldn't even accelerate it. In his mind, he was on his knees, begging. Please. Please come back and bring the bullet. Bring the gun. I won't say a word. I promise. Jesus Christ! I promise!

The smells were strange. He had been lost in the labyrinth of his smells. Now, with the calm, other smells emerged. Some plant baking in the dust and sun. Sage? It was a sweet smell. It turned his stomach and made him shudder. Quick flashes. Christmas morning. His grandmother's peppermints. Acolyte candles. Altoid kisses behind the bleachers. There was also a smell of decay. He wondered if there were vultures circling.

His body was wet. A special slickness composed of sweat and blood. He had soiled himself. He could feel that, too. Smell it. He could smell his body becoming a part of the desert. Hot sand. The smell of wreaths and old wax. Resignation.

His brain was sluggish, still stuttering over the question. Why? In some velvet crease of the brain, he knew. Just as the man had said. It didn't matter. It was what it was. Everyone has a job to do. He fell on the hot sand and watched stars and cartoon faces explode behind his matted eyelids. The man had done his job. Now, to hold up his end of the bargain, he need only do the simplest thing in the world, let go. He needed to finish it.

He needed to die.