Friday, September 2, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

She gave me a flip of the hair, and I shot back a raised eyebrow. I think. I managed to raise it at first, but then it started to twitch, and I closed my eyes tight twice. Call it a tic. That's what I was hoping she would do, but she took an emotional step back. You could see it. Her whole frame changed, got real rigid. I took my coffee cup and found a table outside, but I didn't feel good about the whole thing. It left a bad taste in my mouth. Worse than coffee, even.

I devoted too much time to thinking about it. I'll admit that. The coffee didn't help my burgeoning paranoia one bit. 

I do this all the time. Something stupid happens, and my brain can't let it go. I mentally slapped myself. It wasn't like she was still obsessing about it, but...I was, maybe she was broken like me? 

I took a notebook and a pen out of my backpack, stared at them for a few minutes, but didn't write anything. I reached for my pack of cigarettes before I remembered I'd quit. I thought that muscle memory had died, but I guess not. I flicked errant crumbs off the table and watched the sparrows squabble.

I do this a lot, too. Watch birds, that is. Maybe it's a hobby. Maybe it's another obsession. Good thing is that birds don't care if you get nervous and your eyelids twitch. They're busy with their own shit, flapping around and eating. Shitting on things. Making noises that must mean something to another bird. 

The fog was starting to roll in, and I was getting that panicky feeling which means it's time to start drinking for the night. I'm not an alcoholic - I only drink in the evenings. I may white-knuckle it through the day to get there, but I'm not one of those sad fucks doing a shot before they can tie their shoes - my old man was like that. He died in a southern prison. I live in the prison of my mind. In some ways, the apple always falls close to the tree. I was determined not to get chopped down, though. Why? I don't know why. Call it inertia. 

I had made up my mind I was going to talk to her. Ask her if I could buy her a drink at the end of her shift. I had the whole thing scripted in my mind. I was just about to stand up when I saw her hustle out with her bag over her shoulder. I checked my watch. Five. 

She was gone, true, but it was drinking time, and I knew the liquor would explain the whole situation to me in a much more palatable way. It's good at that. It spins things around for me. 

By the time the bottle was half-empty, I was a hero. And I knew I would live to fight another day.


  1. (reserving this comment space for Mr. Mader)

    1. Oh, I really like this. It's human and authentic, which you do so well. The last couple of paragraphs sing.

    2. I love this line: "I reached for my pack of cigarettes before I remembered I'd quit. I thought that muscle memory had died, but I guess not." I can relate so much. In fact, the great thing about this is how easy it is for me to relate to.

  2. It had been a rough day, and weren’t they all rough lately, but the coffee smelled so good he couldn’t help opening the thick glass door and stepping inside, despite his reservations, despite the whispers, despite the dozen pairs of eyes dissecting, then studiously ignoring him. A knot in the pit of his stomach punched at him when he saw the young woman behind the counter. She had nice red hair and looked so much like a girl he’d known a long time ago, when everything had come so easily. When all it took was his captain-of-the-football-team smile and the shiny car his father had bought him for his sixteenth birthday. That seemed another lifetime. Someone else’s life. He’d reached the head of the line and she stood before him now, this different-but-similar woman, and asked him in a practiced-for-customers voice what he wanted. It took a while to get the words out; his lips and tongue felt like chalk. “I think…just…coffee,” he managed.

    Rolling her eyes but with slightly more amusement than disdain, she repeated, “Dude. Like, just plain coffee? We have everything.” She gestured to the chalkboard menu on the wall above her head. “You want a pumpkin latte? People really like those.”

    “Pumpkin? In coffee?” It sounded so foreign to him. Like he’d time-travelled into a different land. But, in essence, he had.

    “It’s not really pumpkin, it’s—why don’t I just make you one?” she said, her smile broad now.

    “Oh. You don’t have to—”

    She lowered her voice. “It’s nothing. Really.”

    He didn’t dare continue to contradict her, because kindness was at a premium in his current circumstances, so he simply nodded and stepped toward the other customers waiting for their orders. He’d expected to hear his name called (not his real name) then go to the register and pay—calculating the other demands on the cash in his wallet, figuring how much of a dent a fancy coffee would put in it his budget—when she stood before him, without her apron, holding two steaming cardboard cups. “I’m on break,” she said, then tilted her head toward the door.

    Another kindness he didn’t believe he deserved, but how could he deny it? He followed, sipping the altogether strange concoction, and continued to marvel at her. Hair exactly the same texture, shining even in the late-summer, skyscraper-shadowed afternoon sun. He should be buying her coffee. He should be doing everything for her, he should—

    She turned. “Mom told me about you.” The tough New York façade melted into a smile that twinkled her eyes with misty unshed tears. She wiped at them with the back of her free hand. “What you did for her. Trying to stop that asshole who—you got a shit deal, man. Thanks to his whole shitty family. We were trying so hard—”

    His gaze dropped to his shoes. Grownup shoes, not like the Air Jordans he was wearing that night. Spattered with the asshole’s blood, and some of his own.

    “Mom said she wrote you all these letters. Why didn’t you write back?

    He’d read them, over and over. But couldn’t bring himself to respond. He shrugged. “I guess I’m still trying to figure that one out.”

    She gave him a smile that looked painful. “Well. I’m happy you got sprung. So’s Mom. I know she’ll want to see you”—he cringed at the utter fear of that reunion, the memories it would bring back, the danger—“when you’re ready, I mean.”

    He nodded dully. “Sure. Yes. I’ll do that. Please tell her that. I just need…time.” Ironic, he knew. For the last twenty years, all he’d had was time.

    She made a cute little pout. “I should be getting back to work. Did you like the coffee, at least? I know it’s not everyone’s favorite.”

    “It’s all right,” he said. “Thank you.”

    He watched her walk away, and when she was around the corner, he dropped the almost empty cup into the trash. It wasn’t terrible. Maybe, in his new parcel of free time, he’d develop a taste for it.

    1. Wow, you hooked me quickly. You keep amazing me. If there is more, yay!

    2. I love this piece. Especially the way it wraps up. You created a whole world like you usually do, and I definitely want to know what happens next. And this is great: late-summer, skyscraper-shadowed afternoon sun

  3. Marble. Stainless steel. The shatterproof glass of the counter.

    And then, I was in the seventies again, standing alone in a queue of tired mothers. I’d been on my own for a while, being good, my hand closed around the pound notes I’d need for the meat and a couple of coins I’d get for standing in line. It was a nothing sort of job, but I’d nothing else to do, and the money was a bonus. I’d have done it without being paid if my mother had asked; I couldn’t play my radio in my room because it would have disturbed my father.

    The woman in front of me was talking to another, two or three from the head of the queue. I knew the woman nearest the front. She gave me a dark look before she answered the other one, recognising me. I was at school with her son, and I might talk to him, revealing something she’d rather he didn’t know. But I had no interest in their family; he was in the remedial class stream, and the only lesson we’d shared was sports.

    The butcher was more interesting. He was like a celebrity in town those days, with everyone knowing his name. He had it written on a big sign over his door; Robert Hastings, red and bold and in italics and joined-up writing. He had scores of knives and slicing machines behind the counter and honed their blades hundreds of times each day. He would be a good man to have with you in a fight, or so I'd thought. Even James Bond would have been afraid of him if they’d needed to fight.

    We moved forward again. A woman I didn’t know left the shop, hooking the strap of her handbag over her shoulder. She’d bought a pound of finely minced beef from ‘please call me, Bob,’ slipping it inside the carrier bag she’d had at her feet. Mister Hastings had offered her credit, saying he’d liked her face, and she’d blushed like a red traffic light. But he’d written her name and address in his big, black book, and he’d promised he’d visit her on Friday.

    And it was then I first met my wife, Emily Hastings at the time, when she came out from the back of the shop to ask her father to take a phone call. We’d not be a thing for another few decades yet, but that was when we first met.

    1. This is cute, but with dark undertones. I can't help but wonder about the woman who gave the kid a dark look and what the butcher did to become the local celebrity. You are great at intrigue even when you don't seem to be trying.

    2. I agree, and I also think this reads like the beginning of something much bigger. The details are on point and raise Qs.

  4. Companions

    Old Man Noble
    with this ghost-string hair,
    watches from the stables
    where the horses gather him
    in like family. He smells
    of their hide, shares the same
    black eyes, the steely stare.

    He watches the moon dance in,
    star stragglers in her wake.
    All is silence while he hums
    the memory of his yesterdays,
    turning driftwood into gold.
    These days are charmed for him,
    not steeling the warmth within.

    In the stables the mares nod,
    sigh and shuffle beside him.
    They lay down as he sleeps,
    sharing their body heat.
    And in the Dreaming time,
    he listens to the chicken
    bones sing.

    1. This is beautiful and haunting with a touch of whimsy. I love it.

    2. This is fantastic. I love the feel and sound of the words, and the flow is so strong. Really, really dig this one.

  5. You know how they say that you can't miss what you never had? I bought that crap for most of my life. Then, one night at a bar in the middle of New Mexico, I found out that "they" were wrong, again. I guess if you live long enough you get to disprove most of the things "they" say.

    He wasn't gorgeous or anything. 5'10 with hair that tickled his collarbone and the body of every thirty-something guy I'd seen in the last few years. Beer belly, good arms, nice thighs from what I could tell, horrid taste in clothes. But there was something about his eyes and the knowing smile he aimed at my friend. I fell hard and fast for a guy who looked through me. Me, a woman who was single and happy about it. Me, the girl who got any guy she wanted. Me, the heartbreak queen of the upper East side. I could buy and sell twenty guys just like him, have fifty more panting after me, but this one, this guy who epitomized the phrase "dime a dozen" wanted nothing to do with me. That would be fine, except for the fact that I was desperate for him to want me.

    I could see forever in his smile. His laugh warmed me in ways I'd never experienced or expected. He didn't just smile at my much uglier friend, Jill, but he put in the effort to get and keep her attention. Jill, ever the ho, didn't even make him work for it. She also didn't keep him more than a night, the idiot.

    Just like that, he was gone. I know I could have tracked him down if I'd wanted to. The thing is, did I want to? My heart ached at the mere idea of walking away from what could be with him, but I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about how having a weakness like him would affect my life. In the end, I just wasn't brave enough to pull that trigger. I still haven't found love, but I miss what could have been with my mystery guy almost every day. I miss it more at night. If only I'd been as ballsy as I'd always believed I was. In the end, I was too scared to take that leap.

    1. Man, I've been there. I was so shy and self-conscious. And needy. You captured this really well.


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