Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Man I Recognized

    I hand the clipboard to the nurse behind the desk in the Emergency Room and set the ballpoint pen back on the counter. The girl behind me in line is holding a bloody bandage to her foot. I make eye contact and we share a weak smile.
    "Are you okay?" I ask.
    She nods. "It was a car accident."
   "Us too," I respond, subconsciously putting a hand against my aching back. I notice that her face looks familiar. "I think we may have passed you on the highway. Were you in the accident on I-35?"
    She nods again, surprised. There hadn't been much left of their car, only a silver hunk of metal that resembled an accordion, and as I look around at the faces of her family I realize how lucky they are to be standing here. My head ache and mild case of whiplash seem to pale in comparison to their experience.
    "It must have been the rain," she comments as she steps up in line to fill out her own form. I give her a parting smile before making my way to the waiting room. As I round the corner I pause for a moment in surprise.
    Slouched in a chair, only a few feet to my left, is a man I recognize.
     He wears a navy jacket and corduroy pants and his feet are crossed over themselves in an awkward way that makes me cringe. One brown hand is held close to his chest, the other one rests on the wheelchair in front of him. His face is tense. I have never seen him quite this close before and something in my soul begins to hurt. I stand awkwardly in the doorway for another moment before crossing the room and taking a seat.
    I have always been frightened of homeless people. At least I think I am, because I have never spoken to one. Or maybe I avoid them out of guilt because I have never known what it is like to have nothing. But either way, this man with the navy jacket has always been a source of confusion to me. Perched in a rickety wheelchair, he seems to patrol the sidewalks aimlessly, pushed by an old woman with short, dark hair and a stony face.
    Glancing over my shoulder I notice that the woman is sitting a few chairs away from him, a cell phone pressed against her face and her voice low. Then...I accidentally meet the man's gaze. His old face shows no sign of recognition, which I am grateful for; I have passed him on the road countless times. But his eyes are fierce and lonely and I can't bear to look into them for more than a second. I turn in my chair and remember my headache.
    I rub my neck and wonder why he is here, quietly sitting and staring in the the Emergency Room. A pang of worry prods my mind. He is old, never sheltered from the elements... I glance over my shoulder one more time. Something inside urges me to move, to sit across from him, to catch his name, to hear his story. I can feel his need from across the room, as if the loneliness was a heavy fog seeping towards me, reaching out with long, desperate tendrils. I can imagine the uncertainty in every raspy breath he takes, I can hear each cough shaking his shoulders. But. My body is frozen and my mind is full of excuses....
    "Are you ready?"
    A nurse appears in front of me, holding a blood-pressure cuff. I slide out of my seat and follow her.
    But my soul hurts. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Someone Save Me?


  "Is he dying?" the gull screeches over the wind, rising up with a sudden gust and spreading its black-tipped wings wide. The air is heavy with salt. A second gull hovers low, beady eyes cast down to the sandy grass underneath.
    "No. Not even close," it answers, diving nearer to the bent figure below...

Walking, In circles, 
trodding the worn out turf of yesterday
with the weary feet of today 
that seem to inquire of me
 with puzzled voices
'Why does this view look so familiar?'.

    White waves beat against the jagged coastline with a rhythm as consistent as a heartbeat, and the two birds circle lower. They alight on the sand and hop closer, orange feet scratching hieroglyphics along the surface of the beach.
   "How long has he been like this?" the first gull asks, fluttering into the air momentarily to avoid a spry of sand kicked up by the man's feet. The man glances up as the two birds dart around him, but soon returns his full attention to his weary plod. Circles.

Wavering. Tired of the same scene, but
frightened to see 
anything different,
scared to move a blistered foot across 
an unbent blade of grass.

   "He's always here," the second gull replies, bending its beak to smooth a stray feather. "I was here last summer, I watched him walk the same circle as I built my nest and raised my young. He is going nowhere."
    "For what purpose does he walk?"
   "He says he is looking for the road."
   "The road is only a few meters away!"
   "But he is afraid of finding the road. If he finds it he must follow it. They all do."
   The gulls tilt their crested heads to watch the man pass a second time. And a third. And a fourth.
  "It must be easier to walk in circles than to move along," the first gull says finally.
   "And it is easier to stand along the beach than to dive into the water and fish, but there are hungry nests back at the cliff," the second gull replies, clacking its beak. The two birds lift into the air and leave the frustrated soul behind to steadily deepen his ditch.

Wondering. What do the birds see
as they spiral above me?
A lone man in a field of opportunity,
walking, ever walking, 
along a ring 
of his own dust.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Blind Date

   The sword flew from my hand and clattered onto the rocks. Smoke stung my eyes as I dropped to my knees, searching for the weapon. Swirling and ebbing like the acrid shadows they hid in, the figures drew closer.
   Their voices clawed inside my head. They were telling me things. Things I didn't want to hear.
   "Get out of here!" I yelled. I pulled my pistol out of my waistband and fired into the mist. The bullets bounced off the walls of the canyon and echoed harmlessly into the distance. The figures stepped back a few paces, taking their smoke with them. The glow of metal caught my eye. Dropping my now-empty gun I grabbed my sword out of the gravel. The figures hissed.
    Sweat dripped into my eye as I wiped the hair out of my face. "Come and get me," I challenged.
    One of the figures stepped forward, the smoke swirling around its feet like vipers. "I have an offer for you," it called to me.
     I gripped my sword tighter. "Oh yeah?"
    "Yeah," it replied. "Let's get some coffee on Tuesday, talk things over. What do you say?"
    I let the tip of my heavy sword fall in disbelief.

   The Starbucks barista gave me a disapproving look. I clenched my teeth into a smile and tried to hide my sword more thoroughly under my chair. The hilt still poked into the aisle. I covered it with my jacket and checked my watch.
   "I wonder...." I muttered. Just then the bells above the coffee-shop door jingled. I turned in my chair.
   "Why hello."
   My mouth dropped in surprise. The handsome young man who stood in front of me laughed at my face expression.
   "Have you ordered already?" he asked me, pointing to his billfold. I shook my head. As he walked to the counter I pulled out my pocket mirror and rushed to fix my hair and apply a last-minute coat of lip gloss. I regretted wearing my armor.
   After a few minutes he returned, setting a coffee cup in front of me and turning to recline in the chair opposite me. I took a sip.
   "How did you know I love the caramel macchiato?" I asked in disbelief.
   "I always do my research before a date. Call it what you will, I just like to make a good impression." He laughed, and I noticed his perfect teeth.
   "This isn't a date," I objected. "This is business. Do you think I wear this armor because it's comfortable?"
   "Whatever you say, babe." He grinned, and emptied two sugar packets into his steaming drink. "So, let's talk. My name's Lucifer."
   I looked over my shoulder before speaking again. "I shouldn't even be here," I admitted. "I'm forbidden to meet casually and your kind." I couldn't call him 'the enemy' straight to his face, it didn't seem right.
   He looked at me, his brown eyes full of concern. "Forbidden? I'm so sorry, I didn't know. I didn't mean to make you do something that makes you feel uncomfortable."
   "No, no," I interjected. "I'm sure it's fine. You seem very different than the others. The General couldn't be talking" I allowed a shy smile to crack my face. Butterflies whirled in my stomach. Jeez.
   "Of course not," he agreed, taking my hand. "Honestly, I've never met someone quite like you before. I think this could be the start of a very wonderful friendship."
    I blushed and pulled my hand back into my lap. He grinned and sipped his coffee. The bells over the coffee-shop door jingled and Lucifer's smile turned into a grimace. I turned and looked at the door. It was the General.
   "Sir!" I exclaimed.
   He held his battle sword in his hand. "LOOK BEHIND YOU!" he bellowed, leaping forward. I whirled and ducked just as a knife embedded itself in the back of my chair, an inch from my throat. A forked tongue hissed at me from behind the young man's beautiful teeth. The barista screamed.
   The coffee-shop filled with smoke and the whir of the General's sword as it swung through the air. I hid beneath the table, coughing. My sword had disappeared. Lucifer's shrieks pounded through my head and I pressed my hands over my ears. Tables and chairs crashed over each other as I cringed. The demon howled one last time. Then, like magic, the smoke was gone.
   The General peered under the table and offered me his hand.
   "Come on, soldier. Let's get back to the base."

Saturday, January 1, 2011


   Mr. Green twitched the right side of his mustache and smoothed an eyebrow with his thumb. Dressed, polished, and smelling of lavender soap, he appraised the face that stared back at him from the shaving mirror propped up on the dresser.
   "Not bad, Mr. Green," he mumbled to his reflection, dabbing after-shave lotion under his chin. He strode to the window and flung it open, scattering several sparrows who had been roosting on the sill.
   It was a good morning for revenge.
   He mulled over the offenses of the past few weeks as he sorted through his drawer of neckties. He chose the red one.
   For you see, Mr. Green was not accustomed to being treated in the way that Jack Oliver Jr. treated him. The young intern was disrespectful and careless, stubborn and intent on dissagreeing with Mr. Green whenever possible. The past few weeks at work had been intolerable. A new wave of anger washed over him.
   Mr. Green slammed the window and walked down the stairs, tying his necktie as he went. In the kitchen, he cracked six eggs on the counter, entertaining himself by imagining that each one was Jack Oliver Jr.'s head.
   Crack. Smash. Crunch.
   The eggs sizzled in their pan as he leaned over the stove, drawing a vial from the cabinet.
   "Poison," he commented to himself, rubbing the glass tube between his palms. "It may be a little extreme, but if anyone was ever justified, it's me." He paused, thought for a moment, and then nodded his head.
   Mr. Green poured coffee into a heavy mug and sat down at the table. Palms sweaty with anticipation, he unscrewed the lid of the vial and emptied it into the liquid.
   "Goodbye, Jack," he smiled hatefully. Then he took the coffee and drank it in one gulp.
   It was 8:07 AM when the illustrious Mr. Green slumped onto his kitchen floor, dead. The exact same time, ironically enough, that young Jack Oliver Jr. got out of bed, stretched, and pondered the beauty of London mornings in June.

"Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." --Ron McManus

Thursday, December 30, 2010

She Loved Much

   Insects buzzed through the heavy air as the young woman slunk down the dusty street. The dirt was warm under her bare feet as the the red, Jerusalem sun began its descent into the dark palm trees on the horizon. The slam of a nearby door startled her, and she began to tremble. Pushing her dirty hair behind her ear she walked quicker.
   The hunger had started again, two weeks ago. It was impossible to ignore, painful in her chest as if her heart had been tied in a knot.
   She clutched the small pot in her hands with a sweaty grasp and glanced behind her. She rounded the corner.
   She knew sadness. She understood weariness, longing, and regret. But this feeling, this hunger, was different. It was an invisible cord that tugged her towards something that she had never possessed but had always desired. It gnawed on every inch of her stomach as of she hadn't eaten for days. But it was not even that sort of hunger. She felt hunted by it.
   A memory from her childhood whirled through her mind as she came to a standstill in front of the stone gate of a clean house. She remembered her first visit to the temple as a girl, her first sighting of those pure pillars, the first time she had heard the holy words of Jehovah read from a scroll. She had felt the hunger back then, it had hunted her even when she was a child kneeling in the dust of the outer courtyard with the lambs and the doves.
   It was strange how time and living had numbed the hunger for so many years. But now, staring breathlessly into the bright windows of the house, she wondered how she had ever forgotten it. She slipped through the gate and approached the door, heart pounding. She raised her hand and rapped her knuckles against the wood.
   "A minute..." a voice bellowed from behind the door. She became self-conscious of her bare head and shuffled away from the light of the lamps. The lump in her throat choked her. The door flew open. She jumped with fright. The man in the doorway squinted.
  "What do you want, girl?"
  "The rabbi is here tonight," she trembled, twisting her tunic between her hands. "Jesus."
   "The good teacher has just sat down to eat--"
   She ducked between the two doorposts and into the bright entryway beyond. Down the hallway, feet padding against the stone floor. Surprised calls from behind her. The doorway. Bursting through, she caught her breath and fell to her knees. The men reclining around the low table gasped. She lowered her eyes.
   "Rabbi," she began, then choked on her words.
   Despair. What words can describe years of regret and months of hopelessness? What do unclean lips have to say to perfection? The emptiness rose up in her throat. She pressed her face against the god-man's dusty feet and sobbed.
   The hunger had pulled her here, to these feet. Confused, her body shook with the weight of grief. 'Surely I am a sinner,' she thought. 'Surely. Surely. Surely.' Her hands shook as she broke open the alabaster pot and raised it over the man's head. Sweet perfume filled the room. Oil dripped from her dirty hands and onto the man's scarred face, but she didn't dare to meet his gaze.
   She knelt again. Her tears dripped down between his toes, leaving dark paths on his dusty feet. She wiped them with her hair. The sweet smell of incense in her nose made her dizzy. The men in the room were talking quietly. Objecting. Then the god-man was speaking.
   "...Two men owed money to a certain moneylender," his rough voice was saying. "One owed him fifty denarii, the other owed him five hundred. Neither had the money to repay him, so he canceled the debts of both."
   She raised her eyes for a split-second. She knew debt.
   "Now. Which one of them will love him more?"
   'The one who owed more, the one who owed a fortune that he could never repay by himself', she thought to herself. 'The one whose heart had wanted to burst from the sorrow and shame of a hopeless debt.'
    How much greater the relief. How much greater the love. A tinge of hope pricked the place where the hunger had rested for so long.
   "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt great cancelled," admitted the man to the left of the rabbi. "He would love the man more."
   "You have judged correctly," the god-man replied. "Do you see this woman? I came to your house, Simon. You did not give me water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair."
   Simon opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it in embarrassment.
  "And you did not greet me with a kiss, but this woman has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my head and feet." The sweet smell hung in the air with a vivid presence as the man paused. "Therefore, I tell you, her many sins are forgiven--for she loved much." 
   She sobbed.

"Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Intruder

     My eyes open.
    The sound hits my ears again. Heart pounding, I raise my head from my arms and listen.
    Again. Clink. Clink.
   "It's him..." I breathe. I roll off the couch. The carpet bites into my elbows as I inch forward on my stomach. He was back.
    Clink. Clink.
   The light from the kitchen doorway shines like a beacon onto the floor, fencing in a square of brilliance in a meadow of dark carpet loops. My gaze lingers on the wall where I know the lightswitch hangs, but there is not enough time. A shadow appears against the square of light on the floor then flits away. I brace myself.
    I roll across the floor, my back hits the wall as the sounds from the kitchen cease for a moment. I hold my breath and wait. The sounds continue. I inch towards the doorway and peer around the corner.
    He is in here, but I cannot see him yet. The kitchen floor is hard under my knees as I crawl under the counter. Head down, I blindly feel along the counter top. My hand closes around a weapon. In my grip, I let my finger rest on the trigger for a moment before pulling the gun back down to my side.
    The element of surprise belongs to me. There will be no escaping justice this time. Leaping to my feet, screaming like an Indian, I shoot.
    Dishes fly. Silverware scatters. And a tall glass topples as the intruder scrambles for shelter, whiskers full of butter. But the stream of water from my gun is inescapable, and my aim is deadly.
    Wide-eyed and wet, the repentant cat observes from under the Christmas tree as I replace the squirt gun on the counter and return to the couch to finish my nap.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What happened yesterday and how I feel about it...

Even though I'm an optimist I tend to be very realistic when it comes to death, even fatalistic. Maybe too much so, who knows. To be honest, death makes me uncomfortable and I don't like it. I hate the way it makes people react, I hate the tears, and I hate that sick feeling you get in your gut. But you can't always run away from the stuff that makes you uncomfortable, you know? Life doesn't work like that.
      So that's what is going through my head as I race across our front yard to the edge of 143rd Street in my bare feet. It's easy to forget things like shoes when you're scared out of your wits. I look both ways. The concrete is cold.
      "Is he dead??" is the first thing I ask the man with the black SUV. Only I'm kind of choked up, so the words don't quite come out right the first time. The man shrugs his shoulders and kneels down in the grass.
      "I dunno, I only stopped a second ago. I saw him in the street, I thought he might be alive, but..."
       I kneel down too and scoop the warm little bundle of grey fur out of the bike lane. I suddenly realize why they call it a 'dead weight'.
       The striped kitten had been a rescue from the veterinarian's office I work at; he had gotten used to me as I worked in the kennel area, and I liked the way he would 'talk' to me as I cleaned. It only took a few weeks to decide that he was coming home with me. 'Acquiring excessive amounts of animals, just one of the many hazards of working at a vet,' or so my co-worker had said with a smile. But the cat turned out to be more than a rescue animal, he ended up being a friend. He would come whenever I called him, even at midnight. He would follow me everywhere, right at my heels with a kind of dog-like devotion. But he'd never been so good at crossing streets...
       I pull the body into my lap and stroke the fur. The cars on the street slow down as they pass us, faces staring. Either they have never seen a dead cat before or they're trying to figure out why I'm wearing a tank top in the middle of December. Whatever. I don't care.
      As my dad thanks the man for stopping, I lift the cat and stand up. Blood that I hadn't noticed before smears across my arms and shirt. I cross the street. I've carried him like this hundreds of times before, his green eyes staring up at me out of a whiskered face. Only this time the eyes are glassy and the head hangs listlessly from a broken neck.
     "I'm okay," I tell my mom as I wash my hands at the kitchen sink a few minutes later. "This stuff happens, and it's okay. I'll be fine." She's crying, but I can't find any tears. I just want to be alone.
     What is it about death that bothers us so much? We should all know by now that death happens. It's sudden, it's inevitable, and it can't be stopped. As I drive down the highway that night I can't help but thinking about and remembering the feeling of the motionlesss body where there once had been a kind of life. And I think to myself, "I could be a body on the side of the road too." Just as motionless, just as...gone.
     Death is sudden. And death is tricky, and cruel. You think it would at least give us some sort of warning so that we could say goodbye. But it doesn't, and we can't.
    Like I said before, death makes me uncomfortable and I don't like being reminded that it exists. But we can't live in little bubbles of self-deception forever.

    Death is hard, and it happens. But so does life, you know?  Life happens. And isn't that a greater blessing? I think so.