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