Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sophie



Sophie loved the movies, loved to sit in the dark theater before the film started, staring at the giant blank screen, waiting for the magic to happen. Few films ever lived up to the feeling of expectation she had in that moment, just as not much in life ever quite matches the dream we have for it in advance. Once in a while, though, it does happen. A bit of magic can appear in the middle of an otherwise ordinary life. Or sometimes what we think of as ordinary is actually magical, but we let it go by unnoticed.
Sophie spent her days working behind a bar. It wasn’t her bar, she was an employee, but she thought of it as her bar when she was behind it, treated it like it was her own, with pride and respect. At the time of this story the place was called The Golden Cup. Before that it had been Cicero’s, and before that it was The Green Door Tavern. Sophie had started as hostess at the age of 16, when it was called The Brat-haus, and now she’d been pulling drafts and pouring shots there for 10 years. The name may have changed, and the owners, but the clientele was essentially the same, and so was the booze.
Sophie was witty, quick with a joke, and an absolute master of the nickname. For instance, the first time she met Teddy Hennessey at the bar of The Golden Cup she dubbed him Tennessee, combining his first and last names and incorporating the fact that he had ordered a Jim Beam and soda. It was May 4, 1970, and he was at The Golden Cup with his younger brother Fred (yes, Teddy and Freddy; ridiculous, but there it is), and Fred’s buddy George Burdette. Fred and George had just returned from Vietnam, where they had served in the United States Army’s 4th Infantry Division, and they were celebrating their return with a night out, proudly wearing their dress uniforms. In addition to being the night Sophie and Teddy met, it was also the night George met Julie Fowler (aka: Fowler Child), who was Sophie’s best friend and a waitress at the Golden Cup. There was also an event of more historical importance that night, far from the Golden Cup, but near enough to cause some ripples.
“Another round, gentlemen?” Sophie inquired, as she noticed their three empty glasses.
“Indeed”, replied Teddy.
“Let’s see….Jim Beam and soda for Tennessee, Tom Collins for the younger brother, and a bottle of Miller for the Orioles fan?”
“Exactly right. How do you remember all that?”
“I am a professional, Tennessee.”
Sophie and Teddy were not the only ones, and perhaps not even the first ones, to notice the attraction between them. Meanwhile, George and Julie had struck up a conversation of their own as she brought their burgers out from the kitchen. It was as if Cupid had shot all four of them with a single arrow: Sophie and Teddy, and George and Julie. The two couples formed almost immediately. Sophie liked to say it was as if they were different kinds of liquor, and some cosmic bartender had mixed them each up in a way that made two perfect but totally different cocktails. She said she and Teddy were a Sidecar, while George and Julie were a Margarita. Margaritas are made with tequila, triple sec and sour mix, and served in a glass with a salted rim; Sidecars replace the tequila with brandy and the salt with sugar. Everyone knows tequila makes you crazy, while brandy keeps you warm. And salt is exciting, but too much can be bitter or even burn your tongue, while sugar is sweet and energizing. That pretty much sums up the two couples. Sophie and Teddy were sweet and kind, to each other, and to pretty much everyone. George and Julie were exciting and crazy…usually in a good way, but sometimes the excitement could be too much, could even seem dangerous, and there were plenty of bitter moments. But that’s well in the future. For tonight it was all about the excitement.
You might have noticed that Fred was left out of this arrangement. Partly that was just the way things work out sometimes. Partly it was because Fred Hennessey wasn’t really the kind of guy that pairs well, so to speak, like the way some extra sweet liqueurs just don’t mix well with much of anything. Partly, maybe mostly, it was because it was not an easy thing to be a gay man in America in 1970, despite what you might have read in your history books about ‘Free Love’, etc.
Don’t worry about Fred, though. He turned out fine in the end, becoming a painter and moving to Mexico, or the Caribbean, or someplace.
But, back to that night in the Golden Cup, May 4, 1970. Teddy, Freddy and George were having a grand time, drinking and joking, reminiscing about childhood adventures, arguing about the baseball season ahead – Teddy and Freddy were long suffering Red Sox fans, while George favored the Orioles. The Red Sox had little hope that season, although, led by Carl Yastrzemski and the two young Conigliaro brothers they were giving the Fenway Faithful reason to believe that the future held some promise. The Orioles, on the other hand, were the clear favorites to win the pennant, behind a stellar pitching staff featuring youngster Jim Palmer. Regardless, Freddy and Teddy had George outnumbered, and had most of the rest of the small, Monday night crowd at the bar on their side. At this early stage of the season there were only 1.5 games separating the two teams, and it was still possible for Red Sox fans to believe.
Somewhere amidst their good-natured arguing, though, a whispering started among some of the other patrons. There’d been a shooting on a college campus in Ohio. Kids protesting the war…National Guard…rocks thrown….tear gas and bullets…and then that photograph was on the television: the one of the young woman crying over the body of her friend, while other young people looked on in shock.
Suddenly baseball didn’t seem to matter. The two recently returned soldiers felt judgmental eyes fall upon them from some of the other patrons. The room now felt divided along lines other than those separating Orioles fans from Red Sox believers.
A long-haired guy sitting next to Teddy mumbled to his girlfriend, “Smells like pigs in here. Let’s go to Charlie’s”, as he drained the last of his rum and Coke.
“What was that?” Teddy asked, taking a half step toward him and moving to block his path to the exit.
“We’re just leaving, man.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea, ‘man’”.
Fred and George each took one of Teddy’s arms as the departing couple made their way toward the door.
Sophie, whose shift was ending, invited the three young men to leave with her and Julie, in an effort to relieve the tension. But the men had no interest in leaving or avoiding anything. Fred and George had seen far worse things in Southeast Asian jungles than could possibly take place in this tavern, and weren’t about to back down or be ashamed. So, Sophie and Julie joined them, instead, and the group moved to a table in the back of the room, away from the bar.
The nightly news program gave way to Gunsmoke, and any anti-war sentiment in the room gave way to concern for Sherriff Dillon as he faced down yet another outlaw in the Wild West. The Hennessey brothers went back to arguing baseball with George, until Sophie said:
“Enough about baseball…let’s talk about movies. Who would you say is the better actor, Paul Newman or Steve McQueen?”
“Oh, Paul is so handsome,” said Julie, “those blue eyes. I just saw ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ Saturday night, it was wonderful.”
Freddy, who had blue eyes himself, though not quite as pale and clear as Newman’s, responded, “Julie, there is no way Newman could play the parts McQueen has played. He might be good looking, but he’s not as good an actor, not even close. ‘Bullit’, ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’, ‘The Great Escape’, all much better than anything Newman has done.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that”, Sophie responded, “I think ‘The Hustler’ is right there, better than ‘Bullit’, for sure. I think they’re both awfully good looking, but for acting I’ll take Paul.”
And so it went.
Now, the waitress that had taken over for Julie was a young woman by the name of Tess Weber. Sophie called her The Wait Tess, naturally. Tess’s husband had been drafted and sent to Vietnam about the same time as Fred and George, but hadn’t been as lucky as they were. Tess hadn’t heard from him for months, and the Army had placed him on the MIA list. Everyone she worked with knew this much. What they didn’t know was that Tess was 8 months pregnant with the child of a minor-league baseball player, Billy Agostino. Billy was well known in the seedier districts of the city, visiting all the brothels and “gentlemen’s clubs” whenever his team was in town. All Tess knew was that he was a charmer who seemed to lend a sympathetic ear when she bumped into him in Manley’s Laundromat the night after she’d received the letter from the Army about her husband being officially declared “MIA, Presumed Dead”. It was an encounter that began innocently enough with an invitation to have a drink at the bar across the street while the laundry spun in the dryer, but ended the next morning with Billy moving on to the next city and Tess in tears, unaware of the new life growing inside her.
How no one noticed Tess was pregnant was due to her being tall, large breasted and slightly overweight; that and the fact that smock-tops were in style. When it happened that her water broke as she was delivering a round of drinks to Sophie and Julie and George and the Hennesseys, Sophie was the first to spring into action despite her surprise. The returning soldiers remarked later that she’d reminded them of a drill sergeant barking out orders. Under her direction, Teddy and George carried Tess upstairs where there was a room with a bed that the chef sometimes crashed in after a long day in the kitchen, with Sophie and Freddy right behind. Julie called for an ambulance and then helped clean up the mess. Freddy had been a medic in the army, which didn’t really qualify him to deliver a baby, but did make him more likely to not be horrified at the sight of blood and amniotic fluid than anyone else in the bar, so he and Sophie stayed with Tess and sent George and Teddy back downstairs to look for clean towels or sheets.
Sophie held Tess’s head in her lap, talked to her throughout the ordeal, fed her pieces of ice and wiped the sweat from her brow. Freddy stayed at the foot of the bed, rubbing Tess’s legs to relieve the tension and pain between contractions. Julie stood by as well, bringing the two substitute midwives whatever they needed. George and Teddy stood guard outside the door, on call if needed, but mostly trying to stay out of the way. And when the baby came, well before the ambulance, it was Freddy’s strong hands that guided him free and cleared his airway, cleaned his face and wrapped him tightly in a warm blanket, and laid him on his mother’s breast.
“He’s a good, strong boy”, said Freddy.
“Talbot”, said Tess. “That’s his name. After my grandfather.”
“That’s a fine name, Tess”, said Sophie. “Strong and wise. You did a great job.”
The ambulance arrived eventually, and the drivers loaded mother and child and took them both to the hospital. Freddy, almost as exhausted as Tess, rode along, feeling strangely paternal. Sophie and Julie and the Teddy and George slipped out the back door of The Golden Cup and into the diner across the alley for a cup of coffee. The diner had a jukebox, and while Julie and George were picking out some songs, Teddy said,
“Sophie…”
“Yes, Tennessee?”
“You’re about the most fascinating woman I’ve ever met. I want to know everything there is to know about you.”
“Well, there’s not so much to know. Sophie Lawrence, 30 years old, bartender, never married, lived my whole life right here in this city and worked almost half of it in that bar we just left. Not much more to know than that.”
“You left out ‘amazingly beautiful, courageous, witty and charming’”.
“I suppose I did, didn’t I?” she replied with a smile.
The jukebox started to play Bridge Over Troubled Waters.
Sophie said, “Looks as though Julie and George are getting along nicely.”
“Oh?”
“Yes, they’ve just left, hand in hand.”
“He’s always been a fast worker. Doesn’t believe in wasting time when he sees what he wants.”
“And you? You’re more cautious, are you?”
“Generally, yes. But I may be reconsidering that approach.” He reached across the table and took her hand. “Dance with me, Sophie.”
Within a year both couples were married, Teddy and Sophie and George and Julie. Sophie kept working at the bar, through even more name and ownership changes. Teddy and George opened a hardware store that was a moderate success. In February of 1973 Teddy and Sophie bought a house next door to the one George and Julie were already living in. Sophie and Teddy’s house had a gun cabinet built into a corner of the dining room, which they modified to hold all the liquor they didn’t drink. It was all bottles they’d been given by visitors, or as birthday or Christmas gifts. He no longer drank whisky, or much of any alcohol, other than an occasional beer with dinner. She didn’t drink at all, any more, though she still poured plenty of it down the throats of the customers at the bar.
 Freddy went to art school, and eventually headed south. Tess became a school teacher, and raised her son, Talbot Frederick Weber on her own. She always told him he was her gift to the world. Sophie called him Tiny Talbot, even after he reached his full height of 6 foot 3.
Sophie and Teddy’s first child was born the same year they bought the house, a daughter they named Michayla Jane. They always called her Mickey, or Monkey, or Mickey the Monkey, or any of a thousand other variations. Mickey was followed a little over two years later by a son, James Michael. They almost always called him James Michael, mostly because Mickey said that’s what he should be called. Mickey was a precocious thing, sweet tempered, but strong willed, much like her mother.
Enough about that, though; Mickey and James Michael have stories of their own….

Saturday, October 29, 2016

James and Daisy



(2005)
I picked her up in my Prius from in front of the rehab center. She didn’t have anybody else to call, she said. I hadn’t heard from her in over 5 years, since her parents’ funeral, when she called me from Amsterdam to say she wouldn’t be able to make it to the service.
She’d lost so much weight since the last time I’d seen her, I probably wouldn’t have recognized her if it weren’t for the third-eye ruby tattoo on her forehead. She’d gotten that on a trip to Thailand just after her 18th birthday, right around the same time she changed her name from Daisy to Devadip. “It means I’m the lamp, the light and the eye of God”, she told her parents at the time. That didn’t seem to make them any less concerned about her. Nothing she ever did – the tattoo, the name change, the drugs – nothing ever made me love her any less than I did when we were kids.

----------------------

Yes, her birth name was Daisy, improbably enough, like Gatsby’s unattainable dream girl. But my Daisy wasn’t so unattainable. In fact, she was always around. My mother, Sophie, called her Daisy Dewdrop because of her habit of just dropping in unannounced.
The house I grew up in was right next door to the one Daisy grew up in, with a share backyard. Her parents and my parents were very close, spending many evenings together around one or the other’s kitchen table. In many ways, growing up there was like having two families. Daisy and I knew each other from birth. She was less than 24 hours older than I was, both of us being born in the same hospital, and spending our first few days in neighboring cribs in the nursery while our mothers spent those days sharing a hospital room down the hall. We were almost always together, from that day forward, most of the time at my house or out in our yard, more or less.
Daisy always reminded me how she was older than me, and I always looked up to her, followed her lead. To me, she was the most beautiful creature in the world, next to my mother. I would have gone anywhere, done anything, if she suggested it. At school and on the playground she was protective of me. I was always undersized for my age, and painfully shy. The other kids teased me and excluded me. But Daisy made sure I was never alone, even if it meant sitting with me in the corner of the cafeteria, away from her other friends. We were practically inseparable.

-------------

On my 14th birthday I woke up to the sound of my bedroom window opening, and looked up in time to see Daisy climbing in. Like I said, “Daisy Dew Drop”, always dropping in announced. The difference this time was that I was in the middle of a dream about her. It was the first time I’d ever dreamed about sex.
“Hey, what are you doing under that sheet?” she asked, laughing.
“Uhh, hey!”
And before I knew it, before the evidence had faded, so to speak, she was diving headfirst under the sheet with me. It was both thrilling and horrifying. But when she put her hand on my erect penis, the horror disappeared and only the thrill remained.
Then I actually woke up.
“Hey, what are you doing under that sheet?”
“Uhh, hey!”
There really was someone in my room, but she wasn’t coming in through the window, and she wasn’t Daisy. She was my mom. 100% horror.
“Mom!”
“Sorry, sweety. I brought you birthday breakfast. Want me to leave it?”
“NO! Just leave me alone! I mean, give me a minute, and I’ll come out and eat in the kitchen. Ok?”
“Sure, sure. Sorry!”
She backed out of the room and closed the door. I lay back and tried to breathe. Once I’d calmed down, and my penis was back to normal, I got dressed and headed downstairs. In the kitchen I found my mother and sister giggling, about I could only imagine what.
“Happy Birthday!” they both called out together, still giggling.
“Thanks.”
“I made pancakes, James Michael.  And bacon.”
“Thanks, mom.”
Mickey said, “And I bought you a present.”
She handed me a package, wrapped in bright red foil with a blue ribbon tied around it. The shape was a dead give-away, a flat twelve inch square couldn’t be anything but a record. I was hoping for the new one by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were all over MTV, and I couldn’t get enough of them. I ripped it open and found Elvis Costello’s “Spike” LP. My older sister was a lot more sophisticated than me.
“Thanks, Mickey. Is this the guy that did that song Alison?”
“Yes, dummy, he’s that guy. You’ll love it, give it a chance. He’s a brilliant writer.”
“Daddy and I got you something, too, sweety, but you’ll have to wait til he gets home from work.”
“Yeah? Is it a car?”
“Haha. No, it’s not a car. You can’t drive for two more years anyway.”
I ate my pancakes and bacon.
It was Saturday, it was summer, and it was my birthday. The world was my oyster. The door opened and Daisy came in.
“Daisy Dew Drop, come on in,” said my mother, with a smile. Mickey, I noticed, didn’t smile.

---------

Daisy was always a teacher, and I was her student. She knew things, magical, mysterious things that amazed me. In the summer we turned 8, there was a flock of black birds that kept landing in our front yards every morning. It seemed to me they were hunting for worms and bugs in the dirt, but Daisy knew better.
“First of all”, she told me, “they’re crows, not blackbirds. So that makes the group of them a murder. A group of crows is called a murder. And when they land in your yard like that, it means someday you’re going to be murdered. Or else you’re going to murder someone.”
“Really? I would never murder anyone.”
“I know. That’s why I know that in this case it means someone’s going to murder you.”
“Well, how do you know it’s me? Maybe you’re the one who’s going to murder someone, or else get murdered.”
“No, James , it’s definitely you, because there’s always an even number of them, so that means the prophesy is about a boy. I read that in the encyclopedia.”
“How can you tell there’s an even number of them? They jump around so much, how can you count them?”
“I have a photographic memory. Plus, I always get 100% on my math tests, you know that.”
Both of those things were true, so who was I to argue with the rest.
“Well”, I asked, “how do we fix it? I don’t want to get murdered, even if it’s a long time from now.”
“Easy”, she answered. “We just have to get one of their feathers and bury it in the graveyard on a full moon night.”
Which we did, of course, and it seems like it worked. At least so far.

--------------

On that morning of my 14th birthday, Daisy and I went to our favorite place, a place we’d been going to since we were old enough to walk about on our own, even before the summer of the crows. There was a giant, ancient maple tree just beyond the stockade fence at the back of the yard. The fence had an opening between a couple of boards, just wide enough to slip through. Once on that side, there was nothing before us but the State Forest, and nothing behind us but the fence, which blocked us from the view of anyone in either of the houses or the yard. It was our place, under the Great Tree, as we called it. It was there that she had told me the secrets of the crows. It was also there that she had taught me how to tie my shoes, and where she had explained that the two ends of a worm are the same…no head nor tail. And on my 14th birthday it was where she taught me how to kiss.
It didn’t occur to me at the time to wonder who had taught her. That was just the nature of our relationship: she knew things, and taught them to me.
“Lean in a little closer”, she told me. “Let your mouth open a little…not too much.”
It seemed very technical, more like procedures in an instructional manual than the passionate dance I’d imagined, or that I’d dreamed of earlier that morning. More like an exercise routine than a ballet. Still, it was thrilling. I felt an electric tingling spread from my lips out to the rest of my body. I lost awareness of my surroundings, not even realizing what my hands were doing until she pushed them away.
“Just kissing today, James.”
I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually she pulled back and said, with a smile, “Happy birthday. Do you like your present?”
“I really like it.” And I did.

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Daisy always had a problem with authority, and with accepting things that other people just took for granted. She preferred to figure things out on her own. Like the International Date Line, for instance. She couldn’t understand how the entire world would just choose to believe that this artificial, imaginary line could carry such significance. Instead, she worked out her own system, which she explained to me one summer night in the year we both turned 17. As usual, we were sitting under The Great Tree. We’d just had sex, something we’d been doing almost every night for about a month, more as a biology experiment than an act of love or even lust.
“James, it’s 10:00PM here, right now, right?” I checked my watch and it was precisely 10:00. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“I just know. That’s not the point. It’s Wednesday evening, 10:00PM. Now, imagine you start travelling west, and I start travelling east, ok?”
“Ok. How come?”
“Doesn’t matter, just imagine it. Imagine we can both travel at the speed of light. The further you go, to the west, the earlier it gets, right? Because the sun is still up on the west coast, for instance, and it gets earlier and earlier the further you go.”
“Sure”, I agreed. No extra questions, I could see she was working toward a point, and I’d have to be patient and let her get to it.
“And as I go east, it gets later and later, for the same reasons. The sun set in Europe, like, 7 hours ago, or something, so it’s already the early hours of tomorrow morning there.”
“Yeah”, I agreed again.
“So, since we’re both travelling at the same speed, when we meet each other it’ll be exactly half way around the earth from here. I don’t know where that is, China or someplace like that, doesn’t really matter. We’ll arrive there at the same moment, which will be practically no time at all from now, really, since we’re going at the speed of light, like I said before. Exactly on the opposite side of the earth right now, it’s 10:00AM, right?”
“Ummm, yeah, that makes sense.”
“Ok, but what day is it?”
“It’s Wednesday, I think.”
“Yeah, for you. But for me it would be Thursday. Remember, the further I went, the later it was getting. So it has to be 10:00AM tomorrow.”
“But if we’re both there together, at the same time, it can’t be today for me and tomorrow for you. That’s not possible.” I didn’t seem to have a problem with the idea of travelling backward in time, but, whatever.
“Of course not. But there it is. For me it’s Thursday morning, for you it’s Wednesday morning. Except that, since it took us no time at all, we’ll both still feel like it’s right now, Wednesday evening…except the sun will be halfway up the sky.”
“So, it’s Wednesday evening, Wednesday morning, and Thursday morning, all at the same time, depending on how we look at it?”
“Exactly. Now, imagine the same thing, but we travel slower this time. Let’s say it takes us a whole day to make the same trip. 24 hours to travel half way around the earth is still pretty fucking fast, but not as fast as the speed of light.”
“Totally”, I said, still trying to figure out the last thought experiment, and not really ready for another one.
“Ok, so we leave here at 10:00PM on Wednesday, it takes one day to make the trip. When we get there it’s 10:00AM, same time it is there right now, since it’s exactly one day from now. For both of us it’s one day later than when we left, so we’d each feel like it was 10:00PM Thursday, right? 24 hours from now. But the sun will be up, because it’ll be morning there when it’s evening here, just like right now. Now, for me, it’s got to be 36 hours later than it was when we started…24 hours of travelling plus 12 hours of time differential, so that makes it 10:00AM Friday. You’ve got the same 24 hours of travelling, but this time we subtract the 12 hour differential because you were travelling west, so it’s 10:00AM Thursday. So, no matter how fast or slow we go, when we meet up on the other side we’ll be one day apart from each other.”
“But we’ll be both be there, together, at the same time.”
“Right. You understand completely.”
“No, I really don’t. Is it one day after we left, or a day and a half later….or half a day earlier? I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
“Only this: it doesn’t make one bit of fucking difference what the clocks or calendars say, all that matters is our experience. If we’re here together, and then we’re apart for 24 hours, and then we meet again someplace else, that’s what matters. We both lived through a day apart before we came back together. No matter what the clocks and calendars say, no matter what Einstein says, no matter what Mr. Doofus taught is in Physics class last year.”
That was pretty much the moment I knew that, no matter how much I loved her, and no matter how close we’d always been, we were just too different from each other to ever have a life together. She’d always be two steps ahead of me, at least, no matter what day it was.

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In my Prius, pulling away from the rehab center, I asked, “Where to?”
“Can I stay with you tonight, James? I don’t really have any place else, and I need some time to figure out what’s next.”
“Sure, no problem. You can stay in the guest room.”
“Thanks. You know, I’m a whole week younger than you now.”
“Huh?”
“I’ve circled the world 8 times over the last 12 years, always travelling west, backward through time. I started out a day older than you, now I’m 7 days younger.”
“You’ll always be older than me, Daisy. If anything, you’ve lived more than I have, not less.”
“You finally understand”, she said with a smile that actually made her look much younger. Then the smile faded and she looked much, much older. Worn out. Like she’d lived a couple of lifetimes in her 30 years. A couple of lifetimes of trying to travel backward through time.
“What were you trying to get back to, Daisy, with all that time travel?”
“It’s hard to remember what I was thinking then. At first, it was more about just trying to see the world, experience everything there is. And I figured if I could keep gaining days like that, eventually I’d buy more time, time to see everything, go everywhere. Of course, the drugs didn’t help my thought process, I guess. Maybe the acid did, but not the heroin.”
I drove in silence for a while, not knowing what was the right thing to say. Sometimes saying nothing is the best thing. Eventually, I said, “Do you remember my 14th birthday?”
She smiled again. “I do, James. Kissing lesson.”
“Yeah. You were a good teacher. And that was a beautiful present. I never listen to that record my sister got me these days, but I still kiss the way you taught me.”
“Yeah? Who are you kissing lately?”
“Her name is Rose. Another flower, like Daisy. She’s young, mom says she’s too young, but she’s mature.”
“Besides kissing, I hope I also taught you that age is not what we think it is. Time is not what we think it is.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was just thinking about.”
“So, how young is she, anyway?”
“She’s 22.”
“How long have you known her?”
“A couple of months. She just moved here from Chicago.”
“Do you love her?”
“I might. She’s a good person.”
“Are you happy, James?”
“I am. For the first time in a long time.”
“Then that’s worth more than anything.”
We were silent again for a while, until we reached my apartment building. I think she might have slept for a few minutes. When I parked, she jumped a bit, like she was startled, stretched and yawned. I saw the 8 year old Daisy again for a moment.
“Here we are”, I said, “home sweet home. Let me get your bag.”
She followed me up the stairs and into the apartment. “2B”, I said.
“Or not”, she said with a little giggle. Same joke I make to myself every time I open the door, no matter how unfunny or obvious it is.
I led her into the spare room, left her bag on the floor. She crawled into the bed and fell asleep instantly, without a word. The sleep of the innocent, my mother would have said. If, that is, it was anyone other than Daisy. I stood there for I don’t know how long, watching her sleep. She was still my Daisy, my first love, my teacher. But she wasn’t the same person, and neither was I. Whether she’d lived more than I had in our 30 years or not, whether she’d actually lost time when she thought she was gaining it with her westward travels, none of that mattered. We’d spent too many days moving away from each other.
In the morning when I woke up, she was gone. Her bag was still on the floor, and her body was still lying in the bed with a needle hanging from her arm. But Daisy was no longer there. I don’t know if she had scored the heroin before I picked her up, or if she snuck out during the night while I slept. I don’t know if now she’s travelling west around the Earth, trying to go back in time to the days before she shot up the first time.  I don’t know anything at all, really.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A language gone to hell



When the devil speaks in your ear,
his whispered words appear scrawled
in red letters on the inside of your eyelids,
the same shade of red as his leathery skin,
red from being out working in his fields
under the noon sun for all eternity.
This way, if, in his mind, he’s misspelling a homonym,
like “your” when he means “you’re”,
as in “your not strong enough to withstand me”,
you can call him on it.
And when god speaks in your ear
his whispers also appear
on the inside of your eyelids,
but in stark, bright white.
They look like stars strewn across the sky,
as if they were so many monochromatic
Pollock paint splotches on a black canvas.
But you can’t read them at all, because god speaks
in Zodiac-like shapes and symbols, not words,
so you could never tell him he spelled something wrong.
The devil, he wants you to know
what he intends to do, he wants you to be aware,
and to be afraid, to live in dread.
So he tries to communicate in your language,
he listens to you, and also learns what he can
from online self-study courses at the University of Phoenix.
But even as clever as he is, human language is foreign
to him so he struggles, like you would if
you tried to learn to speak Dolphinic or Chimpanzee-ese.
Conversely, god doesn’t care
if you understand his intentions or not.
It makes no difference to him
if you are aware of his desires or plans.
The union requires that he post notifications
in public places as well as sending individual
communications under certain specific situations.
But there is no requirement that the notifications
and communications be in any specific language,
hence the zodiac symbols and various inscrutable miracles.

So, one in each ear would just about blind you.