White Hole in Flannel

He’s seven feet tall and chalky white with an unlined face. The sandy hair that’s swept to one side never seems shorter or longer. His eyes are as black and soulless as the eyes I’ve seen on a shark when I was underwater in a cage. They’re eyes that don’t judge or care; they only see.

This is what he is. His long fingers with their trimmed, polished nails lack whorls and ridges. Blinking seems beyond him. Speaking isn’t done, nor is touching. He’s always wearing the same blue jeans, sandals, and black and red flannel shirt. Smiles, as are other expressions, never find his face.

My friend, Emily, calls him a white hole, a person who takes everything in and puts nothing back out. True, except for his piano playing. When he sits and plays, we hear songs that seem to transcend our existence. When he’ll play, what he’ll play, why he play, these things are more mysteries. He shows up, and stands beside the piano until he’s given leave to play. Then he plays, and then he leaves. If we’re fortunate, we’re there to hear.

That’s why I decided that I needed to follow him. I wanted to know where he lives and who he was. It wasn’t my first mistake in life, but it was my biggest.

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Interruption

He came across a disaster. Dead ants were spread everywhere. Most were smashed into small, curled bodies. Some were obliterated. Ant parts were everywhere.

He couldn’t imagine what’d happened. Down on his hands and knees, he ignored the traffic in the street beside him and mourned their losses, watching as the bodies were collected and carried away. After the final body was gone, he went to rise when he saw the ants come out and face him. All were still for several moments. When he felt an appropriate amount of time had passed, he bowed his head and said, “I’m sorry.”

The ants retreated to resume their lives, and he went on his way.

Her Name

Her name is Simone. She doesn’t know why that’s her name. People ask her why she’s named Simone, and she tells them that she doesn’t know. Many people mention that it’s a French name, and she replies, “Yes, but my father is German.”

She looks away and becomes busy as she answers, as though there’s a story behind her name that she doesn’t want to explore.

Or maybe she’s just weary, at nineteen years old, of being asked about her name.

The Stick

Carrying a purple canvas shopping bag — walking, because, you know, fitness and environment — was harder than he’d expected. He was almost home, but…whew.

He’d purchased more than planned. He’d gone for chips and a sandwich from the Safeway deli, but he’d added Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and a small bag of pistachio nuts, thinking he deserved these things, and the fare would be an excellent accompaniment to watching Game of Thrones.

Chastising himself because he always bought too much — no, not always, but frequently — no, not frequently, but probably fifty percent of the time — did that sound right? — was fifty percent considered frequently? — he set his bag down for a breather and wiped sweat from his face. Damn hotter than expected, damn hotter than seventy-seven. Felt more like eighty, even down here by the rushing creek, in the shade of the trees by Aqua, one of his favorite pubs.

His Apple watch — an indulgent birthday present to himself — confirmed his impression that he was right about the temperature. With a final deep breath and the stern order, “Press on with pride,” he bent for the bag and saw the stick.

The stick was on the dark grass beside the pitted, gray sidewalk. It seemed like an unusual stick even as it looked just like a stick.

He picked it up. Lacking bark, it was white, about an inch in diameter, although it was tapered, and seven inches long. It wasn’t perfectly straight, but close, and had three nubs where other branches once grew, but was sanded smooth.

Imagination fueled speculation about the stick’s uses. Although shorter and thicker than a conductor’s baton, he pretended he was conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony performing the Star Wars Theme Song, snapping the stick briskly left to right.

A loud crack broke his fantasy. While he processed that sound, a ripping noise followed. The pub, Indian restaurant above it, pizza place beside it, and creek disappeared, leaving a pulsing yellowish-white — ocher, perhaps — space in their place.

The strip was like piece of paper had been torn from the world. He gawked in appreciation and astonishment. The rushing creek ended at the tear, but then continued on the other end.

What the hell? Horror jumping through him, he confirmed that no witnesses were around, then gaped at the stick with the realization that the stick had probably caused this, and then began plotting his escape from this fiasco. He was afraid to try to use the stick to fix this mess. He’d probably just make it —

“Ahem.” The sound shook his core. Jumping and looking around, he saw no one, and then spotted a squirrel. Its dark eyes were narrowed in a way that he’d never seen in a squirrel. It was holding out one paw.

“I believe you have something that belongs to me,” the squirrel said. “Give it.”

Its voice reminded him of Patrick Warburton’s deep tones. “This?” he said. “The stick?”

The squirrel waved its black paw. “What else, numb nuts? It’s a wand, and it’s mine. Give it over before you do more damage.”

“How do I know this is yours?”

“Give it.” The squirrel’s voice rolled through the area like thunder.

Quaking, the man bent down and held out the stick with a trembling hand. “Sorry. I just found it lying there. I was just — ”

“Blah, blah, blah.” Snatching the wand out of his hand, the squirrel turned and flicked it, repairing the tear with another ripping sound. Giving him a side-glance, the squirrel said, “Idiot,” and then disappeared.

The man took a long breath. After a moment, he picked up his bag. “Press on with pride.” The best thing to do would be to go home, have a beer, watch Game of Thrones, and forget any of this ever happened.

Sure. Like he could ever forget this.

 

The Lesson

Hearing the sharp meow, thumps, and swearing, she knew what’d happened.

He came in seconds later. “That cat is so stupid. He’s black. He knows I can’t see him, but he still lays on the rug, and I almost step on him or kick him, and he gets upset. You’d think he’d learn.”

She answered, “He’s a cat. You know he’s not very smart. You’d think that you’d learn by now.”

He glared at her for several seconds before saying, “Sure, take the cat’s side,” and stalking out.

Deliveries

The delivery trucks were lined up on Main Street as he took his morning walk. The doors opened up. The ramps came down. People began walking down them.

It wasn’t encouraged to stand and gawk, but slowing, he watched with a sly side gaze. The newcomers seemed like an older lot and mostly white, which gave a grimace to his face. He preferred it when they brought in young people, especially when they brought in young men. Spilling out on the sidewalks, they had the befuddled look that he’d seen before on others, the look that asked, “Where am I? How did I get here? What’s my name? Do I know you?”

He wondered who they’d be, and whether any would become friends. Ambivalence hedged his thoughts about the answer. On the one hand, he wasn’t supposed to remember these things. Meeting a new delivery always fueled temptations to share his secrets with them. He wanted to whisper to them, “Psss, did you know that you died and were resurrected? You’re just like Jesus.” He always wanted to giggle about it.

Not that it was a laughing matter, having a dead population that was always being resuscitated and put into communities to give them a lived-in look. That’s how it goes when you lose the war.

The victors dictate the terms for peace.

Book Light

She loved reading books, and not just reading them, but researching what to read next, talking about her reads with her friends and family, and prowling book stores with her book list in her hand. Non-fiction, fantasy, young adult, historic novels, mysteries…they were all on her list. She read everyday, often reading four or five books a week. Finding a new author that she enjoyed was her greatest pleasure.

Then her mother died, her mother, who’d always encouraged her to read, introducing her to The Three Detectives series and Nancy Drew Mysteries, her mother, whose idea of a day out was taking her girls to the public library, where each was allowed to check out one book.

With her mother gone, she no longer wanted to read. It was like her book light had gone out, and would not come back on.

In Fits.

The start

seeing

noticing

talking

flirting

friendship

lust

sex

love

trust

The relationship

trust

sex

love

support

compatibility

complacency

ennui

questions

regrets

The decisions

disagreements

betrayal

anger

arguments

fights

threats

tears

compromise

counseling

separating

praying

choices

The end

together

apart

resigned

accepting

hopeful

dismissive

optimistic

pessimistic

loving

trusting

hoping

Death.

 

 

 

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