Dead Voice

The dead voice comes from my girlfriend’s friend

She tried to tell what was to come in the end.

She said, “You think she loves you and she probably does,

but she’s a minute lover, and your minute’s almost up.”

I declined to hear her lines, I knew what the was, was.

Because I knew better, I knew how I feel, I knew the moment,

I knew my feelings were real.

That must count for something in a life of change.

If you can’t trust yourself, what else remains?

I told myself, she’s wrong, it may have been that way before,

but this sex is love, of that I was sure.

Fast forward the way that time flies in our lives.

Like birds we see in the corner of our eyes.

Here and then gone leaving echoes of their songs,

leaving us to wonder and question, where’s it all gone?

 

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Roll-On

Showered, Briyen applied his Shaving roll-on and considered the next roll-ons as nanos removed his beard. Moving roll-on sticks like chess pieces, he set Youth and Charm up front but equivocated over his skin color. His natural color was an unflattering Flesh White, according to the consultants. He’d been Black once this week and Ebony twice. None of the Rainbow offerings appealed to him. His eyes roved over Teak, Latina, Hispanic, and Southern Europe, but his mind didn’t latch onto any until he saw SoCal Tan. That would work.

The Shaving done and enough time passed, he immediately put on Youth. A full body roll, that would would take longer to process. Sliding the Charm forward, he pondered Courage, Creativity, Confidence, and Imagination, and then decided, screw it, why not? He’d put them all on. It was dangerous because he was applying…one, two, three…five…eight? 

Eight. Shit. Last two times he’d applied eight roll-ons, he’d suffered the aptly-labeled crash, complete with scaly plaque psoriasis and an all-conquering headache. He’d been forced to apply the First Aid roll-on all friggin’ night. The next day had been endured without roll-ons. His hideous reflection had to be avoided. He’d been ravenous but mostly fasted, fearing side-effects. Naturally, he’d stayed inside and off cameras.

Not wanting to take those paths again, he put Courage and Imagination back. Six roll-ons would be good enough because even seven sometimes made him queasy, especially when it was supposed to be hot, as it was today, which meant, shit…he also needed Sun Protection & Cooling. Grimacing, he pulled the SP&C roll-on out and pushed the SoCal back. No tan today.

The Youth had already completed its work. Sagging and wrinkles were vanquished. His skin was tight, and his hair was fuller, thicker, and darker. Damn, he looked good. Humming, he finished up with the other roll-ons and set his timer for ten minutes. Couldn’t dress until enough time had been permitted – shit, didn’t wan to do that again, chuckling with rueful memory of how he turned out when he put clothes on too soon after the roll-ons. Never again, right? Right.

Finally, he was dressed and ready to roll. He took a few seconds to admire himself in the mirror and agreed with his private assessment that he looked damn fine for one hundred twenty-two years old. Hell, he didn’t look a day over twenty-two.

After favoring himself with a final approving grin, he headed for the door. Time to go write like crazy, at least one more time.

Hot

The heat wasn’t that bad. He thought that people were exaggerating, the way they gasped, shrieked, and ran, sweat running down their faces, eyes bulging and mouth gaping like they were imitating fish out of the water, as their clothes ignited.

A Volvo, BMW, and Jeep exploded as they passed him. Street lights drooped like limp noodles. Flames sprang from nothing to consume trees as the grass turned into black ash and a yellow fire hydrant lost its shape, issuing arcing geysers of water that turned into steam and blew away. Buildings began melting and crumbling.

Smiling, he shook his head and looked at the black-smoke inferno spreading behind him. If they thought this was bad, they should experience what he’d just been there.

Now that had been hot.

Just Mine

Debby told me and Emi a story when we were all visiting Mom for her birthday. This was about twenty-five years ago. Debby had a habit of making a coffee drink at home in the morning and topping it with whipped cream. She’d then go out into her Florida home’s backyard to enjoy it. Trying to rebuild her life, she’d started going to college while working at night, leaving her children up north for their grandparents to raise them.

A squirrel approached her during one of her early mornings. Debby thought the squirrel was interested in her drink. Debby put some whipped cream on a spoon and offered it to the squirrel. The squirrel hopped over to her and lapped it up.

That started a daily habit. Debby and the squirrel met every morning to share a spoonful of whipped cream. Their ritual continued for four years. Then, one morning, she went into the back yard and found the squirrel dead.

Debby’s life had been a struggle since a brutal assault in Jacksonville had taken place in her early twenties. She kept trying to rebuild, and kept getting knocked back. After a miscarriage, she endured a three year stretch that saw a business bankruptcy, personal bankruptcy, and divorce because her husband was unfaithful and a drug abuser. Then she learned that her husband hadn’t been paying taxes to the IRS for over three years. The squirrel had been a symbol of change. Now the squirrel was dead.

Debby cried when she told the story. Emi and I cried when we heard it.

Come forward to last week. Mom had passed away. Home to make her funeral arrangements, Debby, Emi, and I were remembering our lives with Mom. Debby recalled how her parents had taken her children in, so I mentioned the squirrel tale, because it was part of that same era.

Debby looked blank. “Nope. Wasn’t me.”

Emi said, “I don’t remember ever hearing that before in my life.”

Their response stunned me. I guess the memory was just mine.

It really makes me wonder.

 

Karma’s Ripples

He knew exactly what’d taken place.

The firefight wound down. Adrenalin still scorched his nerves, numbed his muscles, and drove instincts and senses. The others were in front of him. “Rat-a-tat-tat,” he said, shooting into his comrades’ backs. Laughter poured out of him as they jerked. “Rat-a-tat-tat.”

That was it. They were dead. He was alive. He’d enjoyed it, to be truthful. Killing felt good. Killing was the best way to set yourself free. He put his rifle in another dead man’s hand. “Bang, bang,” he said to the dead man, what’s his name? Why’d the dead have names? They’d never use them.

One sat up to his left. He didn’t see. Later, he knew, because he was the one, the one who’d killed, the one who was the killer, and the one who came back to kill the killer. Karma’s ripples were bigger than he’d known or suspected.

Sitting up, a temporary life in a dead man, he watched himself laugh as he remembered laughing, and then pointed the assault rifle at himself and emptied the magazine into himself, regretfully smiling as he jerked, gushed blood, and finally sank to the floor. Even so injured, he managed to turn his head and look at him. His lips moved, but he didn’t speak. He remembered, though, that he’d been about to say, “You,” because he knew, he knew.

It was really a mercy. With that done, he left the dead man and the site, returning to the bardo from whence he’d come. At last, he felt peace. At last, all the voices in his head fell quiet. At last, all the dead left him alone.

At last, karma’s ripples died.

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.

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.

 

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.

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