Monday, July 4, 2011

A Contingency

I packed my dreams away
In case of rain.
It seemed like a good idea.
Wouldn't want them ruined
By the elements.
Only now,
Now, the rain is here.
And I'm the one who is exposed.


Monday, June 6, 2011

A Prodigal

“You were right. I had no idea what I was throwing away. I wish I could’ve learned what I needed here, with you. But, I couldn’t. [No. That’s not true.] I wouldn’t.”
I had rehearsed the speech at least a hundred times since I boarded the train, each time, making subtle changes. It had to be perfect. I couldn’t let it go. The repetition kept me emotionally engaged. It was exhausting. But, I was afraid to stop feeling.
"I thought I was leaving because you were standing in the way of everything I wanted to be. I know now that I really left because of all the things I didn’t want to be. I was scared and lost and never considered that maybe you were too. I’m not looking for another chance. I just wanted to thank you for the one you gave me.”
The doors opened and I funneled out onto the platform. I was carried along by the current; the river of briefcases, cell phones, shopping bags, and backpacks. I climbed the stairway into the blinding light of day, like an actor making his entrance onto the brightly lit stage—a painted canvas skyline; cardboard delivery trucks; a soundtrack of ambient traffic noises; uncredited extras crowding the sidewalk. And, for a moment, I honestly felt like there was an audience I couldn’t quite make out, sitting somewhere beyond the lights. I fought to acclimate to my environment as I settled into my own determined pace. Rounding the corner, a familiar sight jarred me out of my daze. The small deli/convenience store/anything-else-we-can-manage-to-get-people-to-pay-good-money-for had once represented someone’s American dream. Now it was more of a monument to urban decline. I shoved against the glass door harder than I anticipated. Either that, or it was much lighter than I remembered. A cheap, electronic sensor triggered the weak simulation of a doorbell, announcing my arrival.

“Park? No way!”

Remo peered through the display case, then quickly popped up, wiped his hands on his pants, and lifted the hinged counter top. He took two steps toward me then stopped. He drew his head back. His eyes widened.

“Woah… what is with all the swagger? Looks like somebody's movin’ on up!” With Remo, there was never a real greeting. He simply dove into mid conversation.

“What? This old thrift?" I held open the panels of my jacket. "It’s laundry day.” I walked past him and straight toward the coffee dispensers against the wall. As always, the place smelled of hotdog relish and pine cleanser. I raised my voice a bit, but didn’t bother turning around. “I’m headed downtown to see my father.”

“Man, I didn’t know you had a father.”

“That’s because you’re an idiot.” I set the foam cup on the machine and pulled down the lever. “See, the way this whole parent thing works is that there’s a man and a woman and they…”

“Don’t be an ass, Park. So, your dad has a dress code? Who is this guy? Michael Bloomberg? You been holding out on me, man?”

“Son.” I turned and straightened my tie like I was Rodney Dangerfield. For some reason I instinctively lowered my voice into some sort of authoritarian stereotype. I sounded nothing like my father. “There are two kinds of people in this world. Leaders… and followers. Leaders look like leaders. Followers just look like everyone else.”

“Damn! I have no idea what that means, but you sure scared the hell outta me.”

“Huh!” The response was guttural: a half grin set by a single blast that was more forced air than pitch— the kind that makes your chest bounce. I turned to grab my coffee. There wasn’t enough cream or sugar in the world to make this sludge suitable for human consumption. “You have no idea.” I muttered under my breath.

“Downtown, eh? Business district? He puttin' you on the payroll, man? I didn’t even know J.P. Morgan was in the market for a ‘second rate bartender.’”

“Hey! That’s ‘Mr. Second Rate Bartender’ to you.” I plunked down a handful of change on the counter. I had no idea how much was there. It didn’t matter. I walked backward toward the door, taking a sip of my coffee and then casually raising it in the air in Remo’s general direction.

“That’s it? You coming back through later?


He kept talking, ignoring my answer. “I’m hangin’ at Eric’s when I get off.” I pretended to be interested as I pulled wide the door and stepped outside. “You should show, man. You know, you still owe him!” Remo called out as the door began to close.

Without looking back, I slipped into the constant stream of pedestrians. I could’ve taken the train all the way in, but I needed to work for this. I needed the muscles in my arms and legs to consume some of this raw energy being stored up in my chest.  In fact, I wasn’t sure the remaining seven blocks would even be enough.

Cabs and bikes turned to Town Cars and leather soled shoes. I closed my eyes and took a minute to slow my breath.

“I’m here to see my father.”

“Your name?” The wooden suit inside the lobby was too young for his job and somehow too old for his age.

“Parker Warren.” I did my best to sound self-assured, masking my overwhelming discomfort with the situation. For some reason, I felt compelled to reach out and shake his hand like I was here to broker a deal. A bit confused, he reluctantly countered the motion.

“No, sir. Your name.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m Parker Albert Warren III.”

“I see. My mistake, Mr. Warren. Would you like to sign in?”

Something about the exercise of stepping up to the desk and scribbling my name in the book further weakened my already waning resolve.

The man held out his arm with almost choreographed motion. “You can follow the signs down the hallway to the right and…”

“Thanks. I’m pretty sure I can find the way.”

I stopped a few feet from the open door and adjusted my jacket. This was it. I stepped across the threshold and into the musky aroma of wood oil and pipe tobacco. It was perfect. So familiar. So like him. How could that be? The large portrait stared blankly back at me from across the room. I used my foot to release the stop from the heavy wood door. It closed on its own; slowly, without a sound. I ran my hand across the high back of the brass-tacked, leather chair. I had never been here before, but somehow it felt like home. A huge spray of fresh white flowers crowned the hand-carved mahogany casket. I sat down, hand in palm, elbows resting casually on my knees. I lowered my head. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember a single word.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Therapist

“Clearly, she’s the devil and you’re her man-whore.” Strands of hair fall across her face as she lowers her head. Her gaze lands somewhere in my general direction. Her eyes laugh almost audibly.

“Sorry? I don’t even know what that means.” I pretend to be offended by the introduction of levity into our discussion. I know I take most things too seriously, but this is the last three years of my life we are talking about here.

She shrugs and draws up one side of her mouth.

“And, who says that?” My voice grows tighter with each word.

She shrugs again.

“…man-whore?” My disdain is now so over the top that it is becoming transparent.

“Well, obviously." Liz raises her eyebrows and cocks her head to one side. She casually tosses her open hands in my general direction.

I'm not sure why I'm always so aware of her hands. She has great hands. They’re not elegant; not clumsy or grotesque. They are simple—useful. They are quick and purposeful. Somehow, they are always exactly where they should be.

“What do you want me to say?” Her inquiry is curiously sincere.

“Nothing, I guess. After all, if she wants to play that game, let her play! Right?” My voice rings with an immodest and unimaginative confidence. I wade deeper into the clichĂ©. “If she needs to think of me as the villain… if that’s the role she needs me to play in her version of this story…” I lose track of where my thought was going. I pause as if the next few words are entirely unnecessary, hoping Liz won’t call my bluff. She doesn’t. In fact, she appears to ignore the whole thing. She scrapes up the remaining cream from the small dessert plate and licks her fork clean with all the grace of a preteen schoolboy.

The fork barely leaves her mouth as she begins. “Mmmm, you know what you should do?” I’m not completely certain whether she’s talking to me or the cream. She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “You should do whatever you would have been doing if you had never met her. You know?” Liz places the fork across her plate as though it was the finishing touch on a masterpiece. She leans in, resting her palms on either side of the small bistro chair and straightens her elbows. “What is it you do again?”

“Oh, you’re a riot!”

“Yes, I know. Thanks.” Everything with Liz is matter of fact. “But you can’t write about this. Not yet. Maybe not ever.”

“I’m not sure that’s fair. Writing is my catharsis. It’s how I process. I can’t think without my pen. I can’t feel. You might as well tell me I shouldn’t breathe.”

“No, writing is your job. It’s what you do for a living.” Liz wrinkles her brow and concedes. “And, it’s your voice. And… it’s who you are. If that’s what you want.” She seems lost in thought for a brief moment and then quickly reengages, settling into a more theatrical tempo. “Which is why you need to put space between your keyboard and this little taste of hell. Why should she get that too? Don’t give this any more of your soul. Don’t give her any more of you. It’s time to withdraw your investment.” Her closing cadence punctuated by self assurance.  

“I’m sure you’re right.” My concession trails off into what should be a satisfying silence.

“There now… we’re agreed. We don’t care anymore.” Liz resumes her playfully, albeit patronizing tone. I want to hate it. I can’t. So, I love it instead. "Is the waiter ever coming back?” She reaches into her lap and casually tosses the cloth napkin into her empty plate.

“Wait. I don’t know how to do that. I’m not that guy.” I stumble through the words like a baby taking his first steps.  Gradually I settle into a nice, healthy stride. “This is my life. This kind of matters to me. It has to. Besides, I’m the guy who cares about stuff. I like that about myself.”

“Me too.” Liz doesn’t even look at me. The statement lands flatly on the ground. She scans the room for the waiter.

“Okay? So?”

“So, what? Care.”

“Just like that?”

“If you want to go around caring about everything, be my guest. Just don’t expect me to join you. Not today anyway. Maybe tomorrow, if I have the time. OH! THE TIME!” With a single movement Liz sweeps her purse into her lap and begins digging for her phone.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I should throw you back and kiss you right here in this cafĂ© or walk away and never speak to you again.”

“Or both!”

It's completely involuntary.  The laughter bursts out of my throat like a foreign object from a choking victim. This afternoon is turning out to be some kind of emotional Heimlich maneuver and, for the first time, in a long time, I can breathe. It's a rough start at the promise of freedom. I cough and hack and sputter. Liz looks me squarely in the face, then closes her eyes, takes in a long, deep breath, and smiles.

“Finally.” She sighs.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Matriarch

Without a word, the dark, lanky, twenty-something stylist put down his tools and walked to the back of the busy salon. Rose studied her reflection. It’s not what she’d expected. She’s not sure whether or not it’s what she’d wanted. As the slender chrome hands on the clock pushed unapologetically toward 5pm, the hope and excitement with which she’d awakened frayed to a delicate thread.

Across the small, narrow room sat her daughter, Marivel. She’s beautiful. Her caramel face fresh and taught. Her warm-black hair is simple, shiny—effortlessly elegant. She’s at ease with herself and her surroundings. Rose prevailed against the smile that fought to make it through the barricade of her pride to waken her lifeless lips. There were moments when, despite years of practice, it was still difficult to project her signature indifference.

Then there is Adriana, her granddaughter in the adjacent chair. A young man with black jeans, designed to look worn; heavy boots; a skin tight, snapped shirt; and large plugs in his ears tousled her silken locks and casually scowled in admiration of his handiwork. She too is lovely—in her mid teens, but the club-sheik style grants her another few years of glamour and sophistication.

The edgy indie beat pumped heavily against the backdrop of bare brick walls and pretentious minimalism. The salon was Rose’s nightclub; the stylist her bartender. That’s why she’d come. That’s what she’d wanted. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t think she’d ever be ready. After all, only thirty-seven years separated her from her granddaughter. The emotions were complex; the memories exhausting. This wasn’t Mexico. She’d made that clear years ago when she walked out the door. She’d forced wide the gap between her grandmother’s legacy and her own destiny. She’d rejected this role and everything it represented. And now, it was upon her. There was no one else. They were all gone.

Death seemed so matter of fact. The phone call felt so natural. The cancer had taken her mother months before the breath finally left. Rose called the unresolved conflict to the forefront of her mind as if on cue. There was a requisite sadness—the kind that comes with finality. But, there was also the undeniable relief that inevitably comes at the end of such a merciless battle. Any attempt she’d made to reconcile the two emotions brought to center a guilt that was absolutely unacceptable. Even in death, Rose was haunted by her mother’s manipulation. And now, three years later, it still wasn’t over. Perhaps it never would be.

The mantle hadn’t fallen gently from the sky to rest on her shoulders. It wasn’t passed with the ceremony of a tender moment on a candlelit deathbed. It had come at her like a tsunami. It had swept up on the shore with a force so powerful that it instantly and permanently altered her relational landscape.

“It’s really light, mom.”

The stylist had spun Marivel’s chair toward the center of the room. Rose turned to face the wall sized, wood-framed mirror. No need to acknowledge her daughter’s voice. She ran the stark highlights through her fingers, shifting the weight of the strands from left to right. The young man's heavy footsteps signaled his return from the consultation in the back of the salon. Rose's voice fell rhythmically against his stride.

“Why’d it come out so blonde?”

He didn’t bother to look at her. There was nothing he could say. She'd been there since late morning, hijacking his business for the day. There was no hope of meeting her demands. He couldn't trim away the weight she felt or change the color beneath the roots.

“So, what do you want to do?”

His tone was flat and lifeless, masking his disdain. Rose glanced at her daughter, then returned his volley by silently flipping the page of her style magazine.


A Foreword

After four years of writing “Meus Bonus Pars,” I thought it might be time to shake things up a bit.

My house is full of antiques: a china hutch from Oklahoma with pecan veneer panels; an Italian marble coffee table gifted by my wife's great-aunt; a 70 year old, mahogany secretary that we picked up somewhere in California; two oversize alabaster lamps from God-knows-where... Each piece is unique and attractive in its own right. But, perhaps more significant for me than appearance or function is the knowledge that every piece comes with a story. Sometimes I know the history. Most of the time, I don't. But, I know it's there. I love that those stories, in some small way, become a part of my own. And, should the pieces ever leave my home, they carry a bit of me on the next leg of their journey. I’m now a part of their story.

I come to deeper, better, more healthy terms with myself when I acknowledge that the people and things around me have their own story—they're not just background characters and set pieces in the tale of me. I often stop to imagine what those stories might be. It would be fun to see those musings take form outside of my head. Even so, I've never thought of myself as a fiction writer. Perhaps because my past attempts (long ago) were feeble, at best. Lately, however, I've become captivated by the explosion of flash fiction in print and on the web. I'm a somewhat reluctant social joiner. But, it would be sophomoric to dismiss any form of creative development solely as a matter of principle or out of fear that I might not meet with easy success.

So, here's my turn around the circle. Some posts may lean more toward short story than flash fiction. I may even throw in some poetry from time to time. Whatever the medium, these entries are born somewhere beyond the boundaries of my reality; places only accessed by imagination. I would love the benefit of your feedback. Unfortunately, I will need to moderate the comments—too many spammers out there. But, I promise I will take the good with the bad.

Welcome and happy reading!