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!