Sunday, September 25, 2011


I always thought when my heart broke for the first time that it wold be sudden, like the time someone threw a cement block at my passenger side window and it shattered into a thousand pieces, scattered across the front seats of my car with no hope of putting it back together. That's what I thought it would be like; but this is different. This is more like that little ding you get in your windshield, and as the temperature rises and drops, as more little stones hit your window, it gets more cracks and more dings, and eventually what started out as small crack is covering your entire windshield, spider-webbed out across the entirety of the window pane. Then all it takes is the tinniest little stress to render it useless. Finished. Done.

That's how my heart breaking feels. It's not a break, it's more like an erosion. A crumble. A heartcrumble.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I wish that I could show you
The me that I am now
How different I am from that girl
You left
I’m stronger now
More grounded now
I know what I want now
But I can’t have it now.

I know, it’s crazy
Most things are
But I tend to think
Just now and then
That in a different time
We would have been perfect
But I was too young
I couldn’t compete.

So now I write a letter
Or maybe even a word
About how if only
If only
It could have been wonderful.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Water

Their rubber boots pounded the pavement, softened by the splash of puddles collecting in the uneven spots on the sidewalk. Jonas managed to hit every one of them, sending droplets through the air and hitting Debra’s already soaking jeans. No one would have noticed though. The extra drops were pennies in a lottery of a wet downpour, miniscule compared to the ensuing storm.
            “Wait!” Debra fell behind Jonas as he took the stairs up to the door two at a time. She leaned over to catch her breath, hands on her knees. The water pounded her rain jacket, echoing inside her hood around her ears.
            “What are you doing?” Jonas yelled through the pummeling attack of water. “You’re getting soaked!”
            “I’m already soaked,” Debra mumbled. She straightened her small frame and the water rolled down the synthetic material keeping her upper body dry. She took a deep breath, remembering how she loved the smell of the rain, like buried soil upturned for the first time, ripe for planting a new crop. It smelled like life. She saw Jonas yelling, beckoning her with his hand to hurry up the stairs. She remembered a time when she might have skipped up those stairs to join him, or better, a time when he never would have left her. He would have held her hand, joined together by invisible glue, as they splashed through the puddles together, laughing and smiling.
            “I’ve never been kissed in the rain,” she said. She could tell by Jonas’ furrowed brow that he had either not heard her or was confused about what she said. “I’ve never been kissed in the rain!” she said, louder.
            “Are you crazy? The river is flooding! We need to get our things!” The rain pounded, harder and harder. The echoing inside Debra’s head compounded with each drop of water, bouncing between the words floating in the air. Are you crazy? Maybe. But every girl should be kissed in the rain. At least once. And if Debra were gathering her things, then she thought that should be one of them. She pulled her hood down, the echoing too much for her ears. The water soaked her long auburn hair, gluing it to her face and her neck. She closed her eyes, letting the water hit her face, the drops caressing her lips with a light patter.
            Every girl should be kissed in the rain.
Debra opened her eyes, and Jonas’s tall, sturdy frame was gone. The door swung casually in the breeze, hitting the chipped white paneling of the house with a gentle thud. Thud. Thud.
She looked up the stairs, then down toward the bank. Three weeks ago they hadn’t owned riverfront property, but now Debra could see the edge of the water flowing through tree trunks and tall grass. Winding and tearing around fences no longer needed. Carrying clothes, boxes, pieces of houses. All claimed now by the water. By the river. By the rain.
And every girl should be kissed by the rain.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In the Walls, Pt. II

My feelings toward him all changed at 6.08 a.m. on a Sunday morning, however. I am typically a light sleeper and was jarred awake at this ungodly hour by one of Margo’s deep snores. She then rolled to her side and the snoring subsided, but I was left wide awake in the creeping morning hour. But that’s when I heard it—or maybe when I heard them—scratching against the walls. I thought I heard the scampering of tiny claw-like feet across our hardwood floor, and immediately sat upright in bed and turned on my bedside lamp. The glow from the light spread across the room but I saw nothing. I used the lamp like a flashlight and shined it in the corners of the room, thinking I would see the vermin scampering about. Nothing. I returned the lamp to the nightstand and lay down in bed, hands across my stomach.
I closed my eyes and eventually returned to sleep. It was only a short while later—probably an hour, but in my sleep it felt like only five minutes—when I heard the scratching again. My eyes shot open but my body stayed still as a corpse. I quickly decided that my sudden movements earlier probably scared the creature away. I heard the scratching, the scampering, in the corner of my bedroom to my left. I slowly reached over to the lamp and brought it to my side, ready to ignite the light with the turn of the switch while simultaneously shining it in the designated corner. I heard the sounds again and my corpse-like body came to life, jutting into the air and shining the light into the corner.
I sighed and glanced about the room. I put the lamp back but left the light on. I heard the scratching again, this time coming from behind our oak headboard. I stiffened at the tiny sound—it echoed inside the still room, and visions of the mouse army running through our walls pervaded my mind. I could not shake the image, and suddenly the intimate bond between man and mouse had vanished into a raging war of man versus mice, and I realized that I was losing desperately. The scuttling continued and my hair stood on end. They moved from behind the headboard to across the room, and then I could have sworn that they were dancing in our closet, scampering about through holes in the corners that have gone unnoticed for so many years.
Then I heard it, the crinkle of paper, the scratching that must have been against the hardwood floor. All from under the bed. I clutched the soft fabric of the comforter and braced for the encounter. If I could just see the little bastard, see him eye to eye, maybe I could frighten him enough to make him take his army and leave. In one swift movement, I raised the sheet from the bed and peered underneath the frame, my body still on top of the mattress. My eyes scanned the battlefield, but the sergeant mouse had vacated the area and only dust bunnies drifted about the emptiness. Not quite the creature I had envisioned.
Margo rolled over then, disturbed by all my movement. Her eyes fluttered open momentarily, saw me, then closed again like a vault. She snored. I couldn’t bring myself to wake her to share my newfound terror at the tiny little creature. I did not think I shared my wife’s fear of mice. My own fear was somewhat different. This creature that I had once forged a companionship toward was now my enemy, and despite my attempts to face him he had avoided a confrontation. And not only was he my enemy, but my dear wife had been right—we had mice.
The scuttling and scratching and scampering kept me awake the better part of the morning. Traditionally, Margo and I slept in late on Sundays and awoke around noon to take an afternoon walk. Unable to sleep and armed with this new knowledge of the invasion, I tore away the blankets and dressed myself for a quick trip to the store. I left Margo a note telling her I had gone to fetch a special breakfast, and left the apartment to act on Margo’s suggestion.
I returned an hour later, both with croissants from our favorite bakery and with the poison, armed and ready for battle against the mouse. I opened the door and was greeted with Margo’s cry: “Geeeeooooorrrgie!”
“Margo, darling, what is it?” I dropped the bag of croissants in the foyer next to the coat rack and followed her wails into the living room. She stood on the couch again and pointed to the wall where he had set the trap nearly a week ago. I had to squint to see it, but there he was. His little tail stretched out onto the floor, and he had been clearly snapped between the metal fangs of the trap. The trap itself was on its side, but no doubt that had resulted from the impact of the spring and not from any apparent struggle of the mouse.
Margo wailed and pointed, tears beginning to fill her eyes. “I heard it go off while I was sleeping! I came to look and there it was!” She danced slightly on the couch and it creaked and moaned under her weight. “Get it out, Georgie! Get it out now!”
I stared at the trap, upturned on its side, and at the little tail that stretched out beside him. Margo’s wails and cries faded into the background and I found myself to be immobile. After everything this morning, after all my efforts to catch a glimpse at the small creature, here he was. Defeated. Dead. Gone.
I walked to the trap and picked it up by its edges, examining the vermin. His tiny little claws were curled up together, and a dust bunny clung to his fur. His beady black eyes were wide open, staring out into the nothingness that must have been death. I was unexplainably sad then, remorseful of my earlier thoughts of battle and war. It all seemed so futile, and I tucked the poison into the pocket of my coat.
Still holding the edges of the trap, I left the apartment building and took the thing to the back alley, not quite sure of what to do with him. I saw the dumpster and thought it cruel to simply toss him in with the rest of the garbage. I glanced about the alley and found, next to the dumpster, a pile of old cardboard boxes. In the pile was one smaller box, one that must have once held a hat or a pair of shoes, and I opened it and placed the trap and mouse inside. I placed the box down gently next the dumpster, stepped back, and bowed my head. I had been to plenty of funerals in my lifetime but this one seemed to me especially intimate. Like saying goodbye to an old friend I had fallen out of touch with. Sure, we had shared some good memories, but in the end I had planned on ending his life anyway. The weight of poison lay even heavier in my pocket then, and a certain guilt washed over me.
“I’m sorry,” I said aloud to my now deceased friend. I waited a few moments, out of respect, and then returned to my apartment where I found Margo in the kitchen plating the croissants I had brought home.
“Be sure to wash your hands before we eat, George,” she said, returned to fine form now that the mouse had been dealt with.
“Of course darling,” I said, and walked to the bathroom. I washed my hands and splashed cool water over my face. I dried myself with a towel and leaned over the sink, looking at myself in the mirror. My eyes seemed especially sad, almost reflective of the emptiness in the eyes of the mouse. I had to admit that his fine fur spurred some jealousy in me, as I ran a hand through my own thinning hair and rubbed the bald spot on top of my head. No, I was no greater than that poor little creature, my thin arms and legs and my balding head. I only had the advantage of being human, and him the disadvantage of being mouse.
I returned to the bedroom to change into my Sunday lounging clothes. And that’s when I heard it. The scratching. The scuttling. The scampering. I stiffened at the noise and turned sharply to try and catch the creatures along the walls. But no, there was nothing there, because they were in the walls. I walked to my coat and pulled the pack of rat poison from the pocket. I looked it over and made my decision. I opened the little hole at the top of the box, looked at the little green pellets inside, and placed the contraption inside our closet, where the mice would surely find it as they ventured out of forgotten holes in the corners of the closet.


It was sometime after 2 o’clock in the morning when John realized he was far too drunk and pulled over. The rumble bars vibrated the loose panels of his ’97 Volvo and made Ezra, his dashboard hula girl, rattle back and forth violently. He brought the car to a not so gradual stop, jerked the shift into park, turned off the engine, and threw the keys in the backseat. A buddy once told him if the keys were in reaching distance—or worse, in the ignition—they could still write you up for a DUI. His drunken thoughts coalesced in his brain and he tried to lay his head on the steering wheel. He hit it with a decided thud and honked the horn. He jerked his head upright, trying to determine where the sound had come form.
            Ezra stared at him, wobbling back and forth, mocking his own rocking state—accusing, judging.
            “What the fuck are you looking at?” he said and knocked her over in one swoop with the back of his hand. She lay sideways on the dash and stared up at him. He picked her up and brought her closer to his face. He could barely read the familiar markings on the base—“Love ya! Jan”—with the tiny little heart following her name.
            “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” He put Ezra back on the dash and smoothed out her shiny, plastic hair.
            A bright light blinded him then and a quick rap on the window made John sit up straight. He heard a voice speaking but it sounded like it was far away and underwater. Through his squinting eyes he saw a figure outside his window and rolled it down a few inches.
            “My keys are in the backseat!” he yelled at the glowing figure.
            “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the voice screamed, opening John’s door. Unfortunately, he had been leaning against it, and he fell toward the ground, only catching himself with his arm. Half in his seat and half hanging out the door, John spewed vomit on the cool pavement, the alcoholic liquid  splashing across the pair of Nike sneakers standing in front of him. They looked new, shiny white but now with specks of orange splattered across them like some Jackson Pollock painting.
            “God dammit John! I just got these today!” John peered up at the voice, a woman, still bracing himself outside the car with his arm. She had dark brown hair and olive skin, and now that his eyes had adjusted to the bright flashlight she was holding, he saw that she was remarkably beautiful.
            “Ezra?” he asked.
            “Who the hell is Ezra?” the voice asked and reached down to push John back into his car.
            John caught a glimpse of the real Ezra on his dash, her violent shaking now reduced to a gentle sway.
            “No,” she said, shaking her head. “You think that bitch would follow your drunk ass out here in the middle of the night?”
            “Gloria!” The sudden realization elated John. “My sweet little sister!” John wiped a dribble of vomit from the corner of his mouth and wrapped his arms around her neck. She fell forward under his weight, rebalanced, and started pulling him out of the car. “Wait,” John continued, slurring his words, “what are you doing out now? Does mom know you’re here? You can’t drive, you’re not old enough…”
            “I’m 19 John. I moved out of mom’s last year. Gawd you are so drunk right now.” She hoisted him to a standing position and together, like Siamese twins, they made their way back to her car.
            “But me and Jan. And Ezra. I should bring Ezra.” He tried to go back to his car.
            “Whoa, cowboy, let’s keep moving forward here.”
            “But Ezra!” John whimpered.
            “Please just get in the car.” John obeyed, finally grasping the situation despite his inebriated state. His baby sister was saving his drunk ass, again. He sat in the passenger seat and waited for her to join him in the car. Instead, she walked back to his Volvo and opened the door to the backseat. She emerged with his keys, locked the car, and walked back to her own vehicle. She plopped down in the driver’s seat and revved the engine twice before it started. Gloria placed both hands on the steering wheel and sighed.           
            “I’m sorry Sis,” John said, leaning against the car window. It fogged over when he exhaled, and Gloria saw a dribble of orange liquid come out the corner of his mouth. He closed his eyes, letting the rumble of the car and the effects of the whiskey be his lullaby.
            No answer.
            “John?” she said louder.
            No answer.
            Gloria shook her head and put the car in drive.
“Who the hell is Ezra?” she asked, knowing only the black pavement and the night’s sky held the answer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

250-word sentence

In two of my classes this last week, I was given the challenge of writing one very long sentence. The initial goal was 250 words, to which my instructor said we should at least try for 100 words. Well, mission accomplished! Here is my 250-word sentence:

George found his wife to be a very interesting creature, one of habit and one of surprise, something he had discovered long ago when he narrowed down her many virtues and vices into three very specific points: first, she was raised on a chicken farm in rural Wisconsin, dominated by dirt roads and wheat fields and dust storms, which explained her undeveloped taste for cleanliness when it came to dust, her lack of squeamishness when she accompanied him to the butcher’s shop to pick up their raw meat and poultry every Sunday afternoon, and her rather hefty, big-boned figure that she must have acquired while doing heavy labor as a child to help her father feed and coral the chickens each day; second, although her childhood was filled with farm life and dusty shelves, she had in her adult life become quite accustomed to living in the bustling city, explaining her love of designer handbags and extravagant hats adorned with lace and feathers and pearls, which she wore with nearly every outfit whenever she had the chance; third, she was without a doubt terrified of only one thing, and despite growing up on a farm where they must have scuttled about through the hens and the hay, and even here in the dirty streets of New York one was bound to come across it’s cousin in the dark tunnels of the subway, Margo would always scream and run in terror at the sight of the little scampering creature—the mouse.


Marcus led the prisoner—his name was Jacob—down the old, dim hallway of the Maryland State Penitentiary. Marcus only knew what he was told: Jacob had been convicted of kidnapping and first-degree murder; He was on death row.
            “Here you go. Home,” Marcus said. He unlocked the single cell. The door creaked as it opened. Jacob ducked as he stepped inside and turned around to face Marcus. Looking up at Jacob, Marcus was drawn to his eyes. They had no sparkle, no life, and the outside corners dipped down toward his cheeks in a frown. The door slammed with a clang of finality. Marcus removed the cuffs from Jacob’s large, rough hands and turned to leave. He wondered how a man with such sad eyes had ended up in place like this. Marcus walked back down the hall and stopped outside the warden’s office. He opened the door and stepped inside.
            “Yes?” The warden raised his head and his eyebrows at Marcus, his small skinny frame overtaken by the giant door.
            “I was wondering if I could get the assistance of an inmate in moving some things around the library while I update security in the room,” Marcus asked, stumbling over his words. “Lots of heavy bookshelves that need moved around,”
            “I suppose we could arrange that.” The warden peered over the rims of his glasses at Marcus, all too familiar with the favors officers often do for inmates. “Any particular prisoner you have in mind?”
            So Marcus and the inmate with the sad eyes began working together, and forged an unlikely friendship. A friendship that was, however, rather shallow. Marcus, for example, would never tell Jacob about his divorce, the wife that left him because he had a heavy hand with his whiskey, and once, just once, laid a heavy hand across her face. Jacob would never divulge the details of his crime, of whether he was innocent or not—he had plead not guilty at his trial—and would never talk about his appeals, although his sad eyes always gave him away. Jacob would never tell Marcus about his wife who refused to divorce him, who after ten years of blissful marriage refused to believe the jury, the evidence, and the prosecution. And Marcus would never tell Jacob about being a detective, fired because of alcoholism and a gambling addiction he developed after his wife left him, and how he spent his nights looking for an easy lay, and when we couldn’t get one he ended up paying for one. They would never talk about the thing they had most in common—their fall from their lives, from their dreams.
            For the next ten days though, the two shared that walk down the old, dim hallway of the Maryland State Penitentiary twice a day. They worked in the small room lined with shelves and with one window, the room the prison dubbed the library for its small collection of books. They ate lunch together and discovered their love of football, their dislike of politics, and their hearty laughs that would fill the small room.
            For the next 11 months, Marcus always found a job for Jacob in the prison, and they spent nearly every day together. They talked. They talked about football—the Stealers were better than the Patriots, even if the Pats did have Tom Brady, Jacob said—and they talked about politics—everyone’s just a crook, except for Clinton, the only thing he did wrong was sleep with his secretary, Marcus said—and they talked about the weather—snowed today, I hate the snow, Jacob said. Marcus began to doubt the accusations against Jacob. His kind, gentle demeanor and his sad, consoling eyes told Marcus they had got it wrong. The whole system had got it wrong.
            In a couple months, when Jacob would return from his last appeal, Marcus would finally ask about the trial, about the crime.
            “Did you do it, Jacob?”
            “How can you ask me that, after all this time?”
            “Just please tell me. I have to know. Did you do it? Did you kill that woman?”
            “Whether I did it or not, my fate is sealed. I won’t get to go to that Stealers’ game and I won’t get to see my family outside of these walls. That’s the funny thing about all this, you know, is you didn’t get to see me as I was, before I fell. Before all this. We could have been great friends, you and me.”
            “We are friends, that’s why I gotta know. I have to know.”
            “Why? If we’re friends, what would it change.”
            “Just tell me you didn’t do it.” Those sad, consoling eyes looked at Marcus. The outside corners drooped a little further.
            “I can’t do that.”
            Marcus would stop finding jobs for Jacob, and he would only see him one more time. When that time came, Jacob would stand, arms outstretched through the bars of his cell, and Marcus would handcuff him and open the creaking door. And they would walk together down that old, dim hallway of the Maryland State Penitentiary one last time. Jacob’s cell door would shut with a clang of finality.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Four Horsemen

And up from the depths, in the southeast, the southwest, the northwest, and the northeast, a great shudder will rise up and release into the world the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Each as an element, raging against mankind in the subsequent shattering of worlds: earth, fire, water, and wind. In the southeast the spirit of earth will tremble and cause great panic and worry. Fear will subside and people will forget. Then, in the southwest, both earth and fire shall rise up, the trembles now accompanied by flame, the spirit of earth and the spirit of fire, causing great panic and worry.  Fear will subside and people will forget. Then in the northwest, earth, fire, and water will rear their ugly heads. Thousands will die. The earth will tremble and shatter. Fire will ignite and destroy. Water will engulf and rage. Great panic and worry will spread throughout the nations. Fear will not subside and people will not forget, for one last and final horseman will now only need escape from the depths of hell to unleash the powers of the afterlife. The apocalypse. It will come in the northeast, in a torrent of wind. The earth will shatter and sink in the ocean. The water will swallow entire lands. And fire will spread across that which remains, and the earth will be scorched with death and despair.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In the Walls

Margo jumped onto the couch and shrieked. Her nimble movement surprised me more than the scream. I loved her, but my dear wife was an ample woman, and the quickness and speed with which she raised her chubby legs made me cock my head to the side in admiration. I tried to ignore her and keep my focus. I was in the middle of a thought and needed to write it down before the words sunk back into the convolutions of my brain, lost among the other diluted thoughts and sporadic ideas.
            “There! It’s there!” Margo screamed. She alternately lifted her knees up to her chest, which for her was not far because of her roles of heftiness that layered her body. Each time her feet hit the couch it sagged in the middle, the bottom almost reaching the floor, like a trampoline under extreme stress. “It went into the bedroom Georgie! The bedroom! Oh gawd, eeeeeee! Oooooooooh!”
            I scribbled the remainder of my sentence on my paper. I laid my pen down and looked at Margo. She stood on the couch, head of curly red hair brushing the ceiling, her chubby arms crossed over her body in self-defense. Such a large woman should not be afraid of such tiny creature. She continued her squirming dance there, and had we not made love on that very couch earlier in the week I would have worried for the stability of it.
            “Margo, darling, please come down,” I said.
            “Georgie, I saw it! It has a taaaaail!”
            “Well, yes dear, I saw it last week when he was stuck in the bathroom ceiling vent.” The culprit had been trapped there for a day, his tail hanging down through the slits of the vent, peering at me as I sat on the toilet reading the newspaper. He had made me slightly nervous at first, but then I thought of him as more of a companion while Margo was away visiting her sister.
            “Eeeeeeeee!! Georgie!” She gave an involuntary shudder and closed her eyes. She plopped down with her ankles crossed and the couch sagged more under the total impact of her weight. He looked at her there, still amazed at her flexibility for being so large. He walked to her and took her face in his hands. She started at his touch, then melted into his hands and relaxed her tense facial muscles. She opened her eyes and looked at me pleadingly.
            “Please, Georgie.”
            “I’ll see if I can find him.” I kissed her on the lips and made my way to the bedroom. I knew I wouldn’t find the mouse now, but also knew it was my duty to at least look for him. This mouse had been the center of our world for the past two weeks. Margo first discovered his droppings lining the kitchen sink. Neither of us had ever seen mouse droppings before, but we knew instantly what they were. The little turds were elongated ovals, tiny, yet had the power to send Margo wailing into the bedroom.
            I entered her old refuge with caution. I wasn’t particularly afraid of the creature, but was not exactly fond of the dirty thing running over my feet. I flipped on the lights and checked along the walls, behind the door, behind the dresser, under the bed. Tediously. Cautiously.
            Two days after the discovery of the turds she left to visit her sister in the country. That’s when I encountered him in the bathroom vent. I stood and stared at his tail swinging down and his tiny claws poking through, wondering how he came to such a place.  I did little to eradicate the problem. He eventually gave me a slight comfort; company while Margo was away. By the time she had returned he escaped his incarcerated cell, and he had generally been absent until that day.
            “Did you find it?” Margo asked from the safety of her couch platform.
            “No, darling. I’m afraid he’s probably slipped into a hole somewhere.”
            “Honestly, Margo, he’s just a tiny little creature. He’ll hardly do you any harm.”
            “I don’t care, Georgie! It’s a mouse! Eeeeeeeeww!”
I sighed and sat by her on the couch. “Shall we go buy some mouse traps then?”
“Yes, of course we should.” She shuddered again and I was sure she was picturing the dead varmint pinned under a spring loaded metal trap.
“Well then, let’s get on with it.”
We bought the traps and set them, one in the kitchen and one in the living room. We placed peanut butter on them and I assured Margo he would be caught by morning.
When we woke the next morning, Margo rushed to the kitchen like a child to the tree on Christmas morning. Her excitement surprised me, so when she wailed my name in her typically distressed way—“Geeeeeoooorgiiiiee!”—I was unsure of what I would find when I joined her.
She stood like a statue, her arm extended and her index finger pointed at the upturned trap on the linoleum floor. I reached down and picked up the trap, void of both peanut butter and mouse. I looked to Margo and she let out a whimper. I checked the trap in the living room. It was still set but the peanut butter had vanished from it as well.
“Well, looks like he’s a smart fellow,” I said. I couldn’t explain it but I felt a certain relief at the critter’s narrow escape.
“Stop talking about it like it’s a person,” Margo said. She crossed her arms and her fingers protruded like little sausages from the inside of her elbow. She let out a deliberate humph and I couldn’t help but smile. My lovely wife, the strongest woman I knew, reduced to a whimpering, shrieking, humph-ing little child. A woman who had killed rattle snakes on the prairie terrified of the snake’s prey. Growing up in the country should have eradicated this trifling fear from the woman, yet her shrieks and wails at every sign of the mouse had proved otherwise.
“We should buy some of that rat poison,” Margo said. “You know what they say, you never have just one mouse.” I nodded in agreement but instantly regretted conceding to such a plan of action. I secretly denied the idea of there being more than just my one mouse; the existence of mice would erase the slight bond he and I had created in our shared existence.
For days we didn’t see him, but he continued to leave his little turds on our kitchen counter. I stuffed towels between the wall and the refrigerator to keep him from climbing up. Then he must have climbed up the back of the stove, because he was still getting on the counter. We moved all our food and appliances to the kitchen table, and when we lifted our toaster off the counter we found several turds mixed in with the breadcrumbs. We reset the traps but he avoided them altogether at this point. I couldn’t help but be proud of him in a way; for all our efforts he seemed to be one step ahead of the game.
My feelings toward him all changed at 6.08 a.m. on Thursday morning.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Irene sat at her kitchen table, sipping a cup of hot tea. She never liked sugar or honey in the stuff, but preferred the bitter taste of it resting on her lips. She skimmed the pages of the newspaper, letting the black text enter her eyes and somehow emerge in her brain as words with meanings. She only briefly took it in. The stories never really interested her, but she read them everyday. The monotony and repetition of news provided her with a routine. Someone usually had died, someone else had usually accomplished something amazing, and someone else had usually committed a crime. The letters and words and sentences merged together in the black and white print and eventually all looked the same. She took it in nonetheless, simply because she always had.
            She checked the time on her watch, the simple silver band resting gently against her white skin. Nearly ten till seven, she decided she would leave for work early. She sipped the remainder of her tea and pushed back the oak chair from her dining room table.  She placed the empty beige mug into the dishwasher and walked across the white linoleum floor to her living room. She glanced around the room, as if she was looking for something. Everything was given a place, the white walls spotless and clean with only a few black and white photographs framed and hung. Her neutral furniture was arranged precisely; she had paid hundreds of dollars earlier in the year to have a specialist come in and Feng Shui her apartment. She enjoyed the look but didn’t really see much difference. Everything belonged, as always. Irene let her eyes rest briefly on the only splash of color in the room—a single fake red rose in a long stem vase.
            Irene picked up her black coat and purse from the hanger next to the door and slipped on her black pumps. She smoothed her white blouse around her torso and looked in the mirror on her way out the door. She quickly patted down a stray piece of brown hair and tucked another back into her bun. Her high cheekbones framed her face, and her lips rested in a tight pout. Irene never wore lipstick, and the neutral shade of her lips matched the furniture in the room. Her reading glasses hung neatly around her neck, and the only piece of jewelry she wore dangled from her wrist, a bracelet with a single heart charm.
She sighed at her own reflection, wondering for a moment why she never did her hair any other way. The thought floated from her mind easily, though, and she turned the doorknob and stepped out of her neat, tidy, colorless apartment.
Irene walked carefully down the two flights of stairs, as she did each day, and nodded to the doorman as she walked through the complex door. He never paid her much attention, and she never did mind; she knew she was not anything special to look at. Her black heels were only an inch tall, and her pencil skirt skimmed the bottom of her knees but never hugged her hips and thighs as the other women at her office wore them. The white blouse, always perfectly ironed, hung loosely around her body. The black coat did the same. No, Irene knew she was nothing special, and her appearance reflected it. Carmen always begged her to try new things, but Irene insisted in buying the same clothes, except maybe in a shade of gray, and wearing the same shoes, and doing her hair the same way.
Thinking of Carmen reminded Irene it was her turn to buy coffee, and suddenly the decision to leave early for work had turned into a purposeful one. She walked carefully along the icy sidewalk and took care to avoid bumping into others.
She took the left down Fourth Avenue toward the coffee shop. Keeping her head down, she watched her feet, one in front of the other. Quickly, Irene went over her plans for the day. The gallery was clearing out some old works of art, and a new artist would be bringing in pieces this afternoon. Irene dreaded these days, full of bustle and people and paintings and canvasses everywhere. Even the people were misplaced, moving about in places they usually weren’t, and Irene found it easy to become disgruntled at the artists and the movers, sometimes even Carmen. She did her best to stay in her office, but Carmen eventually would drag her out and ask her opinion on a placement of art. Irene was never sure why she did this; Carmen always put the pieces where the artist wanted them anyway. Irene thought it was Carmen’s attempt to pull her into the artistic world that surrounded her, away from her numbers and figures and bills, into the world of color and art and disorder.
Irene entered the coffee shop and heard the familiar bell ring. The place was packed, as usual for corner coffee shop, but Irene and Carmen had come so often they no longer had to wait.
“Irene lady!” Marty, the morning shift worker, yelled her somewhat nickname across the room. Irene cringed slightly as half the heads in line turned her way. She could only imagine their thoughts as they stared at the woman before them, a woman that shouldn’t deserve to have her coffee ready when she walked in the door.
“Hello Marty,” she replied as she briskly walked to the counter.
“Got your coffees right here,” he said. “One plain black and one vanilla chai with a shot of espresso! Get ‘em while they’re hot!”
He handed her the drinks and she handed him a crisp ten-dollar bill. As always, he tried to give her change and she refused. She always left the change, not because she wanted to leave a tip but because she hated the loose coins in her purse. She forced a smile, said thank-you, and was out the door before she could hear the usual “Good-bye Irene lady!” from Marty, before all the heads would once again turn and stare at the woman who did not deserve to have her coffee ready when she walked in the door.
“Where are they? I could have sworn they were right here!” Irene dug in her purse for her keys, simultaneously juggling two bags of groceries. Before she could prevent it, the corner of one of the brown bags ripped, spilling all its contents on the hallway floor. Irene stared at the mess. An orange continued to roll down the hallway. Her apples lay in a defeated heap at her toes, and a can of tomatoes hit her neighbor’s door with a decided thud. She sighed and knelt to  pick up the mess.
“Here, let me help you with that,” came a deep voice somewhere above Irene. She peered up at the tall man from behind her glasses, and pushed them up the bridge of her nose to bring his figure into focus. He had dark hair and was wearing jeans and blazer. He smiled at her the brightest smile she thought she had ever seen. He was holding an orange—her orange—and knelt next to Irene to grab the can of tomatoes.
“Damn paper bags never seem to hold up when you need them to,” he said. He was on her level now and looked her in the eyes. His were a deep hazel, with speckles of green and yellow. Irene consciously closed her gaping mouth and looked down. She could not remember when she had ever seen a man so stunning. She knew such a man had never stopped to talk to her before, much less help her fetch her strewn about groceries off the floor.
“Th-thank you,” she managed to stammer. She kept her head down as they gathered her things. She managed to fish her keys out of her purse, giving her another excuse not to look the man in the eye. She unlocked her door and placed her purse and unspilled bag of food just inside.
“Well, I think this is all of it!” he said. Irene turned to his arms full of the groceries, the bag of apples swinging from his hand. “Where would you like me to put these?”
“Oh, um, I suppose if you could come put them on my table?” she said.
“Well, yes of course.” He smiled and walked into her living room, crossing it in four graceful strides and reaching the kitchen without hesitation. He gently placed the food on the table and turned back to Irene. “There you are, miss.” He nodded and made his way back to the door. Irene stared at his back, his broad shoulders taking up nearly the entire frame of the door. She didn’t realize she was staring until he turned to look at her.
“How rude of me,” he said. “My name is Eugene.” He held out his hand and Irene took it, feeling his firm yet gentle grip. His olive skin contrasted her pale hand, and she looked into his eyes once more. Those hazel orbs, speckled with pulsing green and yellow. His other hand reached out and covered Irene’s, and she felt a spark of electricity surge through her arm and reach her heart. The shock reminder her that she should say something.
“It’s very nice to meet you Eugene,” she said. He nodded and slipped his hands from hers, and the spark was pulled from her limbs just as suddenly as it had appeared. He gave one last bright smile and turned down the hallway. Irene stood there, trying to comprehend what had just happened. She then realized she had not told him her name, and rushed to the door to catch him.
“My name is…” she glanced up and down the hall but Eugene was nowhere to be found. She thought about running to the stairs to try and catch the man, but then decided against it. A man like him wouldn’t want to know her name. He wouldn’t be interested in seeing her again. Not a plain, simple woman like Irene.
She returned to her kitchen and began to put the groceries away. She contemplated dinner, what she felt like eating and then, more importantly, what she felt like making. She stared at her full cupboards, yet nothing seemed appetizing anymore. She poured herself a glass of wine and went to her bedroom. Her light glowed against the white walls, and she slipped out of her work clothes into her pajamas. The plaid flannel pants and button-down shirt comforted her, and she sunk into her bed, wine on her nightstand. She opened her book and began to read, slowly drifting into her lonely, desolate sleep.
She looked around this place, this open expansiveness of land that stretched beyond the horizon and below the earth and above the heaven. Things exploded with color around her—the ground, the buildings, even the sun. Everything pulsed with a life, a beat, a rhythm. She inherently understood that she was on a date, one of those realizations that only come in dreams. Carmen was there and she drifted about lazily, appearing in front of Irene’s face and speaking to her, but she could only see the shape of her lips moving to form what Irene assumed to be words; no sounds came out. The muffledness that seems to sometimes accompany dreams engulfed her, as if she were floating in a bubbleless underwater world where no sound could reach her. Irene saw a man come near her and instantly knew it was him. The muffled feeling left her, and suddenly all noise was crisp and clear. He said hello to her and put his olive hand out for her to touch. Her fingertips met his and the pads of their fingers pulsed in a rhythmic beat, and she could see the colors pulsing and radiating from their connection. First purple, then aqua, then indigo, then yellow. Like a rippled rainbow created by the joining of their souls. Carmen danced on the ripples, hopping from one to the other as they stretched out across the expanse of this dreamland. He embraced Irene’s hand then and they began to walk. Except their walk no longer involved their feet touching the ground; instead, they floated above the surface of the street, and it took four steps to cover the same distance as a real-life one.
Irene was consciously aware of the dream. As if she were watching a film, she saw the couple progress down the road to her home, to what really felt like their home. With each step, yellow pulses rippled from their feet, emanating from the tips of their toes and rippling out like water across the pavement. The longer they held hands, she felt an inconceivable joy, as if simply being there with him at that moment was all she ever need to sustain her. Forever.
She knew it was not real, yet the pure joy she felt could in no way be fake. Her happiness grew with each passing moment, until at last she felt as though she would explode in a blissful euphoria. She could see Carmen in the distance now, still hopping on the ripples that grew further and further apart. She finally settled on a purple one, faced the couple and waved goodbye. Then she disappeared in only the way people disappear in dreams.
They stopped walking just then, and he turned to look at her. She could see herself through his eyes. She noticed the pulsing blue of her iris, bluer than any summer sky or any crystal lake, and wondered why they were not this blue in reality. As he leaned toward her she entered her own body again, just in time to taste his lips, his tongue, his essence.
Irene, you have to wake up, she consciously though. This is not real. This is not real. You have to stop!
But dream Irene was too engrossed, too enveloped in the taste of his kiss to realize the danger of her happiness. She returned his pressing lips with passionate ones of her own, and moved her hips closer to his. She wanted more. Had to have more. She wanted the pulsing to keep rippling out from their embrace, to fill this entire mystical place with a yellow ripple and to make their world explode with happiness and pure joy.
Irene, NO! This is not real. This is not real. This is not real!
Irene lay motionless, her eyes closed. She saw only a faint yellow ripple, and then darkness. She tried to momentarily grasp at the dream, but it was like grabbing smoke in the air. It escaped her and lifted like the morning fog, and no matter how hard she tried she could not hold on to it any longer. She replayed the image in her head. His hand, his face, his taste. The sea of colors pulsing and rippling across the expanse of the horizon. The want for it all to be real in all its absurdity. The man she wanted to fall so desperately in love with, and whom she truly believed was falling in love with her. The bliss still anchored in her heart, heavy like an iron burden. She lay still, attempting to will her dream into reality.
Please be real. Please let it all be real. Let this be my life.
One minute later, a minute that for all Irene knew could have lasted an eternity, she came to the bitter acceptance that it was not real. It was simply a dream, and she opened her eyes and stared at the blank, white wall of her room.
Irene continued her life, her day to day activities. Outwardly, nothing about her had changed. She wore the same clothes, did her hair the same way, drank the same black coffee. Yet each night she escaped to her room in anticipation of the dreams, where she and Eugene met and talked and loved. At first she looked for him in the hallways of her apartment complex. After a few weeks she gave up on seeing him there again and simply looked forward to seeing him each night. At first she was afraid. After a few weeks she surrendered completely to the dreams, to the desires, and to the love. At first she remembered the dreams every night. After a few weeks she only remembered every other night, then every few nights.
She woke with a heaviness on her chest. Irene opened her eyes, foolishly expecting to see him laying on top of her body. Her white ceiling stared back at her and broke the illusion, and the weight instantly lifted. She hated when she woke not remembering the dreams; only small traces remained to assure her they had met that night. This morning, the weight of his body on top of hers. Last week, the taste of his tongue on her lips. Once, a subtle tingling between her legs.
At this point experience told her it was no use willing herself back to sleep in hopes of continuing the lost dream. She sat up and swung her legs off her bed and looked around her. The beige walls, her white comforter, her sparsely decorated room. She hated that she had slept three nights now without remembering the dreams. She longed not just for his face, but for the pulsing colors, the vibrating rhythms that seemed to emanate from the dancing yellows, purples and blues.
She reached for her phone.
“Carmen? I won’t be in today. I’m taking a personal day.” Pause. “Yes, a personal day. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
When she arrived at the store she wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do. She instinctively gravitated to the paint aisle. The number of color swathes baffled her. She thought these colors had only existed in her dreams, yet here they lay, neatly ordered according to color, tone, and shade, for anyone compelled to redecorate their lives in the colors of dreams to come and do so. She ran her index finger along the samples, first the reds, then the blues, then the greens. She wondered where she would start. She wondered what she even had in mind. All she could see were the pulsing colors from her dreams, and she suddenly thought the countless color palettes were dull and lifeless. Nothing like the colors of her dreams. Colors that were dynamic, that ebbed and flowed like the tide of the ocean, pulled by the enormity of love she experienced instead of the full moon. The color swatches blurred together, and soon they all seemed to be a shade of gray. Irene felt her spirits drop.
“Can I help you with anything?”
Irene slowly turned and looked at the person addressing her. She scanned him up and down, a lanky college-aged boy with a nametag that read “Steve.”
“Yes, Steve, I think you can,” she said slowly. She thought for a second, glancing back at the black and white board of colorful bits of paper. “Can you get me three gallons of paint? All different colors, as long as they’re not black or white. Or any type of beige. Colorful. The most colorful colors you can make.
“Sure I can do that. Indoor or outdoor?” he replied. His casualness made her smile, as if he was used to women coming into the store and being indecisive, leaving the decision-making up to him. She was comforted by his assurance.
“Indoor,” she said, smiling. She still was unsure of what exactly she was going to do, but she felt she was making progress toward some attainable goal. Making progress toward some change that had maybe been a long time coming. A change that involved color.
And Living.
Irene stood back from the wall and took in the piece of work. Splashes of green and yellow crisscrossed and made blue. The shade of red melded with the blue and turned into a purple. The wet paint slithered down the wall, and the yellow joined the splotch of purple and mixed into a murky brown. Irene frowned. Her attempt to liven up her bedroom failed miserably. She had always questioned the paintings of Jackson Pollock, yet now she found a new respect for the drips of paint that created the movement within his art. Instead of her own version of Pollock she had a wall full of muck. Nothing like what she had imagined doing when she walked into the hardware store with a newfound feeling of liberty and freedom.
She sat and stared at the wall for some time. The minutes faded into hours and the hours faded into night. Eventually, she got up from the floor and crawled into bed, knowing comfort would only come in her dreams.
Irene splashed water on her face and let the cool droplets trickle down her neck and reach her t-shirt. She was restless. Sleep escaped her, and the more she craved it the less she got of it. He had become an addiction, one she could not shake. She rushed home to meet him each night, anticipating their meetings like a rooster waiting for the sun to rise. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair up in a pony-tail, stray pieces floating down to her shoulders. Dark circles under her eyes. She grasped the edge of the counter for support. He consumed her. She no longer wished to be in this world but only waited to unite with him in her dreams. His touch, his kiss, his love. It was all that mattered to her anymore.
She opened the medicine cabinet and reached for the bottle. Her hand shook but she grabbed the pills dutifully. He would be waiting for her, and she could not disappoint. A drop of water fell from her chin and hit the lid of the bottle. Her soft fingers became steady as she grasped the childproof mechanism and forced the bottle open. She poured the pills into her hand, then picked out two and placed them in her mouth. She built enough saliva around the white orbs to swallow them. She stared at the rest in her hand. Each capsule a night with her lover. With her newfound life. Dancing across the sunlight and into the world of dreams. Her hand came slowly to her mouth, cupped to contain the pills. She looked her reflection in the eyes one last time, then closed her eyes and consumed the remainder of the meds.
Her mouth was dry. She turned the faucet back on and ducked her mouth under the cool, running stream. Some pills escaped and slipped down the drain. Eyes still closed, she only heard the tink of their fall as they hit the sink and continued down the pipe. Mouth crammed with pills now swimming in water, Irene tilted her head back and swallowed. She choked slightly but managed to consume the portion of pills.
She danced back to her bedroom, lit a candle, and crawled under her covers. The satin sheets enveloped her body and she sunk further into her night. Her head rested on a cloud of pillows, and she sunk into softness, patiently anticipating the pulsing colors and the electricity of his touch.
Tonight, she would meet her lover and dance across the rays of the sun into eternity. She looked at the wall of her bedroom, splashed with the murky brown colors not anywhere near the ones in her dreams, and closed her eyes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Students need to take initiative with financial aid

The article “Breaking News: Report on UA states the obvious” in the February 8 edition of The Northern Light reflected a general dissatisfaction among students at UAA in several areas. As the article stated, we hate our parking and food choices. Okay, I can accept that one. I don’t like trolling the parking lot like a shark for a spot any more than the next person, and sometimes I don’t like my options of Subway versus Chinese in the Union. But when the UA report finds that students are dissatisfied with their financial aid assistance, and the article backs up the report with a student opinion agreeing with it, I had to stop and scratch my head for a moment.
            Yes, I’ve been frustrated with my financial aid. Yes, I agree that the University could use some improvement in this area. What irks me is the following quote from a UAA student: “They need to go to each student individually and then talk to them because I didn’t even know about how to go to financial aid…They’re just not being aggressive enough.”
            If this is the general student opinion regarding financial aid, then we have a problem. And I don’t mean “we” as in UAA—I mean “we” as in us students. Time to wake up, everyone. We’re in college now, and it’s time to start taking responsibility for our own education and our lives. I’ve never “not known” about the FAFSA. Flyers everywhere around campus tell us not only when the deadline is, but where to go and who to contact if we have questions. The University sponsors workshops to aid in filling out FAFSAs, and whenever I’ve had issues with my financial aid, my emails have been responded to promptly and the staff at the financial aid office work diligently to assist me.
            The student edition of the Green and Gold Daily always posts information regarding the FAFSA, as well as other important financial aid info such as available scholarships and their deadlines. Flyers litter the Student Union and the Sky Bridge. Pick any bulletin board on campus, and I bet there’s some information regarding financial aid and scholarships.

Case in point: These flyers urged students not to "monkey
around" and to submit their general scholarship essay by Feb.
15, littering every table in the Consortium Library this week.

The information is out there, folks, and just because it’s not popping up as a personalized ad on Facebook doesn’t mean it’s not within reach. As young adults, it’s our responsibility to seek out information pertinent to our educational goals, and that means figuring out financial aid. If we start actively participating in the process, we the students can bridge the gap between our needs and available financial aid resources.
            The University is not our enemy. They want us to succeed. They want us to graduate. But it’s time we start taking more responsibility as students in the financial aid process and start seeking out the resources available to us instead of waiting for them to arrive on a silver spoon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tolerance, Pt. V

Mike Erikson turned down the street toward his car. It was Friday and he was the last to leave work for the weekend. He worked relentlessly establishing a support network for the Muslim community over the past three months. All for his best friend Ahmad. Michael wondered how he had come to this point in his life. He was working longer hours than ever, organizing groups and protests and funding. He couldn’t remember the last time he sat down to a meal with his family. With his beautiful wife and his three kids. He imagined Thomas and Rebecca being there, too. He considered them family. He glanced down at his watch as he strode across the street. The last remaining rays of sunlight glinted off the glass pane before he could read the time: 7:48. If he hurried he might be able to enjoy dinner without sticking it in the microwave.
A slight breeze poured through the street, and Mike buttoned the remainder of his coat. New York was in limbo—that time between winter and spring where it can’t decide quite what it wants. Right now it was teetering on the edges of winter, ready to tip into full-fledged spring. Just teetering, though, and Mike quickened his pace to escape the brisk chill. A few people joined him in his after-hours stroll to his car. He took comfort knowing he wasn’t the only man on the block putting in extra time.
He reached his car and fumbled for his keys. The wind subsided into a quiet still. Mike heard nothing in the deserted parking lot. The absence of sound made him pause. He looked up.
“Excuse me?” Mike dropped his briefcase and turned toward the voice.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you come up,” Mike said. He looked at the stranger. A man, near his own age. Dressed in a business suit and holding a small briefcase. His eyes were covered by a pair of sunglasses. “Can I help you?”
“Are you Michael Erikson?” the stranger asked.
“I go by Mike. Michael is my son.” He smiled at the stranger and reached out to shake his hand. The man took it, his hands rough and his grip firm.
“Yes, Mike. I must have just missed you in your office. I’m with the Charity Fund Committee and wanted to let you know before the weekend that your funding has been approved.”
“That’s wonderful news! If I can get your information I’ll get a hold of you this weekend so we can—“
“That won’t be necessary. Everything you’ll need—paperwork, contacts, zoning guidelines—they’re all in here.” The man extended his arm holding the suitcase, and Mike reached out to grab it. “If you have any questions you can contact the committee directly.”
Mike felt the weight of the case in his hand. Lots of papers in this little guy. So much for my free weekend. “Thank-you, thank-you so much for catching up with me,” Mike said. “I’m sorry but I didn’t get your name.”
The man had turned to go. He paused and said something, but the wind returned and carried his words away from Mike’s ears. The stranger waved a goodbye and the frigid air forced Mike to fetch his own briefcase and retreat to his car.
Like a kid at Christmas, Mike couldn’t wait to open his new present. He unhinged each clasp separately, taking in this monumental moment. The months of hard work had paid off. The community was behind the mosque and the Muslim community center. His dear friend Ahmad, after years of persecution, could have a place all his own. He took a deep breath and opened the case.
Mike’s eyes raced wildly. “What the hell—” He took in the shiny metal inside, the canister, and the clock.
Three. The papers on his desk. He hadn’t submitted his request for funding yet.
Two. The door. The handle. Where is the handle?
One. His wife. His beautiful wife. His wonderful family. He could never have wanted—

Tolerance, Pt. IV

Thomas finished setting the table and poured himself a glass of wine. The day had been busy. Since Mike Erikson’s death, everyone was on edge, supporters and protestors alike. Thomas had done his best to ensure those on his side that the work they were doing was worth it—that Mike wouldn’t want them to stop. Some had left, others had stayed but been silent. And still others had doubled their volunteer hours, enraged at the violent acts by their fellow Americans. Thomas leaned back in his chair and let the Merlot rest on his palate. The bittersweet flavor encapsulated each taste bud and rested there after he swallowed. He swirled his wine glass, holding the stem with the tips of his fingers.
He remembered his first glass of wine with Mike. They discussed the implications of supporting Ahmad and his family, yet there was never any doubt in either of their minds about their loyalty to Ahmad and their responsibility to his family. After aiding in the Hassan family’s flight from Palestine, they felt obligated to provide their friend with a place to freely practice his religion. They both agreed without hesitation that they would organize the support system within the neighborhood and within New York for a Muslim community center. Thomas wondered if Mike would have changed his mind, knowing the outcome of it all.
The door opened and closed, sending a loud thud echoing through the small apartment. Thomas placed his glass on the table and strode to the living room to greet his sister.
“Hello there Sis,” he said, smiling at her appearance. She was holding her yellow flip-flops, staples to her wardrobe during the spring and summer months. Her long brown hair flowed over her shoulders and frizzed slightly at the ends. He thought she looked like a daisy, beaming at him, fresh as the spring flowers. She took four steps to cross the small living room and gave Thomas a hug.
“Hello Brother!” Thomas thought she sounded especially happy and wondered why. Then again, he knew once what it was like to be that age. To be that age and to be in love. He used to worry about Rebecca and her boyfriends. He was even wary about Rebecca and Michael when they began dating. But he and Mike both agreed that the two couldn’t have been better for each other. Thomas liked the idea of Rebecca’s boyfriend having loyalty to the entire family.
Rebecca pulled away and skipped into the kitchen.
“What didya make for dinner? I’m starving!”
“Your favorite, roasted pork chops and scalloped potatoes. Rosemary and all!” Rebecca giggled and took a seat across from Thomas’s abandoned glass of wine. “What have you been up to today?”
“Oh, just enjoying the wonderful spring day. Michael and I took a walk in the park. It was absolutely lovely.”
“You should have invited him to dinner. I would have loved to see him. He’s been laying low since the accident,” Thomas said, hesitating on the last line. He hadn’t seen Michael since the funeral and was concerned about his stability. But both Michelle and Ahmad had assured him that Michael was doing well—grieving, but doing well.
“Oh, well, you know Michael. Doesn’t like to show his feelings and all. But I think he’s doing well. And he said he had to get home to see his mother.”
Thomas thought about Michelle. She had been a rock at the funeral. In public she stood tall. She stood proud of her husband and what he had done. She greeted each patron who attended the ceremony, thanking them for their condolences beneath her black, veiled hat. Her soft hands gracefully accepted each handshake, each hug. Tears only escaped her brown eyes when Ahmad performed the eulogy, and even then, only for a brief moment.
Thomas set the pork chops on the table and turned to fetch the potatoes.
“Would you like a glass of wine, Sis?” he asked.
“That would be lovely.” He poured the wine and in a waiter-esque balancing act managed to bring potatoes, glass, and bottle to the table all at once. Rebecca laughed and applauded, and after placing each item on the table Thomas gave a quick bow.
“Dinner,” he said with a French accent, “is served.” He sat at the old, wooden table. Rebecca took a swig of wine then scooped a healthy serving of potatoes. The phone rang. Thomas and Rebecca both looked at each other, heads tilted, and laughed.
“Go figure,” she said and continued eating.
“Yep, they always call at dinnertime!” Thomas pushed his chair back and danced across the kitchen to the phone. “Hello?”
“Thomas, it’s Ahmad. Something’s happened. Is Rebecca with you?” Thomas turned to face his sister, unaware of anything but the rosemary roasted pork chop that now engulfed her plate.
“Yes, we just sat down to dinner,” he replied. Rebecca smiled at him and he returned the favor. He took a few steps into the living room and let the expression of worry that suddenly manifested inside him wash over his face. He lowered his voice. “What’s going on?”
“It’s Michael. He’s…not stable. I showed him all the letters when he came home and he just went insane!” Thomas could tell Ahmad was on edge. “I…I thought he was going to…I thought…” Thomas heard a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. “He blames me for his father’s death.”
“Where is he now?” Thomas thought of his sister in the next room, innocently stuffing her face with meat and potatoes. He knew Michael might lash out at her next.
“I don’t know. He stormed out of the house about 30 minutes ago. Michelle just got home and said I should call you immediately.”
“Yes, thank-you. I’ll be sure to let you know if he comes here.” Thomas prayed he didn’t.
“Don’t let him talk to Rebecca. The look in his eyes. I just…I just don’t know what he’s capable of. There was so much anger.”
“Thank-you Ahmad. Call me with any news.” Thomas hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He knew Michael couldn’t be “doing well,” as everyone said. The anger and hate behind his father’s death catapulted itself into Michael’s soul. And that type of powerful emotion can drive a man insane.
“Thomas? Who was it?” Rebecca asked with a mouth full of food.
“It was Ahmad,” he said. He returned to the kitchen and looked at his sister. He never found it fruitful to lie to her. “Michael seems to be having some issues. He attacked Ahmad and might be coming here.” Thomas gauged her reaction. She chewed her food slower and nodded. She swallowed and finished her glass of wine.
“Attacked him?” she asked.
“Yes, verbally mostly. But Ahmad was very afraid, and wanted to warn us, just in case. I think it’s best that if he does come here, you go to your room. I’ll talk with Michael alone.”
“Okay.” Rebecca nodded again and piled in another bite of food. She stared straight ahead, her body rigid and tense.
“Rebecca? You have to promise. Look at me and promise that you won’t see him until I say it’s okay.” She finished swallowing and turned to look Thomas in the eyes.
“I promise,” she said, then smiled. Thomas nodded, confirming the verbal contract between brother and sister. He took his seat and tried to eat. He sipped his wine. The clinking of the silverware against the plates echoed in the tiny kitchen. A certain tension floated in the air but Thomas couldn’t decide exactly what was causing it. The news about Michael? Certainly that was contributing. But there was something else hanging there, too. He polished off his first glass of wine and reached for the bottle to pour a second.
“I have some reading to do,” Rebecca said. Thomas looked up and met her eyes, his hand resting on the green glass bottle. She smiled with her lips, but those wonderful blue discs that normally sparkled with life were empty. She cleared her plate and left the kitchen without another sound.
Thomas stared at the empty doorway. That emptiness within his sister haunted him. Worried him. He lifted the bottle of wine and tilted the neck to his glass. It was empty.