Sunday, December 12, 2010

August Evening

sitting next to Connie
old, hard, wooden stadium benches
red paint, chipped, gouged and peeling
she puts on her sweater
I put on my sweatshirt

band plays hits of some artist
we know little of and care less for
overbearing 80's synthesizer
annoys me
she doesn't seem to notice or care

beyond the stage I watch carnival rides
loop, spin and race into the evening
colored lights intensify
sky drifts to darkness

near full moon glows above the trees
growing smaller as it brightens
yellow to orange to almost white

we come to the fair almost every year
it's something we do
we learned this spring she has cancer
treatment, fear, hope shadow our days

we talk a bit, decide to leave
i am ready, but hesitate
how many more times we will go to the fair

merit award 2007 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It’s Not Easy Being Four, for Nevaeh (& her Grandma)

It’s not easy being four
When you go to grandma’s
With all those big people
Talking and laughing

It’s not easy being four
When your brother and cousin
Yell “Go away!”
Because you’re too little

It’s not easy being four
When you aren’t the only girl
Or the littlest one
Since your baby cousin was born

It’s not easy being four
When grandpa tells you to
“Pay attention” and “Slow down”
And “Listen” again

It’s not easy being four
When you try to keep up
But trip again, or knock something over
Because you’re still growing into yourself

It’s not easy being four
When you have something to say
But everyone is busy
And no one listens

It’s not easy being four
But when you sit on the couch
And grandma reads you a story
It’s kinda nice

Monday, November 22, 2010

They speak of angels

They speak of angels,
Blinding lights and
Silver wings aflutter,
Not quite flesh
They seem to hover

Protecting our offspring,
And the aged we ignore,
Shepherding believers
As well the doubting score

A dance without music
Of magic and mystery
A child’s dream
And hope in senility

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

But not disappear

Before you decide
To stroll down memory lane
You might want to consider
What lies behind

Like that patch of decaying grass,
By the river on the other side of the dike,
Where things unspeakable
And unforgettable evolved

You may find it has a power
That you had overlooked,
Or fear that became rage that begat confusion
Which dwindled to a whisper

But did not disappear

Monday, November 8, 2010

Everyone does

pilgrim, poet, prophet
i'd like to think
i have something to say
or, at least, somewhere to go

i'd like to think
a lot of things
about one’s worldly significance
especially related to me

yes, me
big surprise
another aging person
fearing an empty end

keep your head above water
don't follow the crowd
it all makes sense
but you forget too soon

everyone does
you'll get your turn
i'd tell you to get ready
but there’s really no way

breath after breath
step behind step
dust again dust
and i'll soon be no more

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

She found her peace

Sitting by the window, she’d seen it all. Rain, in its near unending forms, could come at any time in Oregon. The annual dusting of snow could produce a bitter blizzard, just once or twice a decade. Without warning, fog was an early morning surprise as it drifted over the ground. Those dismal gray days replicated for weeks on end. But there was an occasional bright sunny summer day too. In the evenings, the moon shined bright as it danced through its phases, creating its own calendar. She knew her place and found her peace in sitting and watching in silence.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Resolution

A call and settlement cancelling the court date, ending the work of lawyers and insurance reps.

After long days of waiting news came from the hospital. She was six, brain damaged.

Her mother wailed as the ambulance left surrounded by sirens, flashing lights and confusion. People ran in panic, a neighbor called for help.

Blood pulsed from her gashed head, pooling in the street. We froze after hearing flesh, bone and steel collide. She was out of sight, I’d choked a prayer, we’d swerved. She’d bolted into the street.

It was dusk, we were driving back to school.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Right over the plate

The baby-faced rookie wipes sweat from his forehead. Looks straight into the eyes of his childhood hero. His mind races, split-seconds before the action.

Last game of the season, my first year in the bigs. Neither team’s going anywhere. He was playing when I was in little league. Never faced him before. Sounds like he’s done after today. Full count. One chance to put him down… or make his day. Why not? Throw him a fat one, let him go out with a dinger.

The ball heads toward home, maybe going seventy-five, right over the plate. He swings high.

“Strike three!”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Afraid of finding out

She said it was my choice. Marriage or college? Said she trusted me to decide.
Right. Just like she said I could date anyone I wanted, or spend the money that grandma left me to visit Disneyland for Christmas with friends. Said she’d never interfere. She didn’t have to; I always knew what she wanted.

I wasn’t like my brother. He did what he pleased and lived with the fall-out. She’d explode, saying, “You don’t really love me.” He’d fake remorse and then charm her into forgiveness.

I never trusted it’d work for me and I’m still afraid of finding out.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It’s easy to write about baseball

It’s easy to write about baseball
It’s not like football, four boundary lines
Ninety degree angles of absolute control
Gladiators fighting over an odd shaped ball
Or basketball, soccer or hockey
Again, all are confined to a rectangle
Chasing an object back and forth

Baseball is unique, it stands alone
Not confined to a box, there are the lines of
First and third which give definition
But are not the last word

It’s the outfield, with a different shape
And measure in each park, it’s not the end
You can leap and stretch over the wall
And steal a home run, or the ball can
Continue flight over the fence
And if it is lucky, out of sight lost in infinity
Maybe still traveling
Theoretically still in play

The rhythm, the space and pace
The absence of time
The whisper of eternity

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I still hate it

After years of alcohol and absence, Dad tried making amends by turning us into fishermen.

He’d wake us early on Saturday. The stream was an hour of erratic mountain road away, guaranteed to make me car sick. We’d park before first light, unload the gear, and hike to “our spot.” If we were lucky, we only had to suffer a chilly drizzle instead of the usual downpour. Dad was quickly lost in the zone. We’d run and laugh, throwing rocks into the silent, inviting creek.

“Knock it off! This is serious business. Shut up, stay put, fish.”

I still hate fishing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The long walk

Picking strawberries, that’s what you did in the summer at thirteen. Up early to meet the bus, one the schools no longer wanted, with a cranky driver who doubled as field boss.

Spend the day bent over the rows. The weather jumped between blazing sun or pouring rain.

This day the rain came in buckets.

“Can we go home? Please? This is crazy.”

“Keep working.”

We’d show him who’s in charge. “We quit!”

“Okay, start walking.”

Five hours later, we’d covered an unknown distance, drenched and exhausted, only a mile from home the bus passed us. The driver laughed, waved, honked.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I looked like her

They said I looked like Grandma, red hair and all. Named me after her, Sarah Joy. I don’t remember her. There’s a baby picture of me on her lap. She died of cancer later that year. Stories made her out to be perfect.

I rushed home after school and straight to my room. Dropped on my bed as tears overwhelmed me. Momma knocked and opened the door.

“What’s the matter, honey?”

Words gurgled through my crying, “Oh, Momma, I’m pregnant.”

“Don’t worry about that, dear. How do you think I got here?”
Sixteen and pregnant. Turns out it’s a family tradition.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Guess we’ll find out

At twelve I was smoking. Same age my dad said he started. By thirteen I was drinking. Just like Mom. At fourteen, I’d shifted from petty shoplifting to jacking a car. Had my fifteenth birthday while working at the state farm for boys. Sixteenth too. Back home when I turned seventeen. Mom would look at me and cry. Dad yelled about anything. School was a waste of time. Friends shifted. Can’t say why. Turned eighteen, dropped out, left home, stayed with friends. Did some stuff. The judge says I’m an adult now, I’m old enough for prison. Guess we’ll find out.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Christine Said “No!”

she said “no!”
emphatically
actually there was
an explicative before the “no!”
I will not repeat it
for it belies her image,
at least the one
most want to ascribe to her

we should know better
for even though, as usual,
she was wearing
the cute, trendy outfit,
and that hair,
redder than an Irish Setter
dazzling in the noon-day sun,
whispers of a simmering
fire in her soul

she said, “no!”
to another mechanical device,
a battery powered miracle of modern technology
to (hopefully) improve
her current malady,
which is little more than a continuation
of all the past maladies,
which are only one way
to tell the story of her life

the expletive was deserved
and I think we all agree
that she can say “no!”
any way she wants
that she has had enough
that she has earned the right
to stomp and swear and
shake her fist at things unseen

and we join her in wanting it
to stop, to get better
we pray, we wait, we hope
and we wonder,
frustrated, confused, angry,
but we join her in refusing to give up
for we cannot accept
the alternative

Friday, March 19, 2010

You’re wasting my time

The crowd chattered for blood, mine. I thought they were my friends. I thought wrong. My thoughts pushed me forward into his rushing fist. I staggered, dizzy. I couldn’t quit. I rounded a right, praying to connect.

He grabbed my arm in mid-swing and laughed, “Pathetic. You’re wasting my time.” The adolescent giant had me by eight inches and fifty pounds.

It was a magic moment. His laugh dripped of arrogance. The crowd turned. A rare breath of humanity appeared in teenage boys. They started cheering for me, not him.

Stunned, he looked at the crowd, then bolted into the darkness.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How times have changed

One drizzly morning, she sailed for the farthest tip of South America. He left the West Coast for Japan a few weeks later. They left knowing that they wouldn’t see each other for five years. No rendezvous in Hawaii, just because. No plane trips home for a sibling’s wedding or grandparent’s funeral. No phones or Internet. Letters would take weeks on the journey across the sea. That was all they had. That and memories and commitment. They’d write, send and, wait. Letters would cross; their stories lost sequence. Tenacious hearts endured. Five years later, they returned home and married. They’d promised.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Parables

Here we go again
Sun’s high, baking my back
Perfect day for fishing the lake
We could cookout, maybe take a nap

But, no, as usual, people find us
They want to hear his stories
Come on, at best he’s got twenty
And they all end about the same

How many times will I have to watch it?
He spins some convoluted tale
About selfish, greedy, conniving people
With a twist ending of justice (I call it injustice)

They nod their heads, but haven’t got a clue
I don’t either and I’m with him every day
Doesn’t matter, they always ask for more
He’s bolstered by their energy

I learned a long time ago to fake understanding
Otherwise he says that “Eyes and Ears” bit again
I don’t want to look stupid
So I let the others do the talking

I’ve learned to listen to my friends
And offer my agreement when
A reasonable consensus forms
It’s safe to go with the crowd

He’s determined to reach
The “holy” city by Passover
Great…more people…more stories
Guess I’ll follow along

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Momma kept staring (part V of V)

V

“We’ll go see her soon. In a couple of days.” Aunt Heather was strong and her words convincing. We finally walked inside the house and I noticed Jack sitting at the entrance to the kitchen, not moving or not speaking. I guess he’d been there all along.

The three of us sat at the table for dinner that evening. Jack, my aunt, and me. Dad didn’t come home that night, or any other night. Aunt Heather tried to explain, but it didn’t make much sense to us.

The days drifted into weeks and we didn’t see Momma. Aunt Heather kept saying, “She’s not quite ready yet.”

One night at dinner, Aunt Heather told us we were going to her house. She had things she needed to do at her place; she had a job and they needed her back, and Momma wasn’t getting better anytime soon.

My mind raced. She was talking about moving, not just visiting. Leaving my home, my friends, my school, and my parents. Well, leaving Momma, at least; by then, we had figured out that Daddy had left us all. I loved Aunt Heather, but this was home and I needed to be here. I’d never lived anywhere else and I had never thought of leaving.

I begged, pleaded, and bargained. I told Aunt Heather she could move into our house. She could have our room. We’d sleep in Mom and Dad’s bed. We’d be good, work hard. Her friends would come and visit. She could find a job here. She listened, even cried along with me at times. Held me a lot. Nothing worked. By the weekend, we were packed and gone.

Momma kept staring (part IV of V)

IV

A few weeks later, I came home for dinner to an ambulance in the driveway. I feared Momma might be dead, and for a split-second, I wanted to run. I didn’t know where I’d go; I was just afraid to find out what was happening inside. But the door was open and I could see people in the living room—they looked like firemen—at the couch, talking to Momma. I started to walk toward the door, but Aunt Heather saw me and quickly gathered me on the porch, so I couldn’t hear or see what was happening inside.

“Your momma’s sick,” she explained again. “She needs more help than I can give. She’s going to the hospital.”

“What’s wrong? Does she need an operation?” Momma had told me that people went to hospitals for surgery and to die.

“It’s not like that. She doesn’t need an operation. It’s like I told you with the soldiers.” I could see she was struggling to find words to help me. She finally put her right hand to her chest. “It’s her heart. She’s sad. But not a regular sad. This is a sad that won’t go away. It’s so big she can’t feel anything else. There are doctors that can try to help her at the hospital.”

The ambulance drivers had moved my mom to a stretcher, and they were coming our way. Her eyes were beyond the stare. Her eyes were almost totally empty. I could tell she didn’t see me. I didn’t know if I should say something, or try to touch her. She was out the door before I could decide.

The ambulance doors slammed and they quickly drove off.

Momma kept staring (part III of V)

III

One day after school, my great-aunt Heather was at the house. My mom lying on the couch; she was awake, but she didn’t notice me. Aunt Heather put her index finger to her mouth, nodded for me to be quiet and follow her into the kitchen.

“Your momma’s sick. She needs our help. I’m gonna stay here for a while.” She did her best to comfort me; if anyone ever could, it was her.

Life got better and worse at the same time. Aunt Heather helped us get up and ready for school, she cooked great meals, and she watched TV with us. She’d tell amazing stories about when she was a nurse in the war; in Korea, not the “The Big One.” It had been a few years before I was born and my dad was there too, but they never saw each other. She said she helped soldiers in the hospital, the ones who hadn’t been wounded, “not by bullets, at least,” she added. Jack asked why soldiers were in the hospital if they hadn’t been shot.

Every day after school, I’d still come home to find Momma on the couch. She didn’t say much and it was scary to watch her stare without seeing.

Momma kept staring (part II of V)

II

After school, Mom might still be in bed; sometimes, she sat in the front room, looking out the big window. Looking, but not seeing. Eyes squinted; she’d ask me for a hug and then go back to her staring. Sometimes in the afternoon, a variety show played on the TV, but no one watched it.

After school, I was back out the door and off to find friends, hopefully without my brother tagging along, as soon as I could. When I came in for dinner, she was still in the living room, or maybe already in bed.

Dinner would be a mix of whatever we wanted, as long as we could find it and fix it ourselves. We thought the cooking was fun. Didn’t pay much attention to the cleaning up.

We’d watch TV until the late news came on. Most days, Jack fell asleep next to me. I’d half wake him and guide him to our room. I’d roll him into his bed and climb up to the top bunk. He kept sleeping, but it took a long time for me to fall asleep. I’d wait, listening to hear if Dad came home.

He often did, but really late. And most mornings, he was gone by the time I woke up. Mom said he had two jobs because he loved us so much. A day job, like other kids’ dads, and a night job to help for extra things. He had to work Saturdays, too.

Sunday was the day, if any, that I’d see him. We could watch cartoons all morning, if we didn’t fight over which ones. When he finally got up, he’d read the paper while taking a hot bath. I knew when he’d gotten to the funnies when the laughing started. If he was in a good mood, he’d play with us for a while in the afternoon and make something fancy for dinner. He’d put records on the stereo and turn up the volume while he drank beer and cooked. Mom was all smiles at having her family together. She was still in her bathrobe on the couch.

Momma kept staring (part I of V)

I

Most days, Mom would be in bed when we left for school. Or, at least, when we tried to leave for school.

In the morning, I’d listen to the sound of my favorite cartoons from the living room as I made toast and hot chocolate. I’d smell the steam, then dip the corner of the bread into the hot cup. I’d watch the butter float away, expanding to the edges. I guess it looked like an oil spill, but I loved it. After I’d brush my teeth, I’d rush toward the door, hoping to make it before she could call, “Boys, come back here! I wanna see you before you go!”

My brother Jack and I would grudgingly walk down the long hall to her room. Dust played in the sun beams that peeked through cracks between the drapes. Cigarette butts in the ash tray reminded me that Dad had been there recently, although we had not seen him for days.

We had to sit on her bed as she prepped us for the coming day. I’d fidget, afraid of missing the bus. Afraid of not being with my friends. Afraid of being responsible for my brother. Afraid of missing the bell and being late for class. Afraid of explaining my tardiness to the teacher again, with the whole class listening. I hated being late.

Before we could go, we’d all hold hands and pray, finishing with hugs and a kiss. I’d bolt for the door, jump off the porch and race across the yard, looking around the corner to see if the other kids were still waiting for the bus. My brother would call after for me to slow down. No kids in sight meant that the bus had come and gone. We’d start walking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sister Said She’d Help

I was the new teacher. School was a mile from the interstate, but the community was easily fifty years behind the times.

Recess duty and I’m talking with a veteran teacher. We watch two boys playing basketball. One was in seventh grade the other in eighth. They moved in tandem, switching from offence to defense with the turn of the ball. Score is kept but matters little.

She lowers her voice, “They think they’re cousins. But they’re not. They’re brothers. Born too close and their mom couldn’t handle it. Sister said she’d help and raise the little one. Never told ‘em.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

My soul stirs

My soul stirs
What will another sunrise bring?

My soul stirs
Memories, hope, and expectation
I forestall anticipation to prevent disappointment.

My soul stirs
Anxious yet willing
Aware but uncertain
I will wait while shadows linger once again.

My soul stirs
Words may emerge
An answer is unlikely
Silence, is that the response?
Absence, its own confirmation.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Resurrecting Easter (a very short story)

Easter’s just Easter. Eggs, bunnies, and ham dinner. Preachers rant about resurrection. Catholics and Lutherans make a season of it. But, they’re not real Christians. At least, I’m sure, the Catholics aren’t.

Christmas, that’s a real holiday. Every business plays carols and decorates; TV runs unending versions of “A Christmas Carol” and that Charlie Brown show. How could you not be spiritually moved?


If Christians— and I mean real Christians— are going to save Easter, they need some major help. Maybe the church leaders should turn this thing over to the business community, and we might be able to save it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

April Fool’s Day

Someone should make a law
That we hold all weddings on April 1st
Because only fools would make
Those promises

Promises to
Put another person first and
Stick with them
No matter what happens

To love
To sacrificially give
All because of a promise;
It’s almost un-American

There are too many examples
Of failure and despair
Outsiders mock it,
Rationalize, and degrade it

Some lie through their teeth
They make the hollow promises
For convenience
To get what they want

But some, the true fools,
Still make the promises
Maybe their youthful zeal
Blinds them to what’s ahead

And some, more foolish yet,
Keep their promises
Not because it’s easy
Or because they meet all expectations

But true fools believe the promises matter
That love cannot be forced
That it’s sometimes found
By two fools

Who learn to laugh together

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How long?

How big could an eighth grader be? Willie towered over me. He’d been held back twice. Held back, no one flunked anymore. He wasn’t trouble. He simply didn’t do anything. Didn’t talk. Didn’t study. Didn’t care.

I called his parents and requested a conference. I planned to ask if there were ways we could work together to help improve Willie’s grades and prepare him for high school.

His dad showed up a few days later. “How long does Willie have to waste his time here before he can quit and make himself useful on the farm?” he asked.

Got my answer.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I do not beg

I do not beg for you to answer
I do not expect my pleadings fulfilled
I do not press for you to prove yourself
I do not desire the childish rush
Of emotional connections,
Rooted in infatuation, delivering
An adolescent pseudo-spiritual climax

I am tired of the stories
Of what is supposed to be
As I seek
Follow, listen, and wait
It does not ring true
It never has

But the fear of exclusion,
Hovering failure
Long caused me to
Mimic the words,
And teach the expectations to others
Possibly damning them to
An unending state of guilt,
Confusion and fear
Terrorized from within
That they are the only ones
Who do not have a “relationship” with you

Like the songs that
Fill our Sunday mornings,
Or other scheduled times,
If we are really trendy
We read the texts that crowd
The Christian bookstore,
With terrible beginnings
And overwhelmingly
Victorious denouements

I’d be better served to
Keep quiet
To know contentment
Being satisfied with
What has been entrusted to me,
And then to wait and listen--
No, to actually clear my
Schedule and mind
And wait--
Not to see if God shows up
But to discover
If I can discover
What has always been

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Critic

“You’ll see. Monday morning, there will be a dozen or more in the inbox,” the aging staffer explained to the newest, and youngest, member of the editorial board as they checked the newspaper’s “Feedback” email account. “The guy’s crazy, but he keeps the fire burning.

“We wait every morning for his daily venom. He’s old, but he adapted quickly with the change from letters to email. He mentioned saving money and not having to use envelopes and stamps. He was glad to be done with ‘that damn, backwards United States Postal Service.’”

The old timer stood, picking up his coffee mug as he rose, and the rookie followed suit, trailing him to the staff break room down the hall.

“It’s always the same,” the staffer continued as they walked. “He hates the liberals for spending his money, and hates conservatives, too, for not getting anything done. He must just rummage the web all day looking for anything to support his ranting.”

“The critic?” another editor asked as she walked into the break room. She held out her mug for a refill, after the rookie finished filling the chief’s cup with stale coffee from a dingy pot. Taking a drink, the veteran nodded.

“He focuses mainly on local politics, candidates, and causes. As far as he’s concerned, the whole town has gone to hell. He drones on and on about the old days, when he was a kid,” the second editor elaborated for the rookie.

“But watch out if someone gets caught in his crosshairs; they are as good as DOA,” the old timer said, reminding both the underlings not to disregard the crackpot. “People still talk about the year he undermined both major mayoral candidates and that ‘hippie kid’ snuck in.”

“He hated the kid, too, but considered him better than one of those career politicians,” the second editor noted as the three of them walked to the conference room, where four other editors waited to begin their morning staff meeting.

“If we don’t hear from him by noon, we joke about checking the police blotter,” the old timer said with a small smile, and the other editors laughed while the rookie chuckled nervously.

***

Darkness arrived early in December. It was cold and black by his daily dinnertime. He started at the unusual sound of his ringing doorbell. Must be one his kids, probably his son. He opened the door, beginning to speak. Out of the dark, the shotgun pellets shredded his chest; he slumped to the floor.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February plea

As the second month
February is easy
To forget or ignore
Something about following
January’s celebration
It’s too short
Even when we
Add the “twenty-ninth”
Every fourth year
Optimists herald longer days
The approaching spring
Yet darkness and drizzle
Soon overwhelm their
Heart-felt cries
Ash Wednesday arrives
About mid-month
Begging us to embrace the barren
And retrench for
The weeks of sacrifice
And self-denial
To not rush to spring
To quickly
But to somehow
Enter into the
Lingering death of winter
With hope of again
Discovering a new resurrection

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We Don’t Care

Rural junior high basketball. We’re an average team. But those Catholics. They usually beat us by thirty plus. Forty-three when we visited their place.

At our gym, I tell the guys, “We’ve got a chance. Go fast, don’t sub. Okay?”

No one protests. The game starts.

Halftime, we’re up seven. Their coach is livid. They have no idea how to play from behind.

Three point lead after the third, our shooter fouls out.

One minute left and it’s tied. Our guys are exhausted. Their coach is red-faced and screaming. We’re laughing.

They win by one in overtime. We don’t care.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We awake to the new morning

We awake to the new morning
Giving thanks to the creator and sustainer of life
For another breath

We awake to the new morning
Remembering all who have helped
Us to arrive at this moment and place

We awake to the new morning
With regret for our selfishness
That we have wronged and harmed others

We awake to the new morning
Knowing that forgiveness is rooted in love
That God is love, so we are forgiven

We awake to the new morning
And we choose to live by faith
Being and doing as the Spirit guides

We awake to the new morning
And we hold to the hope that is within us
More than ourselves, other than ourselves

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nothing Changes (a short story part 3 of 3)

III

I start surfing the web. They usually give you thirty minutes; if I’m lucky, I can sneak an hour. Check on scores, play a game or two, and look at my hometown paper.

Mostly I skim, but a photograph makes me stop, scroll back.

The numbers are right there next to the door, 2010. My address, our address, 2010 East Division. Hoses snake from fire trucks through the open doorway into the smoldering shell. Enough of the house is left for me to know it was mine. Or, it used to be mine at least. Seems like almost half of it was gone, smoke drifting out my old bedroom window and any other open space. Or maybe it was mostly steam by the time they took the photo. The picture caught my eye, but the headline told the story.

Two dead in local fire. I already know the rest, but I keep reading.

I read their names. My parents, gone. Article said they were probably passed out, intoxicated. Big surprise. They both drank too much. They each had their own reasons. Everybody has things to forget or cover-up or try to escape. Said a cigarette may have started things, they were probably asleep. Probably didn’t know or feel what happened. More surprises.

Mrs. Beecher, from next door, woke up about 2 a.m. when she saw the flames outside her bedroom window. Said they were nice neighbors. Said it was so sad. More stuff about the house and fire. Something about how my dad was a big deal in high school sports. It doesn’t say that they both dropped out to get married when he was seventeen and she sixteen and pregnant, with me.

I think about calling my grandma. Maybe later. Paper said there’d be a funeral next week. It mentions me as their only child. Said no one knew where I was.

Not sure what I’m supposed to think or feel. It had been nineteen long, cold years since I’d seen them. This doesn’t change things. I had no plans to see them again; ain’t going to start with a funeral. Even when I lived at 2010, I’ve always been on my own. Nothing changes.

My table just opened up; if I hurry, I can get a nap before I go back to the streets and start bumming for lunch money.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nothing Changes (a short story part 2 of 3)

II

I grab my backpack, stuff my things in, and zip it tight. Make my way through the basement, down the long hall and out the “guests” door. It’s still drizzling, would have been a tough night.

I wander for a few blocks. Still got about two hours before the library opens. I know which streets have the best awnings and sometimes I wait for the rain to let up. If it gets much colder, I’ll head for the market. If no one complains, they don’t chase you out too fast. I think about looking for work, but thinking is as far as it usually gets.

I look down the street to the bank clock. Looks like the bank is long gone, but the clock’s still running. Almost time for the library to open. I want to be there when it does. I’ve started a few books. Never finish ‘em because I’m a slow reader. Dropped out after ninth grade. Anyway, you can’t get a card to check them out without an address.

There’s heat and a bathroom at the library. A guy could almost live there. Helps me forget what I don’t have. But sometimes it makes me remember what I had, too. What I lost.

If I’m lucky, I can get my favorite table, the one in the far back corner by the business books, and maybe sleep for an hour or two. Window looks out at the park. It’s away from most of the library traffic and right by the heat vent. Nothing feels better than that quick heat, almost burn, when your pants hit the back of your calves after getting baked by the furnace blast. You’ve got to get there early, though. Have to decide what’s more important: my favorite spot or a computer. Both go fast.

I’m too late for the table, make a quick turn and grab the last open computer. At almost every station is someone I ate breakfast with a couple of hours ago. I nod to some, ignore others. Too bad they can’t combine the library and shelter. It would make our lives much easier.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nothing Changes (a short story - part 1 of 3)

I

Same town, same shelter, same bed. Lumpy mattress, not enough blankets. Snorers and screamers make erratic music throughout the night. Four nights in a row, might be a record for me. If I can keep from getting into a fight, I might make it a week.

Breakfast is the same, too. Both the coffee and oatmeal were cold and watered down. Some say thanks, a few nothing, and one or two want to fight about the quality as we shuffle through the serving line. What are they expecting, a restaurant? I’m just glad to have something in my gut. Not any worse than the stuff I got back home when Mom would stumble around the kitchen after a night of fighting with my dad.

Guys scatter about the room to find seats. A few seem to have their “places” and it’s best to let them have ‘em. Others go for the corners, wanting to be alone. A low hum builds until laughter makes everyone look the in same direction, wondering what the story was about.

Gotta be out of this shelter by eight. No use being lazy if you want to come back. They all have their own rules and it’s hard to remember. I can get dinner tonight, if I go to chapel first. Fair enough trade-off for me. You can sleep through chapel; just have to be there at start time.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Lord, mercy
Mercy

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Closure

He found peace in the steady hum of the machines, practicing lines in his head to get the conversation started.

It was so cliche. They’d never really talked. Now death was near, and they’d have their moment. A real conversation. Things long sensed but never confirmed. This was his chance. A son who wanted his father’s approval. He sensed it was finally near. A new nurse entered the room. Shift change. She forced a smile, introduced herself.

“When do you think he’ll be able to talk?”

“Talk? I’m sorry. I think the doctor will be here soon to discuss final decisions.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Didn’t See you

“Sorry. Didn’t see you.”

“Same here, can’t see anything in this darkness.”

“I’m Bob Shilling. Nice to finally meet someone.”

“Agreed. Stan. Stan Schultz.”

Hands fumble, eventually shaking.

“Where are we?”

“Can’t say. I was in some weird place. Thought it was heaven until I saw those people.”

“Never believed in that stuff. God, religion, faith. Human constructs to alleviate idiotic fears.”

“Whoa. Be careful there. I’m a pastor. Or was. Holiness Bible Church. I’ll tell you the truth.”

“Forget it. Atheist and proud of it. Wouldn’t it be hell if we had to spend eternity together?”

“Yeah, sure would be.”