the cocktail of us

Holding Down the Fort
by cookiekhaleesi via DeviantArt.com

my dark, your light
mixing and melting in
the chill of night or
the waking breath of day
the intoxicating scent of
you and me
heaven and earth
brittle at the edges
but soft, warm and sweet
like chocolate chip cookies
in the comfort of
pillows and fur
the warmth of your arms
and the bliss
of giggles
broken only by sighs
restlessly wriggling inside
our bubble
set away
from obligation
fear and noise
drinking in the
luscious
amalgam of
your dark, my light
I’ll take it all
in
careful
hungry
sips

Let me stay drunk
as long as I can

A dance in time

Rain Dance 03 by fbuk via DeviantArt.com

For me, it was just another day. A wonderful, exciting, beautiful new day.

Mav woke up at 5:45. As he slathered his cheeks in preparation for a shave, humming a tune that heated my cheeks, I made my way down to the kitchen smiling.

Mabel had stayed with a friend the night before, but she would be home for breakfast that mid summer morning and I was excited to make my little announcement. I hoped the kids would respond as well as Mav.

I started the percolator and was pulling out my frying pan when Marcus’ feet slapped hastily down the polished oak steps.

“Ma, what happened? What’s going on?”

His voice was too high and when I turned, his face was as white as porcelain. We’d just celebrated his fourteenth birthday a few days before, but his wide eyes and trembling lips made him look much younger.

“What’s wrong, dear?”

The sun was rising behind him, and it startled me to see sunshine in my kitchen so early in the day.

He grabbed my wrist and pulled me to the side door. As he flung it open, we both froze staring out at a sight I still cannot explain.

Maverick’s parents had bought us the property as a wedding present. It was a slice of a pie shaped meadow in the center of a beautiful ancient forest with trees topping out 40′ above the grass. We’d built our home alongside 13 other young couples, unknowingly creating what we would later call ‘Pinedale Oasis’. A sweet little neighbourhood that grew to the north and west, out of the trees and toward the city.

But ours had remained the last house, butting up to the woods to the south and east. Our kitchen door and window were always shaded from the sun by a thick copse of pine trees less than ten feet away.

Staring out at a hill filled with homes behind white fences and punctuated with tall oak trees, my mind couldn’t quite make sense of the landscape.

“What happened to the trees?”

I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The backs of twenty houses stood in my line of vision, all with tiered wooden porches supporting big tables with umbrellas and massive shiny metal boxes that must be for cooking because they all had knobs that looked like the ones on the front of my new six burner stovetop.

A couple of them had pools with Caribbean blue water sparkling in the rising sun. I watched a woman doing laps in one of them until she spotted me. She climbed out of the water in a bright pink bikini and stared at me with the same expression that I must’ve been wearing.

Mav’s voice broke through the haze. “What in heaven-”

“Dad, where did they- What is- How?”

Marcus’ hysterics brought me back to myself. I turned and told him to go put on clothes as I dashed up the steps to dress myself.

“We’ll just have to go ask them.”

The early morning heat loomed over us as old neighbors hugged each other and tried, noisily to make sense of this. The crowd from the new neighborhood was larger, but quiet. Most of them held shiny and strange flat boxes, some put them to their cheek and spoke into them while others jabbed or slid over them with fingers or thumbs. I even saw some of them holding them up at us like cameras, they even had what looked like a flat lense on the back.

Maverick kept his hand on me protectively all morning. It was comforting, even as it added a bit to the fear.

The blonde woman who had been swimming had walked over first. She had what looked like a rhinestone in the crease of her nose and several tattoos down each arm. It was unsettling until I realized many of the others did as well.

“Where did you come from?”

It was the question of the day. One I couldn’t answer.

Our phones hadn’t worked. But the electricity did. Dan Bradbury had turned on his television to static, but the radios all revealed we were no longer in 1967.

When the police arrived, they brought medics and firemen with them, which I thought was strange until Marcus whispered in my ear. “Maybe they think we’re aliens?”

When I could finally speak to tell an officer my name, his wizened eyes were filled with fear and pity and something else.

Understanding? Recognition?

Mav wrapped both arms around me as we listened. Marcus sat on the other side of the hospital room with his head in his hands. My tears wouldn’t stop, and neither could my mind.

Fifty years prior to that day, our beautiful, quiet neighborhood had vanished. Without a trace.

The site was studied for decades. Scientists from all over the planet ran tests and studies. They searched for us.

My daughter searched for us. For decades.

She was living in southern California with her second husband. Twin girls from the first had both gone to Stanford and were now pursuing doctorates in different fields in different parts of the country. She also had a son with the second who has Down Syndrome and is named after his grandfather, but with an easier nickname for him so say.

Her voice sounds just like mine.

But older.

She’s about to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. But, as she told us she and Pete would come up with Rick on Saturday, I felt my sweet little girl bursting through the speaker. She wanted her mommy.

“Oh, Mabel. I’m so sorry.”

The tears caught, and her restrained demeanor broke into hiccuping sobs and the muffled questions of a young man who didn’t want to see his mother cry.

Marcus raised his head, his eyes reflecting his sister’s pain.

He stood and came closer. “Maby, it’s Marcus.” He cleared his throat and sat on the edge of the mattress. “I’m glad you’re ok.”

A tremor in his voice that vibrated through the fabric of time made her stop crying.

“You’ll be ok too, Marcus. I promise.”

They released me from the hospital late that night. We left stunned by the medical advancements of the past fifty years.

Three of us were brought in for observation. Mr Winstead had a heart attack when they told us it was 2017. Franny Gilson fainted and needed two stitches. And me.

Mabel is a gorgeous woman who doesn’t seem old enough to have grown children, except for the tiny wrinkles that flank her eyes and the grooves that frame her mouth. Rick is kind and sweet, his speech is nearly perfect and he loves to talk. He works at a store called Walmart and recently moved into a full time position which he loves.

His father could not stop staring at me. My daughter and I look very similar. Twenty years apart, instead of 30, and in the wrong direction. I can’t even imagine what it was like to meet us.

I couldn’t find a way to tell her about the baby. We talked for hours about everything. Just not that.

Mav had spent the four days before her visit sorting legal and financial stuff. He was exhausted, but was positively fascinated by Rick. He and Pete worked to explain modern sports, satellite television and something called Fantasy Football.

Marcus was lost to it all. Swiping his finger over the glass of his sister’s Smart Phone, he seemed to be absorbing all of this new technology much faster than me. As they sat, hunched over the device, I felt my heart break for all the years she lived without us.

And then he said it.

“Our brother will grow up with all of this. He’ll never know life without it.”

My doctor in 1967 called it a change of life baby. But fifty years later, it wasn’t unusual to have a baby at 40.

That night in the hospital, we got to see his little face, his perfect little body of 10 weeks, his amazingly tiny heart thrumming along as if nothing had ever happened. As if he hadn’t just vanished and reappeared 5 decades later.

The rain started just as she looked up at me.

He chased her outside, shouting for her to wait. It was like watching a film. The sound distorted by the rain as she cried out and fell to her knees. The way he looked back at me.

He picked her up. Held her to his chest.

There was no age between them as I watched her collapse against him. They just stood there, hanging onto each other.

And then, she laughed.

The sky above them brightened despite the downpour.

It was magic.

I won’t deny it’s been hard. On all of us.

Mav had to train for a new job. Marcus had to adjust to modern schooling which took tutors and counseling. We were paid for interviews, but not a lot, and for the next year, it seemed everyone wanted a piece of us. Sometimes, it still does today.

But when it is hard, I look at that photograph.

A picture I took, on a weird device that I didn’t know how to use, of my children.

Dancing in the rain.

And it’s magic, still.

Bubble

Pop Pending. by amie-faerie via DeviantArt.com

Waiting is a game best left to the protagonists. They are methodical in their introspection, which of course is fascinating. But only in small doses for those in the world stripped of will and purpose.

The good guys can tolerate the doldrums of time wasted. For the rest of us, the ambling majority, the true posture of patience is pretty much impossible.

But give us something sweet to suck on while we wait, and that is a whole different story.

I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. It started with a ride on a bus. I sat two rows behind them, sweating and cursing under my breath when the bus overheated one Wednesday in August.

Her laugh gave me something to absorb besides the sweltering heat. I was drawn in by her luscious disregard for her surroundings, and I listened as he told a story about punching a brute at the top of a hill, one summer day just like that one, then watching him stumble down the rocky face, crying for his mommy.

I could almost hear the little bully’s wails in between her giggles and sighs.

And that first drink led me to follow them off the bus. All the way to her home.

He kissed her against an elm tree growing thick and full next to her front steps. The branches cradled their shoulders, hiding their lips from view. But I watched from a tree away as her leg wrapped around his, drawing him closer and closer until there was nothing between them but heat.

Guilt and embarrassment took me right past them at a pace that left me breathless when I turned the corner.

But weeks, then months passed, and I found myself there. Again and again. Waiting for another sip, another taste. One more glimpse of someone else’s delicious world.

I stood at the gate to the tiny alley that ran beside her building, the angry bite of late autumn making my cheeks and fingers red and raw, and I watched. He scraped a thick layer of frost from her windshield while she teetered on the stoop, sucking on one of those horrid skinny cigarettes and touching her bare throat.

She never dressed appropriately for the weather. But I suppose some people just carry too much heat inside their beautiful bodies to be bothered by the chill in the air.

They did this often, and despite my every attempt to give up this deplorable addiction, I continued to ogle them nearly every morning. My alarm went off at 5 and I was perched in my spot at the edge of the alley by 6:20.

Unless I’d fallen asleep in her back garden.

He would finish with the scraper and slide it into his back pocket. She’d toss her filter in the street. He’d bend to pluck it out of the gutter, shaking his index finger at her until she stepped off the curb and stuck her tongue out at him. Giggling. Cheeks rosy from more than just the temperature.

She was as predictable as ever. But not him.

He shook his head this time and stooped down so that his eyes were level with hers. He whispered to her, I could never hear what he said, even as the depth of his voice rumbled through my belly, but she cupped her hands in front of her and lowered her eyes. So obedient.

His gaze skimmed the street, forcing me back into the shadow of the alley, as he slipped the butt into her palms, drawing them together and lifting them into the air above her lowered head.

Like a magician’s assistant in a turn-of-the-century sideshow, holding up an invisible apple for the blade or bullets first strike. Trembling with something I felt in the pit of my own belly.

I imagined what he might be saying into her ear. “Don’t drop it again, little girl.” I didn’t need to see his face. It was branded into the backs of my eyelids. I could never be free from it.

His long, slender fingers played in her hair while he slipped his other hand beneath the hem of her skirt.

I’d never seen her protest, but there was a first time for everything. She whimpered and said something that brought his eyes back to hers, as his fingers tightened in her hair, tugging her head up to meet his glare.

My own thighs trembled and I used every ounce of my willpower to hold back a groan.

I knew it was wrong, this sick fascination with him. And her. I’m not insane, after all. Just a lonely voyeur with too much time on my hands.

But I had gotten more brazen, watching their windows and sitting on her back stoop to listen to them make love as I touched myself in the dark. I could envision the actions that went with each sound, I could imagine his expression in the amber light they always left on, as his fingers squeezed the sides of her throat and his body pressed against, inside, and around her.

I could even feel his fingers just then, as I watched them in this stolen moment, half a dozen yards in front of me.

He bent forward and kissed her on the cheek as he pulled her arms down and plucked the cigarette from her palm.

The look on her face made me whimper.

“Have a good morning, Lil. Don’t be late for work.”

He always was so fucking frustrating with his exit.

She saw me that morning. I’m sure she had a thousand times, but that day, she locked eyes with me. And I felt something inside me break.

I tried to turn and go, but I was frozen. Locked in the gaze of this woman I wanted to be. Coveting everything about her, down to the smooth, olive skin she got to live inside of. She stared at me long enough that I thought she might scream, or call to him. But she only stood there.

It was the first time I’d ever seen him turn back to her after saying goodbye. His exit was final, always. But this time he turned, walked back to her, and dropped his forehead to hers. And I heard him as if his head was bent to my own.

“I need you.”

Her eyes found mine again as that tiny, mischievous smile played on her lips. She slipped her fingers into his beard, kissed him in a performance worthy of an ‘R’ rating, then broke away breathless.

“Let’s call in sick.”

And from that day on, that wicked woman became my dealer in a drug that I’m not sure I’ll ever be strong enough to kick.

I’d never hurt either of them. After all, if they were gone, what would I wish for?

Nothing is quite as colorful and vibrant and real as someone else’s bubble. Even if you have everything you could ever want, there’s someone, somewhere, with more.

For Her, For Him, For Me.

Damien dropped the multi-tool, the heft of it slapping the gravel with a rough thunk. It sparkled in the waning light of dusk, it’s diamond cut ridges reflecting onto the device it laid beside

He had been painted in pinks and purples as we worked, but the sky continued to fade and the light couldn’t reach into his skin any longer. His thin blond hair went flat and gray in the dark, and his flesh, normally peppered with amber freckles that made me want to smell it, taste its spice, now took on the mottled simplicity of quarry stone.

I watched his fingers work.

“You ready for this, Pickle?”

His voice sliced through me like a hot knife. The beam from his heavy MagLight danced across my face, blinding me for a second before he lowered it again.

His torch blue eyes held me. Like a candle holds a flame, every muscle in my body worked to keep me from flickering.

I stepped toward him and opened my hand for it.

“I am.”

My voice was like a trumpet against the woods, and he slid the device into my grip. My heart raced as his fingers tightened around mine, his body moving closer. A breath caught in my lungs as the vague citrus hint of his cologne mingled with the acrid scent of his sweat.

“Good girl.”

I waited for him to let go, but instead, he pulled me closer. I could taste the cola we’d shared on the drive, still sweet and thick on my tongue, and wondered if it would taste different on his. The ruddy fullness of his lips made me tighten my grip on the black box, as it fell to my side.

His fingers rose to the back of his neck, unfastening the thick chain that sat there, a tiny vendor key hanging just between his collarbones on his slender but toned chest. When they came around my own neck, refastening the clasp, my thighs pressed together involuntarily.

Touching the small round shaft of the key, I wondered if he’d felt my heart racing beneath my breasts. If my unsteady breath was obvious. If I would collapse from the weight of my want combined with the heft of the responsibility he was placing around my neck.

His voice in my ear was just like an electric bass, strumming right through me.

“When you come back to me, I’ll give you something better.”

A film of smoke was the only evidence of the poison pumping out of that wretched place. He’d slid the gas mask over my face as he whispered my instructions. I knew some of the others received instructions too, but mine were different. And he wasn’t with any of them.

I felt it. When he spoke about the conspiracy, what they were doing to us, I felt the delicate wire of synchronicity between our souls. It wasn’t just physical attraction.

But I wasn’t naive. I knew his fingers dipped into the coffers of his other followers’ desires. I also knew that we all wanted him so desperately because of the melanocortins this plant pumped into the air, water and food.

As I stared up at the massive stacks, holding the device that would either change our existence forever or kill us all in one night, the doubt started to creep up my spine again.

My momma had worked in there. She loved that job.

Or so they said.

She died in her sleep. But they didn’t know I’d seen them. They didn’t know I had her diary. They didn’t know what she’d left for Damien and I to figure out.

I looked up into the trees and saw him.

His smile pushed down all the doubt. All the fear. All the hate.

It was all for him.

The train approached must faster than we thought it would. I thought someone might have seen me, I thought someone might try to stop it. But there was no one.

Just Damien. And me.

His mouth at my neck and his fingers between my legs.

The first explosion was beautiful. The second deafening.

Then, everything just collapsed.

Except me. And my momma’s mask.

Damien died on top of me. He made me leave on the mask.

“I know you thought it was for me, Pickle. But it was always for you. It was all for you.”

 

 

Back

No matter where you go, there you are. Artwork by Josu Urrestarazu Garcia

She sat on the stoop and stared as I wrestled my suitcase through the door. Her eyes peered at me from a face swollen by a long night of tears and pleas. But she was silent now, clutching a cigarette like it was a life raft.

I hated when she’d smoked, but I could complain no longer. And as I reached the bottom step, turning to look at her again, she closed her eyes, pulling a long drag from the filter between her fingers and turned her head to the side. We’d said all that could’ve been said, twenty years of marriage rolled into a tight ball and tossed at our feet. But it still felt odd, leaving without a kiss.

“Goodbye, Marilla.”

Not a kiss. But I did always have to get the last word.

My own shaky voice rang in my ears as I walked down the shaded boulevard our house resided at the end of. A knot in my throat, the wheeled case behind me, a couple thousand dollars and a credit card was just going to have to be enough.

I could maybe catch a cab at the main road. I could’ve called for one, but something itched at the soles of my feet. The bite of freedom needed to be walked on. ‘Determined’ had not been a word used to describe me until late. But I had a dream and a pocket full of will. That would just have to be enough.

Marrie hadn’t understood this new creative ambition. An accountant is, after all, the general definition of boring. Honestly, I truly had been. Studying the news and stock markets with such intensity that I could never be bothered with hobbies or side business. So, when I sat on the bench in the back garden sketching and smoking my pipe every weekend throughout one summer, she’d thought it was a side effect of our recently empty nest.

One humid evening as she flipped through a magazine at the kitchen table, sipping on a glass of tea, I sketched her. She’d looked so soft and serene, and the resulting painting won me a display at a local gallery that autumn.

But when she saw the image, she crumbled.

“You’ve given me so many wrinkles. Why have you made me look so old and sad?”

She didn’t look old to me at all. Sad, maybe, as the loneliness of losing our children to adulthood had sagged against her from the inside, despite nearly nightly calls from our daughter and weekend visits from our son. But to me, that sorrow was beautiful. An attribute that can only be worn by a woman during the sunset of her life.

She forbade me from sketching her again. Refusing insistently and abusively, calling my talent ill-formed and amateur.

But I found willing muses then, in other venues.

The night before I left, I’d been unwilling to listen to her apologies. The longing for complete freedom to explore this new purpose gave birth to a vindictive cruelty of words that spewed from my lips as if I’d hated her. A year of hiding my work and lies curdled the adoration of her I’d held for decades. And the glory of retribution for her degradation of my art was addictive.

But as my feet fell into a soft rhythm on the concrete and the sun warmed my face, I felt the edge of my speech cut through my mind, the memory boomeranging back into me.

“You’ve stifled me for long enough. I am a man with art in my veins and I’m not sorry for ways I chose to bleed it out of me.”

Her voice cracked as she asked me how, who and when.

“Those women saw the gifts I offered them instead of the lines I painted on their faces. And the joy of their bodies in return might seem to you as my taking advantage, but I held them each in such reverence.”

The begging turned into convulsive sobs. But she was missing the point completely.

“Marrie, if you could only feel the pleasure of seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes, you would have never turned away.”

She’d sat at the end of our bed, gazing at the tissues in her hands.

“If you’d just explained. Carl, I could’ve-”

“No. I shouldn’t have to. You could’ve been my muse. You forced this upon us. Not me.”

It had been a cold thing to lay blame upon her, my righteous indignation at her ignorance giving voice to the devils of my conscience. Under the blaze of day though, my guilt sprouted wings and prodded me to look into the light.

On Ferry Street, I looked up to witness the broad colorful swath of a paraglider skimming through the crisp darkening clouds of October. Marilla adored such sights, and the desire to share it with her broke open inside my chest.

What had I done? Where was I going? Was I really so stubborn that I couldn’t draw her to please her or help her see the beauty within herself, as bright and expansive as that patchwork wing above?

A handsome young man in glittering white stood beside me, looking up and smiling.

“Wherever you go, there you are,” he said.

It was a mere whisper, but it vibrated through my skull like a gong. I turned toward him as recognition surged through my nervous system. I followed his gaze as he swiveled and his eyes fell on something in the distance, behind me.

A crowd was forming on the sidewalk I’d just stepped from. A frantic woman called for help. A teenage girl dialed her phone as she kneeled. A young man ripped open a coat…

My coat.

I sprung forward, stopping near the edge of the circle of strangers all gawking at the crumpled face I knew so well. The face of a stupid man who’d wasted the last night of his life breaking the heart of the only woman he ever loved.

“Aneurysm,” said the man in white with a lilt in his soft but booming voice. “Even if you’d stayed, you still would’ve died.”

I turned to face him, still feeling the weight in my hand of my wheeled case and now tasting the bitter plastic of my pipe pinched between my lips. The world around me faded into a whimsical scene, stalled as though captured on a canvas.

He strode away from me, up a road I wasn’t sure I was allowed.

He beckoned me to follow.

But all I wanted was to go back.