First published in Section 8 Magazine.
he stood steadfast,
his chin motionless,
his eyes fixed
on unseen objects
across a limitless expanse.
Hope had been offered,
seamless, fluid resolution
until words seemed to wane
in the fitful breezes that played
across the stillness of the night.
Again she tried,
whispered his name,
proffered a smile,
an outstretched hand,
and watched his ashen face cant forward,
his foot moving out into cool, thin air
See the original here.
First published in Through the Gaps.
In the first we learned to draw A, B, C’s within the blue lines on the tablet and to raise our hands with one finger or two, depending on the need.
A’s, we were told, should have the top point touching the solid blue line above, the cross bar drawn through the dotted line in the middle, and the two legs resting on the solid blue line below, but not extending beyond that point.
B’s were harder. The top and bottom bubbles were to be tangent to the lines, but not to show below or above them. And since this letter required curves, B’s took longer to master.
C’s were impossible….
Read the rest here.
First Published in Eskimo Pie.
Heads rose, necks craned, and eyes blinked
like strange birds in a saltwater marsh.
And with her hand raised high, she spoke
with inflection and purpose of cats’ paws and fog.
And they, they dreamed of fast cars and poodle skirts
and 45 rpm’s. And Jimmy Reeves, Buddy Holly
and Elvis on the air. And the game and the date or
the hoped for call that’d maybe never come.
Her voice softened as she turned the page and read on.
Eyelids drooped, heads tottered, all supplicants to the
stifling heat that oozed about the room. Unstirred they sat as
colonies of beads snaked down necks in a silver-lined chorus.
Unfazed by rhymes foisted on them, and
lost in the stigma of a summer school daze,
their faces remained in Easter Island repose.
“What could it mean…..does anyone know?”
“This next one by Keats is a particular favorite….
can anyone recognize the meter?”
May the gods of time sweep us out with the morning tide.
“Now class, tomorrow’s assignment….”
Heads rose and eyes saucered as hormones
bounced like bees in a fresh field of blooms.
A breeze to third gear, and vibes on the dial,
a Coke float at the curb and a fast dance tonight !
Feet shuffled amid squeals that echoed down the halls,
engines revved and horns blew, and wheels chirped
as memories of the morning disappeared in the dust
of the old county school.
Impulse has just been published in Fiction on the Web (UK).
Sometimes when I hear the shrill call of the kingfisher echo through the cypress swamps, I’m sure it’s his scream I hear. And the mists that rise and curl in contorted shapes are a reminder of the look on his face when the shot hit his belly. Often I come here to remember that day and wonder how it might have been different.
“You gotta be the robber,” he said.
“But I’m always the robber. I wanna be the good guy.”
Younger than Billy by a year, I had to learn to fall and fake death… me a villain, my fate in life.
Read the rest here.
Newly Retired has just been published in The Literary Yard.
Like kelp in a gentle neap tide wave, his hair floated about, his head bobbing as if engaged in a silly Halloween game. His outstretched arms looked prepared to receive unseen friends from the depths below. No way to tell how long he’d been there, no way to know if it even mattered now.
He’d appeared not a month ago and had been seen about just days before. And whispers about town had it that someone had been alert to his movements since the day he’d arrived.
The techs were expected shortly with tapes and cameras…
Read the rest here.
first published in the Houston Literary Review
“Good morning, Dash Computers.”
“Hello, this is Jane Ann Titmouse in Alamo Heights, Texas and—”
“Good morning, Dash Computers.”
“Yes, this is Jane Ann Titmouse again and—”
“One moment please.”
“This is Jane Ann Titmouse and my computer won’t work!”
“Yes, this is Jane Ann Titmouse in Alamo Heights, Texas, and I recently purchased one of your computers and I can’t get it to work now.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Ms. Titmouse, but your call has been misdirected. Hold please.”
“This is Jane Ann Titmouse and you better not transfer me!”
“Yes, ma’am. What may I do for you?”
“The computer you sold me won’t work.”
“Yes, ma’am, one moment.”
“Good morning, Executive Suites. How may I direct your call?”
“This is Jane Ann Titmouse in Alamo Heights, Texas, and I got rights, and you better not transfer me.”
“Yes, Ms. Titmouse. What may we do for you today?”
“Fix my computer!”
“My new computer won’t work.”
“Yes, ma’am, I understand. Now if you will just bear with me a moment, I’m going to put you in touch with Ms. Alice Johnson in our Public Relations Department. I’m confident she can assist you with your problem.”
“Don’t you dare trans—“
“Dash Public Relations…hello?…hello?’
“Is this Alice Johnson?”
“No, I’m sorry, this is Tilly Felston. Alice is on break right now.” May I transfer you to her voice mail?”
“No, no, you cannot, I want help now!”
“Uh, how may I help you, Ms….?”
“Jane Ann Titmouse from Alamo Heights, Texas, and you can tell me how to make this damn computer work!”
“Why, yes, Ms. Titmouse. I’ll be glad to help you.”
“Yes, Ms. Titmouse, at Dash Computers we have a department dedicated exclusively to assisting customers such as yourself on these problems. Now, all you need to do is call this toll-free number and they can quickly resolve your problem.”
“Yes, I’m confident of that, Ms. Titmouse.”
“You promise they can help?”
“Why, yes, Ms. Titmouse. That’s what they are there for.”
“Okay, let me get a pencil…now, what’s the number?”
“Please call 800-003-DASH.”
“Yes, that’s 800-003-3274.”
“Okay, thanks, I’ll do that right now.”
“My pleasure, Ms. Titmouse. Now, may I record this as a service call that was resolved with one connection?”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Why, no, Ms. Titmouse, we here at Dash Computers strive each day to create customer satisfaction with minimal delay.”
“Well, you do whatever suits your fancy, but I’ve still get a computer that won’t work and I’m not satisfied yet.”
“Yes, Ms. Titmouse, thank you for calling Dash Computers, and you have a nice day.” Click.
“Heelo, these ees custumar serveece, John Adams speeking, how may I help you?”
“Mr. Adams, this is Jane Ann Titmouse in Alamo Heights, Texas. I recently bought one of your computers and it won’t work. Can you help me?”
“Yeez, Meez Titmouse, of course. Now, first what are the model and serial numbers on thees computer?”
“Where’ll I find them?”
“Eet depends on the model, Meez Titmouse. What series deed you purchase?”
“I’ve no idea. It looks like a big fish eye with a bunch of numbers and alphabet squares on a plate in front of it and a metal box beside it that looks like a miniature of the Wedge Tower in downtown Houston. You know the one?”
“No, Meez Titmouse.”
“Oh? Where are you anyway?”
“I’m een the customar serveece department, Meez Titmouse.”
“Well, never mind. How do I get this thing to work?”
“From your descreeption, I’d say you have one of our new Titan Serees 300 Computers, Meez Titmouse. Now, eef you weel pleez look on the back of the CPU and geeve me the model and serial numbers, perhaps we can geet started.”
“The CPU? What’s a CPU?”
“Ah, the Central Processing Unit. Thees unit fetches instructions, decodes and executes theem and theen in the write-back step—“
“Hold it! What I want to know is what this thing looks like.”
“Ah, thees ees the unit that looks like…um…the miniature tower you jeest meentioned.”
“Okay. Got it. What’s next? Oh, yeah, the numbers: model 654124 and serial number 10132861PD.”
“Yees, leet me repeet the numbers back to you: model 654124 and serial number 10132861PE.”
“No, no 10132861PD.”
“Thees ees what I said, Meez Titmouse.”
“No, you said P and E as in Paul and Edward. I said P and D as in Paul and Dummy.”
“Ah, very good. Now, pleez, teel me the problem, Meez Titmouse.”
“The problem? It won’t work, that’s the problem.”
“Weel, could you bee more specific?”
“Well, when I’m typing along on the typewriter board, the letters freeze up on the fish eye and won’t print out anymore.”
“Ah, yees. Now, Meez Titmouse, would you pleez dismantle the CPU for me?”
“What?! Dismantle it? Do I look like a service technician, Mr. Adams?”
“Um, I don’t know, Meez Titmouse. Ees very seemple, just pull the bottom plate across the front until eet snaps off, then weeth a screwdriver—“
“A screwdriver! Are you kidding me? I’m not an electrician either!”
“Pleeze, Meez Titmouse, stay calm. Um, perhaps there eez someone else there who keen assist you in thees seemple task?”
“Nobody here but me ‘n’ Bo.”
“Bo? Weel, perhaps Bo keen do thees for us?”
“Bo? Well, if he could get his paws around it I suspect he could. He’s a damn bit smarter than some folks at Dash Computers, you know.”
“Pleez stay calm, Meez Titmouse. Perhaps the monitor eez now een the “on” position?”
“The monitor? What the hell is the monitor?”
“Um, the feesh eye.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s on, but so what? It’s just a blank screen now…no wait, it just blinked. What does that mean?”
“Um, perhaps ees winking at you, Meez Titmouse?”
“Winking! Don’t you get fresh with me, Mr. Adams. I got rights, and I paid almost three thousand dollars for this damn thing, and I demand satisfaction. Do you hear me, Mr. Adams? Satisfaction!”
“Pleez, Meez Titmouse. I meent no harm.”
“Is it warm out there in India today, Mr. Adams?”
“Yeah, ’cause it’s getting really hot on this end of the line…damn hot!”
“Meez Titmouse, perhaps you could press a character for me.?”
“A character? There aren’t any characters here. You’re the only character in this conversation.”
“Um, an alphabet character on the keypad.”
“Um, any…say the key of G?”
“The key of G? This isn’t choir rehearsal at the First Baptist Church, Mr. Adams. And I told you not to get fresh with me. What are you, a Loony-Toon character for Dash Computers?”
“What eez a Looney-Toon character, Meez Titmouse?…Meez Titmouse, are you there.”
“I’m here…just gettin’ the gun.”
“The gun? Ah, yes, the mouse shaped like a gun. For video games, much fun, yes, much fun, Meez Titmouse.”
“Mouse? Cute, Mr. Adams, real cute. I’ll have you know I don’t have any damn mice in this house, that’s for damn sure, none! Hold on a minute.”
“Meez Titmouse. What ees thees noise?… Meez Titmouse, are you all right.?”
“Fine, Mr. Adams, just fine. That was the video gun, as you call it, taking care of my problem the way most Texans handle unresolved problems out here. Say, Mr. Adams, you wouldn’t by chance be coming to Texas anytime soon, would you?”
“Um, no, Meez Titmouse.”
“Are you sure about that, Bubba? I could promise you a warm welcome out here.”
“Um, quite sure, Meez Titmouse. Pleez have a nice day and thank you for calling Dash Computers. Now, eef you weel allow me to record thees as a serveece call that was resolved—”
“Don’t even think of going there, Mr. Adams! You do and I’ll come right through this phone and box your little ears. You got that, Bubba?… Mr. Adams?…Mr. Adams?…Hello?”
Often when my internal alarm shirks its regimented duty, I find myself in an unending line of wheels scooting eastward toward the fort, each a link in an agitated column of ants hell-bent for battle with the oncoming sun. But with the military gates in sight, my car swerves to the right into Mickey’s spacious lot now filling with transports loyal to the bold symbol flanking the macadam surface by the boulevard entrance.
The first order of the day is to retrieve coins from slots in the dash, a gremlin game that forces me in an abrupt about face toward my car more times than not. Four bits in the box and out pops the morning news, what Victor smugly calls our local fish wrapper.
A sweet aroma invades my senses as I shuffle toward the counter and secure a position behind a pulse of humanity awaiting service. The headlines confirm that no terrorists have reached our shores overnight and Congress is again deadlocked over some superfluous agenda of the day. A den of thieves, Victor describes this august assemblage.
The counter girl smiles and rings up my order in a routine so dated the staff no longer asks, they know. And unless a new recruit mans the register or the brass at Mickey’s launches a renewed attack on my pockets, nothing changes. But who’s to know? They never canvas this populous to see who’s been reduced to fixed income. Nor do they much care, I suppose. It’s just the way it is.
Scanning the perimeter, I take note of sleepy suburbanites on return treks from the beaches to the south and a cluster of DI’s in a booth near our customary nook by the window. Few choose our corner because of the new sun’s light, a strategic position that delights old eyes that vet the news of the day and incoming traffic.
Across the room a fractious child refuses dictates from a patient mother who quickly shifts tactics to accomplish her immediate objective. Ignoring reddened cheeks and flailing arms, she lures her quarry with spoon-filled air circles until a small mouth opens in wonder. How long before this one grasps the reality of fading audiences to his ardent desires, his self-styled importance receding at every turn? No matter. Soon his appearance here will be history and new blood from the streets will stream in to take his place.
Through the window I see Joe making his approach up the walkway, the stubs of his thighs and hands tightly wrapped in inner-tube rubber. Like a rocking horse in motion, his torso and head arc forward in a fall as his arms push off pivots to the rear and swing around to secure new ground and raise his truncated body to repeat this unique pattern of locomotion.
In our first encounter, I rushed to the door for him only to have my presence ignored. From counter staff frowns and Victor’s briefing, I’ve become sensitive to the importance of Joe’s self pride.
From my corner I watch his head press against the glass door and one thigh wedge in against the jamb just enough for him to slip through. Catching my eye, he nods in an unspoken bond now forged by time and understanding. The crowd edges apart as he proceeds to the counter where a server awaits his arrival with a sack. Joe leans against the counter and a hand dislodges paper currency from his shirt pocket and makes an exchange for a bag that is quickly secured between his teeth. The staff knows how much will be proffered for the meal, thus proper change has been placed in the sack along with a sandwich. Joe never tarries here. And I’ve no idea where he goes when he vanishes through the broom sage that flanks the back of the lot, taking with him nightmares that lie deep within those sunken eyes, a past created by dispassionate forces now planning new forays to God knows where, Joe’s existence long since forgotten.
Following my exercise of scanning for news of the war and our faltering economy, I glance at the metro section, then forge on to the crossword, the one stable value in this routine. But then, the sports section has been set aside for my friend whose face remains unaccounted for here.
To my right the drill instructors are abuzz over a new general who assumes command today. In wonder I gaze at them, mere schoolboys to me, and then I remember. One raises his eyes and catches me averting mine, but his steel blue gaze fixed in my mind. If I could, I’d question him about the eager countenances he trains each day. Can he see trust? Resignation? Does he guess who’ll return and who’ll not? Perhaps such questions are counterproductive to the cause or maybe he’s inured to this data. Their banter drops to whispers, no doubt now alert to eager ears close at hand.
Above a scrim of foliage the sun slips behind feathered clouds and winks like a guttered candle in the wind. And I muse over how many more of these sights I might observe. Not so many I’ve learned from tables of those who follow such things. Once these thoughts could stir trepidation in this soul, but no longer. Intrigued with this phantom force anxious to catch me unaware and dismiss my presence without notice, I remain on watch with odd fascination.
A fellow at the VA where I make calls tells me it’ll be like walking through a mirror. “We’ll see,” I say and smile and ask if he’d like a magazine. And are there needs I can retrieve for him today from the sundries shop on the floor below. His eyes sparkle as he looks up and shakes his head so I move on to the next one and repeat this litany I’ve been trained to ask each soul. When they pass, the bed is stripped to a deep blue sheath that covers the mattress. This one I knew well enough, and can recall the voice, a mannerism or two, and a bit of personal history, but I’ve been instructed not to get too close, vital to the good of the order, they say. But soon a new face will stare up from here, another unable to pass muster and no longer counted in this game so ingrained in each.
At Mickey’s where the family with the tot was seated, two young lovers have settled in, eyes locked in bliss. Anyone vigilant could deduce from the uniform that one will soon ship out, confident and expectant. And I could tell them it’s potluck, catch-as-catch-can, words they’d not wish to hear and perhaps that’s best, the two of them entranced in a hormonal dance that will soon enough fade. Yet they’d never admit an unexpected order may cheat them first. No one can tell, no one to ask. It’s this moment that counts, I muse and sip my java and fold the paper.
The crossword is done and still no Victor. Perhaps he overslept. Yep, that must be the case. He tells me he’s from a peninsula of Michigan or some such place, moved down here for his health, but from his assessment of each new face at the door, I’ve a feeling some day he just may cut and run. Not mentioned in the morning obits, I see. No doubt tomorrow we’ll share our rehearsed solutions to the unsolvable ills of the world.
A burst of chill slaps my cheeks as I start my exit and spot a van wheel tight into the lot like a shot from a rifle, tried and true. Four doors fly open and expel fatigues like an olive discharge into black water. Jostling and rapping, each falls into a measured cadence, boots in step, each mind and heart hardened to echoed commands, each led by unseen powers to destinations not yet known.
The memory of that morning often replays, details still focused and unaltered. My friend was already gone, but who could have guessed? Now I gaze up to white-on-white, a smile arrived to introduce the new volunteer on the floor. “A newspaper? Magazine?” Of course, I nod, and watch them, backlit by the filtered light, disappear down the long, quiet hallway nearby.