Table of Contents Poetry: Poems about Writing: Night...3 Better Flawed...4 Poems about Art: The Shack...5 Locomotion...5 Blind Silence...6 Poems about Nature: Seasons...7 Nature of Beauty...8 Poems about Social Justice: Equal...9 Live...10 Bitterest Pill...11 Poems about Work/School: Office Work...12 Devolution...13 Poems about Love: Te Amo...14 Journey...15 The Space Between...16 Among Friends... 18 Fiction: Criminal Justice...19 Extinction...20 The Map...22 Fine...24 Taste of Life...26 The More Things Change...29 The Pain of Pancakes...31
Night Why do we rise along with the sun, scurry about in the afternoon, is it so that the still night, with its secret symphonies, might become more melodious? These are the moments— stolen hours after the end, but before the beginning, when this world is calm but others unfold— maybe clocks ticking away the hours, the freedom of the moonlit moments— when this world is calm but others unfold, feverish scratch of the pen and tapping of keys, eyes that burn and ears that collect every creak, fighting against the heavy pull into dreams, and, if necessary, the night's reprieve— a warm blanket and a soft pillow a promise, and when the mind is generous and inspiration burns through the night the gray light of early morning.
Better Flawed I take the advice to sit and stare, at the blank page before my eyes, its emptiness begging to be filled, best when its pristine perfection is lost, I think a hundred thoughts but none, strike as particularly poetic, what will come of this exercise? What lurks beneath the rubble? A dozen worries cross my mind, test grades and thoughts of transition, holiday presents I haven't bought, time leaves me stumbling, steps behind, lately. A hundred things mind and body crave, sweet food, hot drink, to close my eyes, a nap, TV, relaxation, a break, a blanket, a book, caffeine, a story. A thousand hopes and fears mingle, alongside the regrets and wishes, people and places, things and words, said or done or missed or lost. Pristine perfection of the page, buried under tangles of letters, like life, better flawed and filled, than empty, blank and perfect.
The Shack Inspired by: Wall, Cahokia, Illinois by Brian Smith The shack stands alone with a story to tell, surrounded by Mother's refuge from hell, once gleaming pipes rusted, withered wood gray, rich life given over to decay, perhaps it begins with the storm's hot strike, engulfing all and burning through night, fire rages and never is sated, malicious heat from a deep well of hatred, a soft tempered glow, as it burns to sleep, leaving charred wood and ashes to keep, but like a phoenix from ashes the shack is reborn, rises and is part of the earth once more.
Locomotion Inspired by: 1904 by Kim Lee Seagull Winding onward, chugging along, the engine bellows smoke and song, sequestered location, unknown destination, form of old grand transportation, whisking passengers to a faraway land, where all is expected and nothing is planned, anxious commotion, excited motion, unending scarlet locomotion, winding onward, chugging along, toward adventure and a place to belong.
Blind Silence A starless night, a sunless day, when the world is blinded, a silent night is not tranquil, but the result of silenced voices, behind the wall, scarcely heard, they whisper, moan, and cry, mourning creation at its best, its most natural, honest state. One, repulsed, sees portraits of shame, in the pureness of human reflection, one, repressive, blinds the rest, bends the world to a whim. Somewhere along time's twisting line, bare artificial walls became, the carelessly comfortable choice, over nature's bare creation. The answer never is to blind, or snatch beauty from the beholder's eye, from whisper to scream to sweet serenade, silence is never a choice to be made.
Seasons First blooms of spring, pollen lightly dusting cars, stuffy noses, watery eyes, trapped indoors yet longing, for the first touch of warmth on the skin, to be part of the life reigniting out of reach, first blistering days of summer, icy drinks that sweat as we do, feet burning on black asphalt, sweltering heat, pool like a refreshing breath, children laughing, splashing, enjoying their fleeting freedom, first colors of fall in the trees, the muted reds, oranges, yellows, that top the garish imitations of humans, light, cool breezes, winter and summer mingle over us, with hints of excitement in the wind, first nips of winter become icy bites, hot drinks warm the palms of our hands, slide down our throats to spread throughout, crackle of the fire, traditions and twinkling lights, and despite the cold wherever you turn, pockets of warmth found in subtle places.
The Nature of Beauty What is more beautiful, than nature’s complexion, the stretch of an ocean, in every direction? What is more powerful, than the water’s fists, hammering down, on all that exists? What could be more perfect, than a sky strewn with stars, sharp curves of the mountains, rock seared with scars? But what’s lovely is dangerous, you can't help but spin, your intricate web, where we fools meet our ends. It begins with a breeze, so light and carefree, then you are a hurricane, that destroys all you see. It begins with a wave, warm and wet on your feet, then you are a tidal wave, that strikes and retreats. It ends with an asteroid, a quake of the earth, inevitable violence, before the rebirth. This desire for beauty, runs so deep in our bones, Why are we drawn to this? We're far safer alone.
Equal We do not spring from the womb, believing in sin, in birth and in death, we are equal. Hatred, intolerance, come from education, we are taught to fear, instructed to mistrust, if two hands are joined, it is a beautiful sight, if two voices entwine, the sound should be cherished, maybe one hand is light, and the other is dark, maybe both hands are rough, or both soft, feminine, maybe one voice speaks of faith, another of evidence, but if united in peace, and in purpose, both are true, we do not spring from the womb, in fear and in hatred. In birth and in death, in peace and in purpose, in life and in love, we are equal.
Live As children we're whole in a way we never are again, happily blind until someone yanks the wool from our eyes, then we can see what the world demands, can see the confines of expectation, we've all got rainbow hearts, but we're born into pink or blue, some are expected to live and die a certain way, shut inside a maze with no way out, too many wrong turns, some are expected to stay children forever, grown in every way except in the minds of others, stay afraid, stay indoors, stay afraid of the dark, stay quiet, to speak up means your voice will be judged, long before anyone can decipher your words, because what could you know about yourself, what you want? Stay pure, because sharing your body with another, somehow means to have it possessed and defiled, not to hide is to ask for it, whatever it may be, punishment for daring to be human, everybody's got an opinion to share, about the number on your scale, the ring on or off your finger, your own family, work, medical care, the list goes on and on but just keep your head down, the small, they say, don't have a right to make a sound, they'd rather you stay a child, choices governed and protected, life reduced to the physical vessel, but the brain is not respected, so you stay trapped inside convention as you're trapped inside your skin, to make a decision can mean challenging the world, when all you ever wanted was for your life to be your own, all you wanted out of lifeâ€” was to live.
Bitterest Pill Talk will turn, as it always does, conversations onto jutting paths, where words are knives that puncture skin, flung with no care for aftermath, shaped by words of times gone by, squeezed into molds that have survived, though they don't fit and never did, they nip and tuck and bind our lives, change isn't worth the fight, we're told, what they really mean is we're not, we should be altered, not the world, be satisfied with what we've got, people spew their acid words, speak out and they will turn, spit sparks that singe our everything, as if this is what we've earned, for wanting what they have already, life without condemnation, hoping that a brighter dawn, will push back on stagnation, their fears are murky, undefined, but the bitterest of pills, is the worst voices aren't the screams, but the whispers of I love you still.
Office Work Dull dread heavy in your chest, your good shoes clack through double-doors, shiny linoleum, towering walls, promises of a dry future, hollow hellos from those you see, far more often than you'd care to, scales of your time tipped in their favor, the ones you love left on the lighter end, the twist and roll of office chairs, muffled shoes on carpet, clocks tick away eternal seconds, the sun casts shifting shadows, papers whisper together, printers click and whir, voices chatter all around, yet miss each other in midair, your voice is the mouse's squeak, ignored in a din of lions, large enough to swipe you aside, with one mighty paw, unchallenged, tasks repeated until, liberated, you no longer concentrate, your fingers work all on their own, and your mind is free to roam.
Devolution August—the sun blazes, the asphalt bakes, my space is pristine, all in its place, books lined neatly on the shelf. September— cooler breezes, less extreme days, fresh notebooks and pencils, school back in full swing, books piled near the bed, within reach. October—winter wars with summer, compromises with fall, clutter slowly creeping up, no time to clear it all, books scattered over the desk, haphazardly. November—winter stakes its claim, no longer compromising, my space devolving every day, reflecting my mind's chaos, books claim every free space. December—hurtling toward the end, of the semester and the year, a final explosion of “finals” stress, before spring delivers, and all is clear, books lined neatly on the shelf again.
Te Amo I can only hear your video voice, speaking across the years, recorded one moment, forever preserved, in a digital scrapbook of memories, Upon sight your smiles crackled to life, warm enough to vanquish winter, yet more than those, I miss your voice, and all it had to offer, the voice that spoke to me in Spanish, te amo, you'd say, I love you, snippets of German and other idiomas, falling from your lips on occasion, the voice that shared your past in stories, tales I begged for late at night, journeys added up to the sum of your life, given in cherished pieces I still hold, the voice that blends with other sounds, that I can't disentangle from you, piano notes and old film scores, elephant's strong trumpet, blue jay's twitter the voice that guided me so often, in tasks, skills, lessons passed on, I know things because you knew them, took them in at your instruction, the voice that understood, made me feel less alone, the voice that never rose or condemned, but welcomed me into my second home, I hope a fiery chariot awaits, to lift me in spirit or song, to deliver me to where you are, where you've been all along.
Journey The foreseen path drops off into darkness, smoke clouding the way ahead, one foot, then another, seeking solid ground, something to cling to until then, there is no fleeting kiss goodnight, no warm embrace or saccharine words, no patter of tiny scrambling feet, no nearby white cake and fabric days, just open seas to drift upon, a ship to grab a hold of, at least a wheel to steer from, a resting place for a single passenger, a passenger who commits to creativity, who makes promises to people, who flirts with exams while dating work, remains on good terms with evaluative letters, the ship is alone but never lonely, the passenger steers, in control, not of when or where land will appear, nor of rocky waves, but of the journey itself.
The Space Between Does everyone feel cheated, as I do, when it happens suddenly, as it did for you? Those precious years we always counted on, ripped from our grasp with no hope of return? Am I greedy for wanting not just one more day, but the thousands we should have had, like the years we took for granted? Who could I blame for stealing you away from us? The universe or God are the obvious choices for most, but it was your body that betrayed you, though you could not have foreseen the threat, even close to home as it was. Maybe there is no one to blame, but that doesn't silence the howling, haunting what-ifs. I don't believe in fate, nor inevitability set in stone, so where were the tiny catalysts spurring their changes? Was there any one thing that could have, would have, given you more time? Given us those years? A day? An hour? Time for one more conversation? Time for one more I love you? I had no time to prepare, no chance to let go, neither did you, the evidence of this strewn across your desk, in bundles of unpaid bills, unanswered mail, unfinished projects, how unfair, that your life was left in its "un" state, you, torn from the middle of everyday, of ordinary, incomplete. Day by day I slip into the future, leaving behind the last place you stood and breathed, the space between widening with each passing second, terrified that I will lose you in more ways than I have already, because there is still so much to lose. Who will tell your stories when we who know them are gone? A world dies with a person, the million little worlds they inhabited, the pocket worlds of those they knew, leaving a chasm of open space, a void in the universe where starlight cannot breach. Even when I smile there is sadness just behind it, even when good things happen, they're a disappointment because they can't be shared with you, there's an emptiness that follows everywhere I go, and though I put up a wall and let the void exist outside it,
I sometimes lower my defenses and let it fill me up, take me over, to let myself remember is to be overcome. You live now, as firing synapses and neurological pathways, in the minds of those whose paths you crossed, whose lives you touched, one of our many pocket worlds, the ones entrusted to us, the ones whose secrets we unearth from time and savor, our ancestors' preserved stories come to life, grasping at memories as countless days become, a highlight reel of little stand-out moments, snippets of conversation brought up through time, by words or sounds or sights, there has never yet been a day when my thoughts, haven't reached out to where you sit, protected in my mind, and I hope no matter how much it hurts to remember, such a day never comes. Maybe I can't make the promise of eternity in a transient world, I am only human, as you were, unequipped to deal in forevers, in days beyond my own, your legacy will one day be dust, as will your flesh and blood, and maybe one day, toward eternity's end, the world will forget it was ever home to someone special, but what I can promise is that as long as I live and breathe, your memory will not fade into nonexistence, that what you left will be carried forward and kept alive, that the space between us will never be farther apart than light can connect in a second, that as long as I am tethered here by mind and beating heart, you will be loved, missed, and remembered.
Among Friends My time at SCC is close to closing, in my final year, my final week, my final class is all that's left, but now, graduation seems so bittersweet, a year ago or two, just starting out, or midway through, stumbling in a haze, of lectures, tests, and gen-ed fever, dreaming of post-graduation days, I never guessed back then that I would want, to dig my heels in and hold on somehow, so close to walking out, and suddenly I doubt, that what's next could be better than what's now. What will I do without this group of writer friends? Who else could get this passion inside us? No words could describe it, but even so I'll try, we're writers, of course words are a must, learning, laughing, crying, we've done it all and more, words forged bonds between us, opened us to our cores, we wrote and shared ourselves and grew, we listened, learned, and read, discovered all the ways to tell, what's in our hearts and heads, now in this bittersweet December, our time has reached an end, but I'm grateful to have had this chance, this classroom among friends.
Criminal Justice She pockets his discarded watch on the way out. He'd left it splayed on the dresser top, practically flung it off in his eagerness as he'd undressed. It had hit the wooden surface with a scratchy thunk and sat there gleaming silver, ticking faintly in the still room. It looked expensiveâ€”the type of thing she could see wrapped up and tied with a satiny bow, presented on a Christmas morning or anniversary evening. The kind of thing a wife would choose carefully for a husband who was always late, or maybe just had a taste for the expensive things in life. Why he'd taken it off, the woman would never know. Perhaps he simply didn't like to sleep with it on. But he had pulled her to him then, lips coated in velvet words, and thoughts of the watch were temporarily set aside in her mind. Empty words of seduction slithered over her skin. "You're beautiful," he'd whispered. "You're so amazing." He'd repeated it over and over like a mantra, almost to himself, as if he'd needed to speak the words more than she needed to hear them. The gold band on his left hand shone dully in the dim room, cold and hard as it brushed against her skin. Before long, it was over, and he was snoring under the sheets, oblivious to his bed mate rolling out from beneath the covers to pull on a dress, slip into shoes, snatch up a purse. Swipe a watch. She didn't steal from all her clients, but she had no particular qualms about relieving this one of his possession. Expensive though the watch surely was, the ring on his finger seemed to weigh him down plenty already. Her new silver watch now sits cold and heavy in her pocket beside the crumpled wad of bills she'd collected up front, still faintly ticking away. Good luck explaining to your wife how you lost this, buddy, she thinks, glancing once more at his snoring figure on the seedy motel sheets before closing the door on it all.
Extinction One of them raises its horribly disfigured face as the man passes the clearing, blood dripping from its lips, fresh from the corpse of the deer that has become its dinner. It could have been his footfalls that caught its attention, or maybe it was the scent of a warm body, the sound of a beating heart. Whatever the man's giveaway, the thing is upon him almost at once. He gives the bat an almighty swing, brings it crashing down upon the thing's skull without so much as a grimace when it connects. This, he thinks, is what happens when nature revolts. Perhaps we deserved it, he thinks, or maybe it is simply our time come to an end. Maybe this is the natural ending for all who inhabit the earth, and extinction is just the inevitable fate. It happened, after all, to the dinosaurs and woolly mammoths and countless other plants and beasts. Why would humans be exempt? The mighty human race, once perched so carelessly on top of the food chain, hunting and seizing and destroying as it saw fit, has become the weak, the hunted, the prey. More than a footnote in the book of history, but surely no more than a chapter. A flash in the pan. Extinction, the apocalypseâ€”whatever you want to call it, it's here, the man thinks. We've had our chance, and now it's over. He stands, stares, sucks in air and tries to calm electrified nerves. The storm overhead has brought an early dusk, and suddenly the shadow of every tree is a monster, every distant rustle of leaves an impending attack. Something stirs behind him, slow and slithering, like a snake. He spins around, eyes frantic and wide. He cannot afford to credit anything to imagination. The utterly absurd notion to call out crosses his mind, but he bites it back. Grips his slick weapon in his sweaty palm. Feels the fear and anguish and exhaustion of the last few weeks building, burning his throat as if he's breathing in the smoky ruins of the nearby city and not the crisp autumn air of the woods. A twig snaps somewhere close by. Move, a voice in his head urges. Move now. He makes it four, five, six steps before something hurtles into his side. The weapon, his only defense, his only hope for survival, slips from his grip and thuds to the cold earth. The night is nothing but snarling, tearing, terrorâ€”nothing but gnashing teeth and scrambling claws of the inhuman beast on top of him. The air itself cracks open, the ground quakes beneath his cheek, and then there nothing at all. When he finally opens his eyes, he is not dead, which takes him by surprise. Instead, a woman kneels over him, her hair long and wild, a gun clutched so tightly in her hand that her fingers are white. The horrid creature itself is slumped over the man's legs. His ears are still ringing from the gunshot that saved his life.
“It's over,” he mutters. Her fingers crawl over his skin, searching for injuries, for signs of a wound. “I'm dead. I should be dead.” She snorts. “Close call, but you're fine. C'mon, more of them'll be here in a minute. We'd better clear out.” “It's over,” he repeats, shaking his head as he slowly rises into a sitting position. He hasn't spoken to another human in a month. Has almost forgotten what conversation tastes like on his lips. “We're all done for.” She rises, offers him a hand, then pulls him to his feet as well. They stand, two people alone in the clearing, surrounded by nature in all its beauty, all its horror. “Not without a damn good fight.”
The Map Mother and daughter turn together for one last wistful look at the house, the closest thing to home either of them has known in a while, for this chance to commit its every nook and crevice and moment to memory. The cracked driveway and siding that's crumbling in places. The willow tree in the yard and flowers out front, the crisp brown of impending death creeping over their petals. The cement porch adorned with a mat not yet weathered or worn. Melinda sighs, sinks into the soft faux leather of the diver's seat, flicks on the headlights to break through the gloom that has settled beneath a thick layer of billowing black clouds. The bags are in the backseat, bulky and bulging with all the evidence they can hold of the past. A crumpled map carpets the passenger side floor; dark ink arrows illustrate the wrinkled, imperfect paper with its curved roads and untidy jotted notes. The path to one location after the next has been traced, scratched out, and redrawn with multiple detours. “I thought you said he wouldn't be able to find us here. You said we'd be here for my birthday.” Melinda spares the mirror another glance, counts the bags in the backseat for the sixth time. “You don't have to be here to have a birthday. It'll still happen wherever you are in the world.” “That's not the point. I thought—” “I thought so, too.” Melinda tries not to snap at her daughter, but emotions crackle like the lightening overhead, too close to the surface. Jittery fingers fumble to find the right key, jam it into the ignition. Her knuckles are a white vice upon the steering wheel. “Look, I'm sorry. I don't know how he's done it, but he's found out where we've been staying. We don't have a choice. It can't—” “—be helped,” finishes Taylor, harshness evaporating in response to her mother's electric anxiety. “I know.” In its cozy shabbiness, its run-down hominess, the dwelling they are abandoning now is reminiscent of another, one long ago forgotten by Taylor, lost to those slippery childhood years that seem to always wriggle out of the reach of memory. But Melinda can still recall the sleepless nights and anxious days, terror and fury and finality in the form of curses and bruises to match. All the darkness masked by a quaint exterior. But she'd thrown off the shackles when she'd tossed away the ring, that cold diamond restraint. The one precious outcome—the one part of those four long years of marriage that Melinda still treasures—sits with her arms crossed in the passenger seat, now committing to memory yet another home she has lost. More valuable by far than any ring, more powerful than even his fists, Taylor cannot remember the day she
became a catalyst, the day Melinda found the dark smudge of bruising on her child's smooth alabaster skin for the first and last time. â€œWe'll find one with bigger bedrooms. Maybe even a pool.â€? Neither makes mention of the hollowness of such promises, but simply lets them fall into the silent abyss. The decision to live is not one Melinda will ever live to regret; she will whisk along highways and roll along rocky back roads, soar high over the Earth and navigate turbulent seas before serving another day, another moment, imprisoned. Police, her exhusbandâ€”they can try all they wish to pick up her scent, to drag her back and enclose her in their towering walls, to pry her daughter from her grasp. They have their reasons. But Melinda has a far better one to chase the heels of freedom. She pulls onto the road, map now spread over her lap and the steering wheel, the road ahead as vast and unknowable as life itself. The rear view mirror paints a twodimensional portrait, a finite facade that masks the map's incomprehensibly boundless world. Neither she nor her daughter look back.
Fine I am fine. That is what I told them, what I told myself, as I snatched my keys from the counter and stumble-walked into the muddy yard, the chilly damp air. â€œBe careful, for Christ's sake!â€? someone called after me, I remember that, but I only raised a hand in a dismissive farewell, an acknowledgment of their baseless concern. A few drinks were nothing more to me than a typical night. Nothing I couldn't handle. The thud of the base, the raucous laughter from inside the party house reached me even with the car door shut. Raindrops pelted my windshield, little liquid beads quickly smeared across the glass by my wipers. And I was fine, just as I'd said. Out of the drivewayâ€”doing fine. Fine all through the subdivision. Fine on the main streets. Fine until I got to that lonely, winding outer road. I remember the blaze of headlights, a horn, screeching brakes, but not the car skidding off the road. Not the tree it hit. Not what became of the other vehicle. Not much of the gap of time between the crash and the ambulance arriving. The paramedics fired their questions when they arrived, sirens blaring and lights flashing the colors of emergencies, because that's what I was. An emergency. How long had I been that way? I still hadn't pinpointed the answer. Maybe I had been in a constant state of emergency for months without realizing it, in the absence of ambulances and hospital rooms. Not everyone realizes that a person can be dying right in front of them, that they can be every bit as ill as that guy in the ER and still be walking and talking and making terrible decisions, inching closer to death all the while. But lying in that hospital bed, barely an inch of my body unbroken or lacking some abrasion or contusion, I realized that you could be the next thing to a walking corpse, like some zombie out of a horror movie, and no one will realize it unless your flesh is decaying. They don't see the slowly rotting parts on the inside until it's too late. Even I didn't see it, because of course I was fine, of course I had a handle on things, of course I did not have a problem. How wild, how unpredictable, the patterns we fall into, the paths they lead us down, the lifelong habits formed by minute daily decisions. You read the comics one Sunday morning as a kid, and thirty years later you're still sitting at the Sunday breakfast table with the sports section cracked open against the orange juice. Sometimes you still flip through and read Garfield. But habits are not always so harmless. Discomforting, that's what it is, knowing that the tiniest decisions could set your life on a completely new, possibly destructive course. If I had done this or hadn't done that, if only I had made this choice instead of that one...suddenly I found myself drowning under a barrage of what-ifs and if-onlys, and after a certain point, my many small bad decisions seemed to spin effortlessly into bigger, worse ones. A spider's web
with no end, designed to capture and entangle with every wrong step. But I was a spider ensnared in its own web, plucking and weaving and spinning each thread, destroying myself more perfectly, more completely, than anyone else could ever hope to. The nails of my unbroken hand picked at my hospital sheet, twisted the loose white threads around the tip of my finger. When and where did this web begin? I didn't know, nor did I know if I would ever escape. I was certain of only one fact these days, even if I didn't know for how long it had been true: I was no longer fine.
Taste of Life The sky is pale and birds sing their morning songs, serenading my daughter and I as we sit together on the front porch. My steaming mug of coffee is cradled in my palms, its bold scent tempting me into alertness. She sits with her own floral-patterned cup, ceramic clutched in both small hands, the coffee inside the shade of chocolate milk. “How d’you drink it like that?” she inquires, her voice cutting across the birdsong as she scrunches her nose up at my rich, sugarless coffee. “I just do. I didn’t like it this way when I was your age, though.” I clear my throat. Shuffle my feet. In the distance, a squirrel is causing a ruckus in a tree. “I only started drinking it at all ‘cause of my dad.” “You did?” The first time I’d shared a cup of coffee with my father, I had just turned eight. My mother had warned him against it with a note of frazzled exasperation. “He’s already bouncing off the walls. The last thing he needs is caffeine.” But one morning I’d woken up extra early, a time that belonged to the dawn and the early birds like my father, and for these few brief moments, it belonged to me, too. He’d sat with his steaming mug on the porch, enjoying these precious minutes in which no demands were placed on him, no work called his name. Birds sang their morning songs, and cautiously I sipped at the drink he’d pressed into my hands, wanting--perhaps expecting--to like it, this grown-up drink of men like my father. Terrible. Too strong and too bitter, and what kind of flavor was that supposed to be? How could anyone stand the stuff? Forcing myself to swallow the mouthful I’d taken, I’d grimaced as though it were poison and left the rest of the cup untouched. My father just rumbled with laughter and drank it instead. I nod in answer to my daughter’s question. Smile at her but really at the memories. The early morning breeze rustles her ponytail, sends little ripples through our drinks. “Yep. Your grandpa… you woulda had a blast with him. And he woulda loved you.” This I know. My father and daughter had never met each other, but had they been afforded the opportunity, he would have adored her, and she would have idolized him.
“What was he like?” She will never know the quickness with which my father’s laughter came, the kindness with which he taught and guided and scolded, the openness with which he loved. But there is plenty I can share with her, a well full of memories to draw from and sketch a picture in her mind. I chuckle a little to myself, a dozen recollections flitting across my mind that, to me, sum my father up perfectly. “He was a good man…quite a character. He and I used to sit together just like this and drink our coffee together, too.” Eventually, years after my initial taste and rejection, I’d ventured another try. Morning chats with my father over coffee became a regular thing. For him, the drink was the necessary burst of caffeine, the injection of energy needed to spark him into action and keep him going through the day, a firework that would not stop kicking and sputtering through an overlong fuse. For me, coffee became the drink of dawn, the taste of life lessons and quiet moments. He always drank his black and strong; I could only stomach it when it was at least half comprised of milk and sugar, no longer its original rich brown but a light chocolate milk shade not unlike my daughter’s. When she had first tried a sip of my coffee, rich and dark as it was, her face had twisted up in much the same way mine had back then. Of course, I’d known exactly what to do, exactly how to doctor it with milk and tease it with sugar until it was satisfactorily sweet.
“Just like us?” she asks, blowing gently over the surface of her drink to cool it down. “Yeah. He got up every morning at five sharp, no matter if it was a workday or not.” Crazy. That’s what I remember calling him as a kid. A crazy old man. Eventually I supposed I’d lost my mind too, because his reasoning came to make sense. “He always said it was the best part of his day, when he could just sit and watch the world wake up.” You could have set a clock by him, my dad. The man had his routines, and he never strayed from them. His great red coffee container had always been a staple of the kitchen cabinet; he bought and drank his favorite brand with the same loyalty he’d shown my mother and I, the company he’d devoted forty years of his life to, and everyone else he’d ever promised anything to. Once, I’d persuaded him to give the overpriced, sugary drinks of a coffee shop a try. Much like the first time I’d taken a sip of the stronger stuff, his face had twisted in disgust.
“Too sweet,” he’d grunted, nudging the disposable cup towards me. He did drink at coffee shops after that, but only with me and only plain black. Somewhere along the way I
came to prefer it that way too, with a strong scent to bring me alive in the morning and an almost bitter aftertaste. Whenever I visited home, Dad and I shared our traditional drink in chipped mugs, spat out by the coffee pot from 1994 that chugged steadily along just like my old man. My daughter’s eyes widen at the idea of rising with the sun every day. Dark circles cradle her red, raw eyes, and there is little doubt in my mind that she will be revisiting her dreams before the sun is directly overhead, once she has burned through whatever fleeting energy the caffeine will provide. Her finger idly traces the pink floral pattern on her mug. My father’s favorite mug had been a gift from me for a Father’s Day now decades past. It hasn’t been used in years, but still it sits high on a shelf in my kitchen with all its memories — a hundred conversations, a thousand moments of laughter and lessons and love. But also affixed to it is a certain heaviness, the weight of a football game blaring in tinny TV quality behind me, the only sound in the quiet house, while in front of me in his easy chair, his eyes were closed in a sleep that wasn’t really sleep at all. The mug sat, cold and untouched, on the table beside him.
The More Things Change The cruiser rumbled over the rocky road, wheels kicking up dust and debris. Officer Ed Branley took a gulp of coffee and swiped one fat hand over his mouth. “I'd kill for a decent jelly donut right about now,” he said wistfully, staring out the window as they passed a little shop with a white overhang. Curly pink letters declared it to be Sandra's Donut Shop, but the lights were off inside, and the door hung limply from its hinges. With a sigh and shake of his head, Ed stomped on the gas pedal and sped off in the opposite direction. The radio had long since fallen into disrepair, but Ed hummed Born to be Wild to himself anyway while his partner, fellow officer Carter Willis, absently tapped a beat into the windowsill. Songs from yesteryear, jelly donuts, and his dog Lula were about as rare as diamonds in that they were they only three things in the world with the power to make Ed Branley smile. Suddenly Carter straightened up. “Two o'clock.” Ed nodded. “I see it. You want it, or should I?” “I'll take this one. Just get me closer.” Ed took another gulp of cold coffee, wiped his mouth, and pulled the car to a squealing stop ten feet from a slow, lumbering figure in a Red Sox cap. Carter leaned out of the open window, gun in hand. “Hey!” The baseball cap was pulled low enough that Carter couldn't make out much of the face, but he was disgusted enough by the choice of apparel. The figure turned its head questioningly toward the officer, who now had his gun trained at the Red Sox logo. Carter squeezed the trigger, and the baseball fan hit the dirt. “That's for your shitty taste in teams.” Ed chuckled as Carter ducked back inside the window of the blood-streaked cruiser. “Cardinals fan through and through, aren't ya?” “They would've won it.” There was a note of sullenness beneath the firm instance. "If their lead pitcher hadn't gotten bit—" “Whatever you say, kid.” “I'm telling you, they would've had it.” Ed guffawed and slapped Carter on the shoulder, allowing, in his momentary distraction, the vehicle to sway dangerously toward the pile-up of abandoned cars on the road's shoulder. He jerked the wheel to the left, and the car veered back onto the road. “Not saying they wouldn't have. We'll never know, will we? The World Series was the last thing on everyone's mind once shit hit the fan.”
Carter opened his mouth to reply, but Ed caught sight of a figure twenty feet from his own window and slammed on the brakes, sending them both lurching forward. “That one's mine.” Ed seized his gun from its holster, leaned out the window, and addressed the shuffling figure with baggy jeans around its knees. “Hey, you! Pull up your goddamn pants!” The figure turned toward them, exposing the gaping wound on the side of its head; its hungry moan was cut short by a bullet to the brain. “Nothin' but road kill,” grumbled Ed as they whizzed off again, leaving the body heaped in the dirt. “That's all they are. These things, they don't have minds like you and me. They don't know how to survive." He cackled, as if he'd made a joke, and stamped hard on the gas. A human figure loomed larger and larger in the window as they sped toward it; within moments, it was slamming into car with a mighty thud, rolling over the roof, and dropping out of sight. "See? Even Lula here knows to get the hell out of the way when she sees a car speeding toward her." Lula gave an agreeable bark from the backseat, tail thumping at the sound of her name. "Please tell me this isn't going to turn into another rant about how the new generation consisted of a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings with no common sense," sighed Carter. "If you'll notice, old man, I'm still alive." "Sure, but still— you didn't see zombie apocalypses happening back in my day." There was a definite smugness in Ed's voice, and from there he launched into a reminiscence of the good old days when people actually feared having guns pointed at their heads as opposed to lunging, teeth bared, at those doing the pointing. As if to prove his point, he slowed to a stop a few yards from the nearest zombie and made show of brandishing his weapon at the unimpressed, unafraid decomposing corpse. He squeezed the trigger, putting an end to the horrid thing's unlife. Together, they rumbled along dirt roads clogged with cadavers, Ed continuing in his complaints about the state of the world these days, Carter making the occasional exasperated grunt in response. Some things, it was a relief to realize, would forever remain the same.
The Pain of Pancakes Oh so carefully, Derick measures out the flour, the baking powder. Accidentally adds a pinch too much salt, which essentially means the entire batch has been ruined, and he has to start again. Flour. Baking powder. Salt. Sugar. All perfect, precise, each ingredient measured exactly and lumped together in a lime-green bowl. Derick goes about melting the butter next, selects the best three eggs from his fridge, then beats the new ingredients into the powdery, grainy white mix. Not until he opens the topmost cabinet and finds it lacking does he realize his dilemma. There are no chocolate chips in the house. Five minutes later he is bundled in coat and gloves and scarf, ready to walk out the door. It's a chilly Sunday afternoonâ€”the kind with unforgiving gray skies and wind that cuts through clothes like daggers; Derick generally avoids going out on such days. He stands at the doorway, braced between the safe, knowable world of his apartment and the one beyond. The distance from his building to the store is roughly 500 million light years. Entire galaxies, planetary systems, and soul-sucking black holes litter the path between the starting and ending points, or at least that's how it feels. Time stretches on; it is still and quiet enough that if he listens closely, he can hear his watch ticking the seconds away. Sweat runs in rivers over his face. His heart pounds like a wayward drum against his ribcage. Derick wouldn't bother at all except that she is coming, and coming soon. Pancakes, especially the chocolate chip kind, are at the top of a very short list of foods she considers acceptable. If not for her, Derick would happily shut the door on the outside world. Finally, after several moments of tense deliberation, he sticks his foot outside. Nothing happens. Another step. His shirt is sticking to his back. Down the stairs. His shoulders ache from holding them so stiffly. He manages to make it completely out the door before his chest tightens up and robs him of oxygen. Ever since the accident, this panic has been a part of his life whenever he ventures outside the apartment. He's learned to live with it. Mostly. He blunders forward, gulping air and forcing icy breath inside his burning chest. It takes a few more minutes down a deserted alleyway before he regains control. Slipping his way along icy sidewalks, Derick picks his way across several snowy blocks. The sky is a wintry gray, and the sun shines weakly. Occasionally, a car drives past, kicking up blackened sludge in the wake of its wheels, but Derick passes no one else on the sidewalks except a scrawny stray cat. At last, he finds himself on the slushy pavement of the grocery store parking lot. The double doors of the building welcome
him with a sudden rush of warm air. He maneuvers as stealthily as possible between the store shelves, avoiding contact with everyone who comes near him. He waits patiently, his skin growing hot beneath his heavy coat, for two women to finish their conversation and remove their carts from the middle of the aisle he is attempting to walk down. Finally they notice him standing there and move. Derick scurries past them, his eyes glued to the shelves full of baking ingredients. There are four brands of chocolate chip bags in front of him. Slowly, deliberately, Derick reaches out and picks one up. Weighs it in his hand. Puts it back. He reaches for another, a bright yellow bag, and shifts it from palm to palm. Katie's favorite color is yellow. Yes, he feels sure yellow is the way to go. Cradling the yellow bag in both hands, he heads back up the aisle where the two women are still talking, their carts now parked on either side of the narrow space like some bizarre gateway. At the end of the aisle he pauses, tilts his head; there is a display of colorful flower-shaped pinwheels arranged in a brown cardboard pot, a sight quite at odds with the wintry scene outside. There's one with a green stem and yellow petals. He plucks this one from its cardboard pot and makes his way toward the front of the store again. An elderly man brushes against his shoulder on his way up the aisle, making Derick jump backward into the display of dog treats behind him, which cascades to the ground. "Are you okay, son?" the man inquires, pausing in the act of choosing a bag of cat food from the shelf. "I'm fine, thank you," Derick stammers, hurriedly stacking the dog treat boxes back in their original positions. "Maybe you should sit down. You don't look too well..." "I'm fine, thanks," Derick says again, not looking at the man, his focus on restacking the boxes with one hand, his other hand still clinging to the chocolate chips and the yellow flower pinwheel. "I just need to put the boxes back and get chocolate chips for Katie's pancakes.” "Oh...okay..." “She's my daughter, Katie,” he says, the words tumbling out as the thoughts bounce uncontrollably around his head. “She likes the chocolate chip kind. And yellow. That's why I have this.” He brandishes the flower pinwheel and replaces another box. The elderly man nods. “Oh, uh...of course.”
He stands there watching until Derick finishes with the boxes. He can feel the man's eyes on his back as he walks away. He chooses the self-checkout, slides his card, bags his purchases, and then hurries back out into the harsh, bitter wind, carrying his bag in one arm and stepping carefully around the ice on the sidewalks. The cold fills his lungs, stings his ears, makes him yearn for the heat of his apartment. The suburban streets leading toward his house are a picture perfect wonderland, with heaps of white snow blanketing their lawns and glistening on their bare trees and evergreens, but Derick can't find it in himself to appreciate the view; he reminds himself that Katie will most certainly be pleased with the pancakes and with the yellow flower pinwheel. Finally, when his toes have all but frozen in his shoes and his fingers are stiff and numb, he reaches the apartment building. A delivery truck is parked in front of it. A great long thing, heavy and solid and Derick closes his eyes at the sight of it. When he opens them again, the truck is still there, immovable, unchallengeable. His knees threaten to give out. He can't breathe under the barrage of memories. They come at him in a vicious assault, piercing his skin and squeezing the air from his lungs. He sees slick pavement, hears squealing tires, can practically feel the flashing lights that seem to pound into his skull, alternating red and blue.... He sees uniforms and grim faces, sees the monstrous truck and the monster who had been driving it, a young man, his face ashen and tearstained, regretting a moment of distraction he could never take back.... He sees the bike with the yellow basket—once a prized possession of a five year old girl, now a mangled distortion of metal in the street. And worst of all he sees his daughter, Katie, her sweet, angelic face—so still in the ambulance, the hospital bed, the coffin. Never again would he see the light in her eyes. Never again would she laugh or smile.... Tears have replaced the sweat on Derick's pink, wind-whipped face. As he stands —locked in a mental prison of the past, of steel on steel collisions and grim-faced surgeons and coffins that should never be made so small—the delivery truck driver exits the building and climbs back into the relative warmth of his vehicle. The sidewalk is splattered with melted snow and black sludge as he drives past, off to the next delivery. The wind continues to bite into his exposed skin as he stands there, eyes glazed over, still staring at the spot where the truck had been parked. Suddenly the bag in his arms is unimportant; slowly, as if in a trance, he sets it at his feet and straightens back up. Dark spots bleed through the brown paper where the snow soaks through. He neither sees this nor feels the bitter wind on his cheeks, nipping at whatever skin it can reach; the past has come rushing full force into the present, the floodgates of memory flattened as the excruciating recollections burst through.
He leaves the bag where it is and hurries into the apartment building, snow falling in cold wet clumps from his shoes all the way up the stairs. He flings the apartment door open and slams it shut behind him. In three swift strides he is in the living room, where he finds himself staring at his own wall. Portraits of Katie throughout her life stand out against the dull white paint. The first is of Katie as a newborn, swaddled in pink, tiny mouth open in a perfectly round O. Derick reverently brushes the ornate frame. The next is of Katie at a year old, staring inquisitively at a chocolate cupcake with a single yellow candle in its center. Katie at two in a new dress. Katie at three with a teddy bear. Katie at four on Christmas morning. Derick stares. Removes Katie at five from its place on the wall. Clutches the portrait as if it alone tethers him to the earth. Katie at five stands proud and tall with her brand new bicycle, complete with a yellow basket and pom pom streamers. The glass frame is marred by a long, jagged crack. Blood pounds against Derick's ears, his fingertips tracing the crack. His throat tightens, and a strangled, wounded sound escapes as he hurls the framed photo against the opposite wall, where it hits with a satisfying crack. He sinks to his knees, words of denial desperately clawing at the insides of his skull. Not her, not her, not her. At last, a sharp rapping at the front door penetrates his consciousness. Derick lifts his head from his hands. Slowly, he climbs to his feet. He catches sight of the kitchen on the way to the door. A lime-green bowl sits amid various pancake ingredients. I'd better hurry and finish those. He pulls open the door. Hannah, a neighbor from down the hall, is holding a soggy brown grocery bag in her arms and frowning up at him. “Derick? Um, I found this on the sidewalk outside in front of the building... is it yours?″ Derick peers into the bag. His face lights up. ″Oh good, chocolate chips. These'll be perfect for Katie's pancakes.” He relieves his neighbor of the bag and clutches the soggy paper against him, still talking. “She's my daughter, Katie. She likes her chocolate chips. And yellow. She'll love this.” He extracts the pinwheel from the bag and holds it up, examining its yellow petals, its vibrant green stem. “Good. Well, I'd better be going,” says Hannah, giving a little wave as she heads back up the hall.
Derick shuts the door behind her and turns to survey his kitchen, where bowls, spoons, and ingredients are scattered over the counter. He strides over to the bowl awaiting its chocolate chipsâ€”the perfect finishing touchâ€”and smiles as he scoops them into the batter, just knowing that Katie will love them.
Eng 201-40 The End