Going Up

He honestly never thought he'd find himself called back to duty. Lenny never sees it coming. His starched uniform hangs so far back in his closet, it's now practically part of the wood paneling. The cancer has actually made him a smaller man than he once was, so fitting into the old uniform, most likely, would not be a problem.

On his fourth visit to the hospital for chemo, Lenny steps into an elevator that quickly fills to near capacity. He finds himself closest to the buttons. The shouting begins; "Fourth floor", "I need tenth, please". The moment his finger presses the circular, indented number 'ten', Lenny can almost feel his white gloves reappear. "Twelfth floor, please", a foreign voice breaks from the back. All the buttons pressed and glowing, Lenny inches back and clasps his hands behind his back, settling into position.

On each floor, he removes his stocking cap and nods politely to everyone exiting, "have a pleasant day". Finally, it is only Lenny and a tall middle eastern man watching carefully from the back of the space. As he exits the elevator, the man removes his own stocking cap and abruptly turns back and faces Lenny.

"My wife has just passed. She was fifty-four years old."
Lenny grabs at the closing door, forcing it to remain open; confronting one another.
"I'm retired. We have no children and no family here."
Lenny swallows, nothing but dry throat. He nods slowly, thinking about the slow drip that will soon be in his arm. He thinks about seeing his grandchild and the cribbage game he has later that afternoon with his neighbor. He thinks about his wife, getting her hair done before coming to pick him up.
"Thank you for saying something to me, I thought I had turned into a ghost", the man says before turning down the hall.

Lenny lets the doors slide shut, travels up to his final destination, the 13th floor, and momentarily steps away from his post.



Half-stumbling down the carpeted stairs, I find my way into the kitchen only by the soft voices of public radio, and the smells of his daily toasted peanut butter bagel. It is 7am and by now he has already gone for a long hike, spotted four blue jays on the new feeder, and made a list of "things to do before the weekend" - so that he may relax.

His eyes never leave the paper in front of him. "You're up early". "I couldn't sleep. And now I just feel like shit". Finally, his eyes dart upwards - contact. I take my finger and swab at the glob of peanut butter on his otherwise empty plate. "You want me to make you a bowl of cereal?" I soften and slump in my seat, "Yes, please".

The peanut butter crunch balls bob up and down in the cold, white milk. I push them down with the back of my spoon, not wanting to let any of them up for air. "I took your bike down to the shop", his voice breaking the BBC World news hour. "I noticed it was a bit banged up. Looks like it took a tumble." My cheeks flush. I'm replaying the exhilarating moment I threw the bike down the concrete stairs.

"My heart hurts"
"Your head hurts?"
"My HEART hurts"
"Did you fall off your bike?"
"It has a fissure"
"If you fell forward on your bike you may have some rib damage"
"My bike didn't do anything to me. Paul punched me in the heart. At our park"

Pops cheeks flush, "He punched you?"

"I'm pretty sure I can feel the blood dripping out..."
The radio is snapped off.
"I'm very confused, Claire. Did Paul hit you?"

The peanut butter balls are drowning. They're losing their peanut-butterness because I've held them under too long; drowning in the milk.

"Metaphorically. Yes. Very, very hard. With a large, metal club"
A deep sigh appears. I don't know if it came from me or pops. We stare at each other for a moment. He reaches out his large, weathered hand and ruffles my hair.

"I saw a Bewrick's Wren today. Not often you see them"
"Like 'once in a lifetime'? Or like, 'another one will come along'?"
"Oh sure, another one always comes along"
I brush away the stupid drops of water running down my face, and stuff a big spoonful of soggy peanut butter balls in my mouth.
(muffled due to peanut butter balls) "I'll keep my eyes open"



It isn't until his third trip up to the counter, to add more cream to his empty coffee cup, that I notice his shoeless feet. Shoeless Joe Jackson, in the house.

He takes tiny sips of half and half from the coffee houses' ceramic mug, nourishing his clogged arteries. It's the perfect distraction I need to assist in my procrastinating. No matter what my imagination is giving me today, I have yet to put pen to paper. We're at a standstill me and my imagination, and Shoeless Joe Jackson is just another reminder of that; here he is, in front of me, and I can't find the words to share.

'Portly hispanic man wearing his best tube socks waits in corner coffee shop for lightning to strike'. That's the headline bubble I imagine over his head. He stands up a few times to stretch and look out the great window that allows us coffee shop-dwellers a glimpse of the outside world. The sound of traveling thunder drowns out Thelonius Monk, and I see Mr. Shoeless eyes' grow large at the first streak of lightning.

"Tut-tut, it looks like rain", I hear the sounds come out of my mouth
Shoeless turns and looks at me.
"That won't do me no good", he glares.
"Rico, you're mother called and she needs you to pick up her dry cleaning", the sound of Marie calling out from behind the counter.
"Dammit", my portly friend responds. He walks over to my tiny table, sets down his mug and gives me a wink,
"Take care of that for me, sweetie?" I nod my head 'yes' or 'sure' and compulsively wink back.

He heads towards the door, where my eyes finally rest on a pair of green men's galoshes. He slips his socked feet into the boots. His final departing cry,
"'Til the rains come tumbling down!"


liquid plummer

"It felt like a blockage.", the girl said.
"So how much did you add"
"I just kept adding and adding and adding, until I couldn't see straight anymore"

The girl draws in a deep breath. "It feels like I can't breathe"
She kicks off one of her shoes. It flies across the room, hitting her favorite antique lamp, the one of the geisha girl holding up a large umbrella/lampshade.
The girl drops the phone and runs into the next room, arms flailing, tears streaking down her face. The boy stares out the window, full moon mocking. "Are you still there?"

There is no vomit, only a purging of words and fists and fits, and she is outside herself and beside herself and clothes are coming off her body, until finally she collapses, naked on the bed, exhausted and undone.

new old

How stupid am I? My new birthday boots, heels even, in my excitement find themselves on my feet, bounding through piles of freshly dropped snow. They'll never make it to the bus stop and then...and then...a connecting bus even, even, even. He didn't buy them for me. I bought them for myself. He gave me a book. And a CD, that he'd like to borrow and burn, if that's alright. But now I'm 33 and I'm confused by this, why I would wreck something I love so much, and equally slowing myself down in the freshly dropped piles of snow. I stare at my reflection in the window, sure that there is a bruise, a blemish; some physical evidence of why I choose to be unhappy. My mind reels, and in fact my face stares back at me, taut and glowing, perfect, individual snowflakes in slow motion around me, dropping gently on my hood. Will my side ponytail hold up? No time to dwell...as the bus blows by; clearly I am unseen.


deb and keith

Room 2511, 11th floor, Renaissance, Schaumberg Hotel.

Lying in bed, red-wine boozy head sunken in plush pillows. Looking at the digital clock and wondering where my parents are. No ticking second hand to keep rhythm with my thoughts.

Leaving the dance floor at the bequest of my swollen feet; four hours of wedding reception dancing still flushing out the system. I think about my father's strong, gentle hands at the small of my equally small mother's back. Two people, one set of parents. Young couples melt into each other's private parts...eager to penetrate new flesh, swell around them. They are old and find each other with ease. Shadows brushing up against each other on wet streets.

In that small part of my mother's back my father remembers brownies left outside his dorm room door, babies pushed out of intimate places, and tickets to Peter, Paul, and Mary...standing outside the alley, smoking cigarettes behind the venue. He is young with her and has no image of that older man, lost to himself in the mirror of a quick shave this morning.

I hear their soft footsteps outside our room and wonder if they are aware of the curfew that has been broken. Should I pretend to sleep? Will they remember that their eldest sleeps less than a foot from their bed, one day ago in diapers between them? I am thirty-two and feel thirteen. What were they thinking making me worry?

My father enters first and sinks down on the bed. He looks at me in the dark and asks, "Did I tell you what movie we're watching next in our Netflix queue?" My mother tucks me in tighter and mumbles, "...so little". I listen to the faucet running, brushes brushing. Soft light from under the bathroom door.

My father rises, kisses me on the cheek, turns and kneels next to his bed. Head bowed; his final daily dance. (The humble act of thanksgiving and blessing and fatigue.) My body stills and finds comfort in the memory of prayer...and love.


the fall of the last good listener

The croissant flakes linger on her lips as she talks. I pick up a little spoon and stir my coffee, black with nothing in it, as a distraction. I'm trying to see the girl I once knew in the face in front of me, but something has changed. Her once bleach-blond hair, now a deep chestnut color, is the most obvious difference. Using her hands to sweep up the croissant crumbs from the table, I notice the small, gold band on her left ring finger, and feel a shiver of disappointment run through me when I realize that in the hour we have spent together, I have yet to hear about a man in her life.

A memory forms in front of me, of picking her up after school, watching her weave through the other teenagers with an unnatural confidence. Her mother would often ask me to pick her up on Fridays so that we could do something that would distract Kristina from getting into trouble downtown. It wasn't really in our 'Big Sister' contract to act as a distraction, but I got the drift.

"You still with Jamie?", she asks.
"seventeen years"
"Dang. That's longer than most"
I decide not to tell her about our large, lingering fight this morning.
"How about you? Anyone special in your life?"

She twists her delicate wrist and looks at her watch.
"I need to pick up Kiera at 2 from my mom's. I should probably get going"
"You want one more cup before you go?"
"No. But you wanna share a cigarette with me outside?"

We stand up simultaneously. I can feel the adrenaline run through me from the last time we shared a cigarette, under a tree in the pouring rain, the day I lost the baby.

She pulls out a crumpled pack of American Spirits and hands one to me. I light up first. Kristina puts hers in her mouth, leans towards my face and pushes it towards the tip of mine. We stand close, cigarettes touching, light burning.

"It would be nice to see you more often. It was really nice to catch up today", I say.
She looks at me blankly, tilts her eyes up to the sky.
"I've been on a lot more meds these days. But it's good. I feel calmer."

She takes a long, slow drag.
"It looks like rain. I think I left my windows rolled down. Better go. Thanks Mia!"
A low rumble echoes from the sky. The sun disappears and I can feel the heavy pitter patter of drops fall on my head.