The Dream

chocolatepuppy

The man’s son is 11 and dreams about a puppy.

He tells the man about his dream one morning. The man is drinking coffee before work, paging through a magazine. He pauses on the perfume ads and traces beautiful people with his eyes. His hair sticks up and his stubbled beard is gray.

His son says, “Every night I dream we are looking at puppies. One of them loves me so much and wants to go home with me. Then I ask you and mom if we can keep it, and you say yes and then I’m so happy. But then I wake up and I realize it was just a dream and I say ‘Oh’, and I just have to get up like every other day.”

The man nods his head and turns the pages of his magazine. Beautiful people have found blue water and sunshine; they put their hands on each other with their eyes closed and they have never known loneliness.

He looks, then, at his son. The boy is smiling, still tuned to the joy of the vision even though there is no puppy and he’s perched here with the man on the cold gray granite surface of this day. How much should he tell his son about what is to come? When is the time to start breaking his son’s heart, just a little, for his own good?

He turns a page. Beautiful people kick water into diamond droplets with the sunshine in their eyes.

“I’ll tell you, son,” the man says and his son’s eyes grow wider and hope flares in them like a beach fire, “that is a good dream.”

Chairs

Cameron had his own easy chair in the front room. It was covered with a wool blanket. Nobody else ever sat in that chair, but it was always as if he were sitting there, anyway. His spirit had taken command of that chair. Old people have a way of doing that with the furniture they end their lives sitting in. — Richard Brautigan, 44:40

There was the chair in his study upstairs. Surrounded by books. Piled on the floor, piled on the desk, bending the shelves. To us it was for spinning. Round and round. A winter merry-go-round. Faster, faster, the room a blur, til we were so dizzy we stood and fell sideways across the sloping floor.

There was the one in the living room in front of the TV. The black leather recliner surrounded by pipes and tobacco pouches, books on the floor there too, watermarks on the side table from the highball glass. Bourbon on the rocks with the evening news. Here we lay on his chest when we could not sleep, breathed the warm smells of him with the sounds of Kojack and Columbo and Rockford in one ear, his breathing, his heartbeat in our other.

There was the chair that started the argument. Too big. Too ugly. Brown, teddy-bear soft, a fat throne for the king of the room. That chair started badly, but from that chair he read to us. And soon it was not his chair alone. It was Frodo’s chair, Gandalf’s chair, Bigwig’s chair. Huckleberry Finn, The Mad Hatter, they sat there too.

Sitting in the mother-in-law’s recliner on Mercer Island, WA he read his own future from the Seattle Times. Atomic veterans. Cancer. Thirty years after exposure. I sat on the floor beside the chair, listened as he read the article. I watched him as he ran the numbers on himself: Twenty-four years at that point.

There was the chair at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Green pleather in the shadow of an IV stand. He drove himself to sit in it. But after the IV bags emptied into his blood, he still had the pride, but not the strength to drive himself home.  I had a learner’s permit then. I took the wheel.

Then another brown chair. Fat recliner in his study in the house beside the bay. That chair didn’t match the décor, but no one cared. It was chosen for comfort and hope against hope. The chair never moved, but he slid away. That was the last chair.

This Post Is Not About Baseball

Edgar_1

The Seattle Mariners baseball club has been terrible for nearly all of forever. But in 1995 they had a moment. They broke through, made it to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. Yesterday our local sports channel replayed one of the playoff games from that exciting season. Fifty-six thousand seattlites crowded into the Kingdome — now 14 years a pile of dust — and collectively held their breath as the Mariners fell behind, clawed back to tie, then won on a line-drive Edgar Martinez home run.

As the ball sailed over the centerfield fence the crowd screamed, then roared, then bounced, then hugged, then roared, screamed, danced and hugged some more. The camera panned across the pandemonious throng. Kids, grownups, old people. All agape with wonder at their team’s sudden reversal of fortune. They danced. They danced. They danced.kingdome

That moment is over now. Almost twenty years gone now. And the people in that crowd who shared that day: the kids are all grownups, the grownups are old and the old people are dead.

Brief Thoughts On Failure

I can accept failure, but I can't accept not trying -- Michael JordanIf you push yourself beyond all previous limits, strive to achieve more than you’ve ever tried to achieve before, drive yourself to take on those complex challenges that frighten you and, in so doing, fail, still you have succeeded. If you stay within safe limits, take on only those challenges that you know you can handle, demand of yourself that you try to achieve only those things you’ve achieved before and, in so doing, succeed, still you have failed.

By this standard, I’ve been succeeding a lot lately…I’m proud of that…

Bodies In Motion — Chapter 3

Debbie herded Amy off to the library and Owen returned to his own dorm. When he walked into his room the curtains were drawn across the window and the room was dark. The air was thick and humid and it smelled of breath and sweat and the recent secret movement of bodies. Owen switched on his desk lamp and in the dim light he could see two pairs of feet entwined in the jumbled blankets of his roommate’s bed. In the bed lay Owen’s roommate and a girl. She was not the roommate’s girlfriend. Owen could see the girl’s naked back, and her long bare legs. The blankets bunched loosely across her butt, giving her at least that small privacy. The roommate and the girl were dead asleep.

Owen pulled his books out of his backpack and held them high above his empty desk and then let them go. They hit the desk top like a rifle shot. The feet in the bed flinched and then the roommate and the girl writhed and groaned and stretched themselves awake.

“Roomie,” the roommate said to Owen.

“I’m home,” Owen said.

“I see that,” the roommate said. He looked at the girl; she was lying comfortably next to him, putting her fingers through his unkempt hair. The roommate slid his hands under the covers and groped her and she giggled and he rolled on top of her. Owen turned away from the roommate’s naked backside. The girl whispered something to the roommate who rolled to his feet and pulled on his jeans.

“Yeah, we should go somewhere. I’m starved. Here’s your clothes,” the roommate said and tossed a wad of clothes to the girl in his bed.

Owen sat at his desk looking into an opened physics text book and he waited for the roommate and the girl to finish dressing.

“We’re going to eat or something,” the roommate said. “You never saw me.” He and the girl brushed past his desk and out the door. Owen heard the girl laugh as the door shut behind them and then the muffled sound of their voices receding down the hallway and then nothing. He got up from his desk and opened the window. Fresh cool air flooded in and cleaned the air inside the room.

Owen was at his desk reading later that evening when he heard a knock on his door. He got up and opened the door. In the hallway stood his roommate’s girlfriend Kim. She was a short, dark-haired girl with a round face and eyes like a tortured kitten. She wore a long t-shirt that covered her almost to her knees, but her legs were bare and on her feet she wore a pair of pink fuzzy slippers.

“Is he here?” She asked. She wrung her hands nervously in front of her.

“I haven’t seen him,” Owen said.

Kim stood in the hallway and looked down at her pink slippers. She looked down the hall for a moment as though she was expecting the roommate to appear at that instant. Then she looked past Owen into the empty room.

“Can I sleep here again?” she asked.

Owen backed out of the doorway so she could come in. “If you want,” he said. “Come on in. I’m just reading.”

“OK, thanks, Owen,” Kim said. “I’ll be real quiet.” Kim scuffed her slippered feet past him and went to the roommate’s bed. She pulled back the rumpled covers, kicked off her slippers and climbed in and pulled the blankets over her body. She curled into a fetal ball and lay quietly facing the wall. Owen went back to his desk and began reading again. It had been half an hour when there was another knock at the door. This time when Owen looked into the hallway he found The Bishop standing before him with a violin in his hand.

The Bishop was Dan Bishop. He lived down the hall from Owen and he was known on the floor to be full of advice for everyone on every topic. All of the advice was bad advice. The Bishop had no experience with anything he weighed in on, but that never stopped him. He was especially forthcoming with advice on women and people humored him, but no one took him seriously since all of his supposed girlfriends went to other universities or lived, unverifiably, in Canada.

“I gotta come in,” he said and he didn’t wait for Owen to agree. He simply stepped forward and turned his wiry frame and slipped past Owen. He crossed the room and sat down on the windowsill, his back against the glass. “You have to listen to this for me,” he said and he lifted the violin to his chin and began playing. He wasn’t bad, but it was late and the squeal of the strings shredded the delicate quiet.

Owen waved his hands at The Bishop and Kim sat up in the roommate’s bed.

The Bishop stopped his bow and looked apologetically at Kim. “Hey, Kim. Sorry. I didn’t know you were here. I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“I wasn’t sleeping,” Kim said. “Just waiting for him.”

“Yeah. I haven’t seen him,” The Bishop said. “Owen, I just wanted to talk to you. I might have met someone.”

“You’ve been to Canada today?”  Said Owen.

Kim laughed out loud and The Bishop raised a middle finger at both of them.

“I’ve been to the student union, asshole. She was in the coffee shop and I actually went up and talked to her. She’s a music major and I told her I played the violin. She was interested. I’m going to write her something. A song.”

“On the violin?” Owen said.

“Why not on the violin? I’m good. You’ve heard me play.”

“Yes. I didn’t say you were bad. I just don’t know how many great seductions have started with a violin.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Kim said from the bed.

“There you go,” said The Bishop. “Thank you, Kim. You are very wise.”

“She’s a girl,” Owen said.

“Meaning what?” Kim said.

“Meaning just – If something sounds romantic you guys love it no matter how corny the idea is. If he walked up to you and started playing the violin, I guarantee you wouldn’t go home with him,” Owen said.

“If I liked the violin, I might,” Kim said. “I would appreciate that he did something for me. That he knew what I liked and did it for me.”

“You’re very encouraging, Kim,” said The Bishop hopping down from the window sill. “I’m going to work on this. I’m going to do this.” The Bishop opened the door. “Thanks again, Kim. Fuck you very much, Owen.”

When the door closed, Owen looked back at Kim. She sat in the center of the bed, swaddled in the soiled sheets.

“You can’t encourage him,” Owen said to her. “He’s going to make a fool of himself.”

“What’s wrong with romantic?” Kim said. “You should appreciate that. Of all people.”

“What does that mean?” Owen asked.

“Oh, come on, Owen,” Kim said. “You’re just like him.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means you guys would both rather fall in love than get laid.” Kim lay down in the bed again and rolled again to face the wall. “Believe me,” she said from the shadows, her voice muffled by the pillow, “it’s a good thing.”

…chapter 4 next week

In Aisles

Grocery Store Aisle(flash fiction, 989 words)

My wife points out marriage should be a partnership. “This home is not, in fact, your castle,” she says. She thinks it best I start with an unskilled job. She gives me grocery shopping. There I am one day at the Safeway, studying the list she’d given me. I’m asking the cashier, “TP? She wrote TP. You know what that means?”

The cashier, pretty girl, blinks. Then I hear behind me this big, gravel voice: “That’s toilet paper, you dumb shit!” I look back and there’s old Tom Wilson with a full cart and his wife’s list too.

“Toilet paper. I should have thought of that. Where’s that going to be?” I ask the girl.

“Up your ass if you use it right,” Tom says. He’s laughing. The girl turns bright red – her cheeks, down her slender neck, even the pale skin of her chest peeking from the collar of her shirt. She smiles and points to aisle nine. I get out of the line and old Tom Wilson rolls up and starts emptying his cart. He’s got a handful of coupons.

“Tom,” I say, “You’re one efficient old gal. Your husband must be proud.”

The girl laughs. Tom flips me the bird.

“Let me know if you need any more help,” the girl says.

“I learned to drive a tank in the army. I think I can do this,” I say and I roll out toward aisle nine.

But it is harder than I thought it would be. There’s too much to choose from. I see the brand they put on TV all the time, but it’s pricey. Then there are the less-expensives, but I don’t know about the quality and my wife’s particular. Some of them have flowers printed on them and I’m not sure I want to go that route.

“Are you finding what you need?”

I look and there’s the cashier girl next to me. She has both hands up behind her head, refixing her blond hair into a ponytail, and that lifts her shirt up above the top of her skirt and I see her slim waist. She’s close and I smell a perfume on her skin, but it might be the smell of bread from the bakery. Either way it’s warm and soft.

“My wife didn’t say which one to get.”

“Well, this one’s on sale this week,” she says and she pulls down an eight-roll pack. “It’s usually the most expensive one.”

“Sold,” I say. I take the package and drop it into my cart. “What’s your name?”

“Samantha.”

“Samantha, maybe I need you to shop for me all the time.”

“I’m here every Wednesday through Sunday.” She reaches out and puts her hand on my forearm and smiles when she says that. She is sunshine and birdsong and then she’s walking away down the aisle, her ponytail swaying as she goes.

I volunteer to go to the supermarket after that. Two, three times a week I’m thinking of something we need.

“Hamburger? Let me run down to Safeway. No tinfoil? I don’t mind going. Ammonia? Mop head? Rutabaga? I’m on it.” I say hi to Samantha every time I’m there; she’s sweet to me and she smiles that smile and I always tell her I’m lost without her. We get to talking. She’s nineteen, starting at the college. She wants to be a forensic accountant. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds beautiful when she says it.

I know I should be questioning myself by this point. I’m nearly three times her age. But damn it, she smiles at me, she leaves what she’s doing when I come in, she goes with me around the store. And I am somebody with her. She sees me. Before Samantha, no one had seen me for years. I had been my wife’s husband, there beside her, turning gray, becoming invisible. Before Samantha saw me, I thought I was my wife’s imaginary friend.

I wasn’t looking, but we found each other. That’s how it is with love: it burns out one place, it will spark up somewhere else. You can’t predict; you can’t question. Just be grateful.

Then one day, after weeks of this, my wife wants to make a kielbasa stew. I have the shopping list. Stew ingredients and other things. I think I can make it with just a basket, but there’s so much vegetable my basket is full before I get to anything else. I need a cart. I go to the front of the store. I’m looking for Samantha as I go. She’s usually here, but I don’t see her.

I get to the carts, still looking for Samantha, when there’s a rumbling from the parking lot. I look through the big windows and there’s old Tom Wilson rolling up on his Harley Davidson. There’s a girl on the back and I know before Tom even stops that it’s Samantha. She swings off the back, pulls off her helmet and her blond hair plunges out. They’re talking, she laughs, he kisses her hand and she bounds toward the door while he shuts down his bike.

The door swishes open and in she comes still smiling and says “Hi, Charlie,” like nothing’s wrong.

I’m smacking my gums, standing there with my vegetables in a cart and my shopping list quivering in my hand.

“Are you finding everything you need? You look lost again.”

I look down at my list. I pick an item at random just to have something to say that isn’t about her and Tom Wilson and what might be going on between them.

“TV,” I say just as Tom Wilson struts in the door behind Samantha. “She wrote TV and I don’t know what that is.”

“Tender Vittles,” Tom says. “It’s cat food, asshole.”

“That’s it,” Samantha says. “Aisle 15. Do you want me to show you?”

“No,” I say. “I know where it is.”

Tacos Are Not Writing

Sometimes I drive around eating tacos from drive-up windows and convince myself that I am writing by thinking about what I will write when I am done with my tacos and I go back home and sit at my desk again. But I’m just fooling myself. Tacos are not writing. Tacos are delicious. But tacos are tacos, thinking is thinking. Only writing is writing.