When She Thought of Him

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper. 

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After the shove or taunt, she imagined herself with the older man who came at night.  He was the one who would cause envy in all those who sneered at her during the day.  He was the one who spoke to her gently, read poetry and didn’t like to dance.   She remembered events that made her happy but never happened.

There were days on end when she didn’t have to think of him at all.  Long summer days when she hid away in the shade where stillness invited the white tail and the fiery red fox.  The twilight evenings when she heard the greeting of her father as the hired hands drove off toward their supper.  When the cool started to settle in she dreaded the call to be sociable outside the need for church.

The whispered jeers and snarling looks of disdain from her peers would not have been so painful if they had not, in turn, been so hypocritically kind to her father.  Their kindness lightened his face with hope when invitations were sent but she refused to go.

“Mrs. Harper will think you rude; you didn’t accept her last invitation.”  She would go and in the prettiest dress but feel awkward and uncomfortable none the less.  She would sit as still as possible allowing her tea to cool or lemonade to grow warm.  She wouldn’t eat a thing for fear of looking more uncouth and gangly then feel the tears burn into her eyes knowing her father was disappointed.  So she thought of the older man who came at night.  He would walk by Mrs. Harper’s window and she would think that he was so handsome and some day she would be the envy of all the lovely girls when she walked by his side.

After such times away from home and books, and bubbling brooks, away from tracks in the snow and blankets of fallen leaves she would think of him.  She saw him in the fields right after harvest, standing alone among the stubbled stalks of corn.  She saw him late at night while the new moon hid in angles; he stood between the broad, tall barn and her lofty old farm house.  He stood and gazed up at her window and when she crept up to the glass to see if indeed he was there, he would not flinch or change expression but continue to stare.

When William only tipped his hat at her not seeing her, she would think of him, tall, angular and looking off into the distance.  When Tom’s smile turned into a laugh as she walked by she thought of him, standing just below her window.

Then one day her father sent her away to Chicago.  The move was sudden and unexpected.  He one day fired all of his hired hands and sent her to Chicago to learn.  Her grief was an agony and only once did she try to plead.  In the city, there was no time to think of him.  She had only time to learn how to set the table, order her meals in French and dance in shoes that pinched.

She had no time to remember and then one spring a gentle touch caused her amnesia regarding the white tail, the fiery red fox, the tracks in the snow and the blanket of multi-colored leaves at her feet.  She may have remained if not for a night at home again.  Smiling at her father, speaking to him in excited tones of what goes on in Chicago.  Asleep in an instant so glad to be home and suddenly awake, the old sadness about her.

He sat on the edge of her bed, broad-shouldered, angular and silent.  If she closed her eyes and willed herself asleep, she would return to the world of whirling seasons, high towers and smiling people.  Or she could open her arms up to him.

He had stayed with her when she was alone, so opening her arms to him she felt the alarm of bitter cold for only a moment and the soft contentment of returning home again.

Photo by m wrona on Unsplash

 

Her Sister’s Room

She wandered into the room.  She was usually so careful but even the best of plain girls make mistakes.  She knew her error when through the doorway the air became still, hushed.  And in between that hush and the next noisy moments; the scraping of chairs and clanking of metal upon metal her entire life was lived; a life, to her surrendered and sighing, full of regret and self-incrimination.  It was as if she had already lived through the consequence and looking back to the day her life changed.  She was beyond the belief of her own existence that she could have been so careless, so arrogant regarding her own health and psyche.

But the moment was gone, with the first brash word that sounded like a scrape upon an old blackboard, intentional and mean-spirited and shouting.

What did she think she was doing, what right did she have?

Her sister and her friends, all beautiful and flouncing when outside and before crowds of admiring, small town fans had crowded into her sister’s room.  Her sister’s room; off limits to such disasters as she.  When indoors, behind the secret keepers of wood and curtains, the darlings grew fangs and acquired a foreign language.  The door to her sister’s room held their vices in and taunted her when she blundered in.  The quick squashing of ill rolled joints smoldering between prettily painted fingertips, the slush of clear filmy liquid capped with rusty sounding metal lids was quickly stuffed away behind flowing, flowering material that draped her sister’s room.

She often wondered if her sister really did like the flounce and prissy look of her room or insisted upon the shape of her things to hide and secret away reprehensible things.   She and her sister had separate rooms and upstairs away from her parents.  But the second story was no stopping point for those who were limber and in on her sister’s secrets.   The laughter, the hushed moans, and the sharp whispers to “shut-up if you want to do this again,” that only she could hear and her parents never fathomed.

And now she was in her sister’s room, in broad daylight, with no more than a direction from her mother to take her sister’s sheets up to her room.  Cream and pink with bits of stylish brown woven into the six hundred count cotton sheet.  She herself had white by her own insistence.  What a thing to think at a time like this.

Makeup smeared and a masculine chuckle and she did not want to look up – if only she thought if only all of her friends weren’t standing around acting as if they had just been disturbed during a private feast.  She felt her stomach lurch when she heard someway say cover him up.

And then, then, a faint call, a singsong sort of wavering request from downstairs.  She was to come down and help with chores.

Gladly and the escape into cool, clean, air unhindered by thick perfume and too many bodies in a closed-door room.  She had escaped into work and cleared space.

“Tell your sister to come down too please.”

“She’s busy,” and she ran out into the yard and down the street, not wanting to be a part of what must surely be coming.

Clever Girl

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you. Just keep working and focus on that.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it. Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what. Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.

Here’s the trick, don’t even think about it.  Don’t think about the sound of old floor boards when the pressure of a foot presses down from who knows who or what.  Don’t think about the dimming of lights and especially don’t even think about what the room looks like behind you.  Just keep working and focus on that.

That’s what I wanted to tell her but I didn’t.  I told her that she was welcome to the coffee in the pot (just brewed), and I showed her the location of the bathroom.  I then left her to become acclimated to working with me and working within my haunted rooms.  When she shivered, I looked up from my manuscript.

“You okay?”

“Yes, felt like someone just walked over my grave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, that’s something my grandmother used to say.  When she felt a cold shiver run down her back or shoulders, she always said that.”

I nodded and smiled while letting my eyes drop back to my manuscript.  It was rude but these Indiana girls had to keep their back-water statements to themselves.  She got right back to work without any sniffs or huffs.  The girls from outside the city were usually very conscientious and she was no exception.  When we broke for lunch I asked her how long she had been living in Chicago.

“About 12 weeks.  I was ready to give it up, I felt so overwhelmed.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t.” I was sincere as I passed her the salt.  I needed her help and, well, I needed someone around.  The cold spots were getting worse, the sounds of footsteps and God help me I thought I had heard a few sighs.  I needed someone who would come every morning, work hard and make human noises, human movement, human scents, and human residue.

“So this used to be an old warehouse, huh?  It makes a beautiful apartment.”

“It is nice,” I said  “I like the view all around.  I think the realtor thought I should be here because she found out I was a writer.”

She laughed slightly and nodded as if she understood that as a writer I must also be a Bohemian by nature.  I wasn’t, I was just a writer.  The apartment suited me for other reasons, one it was isolated for Chicago and two, the noise of the city didn’t crowd in upon my work.

We worked together for 13 glorious weeks and the manuscript began to take shape.  We even managed one night to make a timeline of the plot and conclusion.  She stayed until 11 P.M. we became so consumed with the work she lost track of the time.  Her hair began to fall out of its pins and curl down around her neck.  Her freckles began to glow through her smudged makeup.  She almost looked 12.  She definitely looked beautiful.  But this was business, all business and I couldn’t mix business with pleasure.

One Wednesday morning she was standing, looking out toward Lake Michigan.  The city was clear and gleamed before her, like some promising city.  I admired her body as she studied the scene before her.  Her straight, sky-blue, skirt was too large but still looked enticing around her rather bony hips and her soft, buff colored sweater cascaded around her narrow shoulders and folded softly around her thin waist.  Her clothes always seemed a size too large but she wore it well, oddly enough.

“You know,” she said, “I know this apartment is haunted.  I heard her crying in the bathroom.”

I stopped what I was doing.  My pen was in mid stride as she said those words.  She turned at my silence looking a little perplexed.  “What do you think happened?  Do you think she died in an accident while this place was still a factory?”

“No,” I said, slightly relieved she was forming conclusions that didn’t include me.

She looked slightly pouty and my heart beat hard.  “Are you sure?  How do you know?” she asked.

“Because the sounds and the cold spots started after I started living here.  I’ve never heard her cry before though.”

The dear girl actually frowned and sat down next to me as if to try and comfort me or dissuade me from my idea.  “You don’t know that.  The former owners probably wanted you to buy the place so they could leave.”  She looked so sincere and concerned.  I grasped her tiny hips and pulled her under me, wanting that one kiss, that wouldn’t be tainted with fear.  The kiss was sweet, and moist and lingering.  I would regret this one, I remembered thinking.

“I know you killed her actually,” she whispered softly in my ear.  “I know you did.”

I felt her pull the trigger, felt the bullet rip through my shirt, my skin, my heart my back.  My weight muffled the sound; just what she needed to leave me here to sigh, chill the air and press down upon the old floor boards.  No one stays for long.

She was a clever girl, whoever she was, a very clever girl.

 

Missing Shakespeare

He loved her and deep down he still loved her.

“Let slip the dogs of war.”

He heard it first in a Star Trek movie years ago – he couldn’t remember which one.  He stirred his coffee and decided he couldn’t remember which Shakespeare play the quote was from either.  He just knew that whenever he thought of that quote now, he thought of his ex-wife.

He loved her and deep down he still loved her.

He didn’t take that fact out and play with it very often.  When that wriggling little black mass of goo started forward he took the dog out and tossed the ball until they were both exhausted.  He worried because old Fido (his actual name by the way) didn’t want to run and play fetch as often or as long as they used to.  That was a problem because lately that mentioned black, mass of destruction was surfacing more often.

He knew why, his second marriage was failing.  He married her on a whim.  She was there, he was there, a need was met and he thought he might as well continue meeting that need.  It was fine for the first six or seven months until she decided she was in love.

He dress appropriately, was even happy on the day but now…

Now his coffee was stale and over cooked and the nice neat-as-a-pin house he lived in seemed to be layered in a very thin coating of dust.

She wasn’t lazy, she worked.  She couldn’t cook and that was fine, it was just the two of them and he enjoyed cooking.  She enjoyed reading and at first that was fine.  They enjoyed walking down town to the used bookstore, he would walk away with an edition of Scott he couldn’t believe he had the good luck to find and she would walk away with a bag of paperbacks.

At first it was fun.  She tried everything on him – everything.  He even flipped through the books but when he came across some of the descriptive parts of the male anatomy he thought he’d leave it up to her.

They had been married about a year when he found himself wide-awake beside her.  She was softly sleeping and he was puzzled.  What scene had they just played out, what plagiarism in bed did they just perpetrate?

That’s when the face of his first wife drifted in front of him and he sat bolt upright.  What if he slipped, what if he got so caught up in the current rush of love making but uttered in ecstasy his first wife’s name?

His first wife read Shakespeare.  Loved it.  She read and re read the plays.  She looked so lovely during the festivals they attended.  They were young, inexperienced and let slip away the teachings of commitment.

Where was she, what was she doing?  Did she garden?  Did she teach?  Did she read and study and whisper to her husband what she had learned that day, her new insights and word play?

He stirred his coffee and watched the dust motes on the windowpane.

 

To Dread the Dark

We try not to think of it too often. It.

We try not to think of it too often. It.

The situation was this…we pushed our limit, we overreached, we took out the part of us that God put in, labeled free will and we shook it liberally all over our skin, hair, hands and feet.

Don’t get me wrong, don’t think that I’m one of those people who blame God for everything. We knew what we were doing and we knew that we could, really should, stop.

But we didn’t.

I’m not sure how old he was or where exactly he came from. I know he was very old but he was prodigiously strong. I understood his strength when I saw him, when my mind connected with my vision and nudged my soul (something I most assuredly believe in now, my soul) and said “the legends are true, the stories are at least based on fact and man are you in a world of hurt.”

Alex, poor guy, his mind didn’t nudge his soul and the legend, now a reality, which we went out to meet, snapped him like a toothpick. Sometimes on my better days, when I don’t see Alex gasping like a fish out of the water, I believe that he had enough time to think, “I have a soul and I’m going to God and I’ll be okay.”

I really don’t know. On my bad days, I cry like a baby and go visit Alex’s Mom. She hates me but I mow her lawn and fix stuff around the old shack she lives in.

Please don’t think Dana and I ran, we didn’t. Dana lifted her cross and peed. I lifted my cross and felt something like an electric shock thunder down my arm and blow out my fingertips. For a minute I was ashamed because I had just finished a joint. How could this work, how could I keep this horrible monster at bay after finishing a joint?

He was tall, you know. Very tall and he had this ironish white hair that sort of matched the paleness of his skin. When Dana and I lifted our crosses (we pinched them from the old, tumble-down, Catholic Church that is there on More House Street), he snarled at us and for a minute, despite Alex all in a heap, I felt sorry for him.

How did he get that way? The same way we did; arrogant, stoned and seeking a thrill?  Maybe because he wanted to or maybe because he was ambushed. He circled around us but my days in the army settled that maneuver, I told Dana we needed to go back to back and keep him at bay.

Three hours until sunrise. Three hours with Dana’s wet pants dripping on dry leaves. We were exhausted; always looking down, looking up, Alex in a heap. Every noise we figured he was coming up from the ground or coming down from the trees.

You have no idea what it’s like, you never will, to dread the dark.

 

Summoning Winter

I must chide myself more often in that I miss my dog more than my ex-husband.

There is a strong diabolic side to me; I recognize it, and in my calmer moments salute that entity with all the respect one soldier can give to another.

I want to lead my life wondering about consequences not living them, so my sense of fair play must be brief and I must have faith and act within the confines of what I claim is my God given guilt.  However, I’ve notice guilt has begun to slip.

I must chide myself more often in that I miss my dog more than my ex-husband. I grapple with the idea that I look at men now with a sort of mercenary attraction and above all I fight the urge to summon winter in all but one season of the year.

Ah-ha!  A left turn in a right-handed world.  Who is behind such egotistical words?  Who or what could fathom herself able to summon winter?

I deal in death.  That’s how I earn my bread and butter.  I wallow in the financial implications and shuffle the sheaves of paper, both tactile and electronic, that rustle or static the real life certainty of not existing anymore.  I suppose that my diabolical side has grown from my life’s advance in this work and my thick armor of mental self-preservation has grown with the continual observation of someone else’s misery.  I work in an emotional freezer.

But why summon winter in say, July?  Because often times the armor that thickens around my mental processes will crack.   When there is a break down, there is also a will to wallow in whatever brings me momentary happiness; a flirtation that I know I won’t pursue, the question as to why my dog had to die, wine in a box, a German film (earth and water let’s talk mercenary!) or a drive to find some of the best ice cream in town.

(I feel that the pursuit of ice cream is actually me already summoning winter in a subconscious quasi Freudian manner.)

Alas, dear reader, if you’ve made it this far I know that I left you topside with the word “guilt.”  Oh that word has become vile in the 21st century.  Tax evasion, illegal immigration, anarchy, murder, rape, home invasion, perjury, all can be shrugged off because no one wants to condemn anyone.  Who are we that we might judge anyone?

Why separate my diabolical self from analytical, dare I say, faithful-to-God self?  Why should I feel guilt over a pornographic film, a brief encounter that boils down to using someone or summoning winter?  What line in the sand am I drawing?

To tell the truth, I’m not sure I know any longer.  I’m older and more muddled.  My strength has waned and really what problems would there be to freezing summer, burying spring and demolishing autumn?  Why fight at all the freeze?

I salute you, oh self-motivated and diabolical one, and pray to God the strength to stop.

(Yet I’m grateful Creator for the 30-degree drop.)

 

Cinnamon

I look about, realizing suddenly that I am thinking of nothing.

As I wait for my coffee to come forth through the combination of stagnate hot water and the forced push of said water through the compact coffee grounds within the stylized plastic cup, (naturally decaffeinated for my overly taxed nerves which are affected by extra stimuli), this cup of coffee is,of course, from hand-picked beans, fairly traded, well packaged, and, no doubt, still sold with ample profit to the middle man.  I look about, realizing suddenly that I am thinking of nothing. In a rush I begin thinking of those nimble fingers picking the perfectly ripened coffee bean and keeping hearth and home together so that my brief reprieve at work could be enjoyed. To avoid consumerism guilt let me put a face to the nameless.

Oh the wonderful aroma of 21st century coffee!  The perfectly brewed one cupper coffee pots that have taken away the traditions of percolators and the drudgery of almost religious fervor in preparing that perfect pot of coffee, so that I am able to scurry back to the desk, the telephone, the computer and the mass of humanity who can’t understand why health insurance doesn’t pay for the world’s woes.  This keeps my “hearth and home” together, dodging such questions.  The coffee bean planter, cultivator, and picker meet clandestinely, within the tall, glass and steel buildings of the mid-American insurance industry via me.

The insurance industry and the business of coffee production demands my abject compliance.  The women and men, the day laborers whom the western world believes extinct, as well as the insurance industry pegs who, through constant, at-you-fingertips mopery, stiffen their joints and bow their back during their life’s labors at the front line of claims payment; are at the beck and call of those in charge and those who simply don’t believe in death.

I stand before the coffee pot waiting for the heap of brown to puddle into the well thought out coffee-mug-of-a-gift that my son had chosen for me two Christmases ago.

Glancing around to distract myself from my own depression, I notice on the shelf above the coffee machine that my conglomerate employer provides, a tubular jar of cinnamon.  Vietnamese cinnamon.

The vast cultures and the global economy are meeting here at my job.

Dress and trappings are everything, so I’m told – and so it seems that is true as I watch my fellow workers shake daintily and with fervor the cinnamon into their gratis coffee – gratis except for the cup.  The cups are carefully given by our children from the allowances we can afford to give them.

I too reach for the cinnamon and with a heavy shake cover the top of my coffee with the stuff to the wide-eyed amazement of my fellow employees; too much their expressions say but they turn from me and say nothing.

Before the mixture sinks, I sip the hot liquid from the cup my son thought worthy of me, the taste is surprisingly sweet in aroma but when it touches my mouth something like dirt, sandpapers my tongue and grits between my teeth.

Yes, yes, so brief we pause in our consumption and so long we work to take a sip.