A Beautiful Thing Part 549

I asked her about Kurt Cobain, if she knew what band he sang for. She looked at me confusedly. She knew the Foo Fighters but had never heard of Nirvana. We broke up the next day.

Two weeks later I was on my way to the hospital when she called. Seeing her name come up on my phone made me want to throw it out the window — not because I felt any amount of anger toward her, but because it made me feel anger at myself. She knew about Modest Mouse and that should’ve been good enough.

I couldn’t answer it, because then I would have to talk about why I was going to the hospital, and talking about going to the hospital might make me feel the emotions I’m so good at shoving down and compartmentalizing. Instead, I put on an old Nirvana album and listened to Kurt lie about not owning a gun.

His room was on the 6th floor. In the elevator I did a quick calculation about how many sick and dying individuals were housed in this building. Hospitals… oh shit. Lots of pitfalls. On pause. Awful possibles. Stop-able. Oh, holy hostile hospitals.

He was lying in a bed behind a yellow curtain with dozens of different colored tubes plugged into him. I immediately thought of a car at the mechanics with the hood popped and the engine scattered in pieces.

“How are you doing, old man?” I asked, summoning strength and trying to carry on as normal. Normal for me is avoidance through humor, cynical syllables.

“Oh, I’m alright,” He slurred through an oxygen mask. “Are you still dating that young girl? Lisa?”

Her name was Leslie, but I told him, “Yes. Lisa said to tell you ‘hi.'” I changed the subject. “Boy, you looking to rack up frequent flier miles with all these hospital stays?” He smiled but did not laugh.

I sat down and looked him over. It had been four years and there was flesh and spirit absent from the last time I saw him. His face held a grey scruff, his eyes were wild, scared things. I held his hand and it trembled, but it still had that impossible strength I remember from when I was young and held it just to cross the street.

He faded in and out of sleep as I sat with him. Time carried us gently, a brook trickling through a shaded gulch.  There were bags of his urine and blood hanging off the side of the bed.

I stood up and went to the window. On the other side of a drainage ditch there was a sloping hill. I watched a man pull up in a pickup truck and unload a riding mower down a wooden ramp. He turned it on and began to traverse the hill, cutting the grass.

He woke up and looked past me, out the window. I went back to his side. He squinted and struggled to see what was happening across the way, staring intensely. Life went on. The gardener continued to ride his mower across the hill. Grass got cut. Elevators took loved ones up and down.

— My heart continues to survive vicious cuts. 

He finally asked, “Is that a horse?”

I looked at the man on the hill, his blue L.A. Dodger hat on his head, underneath it a black mustache, and wearing blue jeans with grass stains. I could see Yamaha on the side of the riding mower. Behind the hill was a Conoco gas station. Next to it a billboard for Jiffy Lube.

I didn’t know what anything meant anymore.

“Yes, dad,” I told him. “It’s a horse.”

A Beautiful Thing Part 435

“Either I’m chasing ghosts, or they’re chasing me, but I’ve never beat Pac-Man,” I told the girl standing next to me over the din of The Killers singing ‘Everything I’ve Done’. It was one of my favorite songs and I had picked it from the jukebox. I sang along: “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier. I got bowls, but I’m not a bowler.”

I was the funniest man in the room and floating on a cloud of good cheer.

A neon blue Bud Light sign, pinned to the wood paneling, split into two through some blurry form of mitosis; and the two signs orbited around each other like snowflakes in a kaleidoscope. I watched it with curious wonder, knowing it was my brain and my eyes doing the magic trick, not the sign. The girl then split into two as well, and then one of the twin hotties split into a third, and then they were two again — and then none.

She had disappeared back into the ether of faces from whence she originated. I looked at my buddy, “What the fuck, man?”

Even though I was feeling like a twenty-dollar bill rolled up ready to go, I recognized the look on his face as disapproving. “You’re drunk, dude,” he told me.

“I know! What the fuck?!”

A Beautiful Thing Part 412

She was in the garden because that’s what calms her. Down on her knees with a shovel, scooping the soil out and planting seeds, watering them, nurturing them, willing them into plants and vegetables and meals on the dinner table, this is what brings her peace and serenity. This is her little quiet time.

Her garden is a little 20 foot by 20 foot urban oasis. A tranquil bird bath sits in the corner. Except for the power lines running overhead, you wouldn’t suspect this was Los Angeles.

She had just planted zucchini and decided to water the tomatoes since the sun was setting now and they looked a little thirsty. Keith was still on his business trip for another week and she thought about what time of day it was in Australia. They hadn’t spoken since he left and their fight at the airport. She’s been dreading having to revisit it when he returns. Part of her wished he would never come back.  That would be easier. It’s been some time since she felt what she should be feeling.

She pulled the hose over to her vegetable bed and turned on a light flow. Water began feeding her plants. Her thoughts were buzzing, loosely connected, winged things. She was lost in the swirl, not watching what she was doing, when she looked down and noticed that a puddle had formed underneath her. “Shit,” she shouted and quickly shut the water off. “How stupid of me.”

Tomatoes are awfully temperamental things. She stood arms akimbo, looking at the mess she made, wondering if they would survive the drenching when a bee flew inches from her face. “Motherfucker,” she shouted as she swiped at it. It continued to zigzag and terrorize her so she launched an even more aggressive counter-attack, waving both hands at it wildly. The bee was faster than her slaps and now engaged in harassment, dive-bombing for her nose. She took a step back and her heel got caught on the hose. Her legs went out from under her and she took a very quick seat in the dirt.

Her hands were muddy, her pants too. She wasn’t hurt but she was unable to move. There was a tremendous weight holding her down. She couldn’t bring herself to stand up, so she just sat in the mud and held in the tears while she watched the bee slowly fly off toward the power lines.


A Beautiful Thing Part 359

We were naked in bed. We both couldn’t sleep. It was six in the morning and the city was quiet. I was looking into her big blue eyes, stuck in a kind of love whirlwind. It had been a month since we met and every day after we spent together, or wishing we were together.

She laughed and told me, “I have a funny story to tell you, but it’s not really funny.” I waited for her to begin. She closed her eyes and added, “You may think of me differently…”

I propped my head up and leaned on an elbow. “I’m all ears,” I joked, flicking my ears and smiling dorkily.

She drew in a breath and her perfect breasts rose and fell like the crashing sea. It was hard not to be distracted. “My great-grandfather, back in Mexico, he was trouble,” she began, “he killed my great-grandmother by making her drink from a puddle with a dead animal lying in it.”

It was not the kind of story I was expecting. I let my head drop to the pillow. “Holy shit,” I belched.


“What kind of animal was it?” I wanted to know.

“A donkey.”

“And did he bottle it and give it to her, or make her kneel down and drink straight from it?” It’s the details that let you really understand something; at the same time, it’s like sniffing an advertisement for cologne in a Mens magazine — you may get a whiff of the scent, but you’re also smelling a lot of paper.

She gave me that look, the one that let me know I was in my own special kind of trouble. “That’s not the fucking point!”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

Shadows wandered around the room and touched everything. They were like a third person in the room, nosing through all my stuff. “Anyway,” she continued. “That’s where I get my blue eyes. “Nino Jose’.”

She pulled the sheet up to her neck and raised her eyebrows, gave me a look like an invitation to a secret place. I found her hand under the sheets and held it, my fingers intertwined in hers like a tender maze. Our lives are the culmination of many lives, both those that came before us and those we share, and those that come after us, from us, from our secret places.

It was right then, with the morning creeping into the room on silent tiptoes, that I knew I wanted to have a daughter with her. And name her after a flower. And she will be beautiful and sweet, with big blue eyes like hers.

Dead donkey

A Beautiful Thing Part 353

The highway was straight and the asphalt so hot it shimmered in the afternoon sun. There was an old motel a mile down the road. When Brady reached it there were no cars in the parking lot and the tree out front was bare and brown. It looked like time had left it alone and walked away, like what Brady was doing right now.

Behind him the road was just as straight and hot.

Brady looked over his shoulder at his bag of belongings. A whole life in one backpack. His books were stacked on the floor behind him. Her skirt splayed across the seat, his dog, Winfrey, curled up in it. He pulled into the dusty parking lot and turned the motor off.

Brady got out of the car and walked toward the office. He had no intention of getting a room but he wanted to see what was going on. The door to the office was open and there was a fan whirring, but nobody sitting behind the desk. There was a small metal bell on the counter and he hit it and waited but nobody appeared. There was a banana sitting on top of a book by Dean Koontz. Brady took the banana with him.

He walked back to his car and let Winfrey out. Winfrey immediately ran off to the dying tree and lifted his leg. A hawk flew in circles. Brady thought about the city he was leaving behind. He thought about Sarah and the last time they made love, with the window open and the soft breeze on their skin. He contemplated lifting the trunk, but he was afraid of facing her one more time; instead, he began to peel the banana.

The sun inched across the sky. The hawk flew deeper into the desert. Winfrey pissed on the tree. Sirens began in the distance.

A Beautiful Thing Part 292

She held her chopsticks like a cigarette. She wasn’t speaking to me. I ordered another round of salmon when the waitress stopped by, because even though she said she was full I knew she wanted more, and I knew I had to do something to make it up to her. Her eyes were attached to the television set in the corner of the bar. There was a prerecorded tennis match from Australia on it. She didn’t even like tennis. When the waitress dropped off our next round of sushi her gaze never broke. She kept watching the men hit the yellow ball back and forth, over the net, chasing it around the red clay, grunting.

I asked her what she was thinking about. She replied, “God.”

A Beautiful Thing Part 216

The waves were tossing the small life boat around violently. It would climb each monstrous wall of water then crash down the backside. Each time the occupants inside thought it would tip and spill them into the black water.

There were three men on board including Joshua. They had been adrift for five days since the ship sank. It was 95 degrees at noon without rain. But now a fierce storm was approaching and the sky was molten gravy. The men were reciting their oft-repeated prayers or making up new ones on the spot. Whatever hope they clung to after the torpedo struck was fast disappearing. The ocean was vast and indifferent to their prayers.

Joshua was having fever dreams. Birds made of silver and copper, aluminum and sheet metal, were bringing him jewelry and photographs and other sundry items that don’t mean anything 200 miles out to sea. The clouds were doubling in size and tumbling over themselves. Big menacing hunks of grey, fed by tropical moisture and rotten luck.

Thinking time was running out, he pulled out the last of his rations: a peanut butter granola bar.

Joshua was allergic to peanuts.

He bit into it, tasting peanut butter for the first time, and smiled wide with a kind of religious ecstasy, finally understanding the brutal universe for what it was, as plastic birds pelted him with calculators and coffee mugs and condoms.