My Cat Got Out in San Jose

My cat got out in San Jose. Monkee and I were visiting my sisters for Christmas and I went to bed thinking he’d curled up somewhere and was dreaming of catching flies and scratching up the couch. The last I saw him he was chilling on the couch while my brother and I were screaming at each other about Donald Trump, but when I looked for him in the morning he was nowhere to be seen, vanished through the doggy door.

We looked up and down the block, talked to the neighbors, called his name. The whole neighborhood knew who Monkee was now and was also looking for him.

I was hopeful he’d come back that night when he got hungry. But he’s not a big cat and my sister lives near the hills and the wild predators that also call it home. He had a collar around him. The neighborhood was canvassed with fliers. We left his liter box out so he could detect his scent. His name and picture was posted on local websites. Surely we’d find him shortly. We better, I quietly thought to myself.

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-6-11-28-pm

The first full night he didn’t come home, I was surprised. I thought he’d be hungry by dinner for sure.

The second night I worried he had gotten himself stuck somewhere, like somebody’s garage or a shed. Or that half-filled, weed-infested drainage ditch behind my sister’s house.

The third night, my sister mentioned the size of the owls and hawks that live in her area. I began to picture my sweet, rebellious little furball being grabbed and swooped terrifyingly up into the night sky.

The fourth night I had begun to come to terms with the idea that my little buddy might never return and was possibly a victim of a food chain he had no concept of, one that I’d brought him into.

The fifth night I tried to think about other things. The next day was New Years Eve and life must go on. I wasn’t ready to start giving up, but it was starting to look like I had no choice.

Then he walked back through my sister’s doggy door. We all wondered where he had gone, what he had been up to. This is what he told us…

img_0704

While you guys were all yelling back and forth and making all that racket I decided to step out and get some fresh air. As you were aware, I had discovered how to use that flap on the door the dog uses to get in and out. I had merely intended to saunter around outside and smell a few things, I swear, when this thing I had never seen before came hovering over me.

Just what I feared, a hawk!

He continued…

I know what you’re thinking and it was certainly not a hawk. It was made of metal and had lights on it. This was something man-made and therefore infinitely more dangerous. It gave me quite the start, so I took off over the fence and onto the golf course. I would never have left the yard if this thing didn’t tweak my survival mode. This thing continued to follow me and I could hear its whirling blades and feel its wind on my fur. I ran and climbed a tree where I watched this thing crash into the branches just above me.

A large human came out of one of the nearby yards and began yelling out a smaller human whom I assumed was his offspring. The smaller human mentioned a cat so my hair stood up real straight, like a porcupine. The father ignored his son, thankfully, and lectured him, instead, about the price of his machine. His face was as red as the bottom of my butt in the morning. Since he was more concerned with his machine that was stuck, I bolted for cover in a large fern that looked like the hair of that guy on the cartoon you’re always watching. The one with all the yellow people.

Anyway… There I waited for the man to get his awful machine and go.

By now the moon was a giant glowing thing and lit up the golf course like nothing I’ve ever seen; and I tell ya, it was something magical. Enchanting.  I’m not an easily impressed cat, but the light on the dewy grass and the twinkling of stars and the bugs hopping everywhere made me feel like I’d stumbled upon some kind of heaven.

That’s when I decided to spend the night out…

I figured I’d get back in before you woke up. I know how it is when I see you clinking those bottles. It was going to be a late morning. 

I walked around for hours. Everywhere I went there were crickets and grasshoppers to chase. I got to stalk all these insects popping up out of the grass. There were yards to explore, trees to climb, stars to dream to…

And you weren’t there to tell me not to jump on anything!

At this I felt guilty.

I was free and it felt so wonderful. I finally felt like myself, you know. Like a real cat.

His eyes got dreamy like when he lets me scratch his belly. I could never feel more guilty than I did right then.

I slept in a contraption that had three wheels with a bunch of dirt left in it Outside, under the stars.  Al fresco I think you call it. 

When I woke up a very odd thing happened. It started raining from the ground up! I had never seen anything like it. Once the rain reached a certain height it fell back down in every direction. I was getting drenched, and I do not like getting my body wet as you know from bath time.

I got out of there. Fast! In my haste I ran for a nearby house, to one of those big doors that swing up. In my panic I narrowly swerved out of the way of one of those machines you guys get into everyday. Cars? I swear my tail was inches from being squashed. Boy, I aimed for a corner of the room and hid myself behind some boxes as fast as I could.

Slowly the room began to dim until it was entirely black. The giant door was shut and I was locked in there! My heart was leaping out of my chest like a frog in a slippery swamp. What was I going to do? I needed to get back before you woke up!

I stayed in my hiding place until I calmed down and my eyes adjusted. There was nothing I could do until the human came back with his car. This was not my fault, I swear.

Once I felt it was safe, I figured I might as well explore. I jumped up on the boxes and pried open the lid with my paw. My curiosity was in overdrive. There was so many new things to look at in the world!  I might as well make the most of being stuck out in it.

The box was filled with these shiny objects that looked like miniature humans doing things like throwing balls and running and holding their hands in the air with gloves on, and even one where the tiny golden human looked like he was swimming.

They were all engraved with the same name on the base. Odd little things. A little creepy to keep these in a box.

In another box were all these photographs and in a lot of them were the same people. A few of the people in the pictures were very old and I got an uncomfortable feeling in my fur so I hopped out of there. 

In the last box was a pile of magazines. On the covers there were women offering their nipples as if they were expecting to breast feed. It was nice and warm in there so I decided to take a little nap on all those magazines and their warm breasts.

It was many hours until that door rose again and I could escape. I almost ran right into that car again because it was so quiet. You know those ones that look like little stones and sneak along so silently. I caught a glimpse of the driver this time and he had a skinny face with a mustache that curled up on each side. He is probably the one that keeps those little golden men trapped in a box. The sick fuck!

It was dark out and I went back to the house but when I got there the lights were out so I figured you guys were already asleep. What’s another night then?

You know me, I have an independent streak… anyway, the most incredible thing happened to me that night. From across the golf course I saw two other kitties just like me playing in the sand pit so I ran over to join in the fun. When I got there I was shocked to see they weren’t like me at all. They said that they were brothers and that they were pups, fox pups, but they said I could play with them so I chased after one of the brothers while the other one chased after me and we took turns running all around that part of the course where the grass is smooth and there’s a flag planted in a hole. It was the most fun.

But then without warning I felt myself being yanked into the air by the loose skin on my neck and try as I did I couldn’t break free, this creature was much bigger than me. At any second its teeth could plunge into my flesh and rip me to pieces. I squirmed and squealed but it was no use.

Just when I thought I was goner, my new friends came over and begged their mother to put me down. She told them about what it takes to survive and that I was a cat, and they were foxes, but they both looked at her with such sweet eyes while explaining that I was lost and had nowhere to sleep and that I was a really cool cat — they all laughed at that, though I don’t know why — that she put me down and shook her head disapprovingly at her pups, but told me I could sleep in their den and to keep up!

After she had trotted ahead, they explained that it had been three nights since they’d last seen their other brother so she might be a little sensitive. They asked me not to hold it against their mother, that she was a good fox and was only trying to teach them how to be a good fox too. I guess I knew what they meant.

We left the golf course and crept up a narrow trail into the hills. I tried to imitate their springy style of jogging while crouching low. It was fun being a fox. Their tails were bushy and long and I made up a game of trying to run underneath their tails without them noticing. At one point, though, one of the brothers caught on to what I was doing and brought his tail down on me so forcefully I tumbled to the ground and almost fell over the edge of the cliff.  It was so funny, We curled up and laughed so hard. We totally lost it! It was great. We got in trouble, though. The mother fox came back and yelped at us to quit clowning around! I felt bad and slunk after them a little embarrassed.

When we got to their den — which was basically just a hole in the ground, if you ask me — the brothers ran in first but I stopped in front of the mother and rubbed my body against her so she knew how grateful I was and she picked me up by the loose skin on my neck, but this time I was completely calm letting her carry me into the den like that, like one of her pups.

That night I slept right in the middle of them. It reminded me of when I was just a little kitten and slept in a cardboard box with my brothers and sisters. All of our breathing was in synch and our bodies rose and fell together. I don’t think I ever purred as loudly as when I fell asleep in that den. 

But the next morning the foxes were gone! After I woke up and stretched — I can’t do anything without stretching first — I looked around for them, but they were nowhere to be seen. Even worse, I had no idea where I was.

I climbed to the tallest part of the hill and then up into a tree to get a good view of the area. I figured if I could find the golf course I had a good shot of making my way back to the house. I looked and looked but didn’t see anything, my senses were telling me to head straight down the hill but when I looked to where the sun was rising I saw one of those little flags sticking out of the ground.

At this point I was starving and craving some of that delicious wet food you’re so stingy with… Come on! Imagine if every time you wanted pizza somebody insisted on mixing in kale and spinach? Yuck!

He was right? What was my deal with dry food? Was I just an asshole for no good reason? Alright, I told him. Wet food from now on. He gave me a cold stare and licked his lips I swear he was imagining killing me right then.

Sometimes I wonder if you’re an asshole to me for no good reason? What would you do if I make you chase a fucking laser around. You think I like that? I know you’re just waving it around, but I got to catch it, it’s something deep in my bones. You wouldn’t understand. But guess what? I can never fucking catch it! Hahaha… so funny!

Anyway, my point is, I was thinking with my stomach and not my natural sense of direction, because I ran for that flag as fast I’d ever run. Boy, you should’ve seen me flying!

When I reached what I thought was the golf course, it was something else entirely. I mean, it was a golf course, but the holes were much closer together, the grass was fake and spiky, there was a windmill that was spinning around blocking balls from entering its little drawbridge and people were eating all sorts of sweet-smelling treats.

It was the strangest thing, I tell ya, but no place for a cat, I’d discover when I went chasing one of the balls and not only did a kid chase me with a club, but I ran straight into the mouth of a mechanical dragon. Why you humans enjoy such nightmarish past times I’ll never know. 

Only once that stupid kid with the club smacked another ball into the dragon’s mouth and it popped out some other hole was I able to escape. I didn’t stop running until I cleared that fever dream of a playland you humans conspired.

Well, I ran into even more trouble. I found myself in a terrible building with all these humans grinning and swinging bags around. It was lit like the exam room at the vet’s. People were pushing their way into lines and exchanging dirty paper in their pockets for more bags, and children were crying in sweaters that still smelled new. I hated it.

Different people tried to pick me up but I was having none of it. It wasn’t easy swerving through those groups of people and avoid getting kicked because the ground was this slippery, shiny surface that had me losing my legs from under me left and right. People were hollering, ‘There’s a cat in the mall!’ Which only made me run faster.

After I had lost the mob and was able to slow down I could explore a little more carefully. It was then that I came upon a shocking sight that made me cower behind a trash can in horror.

There were these beautiful dogs and cats in cages, and they were all screaming desperately for somebody to take them home and love them. The people had no idea what these animals were saying. They giggled to themselves while tapping on the glass and taunting them with waves and kisses. The poor animals suffered from terrible broken hearts.

There was a spunky Italian Greyhound that saw me watching them. ‘Please,’ the bitch begged. ‘Won’t you help us?” 

I asked what I could do, but the greyhound was distracted by a woman in a scarf that was wrapped around her neck like an anaconda. She had black wire glasses and a big handbag made of the skin of a snake. What did she want with this dog? I was horrified for the greyhound.

Once the greyhound was in her arms she whisked her away before I ask what I could do to help.

The cages were too high for me to reach and if I was caught in there, they’d trap ME in a cage. I was helpless and had to watch this horror from across the walkway.  

He paused to let the gravity of the pet store sink in and we took a moment of silence to honor that. His words touched us all.

I tell ya, I gained a newfound appreciation for the life I have in Los Angeles.

He blinked his eyes and I knew he meant it. He continued his fascinating story.

The truly fiendish design of this place, led me farther into it instead of toward freedom. In the middle of this labyrinth, the heart of this slaughterhouse, was a clearing where packs of humans were devouring piles of unimaginable foods. I saw meat on sticks and cones balancing scoops of creamy confection.

I slipped under some tables until I found a few sticks of fried potatoes to eat. It was disgusting, so greasy and salty I could barely swallow it down, but I had no choice. Above me I heard a woman screaming at her kids to put their phones down and their whimpering protests echo into the chattering ether.

I knew the world wasn’t built for a cat, but it wasn’t really made for humans either, I was learning.

I eventually found the exit after what felt like days dodging feet and strollers. I was able to gorge enough on the spilled debris from you humans to last for another day or so.

Once I escaped into daylight I thought my troubles were over. What I was learning from this little adventure, though, is that trouble in this world is inexhaustible. For I must have been in a less desirable part of town because I ran into another cat that was a few moons older than me, that had to live on the street, and he was no lap cat!

I thought he was going to maul me for sure.  He hissed at me like he was going to attack, but then I think he realized I wasn’t a threat because he soon relaxed his back and came around for a sniff.

He told me he’d show me the ropes and took me to an alley with these giant metal boxes on wheels. He hopped in and began rooting through trash bags like a lowly scavenger. I told him I was more than willing to hunt for my food, but this was unacceptable.

He laughed at me. ‘Do you think I love this? Do you think I want to live like this? It’s the city, kitty. Better get used to it.’

What did you do? I asked.

I refused. I told him I had just ate.

And what did he do?

He didn’t answer. I thought he was ignoring me but then he jumped out of the garbage with two of the tastiest looking fish I’d seen in my life. He said it was anchovies from a pizza or something, I don’t know, my stomach was growling too loud for me to hear anything.

I thought you were full? I asked.

Are you kidding? These were anchovies! I pounced on it and gulped it down in two or three bites! You know in Ancient Egypt they considered cats to be gods?

I looked at him and waited, but it seemed he had forgotten his point.

By now I really needed a nap. 

What was this cat’s name? I asked.

He’s a stray, he doesn’t have a name.

I asked, How do you know who you’re talking to? Monkee turned his head sideways and gave me such a pitying look I questioned my own sanity. There’s probably as much about his world that I don’t know that he doesn’t know about mine. If my sisters weren’t standing there listening to all this with me I’d never believe his tale.

I woke up from my nap and it was already bedtime. That night was worst night of them all. As you know, on the third night it rained.

He gave me such a cold look the points of my fingers tingled with electric shock. I saw in his eye a disappointment I don’t think I could ever erase. An acknowledgement of the fundamental dynamic in our relationship. One of owner and possession.

I was in a treeless part of town. There wasn’t anywhere to take shelter so I walked the bedraggled boulevard in a slow drip. On the windows people had scratched angry messages. Instead of the dewy grass there was broken glass reflecting orange street lamps that made a humming sound in the silence and shown the rain like long silver ribbons.

I didn’t think the people in this neighborhood had much of that paper in their pockets, and that is why everything was broken and sharp here. I’m starting to see why that stuff is so important to you humans.

In the window of one of those threatening little stores, were those magazines with the breastfeeding women on them. It reminded me of that garage I slept in at the start of this whole journey. It was starting to feel like I’d been lost forever and would never get found. I’d fear I’d end up without a name — like that other unwanted cat.

Monkeeeee!

Don’t Monkee me! I was getting soaked. You know I hate that. I was eating garbage. It was awful. I ended up sleeping under a Christmas tree that somebody had thrown out because it reminded me of the one here.

We looked in the living room where the Christmas tree still stood with all its ornaments and tinsel.

But it was not the same. Not since the day you carried me away from my brother and sister had I felt so desperate and doomed.

I remember the day well. I remember being so proud of myself for saving him. Now I felt like some kind of monster.

The next day would be entirely different however. I had no idea what I was in store for. You see, I decided to just find a busy street and walk along it. Surely somebody would stop for such a cute kitty walking down the street.

Monkee was an adorable cat.

img_0996

So I just cruised along a road I had no idea where it went. With every car that passed I felt more and more invisible. Every sinewy inch of flesh tingled with uncertainty. I knew my hair was a matted mess and I didn’t care. I was hungry again and lost and the world was just a loud, threatening place.

I wanted to get home.

I began to run. Something told me I had a lot of ground to cover. I went into full-borne sprint-mode. I don’t know why I was running, just that it was all I could think to do right then. I was out of my mind.

I ran into the road. I don’t know why. I was just a maniac. You’ve seen it, when my ears are tucked behind my ears and my pupils get all diamond-shaped and pulsing. I wasn’t trying to get hit, I just lost control. It was stupid.

I’ve been there.

I was aware I could get flattened by one of those cars at any second but I didn’t care. My state of mind was so frantic I just wanted something to come along and stop me.

Instead, I ended up stopping it. One of those little hippo cars. It was the same car that almost ran me over that first day out. I was saved! I couldn’t believe my luck when the driver got out and left his door open. This was my chance to get home.

I ran for the car and leaped in before the human could snatch me. Cars were honking at him, so he quickly climbed back in and turned on the wheel and drove us a few feet over to the curb. He stopped the car and turned around.

It wasn’t the man with the mustache. It was another man. This guy was younger looking, a little peach-colored in the face, and wearing a sweatshirt that unzipped in the front and could cover his head.

‘Well, hello there.’ He said. I meowed at him in a friendly, adorable way, because although I hate to stoop so low as to put on the cat charm, I was desperate and in need. ‘What am I going to do with you?’ He asked while scratching my ears.

I purred to complete the sale and he drove off.

We pulled up to magnificent iron gates that swung open for us. I was surprised that a man in such an ugly car owned such a large house, but I could tell he took pride in his humility because when people came up to help he shooed them off and carried me into the house himself.

Boy, was it impressive! Not only was it huge and there were endless rooms filled with all kinds of furniture to jump on and hide under, but there were amazing toys and gadgets that he and his employees were playing with. They kept yelling, ‘Mark, Mark,’ and would bring him new things to look at.

Everything in his house was controlled by a computer on the wall, including the heat which was kept at a very comfortable 71 degrees. I’m telling you, this man had it all, he certainly didn’t have a box of golden men hidden in his garage. They were kept on glass shelves perched above a roaring digital fire.

That night I ate the best food of my life. He had his chef make my dinner out of fish and carrots and potatoes. And I was allowed to eat it off a plate right there on the table. I could taste the freshness, the actual ingredients, not like all that junk in Friskees you unceremoniously lump into my bowl every night. 

I always thought he liked Friskees. He sure gets excited when I pull it out and starts weaving in between my legs with no regard to getting kicked. Like a little junky for the stuff! Monkee was being unfair if you ask me, but he ignored my frown and went on.

And I drank the best water, he poured it from a bottle, like a glass of wine. He even poured it into a wine glass. He said it came from Norway, which is a country I supposed. It was a different kind of cold. Like a deeper cold. It’s hard to explain if you never tasted it.

I hate it when Monkee humble-brags.

That night he took me into a room that looked like one big computer and put these wires into my head. I felt a tingling sensation in my scalp as this machine buzzed. Some of his employees were wearing these giant goggles over their eyes. They squealed that they really could feel what it was like to be a cat.

Oh, my god, Monkee. You’re the basis for Virtual Reality! Everybody in the world can walk around in your paws now. I laughed. What a lucky cat owner I am! You’ll be famous, in a way.

At this he shrugged and licked the padding on his paw.

So then what? I asked.

I took a nap of course! l’d been  up for a whole three hours! And the house was so comfortable and warm, I went out like a light. But when I woke, I started to miss L.A. again. 

Los Angeles? I asked. I knew he meant me, but wouldn’t say it.

Yes, I miss watching the cars from the apartment. I wanted to go home.

So I went looking for a doggy door when I noticed an opened window and hopped out. What a mistake! Two ferocious, unruly Rottweilers came snarling and barking after me. I took off at full sprint. Out in the open was this crazy machine like a giant version of that one from the golf course. Some weird instinct made me run straight for it.

Even though its wings were making a massive commotion I could hear Mark’s voice shout ‘Who let the dogs out?’ and other people laugh at that. I’ll never understand human humor, I tell you.

While everybody was trying to round up the dogs I jumped into that strange flying machine and hid under a seat. It was so loud in there it made me body shake.

All of a sudden I felt us rising into the air, like we were flying. My God, you know how I hate being picked up, and here I was being lifted into the sky in a thing I’d never seen before. I didn’t dare move.

We flew for a while and then I could feel us going down to the ground again. Mark got out and just like that we were heading up toward the clouds again. This time I got used to the movement and a little curious so I hopped onto the seat for a look.

It was amazing. I could see the houses and lakes and mountains and it all looked so small and organized. Like a toy that somebody put together. I never realized how much of everything there was.

We were all in a gentle awe listening to Monkee describe seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

There were people in black suits riding into waves into the sand and the way the sun reflected on the water made it look like a piece of the ocean was on fire. Just when I began to wonder if the sun was nothing but a ball of fire, the lady in the passenger seat turned around and noticed me for the first time and pointed me out.

‘We’re not allowed to carry pets in a helicopter,’ the guy flying this contraption said. The lady reached back to grab me. I swear she was going to throw me from the helicopter if she caught me, so I tore into a frenzy and threw my body everywhere and hissed and scratched wildly as I tornado-ed around that little clear bubble. She screamed and hollered and tried to swat me away. 

The guy flying yelled at her to be careful just before I leaped onto him and he fell forward on the little joystick thing and we started plunging toward a neon field of green.

I fought for my life while they battled this little joystick thing. Arms were flying and my claws were digging into flesh as the helicopter zigzagged and bobbled. Sky and ground somersaulted around. The screaming and the whirl of the helicopter become one physical blur of noise that seemed to be crushing the air around us. The women screamed we were going to die and I could tell that she thought that was a really bad thing.

At this point Monkee saw something in the corner of the room and his eyes followed it. It was a dust bunny being blown around by a fan. His pupils enlarged like a supernova as he prepared for chase. Monkee! I snapped my fingers. Then what happened? I asked him. His pupils settled  down again and he answered me.

I saw that we were just above the golf course and I jumped on that joystick so that the helicopter dropped onto the ground in a loud bang. She opened the door and on the way out I gave that bitch one last scratch.

We laughed. We were so relieved to have him back. Monkee’s so funny.

In the breeze I smelled my the sweet scent of my shit floating along like a long river, leading me back here. Thanks for the leaving the liter box out.

We were all in stunned silence by his story. He tilted his head and looked at me.

Nothing to say?

I looked down and smiled.

Meow?

Advertisements

A Perfect Lover

There are names scratched in sidewalks I never noticed. Children’s chalk drawings that I stepped on. Flowers that smell like bottled-up tropical islands. The clouds, right before dusk, even take on a melon hue. There all these things I never knew existed until I saw you. The world changed for me that night. That night, through your slightly veiled windows, you on your couch with your laptop in your lap. Your bangs draped across your forehead. I’m in love with your forehead.

I can’t believe I’ve never seen you before.

And now I see you every night, though you never see me. And in this way, we have a kind of unique relationship. I look over you but don’t expect a thing. Isn’t that pretty romantic?

Most men want something.

Even though I can see that you’re alone, and that no man comes to visit, I’ve never once approached you. Even when you’re on your weekly Sunday afternoon supermarket run, I keep my distance. I respect your space.

Sometimes when I don’t see the light come on I wonder where you are, but then I’m reminded that mystery is the spice that keeps every relationship full of flavor. I can only imagine the mystery you’re not even aware of feeling not knowing I’m here.

If that makes sense? Because I’m sure you feel something. Even though you don’t see me, you must sense my loving presence.

You see, that first day I saw you on your couch, with your laptop in your lap, you were crying. I couldn’t tell what you were looking at, but I could see such longing and hurt in your swollen eyes that I fell in love a little with your misery.

You looked hurt and it was beautiful, in a way, not that you were hurt, but the feelings that arose in me. Total devotion. I felt a grace fill me up and it was like a balloon; and I knew that I was supposed to tie that grace balloon to you and keep you lifted off of this dirt. And that’s why I’m here watching over you.

Does that make sense?  Like, I loved all of you from the start, even the dark and damp and uncomfortable pieces. I wouldn’t say I wanted to wash your feet, because that is a little gross to be honest — but a little like Jesus, I wanted to adore you. That kind of thing.

And whatever little misery, or misery-maker, in your life, I wanted to conquer. I hated it. I wanted you strong again. Not teary-eyed and thinking of things that bring gloom to your angelic visage. I am not a violent man, but now that I had somebody to protect I felt a little like a warrior. It’s important to note I am a peaceful man.

But I’d rather tear out all the rose bushes than risk you being pricked by a thorn.

What would you do without me?

I love the way you read in your bed before going to sleep. All these books I’d never heard of before. The first time I touched your apartment was when I came by in the day, considerate of you being at work and not wanting to intrude while you were there, (always thinking of you), and I head to lift myself up on your windowsill to get a closer look at the titles…

The Alchemist…
The Writings of the Buddha…
She’s Come Undone…

You seemed like a woman who needs consistency in her life.

That’s why I’m here every night.

But tonight something different happened.

It was still early, maybe a little before midnight, when a car drove up and parked outside. I waited in my hiding place for whomever it was to scurry off but this person sat in their car for almost ten minutes.

I’m as patient as they come, obviously, but it was starting to bother me. What were they waiting for? The driver of the car could be seen, thanks to a streetlight that captured his pointy features with a sharp honesty. A nose that seemed to eject from his face. Lips that curled in a damaged way. His hair was crumpled and spiked with some kind of modern substance. I could tell the guy was nervous and that he kept looking at her apartment. I knew from taking the back route through the alley that she was in the shower.

What if this person was out to harm my angel?

Eventually the guy got out of his car and rang her doorbell. His jeans were dark and slim and his button down shirt was the type guys with desk jobs wear for interviews. He reached in his pocket and leaned his body at a curve in order to wiggle out the object he was struggling with. I tried to figure out what he had in there. I normally wouldn’t be so brazen but I stood up out of the bush to get a better look, just in case I would have to apprehend the guy single-handily (wouldn’t that be something!) or somebody would need to testify (me), that they saw this suspicious guy ringing her bell and spotted diligently whatever weapon was in his pocket.

He finally freed the thing was stuck in his tight jeans. It was a little box. He stared at it like he didn’t know what it was for a brief moment before the door opened. The remarkable thing is, when she opened the door, she turned and looked right at me. I was certain I had blown my cover, but she didn’t see me at all. Her face had gone flush with recognition and emotion and surprise, but it was for the man standing there with the box. Not me. She looked stunned, and so did he. I was stunned too, holding my breath, standing in the bushes.

Everybody waiting for something to happen…

They then disappeared inside. From where I was stationed I couldn’t see the living room, where they must have went. It was 12:33am. I’ve never stayed while she had company. That was a rule I stuck to religiously. This sort of relationship needs parameters. But this was the first time her company was a man.

I had the feeling this man was the one who made her cry the first night I saw her. It’s been two months! Where was he when it was raining and there was that leak in the ceiling, and she had to use buckets to catch the water in the middle of the night?  Where was he when she came home drunk that night and left the door unlocked? If it had been somebody else, somebody unsavory and criminal, they could have intruded into her house, instead I locked it for her and didn’t even look inside but for a few seconds — just a quick little peek, really.

I had no idea what they were doing in there.

I had to get a closer look.

Which brings me to why I’m telling you all this.

Why I need to explain my actions.

You see, I crept across the street, pass his car, and over to her living room window. Normally I don’t get this close, but this was a special circumstance. She needed me. There was a little space I could wedge into, between a bush and the wall. If I was careful I could peer in from the corner. I moved in quicker then normal prudence dictated but this was an emergency.

They were on the couch. He had his spindly arms wrapped around her and she was squirming in his clutch. Her face was buried in his shoulder but it looked like she was crying.

I always carry a knife. Because you never know.

Even though I didn’t have a plan I took it out. With my back on the wall I shimmied along the wall for a better look when I accidentally rubbed the garden faucet, turning it on. Water began slowly cascading down my back.

Damn it!

This might be a sign that I should run. I should take off right now and call it all a loss. But that’s not what warriors do. If this man was going to commit Evil I couldn’t let some soggy trousers defeat me.

I stayed and fought.

First I had to shut off the water. I couldn’t turn around so I groped for the handle blindly and couldn’t locate it. It continued to drench me as I listened for a sign that I’ve been detected. I could hear them talking, but it didn’t sound like it was about me, so I carefully twisted my body so I could find the damn handle and shut off the faucet, but now I was crouching in a giant mud puddle. I had to do something.

He could be murdering her right this instant.

I took a gamble and went around to the side where it was exposed to the neighbors. I didn’t care. I had to act. When I got to the window I stopped and laid my body flat against the wall and then turned my neck, so I could see  in.

They were on the couch still. Kissing. Her hand was cupped around the back of his head like a bowling ball. It was disgusting.

I was stunned. After all I’ve done. It felt like a butcher took a cleaver to my heart and turned it into giblets. All the time I’ve stayed here and watched over her. Those nights she cried and I wanted to hurt whoever did this to her, and here he was, defiling her before me. The disrespect!

A rage molested my soul and a desire to plunge my knife into this man’s chest possessed me. I was beside myself, this is truly important here, I was not me. I confess. I was hurt. There was something burning inside me that was unleashed and the burning was spreading and it lusted to burn to everything down. It wasn’t fair that he should come back and steal her away.

I decided to break in. I admit this. Only to prove to you how hurt I was. So you understand why I did what I did. Right then I was going to hurl my body through the window. But I stopped when I was blinded by a ring glinting on her finger. And then saw the inside of the box had a satin lining.

I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do now. My mind was tumbling like a horrible lottery wheel where the balls always land penniless and while I was putting the last pieces together, I noticed that she was looking right at me, and she was smiling.

That’s when I knew it was over between us.

And so I left.

But before I left I slit his tires. Popped holes in the rubber so wide I heard the air hissing out. Not out of malice, you see, but to make sure he didn’t leave this time. It was the final act of my perfect love.

Don’t tell anybody.

A Little Like a Very Slow Plane…

Seagulls flapped around the trash can. They banged their big wings against the metal drum, their beaks raging against an unopened bag of Doritios. Steven took his keys out of his shorts and put them in the little pocket of his backpack. This was the spot the Earth succumbed to the sea. A great blending of the elements. Of attraction… us to oblivion. This is where what Man built becomes irrelevant.

Steven leaned back on the towel and wiggled his body into the sand, keeping his knees bent and his back flat so his legs formed a little lean-to.

He then spoke to his girlfriend by speaking directly into the air “There’s an oyster bake at Ken Richardson’s place tonight,” he announced into the distribution of air particles.

Chelsea finished watching a Snapchat video before turning toward Steven. There were invisible waves everywhere. She asked, “Do you like this bikini,” forgetting his question, but shaking her shoulders in a lackadaisical and sexy way that made him feel powerful. She was 23 and beautiful and he had no idea how fast it goes.

The bikini was hideous. Steven told her he liked the bikini even though he didn’t. It’s just so much easier to lie sometimes. It was white with a solid black stripe that made it look like her nipples were being censored. But her skin was covered with a blond down that made her nearly naked body shine in the Hampton light, so he didn’t really look at her bikini, anyway.

There were filters for everything.

She adjusted her top so her breasts oscillated in a way that hypnotized him. She caught him staring and laughed. For a second he felt like sucking his thumb.

He was stoned. Everything was glazed and magnified. There was four hundred dollars in his pocket. His timepiece was hand built by a 77 year-old Swiss watchmaker who never drove in his life.

There was an expensive tattoo of a birdhouse on her right shoulder done by a Japanese artist in New York. Her sandals were woven Cambodian balsa wood. The sun covered her body with delicate needles of light.

“Don’t do anything for a moment,” he told her, motioning for her to put her phone down.  Then he tilted his head back and squinted at the faint and feckless sky. “It’s so beautiful,” he said, taking off his glasses.

Chelsea set her phone down on the blanket where it sunk into the folds, and turned her cinnamon freckles up to the cloudless sky in a graceful manner that seemed to stop time. The sun obliterated all depth from the sky. It was like looking at a piece of blue paper. Like that brilliant flash right when your computer wakes up. Only their physical bodies mattered in this picture.

Side by side, their flesh glistened in perfect symmetry, like an optical illusion,  and it was all completely intentional, this photogenic pose. Chelsea and Steven. Their thing was being perfect together.

Exceptional in an one-dimensional way.

There’s was a carefully curated universe.

“Can you hear that?” Steven asked, shielding his eyes to scour the sky for the source of a cranking hum that slowly gained in frequency and decibel.  A sort of dream-wobble approaching… a churning of of molecules that filled their eardrums with oatmeal.

They both looked and listened and wondered.

“Is it a plane?” She asked.

It was a plane. They spotted it at the same time, flying really slowly, dragging a banner advertising the price of Gino’s on the Beach’s World Famous pepperoni slice. Steven has been there before, one time, before Chelsea. It came toward them up the shoreline. The way it flew didn’t seem plausible. It was only thirty feet above the water and seemed to be barely going thirty miles an hour. It chugged along and Steven fantasized about jumping up and grabbing the banner and yanking the plane down with it, but since they’re so close to the water, they’d land all gently and everybody would be alright and they’d all share a tremendous laugh about it.

He’d have drinks later with the survivors.

Chelsea looked over and shrugged. “Where’s my phone?” She asked, raking the blanket for it. Steven watched with a dull desire a hot day like today brings out. Once she found it again, she said, “Smile,” then cocked her phone at him and snapped his picture. Giggling, she called him handsome. The day shed another coat of paint.

Chelsea held the photo for him to see but he couldn’t make out anything out in the glare. It’s all a blur anyway.

It didn’t matter.

Later tonight there was an oyster party at the Randolph’s place on the beach. It was supposed to be just as beautiful tomorrow. There was always something to do. Steven thought about the time he was at Gino’s, there was woman in line whose purse was made of fake leopard fur. There was a fly on the red pepper shaker.

He looked out at the sea and the whitecaps and the thought of pizza stirred a numbness that had settled at the bottom of his soul.

The grease and those paper plates and especially the tourist types hanging around.

The gross devouring.

The idea of it all made him melancholy.

Yet, he didn’t know why, he was just glad he wasn’t one of them.

North Star

It’s the names we lose first when you love somebody.

It rattles my brain even now.

She had a date tattooed on her arm. She never told me what happened on that day. She had many tattoos. That’s the only one she didn’t talk about.

I didn’t talk much either.

Words grew more useless as time went on. We lobbed them every now and then just to keep the distance between us in sight, but what’s the point when they’re nothing but phantoms masquerading as explanation for the chaotic fracturing of the world around us. But that’s probably just the war talking.

And the crazy-colored clouds.

We met while the war was only one hundred miles away, and the sun shivered in sepia light warning of its coming, coloring all the dying pines ochre like Yellowstone cliffs. A tangerine splotched horizon. She was picking flowers from my garden and she ran away when I approached. Like a scared, stray dog. It’s only when I yelled that there were golden poppies in the back that she stopped. Her footprints molded into the quivering cement there fore-after.

She had no home and I had nobody. Sometimes the unfairness of it all works itself out. They say there are 12 million satellites in the sky. It’s somewhat magical to think one of them is watching you.

“I used to be a nurse,” she told me. “Before…”

“I’d rather not think about that.”

When I entered her it was like unlocking two doors with one key.

This was long ago.

There are still days where you can’t tell anything has changed. Where we sit on the porch and the breeze still brings with it the smell of the sea. Sometimes I feel like building a boat. Get my hair tossed by the spindrift.

We had nothing but time in common.

“Do you remember that show? The one with all the celebrities dancing?”

She was so crestfallen when I answered, ‘no.’

When things turned for the absolute worst we didn’t bother moving away. We stayed in the bones of those better times. Fending off the cold burning old newspapers. Occasionally a helicopter flew by but none of them ever landed. We survived on bananas and wild game.

I never learned the meaning of that tattoo. She kept it guarded like a bear cave…

“Everything is coming up roses,” she told me after a rainstorm flooded the basement. She was being funny. I had forgotten about laughing, how sometimes it hurt. There were swimming water snakes circling the staircase. My mind raced. Blood I thought dormant invaded my sense of disaster and returned my manhood to glory. I got so hard it poked through my denim coveralls. It fucking pointed at the North Star.

It was then that I knew everything was destroyed. But I still felt okay.

It was the oblivion I was counting on.

Banana Trees

I had made some comment about buying a house in Costa Rica. The cat was pushing out the door. The sun had just slid under the blankets for the night. We were waiting for Chinese Food to be delivered. I thought it was just maybe something to talk about. Maybe buying a house down there.

“You live in a dream,” she told me. As if it could be any other way, as if we’d want it any other way. I mean, what’s wrong with a forest canopy to keep you protected from the sun? I waited for her to make her point. “You’re… full of words,” she added, salty and pregnant with pause and nothing else.

“I’m just trying to stay on the surfboard, baby,” I told her, although I don’t surf and she knows I don’t surf, so she just looked at me with big disappointed pupils and I could see that her brain was making calculations so I backed off and waited for the receipt.

We’ve been trying, you know? The cycles and tests and everything. Still…

The bell rang and she grabbed the bags of Chinese Food while I pictured a little hammock on a porch and a summer rainstorm filling the air with succulent drafts.

I could hear her mumbling while she plated the food — which I never understood, it already comes in a container — about something with the cars and I wondered if it was really about the cars.

I have to move mine in the morning because it’s behind hers. We get the tickets for the street cleaning although they never come.

“Thanks for getting the food.”

“Uh-huh.”

I found something to watch on Hulu and we didn’t talk for a whole show. Watching time go by on a scrollbar. Measuring your life by the commercial breaks.

When it was over, she threw her napkin on her plate and said, “I’m done.”

I looked at her plate, she had barely touched it. “You didn’t like it?”

“No. I mean I’m done with this,” she said without trumpets or fanfare. She simply went into the kitchen and dumped her orange chicken and chow mein into the trashcan and walked out.

When I lifted the lid it looked like a bunch of gross worms had died in a twisted frenzy. And I kinda thought to myself, that’s kinda cool.

But I didn’t get around to telling her about the banana trees in the back. So that sucked.

Cough Down our Sleeves

Traveling swallowing Dramamine/
Feeling spaced breathing out Listerine
I’d said what I’d said that I’d tell ya/
And that you’d killed the better part of me/
If you could just milk it for everything/
I’ve said what I’d said and you know what I mean/
But I still can’t focus on anything/
We kiss on the mouth but still cough down our sleeve

— ‘Dramamine’, Modest Mouse

I made it through security with just enough time  to catch the plane if I ran. I was going to be one of those people, I thought to myself, those hapless characters you see running through airports, with panic on their faces and their belongings swinging everywhere, spooling out a series of ‘excuses me, pardon me,’ as they slalom through the crowds. I’d always regard those desperate souls rushing to their planes, and think, ‘Idiot, why didn’t you plan better? This is your fault.’

Now here I was, a hapless idiot running through an airport. I skipped the people mover so I could sprint. Halfway to my gate, my phone flew loose from my pocket and went skidding down the shinny floor like a hockey puck. For a moment I considered leaving it behind, a casualty of catching the plane. But then I thought, ‘Did I even want to catch that plane?’

It’s Christmas Eve. LAX is a beautiful holiday wasteland. It’s air-conditioned just a little too much. There’s no blinking lights, no jolly Santa. Mostly business as usual save some carelessly-strung garland. I checked my watch and there was just eight lonely minutes before my plane was scheduled to leave.

My heart was pumping blood like a crazy cartoon oil baron drilling for oil. I haven’t ran like this in years, in a full-speed sprint.  The terminal seemed endless, like I was on a treadmill going nowhere. Finally I limped breathlessly up to Gate 62B. There was still a line of people preparing to board. I made it. The trip will carry on as planned. I caught my breath while inspecting my fellow passengers, guessing at their personal stories before wondering what they would think about mine. If they knew.

I stood there with my ticket in my hand and collected my thoughts. Tomorrow I will have to go there and spend Christmas in the hospital. I will have to see it all.

The last text I made was to my uncle, saying I was running late.

I looked around. There was nothing open but a chain restaurant. The sounds of a metal gate closing echoed through the empty terminal.

The flight attendant announced over the intercom that it was the last chance to board flight 231 to Houston. Which my brain translated to: this is your chance to not board flight 231 to Houston.

————

It was the kind of place where the menus and the beers are tall and everything is either constructed of wood or copper. I surveyed my options and picked a Cuban sandwich and a coke. There was a TV showing the president smiling in front of a Christmas tree. At the other end of the bar a man in a grey overcoat hunched over a pile of fries and through the door a mother with a frenzy of bags and children came tumble-weeding into the restaurant.

They consumed a pair of tables behind me and an orchestrated ruckus commenced, some screeching hullabaloo about what to order and who gets the video game, that blocked out the restaurant’s generic, low-key, computer-programmed music I was using to distract myself.

I caught a glimpse of the family in the mirror. There were two boys that were either twins or close enough. They both had narrow faces that made them look like mischievous elves, or else they just really were mischievous and it had nothing to do with their bird-tuft hair and pointy nose. There was also a bored looking teenage girl with her dyed black and magenta hair shaved on the side and a coil of rubber bracelets on her wrist. The mom, herself, had an explosion of frazzled curls parachuting from her head. The entire family was an unfortunate hairstyle.

When the bartender brought the sandwich I asked what time they closed. Before he could answer the mother appeared at the bar, and interrupted us, and then simultaneously ordered and apologized for ordering, without pause. I waited, but it seemed for every item she placed, one of her children shouted a newly revised order, painfully extending the process for everybody. Sometimes I do wonder if having children is the worst punishment you can suffer for having sex. The man in the grey overcoat finished his fries and pushed his plate away from him like he was mad about something. There was a tracker on the TV showing Santa’s flight. It was now midnight on the east coast.

After completing her balance beam act of chicken strips and cheeseburgers, no, grilled cheese, no, macaroni, Coke, no, Sprite, no, Dr. Pepper, she turned and sighed heavily in my direction. “Whew, what a night,” she said.

I took in her cloud of tedious torture. “Tell me about it.”

She took that literally.

“We got caught in the worst traffic here. We took one of those Ubers and the guy was the slowest, I swear, and then I couldn’t find the stupid email, you know, to check in,” she complained, waving her phone at me. “These things are so hard to use when you really need them. Oh well. I can’t complain. Things happen. We’re here now. Were you going to Houston too?” She asked.

Her questioned rattled around in my head like a basketball before falling through the hoop. “Yeah, I missed my flight, I guess.”

“It sucks, right?” She laughed. She stuck her hand out. “I’m Grace.”

Such a Southern name. She had the twang too. She wore a flowery hippie dress with a shawl that looked like she knitted it herself. Her eyes had a relaxed, hypnotizing glow. There was something so natural about her that I felt my entire body let go. Although she carried around something very sad with her too.

I just wanted to be left alone. I text my uncle that I had missed my flight. He hadn’t written back. I just wanted to eat my sandwich quietly and wait for that text, but I couldn’t help falling for her charm. I was a stretchy doll being pulled by two opposite forces. Weak under all my emotions. This will all be over soon, I told myself.

“I’m Gerald,” I lied.

“Well, shit, Gerald, looks like the next flight isn’t till tomorrow.”

“At least I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” I said without thinking.

She looked at her kids. One of the boys had on a blue ‘California’ t-shirt with a picture of the perfect wave crashing on a golden beach where a cartoon girl in a floss-thin bikini shields her eyes from the quintessential California sun. The kid looked to be about ten years-old. There was some kind of smudge on his cheek, or a birthmark. “It’s been such a great trip out here. You know, people were much friendlier than I thought they were going to be,” she reflected.

I asked her, “Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Oh yeah, you know, traveling with these can be a pain some times, but they’re pretty good when they want to be.” The other boy took a fork and began jabbing it into the side of the table. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “I want to show them the world while they’re young. I never got to go anywhere until I was 24, and that was to St. Louis, where, if you’ve been to St. Louis, you know, it’s no Paris.”

“There’s only one Paris,” I interjected.

“No. There’s more,” she corrected me. “And I want to take them there if I can. To all the Paris’s.”

A sanguine memory floated into view. A family trip. Red swim shorts. Tall palm trees on the sand. Virgin drinks in coconuts. My father and mother in flower prints. I could almost feel the breeze.

“Like Hawaii,” I suggested.

“What?”

“Hawaii is a kind of Paris…” I said, unsure of myself now.

She shook her head. “I don’t get it.”

I gave up. “Never mind. Travel will open their eyes,” I offered lamely.

The boy in the blue t-shirt with the smudge on his cheek began making a quiet howling sound. She smiled proudly. With his own hand he grabbed his other wrist and shook it.

She said, “You can never love them too much.”

On the television Santa was flying over Pittsburgh. “Where are you guys staying tonight?” I asked.

It was the first time I knew I was going to get on that morning flight.

“Oh, geez. I might look into a hotel room, but probably we’ll just stay here.” She pointed to the benches by the gate. Nearby a worker was riding a Zamboni to clean the floor. The howling boy was now holding his napkin over his face and pretending to be a hostage. They got me, I thought I heard him wail.

Maybe it would be better not to be alone tonight. A surge of goodwill infected me. From what I could tell she didn’t have much money. “I know it might sound crazy, but you guys can stay with me. I have an extra bedroom. I don’t live very far from the airport,” I told her.

For the first time she was lost for words. The bartender came out of the kitchen with a tray of drinks for them. Sippy cups for the boys. But they’re elves, they don’t need sippy cups, I thought. She bit her lip and seemed to be pondering something else entirely. “Let me go check on them,” she said.

What have I done? I worried my sudden offer of generosity was being mistaken as an advance. Not that she isn’t attractive, of course, she is, but I was only trying to do something nice, being Christmas Eve and her having to sleep at the airport with three kids. It really was a genuine, no-strings-attached offer. It might have come off as something else, though, and if I don’t correct it, it’ll stand in her memory of L.A. — and me — as a slimy, opportunistic proposal.  Low and loathsome. It’s not the kind of energy I wanted to give off… such shitty energy on such a shit night. Damn.

She returned with her drink, which was a Long Island ice tea, and I felt better.

“I don’t know. How do I know you’re not one of those Los Angeles weirdos?” She asked playfully.

“We’re nicer than you thought,” I reminded her. “Look, I really am just offering you and your kids a spare bedroom with a queen bed and some sleeping bags. There’s a couch for you in the living room, unless you want to sleep in the guest room with them, you can sleep anywhere…” the more I tried to explain my innocence, the less convincing I sounded, even to myself. “What I’m trying to say,” I stammered. “I have my car here and I have the room. And we’ll all come back here in the morning. It’s got to be better than those benches.”

She laughed in a way of buying time. “I don’t know…”

I told her, “I’m just trying to help.”

She laughed for real this time.

——–

A low, curdled fog engulfed the city; oncoming headlights revealed lingering ghosts on lamp post street corners. The boys were twins but not identical. The girl’s name was Emma and she likes writing things on the frosted windowpane.

Grace’s ex-husband lives in Florida.

The kids were quizzing me about Los Angeles. “Does it ever get dark at night, like really dark?” Marco, the one with the smudge on his cheek, asked.

“A sort of dark,” I told him, picturing coyotes roaming around Griffith Park, the end of the pier on a starless night, remembering unfamiliar gas stations at 3am, I said, “Darkness is only about what you imagine is inside it.”

Grace nodded in agreement.

The kids moved on. Marco asked, “Are there any McDonald’s?”

“A hundred,” I bragged.

The boys laughed at the idea of a hundred McDonald’s.

The fog was twice as bad down Lincoln Blvd into Marina Del Rey. I couldn’t read any of the street signs. We passed under hanging street lamps that made intermittent, Christmas tree-shaped cones of light I used to measure distance. I figured I was 300 Christmas trees away from my street.

“Are we near the beach. I can swim real good. Do you live by the beach?” The other boy asked. His name was Kenny, or Tremor, or something. I didn’t catch it. When he spoke it sounded like his lips were stapled together. Every word he muttered was hard earned. It’s awkwardly obvious why he’s the quiet one. I felt like the whole time he was talking everybody in the car was patiently just waiting for him to stop.

“Not close enough,” I told him, refusing to discuss Westside Real Estate and commerce stuff with a mumbling ten year-old. “Wrong side of Lincoln.”

I left it at that.

The car turned silent. I thought they’d like some country music, but Emma was quick to inform me of my lameness and insist I put on something cool.

“I don’t know how to do that,” I admitted.

Emma groaned like I was the worst person on the planet. Grace laughed. I counted six Christmas trees. “Go for it,” I told her.

Emma sprung from her seat. She lunged between her mother and me and began  poking the buttons and turning the knobs on the radio while bumping me with her shoulder. I yelled, “You’re going to kill us!” Grace found it hilarious. To make matters worse, we were swallowed up by the fog. I wondered if this counted as really dark. Not really; fog is a different kind of dark. A grey dark. Either way we were now blindly surrendering to destiny on the byproduct of a demented faith bound to one day run out of odds… a stopped truck ahead… getting sick tomorrow. Go Westward, young man! Finally Emma found the station she was looking for. “There,” she announced triumphantly, falling back into her seat.

Somebody was singing about booty, a lot of booty; and about the shaking of all this booty.

Go Westward, young man.

“Thank god,” I exhaled.

Grace snickered into her purple gloves.

———

“I think they’ll be alright in there,” Grace said, crossing her leg underneath her as she flopped back onto my couch. All three kids were sleeping in the bed. Her hair seemed different now, it fell loosely to her sides; at the airport I wouldn’t have thought this was possible. Her roots were showing which made her more attractive. There was bedding on the back of the couch for her when she got sleepy.

She didn’t have her shawl on anymore.

We split a bottle of wine once we put them to bed. It’s been three months since I drank and the grape filled my soul with pompoms. I forgot all about tomorrow. Little cheerleaders jumped up and down in my chest. I was giggly for once.

“I can’t believe we have to be back at the airport in seven hours,” she groaned.

“Airport check-in: take two,” I joked.

“I’m glad we’re not crashing there tonight. What was I thinking?” She laughed. “Some mother.”

“Don’t give short term woe such long term credit. You’re a great mother. You love them more than I’ve ever seen.” This was true. “You’re on top of it.”

“You’re so nice.”

“Thanks. That means something to me right now.”

She laughed. “At first I thought you were an asshole.” She leaned in next to me on the couch. Her skin smelled like vanilla and citrus. “You were all serious.” She made a funny-serious face by way of impersonating me. “I’m having a sandwich, nom nom nom,” she said in my voice, I guess.

I laughed a little too guiltily. “I’m not an asshole all the time.”

“Just when it counts, huh?” She joked.

“I guess,” I said, marveling at how accidentally accurate her casual musing was.

——–

We took turns using the bathroom. It was close to four in the morning. We met in the hallway and hushed each other, giggling about how it looked, two adults sneaking around, tip-toeing on squishy carpet, whispering….

It was nostalgic in a way. I didn’t know I missed sneaking around.

“I’m so glad I met you,” she whispered.

“I’m glad too,” I told her. “Who knew?”

Somebody hiccuped.

Laughter.

Room-spinning.

“Merry Christmas, by the way” I pointed out. “It’s not how I expected to be spending it.”

“Me either,” she said, her voice falling.

I smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed L.A., and the kids did too. ” I told her. “See it’s not so bad.”

“It’s no Paris,” she sighed.

“Fuck Paris,” I said.

I grabbed her hand, not knowing what I was going to do next.

We looked into each others eyes, like sailors looking for land, rocking back and forth, watching the horizon, the stars dancing with the waves; maybe like sailors that were a little seasick, too. I let go. “Thanks,” I told her, backing away. “I just needed to find my balance.”

She did another one of her impersonations. “I’m just trying to help,” she said while slugging me slow-motion in my chin.

One of the boys yelled out from the bedroom. Grace laughed out loud and then covered her mouth. We gave each other a ‘oh, now you’ve done it’ look. She squatted and pretended to fart.

I fell under a spell.

Then I shooed her toward her children.

———

“The sun is almost coming up. We can’t see that motherfucker. I will die if I see the sunrise,” Grace wept.

I told her, “I think that might be extreme.”

“You know what I mean. Oh my god. I’m 36,” she sighed indulgently. “Emma is in high school. And, the boys, oh god, the boys are just, like….” She shook her head in awe of her life. “You have the right idea, Garald.”

“I do?”

“I’m just saying, it’s hard,” she laughed, then released a lungful of heavy shadows that lowered the temperature in the room. “Imagine that you feel like you’re constantly tripping over imaginary string; your foot is caught on string, and when you look down, it looks like there is string; but really there isn’t any string. You convince yourself that the string isn’t there, and you’re not going to trip, and you start to walk around normally again, but you’re always worried that one day maybe there will be real string there? And one day, you’ll feel the string and see the string but you’ll tell yourself, no, it’s in my head, and then you will trip over it. That’s what it’s like to always worry about them.” She motioned behind her to the guest bedroom like an umpire throwing a strike sign.

“I guess I don’t have a clue how hard it is,” I confessed.

I thought about the hospital and seeing my dad. I wondered what it was going to look like to see someone die. Did he worry about me like Grace worries about her kids? Was I just too small to see it? My uncle never text back. What did that mean? Am I too late?

“This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out,” she continued. “There was a solid picture of how tomorrow was going to look. Not just because tomorrow is Christmas. Fuck Christmas. But every tomorrow. I was done, I thought.”

“It’s the holidays. It’s just a shit time for life-stuff. Don’t worry, everything will be better soon,” I told her and wanted to believe it. The room felt thick with things unsaid. I felt inside out. “I’m going through something too.”

“How did we get here?” She asked heavily, lost in her thoughts, not looking for an answer.

I gave her one anyway. In the only way I knew how. “Well, a long time ago we were sperm and then we landed in an egg because, you know, sex; and that was nice for a while, but then we grew too big for mommy’s stomach, so out we came, belly aching from the beginning,” I joked. “Then, of course, the early years, where we ate a lot of mushy food and learned not to run with scissors. Eventually we grew tall enough to ride roller coasters and do keg stands, speaking for myself, of course,” I babbled. She was dead silent. “What?” I asked.

She was talking to me and not talking to me. “I just want to get carried away, too, sometimes.”

I knew exactly what she meant. “What do you mean?” I asked anyway.

“Jesus Christ, Gerald!”  She yelled.

“Shhhhh!” I pointed at the bedroom. “And on his birthday, too!” I joked and pointed at the ceiling and heaven beyond.

“I don’t care,” she moaned, drunkenly. Then she put her head on my shoulder. I put my hand on her knee and squeezed it gently. She made a purring sound. I could feel her chest rising and falling next to me.

“I have to visit my dad tomorrow.”

She closed her eyes. “I don’t want to talk anymore, Gerald.”

“My name isn’t Gerald.”

“I don’t care,” she whispered reassuringly, as if that made everything alright.

Something pivotal was careening out of control. I stood up and felt nauseous. Something was off; like there’s a change in the geometry that now made the walls curve. Or the color orange is now missing. I felt a chill too. There’s not a scale in existence that could measure the extreme weight of living. I looked out the window and saw that the fog was too thick to even see the driveway. The fog had made the city disappear.

“We have an early flight,” I told her, “I’m going to sleep.”

“What about me?” She asked, her eyes closing drowsily.

I didn’t answer.

I did lie awake and think about the question, as the echoes of the morning hour bounced around the room like black moths at a camp fire….

Like green blips on an air traffic controller’s screen….

Like an EKG.

12 Cups of Coffeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Mick slugged back the last of his coffee. “That’s twelve cups,” he announced. His mug was the size of a small bucket and he refilled it at a feverish pace, borderline manic.

Larry watched him with interest growing on concern. “Take it easy, Mick. You’re going to give yourself a heart attack.”

“You’ve got to take risks in this world! You, you, you,” he stammered, buzzed, “You can’t get anywhere without a little heart attack here and there!” He shouted, guzzling another gallon.

Their roommate, Shannon, walked in, nonchalantly carrying a stalk of Brussels sprouts over his shoulder like Paul Bunyon. “What is going on here?” He asked.

Larry told him, “He thinks if he drinks a seriously worrisome amount of coffee, he’ll get superpowers.”

Shannon flinched hard, his face registering the shock. “Jesus, man!” He looked at Larry, waiting for more information.

Larry added, “He thinks he’ll be able to fly.”

“I’m going to fly like an eagle!” Mick shouted!

“The only thing he’s going to do is shit everywhere like, uh, a bird… a pigeon,” Larry figured out.

Shannon joked, “Maybe that’s how he’ll propel himself into flight, by the force of his rectal explosions,” Shannon demonstrated with his hands… “It’s rocket science.”

Mick then hollered wildly and slugged back an insane amount of coffee, his eyes began bulging like a river otter with his belly being squeezed. “Ooh! I’m feeling my wings now!!!” Mick yelled out. “I’m a goddamn eagle.” He burst from his chair and ran to the living room where he let out a scarily eagle-like squawk.

Shannon and Larry exchanged quizzical looks, like: what-the-fuck?!

Larry asked, “Do you think… an eagle?”

Shannon replied, “Anything’s possible. The universe works in wondrous ways we don’t even…”

“Come on!” Larry interrupted. “Let’s go!”

They gave chase to the living room, their excited faces bright with hope, but when they turned the corner, expecting their couch, their TV, their potted plant, and normal reality, you know? But no, they stepped into a dank, green, surreal, rain forest instead.

Like, serious: what-the-fuck?!

Larry and Shannon scratched their heads and inspected their new, strange surroundings for a moment before they spotted Mick squatting by a tree, his tongue flicking in and out, searching for flies, all green and slimy.

Larry sighed and answered his own question. “Nope, just a frog.”

coffee