First Draft

That sixth day was a long fucking day for God.

He made man with a heart you could literally break. Snap, just like that. Sometimes in two, sometimes in a lot of jagged pieces. And when the hearts broke, so did the humans. Just fell over, like a cut tree. Before noon, even, God realized this was sort of a disaster.

So God created replacement parts for hearts. Little valves and bits of tissue and such. But it wasn’t really any good, because it was only the sixth day of creation; He saw folks picking up these replacement parts and nearly fixing themselves or each other, but they were useless at fixing things yet. And He sort of wanted them to figure out the whole Western medicine thing for themselves. Otherwise what was the point?

So then He resigned Himself to another try, like you do. And after a lot of tinkering and no shortage of cussing, out came the second draft of man. Needless to say, God was pretty pleased with himself upon seeing the first heart break; the human not only stayed upright, but also continued to walk and talk and breathe, even without wanting to. Not really a great revision in terms of Free Will, but God was willing to lose the battle if it meant winning the war.

He’s busy, you know?


Lunch Ride

For lunch it’s the bar and a stool by the taps. It’s a sandwich with fries, because it’s Wednesday. It’s July, and the air sticks to itself. The wind heaves at my hair before I go in, but all the fight has gone out of it for now.

Last night I rode south between fields, corn and beans, with the sun sailing away to the west. The fields were straight and true and the corn was as tall as it should be, and the beans. Stray stalks of the former jutted up out of fields of the latter, stubborn holdovers from the fall harvest. I imagined, knowing as little about it as I do, some farmer somewhere. Telling his boy to grow the crops tall when he goes out on his own, so last year’s upshot won’t show.

They don’t need to be knowing you by what you done, he maybe told the boy. Let’s just say, for example, that he added, keep your rows straight and true and each as tall as the other, as much as you can. Pray for it every spring and thank God if it turns out by fall. Let’s say the boy nods, and when the boy is suddenly a man he keeps his rows straight and true and prays when he should and thanks his God when he should. When the beans replace the corn, he watches for stray stalks of the latter, growing as tall as they should one year too late, and cuts them down when he needs to, or when he can.

But I say grow your crops short, charming boy. Darling boy, show me what holds over in you.

A bead of condensation runs down the tap line–racing me with the patience that gravity affords its subjects–and for now I wait to heave downward, to match it, to run slick with friction to whatever end the heat might muster.

You Are Your Own

Being human, Lucy carried with her an empty space. The empty space was good for holding things, which was maybe why so many folks liked to give her advice on how to fill it.

Her mother and father told her to fill it with dinner, and went so far as to keep Lucy at the table until she’d done so, peas and all. This was not a fullness Lucy especially enjoyed, as it ached far past bedtime.

Ms. Gravita sighed one day, having hauled Lucy into the Mr. Fox’s office, and said her head was meant for filling with multiplication, and not that mindless humming. Mr. Fox agreed, and for awhile Lucy tried the multiplication. It did not go well. Lucy kept her humming to recess.

The boy who kissed her hard behind the tennis courts had a name, Eric, that seemed to fit nicely into the empty space for awhile, until Lucy heard he took all the girls behind the tennis courts. The space twisted up for a long time, and to Lucy’s surprise even more tightly than it had after all the peas. It remained empty, asking for nothing but waiting for what Lucy could not think it wanted.

Mr. Lonus, the theatre manager, waddled over one evening just after the seven o’clock show had emptied out and warned Lucy that singing was not workplace-appropriate. Lucy nodded, but wondered how on earth the man could have heard her all the way from his office. She bit her lip to keep quiet, after that; Mr. Lonus had his own empty space, and Lucy felt guilty for having filled it with something he didn’t want.

One October, as Lucy walked to her car, a nameless man who could not or would not hear her filled her with a hush that would not leave, and this silence lasted the longest of all, and felt the twistiest, and her space was somehow both the loudest and quietest it had been.

Each night for many nights after that one, Lucy thought that maybe the empty space was not hers to fill. Still, she reached out to it a dozen or more times a day just to be sure it was still there. The space hummed, it quivered when poked, and Lucy tried once or twice to fill it with the things folks suggested, things like knitting and God.

The space did not appreciate this.

In fact, the emptier it became, the more it seemed to yawn and stretch and bounce Lucy’s voice back into the world, a voice which became a little surer as the nights passed. In the dark there were no folks to hand her those things with which they filled their own spaces, things they thought would fit Lucy’s just as well. Lucy began to pull air through the space, and the space enjoyed the breeze. It began to use it for more, to gather the flats and sharps and wavering whole notes Lucy rolled through and to sweep the sounds up and out. The notes began to grow, began to collect words.

Lucy carried the empty space, then, and filled it with nothing, and stopped believing what other folks said about emptiness.

photo credit: ohmann alianne

photo credit: ohmann alianne

In response to the Daily Post prompt: “Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us a story about your experience or relationship with an instrument of your choice.”

The Old in You

The old lady does not live in a shoe, little girl: the grown-ups lied to you. But snuggle deeper into your blankets, safely away from that grave wind, and I will tell you where she really is. There. Ready?

The old lady lives in you. Before you get to scratching yourself pink, though, you must understand and be kind to her; living inside another human—even one who is growing as rapidly as yourself—can be rather cramped, and wet, and dark. On top of that, there was no room for her 27 children (15 of which were from her husband’s previous marriage, but she loved them no less), whom she had to send away to aunts and uncles and a few questionable foster parents. She still worries, though it helps to knit and rock in the cozy crook of your liver.

photo courtesy Anton Singurov

photo courtesy Anton Singurov

Understand that the grown-ups weren’t entirely dishonest—the old woman did actually live in a shoe (a leather boot that had seen better days, if I remember right). As accustomed as she was to living in dark and close quarters, she looked forward to hanging her apron up for good in a place with a bit more fresh air, retiring to Montreal, maybe, or the south of France. (While practical in love, she’s always been a hopeless romantic when it comes to travel.) It had been the one gossamer thread of invention she allowed herself in that gray and stale place.

Of course, these best-laid plans changed the day her husband left to join the oil rush up in North Dakota. Having promised to write like so many other important humans have, Mr. Edison (grandson of Thomas Edison’s illegitimate daughter, the poor girl) faded first in flesh and soon after his voice and scent disappeared entirely, having been overwritten by more urgent memories. With him went his money, and this may surprise you, but mothers are not paid to raise humans-in-training such as yourself in a clean and bright and happy place such as this. Few see this as a reason to complain, and Mrs. Edison was not one of these few. That is, until the bank began to send letters and then make telephone calls until late in the night and finally knocked on the door at an ungodly hour, demanding that the old lady and her 27 children vacate the premises so they could get on with selling it to a more deserving and upstanding family. And would she kindly do something about that foot smell?

Well the Pine Sol was out before the banging stopped, but as for the money it would take to keep the bank at bay, there was little to be done. Child labor laws notwithstanding, William and Wendy—the oldest children, twins, having 24 years between them if I may sneak in a small math problem—ducked under the screech of their mother’s refusals and threats, dashing into the country to find work. They polished shoes and milked cows and ran messages between neighbors.

It’s getting late, so I won’t give you the weight of further details. I think you’re clever enough to guess how it worked out, anyway.

Maybe now you see why you were her last resort. Not that she’s ungrateful—the close quarters, wet and dark as they are, have given her a new start. And, bereft of children and husband, she has all the me-time a woman could want. Basically, she tells me, she’s learning to look on the brightest side available, though she’s still prone to the occasional flour-throwing, rolling-pin-brandishing tantrum. Give her room for these.

One day—and do your best not to fear this particular one, darling, because there are plenty of others that are more deserving of your fear—the old woman will begin to grow into your arms and legs, so slowly that at first you will not notice your limbs doing odd things like taking your coffee black. You won’t notice that you squint when you read the paper anymore, or remember the first morning your bones creaked upon unfolding from bed. Her wrinkles will begin to show through, the color of her eyes will fuse with your own, and your laugh will bind itself to hers. You may even find yourself in the south of France one day, if you two play well enough together.

Of course, this is all speculation. I don’t know enough to know what she will decide to do in there. What I do know is that there is old in you, child, and you ought to thank your stars for it. Off to bed with the both of you.


A Kindness

The car pulls up and Henry unfolds from his seat before offering a hand to his Eleanor. Hers rests in his incidentally, if not accidentally, and her face turns to Symphony Hall over his shoulder as the words unpack themselves.

What, no coat spread beneath my feet? I daresay you’ve lost your touch, my dear man.

Her mouth was what had caught his ear at the diner thirty-two years ago today, and he offers her his smile as he did then though the exchange is by now as well-worn as his faded tux, which has long sagged at the shoulders and bulged at the elbows and knees, weary of standing ovations (at least four per year for thirty years, he realizes with a faint shake of his head).

Eleanor and Henry are 50 and 58 years old, respectively. Today is their thirty-first anniversary.

The principal cellist in Boston is Sean Ahearne. He is thirty-eight years old today. On the day of Henry and Eleanor’s wedding, Sean was staring up at a blue Irish sky, busy turning seven. His arms and legs were stretching out from boyhood, his jaw firming, his blood pulsing to American punk music. Tonight Sean rests his bow against his knee as the orchestra paces around and kneads various impending melodies until it finally nests into a single tune. The crowd, with a few final throat-clearing coughs, settles into the dark. Sean’s bow snaps to attention.

The first time Henry asked Eleanor about him was after a winter concert in their second year as season ticket holders. What do you think of that Ahearne fellow, anyway? he said. Bit of an interesting haircut for a principal player, don’t you think?

Eleanor nodded twice and said nothing as the sky let itself out in a drizzle. The cellist’s hair was long and loose, and had that evening threatened to fly straight off his skull in the crescendos. Henry’s wife watched beads of water race down the cab’s windows.

photo courtesy Cory Holms

photo courtesy Cory Holms

Oh it’s going to be such a crowd-pleaser tonight, Henry, would be a shame to miss it, she’d said after he asked her if she was sure, really sure, she wanted to go tonight. Maybe they could surprise the kids up in the city, he didn’t so much say as think aloud.

Besides, you know they have their own lives nowshe told him. And it was Beethoven.

As the house lights dim, Henry watches Eleanor watch Sean, who watches the conductor.

The second time he’d asked her about the cellist was on the way home from the symphony benefit dinner ten–or was it eleven?–years ago, where Eleanor had leaned in close to Sean (or had it been the other way around?) and Sean had smiled in return. What was that all about, Henry said. And Eleanor told him it was nothing, nothing at all.

The house lights are up and Eleanor is out of her seat, stretching as much as one can reasonably stretch at such an event without inviting judgment. How about that stroll? she asks. Henry supposes, and offers his arm.

Outside it snows. The couple walks in silence awhile, thirty-one years hot on their heels. How about that Beethoven fellow, then? Henry says. Eleanor nods twice. He is something, isn’t he?

He certainly was, is all Henry can think to say.

Inside, Eleanor drifts toward their seats, thoughtlessly resting her hand in Henry’s. He lets the hand slip. I’ll be right in, he says, I forgot my… 

Typical you, she says, offering him half a smile.

His tux sighs, relieved to be excused the obligation of another ovation.


Domesticating Schrödinger’s Cat

A friend of mine took in a cat she claims originally belonged to a guy named Schrödinger, and she still calls it his. Whenever we get too drunk for me to bike the rest of the way home, she lets me crash at her place. As she walks in, she says–every time– “Where’s Schrödinger’s cat?” I laugh because I’m too debauched not to.

These days my insomnia depends on the clothes I wear to bed; at this point I can’t sleep unless I’m still in my jeans. So a delicious wave of whiskey-soaked delirium washes over me when she doesn’t ask questions about my turning down her offer of pajamas.

Tonight I think I’m clever. After I’m sprawled on the couch and she’s fooling around with something in the kitchen, I yell, What happens when you lose him?

The cat? she says.

I giggle.

As opposed to what other male in your life?

Ya ass. (But she’s laughing too.) I don’t worry
about it. I’ve domesticated him, so it
doesn’t matter so much where he is or
whether he’s dead or alive as long as
I know he’s one or the other, and that
he’s got to be somewhere. I have faith
now in nothing but uncertainty itself.

I thought you were Lutheran.

I’m trying to levitate the situation. Levitate? Add levity… Alleviate? Allevitate? I’ve drunk too much. She says:

Who ever proved beyond doubt the
mutual exclusivity of religions?

Don’t use big words, you’ll give me
the spins. I swear to Christ I’ll vomit
on your shitty Ikea futon.

What night have you not vomited
on my futon? Don’t call Ikea shitty, or
the Ikea gods will find you and curse
you to an eternity of assembling their
furniture. Also I’ll make you come with
me to that purgatory and buy me a new
futon. And put it together while I watch.

Do you have a futon fetish? Do you
want to talk about it? If it’s a curse to
assemble their furniture, isn’t that
just admitting it’s crap?

Stop, or you’ll give yourself the spins.

I let my pointed finger fall back to my chest and marvel at how it rises and falls without my trying. I think to whine,

I was starting to win that one,
and you know it.

Something crashes into something else in the next room, and I laugh and vomit into the bowl my friend has waiting for me. She puts my hand on it, leaving me to my own devices, then stands up.

Where the hell is that cat?
Turn the lamp on.

I can’t reach it with my drunk arms.
Anyway didn’t you just say you liked
the dark?

In so many words. Not when I have
a black cat.



Love you, you know.

Good. Aim for the bowl.

she says, and fades out. That’s the last I remember before waking up to the smell of a dead cat in a box. But I never saw it, so who knows, right?

After the Before

He took a long time to unbelieve the lies he’d built for himself during the years of standing in her corner. No reason to rush through this sort of thing, he thought, having before applied the same care to peeling off bandages; undertaken with enough patience, the hurt would wash over his skin a little at a time instead of all at once.

“I can’t love that man.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Which would hurt less?”
“Then both.”

He edited resurfacing memories to pass the nights, not knowing whether the changes he made took him toward or away from the truth of what happened.

“You happened to me, you bastard, and you fucking knew it, and you did nothing to stop it.”

Had he known it? The bed was too soft, so he sat at the kitchen table or lay on the living room floor, scattering himself among the boxes she’d left. He was grateful that he at least didn’t have to look at the indents they would have left in the carpet, but was without a clue as to what he should do with them.


A tenuous calm was all she could maintain anymore, having realized early on in their flirtation that once they found a reason to island themselves, all bets and clothes would be off. It took weeks, mustering courage enough to meet his eyes for longer than she could hold her breath.

Among the things she wanted to say to him were

I worry far too much these days about what you’re thinking.


I want to sit close enough that I notice those things about you
which you could never help hoping someone would notice someday.

Or maybe

Turn it up. I love this song.

When she finally said something, it was not nearly as casual as she wanted it to be.

“I have such rapturous notions where you are concerned,
which suppress my appetite for sleep.”

They say

A waitress once told me that everyone should have his or her own narrator, and I said yes, but you– and by you I meant everyone, like you usually do– would need a good musical score to accompany your morning routine and your aimless walks and everything.

If that were possible, to have a narrator and a score following you around, I would sell the shit out of it. Full-page ads in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair and Vogue and even The  New York Times, despite the fact that it’s just a newspaper and who cares about newspapers anymore? Or for that matter, the news? It would be something like a woman sitting at a bus stop talking to the man she will eventually have sex with, and then make love with, and then marry and try to have kids with but will come to find that one or both of them is barren, are barren, and will regret that she waited too long to fall in love and will eventually ask for a divorce because what’s the point of marriage if it can’t be perfect? and even more eventually will regret it. And as she talks to this man, another woman will sit behind her, typing furiously on a laptop and at the same time carrying a turntable playing Clair de Lune. Or something. And on the bus stop poster window will be an ad for this same thing, this same scene (as if real life has finally reconciled itself with an advertisement, HA) and it will say in big block letters superimposed over the scene,

your life is a masterpiece.

And on the magazine page will be the superimposed letters

Make sure

I told the waitress to work on it, and to let me know when she’d figured out how to invent something like that.

We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

If your name was Cain, would you always be extra careful not to kill your brother? Would you avoid him in rooms with sharp corners and refuse to use a knife with him in the kitchen? Would you put out your cigarette when he walked out onto the dock to say hello, for fear of giving him lung cancer? Would you always walk in front of him on the stairs?

Would you end your own life, lest you end his first?

If your name was Abel, would you stop him?

Being There

while you jabber wocky into my ear, I will stare out the back window at the
snow drifting over the dead field, the sun dogs, the ice caked at the bottom of the
pane. You’ll follow my eyes and sigh and say, yes, it’s a tundra out there today,
isn’t it?

Yes, today it is, I’ll say, but I will not sigh, will not breathe, will not
betray my being there. And we will continue in this way, my tapping toe
keeping time to your heartbeat.

The mollifying machine restlessly wrestles.