Category Archives: Big Shots in the Cheap Seats

Time is Tight

Time is Tight

I called the house from a pay phone. My mother answered. Her voice, a mixture of worry and disgust before I even got the chance to try out any of the lies I’d practiced in my head or made up right there on the spot.

“Where are you?” she demanded.

“I’m fine, thanks,” I replied. You know what? Fuck her. I should have known she’d be like this. “Is Daddy around? I have to talk to him about something.”

“What are you, new?” she asked. “He’s not here. He’s never here. You’ll talk to me.”

It was hard to get around my mother, an angry roadblock of a woman. I did not want to approach her for money or help, even though I needed both.

“You lost your job, didn’t you?”

“They cut back the whole department.”

“I knew it. I knew you’d get fired.”

“I wasn’t fired, Mom. I got laid off. It’s different.”

“It’s all the same shit with you,” she insisted. “So what are you gonna do now? Sit around with your hand on your ass?”

“No. I’ll find something else. I was talking to my neighbor upstairs, and he said I could probably get unemployment, so I gotta figure out how to do that.”

“Oh, yeah? Your neighbor upstairs?” She made what I said sound dirty. “What are you doing telling everybody your business for? They don’t need to know. Jesus, Mary. When are you gonna learn to keep your goddamn mouth shut?”

I could hear the sound of a match being struck as she started a new cigarette, inhaling deeply. Through the receiver, she blew smoke in my face.

“Christ Almighty. My daughter.” She paused for emphasis. “My pride and joy. On the fucking dole.”

It’s not like I expected the conversation to go well, but this was pretty bad. Plus, I still needed money. But I couldn’t get the right footing to ask. I think a part of me already knew she’d say ‘no,’ but I got caught up in the argument. Maybe all I’d get to do was make her aware that I was struggling. You know, to spread the pain around.

I should have just hung up. But instead, I fed more change into the slot so the operator wouldn’t cut us off. The line clicked twice and went quiet for a second.

“Mary, are you there?”

I could hear my mother’s panic – that perhaps we’d gotten disconnected, and I was gone from her grasp. But I wasn’t equipped to work that fear to my advantage. She was too loud and quick and strong. And I was a weakling.

“Where’s that animal you’re tied to? Can’t he take care of you?” She meant Charlie. He was back in jail. “Tell you what, don’t answer that. I don’t wanna know.”

“I can take care of myself,” I said.

“Sure, you can.”

“I could use a loan, though, Mom. Please. Just to have my phone turned back on. So I can get work.”

“No friggin’ way am I handing over the contents of my wallet. I’m done laying out for you. You’ll have to run this horseshit past your father.”

“Then I’ll call back. When will he be home?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

*******

Dad tapped on the basement window with his car keys the following morning. I heard the sound in a dream, at first. A bird, pecking on a tree made of glass. Peck, peck, peck. Shattering everything, right down to the roots. I’m not sure how long I was out of it. The room was quietly streaked with sun when my eyes finally started closing. I did not think sleep would ever come. And like most nights, there was crying.

He tapped again, and I woke up. “Come to the back. I’ll let you in.” I waved at his shoes. That’s all I could see.

I threw a blanket over the wine box next to the mattress on the floor. I gathered up the spent beer cans and whatever all else looked suspicious and unproductive.

He came down the stairs carrying a cardboard box filled with spaghetti noodles and tomato sauce, peanut butter, sugary cereal for when my kid came to visit, milk and juice.

“This is from your mother,” he said. “I gotta use your bathroom.”

He peed with the door open, whistling through his teeth and farting to his own melody.

“Did Mommy tell you I called?”

“Yeah.”

He flushed the toilet and zipped his pants in the hallway, went to the fridge and looked inside. Not much in there except salad dressing and six or eight beers.

“I’m taking these,” he said, grabbing two with one hand. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow early. You can give me a hand with some shit.”

“What kind of shit?”

“Does it matter?”

It didn’t, really. But goddamn it, I was still broke and running low on everything I needed to get high. And maintain. Without money, I’d be scrounging around, borrowing from people. I hated that. Selling things I tried to convince myself I was done using. Like my blow dryer. And the fan from the kitchen window. Two folding knives belonging to Charlie. You know what? Fuck him. He ain’t even around to help out. The little Christmas tree my sister bought us, even though I swore up and down I hated the holidays. Clothes she gave me, and clothes I stole from her closet.

My father looked over the top of his glasses, caked with dirt and covered in smudges. “Listen to me.” He spoke just above a whisper. “Are you listening?”

I nodded.

“Whatever this stupid shit is that you’re doing, you gotta knock it off. Personally, I don’t give a damn. But you’re killing your mother.”

I wasn’t sure if he knew what I was into or not. He’d likely beat my ass if he did. Or maybe not. The man was impossible to read.

“Eat something,” he said. Then he left.

Eat something. That’s a good one. Like anybody could eat with my problems. No job. No money. He don’t care. He just said so himself. “Personally, I don’t give a damn.” Personally! Like he’s a real person. You know what? Fuck him. Fuck all of them.

As always, I began obsessing over whether or not I’d get to sleep at a reasonable hour, which I never did. I was routinely gassed, to the point where being awake just bummed me out. I don’t think I was depressed, even though I felt weary and short-changed all the time. I was either drunk and high or hung over and strung out.

Would I get enough rest if I went to bed at midnight? I started the countdown in my head. Nine hours from now, I should try and lay down. But how could I with so much to do? What if it was more like two or three o’clock? And Dad showed up early? I added and subtracted measurements of time and energy.

Would I be too tired to swing that gigantic mop at the bar? Cranking the lever to squeeze the gray water back into the bucket over and over, trying to make a dirty floor less dirty. Hosing off the picnic tables and rinsing the garbage barrels out front.

I reminded myself to bring the radio, so I’d have music to listen to while I was there. They had beer, which was good. Pitchers I could fill and bring upstairs while I did my work. The old guys behind the bar never minded. I made my own good time. Was this my new job now? Fun janitor?

Would Dad pay me right away? I thought about money being pressed into my hand and gone again without ever knowing the inside of any of my pockets. I always spent way more than I made and saved nothing.

During the rest of the afternoon and evening, I established a mental list of needs, as well as the step-by-step instructions I’d have to follow in order to secure these needs but would probably ignore if I could come up with different, easier ideas.

There are few situations more strenuous than time spent procuring supplies to get a load on. It can be such lonely, demanding work. There’s considerable strategy involved. Fundraising and backup plans. Travel time – for me, all on foot. I’d have to see who was around. There was usually someone around at the usual places. Unless no one was there or no one who knew me was there. If I had a little cash, just enough to get in the door, so to speak, I could ask for certain individuals who wouldn’t mind helping me out. Dudes who sometimes let me go on less.

“You seen Jigsaw? Topo? Edward?”

“Nah.” These guys would look at me like I was making names up. They’d turn their backs and pretend I wasn’t there. I’d have to keep moving. I have no game. I’m not that slick.

On to the next place where maybe they could hold some of my stuff or trade. I never saw my things again.

Small degrees of success might take hours and consume whole days, barring distractions like work and relationships. Neither of which I had at the moment.

Heading home with modest results, a side trip to the liquor store and warm beers from the supermarket, I happened upon a set of fancy, red books stacked on the easement of Yellowstone Boulevard, half a mile from my house. Encyclopedias grouped into four bundles with twine, roughly seven or eight books each. Too heavy for me to lift.

I decided right then and there that Kirin needed these books. My son deserved a good education. I envisioned the two of us pouring over each issue together, learning about the world as it was documented back in 1969, when this particular edition was published. In twenty five years, surely not much had changed with regard to our simple interests. Vehicles, in general, had withstood some updates, yes. But planets, flags, dinosaurs and hot air balloons looked pretty much the same. What a great find!

I returned to the basement on Alderton Street and dropped off my groceries, filled a plastic cup with wine, did a little coke and went back for the books with a steak knife to cut the ropes so I could carry four or five at a time. Motherfucking encyclopedias are heavy!

Start with 6 trips to the book stash x 11 blocks one way, 22 blocks round trip. That equals 132 blocks, coming and going. Try to remember that amount. You’ll need it again later.

I don’t know how long it took me to complete my mission. A bunch of hours. I walked and toiled well past dinnertime, my eyes darting in and out of first floor apartment windows where tables were set for meals and children did homework in families not fractured by mothers incapable of getting their fucking acts together.

More hours passed, and day became night. Although grateful for something constructive to do, I was also getting tired. Stopping at my place to drop off each load, I peed and snorted drugs. Filling new tumblers with wine to keep me company on the way there and stacking the empties behind a tree at the scene of the abandoned books to mark my progress. I trudged back home, arms filled with sophisticated facts.

It’s hard to leave the house when there’s coke, but I did it. I finished the job! At least, I thought I did.

I stood amid my newly acquired library of knowledge, wiping down each issue and grouping them alphabetically. A through D. E, F. Hmmm, where was G? H through L. M through P. Q, R, S, T. U through the rest of the other letters and those extra bullshit companion guides. Where the fuck was G? No way it wasn’t there with all the others. I must have left it behind.

So back to the trash pile I went, where I searched, to no avail. No G anywhere. Lots of other cast off items, crap I had no use for. A box of small appliances. Who needs a blender without a lid? Several well-worn frying pans and a large wok, mismatched plates and cups. A makeup bag with what looked like expensive cosmetics inside. That, I took, along with my collection of used wine cups, sticky and crawling with ants.

I checked the time on the clock in the window of the dry cleaner – 5:25 a.m. The morning world began to stir. Vans filled with bread and pastries zoomed past, newspaper delivery trucks. Express buses filled with commuters who slept well, ate well and somehow managed to stay employed. Workers heading to jobs I used to have.

I went home and made up my face in the narrow mirror that came with an eyeshadow tool kit. I did not recognize myself when I was done. I lay back on the mattress and tried to feel ready for sleep. I did the last bit of math in my head, adding 22 more blocks to my earlier sum and deciding I’d walked 154 blocks in total. That’s almost eight miles.

I stroked my eyelashes, still caked with mascara. They reminded me of plastic spiders. I tried to scrape them clean with my fingernails, pulling and stretching the lids away from the rest of my theatrical features. In those last moments of visible darkness, I plucked and picked at them until I was sure there were none left.

I dozed for a while, trying to recall the big long word that means you’re afraid of spiders. It begins with the letter “a.” The S book would probably know that information, and I was glad to have it. But I must have passed out.

*******

In the car with my father, heading to the bar, I tried to make small talk.

“I found a set of books in somebody’s garbage last night. Encyclopedias for Kirin. They look expensive. It’s good to have encyclopedias, you know? We had them, remember?”

Dad raised his eyebrows. He was listening, I guess, so I kept talking.

“Problem is there’s no G. I looked everywhere.”

“Maybe that’s why they threw them away.”

“Yeah, maybe. But they’re still really good books,” I insisted.

“He’s never gonna know what a giraffe is.”

I rested the side of my head against the window and considered how this omission might shape my son’s future.

Dad patted my leg. “He’ll be all right. It’s not that big a deal.”

But What Can I Do? I’m Lonely Too

But What Can I Do? I’m Lonely Too

Yes, I spend a lot of time with my drug dealer’s wife. But let me be very clear about one thing. We’re not friends. She thinks we are, and it gives me the creeps.

“There’s my Mary,” Laureen gushes, when I finally get one of them to open the fucking door and let me in. She poses at the top of the stairwell in an undershirt and pajama bottoms, one hand on her boney hip and the other outstretched in my direction.

“How do you people stay in business?” I ask. “I’ve been leaning on the buzzer for twenty minutes.” It was really more like five, but everything feels longer when you’re waiting, right? Laureen ignores my complaints and continues to sing my praises.

“Let me look at you, girl. In your little work clothes. Now, I’m happy,” she says, first nodding her head up and down, and then, side to side. “I was so sad before. I cried for three hours.”

“You did not.” I know she’s teasing. She squeezes my face between her knuckles and kisses me on the mouth. Her breath is awful. I can’t describe what it smells like, so I won’t even bother.

“I love what you’re wearing.” I’m dressed in pants and a coat that I bought for seven dollars at the Salvation Army. “I mean it, honey. You could be a model.” I hate the way Laureen looks at me and my things, like she’s starving. I don’t have much, but she has nothing. And realizing this makes me very uncomfortable.

“Pretty, pretty Mary. How’d you get to be so funny and amazing?” Laureen leans against the kitchen counter that’s come loose from the wall, and no one is fixing it. “We are so much alike, don’t you think? I swear, we could be sisters.” My skin crawls whenever she says this, which is often, and I hate it every time.

She leans in, as if to share a secret. “You know, guys are always telling me, ‘Laureen, you’re so pretty.'” Her words drift, and she is somewhere else for a minute. “What was I saying?”

“That I’m funny and amazing.”

“Right, right. See? You know. Funny and freaking amazing!”

*******

I follow Laureen down the hallway. Considering how many people are actually inside this apartment, the living room is quiet, except for the TV. There’s no picture on the screen anymore, just sound. Everybody here is doing their thing. Manny can get whatever you need, but most folks smoke crack. They come to buy and get right to it, sometimes turning hours into days. I always try to have my thoughts straight before I show up.

“Just pay for your shit and go home,” I tell myself. “Pay and go. Pay and go.” I do not want to be here. This place is scary, but nothing is ever that easy.

“How’s your job, hon? Is it good?” Laureen makes like she’s interested. I used to try and tell her shit, but she’s not paying attention so I don’t try anymore. “I want a job,” she muses. “I can do shit. I got skills.” Her voice becomes a little sing-song, and I resent it. “Get dressed up. Ride the train. Talk on the phone. Mary, can’t you get me in at your work?”

“I’ll ask.” Of course, I’m not gonna. The girl’s a fucking wreck.

I watch my drug dealer’s wife load this big, fat rock into a beat-to-shit asthma inhaler. I wish she would just shut the fuck up, and she will. I move a little closer on the couch.

*******

Laureen is obsessed with the condition of her mouth. Many of her teeth are already gone. Mine are just starting to come loose. The way she carries on gets worse when she’s high.

“You smell that?” She points to the infected holes in her gums. Here we go again. “There’s something in there. Something’s in my mouth. Don’t you smell it?”

“I do,” Manny says. He’s chopping coke and laying out a row of scrawny lines for two girls that sit on either side of his filthy shoes. “It smells like somebody puked in a bag of shit.” He slaps an open palm against his knee to confirm his own joke.

“Can you check for me, babe?” She means me. “Just look and tell me what you see.”

“I don’t know what I’m looking for.”

“Please,” she begs. I peer into her gaping maw with one eye closed.

“Did you find it? What’s in there?”

“Laureen, there’s nothing. Go rinse your mouth.”

An industrial-sized bottle of mouthwash, the kind that looks like piss, sits on an old door they use as a coffee table. Laureen takes a long swig, puffs out her cheeks, swishes it around and gobs her backwash into one of two Styrofoam cups reserved exclusively for this purpose.

Do not touch or look inside either of these cups. She recycles the swill from the first one and spits it into the second. This procedure may be right up there with one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen a person do.

I had this boyfriend who took a shit on the floor once because I wouldn’t unlock the bathroom door. We just broke up. Another time, I watched two dogs eat from the same bowl. When one of them threw up, the other one ate it. But maybe that doesn’t count because they were animals and not people. Animals don’t know any better.

Occasionally, someone will drop a cigarette butt into the gravy-like murk of Laureen’s spittoon. This makes her absolutely furious.

“Hey, asshole!” she yells into the disinterested face of a nearby guest. “This cup look like an ashtray to you?”

It kinda does.

*******

I think Manny and Laureen are married, but they might not be. Manny’s a shit heel, though. I still can’t believe I walked in on him and this older woman. She was on her knees in the kitchen. He smiled when he saw me. I wasn’t sure what I should do, so I turned around and went back in the other room.

He came looking for me after. “So, how’d you like that before?” Still grinning.

“Like what?” Laureen asked.

“Some cryptkeeper bitch was sucking my dick. Man, she tugged so hard, I had to make sure it was still there when she finished.”

Somebody laughed. I don’t know who. I couldn’t look. Laureen went back to her business as if he never said anything. I left right after that. I didn’t even wait until it got light out. I walked home 38 blocks in the dark.

*******

Laureen calls me at my job. I can’t remember giving her my number at work or the address, but I must have. I don’t think she has the brains to find me otherwise. To look something up in the Yellow Pages or ask the operator for help.

“Hey, it’s me.” She heavy breathes into the receiver. “Give a guess where I am.” Immediate panic prevents me from any logical thinking. “Right downstairs!” She’s excited. “I came to see you.”

How am I supposed to explain Laureen to the people I work with? What’s with the crackhead? they will surely wonder. I thought I could keep these two things separate.

“I’m going into a staff meeting,” I tell her. That’s a lie.

“Right this minute?”

“Yeah.”

“C’mon. I just wanna say ‘Hi.’ Plus, I gotta use the toilet.”

“I can’t. I have to go.” I hang up the phone. It rings again, almost immediately. I walk away from my desk, down the corridor and into the file room. I hide there for a while and hope to God she won’t be able to find me in this building. I pray she’s too stupid to figure it out.

I start buying my dope from another supplier. This guy in Shipping and Receiving was very forthcoming as to where he gets what he needs to keep him working such long hours. I wonder if he likes me. It’s hard to tell. He’s scattered. And one of the girls in my department said he’s about to get fired if he keeps fucking shit up.

I haven’t seen or heard from Laureen or Manny in almost a month. Not since the day she was here.

This morning, the receptionist handed me a message from some lady named Carolyn. I didn’t recognize the number, so I just threw it away. When she calls back again, I pick up the phone.

“Is this Mary?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Laureen’s mother.” My heart starts to race, and my ears feel hot. “Have you seen my daughter?”

“No.”

“You can tell me, dear. I promise I’m not mad.”

“I haven’t.”

“Laureen talks about you all the time. She says you’re like her best friend. She needs a friend.”

“I don’t know where she’s at.” That’s the truth.

“Will you let me know if you hear from her? I’m so worried, Mary.”

Just the way she says my name, it makes me want to cry.

* Artwork by Amanda Elizabeth Joseph
www.artattacksonline.com/AmandaJoseph

I Can’t Make You Love Me

I Can’t Make You Love Me

God forgive me. She’s my own mother, but I hate it when she cries. Familiar as I am with the routine anger and resentment she has toward my father, I am never ready for all that unexpected sputtering and weeping. It seems to come from out of nowhere and goes through me like a knife.

One minute, we’re talking about something harmless like Reduced Fat Triscuits and the next, she’s completely distraught over whatever Dad’s done that can never be forgiven. Like the way he keeps waking up every morning and breathing.

Granted, he’s no picnic. But she’s still pissed about antics he pulled thirty and forty years ago. He didn’t care about her feelings then, and he sure as shit doesn’t give a damn about them now. When is she gonna figure that out?

I swear, it’s like she’s half stupid or something. It breaks my heart to think that’s the case. Over and over, she persists with the same hateful, unverified claims.

“Why don’t you tell your daughter how you clogged the toilet again?” she asks.

My father smiles and laughs gently, as if responding to a joke about farts.

“He does it on purpose, you know. He holds his shit in all morning and waits until I get into the shower. I’m trapped like a fucking animal. I can’t even wash my face in peace.”

“Did you call the landlord, Mom?”

Her voice begins to waver. “Please, Mary. I can’t look that poor man in the eye anymore. You have no idea what it’s like to live this way.”

And she is right. Sort of. What my parents share is a very specific brand of crazy. But over the years, I did take what I learned from their expert tutelage and went on to destroy nearly every relationship I can remember. How to ignore the other person and communicate in riddles. The disappearing act. Withholding affection to manipulate situations. Explosive, misdirected rage. And much, much more.

So I do get whatever this is. I didn’t just arrive on the scene of this circus fire. I’m quite used to the smell of smoke by now.

“See if he’s hungry.” Mom flicks her wrist in my father’s direction. A plastic bag of cold cuts flops onto the kitchen counter like a fish.

“Hey, Daddy. You want a sandwich?”

“Of course, he does,” she says. “All I want is some decency. Is that too much to ask?”

Maybe that’s what I find so frustrating. She doesn’t make any reasonable requests. Just hateful demands that can never be met by this elderly man who was once a much younger man with the same limited emotional range.

Only now, he’s old. His memory is shot. When he knew you before, he treated you like shit. He knows even less about you these days. Except that you’ll wipe his ass for him. I’m sure he sees that as a plus.

I’m not suggesting it’s right or fair. My mother doesn’t deserve this much unhappiness. But it certainly is her whole world, and she protects it fiercely. I wish there was something I could do to make things better. I’ve been wishing this my whole life.

Mom does not want my help. She makes it very clear that no one can help her. She is all alone in her disappointment. How am I supposed to penetrate that kind of willfulness? I try. I’m willful, too. But she only lets me in a little bit. In a moment of clarity, I realize that’s all she has. Our relationship exists and survives on scraps. I have always wanted more.

*******

You know, when we were kids, and she hated him, I thought I understood why. It didn’t seem like my dad loved her. Or anything else, really. He came and went along his own trajectory and behaved in ways that frightened us all.

“What will happen if they get a divorce?” I asked my sister.

Judy was older than me. She seemed to have a loose grasp of what was at stake. She might have been twelve at the time. “They’re not getting a divorce,” she said.

“Well, if they do, I’m going with him.”

And not because we shared a special father/daughter bond. He couldn’t take care of himself, never mind us girls. Mom swore he’d die on his own, and I believed her. Still, I wanted out from under the weight of her everyday misery.

“You don’t get to pick,” Judy informed me. “We’d have to stay with her.”

“You can stay,” I told her. “I’m leaving.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am,” I muttered under my breath.

My cousin Donald’s seventh grade homeroom teacher was divorced. I think Judy had her for Science. She wore false eyelashes and high heels to school. She gave the kids gum. My mother couldn’t stand her.

She was the first ‘Ms.’ I’d ever encountered. That’s what they called you when you weren’t married anymore. When your husband left you because you were a whore.

*******

Dad shuffles into the kitchen at the mention of food and sits with us at the crowded table. Piles of bills, newspapers, prescription bottles and half empty coffee cups cover every available surface. I slide the paper shredder over to make room so he can eat lunch.

Mom loves that shredder. I bought it for her two Easters ago. She seems to take great delight in obsessively reducing things to ribbons.

“Shred these,” she demands and tosses a stack of paperwork at his belly. Old Pennysavers and flyers filled with coupons.

My father picks up a church bulletin and feeds into the narrow slot.

“Not that!” she growls and yanks the sheet, jamming the machine. “Can’t I have anything nice?”

And here come the tears.

Georgy Girl

Georgy Girl

I just want to eat lunch.

Mommy promised if I was good, we could have grilled cheese at the counter in Woolworth’s. No more hamburgers, not since the last time we ate there. She said the chop meat was bad. It tasted fine to me, and then all of a sudden, I didn’t feel good. I threw up next to a baby carriage right out front. Mommy covered it with a bunch of napkins, and we left.

We’re on our way to the bank which is so boring and a hundred times worse than any other store I can think of and most churches. There are no chairs or pews. If you want to lay down, you have to do it on the giant dirty rug in the hallway but with so many people coming in and out, there’s really no room.

I stare into the big metal ashtray in the doorway. It’s almost as tall as me. There’s a piece of pink gum resting right on the edge of the dish, almost separate from the squished cigarette butts and candy wrappers. It looks fresh. I can still see teeth marks.

Mommy waits on line. She is next. It looks like she knows the lady behind the counter. This is gonna take forever! But now, at least, I have something to do.

I sing some of the words to “Hey There, Georgy Girl” as we walk together down the street. I heard it on the radio when we were in the pharmacy getting a birthday card for my cousin.

You’re always window shopping, but never stopping to buy.
So shed those dowdy feathers and fly, a little bit!

“What’s in your mouth?” Mommy asks.

“A song,” I say.

“Spit it out.”

She holds her hand in front of my mouth, and I swallow.

Smashed!

Smashed!

I smashed my thumb trying to open a bottle of wine with a hammer and a butter knife, and now, my finger hurts like crazy. I ran it under cold water. Motherfucker bled like a pig.

Probably gonna lose the nail. Shit looks split right down the middle, which I wouldn’t even think is possible unless I saw it with my own eyes. And now that I’ve seen it, I still don’t believe it. Like shutters on a haunted house. One panel all busted up in the frame and the other hanging loose by a hinge.

I had to sacrifice an old pair of pantyhose to stop the bleeding. Nylon is not a particularly absorbent material, I realize that now. But I think I did a good job. I started with the foot section and wrapped it round and round my thumb a bunch of times. Tore it from the bloomers part with my teeth. I got a shoelace from an old pair of sneakers I don’t wear anymore and tied it up nice and secure, like I was MacGuyver.

I’m gonna look on the bright side. At least the bottle didn’t break. There’s a goddamn mess for you! And a waste of some perfectly good wine when the glass is all shattery and shit.

Don’t worry. You can still have what’s in there. Just hold a piece of paper towel over your cup. If there’s any shards or slivers, it catches them.

I might even squeeze the wine out of the napkin and drink it. Depends on how much is left.

* Artwork: Green Pieces by Todd Ford
www.fordsart.blogspot.com

You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail

I glance at my phone, look at Facebook real quick. I check e-mails, out of habit more than anything else. I’m not expecting any highly important correspondence to come through. It’s mostly junk. It always is.

Still, I pause at the message that starts with “You have been selected by People Magazine…”

Hmmm. Perhaps someone has written to them about me. A friend, I’m guessing. An individual who is rather fond of me, no doubt. What a nice thing to do. I can only imagine what he or she might have said.

Dear People Magazine:

I know this girl. Her name is Mary. I feel like I need to tell you about her.

A brief synopsis of my character and unique talents, followed by a flattering list of awesome things I guess I do that this person has noticed and felt compelled to share with a national publication reserved almost exclusively for artists and celebrities. Wow.

I click on the link and read a little further, beyond the preliminary caption.

People wants me to consider subscribing to an additional magazine. Sports Illustrated. They think I might like it.

Forget all that stuff I just said. Clearly, these idiots know nothing about me.

Summer Is Ready When You Are

Summer Is Ready When You Are

I slept over this girl’s house last night. I don’t know her well, but we work together. She’s friendly enough.

She made such a big fucking deal about how much she loves to party, so I got us some blow. We hit a few bars in her neighborhood, which was fun. I generally like to stay in one place, though. I concentrate better. She seemed to know a lot of people. But Bayonne is loud and crowded, especially on Fridays in the summer. And sometimes, cocaine makes me feel lonely.

In the bathroom, she wouldn’t shut up about all these guys who apparently are just dying to sleep with her. Yeah, okay.

She got too drunk way too quick, if you ask me. Which, c’mon, that shouldn’t even happen when you have coke. Falling out of her shoes. She spilled a Bay Breeze down the front of her shirt. They made us leave the last place we were at. She started something with the dude working the door, running her mouth like an asshole.

We walked around for nearly an hour before she sobered up enough to remember where the fuck she lived.

“It’s this way,” she kept saying. Then she’d stop to throw up between every four or five cars. I swear, I would have left her there, only I don’t know my way around New Jersey. And she hadn’t paid me back yet for the drugs I got us that I ended up snorting all by myself anyway, hunched over on her couch next to a pile of rank laundry.

I should have saved what was left, since the whole night kinda sucked. But maybe you know how that goes.

I listened to her crying into the phone, pleading with some idiot she used to go out with.

“Just come over,” she begged. “I’m horny.”

Gross.

I waited until she got into the shower this morning before I went through her wallet. Relax, I didn’t take everything. Three twenties and a five should cover my hardship. Let her think she lost it in our travels. Serves her right for getting so sloppy.

“You got that money you owe me?” I ask when she’s done drying her hair.

She empties the contents of her purse onto the bed. “Shit,” she says.

“What’s the matter?” Like I don’t know.

She checks the pockets of her coat. “Nothing. Can we stop by the bank when I drop you at the train?”

“Sure. That’ll be great.”

* Artwork: Q Train by Nigel Van Wieck
www.nigelvanwieck.net

Another List

Another List

In writing class, the prompt was to make a list of all the people you love.

This is gonna be easy, I thought. And long. I love so many people!

I put Dave first on the list. And then, the boys – Kirin, Desmond and Bro, in age order.

Perhaps I should bump Kirin up to the top. We’ve known each other the longest. I put an asterisk next to him with an arrow.

But in fairness, my husband has been through the most. Surely, he deserves a little something special for all these years of devoted service. I was gonna say abuse,’ but I suppose it hasn’t been that bad.

I draw a smiley face next to his name with a heart and an exclamation point. Plus an arrow, only going in the opposite direction from Kirin’s.

It’d be nice if I had a yellow highlighter, but I can never find one when I need it. The kids use them for school, they don’t replace the caps properly, and the ink dries up. I end up throwing a few away every time I open the drawer where we keep the pens.

If they ask, which I can’t imagine they will, I’ll just be honest and say the list goes from shortest to tallest. Which, so far, is the truth when you think about it. But they don’t think like I do so they probably won’t notice.

Correctional Institute For Men

Correctional Institute For Men

I remember when Charlie’s brother, Ned, robbed a bunch of Starter jackets from Caldor. It was Christmastime, and the stores on Bruckner Boulevard were mobbed. I’m not sure how he and Timmy wound up over there. Somebody must have driven them. It’s not like they had the car anymore.

I still can’t believe they got away with it. Eleven or twelve coats between the two of them. I wish I could have seen what that looked like. Just a couple of holiday shoppers trying clothes on in front of the mirror, zipping up layer over layer. Drifting toward the side exit near the Radio Shack and disappearing across the parking lot in the snow, wearing almost a thousand dollars worth of merchandise.

I remember how excited the boys were when they got back to the house. Ned draped two towels over the window in the front room and laid everything out on Mabel’s bed. We stood there for several minutes, marveling at this sudden windfall.

“Mare, you’re in charge of watching these coats,” he said. “Make sure nobody steals them.”

Within no time, people from the neighborhood began showing up to get in on the action. Everybody wanted one of those jackets. They arrived on foot and in borrowed vehicles. One guy rode over on a little girl’s bicycle, the kind with the wicker basket attached to the handlebars.

“It’s practically brand new,” he said. “Kylie don’t use it no more. She’s with her mother now, since January.”

Some folks actually had money, but most presented items to trade and invitations for future questionable opportunities. They rolled balding tires into the yard, carried boxes of purloined goods up the broken steps and into the kitchen.

“Check out these beautiful shower curtains, Ned. There’s at least two dozen here. All unopened, still in the package. Just take a look at the detail. They got all kinds of beads and shit along the bottom, very fancy. You could go down the subway and sell these for whatever.”

Jewelry, cartons of oranges and mangoes, cigarettes, cases of beer and bottles of homemade wine covered the table where Charlie’s mom sat, peeling and slicing vegetables.

Throughout the afternoon and well into the evening, they kept coming. If not to purchase, then simply to congratulate Ned and celebrate his accomplishment. It was nice to see him do so well for himself. It’s not like it happened all that often.

Charlie couldn’t see it that way. He was jealous of his brother’s good fortune and grew increasingly annoyed that he wasn’t the center of attention. He skulked around the perimeter of everyone’s good time like a big, stray dog you might cross the street to avoid. Clenching and unclenching his fists gave him something meaningful to do with his hands.

When he disappeared for a while, never a good sign, it was a clear indication that somewhere along the way, he’d found a bag of dope to bring some fairness back into his life. Mabel sent me looking for him when she realized he was missing.

“Will you find my son, honey?” she asked. Her voice was weary, as always. “He can’t be far.”

She was right. He sat brooding on top of a pile of garbage in the alleyway between the houses.

“Where you been, Charlie? You in there?”

I waved my hand slowly in front of his face and was careful not to touch him. It took a little while for my words to journey from his ears and burrow through the drug to reach his brain.

I proceeded with a degree of caution. “You need to get yourself a jacket before there’s none left.”

“I don’t want their fuckin’ stolen shit,” he mumbled. “And neither do you. Understand?”

“Just come inside.”

*******

“Let me see if I can get this straight,” Charlie challenged from the doorway, gripping a coffee cup filled with freshly mashed potatoes in one hand and a spoon in the other. “You just walked out the fuckin’ door wearing seven coats. And nobody stopped you.”

“That’s right,” Ned agreed. “Nobody stopped me.”

“Not one fuckin’ motherfucker said nothin’ to you.”

“Nope. Wait. I mean, yup.” By now, Ned was quite drunk.

“So you want me and Mom and whoever else is here to believe they just let you have all them coats. You’re shittin’ me, right?”

“C’mon, man. It’s Christmas. Why would I shit you?”

“Why? Because you’re full of shit, Ned. You’ve always been full of shit since before I can’t even remember. Fuck, I could kill you right now if I wanted.”

You just knew that coffee cup wasn’t gonna make it out alive. He hurled it across the room with such force, it shattered against the wall over the couch where Ned and several other young men were sitting, flicking little bits of ceramic and potato everywhere.

Charlie’s other brother, Rob, made us leave.

“Get the fuck out, you fuckin’ animal.” That’s what he said.

I remember the whole ride home on the bus and train from the Bronx into Queens, I kept thinking about how much I would have loved to have one of those starter jackets. The only other warm coat I had was the green one they gave Charlie when he was locked up through the winter. It read CIFM in bold faced script across the shoulders.

“What does it mean?” I asked when we first met.

“You’ll find out.” He thought it was funny, how little I knew.

Charlie told me I couldn’t wear it unless I covered the letters with electric tape. I was so stupid back then. I thought it was like a varsity jacket, except for jail.

* Artwork: The Last Jacket by Szabolcs Szolnoki
www.theartstack.com

In My Time of Dying

In My Time of Dying

I buy apples for the deers that live in the woods behind our house. I usually get the little ones. They come in plastic bags of ten and twelve at the supermarket. I’m not sure how much they cost. Five dollars, maybe six.

That’s the kind of life I live now. I just get fruit without checking the price. Add a sack to the top of my grocery cart when I’m shopping. I have enough money. If and when I’m making a list, I might jot down ‘apples.’ I use parentheses and write ‘some for us’ and ‘some for my friends,’ with a smiley face in the margin. We all like different varieties.

I don’t mind admitting that I come from a place of such hunger where, often times, I paid for my wine in quarters.

I love when our dogs follow me out to the backyard. They chase each other and watch me toss apples over the fence.

He limps behind several other young bucks, all with new, velvety horns. That’s how I can see that they’re boys. One of his front legs is lame. He tries to hold it tightly to his chest, but it dangles without purpose as he stumbles along on his three remaining spindles. Nancy next door let me know he was there. She sent a text message as soon as she saw them this morning.

“Oh, no,” I say, as I watch from the window.

My children are eating their breakfast. Pop tarts and yogurt, the kind that comes with its own granola.

“What’s the matter?” Rory asks.

“It’s a deer. His leg looks so broken.”

“Wait. Broken? Mom, we have to call someone. Animal Control.”

He begins searching my phone, as if I have that number on speed dial. As if he’d know what to do when they answered the call. As if they’d come immediately with the ability to make things better.

“It’s not that easy,” I tell him. “He doesn’t want our help.”

So you’re not gonna do anything?”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“You probably need to stop with the apples,” Rory adds.

“Why?”

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”

I stand there for several minutes, until the slow moving group disappears beyond Jennifer’s shed.

None of this is my fault. I say these words inside my head, to comfort myself.

* Artwork: Young Deer by Tamer Marzio
www.salamongallery.com