Published 2/18/14 here:
Manuel laughs and sets the pace at the lumberyard, salvaging twisted, stained, split lumber, turning short pieces into stakes or pickets. He and his crew replenish plywood, cut orders, load trucks and help customers in 100 degree heat or driving rain.
I’ve carpooled with him since the economy puked in 2008.
first publ: jan. 20, 2014
Chet shoved the key into the lock of his Brooklyn apartment and twisted.
In arid Mauritania, Hissein fell writhing against the lead goat, holding his belly from the pain of the parasite in his stomach.
As Chet dropped down the stairs two at a time toward the sidewalk, the tailings dam of Cerro Negro, Petorca, in Chile, began to bulge outward from age and the press of water behind it.
When Chet reached the curb, he glanced at his watch.
Dolores, in the mountain town of Sarang Sarang in Indonesia, died of old age at 53.
He chose the ignition key from his ring.
A village school closed its doors in Belen de Andamarca, Bolivia, for lack of funds. Continue reading
She wanted help, the thin, jowl-eyed lady. Long pink scars scattered like brush strokes up her brown arms and onto bare shoulders. Her hair hung resignedly past her shoulders. Her lipstick was only approximately in position. She teetered on gold open-heeled shoes.
“Just give me a strong lock and chain; 3 feet of chain that can go around the door handle. My husband threw the other one away. And he broke the last lock I had, like, like it was made of candy. He gets so rough when he drinks. I need to lock the bedroom better. When he decides he wants me, he just comes and takes me. I need a better way to keep him out.”
Kevin sold her a Master lock 5D and three feet of ¼” proof-coil chain.
The next week, she wore a yellow tank top so much too large that both shoulder straps were in danger of slipping off simultaneously. Her barely concealed breasts looked like socks full of sand. She was brown so far down her front that Kevin speculated to Mike she must garden in the 3:00 PM sun, wearing just her red lipstick and nail polish.
She sought out Kevin again, this time as he was front-facing the picture hooks. “I need a lock and a solid hasp,” she said. “So I can sleep in peace tonight. He comes in the window and I never know which sounds are him forcing the latch. The window latches are just the cheap junk that came with the window.”
She bought another 5D lock and a good size hasp. Kevin asked her how she was going to fasten the eye of the hasp to the aluminum slider. “There’s a guy in the mobile home park who can do it, unless you want to,” she said. She cocked her head a little.
Kevin told her he didn’t do side jobs.
He couldn’t avoid the public while working retail, he had discovered. He imagined a membership card based on intelligence, good manners and good grooming. And maybe looks. Revocable.
Three days later, part-timer Carla said: “Kevin, your girlfriend is here.” Kevin looked up to see Lock Lady coming past the front counter dressed in a thin long-sleeve blouse and a black micro skirt. Her nails and lipstick were cherry red and her hair was in a bun with black lacquered sticks.
Kevin fled past the shelf bracket and curtain rod display to the back aisle to hide from her. Somebody else could help her.
“Is Kevin here?” she asked at the service desk.
“There he is,” said Mike, pointing and smiling.
Kevin, usually reserved, said: “Oh, my God.”
“Can you show me some locks that work with slide bolts,” she asked him. “I am going to need a long, thick slide bolt, and a big strong lock to keep it in place. It’s because of my husband,” she said. Kevin decided he would just focus on the sale; not let it bother him. If she wanted to waste time being paranoid, the store still got another sale out of it. He showed her the shelves of contractor grade security hardware and locks.
“That looks perfect,” she said.
Kevin bent over to note the model number on a cashier tag.
From behind him, her thin arm silently extended over Kevin’s shoulder as he knelt in front of the bottom shelf. Her hand reached into his open shirt collar. Her fingers dove into the curly brown hair of his chest and splashed and played in his hair for a few seconds like a dolphin in the bow wave of a cruise ship.
Kevin jumped and shook himself like he had a bee in his shirt.
“Just about the sexiest thing I have ever seen,” she said.
“What are you doing?” he asked, regaining his dignity a bit.
“I just had to touch it,” she said. “So silky!”
“Well, it makes me uncomfortable,” said Kevin, certain he did not have to tolerate this in the name of customer service.
“You don’t know how scary it is, feeling threatened by him all the time. When he gets drunk, he just takes me, whenever he wants. I can’t get any sleep, because I have to be ready to defend myself.” A single tear squeezed out of the corner of her eye.
“I don’t know,” said Kevin.
“You are so helpful, I’m going to tell the manager how much you’ve helped me,” she said. She seemed ready to embrace him, so Kevin stepped quickly back.
“Don’t have to do that,” said Kevin. “Good luck with that.” And he hurried to the next customer.
She bought the hardware.
Two weeks later, Debbie, a long-time colleague of Kevin’s, brought in a news clipping. “Isn’t this Lock Lady?” she asked him as she posted an obit picture by the time clock.
Libby Morrow died in a mobile home fire. She was found in bed, after a cigarette blazed up in her mattress during the night. The firemen had difficulty getting to her. Her unit had been securely bolted at the bedroom door, entry door and all windows.
“She lived in a fortress,” said a firefighter.
Kevin said nothing but the minimum for days.
The manager denied his request to switch to a branch of the store in a different region. Gradually the other employees forgot about Lock Lady and stopped teasing him.
Sometimes, when he stocked the padlocks, Kevin felt a gentle hand on the back of his head.
He didn’t pull away.
The young priest cut the outboard engine half a mile from Horseshoe Bay off the Marin Headlands. He had no fishing pole, no crab pots. He spent most Mondays off from his stagnant ministry in this rowboat.
He tipped the engine up and back, put the oars in their locks, let the blades hang in the water. He waited, bow pointed across open water toward old San Francisco. Outside the mouth of the Bay, the barren Farallons called and the immense Pacific offered to take him. The boat drifted dully.
He closed his eyes. His seminary enthusiasm had met polite tolerance. He just couldn’t engage these natives with roots as old as the Bible. Power-Points were useless.
Small waves licked the side of the boat; the hungrier ones slapped it. Continue reading
Honorable Mention: Fall, 2011
Mom was perfect from day start till shut eye. I can’t mourn her: her myth remains, clogging my mind like milfoil. The woman, not my mother, died.
She willed good things to happen, healed wounds with a kiss, never lost her cool. She exuded control, and I believed it of her, even after I saw her face without her teeth or commanding smile.
At twenty-three, sans my wisdom teeth, I passed a doorway in a huge medical center, a woman’s face spotlighted in the operating chair, visible because the dentist leaned away.
Her hand flashed up to hide the unmade bed of her mouth, the unguarded pink walls of her gums, stretched between two or three isolated teeth.
She was instantly in tears.
It was my fault. I felt that terrible comfortable nausea of knowing I’d screwed up, just not how.
So I resorted to mythic beauty.
first pubbed ezine and podcast: 10-2011
He dumped you; hard. You decorated his smell out of the apartment.
Later, as you chased a rag up and down the new heron-leg stools and along the front of the Uba Tooba counter; as you polished the rubber plant; gave the prayer rug a shake; combed the sand on the end table with a tiny rake; artfully managed not to disturb the bonsai or knock the crystals from advantageous points in the high corners while you dusted;
the edge of the golden gong silently sliced your index finger. A smile of blood slowly formed. Impulsively, you wiped it on the flat brass face. Your missing peace settled on the apartment like warm rain. You struck the gong and your ears echoed the thin roar, shedding voices, dislodging hurtful jibes. You struck again.
You clean weekly, since then, but gong daily. A drop of blood keeps it real. The gong is the color of rich oxblood shoe leather. You see the good place you are in reflected in its face.