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.
first published: Halfway Down the Stairs, June, 2013
About six years ago, a dark-haired, thirtyish man in a white T-shirt pushed an arresting young woman in a wheel chair up the main aisle of the hardware store. She had intense brown eyes, smooth tan skin like her companion, and exuberant, thick eyebrows.
He approached me. “Do you have a little time you can spend with my sister? Anna has a few questions.”
“Sure. What can I help with?” I said. I was grateful. I am a rover in the store, free to help almost anybody with pretty much anything, but especially a pretty girl.
The girl had the same shiny rich, black hair as her brother, shoulder length. Her upper body was brown and broad; her legs were in jeans, but Velcro-wrapped to the foot rests of the chair.
“Well, I hope you can help me with pulleys, because I have to invent some things. I can picture it, but I need help to get the pieces together.”
Her eyes were mirrors into which I didn’t dare look. “Okay. Anna, I’m Jerry. What are we building?” Continue reading
MARRIED LOVE, YEAR THIRTY by Erik Svehaug
first published: UMM Binnacle Ultrashorts, 12-12-12
Fading memory is now our little family’s art,
And gravity unwraps the careful packaging of youth;
So let’s meet in serenity, embracing grief and joy,
In the mercy of moments that dawn perpetually.
When you quit pressing weekdays into weeks,
And I stop scraping flotsam into heaps,
We’ll come together in the unmapped dark
And shine our flashlights at the moon.
Sticky warm, he left work at the crack of the last whip.
She stuck the paintbrush in the freezer in plastic like a lollipop for use tomorrow.
Wide flung doors and windows admitted a bit of cooling air. They stretched their paycheck on the rug for a picnic.
A little chicken, pasta salad, thank you. They talked about the news of job cuts and her long days. They each ate half a watermelon.
Out of the smoke of hills on fire, the full moon climbed the trellis emitting pure catlight.
During the night their stomachs talked like foghorns. In the morning, they met in the middle of the wiggle room before work.
There was still time to walk the dog.