Mulberries

The mulberries stained hard-deep purple bruises across the back of my shirts. Ma never minded though. They were her Dad’s trees and we only saw them when we visited the old place. She kept a few of the stained shirts, clean otherwise, in a drawer and would have me wear them around the apartment where we lived in town. She’d hug me and run her hands over the splotches which I couldn’t feel but she could. She’d whisper “Daddy” and sometimes cry.

I climbed one of those trees once. Not too high-I was a little kid-but high enough that the inevitable fall left me splatted and dazed, flat on my back. Lying there, the sun leaking through the purple flecked leaves, a man took shape. A man I wouldn’t meet for years.

He was big and dark, up from the Islands to live with his daughter next door for the summer. He was wearing a clean white T-shirt that stretched sorely across his bulk. The sun glistened off his head as he picked mulberries into a dented pot from a tree in the park across the street.

“Daddy!”, his daughter cried her accent only revealed when she was agitated. “Don’ pick the berries! People up here will tink you too country!” She said this running in her bare feet. His smiling eyes caught mine.

“She say dat til she taste da pie…” he said. Then he laughed a rolling rumble that I couldn’t help but join.

Morpheus

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She was still telling the story about the time Laurence Fishburne tried to pick her up in the Village. How she rebuffed his savage suavity, not realizing she was dating herself when she called him Morpheus. The Village wasn’t the Village anymore and Laurence was no longer Morpheus.

It wasn’t a story she should tell everyone, but it was one she told me too often. And when she told it, she stood too close and let her hand linger on my arm just a beat too long. We were working long hours on her project and I’d fly in from headquarters for a few days at a time.

She knew I was married which probably made me safe for her fantasies but trying for mine. There was the time she had taken me to a bar for drinks, somewhere out on the Island, then for a walk down a quaint sandy street. She was working through one of her divorces. “That bar is my husband’s favorite”, she said nodding across the street. “He’s probably in there now. But I don’t see his truck.” She smiled sweetly, careful not to catch my eye.

It was the same trip, or the one after, when she came to my hotel room to use the bathroom after passing on the one in the lobby. This was after an evening of dancing and dinner. I had the knees for it then.

She was wearing a fashionable for the time letterman’s jacket that bloused at the waist. It had faux leather sleeves that she rubbed against me as I held the door ushering her from the bathroom right into the hall.

The twinge of her leaving was nowhere near the nightmare of her staying.

I was no longer Morpheus either.

In the Permian Hills

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I watched him kill sparrows once, in the field behind his old farmhouse. This was years after Kate died, but you’d never know it because her stuff was still everywhere. He blamed sparrows for the for the loss of songbirds and his beloved finches and titmice. The trap was a box like contraption of heavy metal screen wrapped around a wooden frame. At one end of the box was a hole and just inside the hole a cantilevered arm with a screened cover. The birds would hop onto the arm which would simultaneously drop them into the box and cover the hole-trapping them inside.

This was back in the Permian Hills, which he called the place where they-he-lived. Soft hills that rolled and undulated between the horizons like waves in a washtub. He loved saying it, planting his flag in the region as if naming it made him something more than a short time caretaker. Remember the place as brown. It wasn’t, of course. Not always. It could be beautiful in the summer when everything was planted and the high sky was deep blue swept with wispy high clouds. But my memories allow it no more than the sickly greenish tinge of a catfish’s belly.

He would bait the device with millet and rough grain, not the thistle or black oil sunflower seeds that he fed the songbirds. He’d set it on the stump of an old oak out back while we went about our business. Later we’d find any number of birds milling about inside contentedly nibbling until we walked up on them and they thrashed against the screen trying to get away. He’d reach into the box and gently grab anything with color that had been trapped and toss them into the air to flit furiously away. The sputzies, as he called them, he’d drop them into an old work sock. Then he’d spin the sock over his head-said it would put them to sleep-before bashing it into the stump.

He’d toss the tiny downy carcasses into the field, food for owls or kestrels, foxes or coons. His face never changed from the lifeless and dull chore-look, the same as if he was changing a tire on the tractor. I still wonder if he did this when Kate was alive. Somehow doubt it.

Girls

The kiosk to order custom cakes was all the way at the back of the store, which really was a warehouse. Enter through the garage doors and past the computers, televisions and other electronics, past outerwear (seasons change, hoodies gone), past books, furniture (again, seasons, so it’s patio tables and pergolas), batteries, then the produce, then the packaged cookies and bread, then finally, after a half mile of smooth concrete, the kiosk.

Typically deserted, today a young woman in an apron was bent slightly digging with a pair of scissors in the slot that should have held the order forms. Her round bottom challenged her jeans and threatened to squeeze her phone out of her pocket like a watermelon seed.

“That’s where all the pens go”, I said looking over her shoulder. She smelled of icing.

“They tear them off of this”, she indicated the squiggly cord that usually held a pen, “And toss them in here or walk off with them…I mean, really…then people come looking for me, I have to find a pen…” Through all this she kept digging.

I proudly held out my pen. “I bring one with me-just in case.”

Having fished out three pens and a quarter she paused and smiled. “Well done! You here a lot?”

“Every month.”

A little light went off. “Oh, you’re the five-cake guy.”

“Yep. That’s my mob name, ‘Tommy Five Cakes’ “.

She laughed, flashing a tiny dab of lipstick on her front tooth. “Let me know if you need anything”, she said walking away.

“I’m fine…”

Next stop was the liquor store two blocks down for a couple of bottles and a box. She liked box red as our “maintenance” wine-what we drank instead of killing all the good stuff too quickly. They never had my favorite bourbon so I substituted another that would do the trick. And a bottle of cold Chardonnay for the ride home.

Sliding carefully by, I tried to avoid the pretty girl at the near register. Purple lipstick, same color nails and upswept blonde hair. I imagined a nose stud but wouldn’t look. Nothing but trouble this one. She caught my eye.

“I’ll take you over here”, she said.  I stood in front of her register avoiding eye contact waiting for the total so I could insert my card.

“You want your box in a bag?” she asked.

“No”, I said looking up but only slightly. “Nor do I want my bag in a box.”

She froze a moment, then continued with a slight uptick to the corner of her mouth. “You had me for a second.”

“But only for a second”, I said. “You’re too quick for that.”

“Maybe.” It was a real smile when she slid the box and bag my way.

“Have a day”, she said.

“You too.”

This is me flirting now.

Grace

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My confession was ruined no more than an hour into

the glowing state of Grace by swearing at a car

that swerved too close in a cross walk.

Now what?

Already soiled and

the whole class to take Communion Sunday!

I could go back. Surely the priest is still there

lounging unseen behind the screens,

listening, for hours to the same boring sins.

I once heard a rustle that made me think he

was reading the paper in there.

I would if I was him!

He’d know it was me, if I went back,

this priest who once stopped me

from adding a few sins when he was getting

To the absolution part.

“You’re done”, he’d said. “You’ve made your confession.”

There was the time I told him

I was living a lie. I’d heard it in a movie

and it sounded better than confessing to

impure thoughts for the millionth time.

He mumbled “welcome to the club”

Before asking me to elaborate.

Whatever I said mustn’t have been too bad-

got off with two Our Fathers and five Hail Marys.

“Hey, ya fat jag!” came the yell from across the street.

I knew ‘em sure, footballers like me, but unchurched,

unencumbered by the shadow of a fractured state of Grace.

“Fug off!” I yelled, flipping the finger and sealing it.

There’s no going back now.

I’d go to communion marked as the sullied sixth grade blackguard

That I was.

A Serious Man

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In the end, he was not a serious man.

Had been once, he thought.

Had lived a serious life.

He was puffed that a Seneca wise man who lived in

A trailer up near Canandaigua had given him a Seneca name

Until a dealer at the casino translated the name roughly

as “fat guy who sits aimlessly watching the rain.”

It bothered him more than it should have

Because his memories were false or written over.

All his fact checkers were gone-

Scattered.

Skedaddled.

 

The Opioid Epidemic – Part 2

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(Takes place after the action in Understanding the Opioid Epidemic)

He left the bar behind and slipped behind the wheel of the city owned sedan. It was three years old and on the tail end of its lease. He wasn’t the least excited about a new one. It would be the same as this one. Fuck it. Whatever. As long as he had wheels. A few easy blocks and he slid almost past a spot in front of his building so that he could back in smoothly. It was tight, but city street parking was one of his few remaining superpowers. He turned the car off and pulled the key, holding it in his hand for a second. He’d be up there, no doubt and he wanted to put off the coming conversation for as long as he could.

“I’m sorry”, David said. “I didn’t know he was coming over. And-I didn’t know he was holding.”

“The hell’s the matter with you? You know what he his. He’s always holding something! You know that. You’re not an idiot.” David thought it better not to answer.  “I don’t want you hanging with drug dealers, but you’re and adult, you’ll do what you want. I can’t stop you. But I don’t want them in my apartment. Ever.”

“No! Never. My mistake. Plus, I didn’t know! Like I said. Maybe I’m an idiot then.  But I didn’t, alright?” David was silent for a moment. The fright had passed, the embarrassment was still there, but there was something else. “Were you having me watched?”

Rick held back. He had only gotten as far as the kitchen table-two paces inside the apartment-before he started in on the kid. This was important, damn it! He had a friend in narcotics, a good long-time always to be trusted friend the likes of which you get one or two of in your fucking life if you’re lucky, who let him know that David had a guy in the apartment that he shouldn’t have.

“No. Never occurred that I needed to. Your buddy…”

“Not my buddy.”

“Whatever. He’s being tailed. Came here. I got word. Coulda been bad. For both of us.”

Shit, thought David. This was a close fucking call. He didn’t know the guy was holding but of course he knew he could have been. Shit!

“You’re mad, aren’t you?” David asked.

“What gave you the first clue.”

“This was my fault. I’m sorry.”

“Stupid…”

“Yes, I know. I’m sorry.”

The air hung thickly between them. Rick hadn’t ventured further into the apartment and David stood back, leaning against the fridge able to just as easily move forward or slide back into the living room. He felt Rick’s eyes on him but feared meeting them. Feared that the resolve he had at that moment-for maybe only a moment- would puff away like a summer dandelion if he met his gaze. He spoke to the floor.

“Why don’t you…if you’re really mad…” the boy was stumbling for words. “I have a way you could punish me. If you’re really mad.”

Rick paused a moment before answering, as if trying to translate a message delivered in another language. “Not that again.”

David had been trying to get Rick to spank him for months, but it had never happened.  Some folks are wired for such things, others are just as surely not. David knew that, so he didn’t let it frustrate him, nor did it create any tension in their relationship such as it was, because everything else was smooth as soft serve.

Rick didn’t get it. He knew he didn’t get it-it was a daddy game that the kid wanted to play but he didn’t. Or hadn’t. He looked at him, downcast over by the hall. Christ, this had the potential to be a miserable day that he wasn’t in the mood for. What’s the harm in giving the kid what he wants? For a second, thinking about it, Rick thinks it might do him some good now. If nothing else, just close the book on this shitty episode.  He seemed to sigh without uttering a sound. It was little more than a light lifting of his shoulders then a dissipation. He shrunk a tad, as if he were the one submitting. Which of course he was. “Alright”, he said.

“Alright?” David’s voice broke a little higher than he’d intended.

“Yes, alright”, Rick answered finally sliding out of his leather jacket and hanging it over one of the kitchen chairs. He unclipped his sidearm and placed it on the table along with his badge. “You might not like it,” he said pulling another chair from the table into the center of the room, “but you’re getting it.” He sat. “Come here.”

Wait, thought David. Here? In the kitchen. Five feet from the hallway? This wasn’t his fantasy. Then, in his mind, he was always in the bedroom, naked laying face into a pillow biting the softness as Rick slapped his bottom. And Rick was naked too, sitting beside him, their bodies touching as his bottom heated and his hardon raged. That was the stuff of his fantasies. This…this…

Impatient, Rick rose and reached across the small room taking David hard by the arm right above the wrist. “Get over here!” he growled as he yanked, sitting again, the boy in front of him.

“Here? Don’t you want to go into the bedroom? Or the couch.”

“This is fine for what I’m going to do”, Rick said his jaw set, committed. A misunderstood key to being a good or even a passable detective is the ability to play a role. Good cop, bad cop was a real thing. Taking charge of situations where you felt nothing less than in charge could be a matter of life and death. And reading people-suspects, witnesses, the hapless and the feckless, was second nature. That David was excited was clear by the flush in his cheeks and his shallow breathing but there was also a fear-maybe less than fear-a concern that he had started something that he’s immediately lost control of. Rick was surprised that he enjoyed seeing that.

“Hold still,” said Rick. “Put your hands behind your back.”

David did as he was told and watched as the older man roughly undid his belt and opened his jeans. He sighed heavily as he felt his pants slide down exposing his legs then allowed himself to be moved to the side by Rick’s large hands on his hips. The hands didn’t leave his hips until they caught the elastic of his underwear and slipped them down to his knees to join his bundled jeans. Rick could hear his breath quicken and ignored his cock rising to look him in the eye.

“Over”, said Rick leading him again with his hand clamped to his bicep. David braced himself on his lover’s thigh before folding himself over his lap. He was tall enough to have both hands and feet on the floor but not by much. He had never felt as exposed as with the glare of the kitchen light shining off his backside and all that was hidden there.

Rick was in no hurry. Slowly unbuttoning then rolling up his sleeves, he allowed himself to enjoy his part in the tableau. He liked David well enough. He was a sweet kid but the one thing he had going for him apart from his sweetness, willingness, smarts and talents in the bedroom was that he was twenty-two. The last twenty-two-year-old Rick had been with of either sex was twenty years before when he was twenty-three himself. He did his best not to objectify and was pretty good except in the bedroom where David’s lithe, supple youth couldn’t be hidden or ignored. Or now, while his ripe, almost girlish bottom waited. He didn’t even notice that his hand was lingering there, kneading gently. Why had he not done this before?

Breathless with anticipation David noticed the wait and was almost-almost-going to ask for the first smack when the hand lifted. He held his breath. He gritted his teeth when a body shift told him to then the first blow knocked the air out of him and he coughed. The second swat, then the third landed hard on alternating cheeks too quickly for him to even cry out. He coughed a loud “OOF!” after the fourth.

“Felt that?” Rick asked.

“Yessss” came the answer.

“Good”. Then two more hard swats at the bottom of his bottom elicited a breathless, “Owww.” And the cries and yips continued as blow after blow, swat after swat landed, first on one cheek, then the other then echoing when he swatted the middle.

Rick paused, right hand cupping a hot pink cheek, conscious of his own growing excitement. “You alright?”, he asked.

“Uh huh…” David mumbled.

“This more than you thought it would be?”

Really nothing to do in this position but tell the truth. “Uh…yeah. A little harder than I thought…”

Rick raised his hand and smacked him again. Hard. Then he squeezed the tortured bottom gently. “That’s because your getting punished. What I think we’ll do, if we’re going to do this, is you’re going out and buy us a paddle. Maybe a hairbrush, maybe a bath brush, maybe a straight up paddle. Then, when you really fuck up and need to be punished, I’ll use it. Right?”

“Only when I deserve it though, right?”

His question was answered with another smack as hard as the others. David yelped and twisted.

“Yep, when you deserve it. Like when you bring known drug dealers into my house.” Another rained down.

“OWWW! OK!”, said David almost squealing.

“Then”, Rick continued, “when you need a spanking just because-or when you just want one-I’ll take you in the bedroom, lay you down and give you”, he lifted his hand and gave him two mild swats which elicited little more than mews, “something like this. Is that what you’re looking for?” He punctuated the question by allowing his finger to press gently on David’s upturned asshole.

“Yes!”, David said. “That’s what I want…that’s what I always want!”

“Okay…that’s what we’ll do. I’m sorry it took me so long to come around to this…but I’m here now.”

“I can tell”, David said rubbing his belly against Rick’s hardness which had swollen during the exchange.

“Now then”, Rick said, “We still have a punishment to finish.”

“You’re not done!!?”

“Be happy we don’t have the paddle yet boyo. Just behave and do what you’re supposed to and there will only be good-boy spankings in your future. But now…I figure another thirty or forty swats.”

David’s head dipped slightly but he said, “I’ll take them.”

“Good”, Rick said lifting his hand. “Hold on and push your butt back…”

Next door, in 206, Victoria House smiled at her shaking hand as she stirred her tea. The Amsterdam was a good building-old and solid-but still, tales could be told through the walls. And right now, that tale was of that pretty, young boy next door being soundly thrashed. With a warm flush, Victoria didn’t know who she envied-the boy, or the one doing the thrashing.