Cautious

“Are the doors locked?” she asked suddenly from her corner of the passenger seat.

Jolted by the question, he caught himself feeling along the top of the door for the plunger to press to lock it. That was years ago-when he was a kid. Cars don’t have those kinds of locks anymore. Just sleek buttons and mechanisms that lock automatically at a certain speed. He knew that. Why couldn’t he tell her?

Instead he said, “What are you afraid of?”

“You don’t have to be afraid to be cautious,” she said.

Cautious. The word struck him as strange just then. He’d have said, ‘careful’ as would most people. Why ‘cautious’?

The drizzle had turned into full-on rain pinging off the roof and sheeting down the windshield. The pressing sky atop the black night made it impossible to see the woods and fields that were out there. “There’s nobody out here to be…cautious of”, he said.

“All the more reason”, she answered looking out her window as if there were something to see.

She’s too young for me, he thought. The scent of roses he thought she wore was really bubble gum-or smelled like it anyway. Maybe it wasn’t her youth. Maybe she was too smart for him. Or too dumb. Or too tall-maybe too short. Too whiny, too cold, too butch, too soft, too dark, too light. Too something, he knew that. But why worry about it now? He didn’t have to win her. Didn’t have to impress her. She was here.

His wife was right. He thought too much about everything-drove himself crazy. Last week he’d had a nosebleed right at the kitchen table. She’d said it was high blood pressure from him worrying so much over every little thing. Like she was a freaking nurse.

Back home she sat at the same table listening to hockey on the radio. She liked it better that way; watching it made her too nervous. She poured a thick toss of Sambuca into her cup – the only way she could abide decaf. Her ma had called, worried the rain was going to turn to snow. “It’s forty degrees, Ma!” she had to yell into the phone. “It won’t snow.”

He sighed and reclined the seat slightly. Fumbling, he loosened his belt and unsnapped his pants. Rising on her knees, she bent over the console and gently pulled him out of his pants; a soft crippled bird. “Ok”, she said low. “Let’s see what we can do with you.”

He closed his eyes and tried not to think about it.

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At the VFW

 

I’m BOOZER! he roared

Slamming his fists on the bar,

Rattling glasses and tipping Baldy’s beer.

Jesus Walter, Baldy said catching what he could.

He’d been quiet, blinking behind his glasses for hours.

A man and his whiskey.

Now this.

I’m BIG BOOZER!

You’re Walter Tattalega, old white shirt said,

His officious head up his ass.

That was it from them for now.

When Boozer got started they melted into the dark paneling like oil

Leaving me alone to manage him

Because I was the bartender and bigger than them

But no way the size of Boozer.

Plus, I was a kid. The only battles I’d fought were on the football field-

Which counted for shit.

He had a bad war, they said. Whatever that meant.

Didn’t seem to be having a good peace neither.

He’d a killed me if he had a mind to. But he didn’t.

Word was he served with my uncle who didn’t come home.

He’d always let me walk him to the door, my hand resting on his shoulder

A giant breathing, ham.

Never pushing-just resting there-feeling the strength and the tension.

He touched me on the chin as he left-a soft cuff that

Made me wince.

They oozed back around the bar once Boozer was gone.

You think you could play ball, one said. You shoulda seen Walter when he was a boy.

Shame what happened to him.

Shame what they did to him.

I was suddenly too small to see over the bar.

Had to jump up to sit, legs dangling, on a stool,

Having a Pepsi and chips while the old man shot pool.

Christ, he’d a killed me if he had a mind. to.

 

©TDR-2018

He should have turned in his dick

It wasn’t the flu.

She would always think everything was the flu.

There would come a day, he thought,

When he’d come stumbling in with a sucking chest wound

And she’d diagnose the flu and make tea

While he bled out.

Fuck that. She was gone now-ministering someone else.

It was probably a torn meniscus. Fucking stairs.

Had one of them before; fingered the old scar on his left knee

As the right one pulsed-swollen and hot.

‘If I knew I was gonna live this long, I’d a’ taken better care of myself’

Was something his old man used to say.

He mumbled toward the end, his old man.

Didn’t want to open his mouth to show the tumors and sores

That were already too far along to deal with.

He winked at himself-and me behind him-in the mirror.

Dressed like a million bucks he had one more score in him.

Or so he thought.

They found him beside the dumpster in the alley behind the club.

He was barefoot. The fuckers had even taken his shoes.

He was alone now-having broken with his woman last month.

Over sex.

All she wanted to do was blow him.

He wanted something more intimate;

A nice slow screw with kissing. Like that.

She wouldn’t, so he let her go.

When he told that to an associate

Who had gotten exactly five blow jobs in his life-

And one was from his uncle when he was a boy-

The guy looked at him like he was nuts.

‘You should have to turn in your dick’, he’d said.

He took a pill out of the bag before taping it closed.

One more or less – it will still bring two grand.

He limped out the door and took his time

On the stairs.

Drinking Alone

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I decided to stay in and drink alone today.

Not as dire as it might seem.

We shoveled snow for two hours this morning-

Before she could get the truck out to visit her family.

Then I needed some eggs and a pain pill before

Hooking up the new hot water tank.

Course I needed another pill after an hour on the concrete floor.

Feel free to go out and grab a meal, she said on her way out.

I’ll be late.

My back has begun to loosen;

And my knee to straighten.

Both hands can now open flat on the table.

You got anything to say old man? I ask the empty room;

Startled by the growl of my own voice.

He was quiet for now, but I’m sure he’ll be around later.

My head feels light on my neck-airy;

Like a beach ball in a breeze.

I decided to stay in and drink alone today.

February Rain

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I don’t think I’ll live through this,

He told his friend as they watched the cold rain

Glisten under the oversized fluorescents outside the window.

What?

Life.

A car pulled up to the service island dinging the bell.

His friend pulled on gloves and headed for the door.

May there never come a time when you say that with relief

Instead of dread, he said with a wink as he ducked out into the weather.

Fish Prints

fish-print

And what would you have me do with these?

I’m thinking of adding color, he answered, shuffling gently through the rice paper portraits. Like on this one. I’d like some green at bottom like grass, it’s dark green, see? Then lighter green tendrils I guess-going from bottom to top.

Like kelp?

Maybe like that. Willow grass. You know? With the yellow flowers on top where they break the surface.

The younger man shrugged. What is this? The fish?

Carp.

Hmmm…aren’t they sacred in China?

This is Pittsburgh. Here they root in the mud. Then, turning his attention back to the print,  Maybe some gold color smearing down from the top like sunlight?

Why don’t you do it?

My son’s an artist, my father’s an artist. I can’t piss in a line.

You did these, he said waving his hand slowly above the prints like clearing suds from a pan of water.

The fish did all the work. I was a bystander.

What is it you do?

I make money.

A lot?

Plenty. But probably not enough.

Enough for what?

All of it…

Then you must try this yourself.

I’m sure I couldn’t.

Your son then?

Pfffft. He’s not my son anymore…he’s a grown man with his own cares…

Your father?

Long dead.

You should definitely give it a shot then. You seem to know what you want.

I’d like to. I just doubt that I can.

They regarded the prints silently.

I’d like to. I just doubt that I can.

You just said that.

I did?

Yes.

Twice?

Word for word.

Fuck!

He hurriedly gathered the prints and rolled them loosely, sticking them gently under his arm. He turned from the work table and approached the open window that looked onto the alley. The artist said nothing until the man had one foot out the window balanced on the dumpster.

The door, sir.

Pfffttt. He paused and looked back. Since we were talking about pissing…

Ah…yes?

The other night I awoke standing at my closet door. My dick was in my right hand ready to shower my shoes and most likely the bottoms of my hanging clothes when something-a passing car, a cloud skirting the moon-something flickered in the window and woke me. I was in the bedroom around to piss in my closet and not across the hall standing in front of the toilet where I had assumed I was. Huh! What do you make of that?

I’m sure I don’t know sir.

I had to stick my thumb over the hole on the end and scuttle into the bathroom where I thought I’d been all the time. Odd, don’t you think?

Odd, sir. Yes.

Welp, he said. Then just before he shifted all of his weight outside be paused and pulled a thick gold coin from his pocket and placed it on the window sill.

That’s too much sir.

For what…

A conversation…

Pfffttt. Watch where you piss then.

With that, he withdrew the second leg and was gone.

The artist could see no one in the alley. Up or down. The coin was heavy and well used-but lustrous just the same.

 

(The idea of the golden sunlight “smearing” was lifted from Jim Harrison’s “Mother Night”. Probably indirectly enough that no one would have noticed but, well shit…you know?)