A Ghost Story

His phone pinged with a text. It was his problem tenant. She was living in the garage apartment that he had shared with his parents when he was a baby. Until age eight or so. His dad and grandfather, both long ago memories, had built it.

“Have an odd question”, the text said. “Do you know if your dad had a sibling that died around the age of 6-9?”

What? After reading it again, he texted, “My dad was an only child.”

“Hmmm…Odd…” came the reply. “What about your mom or grandma, did they lose a sibling young? I know it’s an odd question but I’ll explain here in a second.”

Christ, he thought, don’t answer. He put on his glasses and clicked the lamp brighter. She wasn’t his tenant, really. His mother had rented to her husband with the express instruction to keep his wife under control. It worked for a little while, then all hell broke loose. In the last six months, she had sworn out a PFA against the husband-so he was gone-and she was squatting there with her ten-year-old. Then his mother had finally died, so he had inherited it all. The good with the bad. And he wished there was more of the former.

After a few minutes he texted, “Nope.”

The bubbles appeared on the screen and hung there pulsing. He waited. Then, “Right around when your mom passed, I was awakened by a child in Olga’s room. She was still sleeping right beside me. Heard a dresser drawer slam and this kid had blonde hair with a blanket wrapped around the shoulders so I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl and I watched it dissipate slowly from its head then down to the feet and it always bugged me that whoever was trying to tell me to go to your mom…to help her.”

He read it again. He hated it when she talked about his mother. She did it often-no doubt thinking it would put her in his good graces, but his mother couldn’t stand her and had spent the last two months of her life complaining that she never should have rented to them.

His phone pinged again, “No, I’m not a witch…little hexes here and there LOL but I do get visions and this one is killing me.”

He remembered a story his mother had told him from when they had lived in that apartment. She was in bed, probably in the same room as this one slept in, and she heard a cat screeching outside in the alley. The windows back there are high, so she had to stand on the bed to look out. The cat was easy enough to find; it was on a cracked fence post just outside the yellow glow of the street lamp. The cat called and howled until she saw others coming in from the darkness to join it. They all sat or lay on the alley in front of the main cat who began to meow and chirp as if speaking to them. They were attentive for a moment, no stretching, no grooming, no ass sniffing. Then, when the lecture was over, or the instructions given, the cats all scattered back into the darkness whence they’d come.

His mother told this story often. Especially when someone suggested she get a cat.

He put the phone on airplane mode and switched off the lamp.

Advertisements

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.

The Premonition

To say it was a premonition might not be accurate. I don’t know that anything was being foretold, but it was something. As if a conversation had been interrupted suddenly. It was still dark, so the sky didn’t reveal itself but my sinuses, and the lack of stars, told me it was either raining or about to. Probably more of a drizzle-a bone chilling late November drizzle. I pulled the spare pillow over my head and flopped onto my side squeezing my eyelids shut as if sleep, once fled, could be coaxed back. It usually didn’t work.

What was it? I wondered. My eyes scanned the room for an intruder-real or imagined. The darkness must not have been truly dark-or pitch, as they call it-because I could make out the chair by the window. It was empty as it should have been but for a moment-just a moment-I was sure someone was sitting there. Someone had to have been sitting there. It wouldn’t have been the first time. But no. And there was no movement in the house. My perturbed heart fluttered lightly and I held my breath to better hear. Nope. Nada. Had there been a forgotten dream that left me feeling this way?

Sleep had been deep and syrupy-aided no doubt by a glass of bourbon around ten. But just one. More than that and I’d have stirred all night. But no, no dreams that I could remember. There was something though-like a rush of water…maybe wind through the leaves. I’d been back in the woods yesterday and had heard the winds whispering. Maybe it had stuck with me. Maybe I’d dragged something back again like a burr in the cuff of my jeans.

After thrashing about for a while-probably no more than minutes-I tossed the covers and sat up, bare feet on the chill wood floor. I’d have to lay a fire in tonight, no doubt. It was time. Always tried to go as long as possible without one.  The woodpile seemed large enough but nothing worse than reaching the end of it in a chilly, wet March. Without turning on any lights I made my way down the back stairs into the kitchen avoiding the urge to look back over my shoulder.

I poured a glass of cold water in the light from the open refrigerator and gulped it; less drinking than hydrating. I poured another and reached back behind the eggs for the old pill bottle. A day that started with an edge before sunup was a day best avoided. I shook a few tablets into my hand and regarded them carefully before deciding on an orange football. I swallowed it and replaced the bottle, closing the door and sliding back into the dark. Still nothing brightening outside.

With the refilled glass I padded into the living room and sat in the recliner. By feel I found the cigar box on the table and opened it. Like a soldier who learned to break down his weapon blindfolded, I took the glass one-hitter out of the box and broke off a piece of bud that was rolled in the corner of a plastic bag. The lighter flared and I sucked an enormous cloud into my lungs. I held it only so long as the bud was burning away and took a second hit-bigger than the first. The ember in the pipe went out. That was that. I sat back and embraced the smoke for what seemed like hours before letting it out with a slow whistle.

Once, when drinking, I had told my brother about my drug habits and how I dealt with life’s stresses. He called me a coward.  Of course he did-the prick. I had wanted to slap him, but he was my older brother. And bigger. And in better shape. Had I slapped him he would have been surprised and maybe laughed at me. But there was the possibility he might have kicked my ass, so I didn’t slap him. Wonder what he was up to these days? He was a major pain in the dick, but I still wondered sometime where he was.

I rubbed my hand over my face hard. Once. Then again. It was starting. The roof of my mouth was dry. My lips stuck gently together. The water-sipped like expensive wine-was perfectly chilled. My heart fluttered a bit more-the dope would do that-but only for a little bit. By the time I got back into bed and stretched out, the layer of warm, wet cotton would cover me from the top down and I’d drift back off into the black. Of course, there was always the chance that I wouldn’t fall back to sleep and would just lay there stoned for a few hours. Which, on balance, beat the shit out of laying there straight.

Back in bed I glanced at the chair once more. Still seemed to be empty, which was good, but I resisted any temptation to go near it. I remembered slapping my lips once. Then drifting away.

A Beautiful Morning…

IMG_3932

She threw one long leg over the crossbar and stood astride the seat working her thick pony tail through the hole in her ball cap, liking the sun on the back of her legs.

“Where you going?” he asked coming onto the porch with a coffee.

“I told you I’m heading over to the cemetery to see if the dump gate is locked. I want to get rid of the cuttings.” They had taken a sumac down and trimmed a dogwood leaving the scraps in a pile behind the garage.

“I thought you’d be taking…the truck”, he said squinting into the sun behind her. She noticed his glance toward her ass.

Shit! She knew how his mind worked. Not that it was any kind of complex machinery. Last night over at The Gardens when he was figuring the tip he’d asked her what was eight plus six. He explained that he had eight n’ eight down, same as eight n’ seven-that was a favorite. But eight n’ six, especially eight n’ five? They were confusing. They both had a little buzz on and he might have been kidding…but really?

Now those gears in that pretty head of his were spinning that if she was OK to ride her bike, he hadn’t spanked her hard enough. Cripes! It hurt. He had a heavy hand and it hurt pretty good. And she yelped in all the right places, but what was she supposed to do? Sit on pillows all day like the women in his stories? Eat standin’ up?  Quickly, while he was watching, she settled onto the seat.

“Ooohhh”, she sighed giving him her best naughty smile. “Still a little tender back there…”

“Uh-huh”, he said returning the smile before turning back toward the house. “Maybe I’ll have to go out to the workshop. Find something that will make a better impression.”

“Really…?” Her smile faded.

“Have a nice ride,” he said, grinning evilly. “See you when you get back.”

Shit! She thought again coasting down the driveway. Would it have killed her to limp a little, or rub her butt when she knew he was watching? She wished she’d a’ taken the truck, but he’d a’ come up with some other excuse. Saturdays were tough around the house. She couldn’t keep up with him! He changed every week. Not changed, exactly, but wanted more, more, more… What would it be now-a paddle? A strap?  A wooden freakin’ spoon? He was wearin’ her out…

She stood on the pedals as the blacktop wound out and let the cool morning air wash over her face. He was so going to beat her ass when she got home, that was for sure. Twitching her backside she could almost feel the burning sting in the softness of her low bottom that he like to attend to so thoroughly. But that was then. Now, the trees opened above and the sunshine washed over her. It was a beautiful morning.

Communion

IMG_0972

“Did ye eat the body?”

“Ye saw me walk up. Of course I et the body.”

“Did ye drink the blood?” he asked with an accusing tilt of his head.

“Ye saw me up there!”

“Yeah, but. Did you actually drink it or jest swish it around in the cup?”

Ah, fer Crissakes, he thought. Then blessed himself. Sorry, he thought, but it’s flu season. “I drank some”, he settled.

“Ye barely put yer lips to it!”

“Fer Gawd’s sake…”

“Don’t ye dare!”

“Did ye not hear all the hackin’ and coughin’ and snottin’ goin’ on all aroun’ us?”

“Say what you will. You dint have a proper communion is all I’m sayin’. Not proper.”

“I didn’t see YOU drinkin’ it!”

“Ye low bastard! Ye know I can’t drink of the blood since I took the cure.”

“Wait a bloody minit! By the time it gets to yer lips it’s not wine anymore, is it? It’s the blood of the Divine.”

“Ya betchyer ass it is. And there’s enough alcohol innit to kill off all the germs yer so fraid of.”

“Wait…what? If it’s blood how can there be alcohol…?”

“Shhh…here comes Father…”

They nodded without really looking up from the nothings they were kicking about.

“Father.”

“Fadder…”

“Boys”, he said and walked on.

“I don’t know if I liked the way he said that.”

“Nor the way he looked just now…”

“Don’t be a mutt-you dint even look up. Why dint ye look a’ him.” He said nothing, just worried the ground with the toe of his shoe. “It’s a ringing indictment it is. Yer feckin’ silence.”

“You got a extra cig?”

“Why would I give you one? You don’ even inhale! Ye jest roll the smoke aroun’ in yer mouth.”

“I don’! I do so inhale!”

“You suck a cig the same way you mouth the Lord’s blood. I’m not wasting a cig on you. Hey! Where you goin?”

“Pub”, he said wandering off down the cobbles.

“Ye know I can’t go in there.”

Thank Christ, he thought raising the back of his hand in farewell.

“Satan has a plan for you, buddy boy…” he said, inhaling deeply. “You’ll see.”

Five Bucks a Pill

“You think living this long, I’d know all there was to know about myself”, I said not expecting an answer.

“What are these?” she asked, fingering the thin white caplets only half-listening.

“Tramadol”, I told her. “Five bucks a pill.”

“They any good?”

I shrugged but she didn’t see it.

“No oxy?”

“No oxy, no hydro…that’s dry. Maybe some perc’s end of the week.”

“Huh”, she said knocking the pills around with a blood red fingernail that matched her lipstick.

“So whatta you think”, I asked after a moment. “Am I frightening?” She looked up with a crinkle around her green eyes that could have presaged either a smile or a wince. “Do you think I’m frightening? Am I scary?”

She wriggled her ass deeper into the chair and crossed her legs; a bit of stage-business while she fashioned an answer. “You do tend to lean in a bit”, she said finally. “But you always did that.”

“Huh”, was all I could come up with. “But I never saw myself as scary.”

“We’re all used to you, sweetie. You get to be a particular way, we leave you be.”

Fuck, I thought, taking a turn at spinning the pills across the dark Formica tabletop.

“Poor Tommy”, she said reaching across the table and patting my cheek.

“Don’t say that”, I said more sharply than intended. “My mother always says that.”

“How is she?”

“Same. She’ll never die. Too busy killing me.”

“Christ, boyo…” she pulled back a little and reached for her purse. “You wanna get high?”

“Naw. I might get all scary and shit.”

She smiled and took it as a joke, which is probably not how I meant it. “This is bugging you bad, isn’t it? Who said you were scary?”

“I was at a party last weekend up in Mifflin and a girl said…”

She sniffed. “Mifflin? Shit. You have to stop trying to mix with new folks. They don’t know you like we know you. Play in your own sandbox.”

She pulled a crumpled pack of Pall Mall greens out of her purse and squeezed it open to peek. She’d need a new pack soon. “Five bucks a pill seems steep for something I never tried.”

“You should get out more”, I grinned. “Three for you.” She was thinking-counting how many were on the table. I’d go down to two.

“Do you…?”, she asked haltingly, then stopped.

I let the silence ride a little. She was waiting for me. It was my turn to say something. But I wasn’t. I saw how this whole fucker was going to play out. I had the high hand. I didn’t have to do anything to win. All I had to do was sit there and shut up, collect a few bucks and she’d be out of the picture until she was dry again. But I didn’t. Instead I said, “…What?”

“You interested in doing a deal like we used to do?” she asked. “It’s been awhile.” Fuck! It had always been my idea. My suggestion. My task to pull her in. Of course I wanted to, but… “Cause, I’m fine with it, if you are. I’m ready. “

I closed my eyes and leaned back in the creaking chair. For whatever reason, it was Joe Pesci’s voice in my head saying ‘Don’t do it! You better not do it!” When I opened them the first thing I saw was the smattering of faded freckles across the bridge of her nose. And the lines around her eyes were gone, the skin unetched by time. I knew I was seeing memories; not what was in front of me. But I was seeing it that way.

If she only hadn’t smiled just then, I’d a’ been fine. But of course, she did.

“Sure”, I said. “Why not?” Playing it like it had been my plan all along.

Doc Savage

Doc Savage Cover

The sun was barely up and already muggy; more August than October. That’s why I hadn’t gone out that morning-had humped and sweated two thick, buggy ridges the day before and felt wrung out. Didn’t feel like archery season. I liked the woods in the fall; not the summer, so I let them go without me-I’d hunt the evening; spend the day reading and chilling. That’s what I was doing when Jerry’s girlfriend Lynn padded softly into the kitchen. We were all staying in her grandparent’s decrepit farmhouse in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

I wished I could say I was reading Kerouac, Gary Snyder, even Hemingway but actually it was one of the Doc Savage series; don’t remember which-there were a ton of them and I’d had most as a kid. Brought them hunting with me because they were small enough to pack and there was something reassuring about them. Having read and re-read them for years, they calmed me and brought me back to earth when I got too high. Which was hard to avoid when hunting with Jerry and the boys.

Lynn said “Mornin”, soft and sleepy and I looked up with a ready smile to find her completely and totally naked, a wrinkle from the bed clothes traced along her hip. Not a thread, not an earring, nothing. “I can’t sleep in anything in this weather”, she said. “I hope you don’t mind.” No, I told her, I’m fine. I put my head down to read again but that didn’t feel right. If she came down dressed I wouldn’t read and ignore her.

The smells of sleep swaddled her-all like baby milk, vanilla and dried sweat. She picked a cup from the sideboard and poured, her back to me, skin shining in the morning dim of the old house. Sugar was there and the cup tink-tink-tink-tinked as she stirred. She had a great ass-that I knew from the jeans she wore. Her butt was like Marcia’s a little smaller, maybe firmer. No, couldn’t have been. Marcia’s butt was bounce a quarter off it firm. Marcia-Jesus. Hadn’t thought of her in months. She liked me to spank her-the first girl who ever asked for it. I didn’t get it at first, but I’m a quick study.

She laughed like I was tickling her; and she’d fake these little ‘ooohs’, and ‘ouches’ like I was hurting her. As if ever that could have happened. She broke up with me when she went off to college. Didn’t want any encumbrances she said. That was her word. I thought I was going to be her husband, but suddenly I was an encumbrance. Christ.

“I’m going back upstairs”, Lynn said turning a little my way so I could see her tits. She liked them and should have, but her eyes, looking sideways, betrayed nothing. She was giving a show but couldn’t tell if it was for my benefit or hers. “There’s a cross breeze up there-feels sweet and you can still taste the last bit of evening.”  I thought to say ‘Yeah’, but some kind of weird, strangled sound came out, so I kept my mouth shut as her bottom disappeared into the shadows and creaking, back up the stairs.

I had never been so hard in my freaking life. It was like all my morning-wood ever rolled together but I didn’t know if it was Marcia’s memory or Lynn’s reality that lit the fuse. I read a paragraph, Doc was in trouble, but remembered nothing. Read it again-then a page, then the same page again. I tried reading aloud in a whispered mantra to bank the fire but it wasn’t working.

Then I heard the creak again-on the stairs. I knew, and started reading harder, silently but unable to drown the sound of her bare feet scuffing across the old hardwood.

“I thought you would follow me.”

She was still naked, her body-facing me now-luminous in the knife edge of sunlight that was peeking through the kitchen window. Golden dust motes twinkled, a cape swirling in the air above her.

“I could.” I kept my eyes on hers as she waited to hear more. “Can I spank you?”

The corner of her mouth lifted; her eye caught the sun. She turned slowly, languidly, a weekend swimmer taking a turn in a pool. “Sure”, she said over her shoulder as her butt walked off again into the shadows.  “Just not too hard.”

For a second, I thought of Jerry. No, less than a second. I’d known him since first grade but it wasn’t like we were brothers or anything. I cringed at the squeaking sound the chair made pushing away from the table.