Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Icarus

(Icarus III, oil on panel, by Katherine Stone)

Dash this heart
against the rocks--

the lack of urgency

terrifies me.

I'd rather splatter,

shatter, be Icarus
after

than exist 

another minute

Like a songbird

stayed

in the hour
before dawn,

and everyone

asleep.


Monday, December 7, 2015

100 Words

Blue door, shutters

We’re born with one door that’s open to the world. 

And by parlaying curiosity into experience, we fold more rooms into our selves. More rooms, with more doors, so the wind might howl through, occasionally reshuffling the blueprints themselves.

But then, it happens. 

A resistance steals in, quietly. Closing the doors.

And the effort to open them—or to remember they were closed—becomes a blockade.

We shrink. Get rooted in. 

And the wind? 

It might rattle some panes, before moving on.


But not his, she thinks.

Not him.

He’s young because he's kept the doors open.

She goes in.


---

Another 100 Words can be found here

Friday, November 6, 2015

Human Resources

Tulip 1

Even their small talk felt large in her mind, every word of conversation assuming a weight and import that might be measured later, when she was back home, weeding the garden or walking the dog, or performing any one of those small, mechanical tasks that allowed her to be half present and half very far away.

He was guarded with her. But then, so was she. There was a lot at risk.

"I guess we're in for a long week with the quarterly reports coming up."

"Coffee, don't fail me now."

"You're not kidding."

And that might be it.

But each small engagement arrived with its own weather system. She felt it like a swarm of bees inside a thunderstorm. At first, they'd betrayed themselves too easily. Her, by smiling too much and tucking her hair behind her ears. Him, by swallowing nervously and excessive face touching. But over the weeks, they had learned to minimize these physical slips so that any colleague watching them talk, from a distance, might infer from their body language that they didn't like one another at all. He might be standing across from her, with his arms over his chest, in a posture of male protection. Whereas she would routinely keep her hands in her pockets, tilting her head at a stiff, discrete angle that indicated nothing so much as forbearance.

But their eyes were what gave them away. They had that bright, startled look of repressed absorption. As if they were drinking not only the words that came from the other's lips, but also the glass that held them.

"When is that conference you're headed to?"

"November 13th."

Or:

"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"

"Oh, my mom has this thing every year."

She wanted to talk forever with him. She couldn't get away fast enough. It was perfectly excruciating, if perfectly ridiculous.

And one Friday, she reached her limit. It was already late, and everyone else had escaped into the weekend. He was just finishing up the budget numbers he'd been sitting on all week. She brought him a piece of leftover birthday cake from the week's office party and sat on the edge of his desk, pushing aside a potted plant and a picture frame.

"Why are we like children here?" she blurted out, as he took the first bite.

She watched him chew the cake, a smear of white frosting sticking to the corner of his mouth. Impatient, she pressed harder. 

"I mean, why do we have to play these games? Why can't I just say what I feel when I'm feeling it? Why all the pretense, as if we were still in high school and too—too—scared of rejection to seize happiness where we can find it?"

With some difficulty, he swallowed his cake. 

"I guess I don't see it that way," he said, setting down the plate to look at her.

"You don't?"

"No." He wiped his mouth and stood up. "I think this is adulthood. "

He reached out for her, briefly taking hold of her hand. She felt the flesh of his palm biting into her engagement ring. Then the sensation was gone, and he was grabbing his coat.

"Have a good weekend, Leah."

And then he was gone, too.

"You too, Jim."



Saturday, October 3, 2015

Ghost



With the legs 
of a dancer

and the throat 
of a snake,

the egret picks its 
paces 
atop the silt lake

Pausing, in places,
to hook a sharp head

as if trying to fathom
a voice from the dregs.

But no,  
that's me 

projecting my own,
for Autumn is homed   

Bringing ghosts to the breeze 
that blows from these trees

ghosts of regret,
and ghosts I can't see,

as the egret stabs Narcissus
straight in the eye

stunning the vibrating fish
with its lance 

which it will keep there,
quiveringly, 
before working it down

then chasing success
with a quick nip of brine

before finally, without guile,
stretching wide the white wings—

So soundlessly, sated, 
a bird lights for the marsh,

leaving only the shadows
of angels behind.


Great egret


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Like This

Simplified

It was still summer, technically. But there was a stiff, fall breeze coming off the lake, letting her feel the small pleasure, and protection, of her sweater's warmth, as he walked along beside her.  

A camera hung around her neck and bobbed against her sternum as they took another turn around the dock.

"What's that?" he said, pointing up at the sky. 

She followed his arm. "Another vulture, I think."

"Are you sure?"

Well, no. The truth was that she'd been too distracted by his nearness to put her mind on much else. But no. A vulture wouldn't reflect the sun's light like that. 

"A hawk, maybe?" she said, coming to a stop and shielding her eyes. "Or an osprey?"

"Too big," he said, looking with her as the bird skirted the gap in the clouds.

"Wait," she said, reaching for his arm. "I think it's a bald eagle."

"I think you're right." 

They stood like that, with her hand on his forearm, for a full minute of silence. The giant bird turned and leveled, turned and leveled. She was conscious of the feel of his flannel on her fingertips, the camera's weight around her neck, an exquisite breeze just lifting her hair. 

Finally, he spoke. 

"Don't you want to take a picture?"

She turned to him, and with her other hand, dutifully pressed the button on the camera hanging around her neck.  

"There," she said.

He lifted an eyebrow, wonderingly.

"I don't need a picture of it," she explained, sliding her arm through his and watching the eagle dive at the lake with a sudden, spearing intention.

"I just want to remember, like this."




Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kiyiya Vuran Insanlik

(Photograph: Reuters)

a little boy 
who might have been mine
or yours

a little boy wearing
a red tee
and blue shorts

a little boy who will 
never be anything 
but

a body
on the sands
of a big, big world

----

The title translates to "Humanity Washed Ashore." The story is here. I'm sorry for the photo. I know it's crushing. It crushed me. 

We shouldn't need photos like this to make us act, but I think a good many of us probably do. (A different, happier Syrian refugee story reinforced this truth earlier in the week.) This boy, Aylan Kurdi, was one of thousands of Syrian refugees trying to flee Turkey for Greece, the gateway to the European Union. These are desperate people needing relief in a way I can't begin to comprehend, or impact. 

All we could think to do was donate money to the International Rescue Committee, a highly-regarded charity dedicated to helping refugees worldwide. If you'd like to do the same, please click here


Friday, July 24, 2015

The most important thing



Here is how I picture us. 

In a common wood, sitting side by side on a rock made for two. A breeze finds my face, and I lean into its lure. The leaves around us seem an extension of skin, rustling. A large nut drops from someplace high and untouched and lands, with a thwack, on last year's slough. Cicadas and birds we can't name mark out a perimeter, but they can't edge that bit of cloud, puffing along beyond the treetops' sights.

You put your hands on your knees, mirroring me. Our mouths are still talking about the fawn we saw back there, how it's a shame these pathways are lined with gravel. There was a rabbit, too, we startled with our clumsy, human progress. But I'm remembering back farther than that, to your very first words as we stepped out of the car: "It looks like Provence," you said, before looking down at your shoes, as if to check some instinct for confession. You can't know what that did to me. 

The light is water, running down your cheek, past the ridge of your throat, to be swallowed by your collar. I can just make out the color of your eyes. But that is not the most important thing.

I don't know how life can be as beautiful as this, or why we can't be like the trees, so easily roused, all of the time. 

What I do know is that I'm alone, on a rock made for two, but not lonely at all, for you're here, too.

The camera shutter opens, and closes. It's been doing that all day.   



Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ozymandias

Tin Man

That boy I went to high school with—the one who stabbed his father fifty times—the one found not guilty of murder, by reason of insanity—the man committed to a hospital for the rest of his life—Jonathan—

He recently got permission to leave the grounds, unsupervised—and what can I say—I'm glad for him.

Maybe, if you'd sat with him in honors English—captained by the supremely competent Mrs. Thompson—you'd feel the same. He was so smart, you see. Not book smart, like I was, but smart smart, like that entire first row of upper-class aces. He was the rare kid who thought for himself. (Which begs the question: when did the thoughts start thinking for him?) But he was also unassuming and shy, which if you were a teenage girl, you could sort of take and run with. (For instance—I once had a year-long crush on a boy who never opened his mouth—I saw him the other day, and smiled).

But this wasn't shyness. It was something else. Something so silent and creeping that none of us saw it for what it was—certainly not us second-rowers, with our heads-down balk before Shelley and Shakespeare ("Jonathan, could you help us out here?" Mrs. Thompson might ask, after a pause, perseveringly).

My friend, half in love with him, dubbed him "Legs," for short—she especially enjoyed watching him run track—he was a middle-of-the-pack, middle-distance sort—and how does that seem like the strangest part of this whole, strange affair? 

The valedictorian and the murderer. Both overflowing with that youthful, bright magic we mark as potential.

The valedictorian, my friend, whom I haven't talked to in twenty years—but who I know, thanks to Google, is now a primary care doctor with a master's degree in public health—has not come back to our little town. Saving the world makes one busy. Yes, Jenny met her destiny, chin to the stars.

But once, we were all huddled in that English class, haltingly discussing our Ozymandias and our Lady Macbeth, squinting at the tissue-thin pages of the Nortons in front of us, skimming the text for examples of symbolism and foreshadowing, ticking off syllables to grasp a mysterious force called iambic pentameter

Our hearts in the grip of such fear and hope.




Saturday, July 11, 2015

Finger paint

(Portrait of Adeline Ravoux by Vincent Van Gogh)

Standing in front of a painting by Van Gogh is different than standing in front of a painting by anyone else. 

Time becomes viscous. Your insides turn wobbly. Your eyes turn wet. Like a child, you want to touch his wiggles, his crosses, his splotches. You want to touch him. The artist. The man. Vincent. 

I don't feel quite the same compulsion to connect with Picasso, with Matisse, with Cezanne. Sure, in a print, at home, I might like any one of them better. But when confronted by the hot topography of paint-on-canvas, I'm not as unmoored by their work. I'm not as moved. It's not the ear-cutting, either. It's not our societal obsession for romanticizing the eccentric, the different, the troubled. 

It's simply that, more than any other artist, Van Gogh seems both bracingly there in his work and most profoundly not. There it is—the primacy of an impulse stationed by the pigments of the past. Such frenetic, bubbling life! Such a quietude of death. This is the contradiction coursing through all of our fates, but rarely do we feel it as viscerally, like a swipe of neon through the gut. 

So I stand, for as long as I can, letting the current go through me.


And what does the girl in the painting—young Adeline Ravoux—look toward, so piercingly and true? 

Not at us, I'm sure.  


Monday, June 29, 2015

Unburied

Female ostrich

Writers:

Every rejection becomes a feather, pinned to your breast like a badge of honor, as you survey the endless horizon ahead, knowing they'll come to serve the story of how you learned to fly.

Until the one comes that flattens you—strangely, no worse in tone than the rest—and you see that the horizon you've long been plotting is—oof—just a crack in the ceiling, right overtop that water stain.

And all those feathers you've been fearlessly storing, saved by the months or years of hoping, have become the ostrich, now squat on your chest—now bleeding your breath—as you keep one eye glued to that stupid crack

and the other eye, reddening, fixed on the bird's, both of you waiting on who will blink first,

while your water stain turns into a Rorschach of words 

oddly enough, in the shape of a

story.  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

As the clouds changed keys

Hocking River at Sundown


Last night,
driving home,
under a concert
hall sky

I rode,
for miles,
through a Steinway
piano

with its lid
propped up,
past the sun's
rolling spires

My mind
a box
thread of ivory
and wire

my heart
a dove,
uncorked of
its silence

and these 
hands

not mine,
but Chopin's

Friday, May 29, 2015

For my son, whose friend has moved

Tethered

You are dear to me 
in your hurt

Your wounded eyes
say plainly--
my heart is broke 

You are choked
by the strain of
getting it out

But it's still there

and no,
it's not fair

To be a child
with too loose
a hold on
his world

To be tied
to two grown-ups, 
for good and
for ill

But this pain
that's turned you
inside out--
and these tears
that seem spent
from a hole
in your chest-- 

This is the price
of loving 

you're finding


And all I can do
is love you,
in turn,
and ache

Monday, April 27, 2015

You are the everything



In the backseat of the car, their knees just touch. Like the whisper of the wheels on the ribbon of asphalt. Slight enough for intention to be the question dancing across the roof of her mouth.

The spring night is cool and damp on her skin--really too early in the year for the windows to be down, but down they are, goosebumps crimping her arms and legs, her long hair a flag she snaps with adolescent expertise. Some song is playing on the radio that she doesn't like--not yet--but may, given time. Their friends are their friends, and superfluous.

His weight grafts onto hers. She holds it, bravely. Their arms touch, without fanfare, whistling to the shimmy of the car.

So there is her answer. In this quiet collaboration of arm hair. Is it possible to be thrilled, elated and slightly sorry, all at the same time? She swallows. It is.

On the car's seat, their pinkies touch. Then more of them.

Then everything that matters, all at once.

The song changes keys, lifts. He takes her hand. She feels her hand being held, surrenders her ownership in a tight, breathless arc. His fathom of fingers swirl around her hapless digits, pause atop her boomerang pulse. In this rolling darkness, no one can see how Milky-Way bright her skin has turned. She has never been so big, or dense.

Looking out her window, she spies an airplane blinking in the sky's immense. Like an even, beating heart. On, and off. On, and off. She blinks and thinks, I'm going to die someday. Is thrilled by her ability to think such a thing, at such a moment in her life.

The song stops.

Their eyes hang on the silence.

His breath--

His breath--

Black licorice.





Thursday, April 9, 2015

Prometheus

(Photo by jasonwoodhead23)


I want to burn
blue

like a vein
contained
by its ribbon
of skin

or that lowly

Prometheus
of chemistry 
class

Taut and roaring,
steeped to 
a pique

of concert  
fury


I will show
you

what hot
is


Monday, March 23, 2015

The Riveter

(Photo by Steve Wall)


Spring walked in,
whistling

so I told her
how lovely
I found her

She stopped
me, cold,
insisting loveliness was
the least of it

Leaning in
to confide,
with a darkening
eye

that what she
liked best

was the thunder
and the lightning

and the rivets
of rain,

all pressing
and pounding

and running,
to work  


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lisa's Garden

Lisa Bonchek Adams


All day long, there's been a weight on my heart, because someone I never met has died.

Lisa Bonchek Adams had metastatic breast cancer. She blogged here. She tweeted here. I was one of her readers, but we never exchanged words. I wasn't a friend. She had plenty of friends already, and they hurt a lot worse than I do today. So do her husband and three children, and her parents, who have lost their beloved daughter. She was only 45. 

Lisa tweeted this message regularly, usually first thing in the morning: Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.

She persevered. In fact, a week before she died, she shared a cache of garden photos taken over the summer. It was apparent that things were serious, but she wasn't a complainer. Nor was she a martyr. That was how she set herself apart in my mind. She hated her disease, hated it with everything she had, was not going to conceal its awfulness for a second. But she made it a point to love her life just as fiercely. She lived honestly, guided by a clarity of vision, always educating others about her setbacks and treatments, not because she relished the attention but because in sharing and educating, she found a way to control a fraction of her fate. She was famous on Twitter for her #mondaypleads, in which she begged her followers to make a healthcare appointment they'd been putting off. And people listened. Through her educating and "nagging," she likely saved countless lives. 

In her case, that's not hyperbole. Lisa didn't exaggerate. I wouldn't dare do so on her behalf. 

When I was walking the dog yesterday, I noticed the beauty of the snow. Yes, it was beautiful, in spite of my winter-sourness at this time of year. The sun was fierce, but there was still snow lining the branches of the woods by our house. The sky was a tonic of blue. Birds were darting over my head, robins were singing their little hearts out. I could feel springtime in the air, even as my feet slid out from under me. 

But the beauty hurt, because Lisa wasn't there to see it. I thought about her children, the youngest of whom is nine. I don't care what kind of preparation they had: one minute their mother was there, the next minute she was not. You can't prepare for that. Even Lisa, queen of memory boxes and advanced directives, couldn't prepare them for that. And so they're suffering today. And so, even when spring finally comes, they'll keep a sliver of winter in their hearts. Not just this year, but always.  

I was just a stranger. But I wanted Lisa to live until the spring, or summer. Even when it seemed apparent that she wasn't going to make it. I wanted her to see her garden again. I didn't want her to die in the cold.

Of course, she didn't. She died, at home, surrounded by her family. And she died having planted thousands of seeds in the hearts of those who knew her, or felt like they did. Over the years, her garden will grow, and cast seeds of its own. Who knows how far the wind will carry them? None of us can know the impact of a single life lived so fully in the sun. 

So Lisa will persevere. Her children will continue to be the heart of her garden. And through them, her life and love will flourish. 

While I'm thankful today to have been brushed by her beauty, even a little.    


---

If you'd like to donate to Lisa Bonchek Adams' metastatic breast cancer research fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering, please go here. Less than 5% of breast cancer funds go toward metastatic breast cancer research, in spite of the fact that 20-30% of breast cancer patients will eventually have a metastases. Every bit helps. 

And please, make a healthcare appointment if you've been putting one off. 


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tintinnabulation

("Polynesia, the Sky" by Henri Matisse)


We had bells in our mouths
back then
we did

and every word
was a clang to the ribs

and every conversation
with you
a wedding

Where the brides
wore laughter

and the grooms
were clappers

and every guest 
inside a mile
smiled

Because bells
are contagious

and so were we


Friday, February 13, 2015

Adult Nonfiction

(Painting by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva)

She was in a neglected corner of the university's library, her knees knocking against its most neglected shelf, pulling out books one at a time to see when they'd last been borrowed, thinking she’d become one of those people who believed, in their hearts, that books had souls--making every volume she held the more pitiable to her--when he strode down the aisle, took her by the arm and lifted her up, before kissing her hard.


She dropped her book. Dust blew off the pages like pollen. 


And as he pushed her--gently--against the stacks, and as her fingers groped at the worn, thready bindings there, trying to find a grounding, she remembered that she also had a soul. And that lips were the crack where the light fell through.  


So that she returned to him, harder, reaching her hand around his neck, and pulling him closer than that.

Letting the books be books, and only books.  


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In Praise of Sadness



Sometimes, it seemed her sadness was a weather system, moving in and hanging around: a low-pressure throb, right under the skin.  

Sometimes, it was a night flower--the most precious, poisoned, unspoiled part of her--her very own neglected child.


And sometimes--most often--it wasn't there at all, not even a whisperful. 


But even then, in the cut-and-dry sunshine, she was capable of missing it a little. Which was its own kind of sadness, though of a sort she could still make fun of.


Because she knew that it was indulgent to see sadness that way--as some cloying root one might suck some life from, just for the sake of getting the bitters. There was little in the way of sustenance about it. 


When for so many around her, sadness was a luxury. A place to stick one's weary feet. The damp fire against the tiresome storm jawing at their scrawny shutters. Better than fear, because it was a lamentation of loss, instead of the anticipating. A hole you could slide into, a falling. Better than not caring, too, because nothing was worse than that frictionless drifting. At least with sadness, there was that bulging blackness at the bottom. That catch in one's throat to grab onto. As if you'd meant to say something in defense against it, but thought better of it, in the end. Sleep was so much easier.  


Still. She loved the word wound


She loved the smoke that curled close to its flame, before being borne away. Paper blackened at the edges. The condensate formed on two 80-proof lips, dripping dripping dripping. 


Wound was a word, then. But wasn't a word, itself, enough? 


So that if it was her own hand circling round her heart, squeezing to the point of soreness, maybe all that was just to remind herself, 


You're alive, stupid. Love it.  


Love the whole damn thing.  



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

13-34-21



She sat beside him, and he sat by her. And somehow, that was momentous. Like there was, in fact, a choosing involved. A comfort, then, beneath the nerves. 

She could speak to him today. She spoke. She thought he felt like she did, that he didn’t want to leave just yet.

The second bell sounded. They were late.

And the sun was so bright, as she rushed inside, that in that darting from brightness to not, she saw his hand gesturing as he spoke, and then, when he listened to her, pull at the back of his neck. 

So that she felt, rather than thought in words, how the universe was both very big and full of wonders, and very exact, like the numbers she spun around on her locker, and how glad she was to be a girl who knew a boy like that.  



Friday, January 23, 2015

Mary



“Let us pray,” the minister says, and the heads all bow. 

I watch them, in all their gray-haired, frail beauty. I am glad we are sitting toward the back of the funeral parlor. It has always struck me that there is something very touching, very tender-making, about the back of old people’s necks. The flesh is leaner there. I remember my granddad’s neck, the valleys worn deep between tendons, two-fingers’ width, or so I see him in my memory. Everything winnowing away with the years. As if every funeral, every loss, takes another piece from them, makes it harder to bear the weight of their heads. 

They are all beautiful. I can’t tell you how touched I am by their beauty, how it has carried them here, in their old, beaten bodies, how it has bowed their heads just now, as one. 

I am here, and separate, too. My husband takes my hand. We are separate, together. We don’t pray, though a part of me would like that comfort, to be part of the swell of tears. Well. I am part of that, anyway. I squeeze Paul’s hand. The minister speaks of another Paul. And Lazarus. And David. And too many names, really. We all want to wrap Death in stories. He is not such an alien to us then.

Her name was Mary. 

Just Mary. 

And she was my godmother. I still don’t know what that word means. What it entails, exactly. We were nothing alike, for one. But I loved her. That’s how family is supposed to work, I guess. Share a room with someone, be invited into their home often enough, and those commonplaces become a house that holds you, long beyond the shortcomings of who you are today. You can’t escape family, even when you try. That house is a burden, but it’s your burden. It’s your own scripture, kept in your back pocket, filled with names and begets and trespasses and forgivenesses. Stuffed with guilt and regret, and mystery, too. Feel the weight of it in your hands. It’s a load, an anchor. It can’t be left. The absence of it would be a ghost that sits on your chest at night, waking you from dreams. 

There is a song playing now. An awful, saccharine hymn. I cry, anyway.

Mary played the organ for her church. She played effortlessly. She must have played this song many, many times. She did everything she tried well. She was a champion of knowing what was incumbent of her. I look briefly into the minister’s face as he takes my hand in his. We smile, tightly. It is awkward, and human. We don’t know each other at all, but here we are, stuck in protocol’s receiving line. Then I am free. 

The old people file out, slowly. I assume, because Paul and I are already gone. Waiting, in the car, for the ride out to the cemetery. His hand is still in mine. 

I’d rather remember them all right there, anyway, with their heads born down, in unison, as if a load had been lifted from them. As if Grace were always that simple.  


Friday, January 2, 2015

New

(Painting by Pino Dangelico)

They were old friends.

Or, to be precise, they were old acquaintances who became old friends after all their older, better friends had up and died. 

Now it was just the two of them, Max and Jerry, 80-something inmates of The Laurels assisted-living home, staving off death with a little friendly competition. 

These were their stats, heading into 2015: Max was the older by eighteen months, but Jerry was the lifelong smoker with COPD. Max drank for twenty-six years, before jumping on the AA wagon, but Jerry had never married, and it was a well established fact that single men tended to go faster. Though Max's wife, Bev, had been dead for three-odd years, which might have evened out the playing field a bit . . . Max really couldn't say.

And, if he was being fair, Jerry had the more optimistic disposition, which was likely the cause of his making mincemeat of his lungs for so long. Giving up liquor might have made Max a less indifferent Christian, but it had done nothing to change his overall outlook on life, which was skeptical, at best. 

But not here. Here he was going the distance. They even had a wager on it. If Max outlived Jerry, he got Jerry's pocket watch. If Jerry won, he got the baseball signed by Mickey Mantle.  

"How's your blood pressure this morning?" Max asked his friend, biting into a piece of dry toast.

"140 over 95." 

"Hmm."

"You?" Jerry said, stabbing his sausage with his fork and stuffing the whole link in his mouth.

"Same as always.130 over 75."

"Yeah? Well, you look like shit." He smiled at Max with his greasy sausage mouth. Max looked away.

It wasn't that he wanted Jerry to die. The man was a serviceable bridge partner, and they had shared some memories over the years. Jerry's contracting firm had built the addition on his house back in the 60s (granted, he'd tacked 5% onto the initial estimate, a figure Max would take to his grave). Bev had tried to set up Jerry with a number of her single friends back then, but he'd resisted her "handling" him. He liked living on his own. Didn't see a need to make life complicated, though Max recalled a roommate somewhere along the line. 

The two men didn't bring it up anymore, but it was Jerry's place Max had slunk off to, back in '83, when Bev had finally tossed him to the curb. All his other friends were married. And then, Jerry wasn't the judging sort. 

He'd dried up at Jerry's, gotten himself back on the straight and narrow, thanks to some spiritual grunt work and Jerry's knack for keeping a range of salty snacks around. The two men didn't discuss their problems with one another--they weren't the discussing sort--but Max had become a fan of the prime-time soaps Jerry watched, a fact which delighted Bev, once he'd been taken back into the fold. She loved her Falcon Crest. So did he, and more than he let on. 

When Bev died of lymphoma, Jerry had come to the funeral, though it had been years since they'd seen one another. Max took note of that. There were plenty of others who hadn't shown. Max took note of that, too. 

Still, Jerry could be difficult. He hollered at the nurses. He swore like someone who'd only been around a rough group of men all his life. But the thing Max just couldn't get past was that Jerry was an avid, and vocal, Steelers fan. 

The man was born in Dayton. It didn't make any sense. 

"You done with that mealy toast yet?" Jerry said, blowing his nose on his handkerchief. 

"Studies have shown that chewing twenty times before swallowing aids in digestion."

Jerry rolled his eyes and reached for his walker. "Your plan is to kill me with boredom, isn't it?"

"Wait, Jerry. Let me see it again."

Sighing, Jerry pulled the watch from his breast pocket and handed it to him.


God, but it was a beauty. 

"Aw, go ahead and open it," Jerry said.

Max sprung the hinge, opening the silver cover. Holding the timepiece up to his ear, he smiled.

"Runs nice," he said. 

"Yep."

"Better than your ticker."

"Yep."

Max turned the watch over and squinted through his eyeglasses. "What's this on the back? Your initials?"

Jerry shook his head. 

Max peered at Jerry over the rims of his glasses. "A.C. Who was that? A relative?"

"Nope."

He was starting to get dyspeptic. "Why the big mystery? Just tell me who it is, goddammit." 

Jerry held out his hand. Max relinquished the treasure. Jerry tucked the watch back in his pocket and reached for his walker again. 

"A.C. is Arthur Cooper," he said, gripping his handles and beginning to wheeze.

Somewhere in the dark of Max's brain, the name rang a bell. Now if he could only--

"Christ, Max. You knew him. He lived there the summer you stayed with me. Slender guy, with a beard?"

Max's brow cleared. "Of course! Artie. Big Bengals fan, if I recall?"

Jerry grunted. "Yeah, well. Nobody's perfect." 

"He gave you his watch?" 

"No," Jerry said, grimacing as he got to his feet. "I gave it to him on our fifth anniversary. And I took it back before burying him."

Max squinted at the remains of his friend's breakfast, before looking up at Jerry for clarification.  

"You numskull. Bev was the one who introduced us."

It would come. He knew it. There were just these moments, nowadays, where he seemed to be traveling a beat behind the rest of the world. But it would come to him. He just had to wait for it. 

Jerry suddenly looked tired. "Never mind. I'm going back to bed. Finish your toast, Max." 

He watched Jerry shuffle off, suddenly recalling an old conversation he'd had with Bev, after their "second honeymoon" in that born-again autumn of '83.

We should do something for Jerry. He was all right to me, you know.

Yes, we should. 

How about setting him up with Patty? She's a hoot. 

She hadn't responded so much as given him a look. There was something incredulous in that look. If cautious, too. 

Max's mouth pursed over his last sip of orange juice. It was funny what stuck with you. How long a simple thing could take to digest. And then, suddenly: blam-o. Like getting sacked behind the line of scrimmage.

He swallowed the juice and wiped his mouth, beginning to reach for his walker when another thought stopped him.

It was nice that life could still surprise. 

There was that, he supposed . . . 

Leaning across the table, Max stabbed the last link of sausage from Jerry's plate, swiping it through the heavy syrup, before stuffing the whole thing in his mouth and closing his eyes, in relish. 



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I started my tradition of writing a "New" story back in 2008. In spite of missing last year (I know, Aniket, I KNOW), I'm glad to be back on track in 2015. Happy New Year, everyone!