pencil shavings pushed
by youthful breath
huffing and puffing
with the effort
lips only half aware
of the words
"is the worst."
all the pressure
of reinventing yourself
to be something better
and then being forced
to put those abstracts
by a sixth grade
on political correctness
she watches him
with bloodshot eyes,
kept up by her husband
long into the night
as he tried in vain
to prompt desire
from her hips.
her new year's resolution
but no one else
could know that.
except, maybe, for the
man down the road
who she'd been
seeing in the dark
for a month.
he would never tire
of watching the stars
but she longed
for him in the sunlight.
the tip of the pencil
ground down into
left only with
and graphite dust
shadows grow darker
in the schoolyard,
the english teacher knows
that her secret means more
when she's behind her desk
than it does
when she's in her bed
(or someone else's).
the boy knows
that pressures grow larger
throbbing in the background
until his fingers shake
just trying to form
the letter "o"
for his new year's resolution
is to speak,
maybe for the first time
in his life
about what he thinks,
what someone else things.
and his pressure
threatens to overtake him
while the teacher's secret
threatens her just the same
and when she leans over
"carter, you know better,"
the words only half
belonging to her
by a misplaced sense of duty
and a splash
with an a."
he wants to scream.
my pencil broke,
and this is what
was left behind
in its wake,
to my rage.
but instead he looks up
"i bet even your
can't satisfy you."
and she is
crumbled into dust
by a middle school brat
by the force
of her own
she would never
and the universe watched
its orchestrated chaos
turned upward with glee
and moved on
to its next
January 7th, 1963
The pencil stub fit perfectly in the vee between my thumb and fingers. It wasn't too sharp, so it didn't gouge the paper I was writing on. It wasn't dull either so the letters I concentrated on forming had the perfect line.
I will not be sad. We finished learning to print the letters of the alphabet before Christmas and this was our very first writing assignment.
I will not get mad. I placed the letters inside the lines on the paper. Every third line was darker, so we knew which one was at the bottom of the characters we drew.
"Very good, Karin. Those are important New Year's Resolutions."
The teacher looking over my shoulder startled me and I flipped the pencil over. I erased the wobbly letter t in get. It was necessary to be perfect or Mrs. Peters would show the whole class what you did wrong. Why were these words worthy of praise? Her wrath ruled the classroom with her beehive hairdo and long sharp fingernails. But she couldn't take the joy of making my own sentences away.
I didn't understand it then, but our terrifying teacher gave me a gift that still brings me purpose. Reading and writing are the best things my education ever gave me.
By the Pond
The pond was still in the umber of early morning light, tinged by rose, orange and pink. Even the loons were drifting, peacefully paired after their moonlit dance. The bullfrog was silent, the mosquitos satiated. Perry dangled his feet over the edge of the dock, his fishing pole held loosely in his hands. He lived for these moments before chaos erased the beauty of the day.
The raucous shout from the bayou cabin caught him square between the ears.
"Get, your lazy ass in here. There's chores to do."
Like he didn't know that. His mother's demand was unreasonable. This time was his. "Piss off, I'll do them like I always do."
"God damn right you will." He could hear her coming, and he reeled his line in. Best to stow his gear in the bushes, safe from her miserable wrath.
He glanced out over the light green reflections of tupelo and cypress. The water glass smooth, it belied his fractured existence. Swinging his feet up, he felt her claws digging into his ear, yanking him behind her. His butt bounced over splintered planks.
"Good for nothing dreamer. The kitchen is a mess, you should be making breakfast."
As usual, the chores had changed again. Never the same from day to day, always dictated by his mother's whim. He knew he couldn't win. But perhaps the pond would. Someday.
of dead leaves
hair, fruit rinds,
tea bags, coffee grounds
garbage to most
with underlying heat
the mound creates
of peaceful adjacent
Cared for properly
and turned to process
the covered stench
We always talk about the rollercoaster but never the line. The feet-hurting, yawn-inducing yawn to get to the crescendo that will make life worth doing. This year was the line. I don't remember much of anything of this year except that I had a mental breakdown and that I had to go to a mental hospital. The result has been a hellish three months of trying to get back to some form of normalcy. Even sitting and writing this feels like standing in an 85 minute wait line on a balmy summer day at an amusement park. This year ended with a bang and I am hoping the finish will be better than where I am right now.
By the lake
Nature was showing off that day. The sky was bluer than a Robin's egg with nary a cloud to mar it. The lake was a brilliant mirror of the sky, the sun, the trees whose leaves rustled softly in the warm breeze. Birdsong filled the air. The ground was soft and warm beneath her back.
The hands around her neck were not.
"Please, stop," she wheezed.
"No talking, " he responded.
"Please, I'm sorry..."
"Of course you are. Now. Too late," he said in a singsong-y voice at odds with his size. Well, and with his actions one might say.
He squeezed until she stopped moving.
Then he sat back against a tree and listened to the birdsong and watched the dragonflies flit across the lake.
This is quite a challenge for me. I cannot use smell to describe an emotion, because I have no sense of smell. And my wife claims I have no taste because smell and taste are linked. Or maybe she meant that I simply have no taste in clothes, style, or anything.
I concede that my “taste” is mostly texture. However, I will use my “taste” to attempt to describe a certain emotion.
It is partly watery and welcome as a rushing stream in a parched land. Or as a glass of cool water on a sore throat.
Yet this emotion also is chewy, like fresh-baked bread still warm from the oven. This is the kind of delicious chew that delights the body and yields a satisfied smile.
Amid the munches, a wee bit of a crunch is discernable, like sweet crumbles on the flaky crust of your favorite pie. The slight crunchiness tickles the roof of your mouth and makes you giggle.
One also can deduce a surprising creaminess that coats all the other textures.
The result is an indescribable taste that you wish would linger.
The puppy wiggled her way through the door. Barely ajar, it opened onto a busy road. I ran out, vaulting over the closed gate in the iron work thigh high fence. Where was her owner. Or better yet, her mother? A stray? Or was she conjured from my imagination as an answer to my prayer?
My daughter was upstairs. Inconsolable, her eyes blurred with tears. Our ancient border collie passed over the rainbow bridge over a month ago. Each time she walked in the back door from our miniscule backyard, where Moll's water and food dish stood on a slightly raised platform, her faced scrunched up and she raced up to her room in the attic of our brownstone townhouse.
Perhaps the fuzzy ball of deep, almost burgundy red fur would soothe her wounded heart. But what if the pup was lost? What if the rightful owner turned up banging on our door?
I didn't want those unbidden thoughts. There were new people next door. Another blow to my daughter. Jim and Janice had rented their place to a younger couple. Her surrogate grandparents were gone. They moved into a retirement villa an hour's bus ride away from us, promising to come back to visit often. But it wasn't the same.
No more slipping around the short wall with the ivy trellis to knock on their door. No more hot chocolate and shortbread. Or even a gooey chocolate chip cookie with a glass of cold milk. I wasn't much better. No more safe babysitter, and no more solid advice from what to do about her fever when she was sick to how to make a birthday special when property taxes and utilities were all I could afford from my measly salary. Two jobs, school, and a toddler had me crying at night, missing my wife and trying to fulfill my promises to her as she lay dying.
Andy's mother passed while I was still in school. My grandmother, barely remembered, left me the townhouse. A blessing, and I'm almost done thanks to her. The struggle has been worth it. I'm through the worst of my schooling now, and heading toward an easier schedule with regular office hours. I'll work while she's in school. Andrea Elaine Axworthy, the love of my life from the moment her mother laid her in my arms for the first time. And now she's a crying mess. At nine, her losses are already too much to bear.
I scooped up the tiny puppy. How had she even been able to get up the stairs? No, someone must have left her there. I hope deliberately or I would break Andy's heart once more, and I don't know if she could take it. The wriggling mass of fur in my hands stilled as we climbed the stairs. As if this tiny canine knew something momentous was about to occur, I felt her tensing, gathering herself. Damn it don't jump, at least not until we're inside Andy's bedroom.
Her muffled voice told me she had her face buried in her pillow again. I pushed the door open and the pup cradled in my other arm made her move. Sailing of my arms leaving tiny scratches behind, she landed with a bounce right beside Andy. Her red fur blending instantly with the fall of long deep auburn locks tangled on the pillow. My daughter turned her head looking for the source the high pitched whine beside her ear. Round eyes registered wonder, and she sat up to grab puppy.
I tried to back out. I wanted the two to bond, but I still had to figure out where this tiny Irish setter came from. There was no doubt as to the breed. Only one had the distinctive red fur this one did.
"Dad, is it mine?"
"If I can figure out where it came from and it isn't someone else's lost pet." I had to be truthful.
"Girl or boy?" Andy asked.
"She's Belle. Like from Beauty and the Beast. She's going to be my best friend."
"Remember, only if she doesn't belong to anyone we can find. I'm putting an add in the lost pet group on Facebook right away." I heard someone banging on our back door. "That might be someone looking for her now."
Andy gathered her puppy in her arms. What was I going to do if that was Belle's owner?
Hurrying back down two flights of stairs, I rushed through the kitchen to answer the thudding knock on our door. Whoever it was, they sounded like an impatient cop.
"Have you seen a puppy?"
Here it comes, I'm going to have to break Andy's heart again.
"She's the last one from Maggie's litter. I haven't found a home for her yet." The exasperated tone told me this wasn't the first time the little mutt had escaped. The man wore a firefighter's uniform.
"She found us. Came in through open front door."
"So that's where she went. We live next door. I had our door propped open for five minutes. Just wanted to let the smoke out from burnt toast."
"Andy, come on down here," I called. Might as well get it over with. She was going to have to give the puppy back.
"I'm Mike, by the way. Jim and Janice are our landlords. My Dad worked with him. It's a long story." He was looking over my shoulder as he talked. I could see wheels turning in his head. What was this burly tattooed blond giant thinking? He glanced down, noticing the dishes right beside his black booted feet. "Do you have a dog?"
"Those are Moll's. We lost her a few weeks ago."
"I didn't think I've seen a dog around here." He lowered his voice. "Do you want another one?"
His question didn't get by Andy's sharp ears.
"Oh please! Please Daddy." She put the puppy down and the red ball of fluff scrambled across the linoleum toward Mike. "Her name is Belle."
"She looks like a pure bred Irish Setter. I don't think I can afford to pay for her."
"But Dad, I'll do it. I've got some money saved," Andy declared.
She did. Not much, we'd put the eighty five dollars she made doing little chores for Jim and Janice in the bank the other day.
Mike's eyes twinkled. "Then we need to talk. How much do you have in the bank."
Was he serious? Was he going to bargain with a nine-year-old girl?
I listened as he did exactly that. Her life's savings for Belle. And then Mike turned after he shook her hand.
"But I can't take all of your money. You need some for a collar and leash. And maybe a dog bed."
"I can earn more. I can fold your laundry or do your dishes or anything else you can think of," Andy was determined and I nodded my head.
"She used to do a lot of little things for Janice around the house. She does her chores here too. She's a great kid." I said.
"Well Andy, do you think Moll would mind if you gave her things to Belle?" Mike asked.
For the first time in weeks, a smile bloomed across Andy's face. "Of course not, she's in heaven now."
"Then you can earn the rest on Saturday. And you can meet Belle's mom. Maggie needs someone to play with."
"I'll pick up her poop and Belle's too. I used to do it for Moll before she got so sick." Andy volunteered.
"That's an extra money chore. There aren't many people who would pick up that up. I used to think it was punishment." Mike said.
Andy shrugged. "I think I should start a business. Lots of people on our street have dogs."
I knew she mentioned it before Moll went downhill so quickly. Andy was coming back. I had no idea how old this puppy was. My feisty daughter wasn't going to let her go easily even if she had to.
"Can Belle stay with us. I'm not sure she's old enough." I asked Mike.
"She can. She's just been weaned. If you don't have puppy food right now, we'll lend you some. It's getting too late to buy supplies tonight."
"Thank you, Mr. Mike." Andy's grin brought an answering smile from the fireman.
"Come on over. I think this is the beginning of something wonderful." Mike lead the way, and we followed around the trellis.
Maybe, just maybe, my faith was coming back. Maybe there was a God. The answers to prayers come in strange ways. Thank you for making my girl smile again. And thank you for the unexpected gift of friendship blooming in our backyard. Santa Claus lived on our street, working as a fireman in the middle of March.
Natural Synthetic Beef Product
"This is a natural synthetic beef product created by Newmeat labs," read Daniel. The product was called Zeus's beef, and it had a picture of a cartoonish Zeus on it. Zeus's beef was probably easier to advertise than natural synthetic beef product created. The other products at the sample booth had similar markings. Moccus's had the marking "This is a natural synthetic pork product created by Newmeat labs." Mercury's feather friends had "This is a natural synthetic chicken product created by Newmeat labs." Daniel was still in line for the free samples, the best part of coming to this store, and the most recent patch was still heating up. The booth paddler, an older hispanic woman, was talking nonstop about the health benefits of lab grown meats versus soy or tofu made products. "The protein is higher and the taste is just amazing. You can get different types of meatballs, sausages, hotdogs, and burgers and of these new types and each one has a different percentage of fat."
The peddler, who had just been talking about the available percentages of fat that you could get for every one of the many different synthetic meat products(fat free, 1%, 2%, 10%, 15%, 20% and 30%) when an older white woman infront of raised her hand, the only way to get the peddler's attention. "What about the harm to the poor animals? The soy and tofu brands always seem to mention those.
The peddler congratulated her. "That is a great question," she said as she took a deep breath and checked on the cooking sausages. "It is true that each one of our products oringally came from a living animal. Some of multiple different animals, but each of these animals are now living in the heaven of Newmeat labs animals zoo and sanctuary. Some, like Zeus, the bull who gave the needed material for Newmeats labs's original synthetic beef, has passed away at the sanctuary, but their descendants continue to live a life luxury." She spoke like she was reciting it from memory. When she was done, she smiled, she must have been happy that she was done with the word spell and that she did not mess up. "The protein is also higher and the taste is just amazing. Anyone of Newmeats labs can go with anyone of thousands of dishes. For breakfast, lunch, or dinner."She also gustered towards to some travel pamphlets for the animal sanctuary. They were titled with bright red and green letters that said "A sanctuary that explores mankinds relationship to eatable animals. To eat or not to eat." The sanctuary was located in southren california on the other said of the country.
The older white lady in her pink summer dress and her red shoes grabbed a few boxes of the chicken burgers and hotdogs. Some of the beef ones too, but she still waited for her free sample.
While he waited, Daniel remembered his dad speaking about about vegatianism became a lot less popular when Newmeat labs started up with Zeus as its mascot. It must have been 20 years ago. Things must have been weird back then. The oven beeped. The maple fat free natural synthetic beef product sausages were done.
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