Inside Looking Out

Image by Akshay Ranganath from Pixabay

The rain

Saturates the air

Puts a glaze on the street

Traffic lights shine through the murk

Diffused, but somehow brighter

Red, Yellow, Green

The lack of clarity

The air, moist and thick

Amplifies the sound

Diesel engines snorting

Buses picking up and dropping off

Trucks trundling through their rounds

Brakes squealing

Gears grinding

The air, moist and thick

Lays heavy over the city

Lays heavy over him

Hoping where there is none

Praying for a change of heart

It presses down on him

He knows she isn’t coming back

He knows she isn’t coming back today

Just like she hadn’t come back yesterday

And won’t be coming back tomorrow

Where Do You Want To Go?

Image by suesun from Pixabay

Caesar sat in his usual chair overlooking the gardens. It was late spring so they were a carpet of riotous color that fell away down to the edge of the crystal blue lake. There was a sailboat silhouetted against the bright sky, and he wished he was on it. His face didn’t show it, but he was smiling inside. He had always considered himself lucky and here was just more proof. When he could no longer take care of his own home he was faced with living in a sterile senior living tower. The kind with elevators, the kind where everyone decorated their apartment doors to try and retain some sign of their individuality. He loathed those places. Nevertheless, he had nowhere else to go and so he had found the place and was already preparing to move in. That’s when his angel found him.

He was eating breakfast at his favorite diner, an easy walk from his home when he let Sheila, the waitress who attended the local college, know that he likely would not be seeing her again. He was moving away. Sheila teared up. She asked if she could drop something by his house later that day and he said sure, expecting a potted plant or some sort of knick-knack. He gave her his address and she assured him she would be by later.

He was just finishing up the last of his packing and the doorbell rang. He had completely forgotten about Sheila but there she was, standing at his door. But she looked different; freed from her dowdy waitress costume he saw an exotic looking young woman with flaming red hair and piercing blue eyes. She was very pretty, but that is not what struck him…it was her demeanor; she exuded some sort of quiet power…he was trying to put his finger on what it was about her, She smiled and broke the spell.

“Caesar, I have something very special I want to give you. It is very precious and I don’t know if I will ever get another one. I have been holding onto it for the right moment…to give it to you. And now I know the time is now.” She paused for a minute to let it sink in.

“But I don’t think I can accept something that is obviously so important to you…I mean, I figured an African Violet or maybe a pair of praying hands is what you were going to show up with.” He laughed nervously.

She smiled indulgently, “you actually don’t have a choice. We’re all part of bigger plan, we are just players and this is yours. I want you to think carefully, because you will only get to use it once and then it will be gone.” She held out a small brass tablet.

He took the tablet and read the inscription. “Anywhere you want to go. You have one chance only. You will not be returning. She who bears the tablet cannot decide for you. Only you can.”

Caesar handed the tablet back and said “I don’t understand.”

“Where do you want to go? Where would you be happy staying forever”

“Forever?” Asked Caesar.

“Forever”, she replied. “So think carefully”.

And that is how he came to be here. At this beautiful hotel, on this beautiful lake where he and his late wife had vacationed so many times. He was lost in thought about Sheila and how she had came into his life, when he got a tap on the shoulder. “Are you going to sit there all day? I brought your racquet down. Dave and Eileen are already down by the clay courts.”

“I was just daydreaming a bit. I’m ready.” And he looked up at his wife. She looked the same as she had fifty years ago when they’d first come here. Tall, muscular, and fair skinned…with flaming red hair and piercing blue eyes.

A Day In The Park – Prompt

It was the first day in a long time that the sun decided to show itself. Though it was still February, the sky was teasing the promise of Spring. The clouds were puffy white…luminous against the azure sky. A plane was passing overhead, leaving contrails that traced a gentle arc across the deep blue…feathering out as the winds dispersed them and the plane slid out of sight. If this were Spring, it would have been cold, but in February it felt warm and people were wearing light jackets or even just shirts.

The wind mixed a potpourri of leaves, candy wrappers, and other flotsam and spun it into a vortex. The pigeons waited for it to die down so they could pick through the pile for anything worth having. This blended perfectly with the usual assortment of beer cans, cigarette butts and a couple of foam coolers, tossed or abandoned by careless visitors. And, being a Sunday, overflowing trash cans.

Up in a tree there was a loud argument going on between a group of Crows, while a Blue Jay taunted them, imitating their cawing. Elsewhere children were playing around a fountain, one of them letting out an occasional piercing scream; apparently disputing the the rules of whatever game they were playing. Further away the sound of skateboards clacking on concrete and the occasional teenage boys laughing as someone wiped out. But all of it was underscored by the constant low hum of traffic, like a soft bass line that never goes away.

A female voice, cried out in alarm as her bike hit a small patch of ice in a spot that never got any sun. She lay on the ground for a moment before shaking her head and laughing. A young couple walking with one of those expensive strollers stopped and spoke to her. She waved them off before riding off and rendezvousing with a friend a little ways down the path.

He was on his third cup of coffee and had now gone through an entire issue of Sports Illustrated. He kept it tidy, but still there was a pile of empty coffee cups and various food wrappers on the bench. He needed something else to read, and something to drink besides coffee. Maybe some hot chocolate from the kiosk. There was a trash can but it was out of sight of the bench and Cami would be looking for him here. He didn’t want to miss her, and so had even taken the early train to the city in case there was a delay. Of course with his luck there wasn’t, so here he sat. He got some cocoa and a car magazine. More trash piled up…but no way was he going to be away from that bench when she showed up. He had waited too long to see her again.

He heard the sound of carbon fiber on asphalt and looked up to see a girl zipping by on one of those Tour-de-France type jobs. She was rolling along, and he thought she should be careful; there were still some icy patches. Mostly what he noticed is how cool she looked. Though it was warm for February, it was still pretty chilly for a bike ride, so she had on tights, a balaclava and a tight fitting jacket of some type…one that serious cyclists wear. Between all that and the helmet and sunglasses it was hard to see much of her but he imagined her to be sleek and athletic with a pretty jock kind of look. A few minutes later he heard a scream some distance away and wondered if she might have fallen, but she did not seem the type to fall like that.

Tow-headed and of average height, Fletcher wasn’t going to stand out in any room. Women generally thought he was good looking enough, but there was something about him that turned them off. His mother had constantly told him not to slouch, which was really how he carried himself both inside and out. The one girlfriend he’d had thought he was cute and always tried to get him to dress up. “You know, you’re a good looking guy. You just need to believe in yourself. Why don’t you spend some money on clothes. It will do a wonder for your self-esteem.” Eventually she had grown bored with him and tired of constantly bucking him up. This only made him more timid and as a consequence he hadn’t had a girlfriend since: women can smell a lack of confidence like a racoon smells a day old cheeseburger. And so, after a few minutes with him, whatever interest they had faded away, and so did they.

Cami had immediately been attracted to him. She liked blonde headed men and he was slender which she also found attractive. Because she had made the first move, Fletcher had the chutzpah to ask the prettiest girl at the wedding reception to meet him for a drink the following week. Cami being Cami, and not smelling the lack of confidence did not hesitate to tell him he was cute and insisted they go out again. Fletcher was on cloud nine. And he did was his ex told him, he bought new clothes and kept buying new clothes. The better he dressed, the more confident he felt the more Cami fed his ego. It was a beautiful upward spiral and Cami was in love. When her friends met him, they would remark that Cami always got the hot men.

A not so highly motivated crew, in bright lime green vests, were taking a break over by the seal enclosure in the small zoo. The enclosure was empty and it wasn’t clear if they were upgrading it or putting something else in it’s place. A few children milled around, disappointed, no doubt, that the local clowns had been relocated. An adult in charge of the group, directed them to an indoor exhibit, presumably the temporary home of the displaced sea lions.

People, meeting her for the first time. With a name like Cameron, they expected a man. People sometimes gave her a hard time about it, but she was proud of it. She was named after her grandfather, a prominent civil rights attorney. Nevertheless, her friends had long ago shortened it to ‘Cami’, a nickname that she embraced.

Of course once you’d met her there was no denying she was a woman. Hard drinking and a bit of a jock unwary suitors were often left reeling after trying to get over on her. She had big blue eyes and long wavy auburn hair that was almost always cascading down her back and across her shoulders. She didn’t wear many skirts or dresses which somehow only served to increase her allure. She wasn’t overly tall, but she was usually the tallest woman in whatever room she was in. And while she hardly ever wore skirts, she almost always wore heels. Not to make up for a lack of height but to accentuate what she had. “Whatever advantage you have, take advantage of it” , her grandfather had taught her. Men, and not a few women, were drawn to her like moths to a bright flame.

He would never forget that day, the drive up to the mountains; the leaves were turning and the air chilled as the little roadster climbed higher and higher. He asked her if she wanted the top up, but she liked the idea of her long reddish hair flowing out behind her in the breeze. Men in other cars, truck drivers; just about anyone they passed had to grab a look at her. He literally pinched himself. When they stopped at the old Colonial style inn for lunch they grabbed a place by the fire and as they ate he could see the flames reflected in her deep blue eyes. She said it first, but then that was Cami, he didn’t hesitate. “I love you too,” he said. That was an understatement.

After lunch they drove up to the highway that followed the ridgeline and found a trailhead. Hand in hand they were walking, teasing each other about running into a bear and talking about the future. She said she would never let him go, and he was starting to believe it.

Cami was hard to read. Everyone had always told her that. Boyfriends, teachers, even her own mother. One day her 5th grade math teacher jokingly told her “if I didn’t know better Cami, I’d think you hated me!” Cami stared straight into her pug-like face, smiled, and thought, oh but you’re right. I do hate you. She suffered no fools and had started young.

The night she found the camera, though, she panicked and smashed it, who knew who could be looking at her right that moment! Later when she called her hacker friend, David, he told her if she hadn’t broken it they could have found it’s IP address or something like that and maybe traced it to who was using it. But of course she called Fletch immediately, she was crying and a little out of her mind. She pleaded with him to leave work and come stay with her. Of course he blew off work and went over right away. Cami didn’t realize how weird things had gotten, but she was about to find out. It was the beginning of the end of Fletcher and her, but as it turned out, the end had started a long time before. Cami just didn’t realize it.

“I dunno; I’m just hanging in the park. Wasting time before I have to go back on shift. Marta is the floor manager today. I ain’t going back in there until the last minute. I like it out here, always something to see. Ooh, there’s a real cute guy on that bench across from the kiosk. I was trying to catch his eye, but he’s kinda acting a little strange. He is like stress eating, downing coffee and making believe he’s reading, but I think he’s waiting for someone. If it’s a chick, she better be on her game…this dude is wired. Wait, he see’s somebody, I’ll call you back. Yeah yeah yeah, I’ll give you a full report. Love you too.”

Shit. There she is, I’m gonna walk towards her so she doesn’t see this mess here. Oh god, look at her. I forgot how gorgeous she is. I just gotta keep it together. I’ll sound sincere because I am sincere right? I mean she loves me…she’s just mad about everything that happened. I got a little jealous. I talked to a shrink, she said it sounded like I just got a little overwhelmed. Oh no, she’s waving me back to the bench. I hope she takes the sunglasses off, its hard enough to tell what she’s thinking without covering her eyes. Oh god, she is beautiful. I wish I had thrown this mess away.

“You look good.”

“Thanks, how are you doing?” Did you wait long? The train coming in was delayed.

“We could have met closer to your place, I didn’t mean to make this such a hassle for you. Just wanted to see you for a bit.” Fletcher was apologetic but he knew she didn’t want him near her place.

Cami smiled “That’s okay. I’m gonna meet Missy for shopping when we’re done here.”

I should have known…she arranged something right after so she’d have an excuse to get away. And with Missy no less. She hates me. “That’s cool. Tell her I said hello.”

“Sure” said Cameron, “She always liked you.”

He looked at her and thought, liked as in past tense. “So when are you meeting?”

Cameron flicked her wrist and looked at her watch, “Oh in about thirty minutes. She’s just a few blocks away.”

Fletcher’s heart sank. He was hoping to have a long talk, to explain everything, but that only gave him about 20 minutes tops. So he’d better get on with it. “Look, Cami, I’m sorry. I wish I could take it all back. I got help. I understand things about myself now.”

“Fletch, I am so proud of you for getting help. And I forgive you, I have told you that a million times. You’re a great guy and I really do believe you won’t do it again. But you know, what we had is broken, I can’t put it back together. To be honest, I don’t want to.”

Fletcher was trying not to grovel, “But if you loved me, and you forgive me and you believe it’s better…”

“Fletch…you spied on me. You put a camera in my place and you were watching to see if anything happened between David and I.” God knows what you recorded she thought.

“Cami, I swear, it was just for a day it was there. I left it after you went to bed when we got home from the play. I don’t have any nudes or anything. I would never…”

Cameron cut him off. “Fletch, I love you but you don’t know how close I came to calling the police. This is not something I can live with. You will find someone else, I promise you. Let’s just leave this on good terms okay?” She stood up to leave.

“Cami, if that’s what you want. Please don’t be mad if I don’t try to be friends. Just like you can’t get over what happened, I think it’s gonna hurt for awhile when I see you.”

She smiled “I get it Fletch, and you really do sound like you’ve turned it around. Can I give you something before I leave?”

Fletcher was confused…”uh sure?”

“Your only, and I mean only problem is that you don’t believe in yourself. You see that girl on the bench over there making believe she’s looking at her phone?”

Fletcher nodded, “yeah she’s has been there for awhile. She kept looking over here”

“I caught her looking a few times too. She is cute and she wants you to talk to her. You faked it with me, now go do it for real with her. You can’t miss.” She got up to leave. “Good bye Fletch. Don’t watch me leave, just catch her eye and go talk to her. It’s in the bank. Trust me.” She squeezed his shoulder and walked off the way she’d come in.

“Oh my, I think it’s a break up thing. Definitely she is breaking up with him because he had to wait and she only stayed like ten minutes. Yeah, it’s strange. No one is crying either…just very quiet like they are both sad but no one is real upset. Oh crap, she’s looking straight at me…’Hi’…that was weird. I guess I got busted being nosy, but she was smiling. Yeah, she’s a hottie. Oh no, he’s coming over here! What do I do? Yes, I told you he’s cute dammit. I gotta go. YES I WILL FILL YOU in. Bye!”

The Girl On The Steps

In a different life, I’d still know her. We would have gone to Kindergarten together, had the run of the neighborhood when we were old enough, Andrew Jackson High School; maybe Queens college.

I started off with a picket fence, little brick house, type of existence. The picture was from 1961…the fifties really, because the fifties didn’t end until Kennedy was shot. It was still a post war American exceptionalism type of world. There was no question of America’s greatness. The evidence was all around us, working class folks, all owning beautiful little homes with beautiful little lawns in a beautiful little neighborhood in the greatest city on earth. Vietnam had not yet taken the piss out of us as the Brits like to say. There was a lot of piss to take out. Still is.

Ours could have been any neighborhood in any Norman Rockwell inspired movie. Boy played by Jimmy Stewart. Girl played by June Allyson. Fetchingly normal…all in our little ecosystem within the larger confines of the great city that was the capital of the western world. In that movie, she was the girl next door.

I have several old family pictures of us together…the adults thought we were adorable. She must have some too. I wonder if her life stayed together better than mine…I hope so. If not, I hope it came back together like mine. I can’t say I miss her…I can barely remember. But I miss the idea of her. I wonder if she misses the idea of me.

Don’t Take Their Stuff

Ernie scanned the room for what seemed like the millionth time. He was struggling to remember…anything. Lucidity came and went and he was looking for clues to fill in the ever growing gaps in his memory. But he didn’t see anything besides little gifts and trinkets that visitors left. His children and younger brother mostly. When they came he recognized them but sometimes got them mixed up with each other. To be honest though, just recognizing them was good enough. There was a picture of his wife…sometimes, like today he recognized her too. He always knew she was someone important to him, but there were times he didn’t know why.

On better days, he could remember the home they shared, he and his wife, for nearly forty years. But as it came into focus he tried to grab it like a drowning man grabbing a raft, but he couldn’t fill in the details and it slipped away. His world had been reduced to a small room with a window that looked out into a courtyard, he could see some trees over the top of the far side of the courtyard but he wished they were closer. When they came in and took him down to the dining room to eat, there was a big window facing the outside and the woods beyond the building. But they never let him sit there and just look.

And so it was back to his room with the TV on the old movie channel. He remembered some of the old movies but mostly it was like he was seeing them all over again. Anyway, these were strangers play acting in a fake world that had nothing to do with him. They passed the time for awhile, but he couldn’t watch too long. He needed to remember…and the TV just got in his way. Once he recalled the day they brought him here, telling him it was for his own good. He asked where his things were, things that were important to him. His daughter hugged him and said “daddy, you don’t need all those things. We picked a few things out for you.” But none of them were of any use to him. They provided weak clues, there had been things with deep, rich memories attached; but they were long gone.

And so he sat there day after day, fighting to remember, looking for clues that weren’t there, listening to people talk about him…”he doesn’t remember much does he?”.

And he felt more and more frustrated. But mostly what he felt was fear; unrelenting fear, fear that he was lost forever.

Danny and Bets

He took her hand, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would have hoped you’d understand.”

“What’s to understand? We’ve been together since, well since we shouldn’t have been together.” She was crying a little now, “But I know, I mean I should have known, I can’t compete with those fancy eastern girls you met at that stupid college.”

He’d tried to time this right; his train left in ten minutes. That would give him enough time to tell her, let it sink in and then hop on the train back east. An easy escape. But it wasn’t working out because wasn’t taking it easy. “It’s not that Bets, sometimes you just meet someone and it feels right.” The conductor was starting to shoo people onto the train.

“Pullman sleepers to the rear, coaches to the front. We’re running two minutes late, all aboard folks!” The conductor pulled a lantern out and lit it, the flame glowed red and green through the Fresnel lenses. He was getting ready to highball the engineer. There was the sound of steam escaping as the brakes released.

“Bets I gotta go.” I’ll write you, try to explain it better.

“Save your time and your 3 cents. I won’t read it”. She walked back to the parking lot.

From the train window he could see her car still sitting there, snow piling up on the windshield. Was she sitting there crying? He would write to her anyway. As the train pulled away, he pictured her in rolled up jeans, daring the boys to throw her off the monkey bars, or in her first dress when they went to that school dance.

As soon as the train cleared the station, he got out his writing pad and began a letter.

*****

January 3rd 1953

Dearest Bets:

I wish I could make you understand. People grow, they change. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you; of course I do. We grew up together, we were inseparable, we will always have a special bond. But Sophie and I have the same interests, her family are all lawyers and bankers…I don’t know how to describe it; we just fit together.

I wish you would write back, if you do, I can explain some more. I need you, you’re still my best friend.

Love Danny

*****

January 26th 1953

Dearest Bets:

It’s been three weeks and still no reply from you. Probably you are not wanting to answer, but you know me, stupid optimist (haha), I am thinking that maybe it got lost in the mail or something. Anyway, would love to talk to you more about the whole thing. Things going okay here, give your Mother and Father my love.

All My Love Danny

*****

February 21 1953

Dear Bets:

Come on now, this is silly. There are things going on here I really need to talk to you about. Please write back.

Love Danny

*****

March 2nd 1953

Bets:

I think you’re being very immature about the whole thing. School and things with Sophie going fine. She’d like to meet you.

Love Danny

*****

3/14/53

Dear Asshole,

“SOPHIE?”

Worst Regards

Betty

*****

March 20th 1953

Dear Bets:

I was hoping that when you finally did write back, it would be something a little nicer than that. Sophie is a warm, intelligent gal. She says she has heard a lot about you and certainly is interested in meeting “your little friend”…I guess she is a tad jealous. Why don’t you hop on a train and come visit. Sophie’s family has a wonderful mansion on the Mainline I am sure you would love staying there.

All My Love Danny

*****

4/2/53

Daniel,

I can’t, I am getting ready for second semester finals. A mainline mansion? Are you serious? I think I know everything I need to know about Sophie baby. I hope you can afford her.

Betty

*****

April 10th 1953

Dear Bets:

School? I didn’t know. Good for you! So you decided to go to Dodson State? That’s a good solid choice and very affordable. Are you getting that secretarial certificate? I am proud of you.

Love Danny

*****

4/15/53

Daniel,

I’m pre-med.

Betty

*****

April 19th 1953

Dear Bets:

Well you didn’t have to get snippy about it. How was I to know? You said you couldn’t afford to go to college with your brother and sister already going. They don’t have a medical school there so what are you going to do?

Love Danny

*****

5/5/53

Danny,

Maybe you would know if you took three minutes to ask one question about me. Over Christmas break you did nothing but brag about Old-Sock U or wherever the hell you’re going. I should have known there was some snooty-puss chick involved. Even my dad, who always loved you, said you sounded full of yourself.

As to Med School I am pre-accepted if I can ace my second semester. It’s a place called “Yale”. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. I need to be studying but here I am writing to you.

Tell Sophie I’d like to meet her never.

Betty

*****

May 21st 1953

Betty:

I didn’t realize that. I’m sorry, of course I am interested in you. I might not write for awhile, we are going up to Maine to Sophie’s family summer place. It’s supposedly very remote. I do wish you had gotten to know her and her family…they are so smart and so connected. It’s a thrill being around them. Take care and have a good summer.

Love Danny

*****

5/30/53

Dan,

Yes I was accepted at Yale. Thanks for asking. I am glad you’ll be having such a “connected” “smart” summer. I hope “Sophie” doesn’t get eaten by a bear.

Betty

*****

7/2/52

Dan,

Your favorite Aunt died…three weeks ago. No one knows where Sophie is hiding you. If by some miracle you get this you should call your Mother.

Betty

*****

7/17/53

Dear Bets:

Well, I guess you’ll be happy. You were right. After about a month with that family I realized all they cared about was appearing clever and witty. They spent half the time making fun of people. When I mentioned it they started making fun of me. Sophie even said maybe I should go be with “Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farms”…that would be you. I’m a little heartbroken but not that bad.

I hope your first semester at Yale goes well.

Love Danny

*****

8/4/53

Dan,

Well, I am sorry you had your heart broken but I am not sure why you would think I’d be happy. By the way, I’ve been seeing someone. He is nice, reminds me of the way you used to be. Good luck to you as well.

Bets

*****

August 9th 1953

Dear Bets:

That stung. You have no idea how much. I hope it works out, but I have to admit I am feeling a little jealous.

Love Danny

*****

10/4/53

Danny,

I didn’t mean to be so harsh. Maybe I was a little happy. I am sorry for that. The guy didn’t work out, he found a cheerleader type to date. That’s okay. Wasn’t that smart anyway. Will you be home for the holidays?

Bets

*****

October 8th 1953

Dearest Bets:

I definitely will be home for the holidays and am looking forward to spending some time with you. I know I kind of screwed up. Can we talk about it then? School is going well, I guess I am going to rush a fraternity after all. Wish me luck. See you soon (hopefully).

Love Danny

*****

11/11/53

Daniel,

What the hell do you think you’re doing? You send your mother a letter that you met a prostitute and you “can’t wait for them to meet her?” Who does that to their mother? Never mind being with a whore. I don’t know you. Don’t come around, my father says he’ll hand you your head if you get near me.

Bye

*****

November 19th 1953

Bets:

I am so sorry!!!! It was a prank that backfired, I swear it. It was part of getting into the fraternity, It’s something they make the pledges do. Some other poor guy had to tell his mother that he’d fallen for a 14 year old but she was really mature for her age and they were getting married soon. Bobby across the street was supposed to check the mail every day and let me know when the letter got there so I could call her right after she read it. He missed a day. I tried to call her right away but the damned party line was clogged up for hours. I finally got through and explained it all. She is still mad about it…I had to quit the fraternity on her account she was so upset.

Pleading

Danny

*****

12/1/53

Danny,

You are a class A idiot. Lucky for you Carla’s cousin is in that same fraternity but over at Samuelson. He told her that’s the standard initiation they do. She told him he is an idiot just like you are. Your mother has calmed down and my father is saying now he will slap you on the head but won’t actually knock your block off. How come men (boys!) never think?

Hurry up and get home before you hurt yourself. I think our break starts sooner so call me from the station and I will pick you up.

Bets

PS: I can’t believe you trusted Bobby to do anything important. You’re as dumb as he is.

*****

January 5th 1954

Dearest Bets:

I am so sorry to be back here without you. The holiday was wonderful. I can’t wait until we are together again. Do you think I can come visit you? Yale is not far on the train.

Love Danny

*****

1/8/54

Dear Danny,

Of course you can come visit…I would love that. Try not to do anything stupid between now and then (kidding!) I really miss you. You better be living like a monk…you’re still on probation.

Love Bets

Running In Geneva

It’s pitch black out and the steady rain insures that it’s not going to get light anytime soon. It’s 5am on a winter morning in Geneva and I’m going out for a run in the rain without really knowing where I’m going.

I can remember small things…running by the florescent lit parking garages of a residential block. Towards the end of the run going down an airport road…working vehicles rumbling by me in the predawn rainy gloom. I don’t have a lot of specific memory points from that run but I wonder now if I ran by some places that my mind has confused with Richmond or Indy or something other place I’ve lived.

I’d never been there before and having arrived the previous evening, I’d never even seen the area around the hotel in daylight. But out I went, soaking wet the whole time. No distance in mind, just time. Was it an hour? Maybe.

The rain, the dark, the lack of orientation all magnified the experience. It’s why I still remember the feeling so vividly even if I can’t remember all the details. It’s a feeling filed where I can easily recall it. I’m feeling it now.

The Fear Inside

Crap. It had to be mathematics. She leaned over to Rosie and said “damnit, I can’t do this.”

Rosie reached over and patted her arm “you can do this, I mean you did fine on the Trig test.”

She looked around, she didn’t want the proctor to think they were cheating, it was one of a series of entrance tests for the Guild School. Guild was a special school for high potential students and she wanted in badly “That was different” she hissed between her teeth, “that involved symbols and words. This is just RAW numbers.”

“Do you want in the school or not? You’d better not fuck this up and make me go alone. Just grit your teeth and get through it.”

Easy for her to say she thought. But thank God for Rosie, no one else even tried to understand. Even she didn’t understand. Since she’d been in pre-school, seeing a list of numbers on a page terrified her. She had no idea why, she didn’t even know what she was scared of. The numbers just evoked this raw, visceral fear. The closest thing she could think of was of being trapped in a closet while a killer looked for her. Her body would get cold and clammy as she broke out into a sweat, and she had a hard time managing her breathing. It was not the ideal situation for a mild asthmatic.

Usually she could control it if there were no other stressors around, but taking tests, especially high stakes tests like this one were triggers. Her mom had taught her a trick that sometimes worked. Picture your Aunt Leonia bragging about her porcelain dog collection. It was a running family joke, they were cheap trinkets she picked up from 5&10 stores but she acted like they were the crown jewels. They loved Leonia though so they just all put up with it, teased her a little until she told them all to go to hell, and then got down to eating.

She looked down at the paper…almost on autopilot she had finished the first two questions. She got Rosie’s attention and gave her the thumbs up.

Rosie smiled and whispered “Love you like a rock girl.”

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

I Heard You Were Back

I have no idea what happened to her. She was beautiful, and if there is any doubt, I lost a friend over her. The older guys at the Texaco station where I worked thought I was out of my depth. “That’s your girlfriend college boy? You sure you can handle that?”

They had a point. I wasn’t handling anything…I was more or less along for the ride. If this had been noir, I would say something like “She was looking for a chump, and I was already putty in her hands.” But this wasn’t noir, and actually she was a sweetheart. Just a bit of a hot mess.

We dated and hung out and more or less cohabitated for a summer and then I needed to go back to New York to live with my parents while I worked two jobs to raise some more college money. There was a bit of a letter writing tragedy. I was in Baldwin, Long Island, New York. There is another Baldwin, New York and all the letters she wrote me went there. I had written her a few times but when she didn’t write back I just gave up.

Now you are going to ask “why didn’t one of you just pick up the phone?” Hell if I know. It was forty years ago, maybe she didn’t have a phone, maybe I didn’t give her my number but we lost touch and that was that. It was okay, it was a fun fling, but I wasn’t that hung up on it. Still, I did miss her.

But eventually I returned to college in Indiana and as far as she was concerned, I just wasn’t interested. I always knew there was no future there. She had other ideas.

“I heard you were back.” I finally got the call. It wasn’t so much an informative statement as an accusation. What she meant was…”I heard it, but not from you.”

“Well, I was in the hospital.” A true statement; all the work back in New York resulted in a bad case of pneumonia. “Besides, you never wrote back. I thought you weren’t interested.” Also true, as far as I knew.

“Don’t be silly. Of course I’m still interested.” She paused.

The best I could come up with was “oh…”

She changed tacks “I’ll make you dinner. You doing anything tomorrow night?”

Lets pause here for a minute. There was a time to lie, if I was going to lie, and this was it. Instead, I said “no.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then?” She said this with an air of finality.

I didn’t exactly lie; it wasn’t a lie because I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Now, having missed the opportunity to tell a white lie earlier, I was trapped into a bigger lie. I knew what would happen if I showed up: she was pretty without any effort, and she was sure to put in a effort. I didn’t show up and she got the message. I am sure I hurt her. But showing up, then waking up in her bed the next morning and blowing her off would have been much worse. And that is precisely what would have happened.

She tried again a few months later. “Why don’t you come over?”

This time I did her straight. “It’s just not a good idea.”

“Oh.” A more sincere “Oh” then mine. “I guess I’ll go home and live with my parents for awhile.” This was not manipulation. It was a statement of fact, she didn’t feel there was any reason to hang around. She was just letting me know it was the last chance to change my mind.

“Good bye Ali.” She didn’t say anything. She just put the receiver back in its cradle, so gently I barely heard the click.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved