What Matters?

I walked around the museum today looking at the fine art.  It moved me so much I had to sit down and just think.  I was trying to figure out why the different pieces of art affected me in different ways.   I looked at composition and time period.  I looked at subject and artist.  I looked for what was common about all the different pieces, what made them important to me.

That was when I saw those looking at the same art pieces around me.  Not a one of them were the same.  I tried to find the commonalities that linked us, besides the art.  The African American, what about his composition and subject?  Well, his pigment placed his lineage coming from Africa.  The Asian woman standing in front of the Picasso had relatives from a different part of the world, but her ancestors came also from Africa.  My own pale skin, a product of Northern Europe breeding, also originated at one point in Africa.  This revelation showed me we are all African at some point, so black lives matter should be a rallying cry for us and our brothers and sisters, not a wall of separation for both sides.  After all, it’s all in the family.

Death By Chocolate

Craig ripped the cellophane off the box of assorted chocolates the Maggie had given him after their first date.  He showed the front of the box in front to her picture on his desk.  “You never really listened to me, even about the important stuff,” he said.  “Proof in point giving me this.  I told you how bad it was,  and yet you just tilted your head and told me to just give it to someone else.  Like I could do that since it was from you.”

Craig pulled off the cover and chucked it, and the map to the boxes’ contents, to the floor.   He took a piece of chocolate at random and shoved it into his face.  “Not that one,” he said while he chewed.  He grabbed a second one and popped it in before he had finished the first.  “Not that one either.”

Chocolate drool trickled down from the left corner of his mouth to his chin, but Craig didn’t care.  He picked up the picture and brought it and the chocolates over to his bed.  The chocolates spilled out as he flopped himself onto his stomach, the picture just inches from his head.   He reached for another chocolate and added it to the two he hadn’t finished yet.  “Damn, I hate strawberry.”  He spit out the whole wad of melted and masticated chocolate onto Maggie’s picture.  “Take that, bitch.”  He grabbed another chocolate and tore into it.  “Carmel is for losers.”  He threw the half he held in his hand onto the floor.

“Of course that’s what you think of me now,” Craig said.  He wiped away the chocolate waste from Maggie’s picture leaving a brown streak across her angelic blond framed face.  “That’s why you ditched me for Kevin Peterson, that jerk.”  He grabbed two chocolates, shoved them into his mouth, and bit down on them both.  “Come on!” he mumbled spitting chocolate shrapnel in front of him, “Why can’t I find one?”

He spit out the two chocolates on the floor and grabbed the closest six nearby.  He stuck each into his mouth, one by one, and then began the process of chewing.  A sad, sickly smile began to grow on his face.  He finally swallowed his mouthful of chocolate and sighed.

Craig reached over the bed and picked up his backpack.   He opened it and pulled out his epi pen.  “How will you feel knowing you killed me?” he yelled at the picture.  He then threw the epi pen across the room where is smashed into the wall.

Craig could feel his windpipe begin to close.  He laid back on the bed, placing Maggie’s picture on his chest and he held it tight.

Falling

Gravity pulled the chains attached to Bruce’s arms relentlessly.  Still Bruce managed to place one foot in front of the other, each shambling step getting him closer to freedom.  In the distance the hounds howled in frustration and excitement.  Bruce smiled and wondered if they had found his pants, and the bees nest he had chucked in them.  He still hurt, but hopefully less than those damn dogs.  Carol would have been proud of him.  She had taught him that trick.

A tree root tripped him and gravity screamed in triumph as Bruce crashed to the ground face first.  He spit out a tooth and laughed a bitter laugh.  “I hate trees,” he said as he pushed himself up onto all fours.  He began to crawl forward slowly.

The sounds of the hounds was getting louder.  “I hate dogs more,” Bruce said as he pushed himself back onto his feet and gathered up the chains again.   The shamble began again, this time with a bit more urgency, but with a lot less coordination.  It wasn’t long before the ground had him in its embrace again.

Bruce looked up and saw the bridge over the gorge that housed the Stained River that signaled the end of Lord Myron’s lands.  He picked up himself once more, the bridge and the freedom it represented giving him strength back to his dead limbs.  “Almost there Carol,” he said to himself over the howls of the closing dogs.  He could now hear the people running with the dogs.  Only a few more yards.  He wouldn’t let them take him back.

As Bruce reached the edge of the bridge, he heard the whoosh of an arrow as it flew past his left shoulder and thudded to a stop into the boards of the bridge.

“That’s far enough Master Bruce,” shouted a man’s voice.  “The next arrow will not miss.”

Bruce turned to see Lord Myron himself with another arrow notched into his bow, but not drawn.  Randolph held the dogs on a leash, one of the hounds not looking too happy due to a bloody nose.  Three other men that Bruce didn’t know rounded out the hunting party.

Bruce took two steps backward, putting the arrow between him and those that wanted him.  “I am my own man.  I will not give you what you desire.”

“You don’t know that,” Lord Myron said.  “I can be very persuasive.  Just give me her whereabouts.  We will remove our hold on you, and you will be released.”  He lowered his bow.  “I can be a reasonable man.”

Bruce took one more step, feeling the low railing of the bridge behind him, forcing him to stop.  He took a couple of deep breathes, relishing the taste of the early winter air.   Looking Lord Myron straight in his eyes he said “Carol would disagree.”

Lord Myron roared.  “Take him!”

Randolph released the hounds as the three other men ran to follow them.  Lord Myron lifted his bow and let fly the arrow with one smooth motion.

The arrow lodged itself in Bruce’s left shoulder, causing Bruce to drop the chain attached to his left wrist onto the bridge deck.  Bruce closed his eyes and let himself fall from the bridge.  The fallen chain went tink, tink, tink as one link after another hit the railing counting off the inches as Bruce fell to the water down below.

The cold water assaulted Bruce, forcing the air from his lungs.  He breathed in the water deeply as the chains helped him rest on the bottom.  If this was the cost of freedom, but Bruce would die free.

Lord Myron rushed to the bridge’s edge as the last of the bubbles representing Bruce’s life floated to the surface.  “Damn that man,” he said.

“Don’t you worry.  We’ll find her Lord Myron,” said one of the three men who hadn’t gotten to Bruce in time.

Lord Myron grabbed an arrow, brought his bow to bear, and shot the speaker in the throat so quickly the man didn’t have time to blink.  “Don’t tell me what to do,” he said.  “Randolph, take care of the refuse.”

Lord Myron walked away and didn’t look back, even when he heard the second splash.  He would find his daughter.  She didn’t get a choice in the matter.

Stars in His Eyes

Marty couldn’t believe that he was just propositioned by this beautiful blond model standing in front of him.  Olga was six foot four, without her heals, six foot whatever with them, and she had a body that would have made Michelangelo forget all about carving David.  Yet here she was hitting on little old Marty.

“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking too much?” asked Marty in his head, but he didn’t have the nerve to ask it out loud.  Instead he just sort of shrugged his shoulders and faintly gestured with his rum and coke, hold the rum.

Olga gave him a pouty look.  Damn, that look had to be trademarked by some company.  “So what do you say?  We can talk more in my room,” she said.

Marty’s left thumb drifted to where his wedding band had been.  It had been over a year, and yet…   “Sorry, not tonight.  I’ve got to get ready for a meeting in the morning.  Maybe tomorrow?” he asked.

Olga let the pout evaporate and replaced it with a heaping helping of I can’t believe you just did that.  Without saying a word she left the reception and headed off into the bowels of the hotel, alone.

Marty drifted out into the night.  The glare of the manmade neon from the strip hid the heavens above, but still Marty looked up and stared into the emptiness which matched what he felt inside.  “I love you Brenda,” he said before going back inside.  He did have a meeting in the morning after all.

A Romeo Moment (in 100 words)

It all started with a simple kiss.  Two sets of lips coming together, finding comfort, finding arousal, and finding joy.  In that moment the universe shifted.  In that moment time stood up and paid attention, elongating because of the gravity of that kiss.  That one act changed everything.  That’s why I now have your blood on my hands.  I wonder why the universe created the two of us at all.  It must have been some cruel joke, something to amuse the masses.  And to think I had thought we could have had it all.  Instead, I say goodnight my Juliet.

Punched Out

As Krista worked the heavy bag, she could feel her knuckles bruising with each blow.  The dull ache helped her focus her mind in the moment.  A quick combo, followed by two left hooks, rocked the bag on its chains.  For Krista it was akin to the sound of church bells.  Here was her sanctuary.  Here was where she felt at one with her universe.  Clark, her trainer and owner of the gym, flashed his fifty cent smile as he headed to the office.  Too bad he didn’t really make any money on this place.  He could afford to buy a better smile.

“What did that bag do to you?” Clark asked as he came back out of the office.

Krista unleashed a furry of short punches before taking a step back, wiping her forehead with the back of her glove.  “It said I was soft,” she said.

Clark shook his head while letting out a cat whistle.  “Girl, nothing soft on you.  Your breasts have more muscles than half the dudes who hang here,” he said.

Krista shook her head.  Only Clark could say something like that.  “Keep that up and I might let them beat you black and blue.”

“No need to get violent with me.  I wasn’t the one who called you soft,” Clark said.  He threw her a towel.  “Take five and rehydrate.  How long have you been here?”

Krista let the towel fall to the floor and started to jab the heavy bag again.  “I got in about five,” she said between punches.

Clark grabbed onto the bag to steady it.  “Good thing I gave you a key.  I was still in la-la land at five,” Clark said.  “And you really should hydrate.  There’s leaving it all on the floor, and then there’s falling to the floor.  But what would I know.  I’m just some dumb washed up fighter.”

Krista stopped and stepped back.  She fixed Clark with a glare.  Clark had once fought for the world title.  Krista couldn’t remember which one since the sport was a proverbial alphabet soup of belts.  Still, Clark kept himself fit, but nowhere near his former chiseled glory.  It went nicely with his silvering hair, but Krista never told him about that.  She wanted to help him live with whatever little lies he needed to get by on a daily basis.  Heaven knows she had her own.  She had way too many of her own.  That’s why the two of them clicked on so many levels.  That and he was a sucker for redheads.

“Who am I to judge?” Krista asked as her glare evaporated into a smirk.  Clark rolled his eyes, but didn’t rise to the bait.

Krista dropped her gloves, walked over to the ancient water cooler, and made it glub-glub-glub as she filled her water bottle.  She quickly emptied it into her stomach and then repeated the ritual.  Clark began to awaken the soul of the gym, spraying down equipment with disinfectant, making sure the weights were where they belonged, and folding the towels that hung in a bag by the front desk.  Krista wanted to do some of it when she got in early as a thank you for getting a key to the place, but Clark refused.  It was his gym, and this was the way he marked his territory.

“So what do you have planned for today?” Clark asked, never looking up from his folding.

“The usual,” Krista said.  “I have to go to the jail to meet a few clients.  Then I have court in the evening.”

“Court for you, or your clients?” Clark asked.

“My clients,” Krista said.  Clark didn’t reply, letting the silence draw out uncomfortably.  Krista finally filled it.  “My case isn’t for another couple of weeks.”

Clark nodded as he placed the towels on their spot.  Every one of them would be dirty and sweaty, discarded because they were dirty and used by the end of the day.  Krista could identify with those towels.

“You know, you could take a vacation till then.  You told me about your little nest egg.  This would be a perfect time to use it,” Clark said.  “Get your mind in a better place before you have to take the stand.”

Why did everyone have an opinion and felt the need to share it?  No one had any idea what they were talking about.  “Sure, drop everything.  Let him win again.  That will solve all my problems,” Krista said as she threw her empty water bottle to the floor.

“Whoa there.  That’s not where I was going,” Clark said.

Krista moved back to the heavy bag and began throwing haymakers for all she was worth.  She could feel her knuckles bleed freely as she smashed the raw flesh against the canvas bag, her gloves forgotten in the pain.  Her punches were sloppy, but she didn’t care.  It would have been easier if she could have seen through the tears.  Even here she couldn’t win.  Clark went back to steadying the bag for her and remained silent.  Krista gave him a point for knowing when he had gone too far.  Every punch seemed to take a bit more of the hurt, pain, and feeling of helplessness out of her till she felt as numb as her spent arms as they fell to her sides.

“Are you done now?” Clark asked.  “Or do you want to try head butting it till you lose consciousness?

Krista growled.  “How dare you?  You have no idea what I am going through.  What he did to me, what his lawyer is going to do to me, it…” She fell silent, unable to summon the words to express herself.  Not a good position to be in as a lawyer.  Another win for him.

Clark folded his arms.  “I might not have been sexually assaulted, but I know what it’s like to get your ass beaten so bad they had to put the pieces back together in an operating room,” he said.  He didn’t let her get a word in, no small feat, as he continued.  “I’ve had to watch my dreams get destroyed as my eye puffed close and there was nothing I could do to stop it because I just wasn’t good enough, or strong enough, or fast enough.  You think I planned on ending up here?  This is the gym for broken and misfit toys.  Why are you here?  Are you a misfit, or broken?”

Krista threw a punch and landed square on Clark’s jaw.  He took it and stood there, daring her to try again.  Another failure.  “You have no idea what it is like, what he did,” she said through gritted teeth.  “Don’t you dare to try to say you’ve been through the same thing.  Not even close.”

Clark nodded.  “You’re right,” he admitted.  “It’s not even close, but what I am trying to say is that I think you’re in the right place.  I just hope that you’re a misfit and not broken.  I don’t have enough superglue to put you back together, but misfit, that is something we can work with.  So which one are you?”

With that Clark held his hand out.  Krista looked at the offered hand and back into Clark’s eyes.  He had tears there just like she had had moments before.  She looked back at those towels.  Every night Clark picked all them up and brought them to a local laundromat to make them clean again.  Every morning he showed them respect by folding them and putting them back in their rightful place.  She realized that was why she was here.

Krista placed her hand into Clark’s.  The man had huge mitts.  “I’m the one who just landed a clean punch to the chin of the former almost champ,” she said.  “You tell me.”

Clark picked up her gloves and helped her slip them back on over her abused knuckles.  “Well we need to work more on your skills, because you didn’t even buckle my knees a teeny bit.  Let’s go back to some basics of how to put your weight behind your punches.”

“Are you calling me fat?” Krista jabbed as she assumed a fighting stance.

“Would that make you stop punching like a girl?” Clark countered.

Krista threw another punch at Clark’s face.

A Call to Action

You look across the field and see nothing, but the yips of the restless pack hidden in the tall grass make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and take notice.  Their excitement matches your fear.  Why did you insist on coming out here alone?  You wanted to show you were tough.  You were always the head of the pack in the city, but now here you were way out of your element.  You pull out your knife.  It is an impressive one, nine inches long and so sharp it could slice a sheet of paper in half, along its thickness.  This is the type of knife that someone even with a gun would get freaked out by if you are within stabbing range.  Yeah, no dog or coyote or wolf was going to be impressed by that.

Suddenly one of the dogs lets loose a howl of desire, followed by the rest of the pack replying with the Howl.  That sound deserved its capitalization for what it made your insides do to you.  You want to run, but your street smarts kick in.  Never show your fear, especially never run.  Once you run you can never go back.  You already did that once.  That’s why you’re here now.

The grass waves in the dead air, and you start to regret your decision not to run.  Maybe with enough of a head start you could have gotten up a tree.  There are plenty of them behind you.  Just like what happened to you in the city.  Plenty of places to run.  Plenty of places to leave your brothers and sisters behind to face what you couldn’t .  Plenty of ways for you to let them down by not trying at all.

You begin to run forward, aiming for where you think the first foe is.  This time you’re going to finish what you started, or you get finished by it.  Your knife sings through the air, and you begin to smile.  No matter what happens, this time you’re going to go down swinging.

A Writer’s Dilemma

Thompson looked up from his keyboard and into the soft brown eyes of his wife, Claire.  Thompson looked back down and continued to pound on the keyboard, hoping that their rattle and roll would frighten her into doing something else.  Alas, that plan, like so many others Thompson had recently, failed miserably.

“What’s the matter Honey?” Claire asked.  “You in the middle of something?”

Thompson continued to pound at the keys, but the prose was drying up quickly under the withering heat radiating from those soft brown eyes.  To be fair, the prose had never really turned on today, but Thompson was hoping a little, or a lot, of free writing might help him get over the hump.

As the staccato of the keys slowed in tempo to a larghissimo, the silence between key strikes strangled Thompson’s fingers, eventually halting what could barely be called progress anyway.  Thompson turned to face his muse and daily distraction.  “What is it Claire?” he asked.  “Can’t you see I’m working?”

Claire looked at the computer screen.  “The frog felt like even the flies were mocking him.  In that moment he wished he was a toad and could just leave this pond for good.  That and the idea of giving that little red headed boy a set of warts didn’t sound too bad either,” she quoted.  “Yep, that is some great literature right there.”

Thompson minimized the window.  “It’s a first draft,” he said.  “Once it’s done and polished it will be ready.”

“If you polish a toad, it’s still a toad,” Claire said.

Thompson stood up and began to walk out of the room.  “You never support me.  You think I’m just some hack writer.”

Claire wouldn’t let him go.  She kept up right behind him, thwarting his escape.  “You know that’s not true.  I think Gargatua is brilliant.  You know how to write Honey, you just don’t know how to finish,” she said.

Thompson stopped and spun to face her.  He was comfortable having this argument.  It was like that old friend that you never called, but always welcomed when they came over.  Thompson could barely keep the smile off his face.  “Gargatua is not finished.  It has a weak middle and the end is so loose that I marvel that nothing had fallen out of the story yet,” he said.

“Don’t hand me that crap again,” Claire said.  “I sent it to that agent and he begged you to allow him to represent you.”

“I never asked you to do that,” Thompson said.  “And that want to be writer wouldn’t know good prose if the words themselves came off the page and crushed him anaconda style.  The book is not ready.”  Thompson had to resist punctuating that with a foot stomp.

Claire firmly placed her hands on her hips and struck the pose so hard it almost made Thompson’s heart stop.  “So why don’t you work and finish your first novel and then start up another?” she asked.

Thompson decided retreat was the better part of valor when facing the pose, so he immediately headed upstairs to his bedroom, closing the door and locking it just before Claire was able to force her way in.  Thompson put his back to the door and slid to the floor amid the pounding from Claire.  “Thompson Michael Smith, open this door right now.  We are going to talk this out like adults.”

Thompson shook his head, then realized that Claire couldn’t see the motion.  “Nope,” he said.  “That’s not going to happen.  You can’t make me.”

One last thud made the door shudder.  It was higher up and more in the center.  Thompson could almost imagine it must have been Claire’s head.  He was about to say something, but like usual, Claire beat him to it.

“Thompson, I can’t take this anymore.  Honey, I want a divorce,” Claire said.  She sounded so defeated.  He heard her slump to the floor on the other side of the door.  “This just isn’t working out.  I love you.  I think you’re an awesome writer, but I can’t be the only person who believes that.  I put so much energy into that, and I’m tired.  I’m tired, and I just can’t do this anymore.”

Thompson heard her get up and walk away.  He waited and listened.  He was sure she would be back.  After ten minutes or so he got up and opened the door with his eyes mostly closed, waiting for her to rush in since this must be a trick.  It wasn’t a trick, but that left Thompson even more depressed.  Claire was in her room packing a suit case.

It had finally come to the tragic ending he had predicted when they had first married eight years ago.  Claire had always believed they could pull it off, but Thompson was more of a realist.  Nobody deserved to go through life weighed down by him.  The best he could do was help her on her way.  Maybe once free, both of them could flourish.

Thompson leaned against the doorway of her room, letting the house hold up what little he had in his life at that moment.  “Look, I’m sorry.  You’re right.  This isn’t working out, but well, is there anything I can do?“ he asked.

Claire looked up at him.  “There is one thing that will make this whole thing easier,” she said.

“Sure, anything I can do,” Thompson replied.


Thompson stared at the screen in front of him, his mouth hanging open in disbelief.  His novel was now a best seller.  It was number four on the New York Times fiction listing.  It was already optioned for a movie starring George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, and Helen Mirren.  Everything was going his way, except for one thing.  The author of record was that of his ex-wife.  That’s all she wanted from the divorce.

Thompson brought up his newest novel.  That frog was going to get his wish.  It was going to experience life, warts and all.

Phoning It In

What do you get for the man who has everything?  That line was almost enough to get me to do this job on its own, but the fifty large put in front of me didn’t hurt.  I look out the sight and here comes the limo with its security detail.  No one is getting in or out of that five block radius.  This is damn good security. Too bad I don’t care.  I look at the wind velocity and adjust where the barrel points.  I guess where the back door would line up, but I am a little off.  I move the crosshairs quickly to line up with the rear passenger window.  The question is would the target be the second or third out of the car.  I slow my breathing out of habit and wait for my moment.  Here comes the first person, definitely security.  I am about to press the trigger, but hesitate as the second person appears.  I smile as I realize my guess was right.  As the third person begins to emerge I fire.  The man who had everything now has nothing and I shut down the remote control.  No one is getting out of a five block radius, but I was at least ten since I am using my burner phone.  I am going to lose a lot of equipment, but the second fifty large coming to me would easily make up for it.  I drop the burner into a dumpster after washing it in the acid solution and I walk away whistling happy birthday.

Desiring the Divine

I leaned in and was enveloped in her perfume.  It penetrated my soul, and I was baptized, a firm believer in her divinity, at least in this moment.  She was the personification of womanhood, and I wanted to consummate my worship.  I just had to wait to see if she would accept my tithe.

She smiled slyly at me as she took the small bundle of bills from my shaking hand.  She counted the amount and the smile dipped down slightly.  “There is only forty here,” she said.

“That’s all I have,” I said.  “I can bring the other ten later.  I…”

She put a finger to my lips.  It hinted of cigarettes and sweat.  “Are you a virgin?” she asked.  I could barely move my head I was so nervous, but she was able to feel my nod from her finger.  “You’re cute, honey,” she said.  With that she took me into her bedroom.  “Besides, I’m sure it won’t take long.”

As proof of her divinity she had the power to see the future.