Black and White [fiction]

There it was in black and white, the feeling that drove Sarah mad—old tingles that used to come in color when she was a teenager. But the passage into adulthood had clouded the rainbow with storms, her eyes searching with a half-smile for the sunlight behind the clouds.

Marriage had been a shelter from the rain—his love for her as loud as thunder. But a meddling Zeus struck their tree of life. Its fruit only seeded twice before it died with the tree.

Damn the gods, she vowed.

Still, they tried new things to sow new gardens—all of which withered and died. They whispered hope to each other and grasped at whatever hunger and edge they felt. Sometimes they hoped too much; their attempts derailed like a speeding train on a mountainside, crashing them against bitter rocks, hurling them bleeding far apart, and their good times forgotten amidst hostile after-thoughts.

Some days she hid within the shadows of her walls, and days when she limped through life fractured and poured out, almost empty. Other days she awoke to bedroom curtains flapping from a desert wind blowing hope. A crack in Zeus’s armor. A rainbow on the horizon. A sudden tingle and a thousand syllables on her tongue and lips.

But rain came always and stole her color.

Dark.

Black and white.

And through it all, she held on harder than she ever tried letting go.

That had to be worth something.

February 14: Day of Love

Today is Valentine’s Day another Rampant Commercialism Day. A big deal. Just turn on your TV or go to your local retail store.

Wow!

Let me catch my breath before I tell you that I have never celebrated Valentine’s Day the way you see portrayed on TV. Never ever, which has to be a personality trait conditioned by my parents during my childhood. Neither my father nor my mother brought home candy or flowers or left my brothers and me in the attendance of a babysitter so they could wine and dine at a restaurant. They showed their love and affection other ways, but they never celebrated the day as though it were special.

In fact, I never knew Valentine’s Day existed until I went to school and was forced to exchange Valentine cards with girls. Back then, you didn’t buy cards for your classmates; you made them in art class. Boys gave cutout hearts to girls, girls gave the same to boys, and the procedure was done staidly between classes, usually before final bell. During my early years at school, there was no mention of romance. In fact, I never knew why we celebrated Valentine’s Day other than to cut out paper hearts and exchange them for other paper hearts.

By high school, almost everyone stopped exchanging Valentine cards. No one gave them out unless they were in love with that person. And even then, the act was akin to proposing marriage, so few of us boys ever gave cards to girls unless we were committed to a steady relationship. I wasn’t, so I never gave out cards, even when I dated and got married. Valentine’s Day was elementary school, a thing of the past.

When Valentine’s Day came during my first year of marriage, a friend reminded me on our way home from work that I was going home empty-handed. He warned me that I should at least stop at the florist and buy my wife a single rose so she wouldn’t be angry at me. So I bought a red rose and was surprised by how expensive it cost. Well, money is no object for the ones we love. Right?

When I gave her the rose, she said, “I didn’t get you anything. I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s all rampant commercialism.”

I knew then that our relationship would be a lasting one. To this day, after thirty-three years of marriage, my wife and I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day. Not in the traditional sense portrayed on TV. We used to bowl and take along our children and turn it into a family affair. Now, with our children grown up and my wife and I on the brink of geezerhood with our stiff backs and sore joints, we sit in our easy chairs and poke fun at the Valentine commercials on TV, still in love with each other.

Waiting [fiction]

A quirky short story penned by my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and me, November 1999. Lola and I co-authored a handful of stories on the Internet while we were members of an online writing group.

Freshly shaved Robert Allen rose up swinging barbells at those fiercely mad occupants of the Union Gym down at Union Square next to Sailors’ Cemetery where Boston Rose sells cheap tricks and BJs as thin as the fish bone stuck in the throat of Colonel Shaw’s pet sandpiper lying dead at the south edge of town where Westinghouse Electric once blessed the beginning of the baby boom.

There was no wind or open sunlight anywhere, but the girl in love felt damaged by exposure to the outdoors, so she stayed indoors in her two-room flat above Westinghouse and ate whole grains, chicken salad, leafy greens, banana yogurt. That night, she drank a shot of Johnny Courage in her cheapest lingerie until Robert came with her ring. She wrote invitations, hemmed the dress, cut the flowers, made the cake, hired the photographer for the ceremony and reception, and planned for a sunny day of happiness indoors where she could polish her skin like golden armor to be the greatest trophy ever.

But Robert died from consumption the day before the wedding.

The girl stood alone at his gravestone on Butter Hill, waiting for a miracle. At ten A.M. the sun poured out her shadow like honey over daisies sunning in an eastern sky. The only movement then was the tendrils of her butterscotch hair and the twitch of her gaze twisting through this sunny field.

At noon, a black and white rabbit scampered to an afternoon sleep awaiting him across the rise where clouds floated in the north and had turned white again. She said, “If you’re alone now, you’ll always be alone,” but the rabbit scurried down its hole without a beginning, without ending, like jazz to her awakened mind.

Her toes tapped slowly at first, then quickened to endless tunes in her mind. Her hair swung at the small of her back, and the gradual rhythm of her hips distracted the gods from their wars above us. Attracted by her beauty, they brought frost and starless nights to the land. She lit a fire in a circle of dry grass and danced alone inside a Mackinaw coat acquired from a traveling priest looking for boys to join his army. She waltzed for many months to keep alive the music and its old pizzazz.

All the while, Robert Allen remained dead at her feet.

She went home the evening Robert’s Aunt Betty came floating from the hospital, looking for John Wayne on a TV controlled by a little black clicker box similar to the ones used by Uncle Ray all those years in the red light district before he died in the heavy arms of Rose.

Aunt Betty sat searching that TV for a familiar face, but Lucy and Sid and Uncle Miltie were not forthcoming from the clicker in her gnarled hand, choking the life from the big white buttons that glowed childish in the dark.

The girl made coffee in the corner kitchen while Aunt Betty watched the local news and wondered aloud from which foreign countries the melancholy reports came. The mystery became hers forever when an eight o’clock breeze from the window passed over her La-Z-Boy and she did not breathe it in.

The girl turned on a lamp and pronounced Aunt Betty dead at eleven-nineteen P.M. Next she called the coroner and roused him from bed, and then called out to family and friends. A crowd assembled and someone said they were glad to see that Aunt Betty died with family and not at a hospital.

The family nurse looked away and wept.

When Aunt Betty’s body was wheeled away, the gathering stirred from their corners and shuffled home.

Uncle Ray, Robert Allen and Aunt Betty remained dead outside the pages of the family’s photo album on the girl’s lap. She, who had been in love once, turned on the TV from the La-Z-Boy and forgot about the tunes in her head. She also forgot about jazz.

She watched TV daily and nightly and found new friends who came and left. And as her last day of life approached, she searched for an old familiar face on the flickering screen.

It never came.

The Sea On Her Honeymoon [poetry]

The sea on her honeymoon
was nearly silent around her

A faint skitter of fiddler crabs on the sand
connected to a familiar murmur of the night-wind
breathing on the palm trees behind her

Her lover tide blew wet kisses at her
teasing her to swim in its sway
and strike up merriment

But the beach sighed like aching earth
and told her to behave,
to never trespass where she went

It takes a million ocean waves to birth an inch of sand.

She kept half-awake the anguished spirit of self-love
and told him about her new-found husband—
the sky Akume drenched rain upon her like red-hot embers from the brand

The torrent paled—a broken trail of sparks danced in the overcast,
a splash of crimson paint so frail it could never last

But sunup broke on the horizon
Her marriage ceremonies had ended
They left like a dream to a brand-new day