In between here and there lies a place of quiet

a place of no longer yearning for others’ attention

or affection or respect

It’s a place fully alive to absolutely everything in the universe that exists

to know the mysterious workings of things

It does not love or hate or boast of arrogance

nor bow in humility

to be fully alive and quiet in the now

In the flow of a silent eternal rhythm

 not watching

clocks or calendars or seasons changing

The essence of unbottling this quiet

belongs to nothing and everything

but exists on fairy wings, those mythical sprites

that flit in the gloaming of life that possesses

more yesterdays than tomorrows

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I never thought that my best friends would have been objects instead of people, but here we are.

I liked to smoke.  I loved to smoke.  My favorite time of the day was early morning, with cup of coffee in hand, pack of cigarettes on the table, and an hour to leisurely peruse Facebook and Twitter before my caregiving responsibilities came into play.

I cherished the twin jolts of caffeine and nicotine, and to a lesser extent, the solitude to indulge in those old friends.  Of course, at night, there was nothing better than a few beers, a lot more smokes, and hitting the hay with a pleasant buzz.

Then, the virus happened.  It started like my usual infection that happens every year at the same time:  sore throat, headache, nasty asthmatic cough.  I took my usual store meds to keep the symptoms to a dull roar and continued to do my usual, albeit with the added stress of Thanksgiving just a couple of days away.  I powered through, prepping for the big day, hacking and blowing my nose, smoking less and drinking more.  Alcohol is a disinfectant.  The logic seemed impeccable, really.

Then, my roommate started sniffling.  Started wheezing.  By Friday, she was puffing like a steam engine.  I was somewhat concerned, but not unduly so.  Although she indulged in the same habits, her smoking took a big hit.  She just couldn’t draw a deep breath.

By Saturday morning, she sounded like Darth Vader and looked like him without the helmet; grey, sickly, weak around the eyes.  Her stubbornness would not let her even touch her rescue inhaler until it was too late to do any good.  Off we go to the ER.  She spent six days in the hospital, struggling to draw a breath, taking breathing treatments and injections every two hours.  I had another day of self-recrimination and smoking, until I gave it up, too.  There was no way I could continue to smoke after what I saw her go through, even though I hadn’t planned to quit, exactly.  It just happened.

So, this Saturday, she will be two weeks smoke-free, on a strict heart-healthy diet, one drink limit, and as much walking as she can handle, which is to say, not much right now.  my drinking is down to one beer a night.  I didn’t plan that, either, but it happened.  Sunday will be two weeks smoke-free for me.

My so-called best friends ended up not being my best friends after all.  They didn’t care about my wellbeing.  They just wanted to kill me.  With friends like that, who needs enemies?  I can live without them and I have more free hours to do what I really want to do.  I thought I would be depressed, but the opposite has happened.  I feel more energetic, more positive, and I cook a whole lot more because I feel like it again.  I’ve noticed that my back no longer aches when I walk a lot.  I don’t get in a hurry to finish something so I can have a cigarette and a beer.

My roommate still has breathing treatments for the next few months, but she sounds better now breathing-wise than she has in years.

As for me, I’m still taking doctor-prescribed meds, still sniffling, still keeping a headache, and still smoke-free.  The gut-punch of wanting a cigarette happens and I let it come and go.  If I could train myself to not smoke in the car or the truck and be happy with it, I can train myself to not smoke anywhere, anytime.  I thoroughly enjoy my one beer and don’t miss the other five or six at all.

I once thought that being an adult meant doing what I want when it turns out that real maturity means doing what is necessary and liking it for the sheer joy of having the choice to make good decisions.

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, the house vibrated with each beat.

Jane cocked her head, startled.

“What’s that noise?”

I told her it was a car speaker booming somewhere close.

“A CAR SPEAKER!” “WHAT??”

I walked out on to the porch and the next door workers were blasting from a truck as they threw trash into the bed. my triangle neighbors across the street came out, too. Left angle neighbor said that her twin toddlers woke up from their naps. Right angle neighbor came out barefooted, hair all askew, throwing up her hands.

“What the fuck??”

I jerked my thumb over to the offending house. Dude, they shaking the house. She said her windows were rattling. She shouted over in Spanish to cut the music down and they ignored her. We talked for a few minutes and went back in. I texted the PD and said the neighbors were raising the dead over here. I came back outside and the music was turned down enough that all you could hear was quiet little booms, like a cockatoo that’s been told to shut the fuck up but he mumbles just enough to let you know you are not his mother and he doesn’t have to listen to you.

Right angle neighbor came back over and we smoked and talked about her casino trip the night before. She said her old man was gonna shit when he pulled up and heard what had happened. Not that he’s a crazy guy or anything, but he is the opposite of little man syndrome. And he’s a short guy. I know good and well he won’t start anything but he will sure finish it. Couple of weeks ago, he was outside raking leaves when he heard another neighbor, elderly, yelling at some dogs that were chasing her out of her backyard. He ran over with his rake and they turned on him. He made them turn around and hop over the back fence to the crackheads’ yard, which is probably where they came from in the first place. He told me to keep an eye out for the dogs when I came outside, and sure enough, as soon as I got back in the house, they came running into my yard and charged at the storm door where the cats were looking out. I yelled so loud that they stopped and ran off. The cops called me that day when they finally had the dogs cornered and I could hear them barking like crazy as the cop told me he thought he had found the right ones.

My neighbor told me she had called the cops earlier, so we watched for them, and sure enough, they came rolling by right after boomer left. They chatted with us for a few minutes and were the epitome of polite and even tweaked me a little on my ballcap.

This neighborhood is small, one way in, one way out. It’s a mixed, diverse neighborhood, with a trump supporter at one end, hispanics at the other end, and every color of the rainbow in the middle. The town itself is small, just a dot on the highway, but less than ten miles from a good sized urban area. Hundreds of brand new neighborhoods are getting thrown together by a builder of dubious reputation, but people don’t care. They are desperate for affordable housing and this is where they will find it. The older neighborhoods here are getting top dollar for shitholes, even though there are no bad neighborhoods to speak of, but Texas is cursed with soil that moves. Foundations crack. They can get so bad that a house can look like it’s broken in half on the inside and still command a premium price because of the location. So, this settled little subdivision is mature, quiet, where little kids ride their scooters and big wheels up and down the street under shade trees big enough to cool the yard but no so big they will send limbs into the neighbor’s roof the next little tornado that skips through.

The cops ride through and don’t mess with anybody. They didn’t say anything when we, four middle-aged adults, sat at the edge of the driveway to watch the fireworks down at the park and smoked a blunt and drank beer. They just waved at us. You know what happens when the Policia roll up on people reliving their bad old days:

“Shhh! Shhh! Be cool! Shnork!”

The Columbus Chronicles, episode 4

 

We can still smoke in the bar

a relief for the reprobates

Pretty soon the pine smell is obliterated and a

blue haze floats just above our heads

We’ve become animated, my barfly friends and me

outside the sun creeps down the west side of the street

and brightens the inside just barely

we play liar’s poker, crack peanuts so stale

the shells are rubber pellets

popcorn is fresh, though

The woman with the Lucy eyelashes and smeared lipstick

laughs out loud with a bray that donkeys envy

I see black molars and bits of popcorn falling out of her mouth

A younger guy, maybe 25. slips off his stool and staggers to

the men’s room.  We laugh and catcall at his stumbling

silently vow to make sure we don’t do the same thing

After all, it’s only 7 am and real people that do real jobs

are prancing down the sidewalk

and we aren’t there

This is the third piece in the series “The Columbus Chronicles”

 

The guy on my left a couple of stools away smells like

aftershave, the strong and cheap kind that comes

in a pickle bucket.  He apparently bathes in it.

Not as bad as what I imagine the little guy on his left smells like

that dude looks like he was put through a wire winder

his hair isn’t curly, isn’t kinky, isn’t anything but

black springs that have been stretched beyond their capacity

and they are just. . . there  His muscles are thin and visible under

his rayon knit polo,  a topo map of hard living

He drinks whiskey with water on the side

he sips and talks and his voice rumbles like a diesel

truck, one of the ones that rattle over the potholes outside in the not-empty

not-busy street

My sour draft is cold, at least

but the taste is perfectly hideous

I consider quitting drinking for the hundredth time

The Columbus Chronicles

At 6 am I watch them, the men, one woman

They stand on the sidewalk in front of the alcove and

they don’t talk much but their bowed heads and their

shuffling feet, cigarettes puffed quickly, speak to

not who they are but what they are

They are thirsty

They are anticipating liquid breakfast

They are uneasy from a night spent dancing

and drinking and making connections with ghosts

They get out of bed with a mighty thirst to ease a

banal existence.  I’m not dead yet, might as well drink

They look down at the sidewalk and tap their heels or shake their heads

an unconscious gesture, shaking off regret, depression, lost chances

but the “Open” neon sign lights up, the door unlocks

and all is right with the world for just a few hours

Don’t mind me–it’s just another day to avoid

reflection, to engage in deflection

not answer the phone or check the mail, because

it’s just another day of the same questions over and over

from the same faceless drone in an office

200 miles away, getting cocky with impatience

It’s not my fault you don’t know how to frame a question so that

it can be answered correctly

But I swallow all those elegant curses that would pour

so eloquently from my lips in order to

maybe, just maybe

get that pittance you withhold with apparent glee

I hang up and feel the flush start on my neck and my arms

get prickly from repressed rage

Is it too early to start drinking??  Is it too much to ask

that you just stop with the “i” dotting and the “t” crossing

for the tenth fucking time?

The house grew dark, heavy with portents and omens

Not a breath of air stirred outside in the descending gloom

a pause, a holding of the world’s breath

Thunder marched with cannon booms from thirty miles out, then twenty miles out

and then it was on top of the house, descending with a majestic roar

Hissing rain that slapped gleefully on the roof until it dripped energetically from the eaves

what a roar.  what a smacking of hail.  It’s a symphony.  it’s a battle of elements that bring

me to my primordial knees in awe and fear of the power

This week has had more twists than a Dairy Queen soft cone made by some high school nerd with a penchant for culinary flair.  Annoyances include two, count ’em, two back to back instances of crappy customer service.  I mean, really.  I’m not much to look at, but I don’t make dogs bark or small children cry and hide behind their mothers.  To be crappy at customer service, one must be an active asshole, and by that, I mean, this must be one’s goal in life–to make others as miserable as possible without actually taking a crap in someone’s pocket and smashing it against their skin.  That annoys me to no end and I won’t let them get away with it.  I don’t say anything when it happens because after all, this is an open carry state.  I write emails.  I am very polite, of course.  It’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.  As I’ve gotten older and less apt to let things like that slide, my writing is more fun than ever.  I enjoy crafting a witty little nastygram about Miss X treating me like I just kicked her dog and insulted her mama’s biscuits.

That being said, I am flummoxed by recalcitrant bureaucracy and the petty little autocrats intent on running their little fiefdoms as they see fit.  Those people . . . I got nothing.  Today, I received a letter dated March 6th, saying that my case was closed because my information was never received.  How can this be?  I sent it via certified mail, by fax, and called to follow up.  But I received a call on March 9th from the office to let me know that I had until March 14th to submit any more paperwork.  That call was actually informative and very positive.  My temple started throbbing when I read the letter.  Lord Baby Jesus in the cradle.  Those people.

I was raised to not challenge authority, because, well, authority.  My rebellion has always been directed inward.  My liver hates me, my pancreas is no longer speaking, and my back took a hike years ago.  My motto has been, ‘Screw you, I’m gonna hit myself in the head with this hammer and then, you’ll know something!’  Insert eye roll here. It’s not a motto to live by.  Not going to go off on a tangent about this particular quirk.  I’m almost sure it involves Southern Baptist guilt, and neurotic guilt like that is a tooth numbing dissertation.  But it sure does make some purty poetry, so I will keep it around a while longer.

The sound woke me.  Cracks and booms echoed through my bedroom.  I bolted upright, my heart pounding.  I slowly became aware of another presence and that panicked me.

I turned on the light and noticed a body standing at the foot of my bed.

“Behold.  Your creation.”

I rubbed my eyes.  Damnit there was another person in my room.  A naked, wet person.  A naked, wet, unformed female person.  I mean, she had a body with boobs, sort of, and the water dripping down her body was real enough.  She shivered, her arms crossed in a V across her chest.  Her legs ended at her torso, but she didn’t exactly look right, and her voice was flat.  I shook my head. The hair was wrong, the . . . everything was wrong.

“You formed me.”  Her voice was flat.  Creation?  Really?

I sat up and drained the last of my blue.  Thus refreshed, I looked again.  It was a female body.  Everything wasn’t exactly there.

“I formed you?  What do you mean?”

“You write.  I appear.”

I laughed.  No cowboys or rich guys had ever appeared in my bedroom.  She wasn’t real, obviously.

“Nah, characters don’t just appear.  You’re my imagination.” I lay back down and pulled up the covers.  Thunder rumbled close by.  I closed my eyes again.

“I’m your creation.”  Again that flat voice.  I sat up and looked fully at the creature.  She sure as hell looked real.  But what was wrong?  I got up and went to my desk, giving her a wide berth.

I switched on the lamp and looked over my notes.  OK, let’s see.  The main character is a lesbian, yes, tall, yes.  I looked back at the apparition.  Tall.  The notes didn’t say much more than that.  I picked up my pen and wrote down:  she is witty, acerbic, lightly muscular.  I looked back at her.  her body was smooth and looked strong.

“Ah, much better.”  Her voice was still flat.  I wrote. she sounds like Jodie Foster in bed.

“Do you really want to finish me out like that?” Her lip curled in an unholy sexy smile.  I looked back at the outline and started working like crazy.