N is for Number 9 Bus

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“It is easier to be enthusiastic about humanity with a capital “H” than it is to love individual men and women, especially those who are uninteresting, … exasperating, depraved, or otherwise unattractive.”

“Loving everybody in general may be an excuse for loving nobody in particular.”

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”    -C.S. Lewis

I ride the number 9 bus to work.

On the way uptown people blast music videos, or have loud conversations with their phones or to no one in particular, and we try not to look at each other. It smells like old socks and there is always someone eating Burger King.

Women speak to each other in Spanish and a teenager raps in the back, and we all ignore the man yelling at us while drinking a Coors Light.

“This the number nine?” a man asks when he gets on, walking up the aisle.

“Mmmhmmm,” people mumble on down the line.

At the next stop a woman hobbles on to the bus talking loudly to the man behind her. Her leg is bandaged.

The bus driver asks her to move back further to make room for a wheelchair. She tells him she is not going to move. The bus driver tells her she has to.

“I’m disabled,” she screams at him. “I got hit by a car.”

“Can you walk?” the driver asks.

“Yes.”

“Then please move,” he says.

She limps forward, looks at the man she got on the bus with and says, “Get ready for the ride of your life, we’re going to bum-fuck Egypt.”

Other people follow her to make more room. A woman sitting across from me strikes up a conversation with the man standing in front of her. Her high pitched voice bores into my brain like a vole rat. A particularly obnoxious vole rat.

“You can sit if you want,” she tells him.

“I’m ok,” he says.

“Well you could sit if people would move their stuff,” she says looking directly at me.

I look up from my book. Unsmiling and without breaking eye contact I move my bag from the seat next to me into my lap.

“Wouldn’t you want someone to do that for you? It’s the nice thing to do,” she says, continuing to direct her comments at me.

A white, hot anger takes over my body. Something bordering on violence.  

I glower at the woman.

“I hate her,” I think as I get off at my stop. But I also hate myself for hating her.

In the morning it is overcast and gray and I walk to my stop with the hope that the vole-rat woman is not on the bus today.

Instead there is another woman talking. But she is talking about a friend who has a pet python.

“It’s this real pretty golden color,” she says to the people sitting next to her. “But it was kinda nasty cause she let it crawl all over her baby and let it lick its face.”

“Hell, no,”  I whisper to myself.

But she hears me and starts to laugh.

“I don’t want any snakes near me or near children,” I say.

“Right?” she says. “This snake was all lickin on the baby’s face. I told her, ‘You gotta put that snake where it belongs, away from people. They will turn on you, you never know.’”

I make a face of mock horror.

“I don’t like dogs neither,” she says. “I don’t trust em. My friend tells me her dog won’t bite me, and I told her, ‘The devil is a liar.’”

“The devil is a liar,” I say slowly and it makes me laugh. “I’ve never heard that phrase before.”

This makes her laugh. Her laugh livens up the bus in a way I have never seen happen.

The sun shines through the dusty, grimy window highlighting the brilliance of her golden brown eyes. People smile at us laughing. Two Indian women with beautiful nose rings hold small children on their laps. A man opens a bag of Cheetos and the happiness on his face at the first bite is like a small child’s at Christmas. Behind him there is a man wearing a bright yellow jacket with a leopard on his shirt and a blue bow tie and he looks like he has just stepped out of a magazine.

The bus lurches to a stop.

“This is me,” I say.

Right before I step off she shouts, “Hey!”

I look back.

“Remember. The devil is a liar.”

Then number nine lumbers off, carrying with it a myriad of souls, snorting like a great beast up Central Avenue.

photo credit: Public Transport <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/126459794@N03/46876589842″>Heidebloem 17</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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M is for Mice in the Garden

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In November, when my yard is covered in leaves I take the leaf blower out of the shed and plug it in.

A blast of air and noise rushes forth shooting out a clump of blue yarn into the brown leaves. I turn the machine off and bend down to inspect it. Brushing back the debris around it I squeal when my hand uncovers a stunned, brown mouse beneath the pile.

I have destroyed his home.

If being an English Major was good for anything, it is for recalling poetry at inopportune moments. Because Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse (On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough) comes to mind as I look at the tiny creature.

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie,

O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

His blue yarn home, carefully built, has been turned up and completely destroyed. By me. I have woken him up, shot him out of a tube into the cruel, cold world and possibly (probably) even caused internal injuries.

This poem speaks to me, all the way from 1795.

“Please don’t die,” I whisper to the mouse.

I run inside, grab a plastic Chinese takeout container from my kitchen and gingerly place the mouse in it with a bit of water. He has dirt in his eyes and is making tiny distressed squeaking sounds. His slim whiskers shaking slightly.

And cosy here, beneath the blast,

You thought to dwell,

Until crash! the cruel plow passed

Right through your cell.

There is such a delicateness to him. His multi-hued brown fur and tiny cupped ears.

But Mousie, you are not alone

In proving that foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go oft astray

And leave us nothing but grief and pain

Instead of promised joy!

I brush dirt off him and think of the ways in which our longings go unfulfilled, dreams delayed and deferred or never coming true at all. The plans that go awry, that change at a moment’s notice. And the ways in which we still cling at and clutch at hope, like holding a tiny mouse in our hands.

When he is strong enough I place him in the garden behind my house and put some of the yarn near him, so he might use it for his new home.

In the morning I look into the yard and hope he has found a new place to sleep. I notice the leaves I blew away yesterday have already been replaced by more.


Photo credit:  r2hox <ahref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/72764087@N00/40712618560″>ORDES – 20180105 – 23</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

 

L is for Last Cigarette

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I like to talk to God when I smoke cigarettes.

My prayers rise upwards like the tendrils of smoke from the American Spirits.

I tell Him about the brokenness around me. People who are sick, or can’t pay their rent. Or have lost a child.

How things are pretty hard down here and sometimes I smoke cigarettes because of it, even though I know it’s bad for me. It’s 2019, so everyone pretty much knows that. But I think maybe He isn’t so mad at me for that.

Because there are wars and a president who’s gone off the rails and people starving in Venezuela.

I tell Him about those things too, even though He knows that.

I also mention the tree in front of me where I am smoking and how it has the most beautiful purple flowers. And how I cried today when I watched a tiny baby baptized in church. I always cry when people are baptized. The beauty of new life being promised new life.

Afterwards everyone sat down together and ate a meal and passed the baby around. Touching his cheeks. Reaching for hope. Like the smoke from a candle, or a cigarette, rising into the night.

Photo credit: Silvia Sala <ahref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/27250406@N03/9401997695″></a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

K is for the K Train

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I once dated a man who had previously been married. He never talked about his wife, his ex-wife. Except for one day when we were on a train. The K train that runs between Philly and the small town we were living in.

The pale, tender green of spring was flying by outside the window.

“This was where it happened,” he said.

I looked up from my book. “Where what happened?”

“Where she ended things.”

I knew he meant her. The nameless, faceless ex. Her ghost now following this train.

“She was sitting next to me, he said. “And then all of a sudden she was saying she just couldn’t do it anymore. That she had met someone. That she was unhappy. You know, all the bullshit people say when things are over. But the thing is, about halfway through, I just stopped hearing what she was saying. Like my brain just sort of shut off.”

“Like those people in trauma situations, where they hear ringing in their ears or can’t hear at all?” I asked.

“Yeah, exactly like that.”

He turned and stared out the window.

“It’s funny,” he said after a while. “So much life with one person and then it’s just gone. Like it never happened. Like it wasn’t even real.”

I looked at him looking out of the window. We were sitting on the same train, each suspended between two destinations. Between two memories. Between what was and what could have been. The ground outside moved away, rushing beneath our feet. Where nothing like love or pain, or anything else existed.

H is for Home on the Range

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“Hey there pumpkin,” Marshall says when I pick him up from the airport.

“Hey, sunshine,” I say back.

He smells like fresh air and tobacco, and when he smiles two dimples appear that make you want to fall right into them. He grew up in New Mexico a hard charging western streak. Fighting with his brother and breaking bones and sometimes even riding his horse to school.

I’ve seen photos of him flying through the air off of a bucking bronco.

“You can’t even imagine the adrenaline rush,” he says.

He’s right, I can’t. I can’t imagine what would compel someone to place themselves on a horse that does not want them on it, that is doing everything it can to remove them from the saddle.

Marshall and I have both converged in the same time and space for a moment because of the album release of a mutual musician friend.

He feels like the embodiment of an anachronism. One that has dropped into into this city from another place and time, a strange dichotomy carrying a cowboy hat and an iPhone.

On the way to the party he tells me about once seeing a skinwalker on a lonely New Mexican highway.

“A what?”

“A skinwalker. It’s like someone who can shapeshift, who can become something different in whatever setting he’s in. Usually like an animal, but like it could be other things. It’s a weird deal, you know?

“Honestly,” I say. “I don’t.”

“I know people think skinwalkers are just old Indian Legends, but I know what I saw. I could feel it, you know? My buddy and I went and got our guns and shot em in the air all around him. Bullets were raining down on that mother fucker,” he says.

We arrive at the party and he opens the car door for me while simultaneously putting a wad of tobacco into his cheek.  

I check my hair in the car window.

“Let’s go cupcake,” he says, sauntering up to the porch.

Inside the house I immediately feel awkward and out of place. There are people wearing hats that I am not sure are ironic and they all have meaningful tree quote tattoos and high-waisted jeans. There is Led Zeppelin on the radio and Makers Mark by the gallon, and enough artisanal cheese to feed a small island nation.

“I do not fit in here,” I think. I stuff my face with cheese and pour a drink to occupy my hands.

“But at least I’m not the only one,” I say to comfort myself, scanning the room for Marshall.

I find him standing in a group of people with his black cowboy boots and cowboy hat and he has just made everyone laugh at something he has said. Like he has known them his whole life. And they eat it up. His cowboy stories told in a slow New Mexican lilt. Just listening to him talk makes your heart beat at different cadence. Fully himself on the range or at a Nashville party.

“You are a strange creature Marshall,” I say when he comes back to refill his glass with Maker’s Mark. He hands me another beer and looks at me, as if to say, “You’re the strange one cupcake. You’re the one not comfortable in your own skin.”

J is for July,July

This post is an excerpt from a short story in progress. 

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I’m the girl next door. Classic, right? Look. That white house over there. It’s mine. Well it’s at least where I rent my little room. And that one over there? The tin roof one. That’s where the two dudes next to me live.  And I stupidly fell in love with one of them. Well, maybe not love, because what does that look like anyways? Someone who only cares about you when they’re strung out on Adderall and 14 cans of Rolling Rock deep?

The thing about this house though, is that it’s like a black hole. You walk in, have a few beers and then suddenly it’s 4 a.m. I don’t know how it happens, but it just does. It’s a goddamn siren song.

At night, when all the lights are on, you can see a five-foot poster of a dancing man on their wall.  He is wearing a black suit and tie and writhing backwards as if he is dancing, overpowered by the music and the booze, the beautiful women and the allure of life when your brain is firing on all cylinders from whiskey and too much emotion.  

On hot summer nights in July when the sun goes down over the city and the cicadas reach their fever pitch I get restless and wander across the lawn to the tin roof porch for a cold beer.

“The electromagnetic waves that are created by microwaves cause cancer,” Lauren is saying. She is always finding things that could potentially cause cancer. She once moved out of an apartment because it was too close to power lines. Which, apparently, cause cancer.

Mike, the one I fell in love with, exhales his cigarette smoke and laughs. He asks her if she understands science.

“No seriously, there is a lot research about this,” she continues. “It causes cancer because of the radiation.”

“Jesus, there is nothing about a microwave that causes cancer,” Mike scoffs. “Think about cooking food over a fire, or on a stove, heat and radiation happen, it’s the same basic concept as a microwave, just speeded up.”

“Look Mike, I have done a lot of research on this and there are higher levels of radiation happening when you heat the food up in a microwave.”

He shakes his head. “It’s ridiculous to quit using a microwave.”

“I mean, how are you going to make a fuckin’ hot pocket?” Chad asks with a grin to diffuse the tension. A grin that always reminds me of the unfurling of the Cheshire Cat’s smile, but less sinister. Lauren is wrapped around him and they are giggly drunk off the almost empty bottle of white wine in front of them.

They pass the bottle over to me and I pour a glass.

“I can never catch up to y’all,” I say.

“Get on our level,” Chad says and Lauren collapses into laugher. “We’re going out tonight.”

They sing John Prine and shuffle into the house and mix more drinks and slow dance in the living room.  

“So are they back on?” I ask Mike.

He shrugs.

“Why don’t they just make it official?”

“He doesn’t love her,” Mike says.

“Seems kind of fucked up,” I say.

“Chad says she knows what’s going on.”

“Does she?”

“Fuck,” Mike says, “I don’t know.”

I light a cigarette and look at my house across the way and imagine what it must have been like to live there 100 years ago. Old white columns and cool glasses of lemonade. Ladies in white dresses on the porch. Now it’s just a big house with high-priced rooms in a gentrified neighborhood with high rise apartments going up all around it.

A train rumbles by and I watch Mike drain a Rolling Rock and chuck it in to the recycling bin. Summer nights in the south take so long to happen, the sun sinking down the horizon so slowly that you don’t even notice it has begun until the cicadas start sawing away above your head and lightning bugs pop out in the distant vines down by the train tracks.

I blow smoke through the screen and it hangs in the air like drops of blood in water—the humidity never ebbing, even at 10 p.m. when we walk to the bar. There are women everywhere wearing next to nothing and holding cold drinks in their hands. The orange and red of the bar lights gives their skin a surreal citrusy glow.    

I is for It Was Just Camp

Author’s note: I know, I know, I skipped H. But it’s taking a little more time for inspiration to strike. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a post brought to you by the letter I. -B

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The single girl at the wedding confuses the other guests.

“Bride or groom’s side?” they ask.

“Grooms.”

This is not an acceptable answer. People ask if she is a cousin. She is not.

“How do you know the groom?” they push, with suspicion.

“Matt and I met at camp.”

“Oh, the backpacking one right?”

Matt had been in her training crew. They had donned 50-pound packs and trekked through the New Mexican backcountry together. The kind of thing not many people back home understood.

One of the groomsmen winks at her from the dance floor. He is an asshole. She knows this almost instinctively. Which is why she will probably get drunk enough to go with him to his hotel room later.

Her friend Evan asks her to dance. Evan has gray in his hair she hadn’t noticed before.  

When they were 19 they had all hiked Mt. Elbert in Colorado together. While they climbed the mountain Matt told stories and cracked jokes. The 14 miles had felt like nothing then, they were limber mountain goats. At the top they chugged PBRs and laughed and laughed feeling high from the beer and oxygen depletion at 14,000 feet.

“How are you feeling?” Evan asks her.

“What do you mean?”

He hesitates and accidentally steps on her right foot.

“I guess I always thought you two would end up together.”

“Me and Matt?”

“Yea, it just always seemed like, well, inevitable. You two were inseparable.”

The first week she had met Matt they had hiked to a backcountry camp for a nightly bluegrass show. Afterwards, on the way back to basecamp, they turned off their headlamps to see the stars. It had been so dark she couldn’t see what was in front of her. He held her hand to make sure she didn’t fall and pointed out the constellations.

“It was just camp, you know,” she shrugs.

The Maid of Honor passes out sparklers to send off the happy couple.

She watches how he holds the bride’s hand now. The sparklers shooting a million stars into the sky as they descend to the waiting car.