#11

Jacob Johanson
Fine China

there is nothing so delicate
as the upward angle of your chin
cupped in another man’s hands.

 

John Dorsey
death of a love salesman

i.

someone once said “i
am a love salesman
on a blind date
with god”

ii.

ignorant of the sun’s
fellatio felt up by
the poverty of genius
we dance around the
point of little or
no return

iii.

where there is light
we crave the energy
of that first suicide
like a lover strung
out on death’s infinite potential

call it safety name
it security true love
for centuries spent inventing devils
of unimaginable promise

 

 

Jacqueline Gum
CHOICES

She was conscious of her hands slicing through the water, her arms rising above her head, over her ears, head immersed. It was only a six stroke pool, but she willingly swam twenty-five laps today, like every day. Emerging from the pool, Meredith was genuinely happy as the warm Florida sun touched her face. It was a perfect November day in Ft Lauderdale. Warm breezes moved the palm fronds in rhythmic pace, evoking a melody of sorts, but Meredith couldn’t discern the song. Lying on her chaise lounge, the unidentifiable sound lightened her heart nonetheless. She opened her eyes to the glare of sunlight reflected from the water.

Blessed with 55 years of mostly good memories, she bowed her head in silent thanks. She wasn’t sure to whom she was grateful, only that she was.

Elation gave way to a chuckle of sorts, as Meredith’s lips parted. Wide eyed now, the memories stirred. How happy she had been to feel the wind blow through her hair as she perched on a tall branch of an Oak tree. She was seven-years old, and while her mother looked concerned beneath her, her father’s face shone with pride on that cool Spring day. Not proud that Meredith was able to make the climb, but rather, pleased that she was willing to take the risk. Her father taught her, mostly, that there was no gain without risk.

It was the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Cleveland Browns. Her age was around eleven, Meredith remembered, but the game was memorable for one specific reason. As her father patiently explained a coaching gaffe that changed the outcome of the game, all his tutoring solidified in clarity. She got it – she understood. Football changed her life. Not only had it precipitated many valuable moments with her father, it provided knowledge and a vocabulary that had opened career doors she never thought possible.

Even her Mother’s lack of parenting after her father’s sudden loss had meaning today. It had birthed her independence, she realized, and contributed to her many successes. Had she been coddled, well, who knows what she might have become. Any resentment she had ever felt towards her Mother’s ambivalence was now forgotten, replaced by a kind of gratitude, tinged ever so slightly by melancholy.

One by one she had lost them all. First her father died then her brother and finally her mother. Victims of cancer, they had all suffered. Meredith barely escaped the curse, but her cancer had been detected early and obliterated completely. The paradox of her escape from cancer begat a full blown laugh as Meredith’s shoulders shook with ironic mirth.

Choices, Meredith thought. How astonishing to realize the sheer volume of options life presented. Astounded, she was suddenly acutely aware of the consequences of those decisions. There had been 55 years of choices, Meredith thought. Whether she had chosen correctly was inconsequential. The results of those choices had led her here, hadn’t they? And here, today, was the most beautiful place she had ever been.

Ok, so she had been married twice. The first marriage ended at her request. Thinking her impetuous act had been a mistake all these years, today she was grateful that her first husband had found great happiness since they parted. The second marriage ended with a great deal of pain for Meredith. Fighting anxiety and abandonment issues for years after, she blamed her paralyzing fear of commitment on her second husband. Today, she knew with certainty he had done her the greatest favor. Ultimately, she was most content when alone. Relief from his always present need had freed her finally. She never really evolved until he left her. Today, she offered him a silent prayer of thanks.

After her last attempt at pregnancy failed at age forty, Meredith told her friends,

“There’s a reason I can’t have children. I’m not sure why now, but someday I’ll understand.”

At the time, her pain had made the rationale indistinct; she knew now it had not been fortuitous.

Meredith raised her face to the sunlight, delighted by the gentle kiss of the heat. All my life I’ve felt lucky, she hypothesized, rising to go indoors. After making her way into the house, she stripped from her bathing suit. Before entering the shower, she threw a load of laundry into the machine. Meredith loved to wash clothes. A simple task, it netted immediate and positive results. In dirty, out clean. So simple and so satisfying.

The water from the shower was gentle as it washed over her. She could already see the tan emerging from her few hours of basking. Healthy, she thought. A slight tan makes one appear so healthy. Soap suds soothed as she closed her eyes to the water. Meredith loved clean. She always had a clean house, a clean closet, a clean garage, a clean laundry room, clean drawers, and above all a clean body. She was proud hearing many friends’ voices echo, “You could eat off Meredith’s floors.” That was but one small objective of many goals that Meredith had accomplished. Yes indeed, Meredith was clean.

Massaging shampoo into her scalp and hair seemed to arouse the memory, as if rubbing her head was forcing images from her mind into the openness of the shower stall, like a hologram. After the first seizure, Meredith had shared her fear with friends. Finally consenting to see a doctor at their urging, she started the first round of tests.

“We need to rule out the heart before we can explore the neurology,” the doctor explained. “It could be either, so let’s start with a stress test, EKG, echo-cardiogram, and the like. If those net negative results, we’ll look at the brain.” And so it began.

At first Meredith shared all the information with everybody. Every test result, every new procedure became a topic of conversation on the phone, across a dinner table, or a quick coffee. Her life, though private, was never secretive. Meredith generally shared good times and bad with those she loved. But after a month, Meredith, contrary to her nature, began to lie. Tired of explaining, she retreated, determined to keep her own counsel.

“I’m fine. No, no it isn’t the heart. The brain became an issue, but they’ve ruled that out now. They aren’t sure. We’re in a wait/see mode. No I haven’t had an episode for a long time. It’s sort of like taking your car in for a rattle, then not hearing the rattle while it’s in the shop.”

Honesty was Meredith’s greatest virtue. No one doubted her, because Meredith never perjured herself. Everyone knew that. But something warned her that this was hush-hush information she needed to hold close.

“It’s inoperable, Meredith. It’s not malignant, but the brain tumor is inoperable nonetheless. There isn’t a lot we can do. The progression is uncertain, but at some point you’ll lose some mobility and it’s only a matter of time before your cognitive ability is affected. Pain? I’m not sure about pain…it’s hard to predict, but we can manage pain these days. How severe are your headaches now? You let me know when you need stronger pain medication. I know you’re alone Meredith, I know there isn’t any family. I’ll give you the information for Hospice. No, I can’t say how long, but not more than six months. I’m so sorry Meredith. My best advice is to get your affairs in order.”

With moist and tragic eyes, the doctor stepped forward as his beefy arms unexpectedly encircled her. Meredith had never been hugged by a physician before; the embrace felt penitent, contrite, and scary. Shock barred any tears at that moment, but walking in the back door from her garage she erupted in volcanic fashion, hysteria overwhelming her. Melting into her celery green couch, alone with her terror, she began hiccupping with sobs. The seizure that followed was the worst yet. The spasms rendered her left side useless for a full fifteen minutes. The blurring of her vision was so severe, she felt blind.

That was just two weeks ago. Drying herself now, she couldn’t remember what made her so hysterical. At some point, the trepidation had simply melted into resolve.

She had flown to Ohio, just to look at her nephew and see her oldest friends. She loved them all with a ferocity that she couldn’t articulate. Intending to tell them, when face to face, she grew suddenly mute. Somehow she knew she had to preserve her silence. Instead, Meredith teased and laughed and took great care to make them whoop with her. Arriving back in Ft Lauderdale, acceptance inundated her.

So now, on this sunny perfect November day, Meredith carefully applied her makeup and took extra care with her hair. She slipped into a slim black skirt, a low cut white blouse, and her highest black stilettos. She was pleased at the figure gazing back at her from the full length mirror.

Her training had paid off and her shoulders and arms looked toned and younger than her years. Red hair gently curled around an oval face with wide brown eyes. It seemed the lines around her mouth had suddenly disappeared. The heels accented her shapely legs, and her gold ankle bracelet gleamed in the light. A wide smile revealed perfectly shaped white teeth. Meredith felt beautiful.

She folded her load of clothing, stacking them in an orderly fashion before methodically dispatching them to the appropriate drawers. After bundling the vibrators, her chosen lover of the last few years, into a garbage bag she walked them outside to the trash can. No need to embarrass anyone by their discovery. Returning to her office, she checked her desk one last time making sure all was in order. Paperwork was piled properly, all edges even. She carefully re-read her letter of instruction before placing it next to the explanation she had scribed with painstaking care. There was no apology. Meredith firmly believed that an act of contrition was unnecessary.

Sliding open the glass door to the terrace, Meredith relished the affection of the sun once more. Walking through each room of her house, Meredith became even more appreciative for the time she had been allowed here, in this house, on this earth, in this life. She checked the refrigerator one last time, assuring herself that anything that might spoil was discarded. Stepping into the garage Meredith closed the door behind her.

Feeling alive with sheer exhilaration, Meredith slid into the driver’s seat. She reflected happily, satisfied to have been loved and to have loved, grateful to have received and hopeful that she had adequately given back. Mostly Meredith was pleased for the opportunity to make this final choice.

A tube affixed to the exhaust was snaked through a back window as Meredith started her car. Alone, unafraid, and satisfied with all the pieces that comprised the stained glass montage of her life, she turned on her CD player. “I believe in miracles…” belted Hot Chocolate. Meredith closed her eyes for the last time strongly believing in the miracle of life and convinced that death was no less extraordinary. Meredith knew that death was a gift; for herself and for all those that she loved. There would be no witness forced to endure her suffering. “You Sexy Thing” played on as Meredith took her last breath.

Meredith was discovered the next morning. She was smiling.

 

 

Miles J. Bell
Hangovers can be many dogs

energetic black Labradors of despair
great slobbering Dobermans on my trail
or the one I’m carrying today –
a sweet Pekinese who nevertheless
is nipping at my Achilles tendons
like a
motherfucker.

I have been pacing
from kitchen to hall to lounge to hall to kitchen
measuring discomfort in irrelevant steps
like I were a poem.

One thing gainful employment does
is force you to be sociable
and today I am anything but.
I am not good company
but there is only
me,
here.

Now the kitchen calls
once more
because I can’t lick my own balls
but I can feed this dog a succession
of biscuits.

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