--LET’S RAISE A GLASS TO ALL THE PEOPLE YOU’RE NOT SPEAKING TO
Afterward, she drove home in such deep thought, almost comatose, staring into the loamy dark road as if it were an alien being or a disturbing foreign film, but along the way she clipped awake and even caught the symbolism of her prior efforts. She almost hit a moon-eyed possum. She spat on the radio console and wiped her mouth and changed it from Dolly Parton to something else. She hummed with the song awkwardly, glad that she could be old and not yet feeble-minded.
Breathing was difficult. Nothing had changed there. She fitted the plastic prophylactic mask over her nose and mouth and sucked claw-ripping oxygen into her lungs as she climbed up the stairs, not even thinking to ask herself this time if it was worth it-- life.
Inside the house she put her purse down and took the chalice with her to the bathroom because she had to go and still she wasn’t quite ready to be separated from him.
She peed and studied the lonesome trickle sound of it, how it resembled a brook or their baby’s idiot gurgle all those many, many years ago.
She stood up and didn’t flush until she’d poured the whole of her dead man into the bowl, him no more than the collection of a dozen or so ashtrays, looking like protein powder or mix for a gray cake.
“Look at you,” she said, tottering, not drunk but wanting to be.
She found his gin bottle easily enough, stashed behind the Cornflakes box in the cramped pantry. It tasted like cotton and clay. After a third swig it was sweeter than a kiss.
She sucked and slurped. She finished the bottle. She held the glass container up to the light. There wasn’t but a beaker’s worth left. Still she tipped it upside down and opened her throat. She knew there was more left and she wanted it.
I was late picking him up.
When I pulled into the school lot, I saw him off near the soccer field, a pack of kids clustered around him in a semi-circle. There was another boy with my son, a small kid, Jack something or other. I knew his name because Jack always walked around town wearing headphones, jumpy with the music, as if electrified, slamming his fists into the air or spinning around while cars honked or flashed their brights.
When my son slapped him, Jack staggered but took a swing of his own. My son hardly had to move out of the way. He could be lazy about it. This was Jack.
My son dodged. He leaned back. He yawned. He grinned. I had seen this grin before, but now it was like seeing an Indian scalp and not recognizing the head it went with.
I rolled the window down. The others egged him on, the falcate of onlookers closing in.
I saw a flash of knuckle hover, then dive. Then repeat. Then a flurry of the same.
I pulled out of the lot. I thought about myself; how in middle school Jimmy Kennedy beat me up because I wrote his girlfriend a poem declaring my love for her. We did it on the picture’s mound. There was a crowd of kids then, too. He said, “No hard feelings,” and extended his hand and when I went to shake it he launched his boot into my crotch and that started things.
As I drove away, the crowd was a maw of limbs and motion. I couldn’t see Jack.
My son caught a ride home. I told him I was sorry, that there was last minute stuff at work and he told me no big deal. I asked how school was and he said, “Okay. Okay.” Then he said he felt really tired and went to his room, the spare I made into his when he visited every third week.
That Friday I dropped him at his mother’s. I gave him a hug. I made him hold me back or at least remain inside my embrace for more than a second. I told him I loved him no matter what. Later, in the car, I wondered about that, about myself, the man and the father.
On the way home, I saw him on 2nd and Avenue D. Jack bobbled a arrow-shaped board sign that said, “Don’t Stress. Let us tackle your taxes!” It was April 12. I was late.
Jack dipped and weaved spastically to the music he was hearing through the head phones. When I rolled down the window, I saw that he had a shiner under the right eye, a purple-black crescent. I called him over, but he just danced. He stared at me a little longer, but when I pulled away he gave me the thumbs up sign.
Sins like Fists
She looks brittle, like a powdered wraith now but she tells me she was pretty once. She has pictures as proof but instead she pulls up her shirt and shows me the hash marks like rail track on her back. “Your grandfather was mean, mean.”
Hey eyes skitter in a clear broth. When I try to look away she taps my knee with her gnarled finger. She says my wife came by the day before and I tell her I know that.
“I saw,” she says. “You’re just like him,” she says. “Shame on you.”