Tag Archives: confessional

Folding Chairs

old folding chair

 

The pickup lurches a little when I put it in gear, and there’s a rattle I’m starting to fear is coming from the water pump. If it’ll hold for the next two paychecks I’ll be able to have it replaced.

It’s October and warm for the afternoon. I steer to avoid smashed road kill and a deputy notices that I cross the center line. I see him in my rearview mirror, debating whether or not to hassle me. He never pulls out, though. I’m at my pop’s house in twenty minutes.

He gives the dogs free reign inside, which gives the house the suffocating odor of musk and hidden dog shit. I make a mental note to set aside a weekend to help him clean.

He’s sitting at the kitchen table, a fat boxer sitting over both his feet. Two disassembled pistols are on the table, and he’s cleaning them with oil and cotton balls. The guns give off a sharp odor that I hate worse than the smell of the dogs.

“Hey, Pop.”

He’s let his hair grow since retirement. He keeps it tied back but he doesn’t brush it enough, and it looks stringy. I can see patches of his scalp between the vines of gray hair. He turns, slowly. “Hey, kid,” he tells me, looking almost stunned. He runs a hand over his unshaven face. “How’s work?”

“It’s work.” I grab a nylon folding chair from against the wall and bring it to the table to sit. The whole tabletop is overrun with mail and small tools. Mom always hated this. “I wash dishes. I fry eggs.”

He nods gravely, like I’ve said something worth pondering. “This is that .357 I got you that one Christmas. The one you left behind when you moved out.”

“Oh, yeah.” The gun is somewhat obscene in size, and I can’t imagine ever being in a situation where I would practically need it. I do carry a gun, though, sometimes. A little .38 I’ve always been fond of. Pop bought it for Mom but she never much cared for it. He’s something of a lone enthusiast under this roof. I doubt the dogs care about guns at all.

Roscoe, a rickety old brown pitbull, comes hobbling over. He’s got bad knees, and watching him sit down or stand up makes me wince. But he’s a sweet old thing and I scratch him behind the ears.

“I oughtta take that gun back with me one of these days.”

“Well, I can hold onto it for ya,” Pop tells me. “Keep it safe till ya need to come home.”

I moved out five years ago. I’ve been taking night classes the past two years. The nest is old and covered in cobwebs.

“You ready to head out?” I ask him.

He turns and checks the time on the microwave. “Yeah, I guess we should go.” He stands up, takes a moment to steady himself against any joints that might yell out. He grabs his cane, an oak branch with a handle shaped naturally like a duck’s head, and I stick close in case he loses his balance. He doesn’t. He shuffles his feet loose from the boxer and we head for the door.

 

***

 

“Sean’s here, too.” Pop waves at me, standing by the door.

“Oh,” Mom says, sounding unsure. “That’s nice.”

“Hey, Mom.”

“Come on in, kid,” Pop says, obliviously.

“I’m okay, Pop.” The only thing she remembers about me these days is the rage I used to inspire in her. Last summer she swung at me with a plastic fork. Pop sits alone across from Mom.

“Me and Sean are heading out today, the way we used to when we all had Sunday off.” When she shows no interest he asks her as casually as he can: “Would you wanna come with us sometime?”

“Oh. No.” She turns to watch hummingbirds out her window. Her roommate mutters in her sleep.

Pop reaches out and squeezes her hand. “I miss you, baby.”

Her arm doesn’t move. She doesn’t pull her hand away or hold his tighter. The knuckles sit there, unflinching.

When we start to leave Mom is still looking through the window. The nurse at the desk tells her she’s been more lucid than usual lately. This nurse always says that.

 

***

 

Pop and I dig a fire pit. Really I dig it, but Pop sets out the can and lays the charcoal inside. A grill is balanced, and sausages begin to sweat alongside hissing potatoes in foil.

We drink bottles of water pulled from a cooler. “I almost miss beer,” Pop says after a quiet moment.

“You ever miss it much?”

“I said I almost miss it,” he reminds me, then lights a cigarette. Putting the lighter down makes him wince.

“You alright, Pop?”

“Back,” he mutters. “My fuckin’ back.”

The aluminum armrests of the folding chairs scrape together when we move. Pop chews his food loudly, smacking and sucking at his teeth. I’ve learned to not let this bother me. Conditioning makes it hard to ignore, though. Nothing used to irritate my parents more than when my sister and I smacked our lips at meals.

“You’re doctor’s kids,” Pop would say, in that tone he used during lectures. “Behave like it.”

The old man in plaid and faded denim wipes his face with a dirty napkin.

It’s getting cold. We sit under blankets and sometimes talk about Mom. At some point I notice the wheezing breaths he takes when he’s fallen asleep. I put my arm around his shoulder. There are stars out tonight. Moonlight shines against the armrests of our folding chairs. I hold my father while he sleeps.

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Mist

trees in the fog

 

I’m smoking on the front porch. It’s cold out and misty, and the mist seems to give the chill a quality like needles. The porch is a barren concrete slab adorned only with the aluminum folding chair I’m sitting in and a mason jar I flick my ashes and old butts into. I can feel the skin on my arms goosebump beneath the terrycloth shirt I’m wearing. Steam rises from a vent in the crawl space, and against the neighbor’s porch light it shines and wavers, an effervescent belly dancer.

“I want you to know I haven’t forgotten about the assistanceship,” my old adviser told me earlier. He stopped by my job to pick up a coffee and recognized me. We’ve only ever communicated by email the last three years. I tell him I’m grateful and I mean it. The university doesn’t strictly require work experience for their graduate program, but with so many applying you don’t stand a chance of acceptance if you don’t read the phrase de facto between the lines.

Just a few weeks earlier, he and three other former profs of mine filled out an emailed index, telling the university how much of an asset they believed I could be. The university emailed confirmations to me, letting me know each response had been received. The trick now is to ensure my file doesn’t become a small tomb in the registrar’s office. Indolence sounds a lot like the burr of a coffee grinder to me.

The professor I’ve been emailing at the university tells me she’s excited at the idea of me joining her program, though she isn’t shy about admitting that my rather sparse work experience worries her. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life in college, up until and during graduation. My GPA shows it, as does my four-years-and-running coffee making career afterward. I’ve kept up with my habit of emailing researchers whose work interests me, including the professor at the university I desperately want to attend. Thus I at least have a show of interest on my side, despite the flaky decade in my rear-view mirror.

At home, above my desk, there’s a plank of framed cork board adorned with applications for programs and scholarships I either never completed or never mailed off. I look at it whenever I need an existential kick in the ass for motivation.

When I got home earlier I checked my email. One story was accepted, to a popular podcast that can’t afford to pay its contributors. Another, one I’m much more proud of, was rejected by a professional magazine, on the grounds that the characters weren’t likable enough. No comments regarding quality are made. The submission guidelines encourage writers to be bold, but I’ve noticed that every purchased story follows the same general structure. Out of spite, I resubmit it, entirely unaltered, and then go outside for a smoke.

The woman I love has called me a couple times today, but I was working so all she could do was leave voicemails. One tells me she’s driving down to visit family, and wants to see me. The other tells me she just misses me, and wants to talk. I hit the callback button. Her phone rings four or five times, and my call goes to voice mail.

“Hey, it’s me,” I say inanely. What else do you say to those who know you better than you know yourself? If I’d told her my name just now it would’ve felt like a white lie. “I just wanted to tell ya I’m excited for your visit. I don’t have any plans, so shoot me a text whenever you can. Love you. Talk to you soon.”

The plans I’d already made are wiped away from my mind. I hang up and take a drag on my cigarette. I think of the school my adviser mentioned, out in Arizona, which he says has a marvelous student aid program. Arizona is a bit of a hike for someone whose parents may, at any time, need a ride to the hospital.

The muffled grunt of an engine wafts over from…somewhere. Streetlights bleed into the mist. I huff out a last mouthful of smoke and drop the butt into the Mason jar. I stand and stretch. The paperwork I’ve been avoiding will become concrete as soon as I step inside. The neighboring houses fade gently down the road. If it weren’t for the trees, this mist would go on forever.

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Fade

IMG_1268

 

There’s an alley in Macon where you can see the word “EVERYBODY” scrawled in faded paint along the side of an old, red brick building. I have no idea what it used to advertise, though I imagine it wouldn’t be very hard to find out.

There are old advertisements like that all over downtown. Macon’s not a big place, but it’s an old one, and it’s always had a substantial population. I think you can almost measure spikes in growth by the number of painted ads you find along the sides of buildings. Right now Macon is at the cusp of a minor boom, and murals praising it as a hub for history and music are slathered all over. In a few decades, the paint and prints will fade into sun-bleached ghosts. People will photograph those old hustles, and imagine the atmosphere the ads tried to promote. The product will be long out of date when it finally sells.

 

old advert

 

I’m reminded of the “EVERYBODY” ad when someone who is shockingly rude to me is inexplicably gracious just a few moments later, a look of anxiety telling me they fear being written off by anyone, even inconsequential twentysomethings they don’t know. I think of the ad when exes leave voice mails I’ll never return. I think of it when I text friends in Nashville, and we pretend there’s a possibility we’ll hang out again one day.

 

kessler

 

In nearby Rose Hill, there are graves so old the lettering has been nearly ground away by rain. There are whole tombs you can only reach if you climb down embankments and weave your way through brush. They are built of brick, and they are faded pink by time. In the stillness of those alcoves of kudzu and camellias, where whispers are nearly shouts, it is impossible to believe that moving hands ever laid the mortar that holds those vaults together. I think of the ad even then.

 

tomb in alcove

 

The ad pops up in my mind when I hug my parents after a visit. When my cat is asleep in my lap. When I see reports of terrorism on the news, and when I throw out homophobic pamphlets I find littering the post office.

 

get on out

 

The ad says more than the capitalist who commissioned it ever meant to say. It’s an accidental message, one that could only emerge when the old message washed away in the sun. Even that adds to the telling.

 

Dren's Museum

 

It’s neither melancholic nor optimistic. It simply is. The meaning transcends mood.

 

Everybody Fades Away

 

Everybody fades away.

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Filed under Non-Fiction

Midnight Until Morning

sodium light

 

The light in the Kroger parking lot buzzes, and I amuse myself by pretending the buzzing is coming from the moths circling overhead. It’s muggy tonight, and my cigarette somehow makes things feel warmer in the car. Eventually she comes outside, and when she climbs in she changes her clothes in the passenger seat.

We sneak into her house as quietly as possible. Her mother’s still at work and her kid sister is asleep. She calls her a kid sister even though the girl’s almost seventeen now.

We get to her room, which she’d tried to abandon for a few years for an apartment across town, but she is inextricably tied to this drywall box. Poverty is a lock built for heavy use.

I text my sister to tell her she doesn’t have to leave the hall light on for me, at the house we both share on our parents’ dime. Our folks moved out of state a couple years ago but kept the place as an investment, though not so much monetarily as familial. We try to pay them rent, but generosity won’t allow them to keep the money for long. It always comes back in Christmas cards or unusually generous amounts of “gas money” for errands. I would complain, but it’s something of a sin to do so when there really aren’t any complaints to have.

We drink warming beer I bought while waiting for her shift to end. The cashier in the next line seemed exasperated when I wouldn’t respond to her attempts to wave me over. I very nearly whispered “But it’s this cashier I want to fuck!” but crudeness is not a taste for every palette.

She opens her windows and we smoke cigarettes. We sit on the floor and watch headlights trace across the walls. We’re no longer teenagers but we don’t want to know it.

She has red hair that’s almost orange, and it curls so that every movement makes it leap from her shoulders. The ends of it brush my face when she stands and bends to kiss me, before shambling to the bathroom.

I crack open two more beers, and she comes out in green cotton boxers and a white men’s tank top she likes to sleep in. We drink beer and talk about anything other than the fact that we won’t be doing this – any of it –very long from now. That’s a topic we’ll visit later, when we add “not thinking about it” to the list of luxuries she can’t afford.

The ends of her hair tickle my face again. They puff with every breath I take. She hugs me tight around my neck, and her breath makes my left ear feel wet. The boxers have tied her right ankle to my left one, somehow.

In movies and novels, only the boring parts about sex are covered. The parts of each other’s bodies that everyone likes. The generic mentioning that someone eventually experiences an orgasm. The interesting bits are always overlooked. Like how your stomach always makes a paunch, no matter how skinny you are, when you’re hunched over towards the other person. Or how small flecks of stubble ignite the nerves in your skin when her leg brushes yours. Sometimes I see dark bristles under her arms. They’re short, regularly waxed away, but they’re there, just barely.

I want no one else as much as I want her in this moment.

My teeth brush her ear and I feel her arms tighten. I keep forgetting that’s something she likes. She scratches at my shoulders, and I feel undutiful because she clearly remembers that’s what I like.

We fall asleep for awhile. She wakes me an hour before her sister usually gets up. Her mother has already come home and gone to bed. We dress and kiss and she goes to shower while I lock the door behind me. I start the car and drive home. The sun isn’t up yet. Last night will stay on my mind all day. It will be years before I realize we were saying an early goodbye.

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Queer Exchange

fuzzy crash screen

 

We’re scrambling tonight. An idiot coworker changed the register password. I can’t blame him for that. The system forces us to every three months as a security measure. What I can blame him for is the hopelessly idiotic neglect he’s shown by not telling a single fucking person that he changed the password. No one can reach him, and the owner texts saying he’s on the phone with IT.

“I’m on hold now,” is what he actually texted. Then another text, forty minutes after the last one: “Still on hold.”

One poor woman with a cart full of groceries patiently waits for us to tally her amount by hand, and pays with cash. She’s extremely cool about it. Our apologies are answered with a casual “It’s no problem,” and she tells us she’s just grateful we let her in through the back exit, sparing her a walk through the alley to the front door. She ducks back out the same way on her way back to her apartment.

The next guy isn’t so understanding. I hate this guy, and lately it’s gotten harder for me to hide my displeasure whenever he’s in the store. He’s a fucking throwback, one of those gays who insists on endorsing every effete stereotype that society likes to hoist on the rest of us. He’s whiny and rude and self-absorbed. We’re a small produce shop but he complains when we don’t carry prices or merchandise found at Kroger. He’s a twelve year old in a gay fat man’s body, and I can’t stand him.

I think he can read my disdain on my face. I tell him our system is down and ask him if he’s comfortable writing down his card information. He tells me he’s not, which is understandable, and I apologize. What throws me, though, is his attempt to hand me his card immediately afterward.

“So, you want me to write down your info?” I ask him.

“No! No, I’m not comfortable with that.”

“Oh. Well, I’m sorry, sir, our system’s down…”

“Well WHEN IS IT GOING TO BE UP?” He gives me a glare I would almost call evil, but he’s such a priss I can’t help but think of it as bitchy. It’s weird, how prissy he is. The guy’s a head taller than me and outweighs me by a good seventy pounds.

“I don’t know, buddy. It crashed.” I sigh, and tear off some receipt paper. “You can just take your merchandise, and we can take your phone number down and call you to settle the difference at your earliest convenience.”

He notices my irritation, and his mood shifts to apologia. “I’m sorry, I just had an issue lately with my information, and it was a nightmare…”

“I don’t care, sir,” I say, too honestly, of course, but there it is.

“I’m sorry,” he says after a moment, “but do I irritate you?”

“No,” I lie, unconvincingly.

Later, after we close, I stroll down to a bar and get a couple beers. He’s there, of course, because God was the kind of kid who liked kicking puppies.

I sit beside him without realizing it, and it doesn’t dawn on me that he’s there until he notices me and starts talking.

“You seem disapproving of me,” he pushes. “I’m not trying to be catty, but…”

“From one queer to another,” I tell him, hoping to shut this down before I take a few more shots, “you fucking embarrass me. And if somehow you’re not queer, then I still find you embarrassing on a human level.”

“How DARE you call…”

“…myself queer? Fuck you, prissy-pants, you don’t own that goddamn word. You’re a shitty, pampered little asshole, and I don’t want to fucking talk to you.”

“I’m friends with your boss,” he threatens.

“Everyone’s friends with my boss. My boss fucking loves me.”

“And nice play trying to pretend you’re gay. That’s the lamest shield for gay-bashing I’ve seen in a while.”

“I’m not gay, I’m bi,” I correct him. “But I don’t care if you believe that, either. I’d never fuck you, you fuckin’ whale.”

I’m being meaner than is necessary, but fuck him. Fuck him for appropriating me into his definition of himself. Fuck him for using a defining aspect of my humanity as a fucking shield. Fuck him for never carrying cash.

I down two shots of Cutty Sark, one two in a row, and ask for another beer. Something hoppy, something that’ll boil the way my blood is right now. Right now I hate this fucking kid the way I hated the redneck last week, who went on and on about how much he hated queers and Jews, a bizarre double-hitter for a guy like me. In a way I hate this kid more. At least the asshole last week was bold enough to display his evil transparently. This shit hides behind shields. He’s a coward who uses persecution as a blank check to be an asshole. He probably sells it as being “brave.”

I turn to the friend I met there, another bi guy. I kiss him. He’s initially surprised but he gets what I’m doing, and he rolls with it. I hold the kiss a little too long, long enough that the pissy tub of aggravation to my right knows I’m not bluffing.

“I don’t fuckin’ like you,” I tell him when we break. “In point of fact I might fuckin’ hate you. You’re a prissy bitch and you’re every reason I got beaten up every week in high school. You live in the lofts upstairs, and I have to card you when you buy wine. So I know you’re rich, and I know you’re younger than me. I would bet a week’s pay you never got a tooth knocked out in a public school’s locker room because you like kissing boys. I got two fake teeth because my tastes weren’t limited to pussy. So fuck you, and fuck your false outrage.”

I was going to take another shot of Cutty Sark, but I let my temper get a hold of me and I sling it across the asshole’s shirt. The bar has my card in the system and the bartender knows me, so I make peace with the automatic gratuity they’ll charge and I leave, hugging my friend as I go.

“Later man!” he calls, then dives into a conversation with his current girlfriend. Girlfriend, by which I mean he and she fuck now and again.

Outside I come across a young woman I saw earlier in the evening, an attractive kid, a college student. “Oh hey, you work at the store down the block, right?”

“Sure, yeah. Whenever I catch myself behind the register, I mean.” I smile to indicate I was joking, but drunk as I’ve gotten it might just look like a snarl. She smiles a little but she clearly doesn’t get it.

“Hey, um, I actually think you may have rung something up wrong when I got apples there earlier…”

I sigh, and reach into my pocket for a cigarette. There’s a handful of small bills beneath the pack, and I pull them out and throw them on the sidewalk.

“Take the difference out of that,” I say, and walk to the bench on the corner. I light my smoke. My ears are burning and my face feels hot. I sit on the bench and wait for the end of the race between my blood and the booze. The prize goes to whichever burns its way out of my system the fastest.

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When Stories Fight You

I’ve only just now finished a short story I’ve been working on since late August. I’ve written it, re-written it, restructured it. There have been so many abandoned reconstructions of it the files would’ve filled a small thumb drive. I can’t think of another story that took me this long to finish, at least one that wasn’t novel-length. This story, all nineteen pages of it, fought me with bared teeth every word of the way.

As satisfying as it is to have something pour out of you, for me it’s even more satisfying when I finally wrestle down a piece that seemingly had no end. There were a few months when I was sure that this story just couldn’t work, that even I didn’t know what I was trying to say with it. The genre is irrelevant; there are just stories, some true, some fictional, that won’t be told until they can be told right.

It might be emotional masochism, but I like to believe the enjoyment comes from the impression of accomplishment that comes when a piece finally seems to work. Typing and deleting and rephrasing words calls to my mind the image of a lost hiker, hacking through brush as he tries to find his way to saner land.

There’s always relief when you get to where you’re going.

 

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Spring Flowers, Summer Stones

Dylan Loves Sarah

 

Spring in the southeast lasts for all of about two weeks. Seasons in Middle Georgia typically divide into summer, less-hot summer, a month of winter weather the rest of the world would call fall, and spring. You know spring has come because you see flowers everywhere, then two weeks later they all die, and you’re stuck in the steaming taint of summer for another six months.

 

Since spring is little more than a cruel tease in this part of the country, you see people walking everywhere. We’re all hungry to experience this bizarre twilight time when the sun is shining but isn’t simultaneously flash frying us. Cold drinks don’t sweat until you’ve had a few good swallows. You sweat but only after earning it by walking a few blocks.

 

I make sure to meet my springtime quota by going for frequent walks in the local cemetery. That might sound morbid, but this deep into Baptist country cemeteries are basically public parks with occasional tombstones. The air is rich with the smell of azaleas and honeysuckle, and birds sing like they’ve broken into your speed stash. Artsy college women in sundresses take photos, and married couples walk their dogs while holding hands. The atmosphere is slightly less foreboding than an episode of Arthur.

 

If you go deep enough into the place you quickly run across graffiti written by teenagers in love. On a huge tomb by the railroad tracks a boy named Dylan once scrawled his affection for a girl named Sarah. In an enclosed area by a local crypt, it’s not unusual to find condom wrappers. Sometimes you even find underwear, tossed into the brush in the heat of passion and lost forever to the dark of the sweaty, grunting night. There’s a tree by a creek, deep into the graveyard, that is covered from roots to branches in carved initials encased in hearts.

 

I find all this absolutely beautiful. Sometimes people like to pretend it’s strange that anyone would get romantic in the cemetery, because we’re a species of idiots. If you honestly don’t get why a dark space hidden from authoritative eyes would appeal to horny teenagers, then I have an exciting time share opportunity for you to invest in.

 

I always get sappy when I see all the color and clues of affection out there. Out in the gentle quiet, my thoughts set in time to the rumble of a nearby passing train, I’m hit with the poignant thought that we all need each other, and we’re given only so many years to grope in the dark for each other’s hands. That might sound sad but it doesn’t strike me that way. I get a feeling of challenge at the thought. My heart pounds and my arms tingle. With the challenge comes the prospect for adventure.

 

I’ll stay until the light begins to fade, and cars turn away onto the main road. Here, paradoxically, there is so much life. Tall flowers shimmer in the breeze. Trees rustle as squirrels build their homes. A teenage couple holds hands. They walk between old tombstones, their footfalls cushioned by young and vibrant grass.

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction