Picture of liquor store

I thought I now understood what writers mean when they say the air was ‘close;’ that you wore it like a face mask, like scuba gear.It clung to me as I walked around the liquor store trying to figure out what to buy. I had just come in because I couldn’t stand the sun anymore. I couldn’t stand it catching on shiny stuff in the sidewalk cement and making me blink or trying to turn my scalp into an itching, overheated landscape for sweat to collect in and run down into my collar. I had been surprised at first that there was hardly anyone else in there besides the young guy at the counter in front, but then I realized there was no air conditioning. There was only a tall fan blowing the dry air around as it oscillated, ruffling the edges of the tabloids in their racks every few minutes. But at least the sun was out there and not on me.

I finally grabbed some stuff at random including two or three different drinks and headed up to the register. When I got there, I was in line behind two women.

The shorter of the two caught my eye first because she was pretty. She had light brown hair that was thick and wavy and her face had that clean, smooth skin that only young women have, like a glow they are born with and that life will gradually rub off. She was standing quiet while the other woman was having an irritated conversation with the store clerk. The woman was irritated, anyway. The clerk had a goofy smile on his face that might have indicated he was over his head.

I realized that this woman was pretty as well, though you could not see it so clearly at first because of the over-sized heavy glasses she was wearing. Her hair was dark and straight to her shoulders and she dressed like a Jehovah’s Witness going out to call on householders while her companion was in neat casual wear and flip-flops. There was a resemblance and I thought they might be sisters.

The woman in glasses was tilting her head at the clerk as if she suspected that he had just made an unfunny joke. “Excuse me?”

“I said, she doesn’t have any ID so I can’t sell her the cigarettes.”

The woman blinked at him. “She’s a married woman. With children.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s old enough to buy cigarettes.”

His adversary took a step back and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she looked at the other woman, but got no help. Her companion stood, looking off into the distance, as though the conversation was not about her but about something else; something she did not find interesting.

Then the clerk said, “But I’ll sell them to you.”

The woman’s head shot around to him. “You’ll sell them to me.”

“Well, you’re obviously old enough.”

The woman closed her eyes again and sighed, although it did nothing to reduce the tension she was almost vibrating with. “Very well.” She put a candy bar on the counter and looked at her companion, who pulled a bill from the pocket of a cigarette purse and handed it to her. She laid it on the counter and scooped up the change and the candy and handed the change back to her companion, who stuffed it in a pocket with one hand while picking up the package of cigarettes with the other.

The woman in glasses, shaking her head, went to the open door. She looked back at the clerk, though it was not clear what expression she wore.

The clerk and I had stopped moving. He was looking at her expectantly.

“I’m in junior high school,” she said, and stepped out of the store into the sunlight, which made her bright around the edges and somehow diminished.

Her older sister had opened the cigarette pack and lit one with a disposable lighter. She took in a deep drag and smiled at us, a weak, dreamy smile, and she shrugged. Then she walked out herself, her flip flops squeaking on the store linoleum. The tall fan caught the plume of her exhaled smoke and dispersed it into the flapping pages of the tabloids.

Outside, the junior highschooler had unwrapped the candy bar and taken a vicious bite. “This world is fucked up,” she said as she strode out of view.

The clerk and I looked at each other from the corners of our eyes.

“You want a bag?” he asked.


The End


I Had A Feeling

When feelings are facts, how are we to find our way?

Table set for two

Image from Wikipedia Commons

The two of them sat across the table from each other for the first time since they had begun dating.

It was a wrench for Chris, who had never thought they would end up so estranged, so at odds with each other. But that was what this dinner was for – to try to reconnect and come once again to that satisfying place where all felt right. To both of them.

Tracy was studying the menu, but did not seem to be finding any satisfaction in it. There was a deep wrinkle between dark brows and grey eyes moved restlessly over the offerings as though the type was not decipherable.

Chris was not interested in the menu, either, and settled on a dish that was an old standby, unlikely to be either delicious or unpalatable: something that could be eaten while being ignored.

After they had given their orders, Chris started the conversation.

“I’m glad you could make it.”

Tracy buttered a small slice of bread, looked up for an instant, then down again and began to eat.

“I felt anxious that you weren’t answering my texts.”

Tracy set down the piece of unfinished bread. “I felt confused and not sure that answering them would do any good.”

Chris winced. “Did I do something that made you feel that way?”

Tracy shrugged. “I can’t think of anything in particular, it’s more that, you know, that I felt that things had gone wrong.”

“Gone wrong?”

“Like we weren’t connecting anymore.”

Chris felt a cold spot in the stomach. This was more serious than expected. “But I didn’t do anything to make you feel that way, right?”

Tracy shrugged again. “Like I said, I can’t think of anything in particular.”

“Can you tell me when you started feeling like this?”

Tracy picked up what was left of the buttered bread slice and ate it, chewing slowly while thinking. “It would have to be just after we went to the concert.”

Chris was shocked. “But we had so much fun and I was feeling like we belonged together and really, really got one another.”

There was a sudden spark in those grey eyes. “You did? You never said anything to me about it.”

“I didn’t think I had to. I was certain you felt it, too.”

“I did, but then the next day I felt all confused and I wondered if we really felt the same. So I got really sad and sure your texts about wanting to talk were so you could dump me.”

“Tracy – no!” Chris reached out to take one of Tracy’s hands. “Of course not.”

“But I felt it was true!”

“I understand. And it was probably my fault because I didn’t take the time to make sure that you knew how I felt.”

“I see,” Tracy said. “So it was true, but not.”

“Absolutely,” Chris said, looking deep into Tracy’s eyes. “I really, really believe we were meant for each other. Can you feel the strength of my belief?”

The spark in Tracy’s eyes suddenly became a glow. “Yes! Now I feel it! I can feel the real truth of it! Can you feel my understanding?”


They continued to hold hands until the entreés arrived, feeling content.


Yard Sale

Author’s Note: This is the first satisfactory draft of a new story.

Picture of items at a yard sale

They were in a neat stack on top of a hospital table, one of those things on wheels that roll sideways to fit under your bed so you can eat your bland hospital food while you watch the television and try to ignore the beeping equipment, announcements, harsh light coming in through the windows.

Six boxes of them. Men’s Super Plus. Maximum Protection. Adult diapers.

Most of the things at the yard sale seemed like a man’s things to Claire.  Sports magazines, tools, a small television. Individually, they were all things that a woman might also like, but taken together, they said ‘man’ to her. Older man.

There were a couple of stuffed and mounted trout, a scarred, near-shapeless baseball glove and a bat so dry it looked ready to splinter. There were maybe half a dozen hard cover books, mostly biographies, a rack of plain and sturdy shirts and pants in browns and blues. A stack of vinyl record albums, a moustache cup.

Claire imagined the man watching a baseball game, wearing one of the blue shirts, drinking a beer. His fish trophies were on the wall, the stack of sports magazines near to hand. The vision seemed so familiar somehow, as though it was a dusty memory rather than something of her imagination.

She fingered a box of dominoes. Next to it was a narrow wooden game board with a lot of little holes and numbers marked on it. Cribbage. She remembered her father had played it . Like many of the games he had played with his friends, it involved cards and beer and quick calculations made among high shouts and laughter.

Further down the table was a man’s jewelry box. Plain, dark brown vinyl colored to look like leather, then stamped with gold to try to make it look rich and exclusive. It was a drugstore item from the days when drugstores sold jewelry, had lunch counters and candy counters. The gold stamping was worn away in spots. Inside was a tired watch that wasn’t running, a few mismatched cufflinks of silver and gold with large fake gemstones of aquamarine and tiger’s eye. And one gold tone tie clip with a set of initials engraved into it. It had tiny spots of rust on it.

Next to the jewelry box there was a small collection of ceramic coffee cups with various inscriptions: “World’s Greatest Dad”, “World’s Greatest Fisherman”, “#1 Dad”, etc. They were the kind of gift you got when no one knew what to get you. He had probably had a lot of Father’s Day ties, too, and been the sort of guy who hated to wear a tie.

Suddenly Claire stopped, stood still in the too-long grass of this man’s front lawn.

He was likely dead, this man she had been imagining, or in a condition where he no longer needed what was being sold off. The realization struck her like a slap and sent her heart beating faster. She pivoted, the grass squeaking under her shoes, and she did not know what she was looking for. But then words curled underneath her tongue, seeking exit.

At a table next to the street, a tired looking woman was collecting money, smiling and thanking people. Claire imagined herself walking up and asking the question she now inexplicably wanted the answer to: Did he like his life – had he been content?

To keep herself from doing just that, she looked again at the tables and forced herself to concentrate on what she saw. He had kept the coffee mugs; one or two had even been mended. So there had been meaning for him in even these generic gifts. Unless he had just been frugal. Her own father had been raised by someone who had lived through the Great Depression and Claire remembered how he had hated to throw something useful away, especially if it could be repaired.

The tables said he had had hobbies. He had had family. He had been acknowledged by them. But none of tables held the answer to her question. Had he been content? She would not expect happy, not many people had truly happy lives. But satisfaction that work had been done, that responsibilities had been fulfilled, that affection – love – had been present… had he had that?

She looked around again, feeling oddly off-balance, attempting to find her footing in a new perspective. About her, people moved to pick up and put down, to verify a price, to ask for a lower one. Cars pulled up to the curb and left again.

She took a deep breath and let it out, feeling something tight in her throat ease a little. Saw the hospital table and the boxes. Took another breath. She walked to the woman who was managing the sale and said, “I want to buy all  of the men’s diapers.”

Light brown eyes, which had been looking somewhere over Claire’s right shoulder, suddenly snapped to her face. For a moment they just looked at one another, then the other’s expression became something Claire did not care to see and she busied herself getting out her wallet and counting out the cash. When she handed over the bills, their fingers brushed and Claire pulled back from the touch, but the money had been taken.

“Thank you,” the woman said to her quietly. “And good luck.”

Claire nodded and turned away to go gather the packages into her arms to take home.

Six boxes. Men’s Super Plus. Maximum Protection. Adult diapers.

Smoke on the Water

pic of mist on water

The song, or rather just the first line of the chorus, had been going through his head all day. Repeating and repeating. He wondered if this was some new torture the liver cancer had dreamed up for him or if it was just his own brain tiredly trying to tell him something.

He settled himself on the toilet, using the newly installed grab bars for support. Changing his adult diaper while sitting down was easier than trying to do it while standing up and he had already been caught twice by another flow while in the middle of a change. Sitting on the toilet was safer.

This part of the end game was humiliating. But at least he was no longer pissing his pants. Or worse.

Smoke on the water…

He had never given much thought to the way he would leave this life, but if he had, he would not have guessed this. He had survived a lot of crazy, dangerous shit, but here he was. Finished changing himself, he  tossed the used diaper into the lined pail now kept in the bathroom and steadied himself to get to the sink and wash his hands.

He took his time getting out of the narrow bathroom and used the walls, counters, and furniture to get into the kitchen and poured himself a beer. His wife hated that he still drank, but an occasional beer at this stage couldn’t make that much of a difference. Okay, if he was honest, it was more like three or four a day, but he had no intention of giving it up. Everybody was entitled to go to Hell in their own way. Or if they weren’t, they ought to be.

Smoke on the water…

The dog was at the screen door with a tennis ball in his mouth, so he went outside to sit on the porch steps and throw it a few times until the dog stopped bringing it back. Beautiful fall day. The breeze smelled of sycamore trees and the nearby creek. There was a buzzing sound in the background and he looked up to see the wasps had started a new nest. Damn them. He’d have to get the wasp spray. But not now.

Crazy thing that you’re on your way out and still you have to deal with crap like dogs who want to play catch and wasps building nests in your porch. Shouldn’t everything just go on hold until you were gone?

Smoke on the water…

Sometimes he wondered if his wife would be able to manage this too-big property by herself. He just hoped she wouldn’t leave him before he died. He’d sure as hell given her plenty of reason in the last few years. She would be better off without him, and he had told her so, but he was too selfish to let her go.

He listened to the birds a bit and looked at the pear tree, which was swollen with fruit that needed picking before the squirrels got them.

He didn’t want to die now. But he wasn’t sure he wanted to live, either. Mostly, he kind of wanted things to go on pretty much as they were, though he would be glad not to have to wear diapers.

He grabbed the porch railings and levered himself up from the steps to go inside. Little House on the Prairie reruns were on soon and he didn’t like to miss them.

Smoke on the water…

From a Work-in-Progress

Hill St. Tunnels, Los Angeles 1954

Los Angeles, 1943

He had not slept in years, yet this waking vision seemed like a dream. A dream so real he could smell the white and purple alyssum  that grew in the cracks between the sidewalk slabs  that made up the entrance to the cathedral of  St. Vibiana’s.

Mass would begin soon. The families waited patiently for the others in front of them to find their way into the church. As always, forward movement slowed as people dipped fingers into basins of holy water and crossed themselves before walking down the aisles to find a seat.

Men on the doorstep were removing their hats, women adjusting their scarves or mantillas. A little apart from the others, his mother reached up to the black lace covering her head and pulled it back a little.

If he had been other than he was, his heart would have felt joy at the sight of her. She was so small and yet he knew her to be strong. Her suit was slightly out of style, but well-made and cared for. She held her bag and her rosary in one hand as she pulled off the glove on the other, using a thumb and forefinger. She smiled a little, nodding at the other worshippers, and folded herself in with the crowd to enter. Just at the doorway, she paused as though she had heard something.

He wanted her to turn her head so he could see her dark eyes and perhaps feel something. Perhaps she was thinking of him. Perhaps she was looking for him. And if she was, what would he feel?

But she did not turn her head. She walked into the cathedral without further hesitation and he was left with less than a wish that he might have remembered how he loved her.

What a Day!

line at the post office

“Oh, what a day!” the old lady said with a frown, and clutched her Christmas parcels closer to her wide and generous bosom. She eyed the line stretching from inside the Post Office out through the door and into the lobby of the building and halfway down the aisle of post office boxes.

She edged carefully to the end of the line, avoiding the piles of packages on the tiled floor. “I wonder what everyone is here for?”

“Maybe we all have these,” another woman said to her, waving a long yellow piece of paper. “Maybe we’re all picking up packages.” Several others in the line waved their yellow papers, too.

“I don’t,” the old lady said. “I’m mailing packages.”

“It’s always busy this time of year,” said someone else.

“They only have one clerk at the counter,” said yet another.

“Oh dear,” the old lady said. “What were they thinking?”

“Probably not their fault,” a younger woman, her face nearly obscured by the tower of brown packages she held, said. “I hear they’re cutting funds to the post offices so they don’t run as well, then they can make a case for privatizing them.”

No one replied to that.

“I remember,” said one old man with a Veteran’s cap “when we used to have two postal deliveries a day.”

“Yeah,” another older man said. “Wasn’t Calvin Coolidge president then?”

Everyone laughed.

Someone came in through the door; a middle-aged woman in a Christmas sweater. She looked stunned.

“C’mon in,” another lady with short curly grey hair said. “We’re having a party.”

The woman beside her laughed. “She’s serving refreshments later.”

“Oh no,” the curly-haired woman snorted. “The refreshments will be down the street. Unfortunately, I won’t be there. I have to stay in line.”

There was more laughter.

The newcomer smiled shyly and took her place at the end of the line while a dark-haired man, his arms full of packages, squeezed through the line to walk into the post office and leave his boxes on the counter.

Some of the people looked puzzled.

“He’s already put postage on those,” the man in the Veteran’s cap said. “You can do that from home, now.”

“Really?” asked the old lady.

“Oh sure,” he replied. “Just get yourself a postal scale and print out the postage on your home printer.”

A younger woman near the front of the line was nodding. “That’s right. You can even buy a scale that connects directly to your computer so you only have to type in the address.” She pointed at a display on the wall where a box labeled ‘postage scale with USB plug’ hung.

“I almost bought one,” a slender woman in bib overalls and a flannel shirt said. “But I only do this once a year and I don’t mind waiting in line.”

Several others nodded. No sense in wasting money.

A young professional woman smiled brightly. “I work from home. This is a good opportunity for me to talk with other people.” Many smiled back at her.

“Hey,” a young man with long-hair was reading the local paper and scooting a box ahead of him with the toe of his hiking boots as the line moved. “The newspapers say there’s a big storm coming in late tomorrow night.”

“How big?” someone at the back the line called.

“As much as four to six inches of rain,” the young man replied.

Everyone thought about this.

“Guess we’d all better get our windows closed and keep our batteries handy and make sure our generators work,” the man in the Veteran’s cap said.

Everyone nodded. “Probably be a power outage here in the mountains,” someone said. Everyone nodded again.

The old lady was putting her packages on the counter and answering the postmaster’s questions. “Nice of you to help out,” she told him. Every bit of counter space and nearly every bit of floor space behind the counter was covered in layers of boxes. “You must have a lot of paper work to do.”

The postmaster smiled wryly and admitted that he did.

“Is this kind of a break for you from that?”

The postmaster laughed. “No, just a different kind of paperwork.” He finished processing her packages, handed her two sheets of Christmas stamps and a receipt.

She turned to the others still in line. “Merry Christmas,” she said. “Happy Hanukkah.”

“Merry Christmas!” “Happy Holidays!”

The old lady put the receipt in her bag and walked through the post office door, smiling. “What a day!” she said.





The horse is surprised to see you

here on the moon.

His lip is curled.

His eye rolls at you

and away.


have discovered his Secret.


If you promise not to tell, perhaps

he will not chase you and bite

your moon suit

and make you breathe space.

You can go home again and

walk in the air.


Walk past the fields and stroll

past the barns.

You will see the horses

and wonder

Have any of these been to the moon?


Have any of these been to the moon?


And then you might begin to look

at the cows

and the sheep and

all the rest.


It’s good to wonder, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?