Thursday, July 14, 2005


I was cleaning up the garage and came across an old journal I used to write in when I was living in Ottawa back in 1995. I never write poetry, so this is fairly unique. Also, I like it quite a bit, so here it is, in it’s entirety, straight out of ‘95.
Monday is another word for Hell,
I know this feeling well.
The first of seven days of shit,
Each one worse than the one before it.
An escalating state of apathy,
Always finds it’s way to me.
I have callused hands,
From the doors I’ve slammed.
My blisters earned,
From bridges burned.
Any gifts have been forgotten,
Cast aside and now they’re rotten.
You can walk a mile in my shoes,
At least they will be getting used.
Then, you and I can share a meal,
And lose it on a Ferris wheel.
We can spend the day speaking in metaphors,
But in the end, we’re all just whores.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Two Bluejays

I had a large backyard, in a small town. We had the requisite wooden glide swing and the large woodshed/workshop. The woodshed was painted exactly the same color as the house so that it looked like a miniature version of the big house in front of it. I would spend my afternoons playing road hockey or hide and seek, but on this particular day I couldn’t seem to round up anyone to play with.
Walking in to my backyard I found a nest underneath a tree in our back yard. There were two baby blue jays in the grass making all kinds of noise. They were tiny little things, no bigger than a minute. I stood looking down at them as they screamed indignities and outrage to the world that just did them so wrong. I glanced around the large yard, looking for any one of the many cats that made these backyards their hunting ground.
" I guess you two are a couple of lucky little birds, that you didn’t become a quick snack for a hungry cat." I said out loud as I hunkered down in the grass in front of the two birds. " Although, I guess you would have to be fairly unlucky to fall out of that tree, huh?" I scooped the two birds up and placed them gingerly in to the nest. I picked up the nest and took it in to the big woodshed.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dark interior of the woodshed. The sun was so blinding bright on this early July afternoon that it would cause temporary blindness when you had to enter any place with walls and a ceiling. I placed the nest on my father’s workbench and set to looking for a milk crate or a cardboard box to keep the birds in. I found an old peach basket that did the job just fine. Once I had the baby blue jays settled in to their new home, I figured they could use a bite to eat, so I headed off to the house to find my mother.
I mounted the stairs at the back patio and walked in through the back door. The door opened in to a large country style kitchen with a big wooden table at the far end. I smelled the pot roast my mom had just put in the oven and the freshly cut vegetables. I saw my mother sitting at the kitchen table with her head resting in her hands. My mother was a slightly heavyset woman with a kind face and warm smile. She was always pattering around the many rooms of the house and she was always humming to herself as she did it. It was such an unusual sight, to see my mother in that way that it stopped me in my tracks.
" Are you alright mom?" I asked weekly, in the manner of an eight-year-old child who can plainly see there is something wrong and also knows that there is absolutely nothing that he can do about it.
" Oh, I’m fine." She answered slightly startled by my appearance, unnoticed behind her. She sat upright and made an attempt to smile. Even to the eight-year-old me, it seemed contrived. " I just have a bit of a headache."
" Is it a mighty train?" I asked her.
" Not yet baby, it’s just a little one." She answered, attempting a more convincing smile this time. " What can I do for you?"
" I need an eyedropper to feed a couple of baby birds I found in the back yard. They fell out of the big tree next to the shed."
" Where’s their mother?"
" Don’t know, I didn’t see her anywhere. I’m gonna try and save them."
" There should be an eye dropper under the sink in the first aid box."
" Thanks mom." I answered over my shoulder as I made my way for the cupboard under the kitchen sink. I opened the box and grabbed the eyedropper and a pair of tweezers. I also went to the pantry and grabbed a slice of bread. I poured a small glass of milk and headed back out to the woodshed.
" Alright little birds." I announced to them as I kicked the door open with my foot. " I have some grub for ya." The birds were still screaming in their shrill baby bird fashion, their new home having no calming affect at all. I set the provisions beside the peach basket and set to work on nourishing the noisy little creatures. It wasn’t hard to do, as instinctively they would open their mouths wide whenever my hand came near them. I used the eyedropper to feed them milk and I used the tweezers to feed them milk soaked bits of bread. The birds took to the bread greedily, but seemed to have no taste for the milk by itself. The milk would flow out of their beaks and down their necks unswallowed.
The baby blue jays soon had their fill of milk sodden bread and fell immediately to sleep. The birds huddled for warmth, heads resting together in the nest their absent mother had made for them. I searched through the garage until I found some clean felt squares that I placed on top of the birds to keep them warm. I took one last look at my new dependents before rushing off to the house to wash my hands and get ready to eat my own dinner.
The summer days drew on as summer days do. Endless and lightning quick at the same time. I carried on the way any eight-year-old does in those months in between the school years. My afternoons were filled with scratch baseball games or road hockey, fishing with my friends at the lake just up the road, but I always made time to feed my birds. I watched them grow and become strong.
My mother was quite a different story. She was falling ill with headaches more and more frequently. It was becoming a regular occurrence to find my mother laying on the couch in our den with a damp cloth shielding her eyes from the summer sunlight. I was helpless to do anything for her, but help around the house while more and more often she was incapacitated.
It was around the first of August that my father finally demanded my mother see the doctor. I recall the sight of my father leading my mother out to our family car. I stood in the middle of our back yard with my baseball glove lying against my shoulder, threaded through my Louisville Slugger resting in the crook of my shoulder. I remember feeling a dread that I didn’t quite understand. I was old enough to know there was potential for real disaster, just too young to know or understand the scope and degree of that disaster. I changed my mind about baseball that afternoon and spent the following few hours in the garage with my birds.
My parents arrived back at our house and quietly walked in to the house. My mother went straight to bed and my father made an attempt at feeding the two of us. My father fried us some pork chops and sided them with leftover potato salad. We sat for some time, quietly eating our dinner. I would open my mouth to ask him about mom, but the look on his face always cut me short. There was also trepidation on my part. I was afraid to ask the question because I was sure one of two things would happen. My father would either tell me the truth, and it would be such horrible news that I would never be the same again. Or second and even worse, my father would lie to me. He would say words that he believed I wanted to hear, but his eyes would give away his deceit and the knowledge of his inability to speak such awful truth to me would be a worm in my imagination. The questions went unasked that night.
I went in to my mother’s bedroom that evening before I went to bed. I opened her door and a rectangle of light fell across her shape in the covers. There was a half-empty glass of water on the table beside the bed and a brown prescription pill bottle directly beside it.
" Mom?" It came out in a whisper. " Are you awake?"
" Hi baby." My mother’s voice was raspy and foreign. " Did you eat dinner?"
" Dad made us some pork chops and Potato salad."
" That’s good." She sighed.
" Are you alright mom?" I asked, looking down at the floor. I was unable to look at her as I asked that question. The tears that I was fighting to hold back were making another attempt to break through my defenses.
" Hmm..Yea. Yea, baby. I’m just a little groggy from the pills that the doctor gave me for these headaches. Don’t you worry about your old mom, I’ll be back to my old self before you know it."
I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders as I rushed to her bed to hug her and kiss her goodnight.
" Sweet dreams, sugar. Sweet dreams."
The next morning I was up and out of the house at dawn. I had a big day planned for the blue jays. I had a jar of earthworms I had gathered a few days before. I had gone outside with a flashlight just before dawn and collected half a jar of night crawlers. I cut a large earthworm in to segments and fed the two birds until they stopped opening their mouths. I fed them as much as they would eat as I wanted them to have their strength up for what I had planned for them.
I carried the box with the two birds inside it out in to the middle of the yard. It was another beautiful summer morning. The sky was the deep blue that only happens in the early hours of sunlight. I placed my hand, backside down, in to the peach basket and waited for one of the birds to hop in to my palm. Once I had collected a bird I backed away from the peach basket and spoke a few words of encouragement to the bird in hand. With my hands cupped beneath the bird I tossed him in to the air a foot or so. The blue jay flapped his wings clumsily and landed neatly in the palms of my hand. I continued to toss the bird for about ten minutes. When I felt the blue jay’s heart beating heavily against my palms I placed him back in the peach basket and took his brother in my hands and repeated the steps with that one. I continued this activity for a couple of hours. They were making pretty good progress, making me chase them around the yard like a pop up baseball. They were beginning to fly, but they were not ready to take off.
The deeper I got in to August I noticed a worrisome contrast. The blue jays were getting stronger and fatter, while my mother was getting more weak and thin. My father was doing his best to carry on like there wasn’t anything wrong, but I couldn’t help but notice the glasses of whiskey. My father was no stranger to the drink. I would see him after supper in the den with his glass of whiskey. I was used to the smell of it on his breath, when I would hug him goodnight. The two strongest memories I have of my father when I was a child, is the sweat smell of whiskey, like sour apples on his breath and the rough burn of his evening stubble on my soft cheek as I wrapped my arms around his neck.
The whiskey was always there but by the middle of August of that year, the whiskey was coming out in the after noon instead of the evening and there was a lot more than one or two glasses of it. One evening I woke up with a tight urgency in my bladder that was not to be denied. I crept down the creaky wooden stairs, trying not to make any noise and wake my parents. I noticed the sound of music as I reached the bottom. I peered around the banister and down the hall, past the den and in to the kitchen at the other end of the house. My father sat at the kitchen table with a whole bottle of whiskey sitting in front of him. I strained my ears to pick up the song that was playing and it was a Patsy Cline song. I couldn’t tell which one exactly but I knew it was she. It was hard to make out anything else in the kitchen but my father and that bottle of whiskey as the only source of light in the room was a small lamp on the table just to the right of my father.
I stayed kneeling on the bottom step, watching my father drink alone and in the dark for as long as I could. My bladder felt as if it would burst. I couldn’t let my father see me right now, as much as I needed to pee, I couldn’t walk by my father. I couldn’t tell what particular Patsy Cline record was playing, from such a distance away, but I could tell that my father was crying. I don’t know how I was so sure of this, I just was. I ended up sneaking in to the front porch and finding an empty milk carton that I urinated in and hid away for disposal in the morning. I watched my father for a little while longer and then silently made my way back up to my bed. Sleep did not come easily.
I continued working with the blue jays every day. By the end of August they were flying. I would launch them in to the air and they would fly around the yard, landing in the trees and then coming back to me when I whistled. I was so proud of my blue jays and I was proud of myself for saving them and teaching them to be birds. I was the mother of these two blue jays, during a summer when I didn’t really have one of my own.
September 3rd 1973, the blue jay summer, my mother passed away in her sleep. She was thirty-six and the doctors said she had an embolism. They claimed it was painless and she probably didn’t feel a thing. The following day I could say the same for myself. I sat in a chair, in my church clothes, while my mothers sisters and friends hugged me and kissed my forehead and cheeks. There was a lot of crying and a lot of food. I didn’t cry. Not one tear spilled for my wonderful mother. She was everything I ever knew to be good and right and she was dead. I was numb from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. Not even my weeping aunts and uncles made it real. Sometime, after noon, I slipped away to the back yard and in to the garage where my blue jays were waiting. I cut up some worms and fed them until they were full. I picked them up and placed one on each shoulder. I walked back out in to the September sunshine with a blue jay on each shoulder. I made my way to the middle of the yard and took the two birds in my hands so they were side by side.
" This is it birds." I said evenly. " Our time together is done. My mother is dead and I can’t be yours any longer. The three of us are on our own now and I can’t look after you anymore." I stroked their soft heads with a thumb from each hand as I said a prayer to keep them safe from the cats and the bigger birds. I hope you both live long and have families of your own, and I hope you keep them safer than you were." With that said I tossed them both in to the air and watched as they flew straight in to the sky. They circled a couple of times and then they were gone only leaving behind another empty place in my heart. I still did not cry.
My mother’s funeral was on that Saturday. I stood beside my father in the front row of our church. We both wore black suits, white shirts and black ties. It seemed to me that everyone in that church was crying except for my father and me. We, who had lost so much more than a friend or a sister or a neighbor, were the only ones who didn’t weep for her. I think that sometimes grief is a predator that hunts you. It is like a lion that watches you from the tall grass, waiting for the perfect time to pounce, when you are weakest and most vulnerable. Grief will pounce and sink its long shiny teeth in to the flesh of your neck and hold you down until you feel like you will never take another breath. That day as I watched the priest whom barely knew my mom, speak about her like an old friend. As I watched friends and neighbors holding on to one another as they spoke to my dead mother in her open casket. As I watched them kneel and sign a cross in the air above their chest and to their forehead. The grief was watching me, from the tall grass.
In a whirlwind of hugs, handshakes, shoulder squeezing and kisses on the forehead I was standing by my father once again. We were by the grave where my mother would spend the first of many cold, cold nights in the unforgiving ground. My father had his arm around me and at last he cried. I wanted to honor my mother that same way, but the tears would not come. I knew that I would be next. The lion had my father and he was the strong one, Grief knew that I would be the easy one when the time came.
I was aware that the priest was speaking but I didn’t hear his words. I was staring at my mother’s coffin and wondering how she got there. I was transfixed on the glossy wooden box with the brass trimmings. I would have stood there staring at that box forever had it not been for the priest, throwing dirt on my mother. I gasped in air as the dirt hit the coffin with a sound that could only be that. There is no other sound in the world like the sound of dirt hitting a coffin. It is the sound of eternity, it is the sound of the wheel turning.
This last indignation seemed to be the final straw, I lurched toward the priest, meaning to kick and bite him. I was going to do whatever it took to make him take back that dirt. I felt my fathers fingers dig in to my shoulder as he held me to his side. All at once the fury and desperation were gone. I sagged in to my father’s side. But still I didn’t cry.
A handle was being turned and my mother was being lowered in to the ground. A brilliant flash of blue caught my eye from behind the casket and my eyes went wide with wonder as I watched as my two blue jays dipped out of the sky and landed on the top of the tombstone at the head of my mothers grave. They seemed to tilt their heads in unison and regard me standing with my father. They both turned away from me and regarded the dissension of the coffin. There was a wet thud as the corners of the coffin hit bottom. With that sound the blue jays took flight again, straight in to the sky in perfect formation they circled each other. My father watched with me as the birds soared straight up in to the air.
My father leaned down and whispered in my ear. " ‘It’s on the back of a bird that your soul shall be welcomed in to heaven.’ That was told to me when I was just a child."
Watching my blue jays deliver my mother’s soul to the kingdom in the sky. I felt the first of many tears roll down my cheek, and then came the lion.


I, Spider.

I could fight it no longer. The light had penetrated through my eyelidic defenses, and there was no use in trying to hold on to the sleep that was retreating so quickly. I rolled over on to my back. The creaking of the mattress destroyed the numb silence of the hotel room. I felt the ache in my lower back that only seems to show up after spending a few too many hours in the sack. A glance at the bright red L.E.D display of the alarm clock advised me it was ten past eleven in the A.M.
I let loose a might yawn and stretch combo that ended with my fingers locked behind my head. I was staring directly above me at the dull white ceiling, when I noticed a spider about the size of a nickel.
" Hello Mr. Spider!" I greeted him. The spider of course, said nothing. The lack of communication skills on the spiders’ end did not deter me from further dialogue. " Here we are, on a Wednesday morning, nowhere to go and nothing to do. We are masters of our own destiny. Aren’t we?" The spider was busy indulging in spider business on my hotel room ceiling and if he did hear me he wasn’t letting on that he did. " Yep," I continued, " You and I are not so different. Mr. Spider, I think we both need the same basic things in our lives. Independence, freedom, solitude, all these things we demand! We don’t ask for them. Perfectly comfortable just hanging out and taking it all in. We don’t work often, but when we do we work well. Brilliant in our way."
At that the spider did stop what he was doing and seemed to be staring back at me, as if appreciating the accolade I had just offered him. We, neither one of us, moved as we stared each other down. I never really took the time to appreciate the spider. They are a truly magnificent creature. I can think of no other animal so horrifying in their predatory style. Sure, all predators would seem brutal and cruel in the eyes of their prey. But, none are quite so dominant and tortuous as the spider.
They trap an insect within their web. That alone is to terrible to contemplate. Imagine you are a happy-go-lucky house fly, buzzing along looking for a tantalizing pile of dogshit to feast on when "bang" you didn’t even see it coming and now your trapped. The more you struggle the more you are ensnared in the hateful silken restraints. All the while this is happening to you, the spider watches from his perch. When you are exhausted from your struggle the spider moves in and grabs you with his powerful legs. The spider bites in to you with razor sharp teeth, full of venom meant to paralyze, not kill. Now that you are incapable of moving, you are still acutely aware of what is happening to you as you are wrapped in silk to be placed aside and be eaten at the spider’s leisure.
I can not think of a more awe inspiring and fearsome predator. Even man, who is at the absolute top of the food chain, is terrified of these little eight-legged enigma, not unlike the one perched above me now. No bigger than a quarter in most cases, but it has the ability to freeze the blood of most people on first site. Arachnophobia is the most common fear among the modern North American population. That is even above fear of heights. Heights can and will kill you, a spider can not. While logically this makes no sense, there is no room for logic when you hear the startled scream escape your throat as a spider runs across your floor, and your barefoot. These are fearsome, terrifying killers that deserve our respect and fear.
" Still." I say aloud. " You are a skilled architect and artist, creating magnificent homes of silk design, catching beads of morning dew, prisms of reflecting sunlight glimmering in the trees." I smiled up at the little killer on my ceiling. " You also take care of quite a few pests for the rest of us, don’t you?" Still there was no response from the spider, but of course, he didn’t have to. He knew. He was personally responsible for the removal of countless mosquitoes, flies, gnats and all other unfortunate pestilence that happened in to his web. I could see it in the glossy reflection of his many eyes. He knew he was the shit.
" Yes, let me be the first to thank you, Mr. Spider, for ridding this vicinity of those horrible buzzing, biting, burrowing, larvae laying filth. It is much appreciated."
I sat up and swung my legs around the side of the bed and my feet in to the pair of sandals that awaited them. I engaged in another solid, stretch and yawn combo just to clear up the last of the fog. I felt the fist pang of hunger arrive deep in the pit of my stomach, leading me to consider a large sirloin steak down at the hotel restaurant. Absently, I picked up yesterday’s newspaper on the bedside table. I rolled it up nice and tight and drove it upwards, killing the spider instantly and painting a circle of mire on the ceiling. I dropped the newspaper in to the garbage and pulled my housecoat on. As I was walking in to the bathroom a cold shiver ran down my spine.
" I fucking hate spiders." I said aloud, and this time, I was the only one listening.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Better Off Dead

If I were alive, I would be loath to walk in to this building each day, staring at the same gray fabric, detachable walls. Hearing the throbbing, relentless murmur of hundreds of voices all speaking at the same time.

If I were alive, I would stand up and walk out of this place, where I am sure I do not belong. I would fight and claw my way free. I would ride all of the corpses like a wave, outside to where the air is fresh and the light is real.

If I were alive I would rage against the constant insults to my intelligence by my superiors who are only so by title, not by wisdom and performance. I would be eager to question any and all redundant processes, seemingly designed only to challenge my patience and understanding.

If I were alive I would free all co-workers from their cubicle cages and incite them to flee their oppressive existence and seek challenges and enlightenment in a more cerebrally conductive environment. I would encourage free thought and individual expression, not uniformed abbreviated corporate speak and nonsensical company common thought.

If I were alive I would speak freely to anyone and everyone who made inquiries of me. I wouldn’t simply read verbatim statements designed to remove all humanity from the very people hired to be the physical representative of any given company. I would be friendly and responsive to their needs, assisting them with their concerns and questions the best that I can.

If I were alive I would resent the meager wages that I earn for a job that takes so much away. I would resent the changes to my personality that inevitably happen when forced to face the lowest common denominator of people on an hourly basis. The callus and contemptible manner with which I deal with strangers, just assuming they are as worthless and incompetent as the people I deal with in my workplace.

If I were alive, I would do anything but just sit and stare at my screen, counting the seconds until my shift is up, smiling when I am supposed to smile, partaking in small talk with people I wouldn’t normally speak to. Answering redundant, obvious questions as if they were legitimate and deserving of my consideration. Waiting for the day to be over so I can breath again.

If I were alive I would do all of that and more, but I am not alive. I am in customer service and as such, I believe I am better off dead.

Mr. Smith (The Hero)

It’s real bad today, the buzzing drone of the hundreds of voices all speaking at the same time. It splits my head like wet pine. I glance around at the people with their headsets on, bathed in the pale light of their computers. I want to scream at them "your already dead!" but I don’t. There are a lot of things I find myself not doing lately. I guess it comes with age. I am twenty-eight now, and I am not the arrogant, no consequences person I was when I was twenty. I would have quit this sickening job long ago if I were still the person I was even eight years ago. As it is, I come in to this place every day and climb in to my little cubicle and allow them to hack away at my soul for eight long hours.
It’s unnatural, to say the least. There are hundreds of people herded in to this building everyday and lined up in their little cubicles like human cattle to be milked of their services. We are given an employee number and we are accessed and identified by those digits. I find myself struggling daily with the inhumanity of it. I rage, silently seething in my factory made seat. I have been here for almost three years. I shudder every time I think of that fact. It seems hardly possible that I would have allowed myself the indignity of such a term in this place.
I take another call from another stupid person. I feel like I have lost all respect for the human race. I am beyond feelings now, I am so numbed from the daily barrage of complaints and ignorance. I feel like a prisoner. I start to sweat, even though the air conditioning is blasting out cold artificial air that chills to the bone in a way real air never does. I rub my forehead and it comes away moist. I am reminded of terrible evenings of paranoia and fear fueled by a head full of LSD. It is the same sort of thing now, feeling like I am cornered and trapped, ready to explode in an instant and start spouting nonsensical monologues about nazi wannabe’s and making Orwellian comparisons.
I see my supervisor at the end of the hall. He is walking with his head down and studying whatever knowledge the clipboard clutched firmly in his sweaty hands has to offer. He isn’t even watching where he is walking, just trudging onward through the aisles he has been walking for years. I am beginning to think there is some kind of radar mechanism buried deep in the ridiculous Freddie Mercury moustache situated in the middle of his portly red face. He is a squat little man with no redeeming qualities in his physical appearance. He is the sort of person who has spent his entire life being persecuted and humiliated by people like me, and now, gloriously drunk on the little sliver of authority he has been handed by management, he has become an avenging angel for all of the little ugly geeks everywhere.
I continue to watch him as he makes his way ever closer to me and I am beginning to fear the worst. He must be coming to see me, and that can only be bad, as it has never been good. He waddles right up to my desk and still he has yet to look up from the clipboard. He stands engrossed in the information on that clipboard, he is breathing through his nostrils and creating a barely audible whistling noise that infuriates me beyond words.
"You looking for me?" I ask abruptly, looking for a reprieve from that god-awful noise coming from the wind tunnels above that ridiculous moustache.
"Mr. Smith…." He started, still not looking up from his board. "I see you had an unscheduled log off of your phone yesterday for four and a half minutes."
" Yea…?" I prompted him for more information.
Finally looking up from that clipboard he met my gaze. "Did you fill out the PR88 schedule adherence form and drop it off in my folder?"
"Are you serious?" I asked angrily. "I went to the washroom. I am a grown man, who doesn’t need to rationalize or ask permission for going to the washroom."
" We have policies and procedures here Mr. Smith, and we expect everyone to follow those policies and procedures…even if they don’t agree with them. I do expect the PR88 schedule adherence form filled out and dropped in to my folder by the end of the day."
Something inside me just let go. I stood up quickly and his eyes rolled upward in their sockets to follow mine. I stood at least a half foot taller than him and as I looked down in to his face. I inhaled loudly through my nose gathering as much debris from my sinuses as possible. The supervisor knew what was coming and he didn’t do a thing to stop it. He just stood rooted to the floor looking up in to my face awaiting the inevitable. I let loose with a gob of nastiness that struck him in the nose and ridiculous Freddie Mercury moustache. I then turned my back on him and leapt up on to my desk. I threw the headset to the ground, and yelled at the top of my lungs.
"Look at you all! You’re a bunch of fucking sheep. You don’t belong here! Get up from your desks and walk out. These people you work for don’t respect you, they think that your garbage. Get up and walk out, let’s see how well they can do without you."
Everyone around immediately stood up to stare slack jawed, with various degrees of surprise showing on their stupid sheep faces.
"I am shaking the stink of this place off of me for the last time. I beseech you all… Take back your souls and walk out of this door with me. Don’t let these foolish little bastards run you through their hoops any longer. You don’t need the money this badly."
The security officers had reached me by this point and were trying to get me down off of the desk. One of them wrapped their arms around my knees and was hauling me down. I was braying like a sheep at the top of my lungs. " BAAAA BAAAA BAAAA!" I didn’t fight the security guards, much to their relief. I went peacefully enough, stopping only long enough to smile in the hateful pudgy face of my supervisor who still had my inner fluids dripping off of his face. I continued with the sheep noises all of the way to the front door.
As I sat at my desk filling out my PR88 schedule adherence form for the four and a half minutes I signed out of my phone to use the bathroom, I smiled to myself, thinking they may be able to take my dignity but they can’t have my imagination.

Wrong Number

Keith fished the keys out of his front pocket and warily fingered through the dozen keys on his pewter crocodile keychain. He found the key to the deadbolt and slid it home. There was an audible click as the mechanism withdrew and he had access to his three bedroom townhouse.
He entered the foyer and dropped his keys on the oak table to the right of the entrance. They clattered musically in to the ceramic bowl that was the centerpiece, muffled only slightly by the pile of junk mail that half filled it. He sighed heavily as he shook off his heavy coat and hung it in the side closet. He walked down the unremarkably decorated hallway with the generic mountain scene watercolor painted by a relative with minimal talent. His footwear squeaked on the hardwood floor as he made his way toward the living room off to the right of the hall. He kicked his shoes off at the entrance and left the shoes where they fell, falling himself in to the leather recliner in the corner of the room.
He was dog tired. This had been the absolute king of all shit days. It was one problem after another, all day long until he was close to strangling that half-wit Wilson from the Maintenance department. God, but that guy was stupid. And Fitzgerald, that worthless old fart. Keith wouldn’t have half as much work to do if that bastard did a quarter of what he was supposed to do. He let out another long sigh. Shelly was supposed to be coming over tonight. He invited her over to order Chinese food and watch a movie. He was going to have to call and cancel. This was going to be yet another problem. Shelly would bitch and moan and pester him to talk about it. She’ll be disappointed with him for canceling plans on such short notice, and she had every right to be. He just could not deal with the company this evening.
He loved Shelly, she was a great girl. He always enjoyed her company, but its work to keep an interesting conversation going. You have to be tentative and charming and blah, blah, blah. Keith just needed to have a couple of strong vodka martinis and go to bed with a good novel. That was what he needed tonight. He braced himself for the inevitable argument that would follow his canceling of their plans. He picked up the cordless telephone off of the table beside the recliner and quickly dialed Shelly’s number. He leaned back and closed his eyes bringing the phone up to his ear. He listened to two rings before a gruff male voice picked up the other end and said hello.
Keith’s eyes flew open immediately and he sat up in his recliner. Shelly had some guy over at her place and he had the nerve to answer the phone.
" Who’s this?" Keith demanded angrily.
"Huh?" The guy puzzled, and then angry himself. "The fuck you mean ‘Who’s This’?
"Who am I speaking to?" Keith demanded again, feeling the hair on his neck standing up and his cheeks flush as his surprise turned to rage. Who the hell did this guy think he was? And why was Shelly, not only allowing him to answer her phone, but shout obscenities in to it as well?
"Fuck you! That’s who you’re speaking to asshole." The guy shouted back.
" Fuck me? Fuck me? No, no, no Fuck You!" Keith was now leaning forward in his chair and clutching the cordless phone so tightly that his knuckles were turning white and screaming, almost top volume. " Fuck you buddy!"
Even with his fury reaching a new peak it began to dawn on Keith that he may have dialed the wrong number. Instead of stating that fact, however, he decided to just hang up on this piece of shit that had been so rude. He hit the end button with his thumb and immediately hit the talk button beside it to get a fresh dial tone. He carefully dialed the seven digits that made up Shelly’s phone number. He was physically shaking when he raised the phone back up to his ear. There were four rings and then an answering machine. It was Shelly’s sweet voice, albeit slightly digitalized on her machine, advising whoever it may be calling that she was unable to take their call due to the misfortune of being away from her apartment, and while she was supremely sorry to have missed their call, she would do her absolute damnedest to call them back at the earliest possible moment, if they would only provide her with the means to do that by generously donating their name and number to her answering machine.
"Shit" He snarled before the beep. "Hey Shell,…ah….It’s me baby. I hope you get this message before you head over to my place. Can you call me as soon as possible? Thanks."
Twelve blocks away from Keith’s townhouse, Dallas Brooks was redialing the number that appeared on his call display. He was about to have a word with the motherfucker that interrupted him in the middle of smoking a joint and watching the newest installment of "Girls Gone Wild". He got a busy signal. He slammed the phone in to the cradle.
" Screw it." He said aloud. "I guess this is going to have to be a face to face sort of meeting." Getting up off of his couch and heading in to the kitchen to find a phone book.
Milton, Keith. There was ten of those and fourteen Milton, K’s. No problem, all that was left was to match the telephone number and bingo. "There you are, you bastard." Dallas said aloud to his empty kitchen. "I think it’s a lovely night for a drive." I am going to drive my foot right up your punk ass, He thought to himself.
Keith’s pulse was still pounding from the verbal altercation with the stranger. That martini was looking better and better as each second passed. He even contemplated nixing the shaker, strainer and olive, for a straight up vodka neat. I certainly could use it, he thought. In the end the martini won out and he set to action. He worked meticulously at creating his martini, he prided himself on making one hell of a good martini and as his daddy used to say, If something is worth doing it’s worth doing well, when it came to martinis Keith could not agree more.
Once Keith was satisfied with his mixture he poured himself a glass and took the silver shaker in to his living room with him and set his glass and the shaker on the table next to his lounge chair. He walked over to the humidor on the mantle above his fireplace. The fire place was non-working. The chimney was cemented due to strict fire regulations and higher insurance rates. Keith had it sealed up shortly after purchasing the place a few years back. He opened his humidor and selected one of his last Cuban cigars. Screw it, he thought. The old man will be back in Cuba in a month or so, I can afford to indulge myself a little tonight. He clipped the end off and ran the cigar under his nose savoring the aroma. He walked back to the other side of the room and dropped in to his chair. He leaned back on the backrest and the footstool popped upright, taking his legs with it. He reached in to his front shirt pocket and pulled out his package of matches. He lit his cigar and took three or four quick puffs just to make sure he had her going just right. Once he was satisfied with that, he took a longer haul and let his head fall back as he blew a thick plume of smoke straight up in the air. He reached for his martini as a jet black Ford Explorer with dark tinted windows and chrome rims was barreling down the Freeway.
Dallas was focused on the freeway in front of him. He was bent over the wheel, with his hands at the top and he was rocking quickly back and forth to the deep rhythmic thumping of mostly bass, that the song he was listening consisted of. He wore a black wool cap on the top of his bald head and a three quarter length leather coat. He was grinding his teeth the way he only does when he is really angry. He has been doing that since he was a child. It is so subconsciously ingrained in to him that he does not even notice that he is doing it anymore. He does notices the green sign advising the turnoff for Springhill and activates his right turn signal. "I’m on my way Keithie boy." Dallas said under his breath. "Be right there."
Keith had just poured his second martini, and smoked only half of his Cuban cigar when his doorbell rang. He groaned aloud. Shelly hadn’t checked her messages and she had come over after all. That sucked. He really didn’t want any company tonight, but now that she was here he couldn’t very well send her away. He resigned himself to spending the evening listening to Shelly’s problems with her coworkers and her short term goals for whatever initiative she was taking this week. Oh well, at least he would get laid.
Dallas did not even hesitate when he pulled up to the curb in front of 117 Crestwood Dr. He reached in to the glove compartment and pulled out his Glock 9, he did not need to check and see if it was loaded. He stepped out of the truck and let his eyes scan the front of the house as he was heading up the driveway toward the front door. He didn’t know if Keith was alone or not, and he couldn’t give a shit one way or the other. He didn’t figure there were any children in the house considering the language Mr. Milton liked to use when he bothered strangers in their homes. He would handle it one way or the other. He wasn’t a man that was big on details and plans. He reacted to situations when he found himself in the middle of them, and he was about to jump in the middle of a situation, and react the hell out of it.
Keith opened the door with a martini in his right hand and four inches of half smoked cigar jutting out from the index and middle finger of that same hand. His easy demeanor was replaced immediately when he was staring in the face of a stranger with cold eyes and large shoulders. Now who in the fuck is this? Keith had time to think before the man in his doorway spoke to him.
Dallas just walked up the stairs and rang the doorbell. He began to feel a nervous energy that started in the base of his spine and spread out all through his body until it was almost as if he was electric. He always got like this when he was about to really fuck somebody up. A barely containable, extreme need for release that was better than any drug he was responsible for supplying. Dallas wasn’t surprised that the guy just opened the door. These dickheads in the suburbs had no fucking idea just how fragile their cozy existence was, but this asshole was going to find out real quick.
"Keith Milton?" Dallas asked calmly.
"Who wants to know?" Keith demanded. He looked the large man up and down. Dirty blonde, shoulder length hair. Black wool cap pulled down low on his head. Dressed entirely in black with three days worth of growth on his face. He also had piercing gray eyes, the color of a new shovel head.
"Oh yea, that’s you." Dallas smiled as he reached behind his back and withdrew the gun in his waistband.
Dallas had no idea when he pulled out his piece, whether he was going to shoot this asshole or just beat him within an inch of his life with the butt of it. He felt the cold confidence of the heavy steel in his hand and immediately felt the rush of intended violence course through his veins. He almost seemed to become detached to the point of casual observer to what was happening. In his mind he had to just wait to see how things turned out, as he had no idea until it took place. He just switched to auto pilot, as the auto pilot always handled the situation the best.
Keith saw the gun, but lost valuable seconds on the comprehension of what that gun represented. He tried to shut the door but this stranger already had one foot in the doorway and easily pushed his way in. In the few short seconds before his mind converted to panic mode, he wondered how this guy knew his name.
Dallas noticed for the first time that this guy had a martini glass in his hand. What a fag! He thought in that detached observers voice.
"Oh yea, you are that fucking asshole alright." Dallas heard himself say. "Anybody else I have to deal with in this house?"
"Take whatever you want." Keith started. His hands shot in to the air so fast that he spilled his fresh martini on his shoulder and the side of his face. Some of the martini went in to his right eye and it was burning as it involuntarily closed shut against the intrusion. "Just don’t hurt me."
"Are you telling me what I can and can’t do Keith?" Dallas asked him as he walked forward, backing Keith further down the hall.
"Please…" Was all Keith got out before he was interrupted.
"I’m going to ask you again. Keith, is there anybody else in this house that I have to deal with?"
"Ah…no. Just me." Keith heard himself answer and then immediately wondered if he had done the right thing.
"Good." Dallas stopped. "Let me ask you one last question?" He was staring in to the one opened eye of the man in front of him. "Didn’t your momma ever teach you any manners?"
Keith had only a split second to puzzle over the odd question when the hand that was holding the gun arced out and connected with the side of his head, effectively cutting off all thought. It was like an explosion that only he could see. There was a blinding flash of light followed immediately by darkness. Then slowly a pinpoint of vision began to grow in size until he was able to make out the shape of the person who had just hit him.
"Whoa, stay with me Keith." Dallas instructed cheerily, and followed that with a backhand from his left. When he saw Keith’s eyes clear up he continued. "What’s the matter with you Keith? You call me at my house and tell me to fuck off? You seem a little old for that shit Keith!" This was followed by another smack to the face.
"Wait!" Keith held out his free hand trying to fend off the backhand. Tears of impudent rage were welling up in his good eye, rendering him practically blind. "I just dialed the wrong number."
"Oh you got that right Keith." Dallas answered back as he tucked the gun back in to his waistband and descended on Keith with both hands now at his disposal. He smacked the martini glass and still smoking cigar out of Keith’s hand and then followed that immediately with a blow to the stomach doubling Keith over in pain. Dallas continued to throw punch after punch in to Keith until he was sprawled motionless in the center of the hallway.
Dallas was breathing heavily as he knelt down on one knee and used Keith’s shirt to wipe the splattered blood off of his hands and the sleeves of his leather jacket. Keith was out cold and wheezing through a mouth full of shattered teeth and a nose that was positioned at an impossible angle on his face. Dallas stood over him looking down, feeling the high subside to a murmur at his very core. For a second he thought about putting a bullet through the arrogant face that wasn’t so arrogant anymore. He decided to let it go. He turned to walk out of the house when the phone began to ring. He stopped in mid stride and looked through the doorway in to the living room. The phone was on the table next to the leather recliner. Dallas impulsively walked in to the living room and picked up the receiver.
"Hello!" He announced cheerfully.
"Ahh…Keith. Is that you?"
Some female. Probably the girlfriend. Won’t find Keith so attractive for a little while. "I’m sorry…You must have the wrong number." Dallas dropped the receiver on to the recliner and walked outside in to the cool spring air. Smiling.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dead Ball

Fifteen years of living have gone on in front and behind these eyes. Fifteen years isn’t all that long to a turtle or an oak tree, but it’s a lifetime to a dog. There have been a lot of changes to my old neighborhood in a dog’s lifespan. Dresden Lane was a great place to grow up. It was healthy and vibrant, full of families and prosperity. Now it is sick, and I made it sick. I was not the main factor, but I definitely played a role in it.
I’m sick as well. It was a bad thing to see and an even worse thing to be part of. My sickness is in my heart and in my soul. There have been whole days where I haven’t felt that sickness. Happy days full of family and friends, but I have never gotten through a single night without feeling that sickness. The nights are the worst, when it’s dark in the house and the only noise is your own guilty conscience poking that sharp stick in to your heart and relentlessly reminding you of what you were a part of. I had to come back.
I sit on a park bench where a playground used to be. The jungle gym’s are all gone, and the grass is a lot higher in most places than it used to be. The fact that it is unkempt is obvious, but it does not go unused. There is a guy in baggy pants and a tank top hanging around a bench on the other side of the park. Three different people have approached him and purchased drugs from him. I was a little surprised at first that he would be so blatant with a well-dressed stranger watching the whole thing. Then I remembered that nothing surprises me anymore and I stopped paying attention to him. I guess that is just another side effect of the sickness.
I never sleep well. The voices of that long ago day plague me in the silence. I hear it like echo’s bouncing off of my skull. Sometimes it is such that I feel I might go mad if they don’t stop. Drinking helps, but it’s risky. I don’t want to become dependant on the alcohol to get me to sleep, so I only utilize that on the real bad days. “Robert the retard! Robert the retard! Robert the…” I wish I could get an enema for my mind, and wash all of that out, but maybe it is my penance for not standing up and defending him. I knew it was wrong, even at that age, but I didn’t want to go against the group. I joined them. I was a part of it.
Kids are cruel. Yea, that is true, but it is a copout and too easily dismissed as unavoidable. Kids know they are cruel, and they do it anyway. There were other kids there that didn’t take part in what happened. I am sure if any of us had of taken the time to look around we would have seen the looks they gave us. Would there have been horror, disappointment, maybe even pity. We were like animals, running on some basic instinct to weed out the week. Mob mentality at its purist and most simple. Dangerous.
We were playing pop up’s in the big field. Patrick had the bat and the rest of us were scattered away from him. I wonder constantly what would have happened that day if it were I hitting the balls at that moment. How much differently things may have worked out. If just one aspect of the chain of events that transpired to lead Robert to Patrick at that exact moment, was different.
Being out in the field when the first contact was made, I will never know the first few words spoken by Robert to Patrick. I can only assume he asked to play, or maybe he even asked to hit a few balls. Patrick hit the last ball, a sweet pop-up that went out to the middle of the field. Michael Evens, my neighbor from across the street caught it easily. It was 100 points. The scoring system was simple. 100 points for catching the ball before it hit the ground, 75 after one bounce and 50 for anything after that, as long as the ball was still moving. No points for a dead ball.
Michael was just about to throw the ball back when Patrick dropped the bat and shoved Robert. Robert fell backwards on to his backside in the grass. Some of the other guys started to jog towards the action to get a better look. There was about fifteen of us give or take, and we formed a semi-circle around Patrick and Robert. Some of the guys were cheering Patrick on.
I don’t know all the details about Robert. I know he wasn’t physically handicapped, at twelve years old he was bigger and stronger than most of us. He was mentally handicapped, but in a high functioning sort of way. He was referred to as a half-wit by most of the adults. To all of us kids he was definitely strange in a way we didn’t quite understand. He acted differently than we did. He was childish and repetitive, and he would do odd things. We just called him retard.
Patrick was always mean, but he was a good athlete and that meant he was popular in our twelve-year-old world. Patrick was always getting in to trouble at school and with the police. He stole things, fought and skipped class. His parents never punished him, it seemed that they just didn’t care enough to bring him up well. The rest of us had no such excuse.
If Robert’s mind were working to full capacity he would have known better than to throw that mound of dirt in Patrick’s face. He didn’t have the fear of Patrick the rest of us did. He was just fighting back in his own way. There was complete silence after he threw the dirt, as everyone was shocked, at this new turn of events. Even Patrick took a few seconds to process what had just happened. Then there was only rage. Patrick flew in to a fit of fists and kicks directed toward Robert. The dirt had mixed with the summer sweat on Patrick’s face creating black streaks down his face. This only made him look more savage.
Robert took the first few blows and then managed to push himself off the ground. He was making a panicked noise as he started to flee. It was like panting and crying mixed together. Patrick picked the baseball bat off of the ground and gave chase. We, of coarse, followed. I would like to think that in the beginning, we were just running behind Patrick to see what was going to happen next. We were going to play no other role in the actual fight, other than one of spectators. I’m sure Robert just saw us as one big gang of nasty, hateful villains trying to hurt him. He ran on. I remember feeling a potent exhilaration in the chase, but Robert was faster than we were, and he would have gotten away easily. That makes what he did next all the more puzzling.
We had been running the wide path that wove through the large park. There were huge trees on either side of the path, with thick trunks and lots of branches spreading up like fingers toward the summer sky. Robert began to frantically climb the biggest tree in the park. He was a good ten feet and still climbing when we all arrived at the base of the huge oak tree. Patrick started spewing forth obscenities and threats directed up at Robert. I heard for the first time, a single voice coming from behind me… “Robert the retard…Robert the retard!” Shamefully I was about the eighth person to join in to the chorus. The chanting took on a very choreographed nature as we were all chanting in unison and Patrick would whack the bat in to the trunk of the tree in between every “Robert the Retard.”
If any one of us had of taken the time to think about what we were doing, we probably would have stopped. There was no time to think between the chanting and the sound of that Louisville Slugger slamming in to the base of the tree. We became one large, pulsating organism of hatred. Robert just continued to climb higher and higher in to the tree until the branches became too thin for him to climb any higher. Then he just clung to the tree and screamed down at us to leave him alone. We were screaming at him and he was screaming at us, and the whole time Patrick continued to swing that bat in to the trunk of the big tree. Through all of that noise, every one of us heard the sickening sound of that branch snapping at the top of the tree. It became completely silent except for the sound of Robert falling. He fell more than fifty feet from that perch atop the tree. He brought a few branches down with him, but none of the branches he hit were big enough to slow his fall.
I watched in horror as his body went limp after smashing his head off of one of the thicker branches. Everyone spread out, away from the tree in a loose semi-circle and watched him fall. The sound he made when he hit the ground was, in my memory, exactly the same as the branch that caused the fall. I don’t know if he was alive before he hit the ground but I was damn sure he was dead after. We stood around him looking down at his impossibly twisted head. Someone began to cry behind me, and then someone began to scream. It may have been me.
Nobody was ever charged for any crime, but we were all guilty. Word got out, what had happened that day and how all of us were involved. Families started to move out of the neighborhood one after another. They wanted to escape what had happened, and nobody wanted to see that vacant look in the eyes of Robert’s parents. For Sale signs peppered the yards in my neighborhood until there was one on my own yard. So many houses for sale in such a small area, made the property value plummet. The riff-raff that moved in chased out the last of the good families.
My father was offered a position within his company, which would relocate us to another province. He jumped at the opportunity. He took me as far away from this place as he could but it didn’t make any difference to my nightmares. I did, however, appreciate the attempt. The days and the weeks turned in to years, and the misery and pain that I was constantly told would eventually go away never did. I’m a grown man, now, sitting on a bench looking at the tree that a little boy fell to his death from. The pain is still very much there, the shame and the regret too. A piece of me died with Robert at the bottom of that tree. If it hasn’t gotten any easier in fifteen years, I don’t imagine it ever will. But then again, why the hell should it?