A Quiet Place

ImageHe walked through the park, a book tucked under his arm, and went to look for a place not overrun by the raucous laughter of teenagers or the gurgles of children. He’d earn the right to a quiet bit of green, though it was getting harder to find it these days. Maggie always said he was a bit anti-social. He’d tell her he need a little quiet. She’d probably reply that he had al the quiet he wanted, but truth be told, he preferred to come here to sit among the ducks and swans and gulls with his book.

He made his way to his favorite spot: a small dirt path that led down to the stream. Most people didn’t bother with this path as it was very narrow and wound through a grove of trees down to the water. It was weedy and forlorn, but he liked coming this way. It was almost like a secret. He’d sit up against an old gnarled tree, book propped in his lap, and stare out over the water.

He had just settled himself when he heard footsteps, and he sighed. Usually footsteps meant a pack of teenagers with their backpacks and gadgets. They’d eat and talk too loud and roll around in the grass, leaving a mess behind. Wrappers and bottles and and half-eaten bananas. If they saw him, they’d laugh and make remarks about the “old fart under the tree”, but usually he remained invisible.

This time, however, a woman appeared. Her long auburn hair blew in front of her face, and he smiled, though she didn’t notice him. She made a pretty picture in her green jacket and black jeans as she stood by the water watching the birds soar down from the sky to alight on the sun-lit water, until he realized she was crying. The leaves on the swaying tree shivered. He heard the quacking of the ducks, the sobs of the woman, and the beating of his own heart.

He wanted to move because he felt like the intruder now, but he sat paralyzed and staring at the ground, willing himself to disappear. He listened to the woman cry the tears he couldn’t when they lowered Maggie into that deep, black hole in the ground, and he remember all the things he had meant to say to her over the years, but never did. Opportunities lost now. But he had loved her fiercely. My Old Goat. She had called him that, fondly he thought. Had she understood what was in his heart?

He looked up when he realized the air had gone still and quiet again. The woman had gone. His face was wet with tears, and he hugged his book to his chest.

Oh, Maggie, I miss you. I’ll miss you forever.

Changes

We smile at each other across the table, and I think of you as you were, when we made so many reckless promises. Before the dreams fell and shattered, the words hurled in anger, the lies told to cover more lies.

Memories can be sweet summer days. But they can also swirl around you like smoke obscuring what you don’t want to see and cut you like so many tiny shards of glass.

You have never understood that each cut leaves a tiny scar. Now we sit at opposite ends of the table, not touching, bound yet unbound. Frightened to let go, and exhausted by reality.

You sit back in your chair and sigh. “Are you happy?” You don’t wait for me to answer. You run a hand through your hair. It’s still thick and wavy. I’ve always thought it was your best feature. “It’s time for a change,” you say.

Part Of The View

The Irish school girls beg for money, 2 Euros for the Irish Heart Association,on busy Grafton Street as early morning commuters hurry past. In their overly long plaid skirts, white blouses, and red sweaters, the girls look very prim and proper, until I overhear one say, “This is shite.” Her friend swings her empty white bucket in silent agreement.

I make my way as always to St. Steven’s Green to watch the swans and ducks, the gulls and lowly pigeons. A woman in a rainbow sweater strolls by her arms loaded with bread . She asks if I would like some to feed the birds, but I decline. She nods. “You’ve come for the view,” she says.

“I’ve come for the view.”

She smiles, and her eyes twinkle a little. “It’s a good view. Peaceful.” She moves on, throwing chunks of bread into the water. The birds set up a clatter for a moment, then settle again as I seat myself on an out-of-the-way bench.

Outside the the park modern Dublin moves at a modern pace; its streets are crowded and voices speaking a variety of languages fill its streets. The Celtic Tiger may have been wounded but not mortally. I believe Ireland will sneak back on little cat feet. It’s part of it’s magic.

I feel myself relax, the peace and green, and the serenity restoring me somehow. It only happens here. Perhaps Leprechauns really do lurk under the bushes, just out of sight spreading their magic to us mortals.

I hear footsteps behind me and the click of a camera as a man in a jaunty tan cap begins to snap photographs. When I offer to get out of his way he says, “Oh no, love, you are the picture.”

Turnaround

“Try to be I more like Virginia and Liza,” Aunt Toni would say. “You have no sense of style. Are you really going to wear that dress? Green is all wrong for you. Slow down your eating, Miss Piggy.” Then she and her two horrid daughters would turn and laugh.

Most of the time, I shrugged it off. I only saw Aunt Tini once or twice a year. She lived in California, and we lived in Connecticut. She was twice divorced and preoccupied with men. my parents we happily married and ran a successful computer software manufacturing company.

Life was great until the plane crash that killed them.Then Aunt Toni swooped in like the Wicked Witch. She’d take over because she was sure that was what her late sister would want. What she really wanted was to get her hands on my trust fund, but, of course she couldn’t come out and demand the money. So figured she’d just make make me miserable. She sold her home and came east.

Did you ever have a bad dream only to wake up and realize you weren’t dreaming? That’s what’s life with Aunt Toni. I think they call it benign neglect, except there was nothing benign about Aunt Toni. my clothes allowance went to her girls.i got the hand-me-downs. If she could have pulled me out of my school, she would have, but that was iron clad in my parents’ will. Somehow, Aunt Toni got money for her girls to go to school with me so I had no refuge. Even when college rolled around, she told me that the price of college had gotten too much for my puny trust fund.

“Sacrifices will have to be made,” she said.

Then two weird things happened, and by weird, I mean amazing. First, Jack Ogelthorpe took over for his father managing my trust. He showed up at the house on a Saturday when Toni and her spawn weren’t home, and said he had concerns about the way the trust was being administrated. We had a long talk, and he promised to look into Toni’s questionable handling of my parents’ estate.

Second, I was assigned to work on a science fair project with Dave Carns who under his Clark Kent glasses had big blue eyes and a sweet disposition.When we won first place for our study of brain function under stress, it was one of the happiest days of my life. One of Dave’s too, because he asked me out.

Four years later, we’re living together about to dedicate ourselves to studying brains. Toni has been invited to leave and go back to California with her girls, and I barely give them a thought. Except I heard Virginia got a tattoo and gained thirty pounds while Liza took off with some guy who said he’d make her into an actress.She kind of is, i guess. Her latest film was called Lizard Tongue, and I hear it was a big seller.

Wanderlust

Sitting in the gray vinyl seat, I stare out the window at the jets zooming down the runway and ascending into the sky. I’ve always loved flying: the feeling of the jet engines kicking in, the plane accelerating, then the ground is falling away. I think it’s the taking off part that I really like after take off, flying becomes pretty routine, like life.

I guess that’s why I’ve never been able to stick with a relationship for very long.

But right now, I watch the jets and shift around in the uncomfortable seats. I hear a child crying, and watch a family with a baby plop down a few seats away. I hope I’m not seated too close. The mother is a slight woman, short and red haired, and she wears sandals. The man looms over her, scruffy and clad in a stained Batman tee shirt. Not attractive. At least she begins to nurse the child a small, sticky-looking bundle of red curls in a blue onesie.

I hear someone mutter disapprovingly, and want to say, “Oh, do you prefer the screams of hungry baby on your four hour flight?”

It doesn’t matter. Soon enough the plane will board, and I’ll be in my seat. Window seat, of course. As soon as possible, the earphones will go in, and I’ll drift away. My mom worries about me being lonely, but I tell her my life is just perfect.

Music for Pain

“I’m so psyched. Tom and I’ve been dating for six months. It’s like a record for me.” Shannon felt the giant smile in her words.

“We’re hitting The Blue Diamond tonight,” Emma said. “Why don’t you stop by? There’ll be a bunch of us.”

“Okay, maybe.”

It seemed like a fun idea. Shannon figured it was time she introduced Tom to her friends. He’d met Emma and and her roommate Amy, but their schedules were busy. He liked to spend time with her. The new love phase Emma called it, but she was a cynic.

But Tom was in a great mood. When he appeared at her door, he said why not make an appearance after dinner? They’d have a few drinks and slip out. It sounded like a plan.

When they reached The Blue Diamond, it wasn’t too crowded. Emma had saved a table and seven people already crowded in. Tom pulled up two chairs and they wedged between Amy and a guy named Chuck. As the the bar became more crowded, Shannon found herself having to shout to be heard;more often than not, she found herself facing Tom’s back. Whatever he and Amy were discussing, it was intense.

The bar kept getting louder and more crowded, and she began to feel like she was an outsider. Chuck was talking to his buddies, and what the hell was with Tom?

When the band came on, Shannon excused herself to go to the ladies room, and by the time she got back the table was empty. Her friends had hit the dance floor. Tom was dancing with Amy, but she figured it was because she wasn’t there when the music started. When the song ended, the band slowed the tempo, and she watched Tom slide his arms around Amy. She fit perfectly, and smiled up into his face.

A third and fourth dance passed, and Shannon took a twenty from her purse. She dropped it on the table and walked to the door, ignoring the two guys who asked her to dance.

Outside it had started to mist a little, but it wasn’t cold. She didn’t mind the wet. Music drifted out from clubs as she walked: a hip hop here, a little techno there, and best of all some slow, sweet jazz that wrapped around her heart and squeezed.

She wasn’t going to cry. Not yet. She go home and turn off her phone.
Maybe she’d put on a little Ella and listen to that wonderful voice sing about heartbreak and pain. Then she’d cry. Oh yes. Then she’d cry.

Enough

“I got something to say to you.” She folded her arms and glared at him over the carcass of the cold chicken.

“I kinda thought we’d hafta talk about what happened. Or what didn’t happen. I mean nothin’ happened.”

“Please, just stop. You’ve spent our whole marriage looking over my head at the girl just behind me. like Miss perfect is just waiting for you if only I’d get out of the way.”

“I never thought that.”

“Then you come home and cut your damn toenails and leave them on the floor for me to clean up. You leave the toilet seat up. You never once let me pick a TV show. You never even ask what I want to see.” She felt her left eye twitch. It did that sometimes for hours. Usually, Stan mocked her, but tonight he didn’t say anything.

“You told me I looked like a fat, old bitch.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes you did. You said I looked like Linnie Tucker.”

“Yeah, cause she got red hair too.”

“No because she’s a fat old bitch.”

He swallowed.

“I’m good enough to make your meals and clean up after you, but you’ve never once thought about what I want.”

“I bought that griddle you wanted.”

“Jesus Christ! I didn’t want it for an anniversary gift.”

“If you don’t tell me, how am I supposed to know?”

She sighed. “We’ve been married for fifteen years, Stan. If you don’t have a clue by now, why bother to try?”

He looked down at the table and cleared his throat. “Because I love you?”

She stood. “It’s too late.”

He was still sitting at the kitchen table when she picked up her two suitcases and left the apartment.

I hear the cello call to me, pulling me to the window where I listen to the notes swirling around me, leaning close for a brief kiss then pulling away. It ends too soon, this lovely melody, and I sit as always staring out the window remembering happier days when all things seemed possible. My cat Sam comes to sit beside me, my most faithful companion now that my dancing days are over. Some nights I see you dancing in the melody and I reach out my arms, but once the music fades away,you too disappear. 

“I miss you,” I whisper.

But Sam’s purring is my only answer.

Music in the Night

On The Ward

It’s very quiet on the maternity ward tonight. It’s as if the little ones and their mothers know to be quiet and still. I walk down the hall and listen to the tap of my shoes against the linoleum floor. I love evenings like this. They’re so rare. Usually the some little lamb is crying, or one of the nurses is traveling to help one of the new mothers.

I open the door to the nursery and wave to the nurse on duty. As usual, we’ve placed the largest and smallest babies in front. I breathe in the smell of my children and take a mental picture of their small round faces. The largest is a nine and one-half pound, blue-eyed boy with beautiful long lashes and blond hair, the smallest a chocolate drop of a girl with liquid brown eyes and fuzzy black curls who weighs in at almost four pounds.

They are a study in contrasts wrapped in their blue and pink blankets, tiny pink, white and blue striped hats perched on their heads.

On impulse I snap a picture on my phone.

I want to place them in the bassinet together and ask the boy to look out for her, this precious child, born to a mother who’s barely more than a child herself. I want someone to look at this little bundle and realize what a wonderful gift she is before I send her back to a home where her mama has to struggle to put food on the table or maybe struggle with her own demons. I want her to go to a nice happy home like this sweet little blond cherub where he’ll be welcomed and loved, and he won’t live with the fear of going to bed hungry at night.

I’ll fail. The people from Social Services have already been in to talk to her mama. I’ve talked to her mama. She lies in her bed, sullen and unresponsive, except to mutter, “He just walked out on me. How I supposed to work with a baby? What I gonna do now?”

Tomorrow I’ll send two children home, just like I have for the past thirty years. I’ll smile at the parents and wish them and their children well. I’ll wish for miracles. Just like always.

Zero

I’ve just gotten back from my run. I’m up to seven miles, and I’m way below my high school weight. This evening as I headed to my condo some guy even honked at me.

I look at myself in the mirror. Another twelve pounds and I’ll be down a whole dress size. Still, my butt looks huge. Maybe I’ll just skip dinner.

I take a shower. It’s cool I can count my ribs now, and I definitely have high def collar bones.

I go try on the dress I bought for Maddie’s wedding. It was tight when I bought it, but it sure isn’t now. Maybe I should return it. Throw it back in that snippy sales girl’s face and tell her I need something smaller than a zero.

That’s me. Smaller than a zero.

Still, I have loose folds of skin over my butt. It’s disgusting. I hate the
way I look. I’m still so fat. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.

I hate myself.