13 Gun Salute

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It’s been twelve years since we lost my brother to war. The details are still hazy, and the state department continues to give us the runaround. It took my parents four years to give up and let their minds rest on what happened on May 5th, 2004. The initial reports said an IED.  Then we got a phone call from one of his comrades. I answered the phone, and a muffled and raspy voice asked for my father. He took the phone into the den – he was on the phone for only ten minutes. The murmurs of their conversation stopped, and my mother went in there. They stayed there for at least an hour.

They came out with nothing to say. Their eyes were swollen and bloodshot.

“What’s wrong? Who was that?”

“It was a soldier who served with your brother.”

“What did he say?” I asked. My father sat down in the love seat and took the remote. He changed the channel. I looked back at my mother in the kitchen. She grabbed a cucumber out of the fridge and began to slice it.

Growing up, I listened to my brother as any younger brother shouldn’t. He once bought a paintball gun from some kid at school — they snuck it in with backpacks, and my brother gave the kid his last five weeks allowance. I was drawing dragons in my room when he knocked and told me to meet him behind the garage in five minutes — he had something to show me.

He told me he’d give me ten seconds to run.

“Is it going to hurt?” I asked.

“Not if you’re running. It’s called adrenaline. You won’t even know it hit you.”

And then, he started counting. I took off.

When he got to three, he put two paintballs into my back. I fell to the grass and screamed like a ten-year-old boy would. He made me promise not to tell mom or dad — in exchange to play his Playstation as long as I wanted.

When I got to school the next day, I showed all my friend the welts on my back. Proud of my pain.

My brother was well known in our small community of 1200 people. He played wide receiver on the football team and got all-conference honors his junior year. Girls liked him. Teachers didn’t. His senior year he got kicked off the team for smoking dope behind the buses with a buddy during school. My parents weren’t happy, and his life hit a rough patch.

After graduation he worked at the local grocery store, bagging groceries. He would come home late, well after his shift, and I’d awake on mornings for school to my mom yelling at him, as he lay in bed, half asleep. If I could had been as cool as my brother — as cool as everyone thought he was, I would have had a better time growing up. But the older I got, the smarter I got, the less respect I had for him.

My brother hit bottom after he got in a car accident and ruined the family van. The police report said he had fallen asleep at an intersection just north of our town. He was high on something; I could see it in his glassy eyes as he sat there at the dining room table — mom standing with her arms crossed and dad sitting in silence.

They told him that he needed to move out. It was the last straw, my father exclaimed to my mother over dinner. Instead, they made a deal, and he joined the Army. He went to Georgia for his basic training and came back ten pounds heavier and stronger. My parents were proud and as my brother’s drill sergeant presented him with his emblem of completion — I saw my dad cry for the first time.

He returned home, awaiting his orders. And then on a Tuesday morning in September,  two planes crashed into the twin towers. America went to war a few months later. And then to Iraq a year after that. The news of my brother’s deployment soon followed.

My dad dug a hole and put a pole into the ground. My mom went to the store and bought a flag.

The day he left, we had a grill-out. Family from all over the state came to say their goodbyes and give him their luck. The next morning, he peeked his head into my room as I slept.

“I’m out of here, man.”

I woke up and waved and smiled. “Take care of yourself,” I said. My brother gave me a thumbs up. His hair buzzed. His chest out. His shoulders broad.

“You too.”

And then he shut the door and was gone.

Twelve years since he left, and six months after we received that telephone call, I was in last semester of college. Summer was upon us all. I packed a bag, locked my apartment and headed back to my hometown. It had been awhile since I saw my parents — since Christmas. We often talked on the phone. They spent the last few months traveling, living off their pension, touring the southernmost states.

My home was only two hours away, and my father promised a grill out where their neighbors would join us — a younger couple with twin daughters. None of them who I had ever met.

It was all in celebration of Memorial Day.

I arrived on Sunday night. I let myself in with the key under the fake rock in the garden of petunias and hostas. Both my dad and mother were asleep. I came into the den, and the futon was laid out, with sheets ready for me. My mother’s handy work.

My upstairs bedroom, where I slept for eighteen years had been turned into a place for my mom to make homemade stamps. My brother’s bedroom remained mostly the same since his departure and death. There were boxes around his bed and dresser — storage mostly. They acted as a cover for his presence that was still very much felt in the house. I never questioned why my mother chose to use my room instead of his. I understood. I had moved away. My brother had passed away. This place was still very much his home. My home had changed.

That night, I fell asleep next to my mom’s seventeen-year-old cat my dad had gotten her instead of having a third child. His meow as rough as his fur — greased and matted. He cried for food like a baby and walked like a fawn as if his bones were going to break with each step. Watching him sleep, put me at ease. I fell asleep and awoke to the sounds of a vacuum the next morning.

I came out into the living room to my mother.  She turned off the machine and gave me hug. Asked about my drive. Asked about my semester. She poured me coffee and started to make eggs. I went to the sliding glass back door that overlooked our ten acres of woods and marsh — dad was out there, smoking a cigar, and filling bird feeders.

I sat at the table and mom pushed some scrambled eggs onto my plate. Dad came in complaining about the raccoons. He poured the last of the coffee from the maker and pulled out New York strips from the freezer. He bragged about the deal he got and placed them on the counter to thaw.

My mother wrapped the cord to the vacuum and placed it into the closet.

“You’re coming to the parade, aren’t you?” she asked.

“The parade? What parade?” I asked.

The town was planning something different this year for Memorial Day — a parade with boy scouts, the high school band, the firefighters, and their volunteers. They would start at the post office and walk two miles to the graveyard, where tiny American flags, stuck in the ground, each representing an American soldier who was lost in battle. It was where my brother was buried.

He was buried next to my grandparents on my mother’s side — it was our family’s graveyard plot. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t deserving to be buried next to my brother, a fallen hero, and my grandfather, a Korean War Vet who worked well into his 60s to support six children.

“Okay. Sure,” I said. “I’ll go.”

“Well, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes,” she added. I nodded and took an extra big drink of my coffee.

We parked in the middle of town. The sun was out and scorching the street. Townies found places in the shade with their lawn chairs. Little kids held grocery bags awaiting the toss of candy. The band led the way. Their march moved swiftly down Main Street.

The town I had grown up in hadn’t changed much. The corner still had the variety store. The bar’s sign still hung, just barely, from rusted chains. The bakery was still closed and for sale. The only difference was the faces — men had turned old. Women had gained weight. And then, there was a new generation, ones I didn’t know, young and ready.

The fire trucks followed the band. The firefighters tossed candy and kids scurried around. A woman on a great brown horse waved with a big grin. The Methodist church with its followers with no smiles, walked in two single file lines — a quote from the Book on a sign.

My mother rose from her spot on the grass and started off. My father followed. I watched them go for a moment, knowing where they were headed — to the graveyard, to the memorial, the spot where the mayor would give a speech and order a gun salute for the fallen.

Our pace was quick. The rest of the town followed as the parade’s caboose of classic cars marked the end of the show.

The graveyard had a single microphone out front. An American flag on each side. I took a sweeping look across the graves and saw all the tiny flags in the ground. Many men, many young, all of them dead.

My parents found a good spot and the town crowded around. I trailed off, up the gravel drive to a tree under the shade. I slid down and rested there. I looked around.

Five men behind the trees held rifles. They were in military attire. Decorated from where I could see. Four of the men, well into their seventies, veterans of the Vietnam, and the Korean wars, I assumed. Then there was a middle-aged man, the youngest vet of the bunch. He looked to be in his early 40s and most likely had served in the Gulf or possibly the latest, Iraq war.

The Mayor approached the microphone and gave a muffled speech about the fallen. About the sacrifices of soldiers.

I turned and looked back to the corner of the yard where I knew my brother lay buried. I thought about going over there and looking his gravestone over. I hesitated.

The Mayor announced the gun salute. The veterans behind the trees stepped out so the crowd could see them. One yelled a command and their rifles reached into the air.

They fired. It rang.

They pulled their rifles down, grabbing at the bolt lever action, and then aiming back into the air. But one man struggled — the one at the end. The youngest vet.  A command was yelled, and the guns fired. The youngest vet pointed his gun into the air, now late, and behind one shot. The others reloaded, cocking their hammers.

He followed their movement. Pulling at his bolt action. Again struggling. His gun jammed by his panic. The others lifted their rifles into the air and fired their last round. The youngest vet had failed to fire again. He awkwardly placed his rifle to his side like the rest. The three-volley, honorable 15 gun salute, had become a 13 gun salute.

The crowd applauded anyways. No one said anything. No one corrected the mistake. The crowd dispersed and went on their way — back to their homes, to grill steak with the neighbor family and their twin daughters.

 

 

 

I write fiction.

 

 

-REH

 

 

 

 

Green Blinking Lighthouse

 

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This one weekend, I met a girl, on some beach, near a lighthouse, in a city I’ve never been to before.

I was desperate for a job so I expanded my search out of town — into any city that was willing to take me. I scored an interview for some marketing-communications- assistant job; it was a small company that was just getting started.

I guess they liked my resume because they called me the same day I applied. I was eating potato chips and drinking the last of my pineapple juice when my phone rang.

“Can you do this Sunday?” The man on the phone asked.

I thought about claiming I had to go to church — it would have been the first time in ten years if I actually went — but I told them I’d be there.

I packed a weekend bag and found the only collared shirt I owned. I packed my camera too, knowing it could be the last chance I had to use it. If I didn’t get the job, I would be forced to sell it to make rent.

I drove up Saturday afternoon, down a desolate highway I’ve never traveled before, away from the place where I had grown up, away from a place where everything and everyone I had ever known was living — a place that was gradually dying inside of me.

I checked into the cheapest motel I could find. It looked familiar as I pulled in– maybe I saw it on a murder mystery Dateline special or an Unsolved Mysteries episode. The middle eastern lady behind the front desk was polite and gave me a big smile as she slid me the room key.

There was a water color painting on the wall of a lighthouse. I walked over to get a closer look.

The woman behind the counter said, “That’s down the road.”

I looked over my shoulder and smiled. I read the old English letters near the bottom– Fort Gratiot.

I headed to room 114. I unpacked my collared shirt. I hung it up, hoping the wrinkles would disappear by morning. I charged my camera battery and waited for it to turn green.

Snow flurries began as I drove into the everything-gray town. A smog seemed to be suspended over the city with a river running parallel with the road. The water flowed between the two cities with a large bridge connecting the two and steam and a constant surge of machine sound filled the air.

I drove until the river fed into the great lake. That’s when I saw the top of the lighthouse. It blinked green as I pulled in.

I threw my hoodie over my head, reached into the back, and grabbed my camera.

The lighthouse was tall and sturdy, made of stone, with thick wooden framed glass windows on top. I pressed both hands into its side, as if I was going to push it over. It didn’t move.

I looked up and my stomach dropped from the height. I went down the beach and turned my camera on. The water was like glass. The horizon was covered in fog. A few gulls flew by and I looked down.

There was a layer of stone, like gravel, covering the sandy beach. As I walked farther, I could hear the soft grind of rock against the bottoms of my shoes.

I turned back to the lighthouse. That’s when I saw her.

She had what looked to be a red veil covering most of her head. She wore gloves and a coat that looked a little too big on her.

She walked to the edge of the beach. I looked her up and down. I watched the water reach to the tips of her shoes and then it receded back with the tide.  It was as if she had been there before and knew exactly where she could stand where her feet would remain dry.

I framed her, the bridge, and the lighthouse. I hit the shutter on my camera.

She was forty yards away looking out into the lake. I looked where she was looking. There was calmness, a horizon wrapped in a fog of nothing.

I took another picture. She looked over. I quickly pointed the camera towards the lighthouse, away from her, and pressed the shutter. I looked over at her and she was bending down, her eyes on the rocks near her feet. She tugged one of her gloves off and let the tips of her fingers run across the top layer of stone. The tide rose and the water reached to her. But it came up short…

She picked up a rock and put it in her pocket. I snapped a picture.

IMG_0046.JPGShe stood up and began to walk towards me. She stopped, leaned down, and grabbed another rock. She stuffed it into her pocket. I backed up ten feet and snapped a photo of her and the lighthouse — with the edge of the beach all in one frame.

She approached me with deliberate motion.

“I’m sorry, am I in your shot?” She asked.

“You are my shot,” I said back.

Then without hesitation, as if her feet glided across the thin layer of water on those rocks, she moved to me.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” She stood five feet away from me now. I kept my camera in my hands, directed away from her, acting as if she wasn’t my subject.

“I was just saying that you and the lighthouse make a nice picture. Sorry, I’m not trying to be creepy.”

“That’s okay. I never see people here. I’m glad people enjoy it like I do.”

I could now make out her face. She was wearing little makeup, just enough around her eyes. They were dark brown and her lashes long. They were stuck and bunched together — as if she had been crying. Her cheeks were flush and a single lock of her curly black hair fell from under her veil.

“Do you collect rocks?” I asked as I snapped another picture of the lighthouse.

“No,” She said.

“Oh, I saw you put rocks in your pockets, that’s why I asked.”

“They aren’t rocks. And they’re for my dad.”

“Can I see them, do you mind?” I asked. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out what she had. I took a picture.

“Are you a photographer?”

“No. I just own a camera.”

“Can I see your pictures?”I turned the camera around and showed her the LCD screen.

“Those are really nice.”

“Thanks. This is my first time here. I’m in town for a job interview. Do you live around here?”

“No. But I used to. I used to work here too.”

“Where at?”

“Here, at the lighthouse, in the summer they have a gift shop. You can buy postcards, t-shirts and necklaces with the lighthouse on them. Mostly overpriced bullshit.” She laughed.

“That sounds like a good job though.”

“Yeah. Well, maybe you’ll get the job and then you’ll be around for the season when we’re open. You should stop by.”

“Okay. Yeah. I will.”

She gave me a soft smile, turned, and headed away.

“So then maybe I’ll see you then?” I yelled after her.

She stopped. Turned back. “No, I don’t work here anymore.”

“So then, where do you work?”

“I’m unemployed,” She said. She bent down, grabbed a rock, and tossed it into the lake.

She glided away. Down the beach away from me. She went to the lighthouse and pressed her hands into the side. She stepped back and looked up.

She looked over her shoulder. She waved. I waved back.

She went around the lighthouse, it blinked green and she was gone.

That night, I slept in that cheap motel. In the morning I went to that job interview. They said they would call me. I never heard from them. When I turned my camera on and looked at the pictures, I decided to tell this story.

The next week, I sold my camera to make rent.

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I write fiction.

 

 

-REH

 

We’re All Drunk

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A dog barks. No one complains.

A baby cries. No one complains.

A woman screams as plates shatter against a wall. No one complains.

Rap music blares, sirens in the distance, and yet no one complains.

They’re all used to it around here.

I wake to a car struggling to start. An engine clicks as someone’s day takes a different route. Now they’ll have to wait for their friend to give them a jump or call someone for a ride. Or even worse, call a tow truck. These people don’t have money for car repairs.

They flick their cigarette and try again. It starts this time.

A van pulls up. They lay into their their horn. It wakes me up. I don’t complain, no one does. It’s well after 11pm now.

People don’t seem to be in a hurry around here. But they all have jobs, they got kids, and problems.

They hold the cries of their children in the oil stains of their denim jeans.

In the bags under their tired eyes.

In the turn of their heads avoiding my nod, when I pass them by the communal mailboxes.

It’s well after 2am. I hear two men outside — yelling and carrying on. I push my blinds aside and peek out.

Middle-aged, one black and one white. Their jeans baggy. Straight bill hats and cigarettes hang from their lips. When they exhale, the smoke and their warm breath mix together, to form a fog that surrounds them.

I lie back down and try to sleep.

“I’m not going to jail for this shit!” One yells.

I jump up and push my shades aside.

The black man gets into the passenger side of a White Bronco, just like the one OJ Simpson drove away in. The white man is now by the entrance. From my angle, I can only see half of him. He’s looking up, talking to someone through a window.

“Let him in, I can handle the cold, but he can’t. If you love your father at all, you’d let him come inside. I know he’s drunk, I’m drunk, we’re all drunk,” He pleads.

The women responds, but it’s muffled and I can’t understand her.

A pause and the man takes a big hit of his cigarette and exhales his fog.

 And then I hear her: “He’s got to learn!”

The man flicks his cigarette and loses his patience.

“He’s got to learn?! Everyone’s got to learn, come on, let him come inside!”

There’s no response.

He shrugs in defeat and retreats to the Bronco. He says something under his breath and gets into the driver’s side. The Bronco rumbles and turns over. Exhaust spits from the tail pipe.

And there it sits.

I lie back down and close my eyes.

Everyone has got to learn and we’re all complaining.

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Until All the Stars Fall

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I took extra time to apply the right amount of wall putty to each of the plastic stars. I wanted them to stick for good.

She yelled from the kitchen asking if I wanted honey in my tea. I told her just a dabble. She questioned my usage of the word.

I rose and stood on her bed. Her loose headboard banged against the wall. A noise I’ve heard before. I pressed the plastic stars into her ceiling. I was building her a sky — so I could kiss her under the stars.

The clusters were uneven, so I placed one over here. And another over there.

When my hand was emptied of stars and the sky was complete, she came into the room with two steaming cups of tea and asked me which one I wanted. With a quick glance I asked for the black mug.

She handed it over, took a sip of hers, and looked up.

“Should we turn off the lights and see if they work?” She asked.

I nodded and she hit the switch. The room went dark. Her shades were closed and the only light came from her blinking unset alarm clock across the room.

We stared up at the ceiling — the stars were dim. The bigger ones were easier to spot.

“You need to charge them I think,” I reassured.

“Yeah maybe,” She said under her breath.

Just then, one fell, and landed at the edge of her bed. I grabbed it, handed her my steaming black mug of tea, and stood up. The headboard bucked.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m putting the star back,” I looked down at her.

“No. That’s not how it works. You should have put more sticky stuff on it.”

“So you don’t want me to put it back?”

“It fell for a reason.”

I carefully sat back down. The headboard didn’t move.

“Let’s keep doing this until all the stars fall off,” She said.

“What do you mean?”

“Me and you. When all the stars fall off, we’ll end this.”

I looked into her and nodded. “How many stars are there?” I looked up and started counting.

“Don’t count,” She quickly said. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll just know when they’re all gone.”

She handed me back my tea. She took a sip of hers and then kissed me on my cheek.

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I write fiction.

 

-REH

 

 

 

 

 

The girl who took me to poetry class

We both had been here before.

In my car, at night, outside her apartment.

So many times before, but this time it was different. There was potential this was going to be the last.

“I can’t see you knowing that he’s still hurting so much, I can’t give you everything I have, and it’s unfair to you, because I know you’re giving me everything you have.” She said. Her eyes down, away from mine.

“I’m sorry.”

A knot formed in my stomach.

“Don’t act like you’re doing me any favors. This is about you and your guilty conscious,” I said.

“Please, just get out of my car.”

She looked at me. We leaned in and we kissed. Held for a moment, pressed together, until it was enough, our lips clicked.

She reached into her purse and handed me a folded piece of paper.

She got out and walked into her apartment.

I first saw her months and months ago at a coffee shop. She was studying, I noticed her textbook for an Italian class. I smiled in passing. She smiled back. I thought about her for a moment, I almost turned back, I didn’t — momentarily left with the regret of a missed chance.

But then later that night, out with friends, there she was at the bar, drinking some hard cider. With alcohol running through me, I approached her with ease. I mentioned how I had seen her. She remembered. I told her how I had failed Spanish twice, but was willing to help her with the Italian. She laughed and said…

“Gracias.”

I got her name. Added her on social media the next day.

I could see her ex-boyfriend in her recent pictures. His hair parted to the side, more facial hair than me, taller, but there was a dim light in his eyes of stupidity. I wasn’t going to be intimidated. I scrolled back further, I did the math. They had been together for at least two years. What was I up against? A lot.

I messaged her and told her how I’d like to take her out. She seemed responsive and willing.

It was seemingly easy.

Then after some sushi, and a walk through the park, we began to kiss.

“This doesn’t feel like a first date,” She said.

I agreed. And then when I took her home, back to her apartment, she asked me to come upstairs and I did.

The next morning, she poured us some Cinnamon Toast Crunch. She had to get rid of the two day expired milk. I told her I didn’t mind. It tasted fine. She agreed.

After the cereal, we showered together.

“Do you mind if I turn off the lights?” She asked.

We showered in the dark. The sunlight from the cracked door, coming from her open shades, formed a silhouette around her naked body. She pushed shampoo out of her wet hair and I watched as the suds ran down her back. I pulled her in, her skin soft and clean. I kissed her neck and I could feel her face stretch into a smile.

But even then, her body was withholding. It was tense. And when she turned and looked up at me, it wasn’t for her sake, but for mine. As if she was small, helpless, hoping for my admission to tell her how happy I was. She was there to please. To fulfill a void.

“You know what we should do?” She said one morning as I sipped my coffee.

“There’s a poetry class, the library offers once a month. Would you wanna go?”

“That’s your best idea yet,” I said.

I wash my mouth with water

In the morning I’ll tell them how you tasted.

They’ll ask for details and I’ll smile.

Like a peach, sweet, and soft on my cheeks.

how could I ever tell them anymore

like a rose dipped in sugar

the sweetness that covers your skin

left with only the aroma after you’re gone

awaiting the moment till I see you again

“Do you like it?” I asked. She beamed a smile.

“What did you write?”

“Mines not ready yet,” She bashfully replied.

“Well when it is, I want to read it.”

When you go back on it all

that’s when you turn to glass

reflective, breakable

the memories and regrets

weigh on you

crack and everything changes

you’re a different person now

a different reflection

but more breakable

Sometimes I’ll go back and find her online. That ex boyfriend isn’t her ex anymore. There’s photos after photos. Heart emojis fill the captions. They share their moments with the world.

I’ll read her poem, in between the lines, it says so much. I think back to the poetry class and ask myself if that’s when I lost her.

That’s when she knew she had to turn back. She had a void I couldn’t fulfill.

I write fiction.

-REH

The Sweet New Girl

She opened the door with her head down. Her big glassy brown eyes to the floor, crying with composure.

I hugged her and her arms stayed to her side, limp and angry. Her hands clenched, tears dripping off her chin. I kissed her cheek and ran my nose through her hair. 

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I just can’t do this anymore.”

“Stop saying you can’t, when you can,” She replied. “You just don’t want to.”

She was right.

We met three years ago at a movie theater. A friend of mine who was dating a friend of hers introduced us. I complimented her eyebrows. She smiled and thanked me. That night she wrote her number on her ticket stub and placed it in my hand.

Three years later and here we were.

I crossed the living room and grabbed my favorite book from the bookshelf. It was a collection of Hemingway’s short stories, my dad used to read to me when we took trips up North. She sat on the couch, her arms crossed. I asked her to walk me to the door. She nodded and wiped her face. I could tell she wanted to scream, to tell me how much of an asshole I was being. She had questions, like where I had been for the last four days.

Four days ago I spilt pasta all over the kitchen floor. But it wasn’t just the pasta that set things in motion…

She came home from work, in a bad mood, I told her I was making dinner. The pasta was near boiling when she announced she wasn’t hungry. She ate at work. I knew she with that guy, a co-worker she was secretly falling for behind my back. I didn’t bother to pry, to ask her what she ate, or with who. For the moment, I stuffed my resentment deep, where she couldn’t see it.

There it can simmer.

But then I took the pasta to the sink to drain, my fingered slipped off the pot, and everything splashed onto the floor. Her response wasn’t how my steaming feet felt, or if the pasta was still salvageable, but instead a reminder how she had cleaned the kitchen a day prior.

I acted on the opportunity to get mad. I brought up the text I found from the guy she worked with. She brought up the email from an ex-girlfriend. I threw a lamp and was out the door.

I spent the next four days on my dad’s couch with his dog resting his head on my chest. It was a relief knowing it was all finally coming to an end.

The truth was there was someone else. There had been for a while. I justified my lies by assuming she lied to me.

Our relationship had shrunk into the better memories of those first six months, and then it was all weighted down by our jobs and responsibilities, the unknowing of both of our futures; she wanted to get married, I didn’t. She was patiently waiting for me to ask. I was patiently waiting for a reason to leave.

That’s why this new girl felt good. Her past didn’t matter. She was sweet, trying to impress me. She was insecure for all the right reasons; like if her make up was in line or if she smelt good. I knew for sure when she went to the bathroom the time I took her to the movies behind my girlfriend’s back.

She came out with her mascara in line and suddenly smelling sweeter than when she walked in.

It started when a movie trailer was brought up at work and we agreed we both needed to see it. But it was her idea to go that night. I wondered if she knew my girlfriend was out of town. Of course she did. On break, I was telling a co-worker how I had the apartment to myself. She was at the vending machine listening.

“You’re dangerous.” That’s what I told her when she said I should take her to the movies.

She smiled and strutted away.

That night, after the movie, we kissed in my car. She apologized and I told her not to.

And there I was, at the doorway. There were no more tears. I put my hand out. She looked away. I could confess and tell her why this all had to be over. But there was no point, no more reason to yell or explain each other. No more blaming or reasoning for our actions. I just knew I had feelings for a moment in time and I acted on them. Just like when I complimented her eyebrows. Just like when she handed me her number. I couldn’t go back now. It was time to leave.

I opened the door. She held it open. Her eyes away from me. I stepped back, outside the apartment now.

She let it shut.

With my favorite book in hand I didn’t look back. I took the stairs, to the lobby, outside to the parking lot, into my car, and drove six blocks to my workplace. I parked and placed a text to the new sweet girl. I let her know I was outside waiting for her.

I opened my favorite book to kill time. My eyes crossed the page, but I wasn’t reading. Instead I was playing out the rest of my life in my head. I thought about everything that lead me here, sitting in the parking lot waiting on that pretty girl from work. I had built something with someone else for so long. It all started at a movie theater, three years ago, with a smile and compliment.

Then it all fell apart. 

Now I’m abandoning the mess.

Cyrus and Melody

There’s this story I’ve been waiting to tell you for awhile now. It’s a love story with no ending, only a beginning.

It’s about two people. Two boring people in their mid twenties, they aren’t in shape, they don’t have any money, and they both drive 1999 Grand Am’s. His is blue and hers is red.

The guy is Cyrus. The girl is Melody.

Cyrus has been bored lately, since his girlfriend left him for a taller, less educated guy. His name is pointless to mention. Even when Cyrus refers to him, he pronounces it wrong on purpose. It gives him pleasure to fuck up his name. That’s something he can’t take from him.

Cyrus has been so bored lately that he’ll stay up late staring at the ceiling. He turns off all the lights in his bedroom and draws the shades just enough so passing cars will throw pillars of light on the wall. He’ll watch them, as hours past, he’ll watch them cross his ceiling, forming and then disappearing. There’s something about this transition. It gives him perspective and pleasure in knowing that things are changing, that again, he won’t feel so bored.

Then one night he was so bored he found a piece of paper and wrote something down. He wrote: You don’t really know yourself until you’re alone at 3 am staring at the ceiling. The next morning he woke up with a different outlook. He was bored of being bored.

While Cyrus was watching the lights cross his ceiling, Melody was getting to know her neighbor, a guy whose name is also not worthy of mention. He was tall with a half beard and a big Adam’s apple. He always kept his chin high to show it off. Melody had just moved to the area and he helped replace a light bulb in the kitchen that began to flicker the third day she moved in. The next day they passed each other in the hallway and he ended up on her couch. They made out to info-commercials because she couldn’t afford cable. He was a bad kisser, so when he wanted to see her bedroom, she said she was tired. He went home.

Like Cyrus, Melody was bored. The neighbor was a nice guy, but mostly a convenience to her new surroundings. The next morning, she woke up, also bored of being bored.

It was Monday afternoon and the first humid day of the summer. Cyrus had the day off and so did Melody. They did what bored, lonely, twenty-year-olds do on Monday afternoons.

They do laundry.

Cyrus’ day didn’t start well. He noticed a stain on his favorite pair of jeans. They were his go-to jeans as he referred to them in his head. They were the ones that didn’t ride high on his waist, the ones that added weight where he didn’t have it. These were also the jeans he wore when he went out to meet friends for cheap beer. The stain ate him up inside and with this new outlook on life, he decided to do something about it.

As he was dumping his clothes in a washer, she walked in. He didn’t turn, she passed him without him noticing. She went to the next row of washers. Cyrus closed his now filled washer and realized he forgot his detergent. He did what he always did when he forgot detergent — he asked the closest person for some.

Melody turned around and she told him sure. He thanked her.

Cyrus closed the washer and it started to tumble. He twiddled his fingers and looked over at Melody. She looked bored.

Cyrus eyed the stack of board games in the corner near the vending machines. He saw one he knew how to play.

“Hey, you want to play chess?”

She hesitated with her eyes on his. “I don’t think I know how. I’ve never played.”

Cyrus had no problem teaching her. In fact it wasn’t his first time teaching someone. He once taught his ex-girlfriend. Melody took his chess lessons well. She moved her bishop and took out his queen before he could realize his mistake. Was it her dark mascara that was evenly placed around her blue eyes that drew his from the board? Or perhaps it was the way she covered her mouth when she laughed after he made a joke, or how she picked at her cuticles when she was thinking of her next move.

Whatever it was, it cost him his queen.

Eventually, all Melody had left was her king and a lone pawn. The washers sounded off.

They got up without saying anything. They hauled their wet clothes to dryers next to one another.

They went back to the board.

“You give up?”

She shook her head no and he continued to chase her around the board until the dryers finished.

“Okay, you win,” Melody pushed her king over in defeat.

He was relieved. She smiled, her eyes penetrating his, and then down to his lips and then away when he noticed.

He got her phone number that day and they went home to fold their laundry.

When Cyrus got home, he realized the stain on his jeans was gone.

-REH