Grieved by My Former Career–#SOCS

Zip, zero, zilch. That’s how many words I think I can get out of this, Fred. I thought when you hired me for this job that you wanted me for my hard-hitting reporting. But you got me covering a smalltown Easter parade nearly a month after it is already over. I am not a lifestyle writer, but I did spend some time in the obits. Is that what you want from me? This parade is dead and gone. Here you go: One bumfuck-Egypt Easter parade obituary coming up. Grieved by my credibility and my now defunct reporting career.

***

I wrote this poem following Linda Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt ‘zip, zero, zilch.’ If you would like to read more about her challenge, check out her sight here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/04/29/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-april-30-2022/

Marital Conversations—Flash Fiction

Husband is lying on the couch watching wife in the armchair. She has her head down watching her phone. When husband talks, wife has to remove earbuds to understand. After a lull in the conversation, husband lifts his leg straight up to fart. Wife, having not yet put the earbud back in her left ear, gives him a glance. Husband sniffs lightly and makes a face. “Smells like a fart.”

Wife gets out of her chair and walks toward the front door. “Smells like a fart?!” She mutters to herself. “It always smells like a fart.”

As wife walks out the door, husband says, “No it doesn’t. Sometimes it smells like chocolate cake or Chinese food.”

Wife comes back in to say, “No, it doesn’t!”

Husband says, “Yes, it does.” And wife goes back outside.

You Won’t Take Mad From Me

He said, You are sitting right next me at the table. You understand that I can hear that phone call, right? He just told you I love you, and you told him you love him, too.

She said, It’s not what you think. His mother just died. And he has been a friend for three years.

He said, I bet.

She said, He is just a coworker.

He said, I bet.

She said, He is, and his mother just died.

He said, I bet she did. And I bet this is the third time this month that she’s died.

She said, You don’t understand. He is just a friend.

He said, I can tell. He must be a really close friend.

She said, I don’t want to lose what we have.

He said, I can tell. You play that out right in front of me. Then, you tell me that you don’t want to lose what we have. What exactly do you think we have?

She said, He is just a friend.

He said, I heard him say, I love you. Then you told him…

She said, You don’t understand. He…

He said, You told him you love him, too. I am your husband. I don’t care if you are not fucking him. And I don’t believe it either.

She said, I don’t want to lose what we have.

He said, A man does not tell another man’s wife that he loves her unless that woman is his mother. And a man’s wife does not tell another man that she loves him.

She said, He is only a friend.

He said, I don’t want to hear it.

She said, Baby!

She moved over to him and put her arms around him, and he turned away. She put her boobs on the side of his head.

She said, I don’t want to lose you.

He said, stop. I am not in the mood to be touched.

She said, Oh yeah! Well what are you in the mood for?

He said, I’m not in the mood to talk about this.

She said, When will you be in the mood to talk about this, huh?

He said, I am trying to be polite. I have not raised my voice. You keeping at me about this is making me angry.

She said, He is just a friend. I don’t want you mad at me about this.

He said, I am mad. I have earned mad. I will stay mad. And you will not convince me that I should not be mad about you having an intimate relationship with another man.

She said, You don’t understand.

He said, I don’t care if I understand. I don’t care if you are sleeping with him. It doesn’t matter. Ok, it does matter. I don’t want to hear about it. Now, leave me alone, and let me be mad.

She walked off hurt that he was mad. And she would bring it up again. She knew she would. She would just wait until he seemed a little too happy. Then, she would say, We need to talk about this. I don’t want you mad. And she didn’t want him mad, did she?

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 4)

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a far off stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 3)

She had never seen Francisco again at least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Visions from the Coffee Cup (part 2)

Linda had gotten up late that morning and had known that she didn’t have much time to watch in the cup this morning, but she took the chance and was paying for it. She took the stairs because she knew it was faster than the elevator. Even in her best professional heels she was holding the handrails and taking two steps at a time. She passed the man from the floor below her on his way up. He said, “Hey, watch it lady. Why you always in a rush?”

She smiled and said, “Good morning.” And she kept right on at the same pace. The man was always coming up around this time of day. He didn’t look like the in-shape type, but he always took the stairs. She figured he must be sitting all night driving a cab or something, so he takes the stairs to feel like he’s getting some kind of exercise. The truth was they never spoke other than the polite ‘good mornings’ they would exchange when she wasn’t rushing. In fact, that was most of life in The City for her. It was be polite and keep to yourself. The City could be safe if you kept to the good parts of town, but grifters and confidence men were everywhere. Anybody too friendly was either new to The City and hadn’t been ripped off just yet, or they were out to rip you off.

She’d had it happen to her when she had first arrived. He had seen her at the coffee bar. She had gone there a lot before she realized she couldn’t afford it. Finances were already tight without a ten-dollar cup of black coffee in a crowded storefront, and she had been going once or twice a week, sometimes more. Francisco was a handsome older man with slicked back hair thinning on the top. He had paid attention to her despite her simply sitting and watching her coffee.

She was thrilled at first. The man would sit in the table next to her and offer to pay for her cup the next time they were both in the shop together. He seemed to always be there just after she had paid for her cup. After a few times, he would just come and sit at her table and look into her eyes. He would lower his voice and talk about the future they could have. After about a week or so she thought she was falling in love. And that is when he asked for some money.

It was just a hundred dollars at first. He said his mother needed just a little help with her groceries. The next week he had asked for five hundred dollars to get his car looked at. She said, “Francisco, I wish I could, but I don’t have five hundred dollars.”

He said, “Sweetheart, its important.” He had taken to calling her sweetheart although they had never met anywhere besides the coffee bar. He said, “My boss is ready to fire me. It’s really important.” He looked into her eyes and got his lip to quiver.

She said, “I can’t do it this month, Francisco. I barely have enough to pay my rent.”

He said, “I know, sweetheart. It’s just your old Fran-Fran, over here, is in a really tight spot.” He put his hand on hers. He said, “Why don’t you never call me Fran-Fran? You know I like to hear it.” He looked at her for a while then he said, “I know a nice girl like you has got some jewelry. I swear I’ll pay you back.”

She told him that she would try to come up with the money. He said, “Please do, sweetheart. I don’t think you’d respect me anymore if I had to beg you in front of all of these people here.”

That was the only time the man from downstairs had ever stopped her to talk. He said, “I saw you the other day at the coffee bar talking to that old man. Don’t you be giving him no money.”

She said, “Who, Francisco?”

He said, “Is that what he told you? He was Chico to my sister, and Johnathan to my grandmother. I had to threaten him with a knife to get him to leave my Gammy alone.” He spit in the corner under the stair rail against the wall. He said, “I don’t imagine you’d ever get him come here, but if you do, and I see him, I’ll kick him down the fucking stairs.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Look I don’t mean to be rude. You look like a nice girl to me. You’ll find you a nice man. Just this Francisco, or whatever. You tell him you ain’t giving him no more money. I bet he won’t never talk to you again. He’s a thief. He don’t love you.”

The man from downstairs was right. When she told Francisco she wouldn’t give him anymore money, he said, “See that lady over there.” He pointed to a gray-haired woman in a pants suit sitting across the room. “I am going to go over and talk to her. And if you say even a word, I’ll slap you around in front of everyone here. And you will feel too stupid to ever drink another cup of coffee here again.” She had never seen Francisco again.

*** Part 3

At least until she came barreling around that corner. She was walking fast and looking down at her phone to see what time it was. She cut as close as she could to the cement column at the corner of the bank building. There was another half block and she was racing to make it before the morning deadline. And there was Francisco coming around the same corner. At least it was him for a second. Or she thought it was him.

No, no it was him. It was Francisco. She had run into him hard and was knocked onto the sidewalk and her attaché case had fallen and come open. Her papers had gotten wet with what looked, smelled, and felt like hot coffee. Her head was swimming, and her arms were dripping with scalding coffee.

It had been Francisco for. He had looked so much older and worse for wear. It had seemed that the last three years had not been good to him. He had been walking and drinking from a Styrofoam to-go-cup of coffee. In the split second of impact, the coffee cup had come open smashed against Francisco’s face. The coffee splashed up and off his face into the air, and Linda was transfixed by the scattering of the black liquid glittering in the sunlight. The falling globes of coffee all at once revealed the man that she had seen in the coffee before she had left her apartment.

All in that split second, she had seen the young man and his two thousand dollar suit and the boat and the beating and the blood and the woman and the note. All at the same time, and all in vivid detail. She smelled the clean linen smell of the high-end tailor shop. Felt each time he was hit with. Felt the whisper of a woman’s lips on his cheek and her hand in his pocket dropping a note. Felt the draw of the toy boat and the mystery of the business cards. Felt the pain of spending his last dime on that suit. Heard the warning from the man at the deli not to go. Felt the caress of a woman’s hands removing his clothes. Felt the frightened excitement of the door flying opened. Saw three men with cutoff broom handles. Heard them asking him for something, but he gave them his name. Was it Raul? Was it Allen? And she felt his passion, and his youth, and his erection, and its fade, and his death. Most of all, she felt his death. And all in that split second.

And Francisco was gone. He had slammed into her knocking her to the ground, and he was gone but for the coffee on her and her papers and the broken cup and lid being kicked across the ground by the people walking past. Some passersby had hooted their approval at seeing her fall. Others had gasped, but none seemed to know exactly how it happened. Although not many had stuck around to voice their opinions. Most had continued walking past. But one man had offered her a hand up. She had expected it to be the young man with the expensive suit, but it was not. It was just some man she may or may not have seen before. He helped her up, handed her the attaché case and then he was on his way checking his pockets to make sure she had not stolen his wallet.

She had not seen what had happened to Francisco or whatever name he was using these days. It was possible that he had just slipped past in the confusion, but it sure didn’t feel that way. There was so much anger at seeing Francisco and confusion and other emotions in that split second that she was sure that he had simply vanished. She had never sent anyone away through the coffee or knew if it even worked that way. In fact, she didn’t know how any of it worked only that it did. She could suppress it sometimes when she had time to concentrate, but this had all happened so fast.

She walked into the copy editor’s office and said, “Mr. Hutchinson, is there a computer I can use?”

He swiveled around in his chair. Then leaned back in surprise. He said, “Jesus, Mrs. Carla. I’d ask how your morning was, but I think I can tell.” He got up from his chair. “Here, sit down. You can use mine.”

It was a good thing that she was able to access her work remotely because here papers were brown, soggy, and wrinkling by the time she got them to the newspaper building. Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she went through the extra effort of actually going down to the building when she could have just emailed the documents in the first place. She felt like she might have to explain something to the Mr. Hutchinson or something like that. But he never did ask. He’d always loved her work and seldom made any changes.

She just thought there was something better about the weight of actual paper. Something you could touch. And it gave her a reason to leave her apartment and interact with real people that weren’t her clients. And she liked seeing Mr. Hutchinson. He was a chubby old man and he kept pictures of his wife and his kids and their kids. And he always had something interesting he had just read while he was getting it ready to go to print. But this morning he was only interested in what had happened to her. And all she could tell him is it all happened so fast.

No, she wouldn’t give up her walks to the paper. She liked The City. There was just something honest about not knowing someone and not being forced to pretend to know them. That is what she liked about living and walking there. The City simply existed. It didn’t care if you didn’t know it. The people simply existed. Most people didn’t care if you didn’t know anything about them. And the majority seemed to prefer that you didn’t know them. When she got back to her apartment, she was tempted to pour herself a cup of coffee from the pot she left on the eye to keep hot. But she decided instead to get herself in the shower and change into clothes that were not stained and smelling of stale coffee.

She nearly screamed when she saw the naked and bleeding man lying in her bed. It was Raul or Allen or whatever she thought his name might be. It was the young man from her vision, but he wasn’t dead. He was beaten and bloody and seemed to be in and out of consciousness. She was sure she had seen him die, but here he was. Alive or just barely. She wet a clean towel from her bathroom and began to clean the blood off him. The thought of the police did cross her mind but didn’t call them. She knew that she had brought him here, and now she owed him something. The police would just take him away, and he would end up broken like Judy. Linda was determined to help him.

*** Part 4

Linda had dressed the young man’s wounds and covered him with clean sheets and found her largest bathrobe folded it and laid it on the bedside table.  He mumbled her name and something about the toy boat she had seen in her vision but nothing particularly intelligible. After a few hours he regained enough consciousness to hold short conversations. She asked him his name, and he wasn’t able to tell her right away. She said, “Your name is Raul or Allen or maybe something close to one of those. You had been handing out business cards in the street. Can you remember any of that?”

He said, “Maybe. I’m not sure. Allen. Not Raul. But I did. But Allen.” She could tell he was straining to remember anything.

She said, “Do you remember the business cards? Could you tell me about those?” She was starting to be embarrassed by how much this resembled giving someone a reading.

He said, “Yes. No. I think Linda has my toy boat.”

She said, “I’m Linda. You’ve been calling my name. Do you know how you know my name?”

He said he didn’t know, and his head hurt too much to talk for now. She agreed to wait and told him where the robe was. She told him, when he was up to it, she would help him put on the robe. When she thought it was safe enough to leave him on his own, she went out and bought some men’s underwear, tee shirts and a couple pairs of sweats. He wouldn’t look as nice as he did is his expensive suit, but he would be covered up.

While she was out, she felt like she was being watched. It was more than likely here imagination, but it seemed like she kept seeing the same two men’s faces in the crowd going down one street and then another. This was The City and with so many people around all the time she was bound to see people who resembled one another, but this felt different than that. It wasn’t the typical I think that guy looks like someone I know. But more like I swear I just saw the same guy two blocks over. She had just called Allen through the coffee, and her head still felt a little funny from that experience. Maybe this was Déjà vu brought on by that experience. She was so young that last time she had brought someone through she couldn’t remember how she had felt afterwards.

When she got back to her apartment Allen was asleep, so she left the clothes on the bedside table and went into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She thought the visions she saw in the coffee might explain things better. She knew it didn’t work that way, but she wasn’t sure what she knew anymore. And the coffee didn’t give any special enlightenment, it only showed her the things it always did. But it did sooth her, and it eased the strange feeling in her head.

She must have been truly and deeply engaged in what she was watching because she didn’t hear Allen get up. He was dressed and standing in the bedroom doorway. He watched her leaning over the cup of coffee for a while before he spoke. He said, “What do you see in there?” She looked up somewhat surprised. He said, “It’s not just your reflection, is it?” She came up with a few quick excuses, and Allen listened quietly. He said, “Can I see?”

She seldom had anyone over besides clients, and they typically sat on the couch. Even when they did decide they wanted their reading done at the table, none had ever asked to see in her coffee. She knew seeing into the coffee was only her gift, but she held a little hope that under these circumstances, he might see some answers she couldn’t see. She pushed the coffee cup over to the chair beside her. Allen sat and looked into the cup of coffee with a faroff stare like he was concentrating.

For once, Linda was focused on someone with coffee without feeling the pull to look into the coffee itself. His left eye was purple and nearly shut and the bridge of his nose was swollen like it could be broken, but she could see through all that to how handsome he was. That wasn’t just here memories of him from the vision. Besides much of the vividness of her vision that morning had already faded like waking from a nightmare. You know you had it. Your heart is still racing. But you can no longer remember all the details. In a minute you will only remember how you felt. In another few you will even have forgotten you had a nightmare in the first place. Only she had a handsome nightmare, and he was sitting at her kitchen table with a cup of coffee.

Allen frowned and looked a little while longer. Then, he pushed the cup back over to her. He said, “I don’t see anything, but my own stupid face.” He sat beside her and put his head on his hand wincing a little against the pain in his face. He said, “Do you mind if I drink a little of that coffee? It might help to clear my head.”

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. I should have offered. Let me see if I have some cream and sugar.” She got up from the table and started toward the fridge. He told her not to worry about that he could drink it black. She said, “It has been cooking for hours. Why don’t you let me make you a new pot?”

He said, “Don’t go through the trouble. Right now, I don’t think I could taste much of anything.” They sat there and talked for a while. Her coffee sat next to her getting cold, and he drank his one small sip at a time. She was pretty sure he could taste it, and he didn’t really like it. But he drank it, and he never once spoke about their future together which she felt was a nice change.

Getting Around to the End

Ok, ok… Now settle down y’all two. It was an accident. And I do owe y’all an apology. I’s careless and wasn’t watching where I was going.

No, now… You don’t need to be getting all pushy. Y’all are gonna sit a spell and y’all are gonna listen. ‘Cause I do owe ya an apology, but it hurt when y’all bumped into me, and ya nearly knocked me onto my keister. I don’t know why y’all need to be running around a corner like that without a’lookin where you’s goin.

Now, now… I’s apologizing, and I think it’d be quite nice if ya took your hands off me your rumplin’ my clothes. Look, I’m sorry, and I’m apologizing. But if ya were runnin’ and ya weren’t a’lookin, I’d say that’s your’n own fault.

Your’n…

Your’n own…

It’s short for ‘Your own.’

Ok, you’re right. ‘Your’n own,’ ‘Your own own’ does sound a might repetitious.

Ok, yeah… Well, I’m from Mississippi, or rather, I been there for a while, now.

I good while. Why?

Well, what’s it matter, how long I been there?

Yeah. Well, y’all sound funny to me, too. Where the hell are we anyway?

Well, is that so? Ya know, y’all knocked me pretty hard, and I might be thinking you’d be all confused and mixed up if I’d a been the one to knock into you. And you know a couple of grown fellers like yourselves, might ought not to be using such colorful language. I can cuss, too. You know. I just choose my language a little more carefully. Could be some lady might come around that corner hearing y’all… you two. Might come around the corner hearing you two, and she might get some ideas about how both of you have been raised.

Of course, I hadn’t said nothing. I was apologizing. Have I ever told you two about my buddies, Pete and Freddy?

Oh, you don’t huh? Well, there was this time when I was a bit younger. I was in high school. You know it is hard to keep my language cleaned up for city folks like yourselves. I was in high school, and I knew these two girls. And I was at one’s house and her friend was over…

Well, I was going to be getting to some titties. I figured a couple of young men might be interested in a story about titties.

Ok, how about peckers then? I spent some time in the Navy in my younger days, and we’d have to shower all together. Yep, this was only basic training, you see. The rest of the time, we had separate showers. But there was this one feller and his pecker was swinging right around his knees.

Are you sure, you don’t want to hear about this? I was just about to be getting to the feller with the tiniest pecker you ever did see.

No. No, no. It wasn’t me. Mine is about near average. Nothing special. Look, it took me years to realize that if you go around talking about how big your pecker is, people are going to get a look one way or another. And they are going to know you’re a liar.

Oh, huh. You don’t care about that either. Well, those two folks you two were chasing seem to be good and gone, and y’all can get on about your business if y’all are sure. I mean sure, sure you don’t to hear one of my stories. They are a hoot if ya ever let me get around to the end.

Markey Monkey the Emperor of Evil (part 3)

The black mirror in the throne room of The Castle of the Burning hammer began to lighten. It sniffed tentatively at first, and then sniffed good and hard. The evil vision’s voice boomed a sing song. “Markey Mark, little monkey.”

Mark jumped and spilled coffee on the floor and table of the castle kitchen. He said loud enough to be heard in the other room. “What, dad.”  He threw the rest of the coffee down the sink.

The evil vision’s voice boomed into the kitchen. “What do I smell in there?”

Mark yelled again from the kitchen. “Nothing, dad. You can’t smell, remember?”

The evil vision boomed his voice into the kitchen. “I can, too. And I think you are hiding something. Mark, get in here.”

Mark thought his dad was getting mad.  He yelled, “No.”

The evil vision said, “Now, son.”

“No.”

“I’m about to start counting.” Mark still did not come. “One…” The evil voice counted loudly.

Mark poked his head out of the kitchen doorway. “No, dad. Don’t spank me.”

“Two…”

Mark walked through the door. Looking at his toes and walking slow.

The evil vision said, “Markey, do I smell coffee?”

Mark looked up and said, “When did you start smelling again?”

The evil vision said, “I don’t know. It just started on and off in the last… Mark, you are too young to drink coffee.”

“I didn’t drink it, dad.” The news that his father was regaining his senses made Mark both happy and sad.

“So, I did smell coffee.”

“No. There isn’t any coffee. You didn’t smell coffee.”

“Don’t lie to me, Mark. I can see it on your face.”

Mark was astonished. “You can see, too?”

“Well, no… Only sometimes. Like when you lie to me.”

“OK, dad. But I didn’t drink the coffee.”

“Mark… Little Markey, I will not have you drinking coffee. It is not good for a growing boy.”

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

The evil vision said, “By the way. I have been sensing spot around here the past couple days.” Mark smiled he really liked spot. The evil vision said, “I thought you sent him back to hell.”

“He came back. I think he just wandered off into the woods for a while.”

“I don’t know, Markey. When I told you it was OK to keep him as pet you told me that you were up to the responsibility.”

“I am, dad. I am very responsible. I clean his cage and everything.”

“The zombies told me that they were the ones picking up his poop.”

“That is the same thing, isn’t it?”

“Well maybe in the eyes of the law… But cleaning it up yourself is supposed to teach you discipline.”

“Dad, it’s gross. It stinks. It has blood and mucus and pieces of bone. And it’s foamy. The zombies like to do it. They told me.”

“The zombies didn’t tell you that. Nobody likes picking up monster poop. Especially not from a black slime.” The mirror started to dim to blackness and Markey turned to walk away. Then, the evil mirror snapped brighter than ever. “Wait a minute, son. Have you been talking to the zombies?” There was almost excitement in the evil vision’s voice.

“You know what I mean, dad. I tell them to do stuff, and they do it.”

“So… You were fibbing?”

“Don’t be mad, dad.”

“Are you sure? You didn’t look like you were fibbing. You know it would be a big day if you could read their minds. You would be growing into a man. You are not scared of growing up, are you? You are still too young for ‘The Talk’ but I sure would be proud of my little man.”

“I wasn’t fibbing… I just don’t like to clean up the poop.”

“I know, but that is part of your responsibilities. And you need to be more careful with him. Have the zombies make sure his pit is sealed. I mean really sealed. A slime can get through even the smallest of cracks.”

“I will, dad.”

“And really watch them. You are the supervisor really make sure they are doing a good job. I don’t you to tell them I said this, but those zombies… I don’t want to say it. They are… Kind of…”

“Dumb, dad?”

“Don’t say it so loud, son. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.”

“You don’t want to hurt the zombies’ feelings!?” Mark began to giggle.

“They do have feelings, son. We are not the only ones. Zombies are just the same as you and me. You should respect them.”

Mark looked a little ashamed. “I do respect them, dad.”

“OK, son. You just keep an eye on spot. We don’t need him going around killing people when you are not there to collect the power from their souls. We need everything we can get to power that machine. It seems like the power keeps leaking away little by little every day. I need to recheck the wiring diagram against the way the machine is actually hooked up. There has got to be something leaking to ground that shouldn’t me. I mean we really should have the thing up and running by now.”

Dear Satanists,

I know you get all up in arms about people saying that we live in a Christian country or quoting the Bible to explain why a law exists or should exist. But I think that we can all agree that you don’t need the Bible to explain why eating other people’s babies is against the law. In fact, eating your own babies is probably against the law, too. So, let’s just be fair about all this. You can’t complain… Because it’s only natural. You can’t complain when someone stumbles across you eating a baby, and says, “Jesus Christ! Milly call the cops.”

I know you have your constitutional protection against religious persecution and all, but some things just scare the words right out of you. Now, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it as a hate crime. If I apologize enough for hurting your feelings on this subject, will you please tell the police that you are not going to press charges. I don’t think I would do well in jail. And I didn’t really like little Billy that much anyway. You can go right on ahead and keep on eating on him. Be my guest.

Elmo from Monster Heaven

Old and frail. Balding atop his red furry monster head. Elmo sits bound to a wheelchair. He removes his oxygen mask and in a soft, gravely voice says, “Elmo learn today, children.” He stifles a cough. “Elmo say no smoke.”

He takes a slow breath. “Elmo sorry.” A tear glistens in his eye. “Elmo smoke all Elmo’s life.” He breathes. “Elmo smoke four packs per day. Count with Elmo.” He counts slowly and takes a breath between each number. “By time you see Elmo.” He leans forward shaking. “Elmo be dead.” He leans back in his chair. “Elmo learn word.” He pauses. “Elmo learn emphysema.” He takes a breath. “Children say with Elmo.” He speaks as clear as he can. “Em-fah-see-ma.”