Monday, April 14, 2014

Parted and Precious

   My grandfather waited twenty years to open a bottle of vintage port that my grandmother had given him as a surprise.
   Tonight would be their fortieth anniversary, and he sat in vigil beside it, lighting a candle.  His hands shook, but his eyes were steady.
   It took years for grandpa and grandma to find one another.
   And in a way, they were both still as distant as the stars.

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Childhood Ideal

   A pink ballerina ornament hanging from the Christmas tree twirled to musical bells and chimes.  She spun round and round in a slow, rhythmic circle.  Her toes bent to a perfect point and her gracefully lifted arms never flinched in fatigue.  Through all of her pain, she managed to look beautiful.
   Looking beautiful was all that mattered--all that was valued.
   She was an ornament.
   She was a woman.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Paradise Island: Part 2

   Weeks later, bags packed, Bryan and Elexis arrived at the airport to take them to the Grand Cayman Island, and they were both quiet.  They had had a fight the night before.  A couple's fight--over nothing in particular, but it feels like a volcano all the same.
   They didn't speak to one another much during the plane ride.  But when the plane landed and they looked at the rolling waves and sunshine, they both couldn't keep the smiles off their faces.
   Two days later, Elexis and Bryan were laying on the beach after a morning of lovemaking, and a volleyball rolled between them.
   "Sorry!" said a warm, male voice, thick with a slavic accent.  "It's my first time."  He was young, built, and he had a hint of stubble that suited him.  "I'm still learning the game."
   Elexis couldn't breathe.
   Bryan waved, "No worries.  Have fun."
   The man with a velvet voice faced Elexis, "Would you like to join?"
   Elexis flushed with heat.
   Bryan answered for her.  "No, thanks.  We're taking it easy."
   A few days later, Elexis couldn't stand going to the beach anymore.  There were too many men.  Too much temptation.  She told Bryan that the sun was getting to her, and thought it would be better if they stayed inside during the heat of the day. 
   When they walked together along the beach in the morning and the evening, there were fewer men running around shirtless, half-naked.
   It was what Elexis needed.  Otherwise, she would drown herself with men and tequila.
   She and Bryan spent a couple nights in loud, crowded clubs.  Bryan waited at their table, dutifully guarding her purse, while Elexis lost herself in the thrum of the dance floor.
   On the last night of their vacation, Bryan ordered champagne and chocolate covered strawberries.  While Elexis was in the shower, Bryan lit a few candles and transformed their breakfast nook into a romantic oasis.  On the table, a small box sat in the middle as the center piece.  It was the reason for this trip, and it embodied the core of his love.
   When Elexis walked in, fresh from her shower, she gave a shout, then tears burst from her eyes.
   Bryan smiled and shed tears of happiness.
   Elexis cried as her heart dropped from her chest and filled with dread.
   She had to tell him now.
   She had to tell him about the other men.  And pray to God that he could forgive her.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Paradise Island: Part 1

   A slender man with average height, dark skin, and light brown eyes put his wallet back into his loose fitting jeans.  He wore a red T-shirt and steel-toed boots.
   He was not at all the type of man that Elexis would be interested in.  She tried not to look away from Bryan, her boyfriend of two years.  He was the perfect partner for her.  Solid, dependable, loving, well dressed.  Bryan made life less scary.
   But the man in steel-toed boots putting his wallet away, he scared her.  Nothing about him screamed evil-ax-murderer.  But he made her sit taller in her seat.
   Elexis would glance over and see him alone at his table.  She was careful not to stare too long.  If she did and Bryan noticed, she would pinch her arm as punishment.  She loved Bryan.  She didn't understand why she kept looking at the other man, but she couldn't help herself. 
   Gnawing on the inside of her lower lip, she watched the waitress wish the man a good night.  She told herself that it was a good thing that the man was leaving.  Then she would probably never see him again, and she wouldn't have to feel as if she were cheating on Bryan, the man she truly loved, adored, and cherished.  
   Elexis sighed.
   When the mystery man walked out of the restaurant, Bryan had been talking about work and had asked a question.
   Elexis shook herself, "What?  I'm sorry, darling.  I was somewhere else for a second."  Somewhere with a man who made her nervous.
   Bryan looked down at his laced hands on the table; he was thinking.  "You seem to do that a lot recently.  I'm not boring you am I?"
   "What?!  No! No, no, I'm sorry.  Really, Bryan, I just had a long day too and my concentration is shot."
   His eyebrows lifted the worry from his face, "Oh!  Well, what happened?  Tell me about it."
   Elexis shifted in her seat, "Oh, it was just another crazy day.  Juggling personalities and all.  Nothing special."
   "Oh."  The worry, which once was gone, turned around and settled back onto Bryan's brow.  "Well, it must have bothered you quite a bit.  I'm sorry for that."  He paused a moment.  "So, like I was saying, I thought we could go away for awhile.  On a trip.  To get away from work and spend more time...just the two of us..."
   Elexis gave herself another pinch for having such terrible thoughts about another man when she had her own prince charming right in front of her.  "Of course!  That sounds like a wonderful idea.  Where should we go?"
   "I thought maybe an island somewhere.  I know you love the beach, and it would be fun--carefree.  We could build sandcastles and swim with dolphins."
   Bryan told Elexis to buy herself a new swimsuit.  He would take care of the rest.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Anomaly

   Love is a terrible thing.  Falling in love is a shot in the dark and a rolling of the dice.
   Anger is a miraculous experience.  Releasing pent up anger is euphoric and beneficial for the body.
   When you think on your feet and walk on your hands, the world is upside down.  But when the world is right side up, it isn't so hard to see how this happens.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Robin, Earl of a Grand Estate

   As the evening darkened, we approached the stone fortress on horseback.  Our heads hung low while hunger tore at our stomachs.  And our horses, breathing puffs of mist, quivered and shifted their weight.  The ground below us was white with flecks of brown and wet from melting snow.  
   "We've arrived," I said, nearly falling to the ground.  For days I have had no hope that we would survive.  We have braved many battles together, but none had truly frightened me as this one had.  
   Beside me, Robin lifted her mouth in a half-smile, "Indeed, John.  Indeed."
   We were back.  Home from the crusades.  
   Robin yelped her mare into a gallop, and raised her bow in salute to God and her home, and I followed in her stead.  Robin's hair had grown to her chin in our travels, and it flew behind her.  Years ago, her hair had been long and wild like the mane on her mare.
   I could finally glimpse a piece of my young mistress again.  Not the skilled marksman pretending to be Robert, Earl of a grand estate.  
   Before the crusades tore our land apart and shattered peace for the kingdom, my mistress's name had been Rosamond, rose of the world.  But now, war has changed her.  War changes us all.
   Rosamond is nothing but a wilting flower.  
   Robin is strong, sure, and true, yet plagued by evil and haunted by death.  The childish light and trill of Rosamond's eyes and laughter will likely never be seen or heard again.  She has killed for her King, and that alone will mark her as Robin--and not Rosamond--for the rest of her life.  
   "Come, John!"  Robin shouted over the pounding hooves.  "We're home!"
   Again a glimpse of my young mistress--a look of happiness.  It is fleeting. We have come to know that happiness is ever fleeting.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bro Code: Part Two, We take this to the Grave

   We watched as the young girl carefully, silently closed the door and held a brown paper package under her arm.  Nathan's brow drew together as he looked at her.  His nose told him that her brown paper package was hiding salami.  His salami.
   As backyard terrors go, this girl reeked of it.  And our curiosity got the better of us.  How could this girl have stolen salami from the butcher's wife?
   When her knitted, brown floppy hat turned left at the end of the alley, we followed after her.  Once we reached the street, it was pretty easy for us to blend in, which also made the girl harder to spot.
   We walked at a brisk pace, not fast enough to catch any unwanted attention, but not slow enough to lose the girl.
   "There she is!"  Nathan spotted her just a block ahead of us.
   She walked casually and her head was held high.  By the look of her anyone would think she was a sweet little miss, delivering a package for her dear, old grandmother.
   Nathan stumbled and swore under his breath at the uneven sidewalk, never losing sight of the brown paper package and the girl's bobbing brown knitted hat.
   "This is crazy," I said.
   Nathan was enchanted, "Where can she be going?"
   "We should just go back and wait for the truck like you--"
   "Oh, forget about the truck, will you?"  His look silenced me.  "Just shut it and move."
   The girl veered left, ducking down another alley.  Then she disappeared.
   Nathan kicked a rock against the building's wall.  He swore quite a lot, as I recall.  "Come on," he said, ever the optimist.  "She can't be too far."
   And she wasn't.
   "'Ey! Whadda you two want?"  The package was gone, so was her hat.  Without them, she stood taller, her hair was fierce, and her eyes wild.
   I needed another coke bottle.
   She shoved us.  "If you think I'm gonna share my score with you two gits, forget it!  I got it fair and square!"  She raised her shaking fists, and we could see the scars on her knuckles.  "Ah, you think you two are smart for following me?  I saw you in the butcher's shop.  I know what you're after.  But you're not getting anything from me."
   Nathan's mouth gaped open.  Before he could do anything besides blink at the girl, I slowly raised my hands and tried to make myself smaller, less intimidating to the girl.  "Look," I said.  "We don't want anything.  We were just curious."
   She stepped towards me, fists at the ready.  "Don' gimme that!"
   "It's true."  Nathan said.  "We don't want the salami.  We'll just go."
   With each step we took back, the girl followed.  She stopped when we turned and ran.  
   When Nathan and I were almost home, we slowed and clutched our sides, panting.
   "What..." I began, "da hell... was that?"
   Nathan's head dropped, "I dunno."
   We stopped and sat on somebody's front steps to cool down and wipe the sweat from our foreheads into our hair.
   "Matthew?"  I looked at my friend.  "She saw us at the butcher's."
   "Yeah?  I still don't see how she got away from that huge goat lady--thing."
   But Nathan knew.
   "We're so stupid, Matthew."
   "Why?"  I asked.
   "Because we distracted that old goat while the girl slipped in and took our salami.  She must have hid in the back until it was safe to open the door."
   We sat in silence for a little while after Nathan's revelation.
   Then I said, "She's brilliant."
   Nathan rolled his eyes at me, "Yes, yes, okay.  Let's just not tell the whole world about it, shall we?"  He ran his hands through his hair, then shook out the sweat violently.  "If anyone found out that a girl got the better of us, we'd never hear the end of it."  He stared me down as if drilling his point into my skull.
   "All right!"  I said.  "I won't say anything."
   "We'll just have to keep an eye out for her next time."
   My neck snapped around, "Next time?"
   "Yeah," my friend said.  "Next time, we'll be ready."  With a grin on his face, he bounced up onto his feet.  "She was kinda cute without that hat, don't you think?"
   Now I was the one who couldn't stop staring with my mouth wide open.  I watched my friend walk to my house, hands in his pockets, head high, whistling like the devil himself.
   "Cute?!"  I yelled as I ran after him.  I tackled him to the ground, "What's wrong with you?!"
   He laughed, "It was a joke, Matthew.  Come on.  She's a girl for cryin' out loud."

   When we all grew up, Nathan married that girl.
   For the longest time, that day my friend craved salami had been the worst day of my life.
   But now, as his friend, I guess I can be happy for him.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bro Code: Part One, No Girls Allowed

   The worst day of my life started when I answered the door to my childhood friend, and he said he had a craving for salami.
   We lived on the west-end of Charleston just blocks away from a butcher's shop.  
   I don't know why mother ever let us walk out of the house together.  For years she had said that Nathan and I were the devil's backyard terrors.  You would think she would've kept a better eye on us.
   Without a dime in our pockets, we walked to the butcher's.  Nathan pressed his face against the storefront glass, and his smooshed nose gave a great big sniff.  I watched his eyes close, and he said, "Can you smell that?  It's heavenly."
   Maybe I wasn't as hungry as Nathan, but when I copied my friend, all I could get a whiff of was window cleaner.  When the butcher's door slammed shut, the air that wafted our way was definitely not a clean grocery store smell.
   We walked inside and the sourness of the smell intensified.  Bile coated the roof of my mouth.  While I followed Nathan's stride, one hand held my stomach and the other covered my nose.
   His nose and eyes sought salami.
   I stuffed my hands into my pockets, determinedly.  I would not grab for the counter to steady myself.  I would not turn away from all the red meats behind the glass.  I would not run for fresh air.
   Not that Nathan would have noticed if I had done any of those things.
   The butcher's wife didn't care for Nathan's zeal, "What are ya boys up to?  Take yer dirty hands and be off!"
   When Nathan reached for the salami, the butcher's wife grabbed him by the cuff.  "Out!  Out with ya."  She pushed me ahead of him, into the door.  "Go on!  There'll be no freebies today.  Git!"
   Nathan was not pleased.  "Ah!  That miserable goat!  Now what'll we do?"
   Had my suggestion of going home been obliged, or even heard, our day might have taken a better turn.  But as the devil's backyard terrors, we weren't known for having the good sense to see trouble when we were heading straight for it.
   Nathan said, "We should go around back.  The truck picks up deliveries there.  We'll just wait for the salami to come out the back and snatch it before it gets into the truck."
   We didn't have all day to wait for a truck, but I didn't say that.  I said, "How will we know which box has the salami?"
   Nathan slowly looked at me, like I was his annoying little sister instead of his best friend, "I'll sniff it out, of course."  And with a shake of his head, he turned back to scouting out the butcher's back door.
   At the time, I'll admit that I admired my friend for his rare ability to sniff out salami.  And I had hoped that one day he would teach me how.  But afterwards, whenever I pressed him about it, he would wave me off and say that it was something you had to be born with and that I was hopeless.
   That day had been one of the saddest days of my life, but it's one that I'd rather not talk about.
   Nathan was sure that a truck would rumble down the narrow cobblestone alley and pull around to the bins that we hid behind, he just didn't know when.
   "Maybe we missed the truck already," I said.
   "Oh, don't be ridiculous.  It'll come.  Just wait."
   I learned how to pee into an empty coke bottle that day.  Nathan couldn't believe that I hadn't learned before.  "We're eleven, Matthew.  Stop being such a girl."
   That moment, the back door opened and a young girl crept out.
   "What is she up to?"  Nathan whispered.