Time seems frozen in the checkout line stuck between the Mars bars and the tabloids, you wonder how Liz could survive a total body liposuction, and further details of how OJ killed in a moment of lust. The old woman in front rummages in her change purse certain she has the eighty seven cents, the coins lost in a blue haze reflected off her hair. Two aisles over the young mother her jaw clenched in frustration keeps putting the life savers back on the shelf as her child, fidgeting in the cart grabs another roll, until she shouts and slaps his hand. His cry draws stares from all and she stares at the floor as he grabs a Three Musketeers and Certs. A man in the express line swears that the apples were marked 89 cents and wants to see the manager who calmly explains that Granny Smiths are a dollar twenty nine and only small Macintoshes are on sale this week. He puts the bag on the scale and stalks out of the store. I would shift to the express lane but I have 16 items and must continue to wait and wonder how many incisions it would take for a full body liposuction.
Previously appeared in Kimera: A Journal of Fine Writing, Vol. 3, No.2, 1998 and in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008
They gather this time every week, they would feel lost if they did otherwise. The don’t do it out of any sense of duty or higher calling, and they expect nothing in return for having done so. They aren’t even following directions or obeying some unwritten rule. They object to most rules, demand logic before even pausing to consider requests for action. Holidays do throw off their schedule but they work around them as best they can. Theirs is a joyous group and only the swings groan under their laughter as their feet reach up to kick the clouds, before night falls on the playground.
My mother wanted to tell me of my great-grandmother, a woman she barely knew, but who she imagined more fully that life itself would ever have allowed. History, in her hands was malleable, you could shape it in ways never happened. She wanted to tell me but she knew that her grandmother wouldn’t approve of adopting when your womb was perfectly serviceable, certainly not for a man more than a decade older who could not uphold his most sacred obligation. She wanted to tell me, but I am adopted and this woman can be no more than a story of passing relevance to me.
When they asked him what did you do during the war he said “I just stood guard.” When they asked him where he said “A station, just a station, like most others, I just stood guard.” When they asked him did you see the trains carrying the bodies crammed into cattle cars he said “I saw many trains, it was just a station, but mostly I looked at the sky, wishing for the sun, but mostly it was gray and there was smoke from the chimneys.” When they asked him why did you wear the lightening bolts he said “I was a ski instructor but I broke my leg so I stood at the station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him did he know of the ovens he said “They made bread which we ate each night when there were no potatoes.” When they asked him about the Jews he said “I knew no Jews; there were none in the town where I stood guard at a station, just a station like most others.” When they asked him what he did after the war he said “I prayed, just prayed for my sins, sins like those of so many others.”
He had planned the exercise for weeks, certain this one would allow them to break through the wall that had imprisoned the metaphors within them. It was simple, and that was its beauty, too many attempts had become bogged down, mired in the fear that words could do the greatest harm. The exercise is simple, he said, and they put pens to paper. Later, toward the end of class, “would one of you be kind enough to read to the class your description of a young woman’s lips?” One boy meekly rose and through half clenched teeth said, “Her lips were precisely shaped to barely cover her teeth.”
First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).
As a child I often flew kites, which is to say that I ran haphazardly pulling a string and dragging a wood frames paper rhombus across the park. My father laughed until seeing me on the edge of tears he took up the string and dragged the kite across the park. One day a strong wind blew across the park and the kite lifted into the sky trailing its string to taunt me.
“I don’t want to” is hardly a sagacious way to run a country and “just because” probably didn’t work when you were a child, why would you think adults would accept it now? And when we all expressed our displeasure, disdain and contempt, which part of “no” did you have trouble grasping, Mr. President? The apple may not fall far from the tree, but let it sit on the ground long enough and the worms will have it. Ambrose Bierce said diplomacy is lying for one’s country, Mr. President, not lying to it.
First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, 2008.