on lock.

IMG_20180201_164246206

when i was 14, found myself trapped in a room while a quarterback boyfriend did his best to make clandestine love to his girlfriend, Nancy, who i had adored since second grade, and their sleeping bag was stationed up against the door, so no escape, and i ducked on the other side of the bed and curled up, and i remember wishing they were making more noise, so at least i wouldn’t have to imagine, but there those images stayed, brought the fight, and i did the instead, thought about a February sky, and branches, and a murder of crows taking flight, and the first time i saw someone pouring salt on a snail, the way light bends though windows, carpet fibers like tube worms along a tectonic rift, a size two stepping on an ant hill, on purpose, the dead squirrel, the time i wasn’t good enough for anything, for anything, or the other time, for anything, and i thought about years, so far in the future, and that was the problem, i thought about power, and the smug sense of control i might have someday, overshadowing the first time i touched a cemetery wall, or the first time i saw Sonia, the afternoon sun tilting precariously through green robes of ivy, everything that was good in the world was flipped for the sake of how small, uninvolved, unnecessary i felt, or knew, had to know how unimportant i was to individuals, situations, the world, and i let it chase me, running rag tag races around the track, because it sticks with you, dirty needles, beaks pecking, sensing the image of beady eyes, and there were a flock of people to tell about it, but when was the last time anyone listened to someone trapped in a room, thinking, finally about that door.

i slipped my hand down my pants, and there wasn’t much poetry after that.

###

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one more time, blood moon.

 

blood

made a count tonight, and it turns out i have 75 secrets.

only one of them concerns the blood moon.

a fitting number, considering what’s waiting for all of us this morning.

sadly, as the definition for secret goes, this story is not for sale.

i can reveal what‘s good for the goose, far as the circumstances go. a nowhere kind of no place in Brooklyn. an honest dive somewhere between the polished neighborhoods off the L and the collective rumors of Sunset Park. boring sort of bartender. the kind with a job to do. tattoos worth a mention or two. blue neon hue. almost empty, save for a silent couple in one tattered booth. three rounds into a beer, shot of Beam to help the medicine go down. jukebox alive with miscommunication.

dropped a cigarette on the floor and stooped down below the skyline for a cold recovery. came back up with an unexpected prize. a brass ring. not army, navy or marines. embalm of a broken heart, split in half with a skeleton key. shame to waste it. slipped it on my left ring finger and ordered another round.

well into a two AM buzz when she strode on in. dirty blond curls bouncing to the beat of well heeled boots. burgundy lipstick. not a lot of eye left to peek out from behind all that shadow. jeans taut against teardrop hips. tan suede jacket a mess with Southwestern tassels. brisk stride taking her all the way to my side of the argument.

she took a seat and stared at me. irises radiant with streaks of green and yellow.

asked if i was going to buy her a drink or sit there with my dick in my hand.

i put my dick away and bought her a beer, Beam back.

she took the shot down before i could join her.

she wiped with the back of her hand. nails painted black and said, it didn’t go down as planned.

i nodded. had a few swallows of beer. waited.

     what do you want me to say? she asked, lighting her own cigarette. time, temperature? winds out of the fucking southeast? it did not go as planned.

i shrugged. nothing ever does.

     that’s it? she asked.

     i don’t know if we’ve really been introduced.

she paused, bottle just one instant from her lips. oh, shit... she took down half her beer and motioned with her eyes. Where did you get that?

i followed her gaze. Same place you got yours. Bartender.

     not your beer, idiot. the ring. the ring on your finger.

i had almost forgotten. found it.

     shit. she drew me close. gave a brief glimpse of what she looked like in her sleep, before pressing her mouth to mine.

i remember thinking thank you, as the kiss softened and the taste of whiskey bled from her tongue. her hands wandered over my body. i reflexively followed. gave her thighs the attention they deserved. welcomed a brief interlude, her forehead pressed against mine. eyes crossed, heavy. fixated, as she held my face with her hands and whispered with a breathless tenor, they’re watching us.

the who was buried beneath another immortal kiss.

this one with a tongue so sublime, i finally had to realize it had no place along my lips. opened one eye to find she was doing the same. running recognizance, somewhere past my right shoulder. i broke away. turned my face from perfection to see for myself.

that couple in the faraway booth were both watching us. staring. blank, analytical looks. jaws slowly working. open then closed, then open, as though wind up toys were casually clashing cymbals between their cheeks.

     don’t, she whispered into my ear. keep going. don’t stop.

the man in the booth, the stranger, reached out blindly to his female counterpart and took a bite out of her arm.

i watched with an alcoholic’s distant understanding. far away places reminding me that this woman’s hands were still clutching at my inner thighs. blood dripping from that stranger’s face as he stood, slowly. jukebox flipping the intro to Fat Bottomed Girls. strange moment where the bartender proved as lost as i was. wandering up with another pair of shots and casually asking

     hey, Delilah, you gonna stay up for the blood moon tonight…?

the stranger let the piece of his girlfriend’s arm fall from his mouth. onto the dirty floor, where it rebounded. just once.

he began to walk towards us, smiling.

and i really wanted to kiss Delilah again, one last time. or several more last times, either one would have been better.

i turned back with the full intention of ignoring every last thing since we last stopped.

too late. already her eyes were fixed. cigarette clamped between her teeth. reaching beneath the bar’s outcrop and searching.

and as i heard the sound of tape ripping away from whatever implement she had planted, and the strangers hands turned to wild tendrils, taking the form of gleaming razor blades, all i could think to ask her was when would we be seeing each other again.

…the rest is REDACTED.

except to say that the ring disappeared from my finger, and the moon was blood red at midday.

###

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SNFAW – part seven.

 

wedding_cover_final_1_copper

awoke to tasty little headache, resting on the cushion like a rancid hotel mint.

squinting. television coming into focus. commercials promising a harem of women in exchange for product loyalty. blurred figures in the foreground, walking to and fro. low voices. an almond staring up at me from beneath the coffee table.

i licked some dry residue from my lips. sat up. “what’s the word on departure?”

Alley crossed my path, lugging an armful of bottles. “we’ve got an hour to get out of here. that’s 11am, on the nose.”

“your nose, or Chet’s nose?”

“mine. we’re on a schedule.”

“ok.”

i experimented with sore muscles, craned my neck to the left.

saw Korben at the table, guzzling a pint of water.

threw him a wave he didn’t see. tugged at my jeans, repositioned them for optimal mobility and trudged upstairs. crammed most all i had into my tote. rehearsing. took pains to make sure every part of my tux was spoken for, unable to afford such penalties upon return.

it was a slow, methodical morning.

a few jokes exchanged. questions bandied about, details tended to. all means necessary to make it seem as though we had never once set foot in that house.

i hung my tux and garment bag in the rental. stood beneath the sun, waiting for my dragonfly to stop and say hi.

heard a splash down by the pool. took the steps to investigate.

Chester was bobbing about. treading water in his shorts. no shirt. tattooed torso, body wrapped in autumn hues.

“morning,” i said.

“hey, Lucky…” he wiped his face. “just salvaging some fireworks. don’t mind me.”

he took a breath, and plunged beneath the waters. froggy-style all the way down, arms reaching out to capture the lingering relics of Saturday night.

curious as to how he managed to keep his eyes open against the chlorinated sting.

didn’t stick around to ask him.

back to the house. tried to brush my teeth. opted for the toilet instead. on all fours. dry-heaving, strands of spit like jungle vines before disengaging. drip. drip. drip.

“my work here is done,” i croaked.

flushed the toilet, and scooped my toothbrush off the floor.

***

it was settled; i would drive everyone to the lodge. good chance we could still catch the tail end of brunch.

we locked up. loaded up.

i took the turns with pained caution.

proud to say, not a single golfer caught beneath my wheels that day.

pulled into what might have been a parking spot. told everyone to bail.

we lumbered our way across the front lawn, dawn of the living dead.

some of us more dead than others.

***

we strolled into the dining room. faced with a bowling alley of silver chafing dishes, flanked on either side by innumerable tables. polo drones swarming the hive. plates teeming with dubious food pyramids.

a bowtie sporting a middle-aged man stepped out from behind the podium. “are you all here with the Reckless/Dumas party?”

i glanced behind me. Korben with his black Andy Warhol shirt. Chester with his sunburned face, black dress shirt, and shorts still damp from his dive. at least our ladies gave us some credence, and i turned back to him… “yes. that’s us.”

“just head on down, through the 2nd room, take a right, a left, then through the doors.”

“there’s a 2nd room?”

“then take a right, then a left, then through the doors.”

he wasn’t kidding. once we cleared the initial half-mile of eggs, bacon, crepes, toast, pancakes, waffles and potatoes, a 2nd room awaited. home to an omelet station, selection of freshly carved meats. centerpiece table of tortes, éclairs, and countless other deserts refusing to wait for the evening hours.

right, left, and into a spacious dining room.

only a few of the fifteen tables were occupied, populated by faces already fading. caught Nick hovering above a group of late arrivals. charm on autopilot. fresh chapter at the end of a seemingly endless novel.

he motioned for us to grab an empty table.

with the exception of Chester and Joyce, there were at least 2 seats separating all individuals.

the days in which we couldn’t live without each other for more than 5 minutes had long since been swept beneath the rug.

smartphones out. an open doorway to men, women, and children across the country.

a 17-year-old server swooped in. pimpled face aglow with the only honestly delighted smile from a staffer i had seen since arriving.

“and who wants some coffee?”

everyone else raised their hands.

he flashed me a grin. “no coffee for you, sir?”

“i’m good as it gets.”

he happily went about his rounds, sashayed away.

“that is one cheerful motherfucker,” Korben observed.

i nodded. “he might be the most cheerful motherfucker since ever.”

“yeah… and, the thing is, i think he might actually mean it.”

“i’m going to get an omelet,” Chester said.

we all stood, scattered.

my head was kicking a healthy disco beat. all well and good for now. the worst was yet to come, and it would accompany me throughout the 10-hour ride back to Verona.

shit,” i whispered to a bowl of blueberries. “i have to go back.”

assuming the blueberries simply needed more time to reply, i scooped a bushel or so onto my plate.

added some walnuts, plain yogurt, strawberries.

sliced a banana right there at the fruit station.

overheard a group of servers arguing with the bowtie that had greeted me at the door.

“well, i don’t know where the tater tots went.”

“people ate them.”

“that many?”

“where are the tater tots?”

“there should be more soon?”

“why aren’t they here now?”

my blueberries maintained their sweet secrecy, and i poured myself 2 glasses of orange juice.

did a little balancing act all the way back to the table.

***

i dutifully shoveled breakfast bites into my mouth. surrounding plates brimming with greatest hits. nothing much left to say, but Chester was never good with silence.

“Lucky… do Ray Romano in Fight Club.”

i indulged.

got some chuckles, but the thrill was a little more than gone.

fortunately, Nick found the opportunity to sit with us.

we all raised our coffee, juice, whatever was handy.

“yes, yes,” Nick said. “i agree with all of you, it’s one day later.”

“what’s the rest of yours look like?” Chester asked.

“we’re going down to the courthouse to finalize what happens if one of us dies.”

“two nickels worth of free advice,” i said… “don’t come back as a buffalo.”

“buffalo nickles,” Chester agreed. dipped his omelet into a bowl of ketchup.

“oh, and point of order…” i reached into my pocket. pulled out my place card from the dinner. “want to tell me what this says, Nicky?” i stretched my arm across the table, let him have a look. “hmm?”

head table,” Nick said.

“yeah,” i threw it in his face. “maybe next time you pick something a little less misleading for those of us who have nothing else to live for…”

and with another toast, it was signed into law, just as Kayla sat down next to Nick.

he turned to her. “Lucky’s mad there was no oral sex provided for him at the dinner table last night.”

Kayla shrugged. “we did our best.”

i bit into a strawberry. “you did your breast?”

“well…” Nick slipped into his hapless, innocent face. “by 9 o’ clock on the first night, word was you were making it through this life as a male porn star.”

“thank god nobody stepped up to test that.”

“for everyone involved, yes,” Alley agreed.

a piece of Korben’s toast laughed its way out of his mouth.

and then all of us truly had something to giggle about.

***

our alarmingly chipper pal stopped by to top us off.

got around to Nick, who held up his hand, casually throwing out, “i’m fine, but my wife would like a little more.”

his words were met with an awed silence. all sounds receding, save for the stream of coffee pouring softly into Kayla’s cup. the waiter departed. left us all thinking.

“woah,” Nick said.

“yeah,” Korben added.

Alley and Joyce both nodded. “wow.”

“yay,” Kayla said, and brought her husband in for a deep, caffeinated kiss.

“there you fucking go!” i announced, a little too loudly.

Nick wiped his mouth, smiling. “oh, Charming Belinda. you’re so charming.”

“let’s see how charming i am with my foot up your ass.”

“do the voice!”

“nope.” i stood. handed Chester my keys. “you weirdoes get your shit out of my car. i gotta find the business center and print out directions home.”

Chester frowned. “why don’t you just…” he trailed off.

“yup,” i said. “no smartphone. see you dicks in the lobby.”

i downed my orange juice, fingers already starting to shake.

***

the business center consisted of 2 Paleolithic desktops. endangered species in the face of OnStar computers and Apple’s introduction of the iEverything.

there followed 10 straight minutes worth of clicks and frozen subroutines.

heard the fellow in the adjacent cubicle swear under his breath.

seems as though i had a new friend.

i hit print, held out for the hum. logged out and walked to the printer, perched atop a rickety table. gave the directions a onceover. folded them, tucked into my back pocket. good to go.

Bobby was just getting out of his seat, and we bumped into each other.

he smiled. “sorry, dude.”

i probably could have made it on beyond zebra without ever being made.

wasn’t that kind of party.

he only had an inch or so over me. if he seemed taller, it was thanks to a more slender build. several pounds left behind. leaner, though not meaner. same light stubble. god awful sideburns long since razed. pale face punctuated with those same koala eyes, magnified by the same black rimmed glasses. maybe a prescription or 2 past due. threads from the late ‘90s traded in for a collared shirt and spotless Dockers.

“so,” i said.

he scratched the back of his neck. “wow.”

“well, here we are.”

“kind of crazy, right?”

beat.

i always imagined it would be in a bar. back alley. in the streets, someplace. somewhere else. not some janitor’s closet posing as the dying business center of a thriving golf resort in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

i swallowed the pill, prepared. launched: “so i know what’s what. know what I did. know what’s coming to me. here’s fine. but if you want to do this outside, inside, in front of  your buddies, it’s all the same. all good. but i’ve got a long drive ahead of me, so if we can just do this –”

“uh…” Bobby glanced over my shoulder as the printer began to whirr. “do what, exactly?”

“what do you mean?”

“what do you mean?”

beat.

“do you even remember me?” i asked.

“kind of hard to forget.”

“what i did?”

“again, kind of hard to forget.”

“so…” i put my hands behind my back. cracked my neck. “you ready?”

Bobby smiled. “i think you’re under some kind of impression that something is supposed to happen between us.”

behind me, the printer completed its task. took a nap.

“isn’t there?” i asked.

“it’s kind of been 10 years. maybe more, i can’t quite remember.”

“it was February of 1999. valentine’s day.”

“you can prompt all you want.” Bobby chuckled, adjusted his belt. “but i’m celebrating my 5-year anniversary, and whatever you did to me, i’m not sure i could really care less about it.”

i brought my hands from around my back. let them hang close to my pockets. “yeah?”

“you still writing, Lucky?”

“yes.”

“huh.” Bobby gave it some thought. “not too many people from back in the day hanging onto their dreams with that kind of tenacity.”

“well, no.”

“you ever write about what happened?”

“yes,” i replied. no hesitation. looking to rekindle a little fire beneath an encounter that had somehow gone limp. “short story. called it Proof of Purchase.”

“why’s that?”

“we all got something to prove to ourselves. you just happened to be in the way.”

“anybody read it?”

to my left, the computers rattled and hummed. “no.”

“anybody read anything of yours? like, even your friends?”

“no.”

Bobby shrugged. “well… maybe that’s just it.”

“what’s it?”

“maybe nobody cares…” he removed his glasses, rubbed his right eye with the back of his hand. “i mean, if i don’t care what you did, how’s anyone else going to take the time to listen to you? i’ve been married for 5 years. got a pretty good business going in Carmel. and who else is here, right now? barely even me.”

through the room’s open doorway, i saw a pair of staffers rushing past. “yes.”

“nobody cares, Lucky.” he brushed past me. took his pages from the printer. gave them a look, just to make sure everything was in order. “if anything, i’m just happy i can set your mind at ease.”

i didn’t move.

“have i?” he asked. “set your mind at ease, Lucky?”

“you’ve set the table. set the alarm. set the stage.”

Bobby smiled. “you keep chasing that dream. if meeting you was the worst thing that ever happened to me, it couldn’t have turned out better.”

he folded his papers and headed for the exit without so much as a goodbye.

“the best revenge is to refrain from imitation,” i called out. saw him pause at the threshold. now most definitely taller than i remember. “you’re a fucking genius, Bobble.”

“one of us has to be,” he said, and disappeared. stage right.

left me the company of giant monitors and a printer with electronic emphysema.

the way home dug into my back pocket, reminding me that it was time to put an end to this whole mess.

***

James Reckless caught me as i was entering the lobby. “Lucky. just wanted to take a few pictures with you and the Verona crew.”

couldn’t really say no. got placed in a lineup with the rest of them.

one arm draped around Korben’s massive shoulder, the other around Chester’s waist.

my last known photograph…

we all broke apart. came together in various hugs. tepid assurances for future dates. a little less certain than we used to be about such promises.

Chester being the lone holdout. “we should all get back together next year. right here. celebrate the one year anniversary of Nicky’s wedding. he doesn’t even need to be here, fuck him.”

i nodded. “don’t look too hard for me.”

wrapped myself in his dense arms. kissed his cheek.

turned and gave James a hug.

he pulled away. “go back and say goodbye to Nicky. he’s got something for you.”

“something?”

“every groomsman gets a gift.”

“ok…” i checked my pocket, made sure Korben had given me the keys. “thanks, James…” thought about what my final words. not that it mattered. settled on, “hell of a speech last night.”

left him behind and went back into the dining room for seconds.

***

Kayla’s father had joined what was once our table.

stood up along with Nick as i cruised by.

trying to act casual.

“where you been?” he asked.

i kept my stories to myself. “the printers in the business center are old.”

“you’re lucky they even still matter.”

“word is you have a gift for me.”

“yeah…” Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny box. hardly a box. navy colored cardboard no larger than a thick cigarette case. wrapped with a sky blue ribbon.

“thanks,” i told him.

“you’re not going to open it until you get home, are you?”

“that’s the plan.”

“you always knew when to play your cards.”

“not as dramatic as all that,” i said. shoved the keepsake into my pocket. looked up into those impossibly beautiful eyes of his and smiled. “thanks for the gift.”

“anytime.”

“oh, and finally…” i drew him close. gave him a hug. breathed in his rotten cologne. planted a kiss on his neck. “can i finally say congratulations?”

“thanks, buddy.”

we let go.

i saw Kayla standing at the far end of the table.

couldn’t take much more, and settled on a wave.

she waved back.

i turned to Michael, hovering nearby.

returned his grin with a friendly nod. “thank you for having me, sir.”

“hope to see you again soon, Lucky,” he said.

“whatever you’re really thinking, you can count on it.”

Nick and Michael both laughed.

i took a moment to savor the sounds, and winked.

walked the hell away.

***

i was almost out the doors, when Korben and Alley stopped me.

“damn it,” i said. “can we just have a proper goodbye?”

“sure,” Korben said. “thing is, we’re having trouble getting a ride back to the bus station. could you possibly drop us off? all you’d have to do then is just punch the directions into…”

yes, it was just that hard to believe, or remember.

“oh…” Alley said.

i nodded. “sorry.”

“yeah,” Korben said. “i keep forgetting.”

i smiled. let their awkward slouching make their mistake well worth it.

“love you both,” i said.

not interested in their reply, i left the lodge behind.

back to my car.

opened the trunk to make sure they had taken everything with them.

found a large, foam hat in the shape of a hotdog.

not sure whose fault that was. no doubt it would come in handy at some point.

got behind the wheel and got things rolling.

saw the tank bottoming at zero.

one last stop.

***

2 miles out; a local pump and pay.

i watched the dollars add up.

already feeling the erasure.

put the nozzle back in its cradle, as my hands continued to shake.

i stepped into the gas station. took a moment to eavesdrop. teenage girl behind the counter arguing with an unseen woman in the back office.

headed for the coolers, past a colorful brigade of snack foods.

picked out a few bottles of Gatorade, labels guaranteeing an extreme experience.

scooped up a pack of peanut M&Ms.

went to pay the piper.

the local girl scanned my items. thick arms underneath her grey sweater. tired features, eyes already exasperated with how her day was shaping up. fingernails painted black. gave me the total. tapping her foot as i managed to count out the 7 or so dollars.

“just passing through?” she asked.

“seems to be the case.”

i handed her the bills, all facing the same direction.

“you work in retail?” she asked.

“that’s the whole story, yeah.”

she punched in a few numbers.

the two of us jumped back as my change flashed on the register’s digital readout.

$5,532.00

i raised an eyebrow. “ok.”

“don’t you even think it.”

“would be nice.”

“for you maybe, get yourself 5,532 dollars. and i’d be fired.”

“and i’d split it with you?”

“then what?” she punched a few buttons, trying to make things right. “off to Mexico?”

“how about New Orleans?”

“are you some kind of crazy person?” she popped the register, handed me my proper change. “people die down there.”

“that’s the plan.”

“February sixteenth, twenty-fourteen.”

i took my change, somehow missing the significance. “i’m sorry?”

“five thousand, three hundred, twenty-two…” she pointed at the clock on the wall, reading one pm… “that’s the amount of hours left until February sixteenth. twenty-fourteen.”

i stared at her.

she graced me with a sarcastic smile. “what? i can’t be good with numbers?”

i shrugged. “whatever the case, just be good.”

“great advice”’

“yeah.”

“come back and see us.”

“be on the lookout for a guy named Chet.”

i went back to my car.

slipped into the driver’s seat.

key. ignition. on.

the satellite radio latched onto its signal.

Tears For Fears just starting in.

i made a fire and watching it burn, thought of your future.

i bowed my head and smiled through a set of uneven tear drops.

no sobs. nothing left to rattle this temporary rental.

just the music and the memories of Nick’s wedding.

a red pickup pulled in behind me, horn blasting.

driver leaning out of the window. genial requests for me to get the fuck moving.

it was shaping up to be a day full of sound advice.

someone up there must have real anxious to get me where i was going…

i wiped the salt from my eyes, put the car into drive.

careful to make it onto the interstate without coming to a premature end.

…because that would have been a little much, don’t you think?

###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

Smashwords.com

so long and thanks for all the pish.

SNFAW – part six.

wedding_cover_final_1_copper

i stared through the ballroom windows. party at full throttle.

behind me, the concrete patio was mostly empty. what few smokers were left in the world had already formed their own tribe. tightly bound in a corner. laughing between taboos.

couldn’t bring myself to reintegrate, alone at that enormous, starched domino.

i took my place at one of the bar-height tables placed around the perimeter. had a smoke. glanced down and found a glass of red wine on the ground. courtesy of some compassionate traveler. i staked my claim, helped myself.

gave it a chance to settle.

i heard Chester’s voice from across the way. “yo.”

my people had found me.

or most likely, just happened upon me.

Chester, Korben, Alley, Milo, Laura, and Joyce were streaming out through ballroom doors.

Chester was holding a pair of snifters. sizable pours of brown nectar swirling in each one. “they’re not allowed to serve shots, so i just got them to pour us 2 aquariums of Jack…”

we passed around the twin grails of sour mash.

2 rounds, and we were halfway through our enterprise. in an unspoken agreement, Chester and i took custody of the drinks. split into smaller groups. took the bullets, let the others avoid certain overdose.

Laura asked me for a smoke. odd request for a black belt, but i was happy to comply.

“i want you to dance with me, Lucky,” she said.

i glanced at Milo. he smiled, shrugged.

either he had come a long way from his days as a jealous youth, or i had simply fallen to the point where i was no longer a threat to any man on the face of the earth. it was anyone’s guess.

i had another taste of Jack. “Milo and I actually used to be quite the ravers.”

“yeah?”

“oh, it’s true,” Milo said.

“how very true,” i added. “probably the only kids in the whole joint who were completely clean. no booze, weed, no hallucinogenics. just twistin’ the night away.”

“why don’t you dance anymore?”

i shrugged.

“what happened back on ‘05?”

“mm?”

“we were talking earlier at The Pour House. about you moving down to New Orleans… Milo mentioned something about what happened in ‘05…”

i lit my own cigarette. “if i happen to be around next time we meet, i’ll be sure and tell you all about it.”

she frowned.

“but, seeing as how my time on this planet is severely limited…” i polished off my drink, blistering cascade coating my stomach… “yeah, why not? i suppose i’m curious to see if i can still cut a rug.”

Laura beamed

my body was hit with shudders from the liberal intake of Jack Daniel’s.

“you ok there, champ?” Milo asked, squeezing my neck.

“yeah.”

“you actually eat anything tonight? or even yesterday?”

oh, shit

***

my entrée had been sheltered by a steel cover. i removed the protective dome. placed my hand inches above a pristine arrangement of broccoli, spinach, wild mushrooms and polenta.

still warm.

couldn’t say i was hungry. couldn’t say how any of these people managed to jump around with so much food packed into their bodies.

i replaced the cover. picked up my plate and skirted the dance floor.

walked out of the ballroom. found the nameless nanny, still seated by the fireside. texting away, plugging in breakneck letters.

“hey.”

she glanced up.

“i had some things to take care of, and didn’t get a chance to eat my food. still got some things to take care of. wondering if you were still hungry.”

she stared, determined to see right through me. “that’s your thing? you get me leftovers?”

“i certainly ain’t getting anything else right.”

“no doubt about that.”

“well…” i hiccupped. “oops, then.”

hit the bathroom. found a stall and got to my knees before the porcelain throne. dish held aloft upon my fingertips, a little trick from days running food at a zero star dive in North Carolina. certain I was about to throw up.

didn’t happen.

nausea subsiding.

took it as a good sign, until i blacked out and came to in the middle of the dance floor.

 ***

the band was covering Let’s Go Crazy.

stood to reason i had made this song the exception to the rule. as far as dancing went, rock n’ roll remained a mystery to me. never could figure the tempo. but Prince wasn’t just rock n’ roll. he was Prince, and my one chance to make good on my promise.

not that the years hadn’t taken their toll.

my brain had lost ground control with my feet. thighs and lower legs acting as though they had never met. arms like forgotten extremities, tonsils in place of elbows. shoulders a pair of confused appendices. pure disconnect. mass confusion, no translation between my body and the beat.

Nick caught sight of my flailing, grinned. assumed i was doing a bit. with his own body thrashing about like a wounded seal, he called me over.

“i’m a white asshole with no sense of rhythm!” he shouted. “please help me clap!”

i managed to slide next to him. took hold of both his arms and brought his hands together in time with the music. decent cover for the netherworld i had fallen into. kept it up for as long as i could, knowing the act would grow stale within a minute.

paraded back across the floor. a prancing meat puppet. despairing. laying to rest yet another bit of existence i had once enjoyed without question. one more nail in the coffin.

song coming to its climax. relief flooding in, along with the ugly truth.

i wasn’t just older.

somewhere along the line, i had become absolutely unrecognizable.

Laura threw her arms around me, as everyone stumbled around in a drunken orgy of applause.

“Lucky, that was hilarious!”

it was a fitting end to denial, as the band thanked us and called curtain.

the house lights came on.

ballroom reduced to the rowdy murmurs of a crowd refusing to come off their cloud.

all remaining characters gathering on the floor for a group photograph.

i positioned myself somewhere towards the back.

heard rumors of a karaoke party going down at the resort bar.

remembered to grab my bookbag. bottle of wine adding a little extra heft.

i followed the mob through the doors.

caught a staffer leaving the bathroom. carrying a plate covered by a steel dome, food long since cold. shaking his head with overt loathing.

before I could raise my hand to take the blame, Milo and Korben were by my side.

the 3 of us headed towards the next leg of the race.

***

the resort bar was a dimly lit, classy recreation of a classic pub.

a little too polished for its desired ends.

Milo and I ordered a couple of drinks. beer, gin and tonic.

he insisted on paying. i was too far gone to protest.

we settled at a table for 5.

drank in silence, while a crew of drunken astronauts set up the karaoke unit. meddling with wires. microphones. doing all they could to sync speakers to a flatscreen shining a non-responsive, hideous shade of blue.

“so…” Milo had a sip of beer. “any of these ladies tonight catch your eye?”

“couldn’t catch a cold in a crowd like this.”

“please to forgive if i’m interrupting your conversation with nobody else.”

“so?”

“so answer my question?”

“could you rephrase it in a way that doesn’t –”

“are you keen on any of the females we have been thusly surrounded by?”

i took a sip of gin. “maybe… maybe one.”

“which one?”

“i’ll give you 3 guesses. for each guess, i will allow 3 yes-or-no questions, among which 2 of them must be –”

“girl in black gauze.”

“yes.”

“not as though i was asked to build the pyramids.”

“yeah, we know each other. i get it.”

“she’s with someone.”

i forced myself to review the classics. glanced across the room. same girl, same unique sample of reality. same gentleman couched at her feet. how they had managed to replicate the play so perfectly was a question for higher authorities.

“never wait for a sure thing,” Milo said.

“what’s that?”

“that’s what you used to tell me. all those years i would stay in my seat, hugging the wall. all freaked out at the prospect of failure. never wait for a sure thing, you’d tell me.”

“yeah?”

“not like you don’t remember.”

“and now, i suppose you’re going to tell me i should follow my own advice.”

“nope…” Milo smiled. “you don’t have a chance with that girl. that much is certain.”

“so this lecture about how i used to tell you to never wait for a sure thing…?”

“ain’t lecturing,” Milo said. brought his bottle up for a toast. “i’m bragging.”

i met his glass with a puzzled clink, and downed half of mine.

a single ice cube riding the wave.

***

Chester and Korben took a seat. followed by Alley and Joyce.

Laura swooped in and took a few pictures with her phone. fodder for Facebook.

Nick and Kayla joined the party and kicked off karaoke-fest.

fast as they had joined us, Chester and Korben fled the nest. took to the music. took over. gave the crowd a well-oiled rendition of Hey Ya!

down to Milo, Laura, and myself.

“you look so good together,” Laura said. she stood, positioned her phone a few inches from her face.

according to the statutes of our relationship, neither Milo nor i smiled.

“and even still…” Laura sat back down. “you make for a perfect picture.”

“hey, ya,” Milo said, raising what was left of his beer. “here’s to a perfect picture.”

we toasted to that, bottoms up.

“fuck New Orleans,” Laura said. “come back to New York.”

“what the hell am i going to do in New York?”

“who cares? come live with us. we’ve got plenty of room –”

“technically, no, we don’t,” Milo said.

“we could make room,” Laura insisted. “at least for a while. give you a chance to get back to where you once belonged. i know a few people. get you a few jobs. you could write.”

“won’t work,” i said.

“won’t work,” Milo echoed.

“we’ve done this before,” i said.

“but that’s not fair,” Laura insisted. finished her beer. picked up her phone and thumbed through the pictures. “i only just got here.”

i searched my gin for some answers.

“Mexico,” Milo said.

Laura glanced up from the screen. fighter’s eyes remembering what it meant to stay focused. “yes. it’s time isn’t it?”

“mind if i ride back to the house with yous kids?” i asked.

“sure thing.”

i ducked out of the room. let them say their goodbyes without my presence looming.

hung in the hallway. killed my drink as a pair of staffers wheeled yet another table past.

on to the next room.

on to the next event.

all things on reset, come tomorrow morning.

***

i sat on the bench outside the house, while Milo and Laura loaded their rental. this way and that under a floodlight that remained mercifully free of bugs.

didn’t take more than 5 minutes.

Laura hugged me. sweet embrace. not a bad lady in an otherwise battered world.

“come see us…” she broke away. “hell, come with us…want to come to Mexico?”

i smiled. “at this point, i’ve squandered the few spontaneous trips allotted…”

“if you’re around next time you see me, promise to tell me about them?”

“promise.”

“very good… i’ll be in the car.”

caught Milo’s adoring eyes as he watched Laura hop into the driver’s seat.

it was something of a reassurance. those two would be ok, with a little fortitude and a whole lot of luck.

Milo stepped in for a tight hug. “be good, bones.”

“yeah. always. you too.”

he pulled away. “want to do me a favor?”

“don’t know.”

“want to try?”

“sure.”

Milo reached up to straighten his bowtie. remembered his tux was already tucked away. “try forgiving yourself for a thing or 2.”

“it’s all coming apart, Milo.” i reached into my jacket, pulled out a pack. “clearly, i haven’t paid my tab, and until i do, there’s no way home.”

“it’s all in your head.”

“i agree. all of it.”

Milo tried to look fed up. gave up. sighed. “well, then. last chance. drop everything and come with us?”

“there’s something i’ve got to take care of in New Orleans.”

“you’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”

“Milo…” i lit a cigarette and thanked the floodlights for my featureless silhouette… “i’ve never done a stupid thing in my entire life…”

“then i guess we’ll have to discuss this later.’

“guess so.”

“so long.”

“so long.”

i watched him climb into the rental, slam the door.

reverse lights kissing my knees before shifting into drive.

up the driveway, heading for an exit.

leaving me to my own devices for just a little while as their car faded from sight.

***

i stretched out by the pool.

popped open the wine, eyes on the skies.

felt space curve inwards, folding over me. treetops meeting the stars in a protective dome. sparked a smoke. let a few memories play spin the bottle. all points coming together. emotions like soft rectangles, overlapping, creating contradictory shapes.

waiting for a sign as i began to draft out my plan.

made do with letting the curvature collapse, another clever anomaly in space and time.

***

without warning, the fuse caught wind of a lit match.

a string of firecrackers were draped over the fence like an oversized, Jurassic millipede.

Korben, Chester, Alley and Joyce all screaming for me to get back!

i did as i was told. watched with disoriented wonder as they went off, exploding in a rapid burst of artillery shells. deafening pops that plunged into the surrounding forest. over hill and dale.

filling us with the rush of broken rules. childhood rebellion, shattering the peace.

i glanced around. saw the numerous corpses of wasted fireworks littering the ground, floating in the pool.

“let’s do some shots!” Chester proclaimed.

i rushed up to the house.

scampered into the kitchen and paused. had a bit of a staring contest with a pair of pizza boxes. wondered when those had made the scene. checked myself out. wondered when i had changed back into jeans and shirt reading I HAVE CANDY.

shook it off.

dug into the freezer and removed what was left of the Goose.

trotted down the steps, taking bets on whether i would break my neck before reaching the pool.

returned to find things had changed.

a few of the wedding guests had crashed our party. didn’t recognize any of them. wasn’t just the limited light, momentum of the past 48 hours. it was honest bewilderment.

“what’s up, man!” came the call of a random specter, seated at the far end. “hope you don’t mind us using your pool.”

i squinted. “can’t say just yet.”

a girl walked past me. gave a lurid smile. “can i have some?”

“excuse me?”

the girl pointed to my shirt. “do you have some candy for me, or not?”

i glanced down at the pink letters. “technically, my shirt has candy. all i have is vodka.”

she rolled her eyes and walked away, undoing her belt.

another nameless figure fired up his iPhone, began to blast Foo Fighters.

 Learning to Fly.

“yeah…” Korben said, taking a swig of vodka. “i remember this one.”

“how long was i gone?”

“long enough for this,” Alley said.

Chester looked at me with deeply pained eyes: “is this really what i wanted?”

“oh, what the fuck do you guys know?” my candy girl yelled, stripping down to her underwear. “there’s no bathing suits! bra and panties, bitches! hello, pool!”

she dove in.

joined by a couple of others.

an anonymous kid wandered over with a glass bowl. “anybody want a hit of this?”

nobody did.

all of us just wanting things to go back to how they were a few minutes ago.

myself reaching back even further.

i grabbed hold of the vodka and sent three gulps down the wrong pipe.

coughing. sputtering. colors bleeding as another song from bygone days ended this particular moment in a smear of tears and unknown smiles.

***

i was sitting on the couch.

felt like it must have been 3 in the morning.

a quick read of the pendulum retuned my inner clock .

3:15.

i rubbed my eyes, raw and throbbing. took stock of the aftermath. a few bottles of wine, inexplicably manifested cans of Busch Light strewn across the room.

i cleared my throat. whispered hello.

nobody answered.

i took a shaky tour around the first floor.

empty glasses from our wedding toast littered the tables, kitchen.

stepped outside.

strained to get a good look at the pool.

lights out. no evidence of stragglers, not a hint of party crashers.

reached into my pocket and pulled out a single, crushed cigarette.

broken at the base.

tore off the filter, popped a match.

let my lungs burn in the frigid air, bare feet starting to lose feeling.

i put out my smoke.

wandered back to the living room.

glanced at the television.

there was Elliot, along with a young Drew Barrymore. bidding E.T. an emotional farewell.

“drinking game?” i asked.

eyes landing on my bottle. still a few fingers worth indulging. reached over to pick it up. noticed a slip of paper on the table. resting comfortably next to the extemporaneous pizza carton.

brought it inches from my eyes. body rocking back and forth as i read.

any time someone uses ‘80s slang, drink.

any time you feel guilty about thinking how hot Drew Barrymore is, drink.

any time anyone cries, drink.

any time there is product placement, drink.

any time anything racist happens, drink.

there, at the end of the list, must have been what sent everyone to bed without me…

any time Lucky says something stupid, drink.

“can’t not say that ain’t the truth,” i mumbled.

and bound by the rules of the game, i took what was left of the bottle.

slowly sank into the couch and let a florid quilt envelop me with the soft promise of another day.

 ###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

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so long and thanks for all the pish.

 

SNFAW – part five.

wedding_cover_final_1_copper

 

the terrace was alive with conversation, food, and booze.

i knew at least one of those held some real promise.

there were 2 separate tables serving up the sauce. i hooked a right, took my place in line. not a lot of traction. always someone who simply could not do without their martini, or cosmopolitan or Manhattan. carving into an honest drunk’s time with requests best suited for Buckingham Palace.

i shuffled over to the opposite end of the terrace and queued up.

found myself standing next to Chester’s father.

Owen’s eyes gleamed through a pair of tiny spectacles. face adorned with a wizened beard. several dozen pounds lighter than the man who had fallen straight through the attic floor back in ‘95.

some 12 years ago, a group of us had gathered at his house to drink. one of our friends had been going through tough times. drunk off a fifth of Malibu, threatening to drive away. to where, god only knew. to what end, we could all guess. in a ballyhoo of drunken logic, i determined the best course to prevent this was to plow headfirst into a wall.

the plaster had caved in, leaving a Lucky-sized hole. Owen had taken it in stride, requested that i bring over some spackle. maybe patch up the damage my thick skull had wrought on his house.

never got around to it.

don’t think he ever forgot this affront.

“how’s the writing going?” he asked.

“it’s fine.”

“good. keep it up.”

Owen ordered a water, white wine for his wife, and excused himself.

the bartender’s nametag read Rodrigo.

i ordered 2 gin and tonics. one with a maraschino cherry.

he served them up. asked who was getting the one with the cherry.

i downed the first one, and raised my remaining glass. “i am.”

he smiled at me.

***

i caught up with Milo and Laura.

“what are you drinking?” Laura asked.

“gin. tonic.”

“what’s with the cherry?”

“dessert.”

Milo gave her a nudge. “Lucky here can tie a cherry stem with his tongue faster than anyone i ever met.”

“thanks,” i said. “tell it to your girlfriend, rather than any number of eligible women floating around.”

“oh, i’m sorry!” he raised his arms, waved them above his head. “hey, everyone! guess what? something!”

he had a point. “yes.”

Milo accepted the win, motioned towards his lady. “you know, Laura was friends with Nick on Facebook before her and i ever met.”

“no kidding.”

“Nick and i went to camp together,” Laura said. “i found him on the Facebook, and it wasn’t ‘till years later that i met Milo. crazy, right?”

“yeah.”

“you ok?”

“just realized…” i took a large sip, cherry stem dancing near my tongue. “i can’t even calculate how long it’s been since the universe has given me a sign like that.”

“do it anyway.”

i shrugged. “some time after Misty and i got together, we came to realize that we had once been standing at the same bar, at the same time, in Edinburgh, Scotland. 3 years before we had ever met… she recognized the Batman shirt i was wearing. at the time, she didn’t approach me, because she thought I might be Scottish, and she was never too great with deciphering their accents. but it was that day. and it was us.”

“wow.”

“yep.”

“that’s pretty amazing.”

“yeah. and now we have to figure out what to do with our cat.”

our circle expanded. gobbled up Chester, his father, Joyce and Korben.

“it’s just so strange,” Korben told Owen. still marveling… “i’ve known these guys for so long. and seeing them standing here in their tuxedos, out there as groomsmen at Nicky’s wedding… it’s just kind of unbelievable…”

Owen reminded us we were all getting old.

i gently faded away, and went to claim my bookbag.

headed out towards the garden.

the chairs had been cleared. incidental vacationers wandering over Nick and Kayla’s invisible footprints. sunlight debating the earth on its exact speed of rotation. seeking balance. finding common ground in the form of a resort staffer asking me to head towards the dining room.

time to celebrate good times, come on.

***

as tiny pockets of guests were herded through the gate, i broke ranks. stepped off the path. let the rest stroll past. set my gin on the ground. laid my bookbag alongside. unbuttoned my jacket and strolled on out.

wasn’t sure how i had previously missed the small patch of putting green for toddlers and tykes.

picked up a truncated golf club. began to knock around. carefully lining my putts. missing by a mile most of the time. ambling about in my own lonesome shroud. watching the little white ball spin, planet knocked off its axis.

as far as golfing in a full tuxedo went, surely this would be the last time.

my 6th sense kicked in. i turned towards the path. saw Milo, Laura, and Korben. snapping pics with their phones held aloft. i gave them a few basic poses, something for the ladies. tossed the putter aside and joined them.

we followed the caravan along the hedges, this time headed for the west wing. walked through a set of glass doors. greeted by a large, carpeted room with an improvised fireside lounge. a chain of tables were lined against the far wall. place cards like tiny kitten ears. names on one side, seat assignments on the other.

“where you all at?” i asked, searching for my place in this world.

“table 6,” Korben said.

“table 6,” Laura said.

Milo nodded. “6.”

picked up my card, and flipped it over, crossing my fingers.

i smiled.

“you with us?” Laura asked.

“sorry, losers… it appears i am in for an unequivocally more erotic dining experience…”

i handed Korben my place card.

he had a look. “yeah… i don’t think head table means what you think it means.”

i took the card back, stared very hard. “it doesn’t?”

“no.”

i glanced at Milo and Laura. “it doesn’t?”

they shook their heads.

“well, then…” i tucked the place card in my pocket, cleared my throat. “i will be taking this up with the groom, immediately.”

i turned to retrace my steps.

struggling through a thicket of guests, upstream the whole way.

***

i was halfway up the terrace steps, when the coordinator latched onto me. mentioned something about the introductions. didn’t understand much past those two words. she brought me into the fold, reunited me with the rest of the groomsmen.

thought about asking Brennan about the girl in black gauze. he was busy. all of them were, talking among themselves, thick as thieves. Chester was nowhere to be seen.

another sip of gin, and we were whisked inside. left of the lobby, down a flight of stairs. we came out at the edge of the game room. i recognized the entrance to the tiny restaurant where Korben, Alley, and myself had gathered upon arrival.

before temporal vertigo could knock me off my stride, we took a sharp right, down an elongated, narrow hallway. hit the brakes halfway through. hugged the wall as a pair of staffers rolled an enormous table to its destination, underbelly of a medieval wheel.

we kept on. took a left, right.

our endgame was a threadbare, rectangular room with low ceilings. overhead fluorescents. a mirror stretched out along one of the walls, bordered by spherical, soft-yellow bulbs. along its length ran a countertop littered with handbags, makeup kits, and hair products. bridesmaids crisscrossed the room in abstract acts of maintenance. groomsmen already taking their place in plastic chairs, feeling their tuxedoes.

life was a cabaret, old chum…

i settled into a seat at the end of a fold-out table. sipped my gin. one of the bridesmaids walked over. paused before me, mouth agape as though trying to remember her lines.

“yeah,” i told her. “i don’t know, either.”

from behind me, i heard the sound of laughter.

turned and found Kayla’s father in the corner, sitting atop an impossibly tall bar stool. laid back, bottle of Becks in his hand. untouched by the bustle.

goddamn, i really liked that guy.

Kayla stepped in, and the random began to coalesce. somewhat. along with her maid of honor, she went about pointing, pairing the groomsmen with bridesmaids. prepping the ark for another global deluge.

i straightened my jacket, ready to congratulate her.

before i could, she cut me off. “Lucky…”  Kayla brought me face to face with her mother. “you’ve met Lacey, right?”

remembering our previous lavatory encounter, i tipped an invisible hat and puked up my best cockney: “too right, oi surely ‘ave met the missus…”

for some reason, this seemed to work.

bride-Lacey wandered away as Kayla motioned towards a thin blonde, dressed all peachy keen. “you are going to be coupled with Mandy.”

i switched to my own voice. “you make us sound like boxcars.”

“you are.”

Mandy smiled at me.

“hello…” i smiled back. “see you drew the short straw.”

once again, there was Michael, laughing.

Mandy took it as a cue to grin uneasily and turn to the mirror. reapply her lipstick.

i downed the rest of my gin. took a bite of maraschino, and popped the stem in my mouth. concentrated. worked my tongue around, bit down, tugged. pulled a perfect knot from between my lips.

30 seconds. not bad at all.

i looked around.

Milo had been right; the only person who cared was sitting right there in my seat.

i dropped the knotted stem into my glass.

the coordinator stepped in. “it’s time.”

i reached beneath my chair, picked up my bookbag. stood and buttoned my jacket.

Kayla caught me from across the room. came at me with a maternal smile. “no, Lucky. you’re going to have to leave your bookbag here.”

“but it has my juice box.”

no time for irony. “you can get your juice box later.”

i set my bag down.

witnessed everyone else chatting eagerly with their assigned mates.

glanced at Mandy; staring in the mirror, doing her lashes.

stretching out her remaining moments without me for as long as her face would allow.

***

Mandy and i walked along without saying a word.

we took a few turns, then onto familiar turf; place card table on the right, a setup of plush couches and armchairs on the left, stationed before a large, stone fireplace.

the wedding coordinator was pushing overdrive. led Mandy and me towards a set of closed, monolithic doors. the sound of live music vibrated from within; a booming voice whipping an unseen crowd into a frenzy of buzzed anticipation.

we were positioned behind Kayla’s mother and father.

at the very front stood Nick’s parents.

arm in arm, at the ready.

i glanced over my shoulder. confused.

everyone else in seemed to be suffering from a bout of spontaneous choreography.

Zhang was spinning his lady around, ballroom style.

Brennan was arm in arm with 2 bridesmaids. hands at his hips, instructing: “i think we should go – ” he pointed his fingers to the right, shooting from the hip – “guns, guns, right – ” switched directions… “guns, guns, left – ”

James had collapsed on the floor. simulating a full-body slide between the shapely legs of his giggling partner.

felt a little early for them to be as drunk as i was.

could be it was time to figure out just what the hell was going on…

“so…” i turned to Mandy. miscarried the question. “what do you do when you’re not being a bridesmaid?”

she seemed genuinely relieved to break the silence. “i’m a mother of 2, so that’s a full time job, right there… what do you do, Lucky?”

the best mistakes were always worth repeating. “technically, my job is to facilitate the advent of your job…”

“how’s that?”

before i could reply, the MC’s muffled announcement bled through the double doors:

ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Paul Reckless and Mrs. Lacey Reckless!

the doors swung open to the sound of music and wild applause.

from beyond, i could see the leftmost area of a large ball room. guests gathered at their tables, all teeth. clapping in tandem. phantom marionettes visible for one scant second, before Paul and Lacey were swallowed whole. doors closing behind them.

Mandy and i moved up a few feet, and that’s when it hit me. “oh. right. what exactly is going on here?”

“oh…” she linked her arm with mine, preparing. “is this your first wedding?”

“first participation.”

“well, it’s customary, sometimes, for the members on the bride and groom’s side to be introduced at the dinner. they walk in, cross the dance floor. usually do a little dance for everyone.”

i leafed through memories of previous weddings. came up with nothing but Misty tears. “is it customary this time?”

the doors opened again, along with an invitation for Kayla’s parents to come on down!

as the doors closed, i called an emergency meeting. “so i figure we can stroll in. arm in arm. hit the floor and cross it with a little Charleston step. nothing too ostentatious. sound good?”

“i think it sounds great.”

“Mandy?”

“yes?”

“i’m so sorry you have to be seeing with me.”

the doors blew open. our cover blown.

Mandy squeezed my arm. “that’s not how you spell seen, Lucky.”

we were sucked through the airlock, out into the ballroom. discus tables were grouped on either side of a sprung, wood-tiled floor. spectacle overseen by a wedding band of young, bearded Millennials in full swing. remaining sunlight pushing softly through a series of glass doors.

the applause tapered as we hit the floor. Mandy and i spread out, hands held. moved our feet. thought I heard Korben laughing, somewhere above the assault of amplifiers.

we made it safely to the other side. joined the parents, and turned to watch the rest of the cavalcade storm the gates. witnessed the room go wild as Brennan and his Brennettes made their strut happen.

guns, guns, right. guns, guns, left

i let myself breathe easy. tried to crack a smile as our sideline gathered, slowly grew.

saving the best for last.

the newlyweds arrived on a mighty crescendo. stepped onto the floor with a few flawless moves. flawless, despite the century-long blood feud between Nick Reckless and the agents of rhythm. topped with a dip. Nick sent Kayla tilting backwards. strands of hair sweeping along the floor as their lips pressed together.

building monuments out of moments.

***

the speciously named head table was actually 3 head tables, nose to nose along the back of the room. at each end, 2 smaller tables created right angles towards the dance floor. 2 more cut back in, forming a waxed, albino mustache.

thanks to a glitch in the matrix, our seating arrangements had fallen under dispute. assuming my role as weakest link, i wandered away. found my people at a nearby table, thrown into pleasantries with bubbly couples.

caught the tail end of Korben’s sentiment de jour. “ – and here these friends are, and they’re not kids anymore. dressed in their tuxedos. watching one of my best friends get married…”

“is it just kind of wild?” i asked.

“yeah,” Korben agreed, not a trace of irony. “we’re getting old.”

“modern times. i say old officially starts at 35.”

Milo looked at his watch. “doesn’t that happen to you in, like, a little over 6 months?”

“i’m aware of how little time I have left, Milo.”

“nice entrance,” Korben said.

“yeah,” Laura agreed. “a real waste if i don’t get you to dance tonight… i am going to get you to dance tonight.”

the band struck up, and the children wasted no time. out on the floor, jumping through the air, writhing on the ground. wiggling their appendages in near violent seizures.

“there’s a last time for everything,” i agreed. “meantime, Milo?”

“yeah?”

i leaned in close. “i may be having a nervous breakdown.”

he grinned. “for several years now, yes. good of you to show up.”

“i may be having a nervous breakdown.”

his grin was wiped clean. “outside?”

“yes.”

Milo excused himself from the table, and i excused my intrusion.

***

i’m not sure how we ended up with those beers, but that’s how it happened.

standing at the edge of a wide, concrete patio. overlooking the grass. sheltered from the golf course by a line of hedges that stretched down a gentle slope to the west side parking lot.

Milo waited patiently for me to get my story straight.

“Bobby was Melody’s boyfriend,” i said.

“we’re talking about this again?”

i lit a cigarette. had a tug at amber suds. “you remember or not?”

Milo smiled. must have dislodged a fond memory or two. “you mean Bobble?”

“yes. that was his nom de guerre.”

“so?”

“so i seen him.”

“seen him?”

“around…” i drank my beer. let the cigarette do its trick. “around here.”

“you mean here, here?”

“twice.”

“someone who looks like him.”

“him him.”

“sure?”

“90 percent.”

“interesting.”

“am i going insane?”

Milo didn’t answer. not all at once. then: “you still thinking about what –”

“yes. our greatest sins have a way of sticking with us.”

“i know a thing or 2 about that, don’t i?”

“Milo –”

what?

we stood in silence and waited for ducks to appear. make the moment easier.

when it didn’t happen, we were forced to continue.

Milo had a drink. “permit me to make an observation?”

“like permission has ever mattered to you before.”

“i’m going to let that comment slide, just so i can put this one out there… you seem to be rooting for the Bobble situation.”

“his name is Bobby.”

“and now i know you’re rooting for him.”

i breathed out, slowly.

Milo waved the smoke from his face. “again, i know a thing or 2 about wanting what you’re wanting.”

“no, you don’t.”

“then i don’t,” Milo snapped. polished off his beer. “but i’ll tell you one fucking thing. we once sat across each other at that same damn table. the one you’re thinking about. after Chastity dumped me. and you drank your fucking Jack, and held my hand, and you told me we would always be friends.”

“yes.”

“i’ve spent a good deal of time looking over my shoulder as well.”

“yes.”

“well, all right…” Milo sighed. “it’s all in your head. now go back in there and try to… just try, whatever it is you think you do.” he made for the door, called back: “and give Laura just one song, why don’t you?”

i let him go.

finished the beer and slid my cigarette butt down its neck.

***

turns out, it was my own lonely situation that had thrown the seating into flux. no date for the dance, odd chairs versus evens. i ended up sitting next to James, just one seat away from Nick. a placemat originally meant for Chester. he and Joyce were banished to the tiny outcroppings, their backs to the band.

i stared blankly at embroidered napkins. baskets of fluffy bread, regiments of silverware. in the middle of the table, a square, Picasso-style vase arose from the cloth like a glass child, stuffed with long-stemmed calla lilies. petals dyed a light purple.

a pair of staffers made their rounds, tersely jotting down entrees. cow, chicken, fish or vegetarian. i went vegetarian. as an afterthought, i read the stylishly embossed dinner card. something involving broccoli, porcini mushrooms, and polenta.

no doubts as to what would pair nicely with my selection.

i hit the bar. found Rodrigo tending to his post, at the ready.

“welcome back, maraschino,” he said.

“good to be home. can i get a bottle of Cabernet for the table?”

he nodded. released the cork with a satisfying pop.

“a grateful nation thanks you,” i said.

“anything else?”

“there’s a 100 percent chance i won’t be going home with anyone tonight.”

enough said. he placed another bottle on the bar. “any problems opening that later on?”

i reached into my jacket. pulled out a wine key.

he winked.

i slipped him a fin and returned to my seat. set the open bottle on the table. remembered that i was still sans bookbag. stashed my date beneath a chair.

ready to quest, when Nick caught my attention with an aristocratic wave of his hand. i opened my mouth, about to congratulate him, when –

“Lucky…” he gestured towards the monstrous vase. “you think you could get this out of the way? it’s really very large, and refuses to take off its hat.”

i rounded the table. took hold and lifted. felt like a good 50 pounds. made my way across the dance floor in a vaudeville shuffle.

children scattering like pigeons.

lilies tickling my eyelashes.

through the threshold, tacking right towards the fireside lounge.

saw a woman sitting on the leather couch. sandalwood skin, dark curls pulled back from a chubby face. thick fingers texting. stony expression, resigned to her task.

“you mind if i set this down?” i motioned towards the coffee table.

“that looks heavy,” she replied.

took it for what it was. set the vase down.

watched her text for a minute. “you with the wedding?” i asked. “they’re starting to take food orders in there…”

“the children are with their parents.”

“i’m sorry?”

“and i’m the nanny,” she said. “the kids are with their parents for now.”

“let me know if the flowers get in your way.”

she didn’t reply. kept on texting.

i went and recovered my bookbag.

got lost on the way back. 37 left turns, and i was on my way.

the nanny had abandoned her smartphone. now busy removing the cling wrap from a chicken salad sandwich. popping a container of mac and cheese, digging in with a plastic fork.

from the ballroom, i heard a round of overjoyed cheers.

returned just in time to find had missed Michael’s speech.

“damn it.”

i trudged to the table and took my seat.

greeted by a starter of pastrami-cured salmon, drizzled in creamy cucumber dill sauce.

an unsolicited meal.

i took small bites. poured some wine. took large sips.

James Reckless sat down beside me. “hey, Lucky.”

“James.”

he jabbed at his salmon with erratic thrusts of his spoon. “missed Michael’s speech, did you?”

“which reminds me…” i reached under the table, shoved the bottle of wine in my bookbag.

James raised an eyebrow. “got plans for later?’

“yeah. big plans…” took another bite. certain there must have been more flavor than i was tasting. “don’t you have a bit of a keynote speech coming up?”

“yeah. there’s been some good ones this weekend.”

“no shoes i’m sure you couldn’t fill.”

James continued to dance circles around his dish.

across the table, far to my left, Chester caught my eye. gave me a seductive wink.

i returned the favor with a sly kiss.

he licked his lips.

Joyce had a bite of salmon, kept tabs on our tennis match.

i picked up a spoon. dragged it sensually from the bridge of my nose down to my lips.

Chester dipped his index into the butter. rubbed the fingertip around his face, down his chin and along his neck.

i picked up a roll. raised an eyebrow and split it down the middle. delicately spread butter along its soft interior. brought both ends together. then, slowly, maintaining constant eye contact, crammed the whole thing into my mouth.

most of it, anyway… a tiny nub remained poking out from between my lips, hideous egg ready to burst. felt my mouth go dry, too late to turn back.

the distress in my eyes made Chester’s light up. he brought his hands together like a happy toddler, throwing an arm around his lady. pointing. sharing this magical moment.

game, set, match.

i continued to work my jaw against the clay spaceship in my mouth. paused. across from me, a bridesmaid and her date, possibly husband or fiancée, were staring at me with a well-mixed cocktail of fascination and disgust.

held up my finger. continued to chew, adding a dash of wine to expedite the process.

finally managed to send the whole apparatus down below.

but by then, i had forgotten my excuse.

just shrugged.

watched them go back to their conversation, foreheads pressed close in adoring whispers.

  ***

my plate was withdrawn. replaced with salad greens in a balsamic reduction. topped with Roquefort, candied pecans and a slice of rolled ham.

James motioned for the server to give his salmon a stay of execution. moved the plate aside and made room for his salad.

i offered him my ham.

he accepted. didn’t do much with it. readied some bread, buttered it. took a bite and let it languish next to his plate.

“you ok?” i asked.

“i’m fine…” he reached for a glass of white wine. “it’s kind of funny.”

i reached for my red. “what’s that?”

“you were Nick’s mentor growing up. i don’t know…  the way he would talk about you. every time, the few times you and i have seen each other over the years… i just continually expect you to be 80 feet tall…”

my throat tightened. a dense ball of half-chewed salad got stuck in traffic. turned to compost. i poured another glass and washed it down. “yeah. abstractions being what they are.”

“well, it is quite an accomplishment to do right by my brother. you really must’ve been something else back then…”

maybe. “can’t honestly say i was there.”

James took a another sip wine. “got this speech in a minute…” he scratched his chin. eyes floating across the floor.

i saw the front man motioning towards his microphone.

James nodded.

ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got someone coming up here right now…”

as James stood, i took hold of his arm. “hey, James…” i reached out with my free hand. gathered my glass and brought it in for a clumsy drink… “take your time. seriously. due course. it’s like eternal return. everything you have to say has already been said. there is no focal point, no wrong set of words that are going to make this any less memorable… you know that. you do. and you are going to do fine.”

James blinked… “yeah, I know…” he smiled, amused. “yeah, don’t worry about it, Lucky…” gave my shoulder a squeeze. “i got this.”

he left me and my glass to exchange a perplexed look.

i watched him stroll to the microphone. snatch everyone’s attention from their food. travel with ease to center stage, and then simply blast off. stiff limbs now limber and flowing. calm, uninhibited. adoring stories finessing the crowd, weaving all threads into one, every anecdote in perfect sync.

it might have easily been the best speech of that entire weekend.

capped with a standing ovation like you dream about.

Chester leapt from his seat. with three silken bounds, he commandeered the microphone. counted out a one, 2, 3, 4.

the band struck up its cover of 8 Days A Week, arrangement doing supreme justice to the original.

James was bum-rushed. the entire dance floor set ablaze.

head table abandoned, save for myself.

i postured as though that was where i belonged. orders from above. Mr. Lucky Saurelius, designated steward of the House of Reckless.

the room growing some 80 feet around me.

across the floor, i caught sight of the girl in black gauze. chair at an angle. bum leg extended. heel resting on the floor, where a young anybody crouched at her feet, gentleman caller in a tailored suit. the two of them engaged in a lively bout of back and forth.

saw her laugh. arm reaching up to tousle her hair. elbow knocking one of her crutches to the ground. smooth words from her suitor, as he moved to pick it up.

she bent over at the waist. raised her head. with a few dark curls falling along her face, she sent a glance across the room.

eyes landing on mine.

locked.

any second, i would venture a smile.

and maybe she would reciprocate.

but i couldn’t imagine any scenario past that moment. chances, outcomes, all truncated. possibilities like toll roads. occasionally rewarding the brave, but mostly bleeding the meek and bold alike. and i had long since gambled away the necessary luck to even glimpse what lay beyond those heavily guarded junctures.

let alone pretend i had the choice to travel.

i turned away, stood in one rending progression.

knocked over my chair. picked it up, set things straight.

lifted what was left of the bottle.

good a time as any to grab a smoke.

have a stroll and see if maybe there was someplace i was actually needed.

a collision with another nameless guest was narrowly averted. our drinks saved from a nasty spill, sparing us both from an exchange of basic misunderstanding.

***

i took my bottle of wine out for a leisurely walk.

let the music fade, drifting towards the links. squat lights embroidered the accompanying path, casting a snowy blanket. i breathed in the isolation. cold mountain air, crisp on my lips.

fully intending to return to the ballroom. something in the polarity of the evening instructing otherwise. i headed for the gates, through the garden. easing my way between the ghosts of a wedding in progress.

took the steps one at a time. reached the top, onto the terrace.

faced with large, lodge windows.

caught sight of another party inside. a little less fancy. a little less dancing. little less conversation, a little less action.

considered crashing.

retreated down a ways. sat down on one of the steps.

lit a cigarette.

i heard footsteps on the stairs.

took a breath, ready to see what Bobby might have to say.

the approach was punctuated by a boy, taking a seat beside me. somewhere in his tweens. freckles and sandy blond hair. shorts and a white Jay Z shirt. feet planted on the closest set of steps. forearms resting on his knees.

i nodded. “hey there.”

“hi.”

i repositioned my cigarette to keep the smoke out of his face.

“what are you doing here?” he asked.

“just sitting.”

“I mean, you know… all over here?”

“wedding.”

“congratulations.”

i coughed. “oh, no. god, no. not mine… thanks, though.” i brought the bottle to my lips, rough taste of plumbs scraping my tongue. “you?”

“family reunion. sorta.”

“sorta kinda?”

“i’m adopted.”

“congratulations.”

the boy began to nibble on his fingernails. “why?”

“odds are, it could’ve been a lot harder if you hadn’t.”

he looked mildly unconvinced.

“or not,” i amended. “can’t claim to know the future.”

“Carl says nobody can…” no time to ask who Carl was. “what do you do?”

“that’s kind of a sanitized question for a kid your age.”

“i don’t know how old i am… they say 11.”

“once knew a girl by the name of Zelda Calhoun. same dilemma. she was adopted, too. from Ethiopia”

“ok, but… what do you do?”

i sighed. a kid his age, no matter what his age; there was no way around it… “i am a writer.”

“cool.”

“sorta.”

“sorta kinda?”

“published a few books. young adult market, for kids ‘round about whatever age you are… and they didn’t do so hot. couple of years ago, my publisher dumped me. tried shopping myself around. didn’t get any bites. went indie, self-published online. then i went to a wedding.”

“why?”

“believe it or not, i was actually invited.”

“why did your publisher dump you, i mean?”

“wasn’t making them any money… truth be told, i even lost them a couple of figures…”

the boy scrunched his face. “weird. sounds like they don’t like books very much.”

“most of them love books…” i took a drag, washed the smoke down with more wine. “just so happens they love their jobs a little more. everyone kind of has to… can’t say i wasn’t warned.”

“i think i get it.”

“when you do, feel free to explain it to me.”

he seemed ok with keeping it a secret. which was fine. i kept smoking. listened to the music wafting from the lodge. a slight breeze hit us from the right.

i fought the baffling urge to ask him if he had brought a sweater.

“why are you here?” i asked.

“family reunion, i told you.”

“no, i mean this time. the other here. out here.”

“so, i’m adopted.”

“yeah.”

“so, it’s… ok, don’t think i’m weird.”

“Carl says nobody can claim to know the future, kid. sorry.”

“i have a crush on my cousin…” he glanced over his shoulder, cloak and dagger. “like, a serious crush.”

“ah…” i took a sip of wine. “so it’s actually ok, because she’s not actually your cousin, but it’s not actually ok, because for all intents and purposes, she actually is.”

“for all intensive purposes, yeah.”

nice to know i wasn’t the only one who had spent most of his life fucking up that particular idiom.

“i don’t know what to do,” he said.

“probably nothing you can do,” i said. “sucks, i know.”

“do you have a girlfriend?”

“ex-girlfriend.”

“sucks.”

“i know.”

“so. no advice?”

“none.” i put out my cigarette. stood up. “sorry, kid. you caught me at a particularly useless moment in my life.”

“that’s ok,” he said. rising to meet me. “i gotta go, too.”

we shook hands. another whistle of wind, lifting our goodbye up towards a waxing moon.

“i hope i get a chance to read your book,” he said.

“anyone ever publishes it on paper, i’ll send you a copy.”

“you don’t know where i live.”

“then i’ll send you 5, hope one of them gets to where it’s supposed to go.”

he thought about this. “where do you live?”

“about to move to New Orleans.”

“neat. what are you going to do when you get there?”

again, there were some things you didn’t tell a kid his age… “going to wait until i turn 35.”

“then what?”

“then everyone else gets to keep waiting, i guess.”

“well…” the kid began to head up the stairs. “it was good to meet you.”

“hey.”

he stopped, turned around.

“you’re going to be all right,” i said. maybe lied. “there’s lots of other cousins in the sea.”

he laughed. “ok. i think i get it. thank you.”

i gave him a tiny salute.

he trotted back inside.

i knocked back the rest of the bottle. drained it.

set it down gently, out of sight.

had a session with my lips.

met my mind halfway and settled on a half-smile.

###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

Smashwords.com

so long and thanks for all the pish.

 

SNFAW – part four.

 

wedding_cover_final_1_copper

 

when i awoke, the click of a ceiling fan was joined by the sound of rubber tires.

i sat up. peered through the window. saw Milo and Laura hopping from their rental.

without thinking, i peeled down to my underwear and posed on the couch. ready for them to walk in, catch me lounging with a seductive smile on my face. imagining the comedic implications.

then decided that probably wouldn’t be very fair to their eyeballs.

last time i had thrown on clothes with such swiftness, the prior activities had been far more satisfying. the cost of being caught far more significant. no matter. my past trials had done me good. 12 seconds, tops, and i was out the door.

Milo Blue and i had known each other since 3rd grade. lost track ‘round about 7th. rekindled in the 10th. stayed true through college. had a serious falling out soon after. we found our way back, eventually. now settled as friends who hardly spoke, but that 2nd hand seemed to wash the other well.

and throughout the years, for whatever reason, we had never abandoned our predilection for swearing like motherfucking sailors.

i trotted down the steps, yawning.

Milo was a 5’2” powerhouse. a Caucasian-Mexican mix with perfect skin, and a sly grin of crooked teeth. thick hair of an anime warrior. grew up poor as fuck, street-smart as anyone I had ever known.

time was, we had a lot to teach each other.

nowadays, we made do with comparing notes.

Milo flashed a tiny smile. “hey, bones.”

“hey, bones.” i gave him a hug. gave the patch beneath his lip a bit of a tug. “so you finally trimmed that horrible piece of shit, did you?”

“that was a test…” he said. “i thought to myself, fuck it. i’m going to grow this out, out, out. eventually, i figured my real friends would do me the favor of telling me, no, fuck you. get rid of that horrible piece of shit.

“well played.”

“the only people who passed the test were Laura, Chet, my brother, and you.”

“no need to thank me.”

“scrumps.”

my fist met his with a tiny bump. “dimples.”

“dimples and forest help.”

it was exactly, but not really, like old times.

Laura threw her arms around me, kissed my cheek. “hey, Lucky.”

“correct, as always.”

Laura was undoubtedly the best thing to happen to Milo in a thousand years. the 2 of them had been together for less than 3, but math was never my strong suit. she reigned supreme as a consummate shape-shifter. joyous anomaly. all within one same instant, she was a beauty queen, plain Jane, a wallflower, an upstart. tense and vulnerable, then, in just 2 blinks, every bit the Tae Kwon Do black belt.

“are any of the others here?” she asked.

“they’re attending some travesty dubbed The People’s Olympics.”

Milo blinked. “the fuck?”

“come inside, and i’ll tell you all about it.” i took Laura’s bag. “anybody want to see the giant confederate flag in the basement?”

“no,” Laura said.

“no,” Milo said.

no, they did not.

felt as though they had somehow passed a test all their own.

***

Milo and Laura had driven in from New York City. cameo appearance for the wedding, the dinner, then plans to make tracks for Newark and catch a flight to Mexico.

“how’s the restaurant business?” i asked.

“you learn to hate a little less with every passing day…” Milo sat on the couch. rubbed his eyes, and squinted at the television. “are you watching the SOAP channel?”

“yes. and now, so are you, so fuck off.”

Milo pointed in my direction. ”yes.”

Laura shot up from touching her toes, ponytail flying. “so the wedding is when?”

“don’t quote me on this one, because on this one, i’m quoting Nicky, but… 5:30 PM seems to be the going rate.”

Milo and Laura checked their phones.

it was 1:45.

“ever seen one of these fuckers?” Milo asked, shaking his iPhone in my face. “they’ve been all the rage for the past millennium.”

“my current location is Skytop, Pennsylvania. kittens are adorable. and somebody’s brunch, somewhere, was tastetacular. there, i just saved myself several hundred dollars. hashtag, fuck you.”

“boys…” Laura stepped over the coffee table and squeezed between us. “can we have a plan?’

“i have to be at the lodge at 3:30 for reasons i’d rather not say…”

“so what do we want to do until then?”

“threesome?” i suggested.

we all decided that was a terrible idea, and settled on leaving the resort to see what life had to offer outside the gilded cage.

***

long before love, money and professional implosion had left me stranded in Verona for 8 or so years, my travels had impressed upon me a single golden rule: if a local tender don’t serve you at least one drink, don’t bother telling anyone you were ever there in the first place.

as we pulled up, Milo nodded. “any town, city, or principality worth its salt has at least one bar called The Pour House.”

no arguments there.

our shoes crunched along the gravel, and we went from light to darkness. it was a quiet affair. restaurant with muted colors, oaken booths, and a horseshoe bar at the far end.

our bartender was a pleasant, pear-shaped teenager. brown hair, glowing face. mustard stain on her shirt. she asked what our pleasure was.

i ordered a gin and tonic.

Milo and Laura did the same.

as they perused the menu, i helped myself to the surroundings. stout, multicolored Christmas lights hung from the walls. 3 flat screen TV’s shone from above. Country Music Television turned way up; Willie Nelson happily drowning out the Golf Channel and Fox pundits. from beyond the kitchen window, i caught a line cook sending a text.

our drinks arrived. we asked the bartender for another 5 minutes.

Laura nudged Milo. “what are you thinking, babe?”

“call me a crazy asshole, but i’m really thinking Reuben right now.”

“yeah, there’s a southwestern wrap that’s kind of trying to have sex with me.”

“i saw that. it looks pretty fucking good.”

“you getting fries?”

“don’t know. i’m particular about fries…”

i hunched over my menu. trying to filter out the easy banter of solid coupling. made myself invisible. squeezed a little lime, took a sip of juniper and quinine.

Laura leaned across the bar. “Lucky? what are you thinking?”

i hemmed. “when did everything become bacon?”

“you still doing that vegetarian thing?” Milo asked.

“i’m a 34-year-old alcoholic. kale, blueberries and exercise are the only things holding this piece of shit body together.”

“no meat at all?” Laura asked.

“no such thing as true commitment,” i said. “someone serves me an unsolicited meal, i eat what i’m lucky enough to have been given. and once a year, i help myself to a steak. and i mean, a real earth-shattering orgasm of a steak. medium-rare.”

“why’s that?”

“to remind myself that i am just another hypocrite, and my dedication is in no way, shape or form a reflection of character… besides, from what i know of the scriptures, there will be plenty of meat in hell.”

i glanced up. our bartender was standing before us. had probably been for quite some time. eyes hesitant, mouth in mid-offering. pen hovering just above her notepad.

“i will have the fruit salad,” i told her, handing over my menu. “hold the bacon.”

Milo and Laura proceeded to order something they actually wanted.

***

my life had certainly become less interesting over the years. couldn’t speak on behalf of Milo, and Laura was a fresh face in my gradually contracting world. whatever the reason, i found the massive gaps in our conversation to be draining. a pause became a stretch.

became a vortex.

i played with my straw, ordered another drink.

maybe we were all just tired this time.

our food arrived along with 3 waters.

“i’m glad we got a chance to do this,” Milo said between shreds of pastrami and sauerkraut. “from what you’ve told us, the whole thing’s been kind of a whirlwind. nonstop.”

“guess that’s the cardinal rule for weddings. location, location, location.”

“that’s real estate.”

“for real?”

“estate.”

Laura plunged into her 2nd gin and tonic. “i’m actually really looking forward to the wedding. i like weddings.”

“me too,” i said. “it’s the marriage what fucks it all up.”

Milo smiled, held up a fry. “i can see your speech at the banquet is going to be a real barn-burner.”

“that conversation already happened. and despite the fact that I know more divorced people my age than married people, this don’t apply to Nicky.”

“how you figure?”

“Nicky is Mr. Family. when we were kids, if he couldn’t come out because of some prior with his parents, his brother… he never bitched. as many times as all of us, at one point or another, had to say, i can’t, i’m doing something with my family… he never sounded annoyed. bothered. i don’t think he ever once rolled his eyes the way the rest of us would. it was never a sacrifice for him. Nicky has thought about this, i really think he has. i think he believes in it. i think Republicans in the early ‘90s are, at this very moment, building a time machine to bring him back to help wage war on behalf of family values…” i raised my glass. “let there be no mistake, though… i’m sure they’d very much regret it once they actually met him.” went ahead and downed my drink. “but then again, most of us already do…”

Laura raised her own glass. “now that’s the speech you give at a wedding.”

“yes. just not this one.”

“is they?” Milo asked.

“huh…?” i blinked through a sour patch of lime. “what’s wrong with you?”

“um…” the bartender was once again trapped in our gravitational pull. “you all want this check  together?”

Milo nodded.

I dug into my pocket. “did i tell you i’m moving to New Orleans?”

“no,” Milo said.

“no,” Laura said.

“i’m moving to New Orleans.”

“why?”

“seems like a good a place as any to die.”

“when?” Milo asked.

“on my birthday.”

“so you’re not moving until February 16th?”

“oh…”  i bit down on my straw. “thought we were talking about something else. no. far as moving goes…thinking late September.”

September, all over again,” Milo mused. “but, for real, why now?”

“you know what happened back in ‘05.”

Laura leaned forward. “what happened back in ‘05?”

the check arrived. “long story.”

Laura shrugged. “i’m going to get you to dance, Lucky.”

“that’s an even longer story.”

Milo crunched the numbers. “i got this.”

i pulled out a 10-spot. “here.”

“no.”

“take the money, asshole.”

“what am i going to do with it?”

“what am i going to do with it?” i slurped on the remaining ice cubes. “you can’t take it with you.”

Milo gave me a look. snatched the money with an angry snap of his wrist. “no i don’t suppose you can.” he signed for the meal. “we’re not done.”

“no, i don’t suppose we ever are…”

Laura watched us with guarded curiosity. kept it to herself.

a master black belt.

***

while Laura busied herself in the bathroom, Milo and i leaned against the car.

he pulled out his phone and checked his email.

i pulled out my smokes and had myself a drag.

the world had gone gray in our absence.

“how’s the book going?” Milo asked.

“i’m a millionaire,” i told him. “didn’t want to bring it up, this being Nicky’s day and all.”

“yeah, well. you go it alone, you take your chances.”

i nodded. watched a truck rumble past.

“you seem different,” Milo said.

“we all are.”

“no. you’re up to something.”

“i’m up to my eyeballs in shit.”

“what are you going to do in New Orleans?”

“remember Melody?”

she must have been buried deep. took Milo a full minute, before: “real skinny? metal shit in her snout?”

“septum piercing, yeah.”

“yeah. junior year, right?”

“sophomore year.”

“you’d know better than me.”

“i do.”

“what about her?”

i took a drag. grimaced as my mouth went dry. felt the empty road tender a little time, grow wider. pine trees sharp against a featureless sky.

“i think i may be in hell.”

“how so?”

“remember Bobby?”

“Bobby who?”

Laura came skipping out to meet us, beautiful smile making up for lost minutes.

“another time,” i said.

Milo rolled his eyes. “yeah. we got lots of those left.”

Laura planted a long, luxurious kiss on Milo’s lips.

whatever it was we all had left, Milo had all that he needed.

i slid into the driver’s seat.

***

Korben was standing proud upon the deck, far above it all. enjoying a cigarette pilfered from my bookbag.

not a particularly spectacular reunion for this trio of New York mainstays.

“from what i understand,” Laura said, “or think i understand, there was some kind of People’s Olympics?”

“yeah.” Korben took a triumphant drag. “North Carolina killed it.”

Milo grinned. “hell, yeah, they did.” he gave Korben’s shoulder a smack and went inside along with his lady.

“you shoulda been there,” Korben told me.

“had to see a house about a bag,” i said. “as for the here and now, i’ve got to meet Nicky at 3:30.”

“oh… you didn’t check your phone?”

“no. left it in the house. where it belongs.”

“yeah, there was a change of plans –”

“goddammit!”

“Chet said that Nicky said you’d say that.”

“well, tell Chet to tell Nicky that i said –”

“Chet’s already gone.”

“gone where?”

Korben finished his smoke. “groomsmen are meeting at the lodge at 3.”

i bolted into the house. swung through the kitchen, dining room. gunning for the stairs.

i tripped over my bookbag. torpedoed my knee directly into the 2nd step.

florescent pain spiraled along my leg.

Laura asked if i was OK.

Milo laughed at me.

a hanging portrait of General Lee didn’t seem to have an opinion on the matter.

never one to learn my lesson, i went careening up the steps.

tripped again.

slammed my other knee against the landing, hand against the wall, and my pride against the jarring sounds of Milo’s laughter.

and this time, Laura couldn’t be blamed for joining in.

***

5 minutes to shower.

5 more for fresh digs. jeans and a navy shirt reading I HAVE CANDY in ominous, pink caps.

i ran back down the stairs. subconsciously hoping to finish the job, maybe.

backed out of the driveway.

wasn’t more than 20 yards down the road, when i spotted Chester’s car headed my way. i slowed, pulled to the shoulder. rolled down the window.

Chester did the same. Nick Reckless in the front seat. James Reckless in the back, along with the brother of the bride, and a pair of strangers.

“Lucky!” Nick called out cheerfully.

“hey,” i replied. “was on my way to meet a bunch of weird assholes for a 3:30 rendezvous, taking place at 3 o’clock… those assholes look a lot like you assholes.”

Chester sighed. “looks like Milo made it in all right.”

“everyone’s coming here to change for the photographer,” Nick said.

“really.”

“yes.”

“honest?”

“you want it in writing?’

“i’d put it in writing myself, but if i did, none of my friends would read it.”

“fuck you, Lucky,” Chester said. rolled up his window and eased his rental into the driveway.

i remained on the shoulder. engine idling. knees throbbing. watched a family of ducks waddle by.

“well, i thought it was funny,” i told them.

let a couple of minutes pass to make certain that Nick wasn’t looking to make god laugh one last time…

went on back to get my picture taken.

***

i had just slid into the lower half of my tuxedo, when the nausea hit, coupled with violent shakes.

i coughed. retched. took a few breaths, leaned against the wall. with the initial headache out of the way, phase 2 of my hangover began to spread. bloodstream infused with only trace amounts of alcohol, racing, begging for more.

those G&T’s hadn’t quite done the trick.

it was either wait and dry heave my way through the ceremony, or take immediate steps to balance the equation.

i eased on down the steps, tucking my undershirt as i went.

the living room had become backstage to an off-Broadway production. men slipping into their formalwear. women floating across the color spectrum in slips, dresses; testing their earrings and digging through makeup kits.

i breezed past Nick. he gave me a nervous grin. i replied with a spastic, inconsistent smile.

yanked the Goose from the freezer. double shot into a highball glass. filled it up to 4/5 with water. on my way to the living room, when Nick got hold of me.

“Lucky, can you help me out?” his eyes were wide. overwhelmed shades against the contours of a calm and capable face.

“whatever you need,” i said.

he handed me a set of cuff links. “can you make these work? i can’t quite figure out how these work.”

i set my vodka down.

Nick held out his arm. i wrapped my fingers around his wrist. took a breath. looking to match the holes in his cuffs. muddled around with the tiny clips. my hands were shaking. so were his.

difference was, one of us was about to step soundly into the rest of his life.

i looked up. smiled reassuringly. “real smart, Nicky. nervous groom gets the lush to perform tuxedo surgery.”

Nick laughed. “that is pretty stupid of me.”

i flashed back to my high school graduation. heading home after the party. Chloe was driving. something was said. maybe inferred. maybe it was the first time it hit Nicky that i was going away, off to New York. he rolled down the window, face twisted,  howling miserably. doing whatever he could to get the moon’s attention. lashing out against the tides, winds, and the slow countdown to what was in store for all of us.

there was once a time when that had mattered.

even if it was all illusion, and even if the sun had set far too many times to count.

“you good?” i asked.

“yeah.”

“i know. everyone here knows it, too.”

“hm.”

“you’ll think me a liar, but this is exactly what i thought i’d be doing 16 years out of high school.”

“liar.”

“yeah…” i fastened the first of the oversized, golden thumbtacks. “you look aces, Nicky.’

“thanks.”

“you look like a man who’s ready.”

Korben, who had been reading a travel brochure at the dining room table, coughed politely. “you’re doing that wrong, Lucky.”

“say what?”

“that’s not how you fasten cuffs. you have to press the insides of both buttonholes to meet each other.”

i closed my eyes with a pained sigh… “i don’t even understand what that – goddammit…” i motioned for Korben to get up. “take care of this, would you? i’m going to step over there, see if i can’t fuck something else up.”

i gave Nick’s ass a light smack, and moved to the living room.

dug into my bookbag. pulled out a packet of Emergen-C. tore it open and shook the pink powder into my glass. stirred with my finger. watched the liquid turn the color of dead flamingos.

“watcha got there, sailor?” Milo asked from the couch. checking Wikipedia. utterly at home in his tux.

“Emergen-C and vodka.”

Laura snapped a picture with her phone. “that’s brilliant.”

“had to happen sometime.” i leveled the cloudy solution in 3 large gulps. “there. that should keep the angels away.”

Chester breezed through the room, adjusting his bowtie. “should we do some shots, Lucky? can we do some shots? of your vodka?”

“always,” i said, heading up the stairs. “set `em up, set `em up, and we’ll knock `em on down.”

i took the steps with a light trot. blood bubbling along, and the shakes were gone.

for the moment.

***

i buttoned my jacket and took a long look in the mirror.

god help me, i liked what i saw.

“well, we’re going to work on that,” i told my reflection. “so don’t get too comfortable.”

adjusted my tie and headed back downstairs.

***

i was greeted with trivia.

as Chester set up a series of antique shot glasses from what was once a locked china cabinet, Milo nudged Korben and waved. “hey, Lucky!” he double checked his iPhone. “did you know that Robert Guillaume was in Saved by the Bell?”

“technically, Saved by the Bell: The College Years,” i said. “he played Zack’s ethics professor. let a fake answer key for the midterm fall out of his satchel, and all the main characters naturally, had to decide whether or not to cheat, and then it turns out that test of character was the ethics midterm, and, oh, shit, this is why i can’t remember how to multiply fractions…”

Chester had already filled 15 or so glasses to capacity. “can we drink now?”

i helped with distribution. the motorcade’s hectic engine had shut down, replaced with an unforeseen silence. i handed drinks to a few newcomers. saved the introductions. stood back, and let the circle form. the rhythmic click of a ceiling fan gave us the count.

under no other conditions would any of these individuals have found themselves together under one roof.

i raised my glass. “to Nicky and Kayla.”

seconded by all.

down went the goose, and i swallowed mine with a lazy smile on my face.

***

the groom’s bench had finally come together.

James Reckless. Chester Springs. myself. Kayla’s colossal little brother, Brian Dumas. Zhang and Brennan.

Chester already knew Zhang and Brennan from the bachelor party some 2 weeks previous. up in New York City. i had been unable to gather the scratch to attend, and was given a hasty overture.

all i knew about the pair was that they had met Nick in China. what the circumstances might have been was a mystery. probably not too difficult to imagine, though. people didn’t meet Nick; they collided with him. every so often, origins were best left back where they belonged.

Zhang was around my height. wasn’t sure whether he was originally from China, or first generation American. no discernible tells to give it away. roundish face. a smile that came and went at odd intervals. his eyes never really met mine. he seemed focused, inwardly haggard. running on the residual adrenaline of a 14-hour work day.

Brennan was 20, looked to be 6’2”. wide shoulders. wore his tux with superb elegance. pale face, thick lips, lengthy features. haircut that could run for congress. his eyes were mischievous and quick, though unevenly terse, as though accustomed to sizing up competition. i felt inclined to dislike him, but something in the way he carried himself gave me pause.

and during that pause, he promptly walked away without so much as another word.

i was suddenly far less inclined to dislike him.

beyond firm handshakes, Zhang and Brennan shared other core similarities. a sense of purpose. confidence not just in their reality, but in their reasons. this seemed to be the common thread linking those from the other side of Nick’s looking glass. all of us who had come before his flight to China were floaters. not physically unmoored, but with minds that drifted through an existence where decisions were opiates. on par with a fistful of lottery tickets.

no guarantees, though. for all i knew, these cats were every bit as displaced and unhinged as the rest of us. still, there was also no doubt they had done something with their lives.

in one form or another, they had all been to China.

then again, so had Chester.

Analysis crumbling around my scuffed dress shoes, so I poured myself another shot.

Brennan popped his head into the house. “photographer’s here, guys. let’s move.”

Nick circulated the boutonnières. tiny roses impaled upon pearl-topped pins.

no more clouds, and we scuttled out into the heat. struggling with our lapels. alternately asking one another for help, then going it alone.

“having a little trouble there, fellas?” the photographer asked.

he was a lanky, late-thirties conduit of positive emotions. trimmed beard protecting his interminable smile. floating in a bubble where all records were meant to bear the brand of perfect moments. no past, no future. only the eternal optimist’s now; exemplified by a dangling mane of thin braids, gradually giving in to a brutally receding hairline.

Nick leaned in close, whispered in my ear: “i think it’s sweet that his hair and the top of his head still hang out, even though they stopped seeing each other years ago.”

i punched his boutonnière, let the pins drive into his chest.

Nick hissed, grinning madly. “i deserve that.”

“let the depressing man do his job.”

“yes.”

the photographer was joined by a pink, overweight, androgynous man. face shiny as his black silk shirt. hanging back, documenting the event with a compact, digital camera. chubby smile suggesting the bridesmaids had made for better subjects.

we finally managed to settle the flower situation.

the photographer instructed us to stand on the stairs. 3 rows worth of impassive penguins. he tried to stack us, snapping pictures even as we struggled to get organized.

James and I flanked Nick on the first step.

behind us, Zhang and Brennan did their best to position themselves in front of Chester and Brian.

the photographer pointed in some kind of direction. “sir? 2nd row? if you could maybe move closer to the right?”

Brennan glanced around. “who, me?”

Nick raised his hand. “should we tell you our names to make it easier?”

“better still,” Zhang called out. “could you just refer to us by our ethnicities?”

“yeah,” Brennan agreed. “who moves, the whitey or the chink?”

the photographer didn’t have an answer for that.

Zhang and Brennan moved closer together, and that seemed to do the trick.

i glanced over my shoulder.

saw Chester on the top step. face an alarming beet-red, slathered in a thick membrane of sweat.

“good thing you’re a brilliant musician with a 9-inch dick,” i told him.

Chester blinked. “huh?”

“ok, let’s see some smiles!” the photographer sang.

in another moment of cross-cultural unity, none of us were able to comply.

a series of uncomfortable group pictures followed.

“now, cut loose!” the photographer encouraged. “look like you’re having a good time!”

i turned and licked Nick’s face.

“um…” the photographer hesitated. “i mean, that’s fine, and all…”

“ugh,” i wiped my tongue against a padded shoulder. “you taste like a sexual predator.”

“that’s Ralph Lauren,” Nick informed me. then added, “so yes. i do.”

Korben stepped onto the deck for a cigarette. “Lucky, i stole another one of your smokes. is that – ”

“yeah, it’s fine!” i called over my shoulder. “could you send a belt of vodka down my way?”

“yo.”

the photographer smiled, maintaining happiness on our behalf. “ok, now how about a few shots of the groom with each one of his groomsmen?”

Korben returned with my drink.

he stood alongside me, in the driveway, as the rest lined up to take their mug shots.

“how’s it going?”

“i licked Nicky’s face, and now the devil won’t stop fondling my crotch.”

i took my shot. Korben offered me one of my cigarettes. i accepted.

“what are the new guys like?”

“Zhang and Brennan?”

“yeah.”

i had a puff, let my lungs cry foul. “only know that Nick loves them. though i have noticed…”

“yeah?”

“neither side of China seems that interested in talking to each other… we’re both either very protective of our history with Nicky, or we’re absolutely at peace with the other’s influence on his own history.”

“well…?” Korben shrugged. “which one is it?’

“i think, barring Kayla’s little brother, that Nick has simply compiled a group of totally self-absorbed bastards.”

“weddings.”

“ain’t that the way it always is?”

the photographer called me over.

i put my arm around Nick. “looks like we got ourselves a lineup, here.”

the photographer took a series of shots.

the overweight cameraman continued to smile through the viewfinder.

“you should talk to Brennan and Zhang,” Nick said.

“is that what you told them? about me?”

“yes.”

“what’d they say?”

Nick batted the question aside. “Zhang used to run the Beijing offices for Random House.”

“so fucking what?”

“maybe Zhang agrees with you on that score.”

“i rather like Brennan.”

“interesting.” Nick unbuttoned his jacket for a more casual look. “most people can’t stand that guy when they first meet him.”

“ok.”

“you still got it in you, you know.”

“no idea what that means.”

“means i really do wish you’d realize certain things.”

“why are we having this conversation?”

“because after tomorrow, i’m not entirely sure i’ll have another chance to see you again before you die.”

in the distance, i thought i saw my dragonfly speed past.

the photographer changed cameras, crouched low. “now how about those smiles?”

Nick smiled. i stuck my tongue out.

“love you,” Nick said.

“well, we’re going to work on that,” i replied.

“and thanks for the toast.” Nick reached up and gave my neck a squeeze.

i did the same, praying to god the sun’s glare would keep that moment from ever being captured.

***

just under 24 hours had passed since rehearsal, and i was back on the crescent terrace overlooking the courtyard.

stashed my bookbag behind an orange cooler.

i tried to breath

the multitudes were gathering. some familiar. most, not so much.

resort staff setting up tables for drinks and food.

the women looked spectacular. the men, preoccupied.

to be fair, yes, the women also looked preoccupied.

long story short, the men all looked like each other.

didn’t want to know how i looked.

my tuxedo pressed against my chest. constrictive, duplicitous armament. the 2nd skin of an absolute fraud. metamorphosis complete. from Dean Martin, to Jerry Lewis.

i broke from the crowd. down the steps. out to the cobbled garden, where rows of foldout chairs had been set up for the ceremony. walked myself down the aisle. came to rest at the gates leading to the green. went through the rehearsal in my head.

came up with a scant 30 seconds worth of useful footage.

“i don’t know what the hell to do, either…” Chester was by my side. looking out onto the empty seats, awaiting the big production.

“want me to walk us through what i think i remember?” i asked.

“yeah, please.”

we passed through the gate, around to the bushes. hit our marks, one by one. Chester had a thousand questions. positioning, timing, arrangement. as we stood to the left of an imaginary bride and groom, i gave him a light body check. “i think there’s something graciously endearing about it, Chet.”

“what’s that?”

“you’ve stood on stage, you and your guitar. in front of amphitheaters worth of screaming fans. and here you are, sweating the most minor details in a venue that seats less than a hundred.”

“yeah.” he smiled. sighed. “this is probably more important than anything i’ve ever done.”

“what’s it like?” i asked.

“what?”

“when people listen. any words for it?’

Chester gave a chuckle. “no. no, i’ll leave the words to you.”

“we’re doomed.” i brought my hands together, clasped in front of me.

Chester did the same.

holding our pose, ensconced in orange radiance. awaiting the crush of the crowd.

we kept still for a while. preparing.

***

back on the balcony, the father of the bride brought us in for a huddle. distributed stacks of programs.

“gentlemen, it’s time,” Michael said. voice free of tension. smiling. pleased. “start leading people to their seats. groom on the right side, bride to the left. the first 2 rows are reserved for family, or close friends. we’re 10 minutes out from the start of the ceremony, so look lively.”

i took a handful of programs.

waded into the crowd. felt a doughy dread begin to rise. realized i hadn’t been paying any attention since i had arrived. not a clue as to who was there on behalf of which half. what was worse, i didn’t know who was family, never mind whatever constituted a close family friend.

to save myself the embarrassment, i approached only those who already had programs. got the friendly brush off each time, and nobody could say i hadn’t tried.

James Reckless darted past me. stiff gait leaving a trail of discombobulated grumbles.

i caught up to him as he approached his father.

Paul was all decked out in Harvard robes; his official digs for officiating.

“everything all right?” i asked.

“we’re having trouble locating the mother of the groom,” James said.

Paul shook his head. “ah. i think i know what this is about.”

“what’s going on?” i asked.

Paul tucked his notes away. “remember during rehearsal yesterday, when i said that Lacey would be reading from the I Ching?”

i doubted very much that he had. nodded anyway.

“i think she mentioned something about needing a translation in Chinese.”

James bobbed on his toes. “ok. great.”

“no worries,” i said. “let me sniff around, see if she isn’t just somewhere in the lobby. you know how she loves talking to strangers.”

Paul nodded. “could you?”

i ran a quick tour of the premises. blending best as a drunk in a tuxedo could ever hope to. heard an eruption of laughter from the dining room. sounded a lot like the reaction Lacey had garnered during her rehearsal speech. stood on my toes for no apparent reason and had myself a look.

a group of 12 were heading towards the stairs. all smiles and cross-promotional jokes.

i froze.

because there he was again. taller than i remembered, but my blueprints were some 10 years out of date, and there was no telling what made those features so unmistakably his. a face in the crowd. ghost in the machine.

i took 4 confident strides, imagining what would have to come next.

ok, Bobby, seriously, take a good fist full of this rented tux and just hold on tight while you pummel my face. mess it up real good. i got a wedding in fewer minutes than i can count, but if my face has to be peeled off my skull for the occasion, then have at it, because

i bumped into a pair of young honeymooners.

sent their suitcases crashing to the floor.

both kind enough to accept my apologies, but at the cost of another lost hallucination.

by the time we mended fences, there was nothing left to see.

Bobby’s improbable apparition had vanished.

with a few uncertain steps, i left certainty behind. felt the ceiling rise to its previous height. somehow positive that 2 sightings had to be proof that neither one had happened.

remembered my mission, and went looking for Lacey.

passed by the women’s restroom.

checked to see if the coast was clear.

knocked.

waited.

knocked harder.

awash with Deja vu.

i laid a cautious hand on the door and pushed.

stepped into forbidden territory.

cleared my throat. “Lacey?”

from one of the stalls, a voice called out. “yes?”

it didn’t sound like a match. “are you the Lacey whose son is getting married today?”

“no,” came the stern reply. “i’m the Lacey whose daughter is getting married today.”

all at once, i remembered that Nick and Kayla both had mothers named Lacey. just another one of those little quirks that had made this weekend seem no less than destined.

i coughed: “just wanted to say congratulations. peace out.”

stepped away from the bathroom door.

my face maintained anonymity, but it occurred to me i might have to spend the rest of the wedding either as a mute, or speaking with a British accent.

***

the wedding coordinator began to round up all first-born groomsmen.

i was talking to Korben. caught the cattle drive from the corner of my eye.

“it’s just so strange,” he was saying. “i’ve known you, Chet, Nicky for so long. and seeing you all standing in your tuxedos, here, or wherever we are… it’s just kind of wild. i keep projecting young faces on all of it, but when i do, it’s as though something shatters. like when your computer can’t figure out how to run a simple operation.”

“we’re old, Korben.”

“so unbelievably old,”  he agreed.

“looks like this is actually going to happen. see you on the other side?”

“yeah.”

i stepped into the circle of groomsmen. smiled, as was expected. listened to the coordinator; a short woman with a body built for arias, thankfully more interested in getting things done than sugarcoating her words.

we followed her into the lobby.

as we passed within 30 feet of the front doors, they swung open to reveal

long raven hair, making an entrance on 4 legs. 2 crutches, to be exact. sturdy right leg, the left cocooned in a cast, wrapped in gauze. wrapped in black gauze, matching her mascara, matching her dress. black dress, full specter at a white wedding. oval face, cheeks gone cherry bomb with the effort of ambulation. dark eyes, and a daring smile.

black gauze, once again. replaying. matching that black dress.

Brennan broke away from the entourage. raced over to greet her, his arms outstretched.

so at least this ephemeral vision had to be real.

my world whiplashed back its rushed surroundings.

craned my neck, watched her disappear behind a column. shook it off, marching once more towards our final frontier.

i followed the coordinator through a door, down a spiral stairway. through another door, leading to a path that hugged the garden’s outer hedges. pausing momentarily to let a golf cart play through. we walked past the open gate; quick glimpse of a full house as we arrived at our mark.

before i could wonder what became of the girl in black gauze, Brennan was back in our company. joined by Paul and James.

the 3 Reckless men gave their reports.

still no sign of groom-Lacey.

James strode through the gate on stilted legs. arms stiff at his sides. fists balled into pallid rocks.

Nick remained calm. turned to his father… “remember my graduation?”

Paul laughed.

“high school?” i asked.

“college,” Nick said. “my mom was so worried i wouldn’t show on time, that she ran over to my house to make sure i would. and as a result, she missed the whole thing.”

“too funny to make it a tradition.”

“too perfect. we can wait.”

and so we did. basking in the sun like diamondbacks. temporary setback giving us a chance to forget the upcoming nuptials.

“dewdrops in the garden,” i told Nick.

Nick agreed, and we settled on the order of appearance. i took the rear. with an uneven groom-to-bride ratio, Paul warned me i would have to take on 2 women for the recession.

we all made the obligatory jokes, and i had the obligatory fantasy about nothing that would ever happen to me.

was about to ask Nick about the girl in black gauze, when James returned. a little more slide to his stride. “good to go.”

we gathered in what felt like an abstract pentagram.

Paul glanced through the gate. raised his hand.

the sound of a string quartet came drifting through the air.

Paul turned back to us. smiled with a silvery pride. “i have to say… you are all without a doubt the best-looking group of men i have ever seen on the business end of a wedding. truly… you all look spectacular.”

it was time.

Brennan turned around, adjusted my lapels. “you look good, man.”

“thank you.”

we walked through the gate. strident and unprepared, turning left at the microphones. spread ourselves in a straight line, company halt. i folded my hands. sized up the crowd. caught sight of Carolina memories in the mix. wondered why they weren’t smirking, or grinning, or at the very least shifting in their seats.

it’s because we’ve done a few of these at this point.

Nick took his place alongside his father.

down the aisle came a duo of miniature children, scattering rose petals.

i scanned the gathering. squinted towards the back, where a pair of mounted speakers had been placed on either side of the steps.

string quartet stationed on the left side of the terrace.

i wondered what secret hopes they held for their talents, someday.

they switched to Pachelbel, as Kayla and her father made their entrance. neither of them concerned with gravitas. beaming. not a trace of imperious intention as Michael shook Nick’s hand, embraced his daughter with the ease of excellent fortune.

Paul gave his opening remarks, effects of a soothing lullaby. emotion channeled into effortless words, proving the tree never grew far from the fruit. voice projecting to the farthest reaches, out to the back, where the staff took turns banging their palms against a malfunctioning speaker, all static and hiss.

no matter.

bride-Lacey approached her microphone, read from Corinthians.

groom-Lacey, apparently satisfied with English as a first language, read from the I Ching.

12-hour shifts behind the counter of an adult store had served me well, feet holding up just fine. but the sun was starting to beat down on the front lines. sweat gathering at the base of my spine, a swampy tramp-stamp. undershirt, underwear, armpits dampening, as a threesome from Nick’s side stood to sing a trio of songs in the Shaker tradition. off key and out of sync. missing their harmonies by a mile, but maybe that was the point.

with god on their side, their pitch was perfect as it would ever need to be.

i caught myself staring at a passing ladybug.

blinked several times.

Paul stepped forward. took us all on a journey through the founding of Pennsylvania, marveling at the numerous cultures and individuals that had allowed us all to gather, join together in this eclectic, non-denominational recognition of Nick and Kayla’s union.

i was beginning to lose focus.

panicked that the heat would win the day, rob me of this moment.

taking control of my distraction, i pictured the audience in their underwear.

succeeded in picturing only the most attractive people in their underwear.

the spiral was inevitable, and soon my brain was swarming with porn stars.

and now, there were other biological functions to battle.

caught in a taut, psychological game of cat-and-more-cat. a game i would have surely lost were it not for a single, mental hangnail.

Bobby.

that did the trick, and i was able to pivot from what might be, to what was. shift my brain into neutral just in time to witness Kayla’s vows. written for the occasion. followed by Nick, volleying the same joyous sentiments. both so earnestly ignorant of the heat, the drone of insects, that for one brief moment, they simply disappeared, vanished, overloading the sad foundations of this splintered, incoherent existence.

i made a firm resolution that i would not be mentioning this to anyone.

The couple exchanged wedding bands, punctuated by distant gunshots… soundtrack from the bad old days in Verona finding its way right where it belonged.

with his vocal chords wound tight, Paul made it official.

Nick and Kayla were now husband and wife.

there was an electric pause as the pair of them stared into each other’s eyes with wild awareness.

“oh,” Paul wiped his eyes. “i guess kiss each other, if you want to…”

they cupped each other’s faces, pressed their lips close.

the crowd cheered, and finally, i had a chance to bring my clammy palms together and go for some serious catcalls.

a torrent of dried rice rained down as they made their way between the seats.

Paul began to motion towards either side of the event; we weren’t home yet.

groomsmen pairing with bridesmaids. linking arms and following the newlyweds.

when my time came, Paul held up 2 fingers in either direction.

i found myself flanked, arm in arm, with a pair of pretty little creatures.

“hey, check, this out,” one of them said.

“you get 2 of us,” the other gushed.

“yeah!” i replied, and felt my mouth about to add: every man dreams of taking 2 girls right up the aisle

miraculously settling for the more ungainly proclamation: “neat!”

this hardly impressed, but it kept us on the yellow brick road, as my scuffed shoes guided their heels over uneven cobble stones, capping the ceremony without a single misstep.

i breathed a sigh of relief as the bridesmaids scrambled to get as far away from me as possible.

went looking for Chester, and the 2 of us settled into a firm, enduring embrace.

Nicky and Kayla had finally gotten married.

###

in print:

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or for fucking free in digital

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so long and thanks for all the pish.

SNFAW- part three.

wedding_cover_final_1_copper

 

shortly after the keg rally, friends and family gathered in the road to discuss the next move.

Chester, ever the carnival barker, put in the strongest bid for taking the party back to our place.

the keg would be delivered to the pool. welcome to all.

do a little dance. make a little love. get down tonight.

my crew piled into the car. tires wound their way around the golf course.

“how about Lacey’s speech?” Chester asked.

i kept my mouth shut this time around. let tongues wag. treated my eyes to some scenery.

“what are we doing about booze?” Korben asked.

Joyce was playing with the back of her boyfriend’s neck. “keg’s coming, right?”

“should last us a bit,” Chester reasoned. hopeful.

“we’ve got wine,” i said.

“at the house?”

“anywhere we want it, baby.”

Chester began to laugh, far ahead of the curve. “oh, Lucky! you miserable drunk!”

“yep.” i hoisted the bookbag onto my lap. “4 full bottles of red, right here in my own little nest egg… Wesleyan style.”

i was met with applause, cries of pure euphoria.

occasion had it, my business was a little profitable as well.

 

 

***

 

 

we made it back without killing any wildlife.

i changed into jeans and a faded shirt reading Obama for yo’ Momma.

met the rest by the pool. popped a bottle, passed it around. the conversation meandered. gave room for crickets and stealthy frogs to join in. comatose waters enjoying tiny, chlorinated waves.

waiting for the party to come to us.

what we got for our patience was Nick Reckless. plodding down the stone steps. throwing his massive forearms over the gate.

“hey, guys. those in charge of the keg got lazy. stopped by their place, and decided to have the party there.”

Chester was crushed.

in our wilder and more vigorous years, his father’s house had always been the go-to for all gatherings and general tales of lunacy. all social groups, cliques, shades of the economic spectrum would manage to find their way. the bards still sang ballads of hot tub hookups, live bands, drinking games, and merriment that would set the table on a roar.

…if those walls could only vomit.

“but we have the pool,” Chester said.

“i know.” Nick sighed, none too convincingly. “but the decision’s been made.”

“ok.”

“it’s only 3 houses down.”

“all right.”

“see you guys there?”

“yeah.” Chester shrugged. “maybe.”

Nick had other things to worry about, and left the decision in our hands.

“yeah,” Korben said. “we’re old.”

i took a hit of wine, straight from the bottle. “yes. we are what once was.”

“what do you think?” Chester asked. “should we go?”

“we should at least stop by,” Alley said.

the rest of us agreed.

“it’s just a shitty thing for them to do,” Chester said, seizing his own bottle of red.

“it’s cool, Chet…” i zipped up my bookbag, shouldered it. “i still think you’re a rock star.”

Chester tilted his head to the left; signature move for whenever feelings had been hurt. “you haven’t even listened to my latest album.”

“didn’t your band open for the Foo Fighters in Europe?”

Chester threw his head back and laughed. echoed across the mountains. “you’re right! it was totally awesome!” he wrapped me in his arms, took me to go. “let’s go party. can we go party?”

i nodded.

goodbye house.

we all felt our way, together through the dark.

 

 

***

 

 

there was a time when the soft approach to a party had been a singular thrill. even after brutal nights in the kitchen or working tables… warm crackle of voices growing louder, the symphony of glass bottles, sporadic cries of excitement promising any number of chance encounters, events. a litany of stories to tell once the sun came up.

years later, with every junction exhausted, there was nothing left but a single road. a well-paved road in the Poconos, encompassing a massive golf course. a road that led to a driveway, leading to a house packed with late-night revelers.

“they’ve got a porch,” Korben observed.

Joyce shrugged. “and somehow that trumps a swimming pool.”

i tightened my grip around the bottle of red. eyes aching in the floodlights. pushed my way past the screen door, through the porch, and into the lion’s den.

 

 

***

 

 

once more, the assorted couples and cliques melded and popped. a deleterious spectrum of smiles and loosened ties. as though adapting to their surroundings, the clear plastic cups had reverted to an opaque, bright red.

i had a pull of wine. searched for sanctuary in the crowded living room. tempted to take one of several doorways into the kitchen, hallway, anywhere.

as fate would have it, i was the world’s worst Waldo, and Nick had no trouble spotting me.

“hey, FIGARO!” he gave me a hug. smiled slyly at my bottle of wine, and gave it a little wave. “how you holding up?”

“hell of a speech, Nicky.” i raised the bottle. he brought his cup against it. the crumpling sound was less than festive. “you slayed `em.”

“did you hear my mother’s speech?”

“no.” i changed the subject. “do you mind talking shop for just a split?”

“not at all.”

“there’s been a few incidences of ill communication, so i want to be very clear about this… tomorrow, all the groom guys –”

“groomsmen, yes.”

“- are meeting at our place. at 4 in the afternoon. for wedding photos. is this correct?”

Nick hesitated… “yes.”

“is that a yes yes, or a Nicky yes?”

“it’s a no.”

“ok. good. so the plan…?”

“before all that, we need to go to the florist.”

i took a few hits of wine. “we have to go to the florist?”

“to get our boutonnieres.”

“i’m going home.”

“you’ve already spent how much on the tux, car rental, and condoms you will never have the opportunity to use?”

“yes…” i sighed. “so when and where tomorrow?”

“let’s meet at 3:30 in the lobby of the lodge.”

“fine. 3:30pm, lobby. you promise?”

“i’ve only got room for one promise this weekend. it’s going to be a big one, and i’m not wasting it on the likes of you.”

“have some wine.”

Nick grabbed the bottle and raised it in the air…

“MMMMMEN!” he proclaimed, before taking a marginal sip and handing it back.

“well done, Nicky. that was epic. it really was.”

“Gina, come over here!”

before i could remind him that wasn’t my name, i was thrown headlong into a conversation with an actual Gina.

 

 

***

 

 

whatever Nick’s reasons had been for thinking this was a good idea, the introduction must have been cataclysmic. painful enough to warrant an automatic purging of memory.

suddenly, i was sitting next to Gina. the two of us awkwardly positioned on an unhappy couch. abandoned by Nick and left in the invisible presence of god’s janitor.

she was blond. pale and pretty. plush lips revealing a bright set of perfect pearls. round cheeks like tiny plums. eyes shimmering, pleasant, but with an unspoken determination. as though there were no place for the present in a world built on the strength of a well-executed mission statement.

doing all i could to postpone my half of the mystery, i struck first with bland swiftness: “so, what do you do?”

Gina tucked a strand behind her ear. “i’m a strategist for The James Group.”

“what’s The James Group?”

“we design apparel, we market and wholesale brand name clothing, shoes, that sort of thing.”

“you do all right for yourselves?”

“Fortune 500 company. so, yeah.”

“and a strategist does, what?” i figured as long as i kept her talking for the rest of our lives, the 2 of us could very well have a wonderful future together. “i understand the concept of strategy, don’t get me wrong. i kind of went to college. i’m just curious, within the context of your job.”

“i research and analyze markets, technologies and trends. develop business pitches and proposals. mostly i help to develop brand strategies.”

“brand strategies?”

“how to introduce or maintain continued visibility in the marketplace of our own brands, or licensed brands.”

“so you figure out the optimal strategy to get my brain to memorize, then buy the clothes you sell…” before i could pat myself on the back for incorporating the word strategy into my statement, it occurred to me how the statement as a whole must have sounded.

even worse, i quickly realized that she realized it wasn’t just a statement; it was honest sentiment.

“don’t get me wrong,” i course-corrected. “i buy clothes, same as anyone else. i mean, not often. usually when whatever i own turns to rags but… these jeans i’m wearing are, i believe, Italian.” i hoisted my pelvis in the air to get a better look at the tag etched into the right pocket. “looks like they’re Diesel…” i squinted, drew my face closer to my crotch. “Diesel somethings, i can’t quite see…”

Gina tugged at the bottom of her strapless dress, covering her thighs as much as she could, while crossing her legs away from me. as a matter of courtesy, she asked me what it was i did.

well, the following exchange was a familiar one.

shortly after realizing i did not own my own adult retail company, as much as stand at a register all day and advise people on how to better stick things into their bodies, Gina coughed politely. checked her smartphone. threw me a diplomatic parting line, and marched across the room on a pair of black high heels.

can’t say as to what brand they were.

and, as though aware of what further spirals this event might yield, my brain treated me to yet another glorious, 8-minute blackout.

 

 

***

i gave my bottle of wine the time of day. felt my gums turn to parchment. in the middle of the room, a cabal of beautiful people were gathered, cups hoisted aloft. belting out the opening number from Cabaret.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!

i made the perilous journey to standing position. helped myself to more wine.

Fremde, etranger, stranger! Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante! Happy to see you, bleibe, reste, stay!

i stumbled through the masses, struggling towards the porch.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret!

i flat-lined my way out and into a thinner crowd.

sitting in a wicker chair was Nick Reckless. staring up at me, as though awaiting a full report.

“Nicky!” i shook my bottle of wine at him. “stop introducing me to people! we both know how these things end, how everything ends, and stop it!”

Nick’s only retort was a silent shrug, coupled with a dangerous, chaotic grin.

“well, yes,” i replied. “guess i should have kept my mouth shut around Kayla’s father.”

he touched the tips of his fingers together and nodded.

***

another blackout of  indeterminate length, and i found myself in negotiations with Chester and Korben.

deciding whether or not to stay.

Alley and Joyce beamed down to the planet’s surface. the final votes in favor of salvation.

yes, let’s get out of here.

the glow of their smartphones illuminated the way home.

***

we were 5, yet again, standing alongside the pool.

dark forest resting on all sides. starlight lecturing us on insignificance as we drank, smoked, wondered at what point this had become the best of all available worlds.

“and to think,” Chester mused… “we’ve still got the actual wedding to go.”

“thought there was someone in a golf cart,” i mumbled.

everyone turned towards me.

i wiggled my naked toes. “does anybody remember the names of anybody they’ve met?”

“yes.”

“yes.”

“yes.”

“yes.”

“shit…” i glanced around, ambled close to the edge of the pool. “anybody seen my bookbag?”

collective heads shook left and right.

“great… must have left it at the party house.”

“anything important in there?” Korben asked.

“cigarettes, condoms, bad writing… the building blocks of life.”

“who was that chick i saw you talking to back there?” Chester asked. “the blonde?”

“just another example of what’s in store should i decide to stick around.”

“she was cute,” Alley said. “she seemed into you.”

“10 years ago, that might have been the case…” i tilted my head back, poured some wine down the hatch and stared at the stars. “once a man gets to be a certain age, his value begins to plummet unless he starts making socially acceptable decisions… by and large women are adverse to a man who lives on the fringes, unless his risks have yielded something… worth sticking around for, i guess.” i set my bottle down. “otherwise, he’s just a flyer for another garage band. nailed to a telephone pole, side by side with a picture of a missing cat.”

i felt bad about the silence that followed.

fuck, give them something to believe in, i thought.

planted my bare foot against the lip, pivoted, and let go.

said goodbye to the sky as i fell backwards, arms extended.

trust fall.

***

i was engulfed by the black. cold waters peeling my skin back to the bone. hardly the solid spiritual kick to the face i desperately needed, but i stayed under for a good while. content to be disoriented. enjoying the vacuum. floating at the cusp of total collapse.

thought about Korben’s friend.

the one who had taken that brief road trip towards suicide.

i imagined myself in the afterlife.

underwater.

bare-breasted mermaids urging me to remain below, beneath.

somewhere beyond the ocean.

and somewhere in that very ocean, a face i once met at the corner table of a New York bar.

i surfaced to find fresh smiles on their faces. Korben was laughing. true, Korben had been known to laugh at socket wrenches, but it never made the melody any less welcome.

“you all right, Lucky?” Chester asked.”

“i’m a fucking national treasure.”

Joyce crouched low, ran her fingers through the water. “how is it?”

“colder than a witch’s tit.”

Korben shook his head. “you’ve never touched a witch’s tit.”

“my friend, you couldn’t be more wrong…”

Chester cackled madly, hands clapping. “hey, Lucky! do Gilbert Gottfried, in the movie Malcolm X, while doing the breast stroke.”

i gave it my best shot. seemed to go over well.

the requests began to fly.

“Christian Slater, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, dog paddle.”

“Chris Rock, Dirty Dancing, back stroke.”

“Barrack Obama, Goodfellas, butterfly.”

“Matthew Fox, Mel Gibson’s Hamlet –”

“sorry,” i interrupted, spitting water. “never seen the Mel Gibson version.”

got me booed right out of the water.

the night air swarmed, frozen locusts, and i began to shiver. “the owners have Goonies on VHS. i’m not sure  anybody under twenty knows what either one of those things are, but if anyone can make a drinking game out of it…”

everyone agreed it was probably the greatest proposal i had ever come up with.

the accuracy of their compliments absolutely terrified me.

***

i traded my wet rags for some comfy pants and an undershirt. it took a few tries. every few seconds, the house would lurch dangerously, throwing me against a wall or the dormant radiator.

5 minutes and one bruised hip later, i was downstairs. the rest had gathered around the television. i nestled into an armchair. had 3 large gulps of wine.

“all right!” Chester brought the meeting to order. “Goonies: The Drinking Game…” he sat on the couch, got cozy with Joyce. “let’s lay down the ground rules”’

i raised my bottle… “every time something racist happens, drink.”

“oh, well,” Korben said.. “it’s only a 1980s Spielberg movie, so that alone won’t possibly get us drunk.”

“any time anybody uses any ‘80s slang,” Chester said.

“any time a Cindy Lauper song plays,” Joyce added. “or any time any piece of the score is derivative of a Cindy Lauper song.”

Chester gave her an adoring kiss, full on the lips.

“any time you’re not entirely sure why something is happening,” Alley said.

“any time you realize Lord of the Rings is a far superior Sean Astin film,” i said.

“ok.”’ Chester raised his arms, signaling the close. “at this point, i don’t see how any of us makes it through this alive, so unless anyone else has something that is absolutely essential –”

“any time Brandon sweats?” Korben suggested.

so it was agreed.

Chester punched play. got the movie started.

we all leaned forward with childlike anticipation.

2 minutes in, something racist happened.

we all raised our drinks: “GOONIES!”

20 minutes after that, i was passed out. draped over both ends of a strange bed. chased down the rabbit hole by visions of pirates and little Asian boys…

***

i stirred from sleep, briefly, at what appeared to be dawn. saw Korben lying on the other bed. sprawled across the comforter, arms outstretched. Jesus trapped in amber.

with raspberry bile fighting its way to the surface, i shut my eyes against merciless stomach cramps, and let the wild things lay waste to my mind.

***

my eyelashes fluttered, contributing their bit to a hurricane some 30 years in the future. coughed into my pillow. gagged, tendons tightening. took the world by the reigns and sat up.

“Bobby?” i mumbled, still chased by certain dreams.

Korben’s bed was empty.

i clomped down the stairs. found the rest milling about the living room and kitchen. thumbs busying themselves with emails and status updates.

glanced at the grandfather clock, face displaying an ornate 10:30.

we all mumbled hasty mornings to each other. bleary-eyed, no interesting stories to tell.

i extracted a blueberry smoothie from the fridge. downed it in a few stalwart gulps. took what was left of my pomegranate juice. rinse, repeat.

Korben eyed me from the threshold. “getting a little glimpse into the life of the alcoholic i once knew.”

“he says hello…” i tossed the bottle onto the counter. “what’s the word, thunderbird?”

“there’s a…” Korben paused, wanting to get it right… “People’s Olympics somewhere out on the course today… not sure what that means.”

“sounds like a lot of people doing a lot of things that don’t involve remaining perfectly still.”

“yeah. you’re not going, are you?”

“anybody know if there’s a gym anywhere on the premises?”

“probably.”

i shuffled into the living room. Chester, Alley, and Joyce still toying with their smartphones. “i’m probably going to go see if i can sweat any of this alcohol out of my body.”

“aren’t Laura and Milo coming in soon?” Chester asked, streaming his latest music video.

i shrugged. took a look around, remembered something… “oh, shit.”

solidarity had dulled in the wake of morning sunlight, and nobody took notice.

“well, be that as it may,” i said. “heading off to the party house to get my bookbag.”

“some of those kids had a pretty late night,” Korben agreed. “there should be one or 2 of them still there.”

“had a late night?”

Chester looked up from his phone. “oh, you didn’t know?”

“that’s the 7th sentence anyone has said to me since i got up, Chet. how am i supposed to know anything?”

“well, if the garbage around our pool is any indication, some of the party kids decided that hanging out at our place wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”

i pressed my thumbs into the bridge of my nose. “wait…”

“yeah,” Korben nodded. “we’re the very old people with a pool, who went to sleep while other people crept up on our house and used that very pool.”

i heard Alley giggle from her chair. whether at us or a hungry internet kitten, who knew?

“someone help me out,” i said. “after insult, there’s injury… what gets tacked on after that?”

“acceptance,” Alley said.

“no sale…” i ambulated my way upstairs and threw on some dress pants. gathered my damp, Diesel Something jeans, socks and shirt. went outside and hung them on the railing. the world shone with a pastel pop. slight touch of humidity. i turned towards the pool and scowled at the water with longing reproach.

glanced down to find a dragonfly had landed on my arm.

“hello.”

off it went, darting towards the sky.

i popped my head into the house. “i’m going to get my bag back. anybody want to come with?”

all i got in return were a collection of Facebook murmurs.

“enjoy the Olympics,” i said.

let the screen door hit my ass on the way out.

***

the sunlight was something fierce, but i had certainly experienced worse.

worse situations, longer roads, and far less beauty.

i walked up the driveway. cigarette butts beneath my feet, little fiberglass weevils. breadcrumbs leading to the screened porch. i stepped in. approached the door and knocked. traced my finger along the doorbell. shrugged, and pressed. waited.

a golf cart drove by. occupants decked in prep, chomping on dual cigars. clearly pleased with their shared direction.

the electric hum faded, and i gave the bell another press. gave it another minute.

press, press, press.

i peered inside. the sepia remains of a ransacked room stared back at me.

from deep within where my soul had once takeen residence, a switch flipped itself on. let loose with a mighty rush of angry endorphins.

“yeah, pool’s good enough for you so long as you don’t have to actually associate with us bums…” i reached into my back pocket. pulled out a plastic key card. one of many collected in the years since countless hotels, motels, holiday inns had turned digital.

this particular one dating from the last so-called vacation Misty and i had taken together. a cheap motel on the strip, some 5 miles from the coast. it had rained all weekend, and the 2 of us contented ourselves with air conditioning and getting drunk at the Hooters across the road. watching the girls go by and sharing coy observations.

if i hadn’t been there, i honestly believe Misty could have scored with 2 or 3 of them.

if she had never met me in the first place, the number might have been high as 5.

and those were the days of roses…” i sang to myself, as i slid the card into the doorjamb. “poetry and prose and Martha all i had was you and all you had was me…” i caught the latch, began to wrestle with the lock. “there was no tomorrows, we’d packed away our sorrows and we saved them for a rainy day…”

for a brief moment, i wondered if married Nicky would ever listen to Tom Waits in the same way, ever again.

and bingo.

the door swung open.

the plastic card torn to pieces, but it was an acceptable loss.

i had a whole lifetime’s worth in a meaningless little drawer. each one long since deactivated and waiting to serve some higher purpose.

i stepped in… considered calling out, but ultimately couldn’t bring myself to care. i maneuvered past plastic cups, various sneakers, slippers, pumps. scanned the room. had to be my bookbag was hiding somewhere among the ruins of this roman empire.

nothing.

i went to the kitchen. shot glasses and bottles, beer cans and half-empty highballs were stacked across the counter. tribute to a crumbling skyline. caught sight of a fifth of Jack. the slightest hint of butterscotch colors languishing at the bottom.

back through the living room, into the hallway.

further signs of the zombie apocalypse.

and there was my bag, slumped against the wall. staring blankly at a closed bedroom door.

i drew close. noticed the front pocket hanging open.

dangling from beyond the zipper was a chain of condoms. plastic wrap glinting like a golden tongue.

i crouched down.

looked as though someone in a real hurry had gotten real lucky.

glancing towards the door, i spied a pair of pink, lacey panties.

just kind of resting near the bottom hinge. shrapnel from a sudden, heavenly encounter.

i sighed. shoved the condoms back into my bag.

somewhat glad that someone, somewhere had benefited from my non-latex, polyisoprene prophylactics.

“suddenly my services don’t seem so insignificant,” i muttered.

stop, my brain ordered. don’t be bitter.

my mind and body settled on a treaty that did the both of us some good.

i stopped by the kitchen. raised the bottle of Jack, and killed what was left. right down my throat. replacing the ire of my thoughts with fire in my belly.

lit a cigarette, and licked the glass rim for any vital remains.

locked the front door and soldiered back to base.

***

The War Admiral was empty.

i thought about working out, the long walk over to the lodge.

more than a little cagey about who i might run into.

turned on the TV.

flipped to the SOAP network. an episode of Beverly Hills, 90201 was playing. something involving pimps and roofies. i did a few pushups, a few sit-ups. just enough to remind my heart that, as far as circulation went, there was at least one person on this planet still needed it.

took the final scraps of kale and wolfed them down.

spied a lone blueberry on the rug.

picked it up and popped it in my mouth.

curled up in front of the television and let my mind drift.

alone. on a couch. in a strange house. on a mountaintop. in a temporary state.

all told, it was a familiar throwback to the minutes before falling asleep.

###

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