albatross.

dawn

summer was spring loaded.

blasted right past us in slow motion.

wasn’t planning to stay up late, but the weather in New Orleans was for once, willing to keep its business to itself. silent hand sending a light shade of violet across the window, outlining the treetops. giving just a bit of gratitude to the fence between neighbors, rooftop pyramids. layered grapefruit smudges beyond white streetlights. abandoned car at the end of the driveway, plates missing, no telling when our absentee owner would be back to claim it. silent red and blue flashing through, other side of the block. cleaning up the mess of one or two, maybe as many as four gunshots earlier that evening. a little pink sneaking into the sky. bringing up the uncomfortable subject of clouds. only three or four, jet black. tortoise shells suspended,  just a few miles from the sea. poured myself another whimper of red, as the morning began to spread.

inside wasn’t looking so hot. seven or so empty bottles of screw tops. ashtrays gone gray. pages, notebooks, a ceiling fan rattling tiny notes, empty bottle of mustard lying down across business cards nobody wanted. futon doubled over. cardboard boxes stuffed, one or two perched on a fold out chair. navy blue carpet hiding stains, smells, insect eggs, covered with what could be called dirty laundry. broken window pane on a side door, leading outside, where the picture was nearing perfect.

enough to get the first bird singing.

a few others like paper dolls against the pastel sunrise.

all signs telling the cops at the other end of the block to turn off their lights.

to call it a day, this morning.

i lit another cigarette, laying odds that things had turned out alright.

every slug missing its mark.

steel barrel pointed to the sky, punctures, letting the light bleed in.

spreading out over the Crescent City.

i took one last look out the window and noticed the treetops had grown.

covered the buildings of the CBD with their own shade of wild, carnivorous green.

…and the clouds caught fire.

###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

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so long and thanks for all the pish.

excerpt from suicide notes.

wedding_cover_final_1_copper

(From the Author – in this extract from the world’s longest and least successful suicide note, we find Lucky Saurelius at an old friend’s wedding dinner, sitting at the speciously named “head table,” and realizing that his life could be, in all likelihood, just a drill.)

____________________________________

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.

***

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.

###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

Smashwords.com

so long and thanks for all the pish.

star fuck.

stories_from_a_big_bar-honey_resize

Gavin Delanco wasn’t born with any sort of gift. He grew into it by pure chance. People first noticed the resemblance when Gavin was sixteen. Before then, nobody had really noticed Gavin at all. He took to the hallways of his school like a ghost. Girls did the walk-on-by, tight designers cradling magnificent legs, and Gavin would stare with irritated longing. Never quite managing to breathe through his nose. His ill fitting sweatpants chaffed against a dead giveaway, and the popular kids would call him out. Slam him against the wall, rap their notebooks against his measly, bewildered erection. He kept pictures of nude celebrities pinned along the inside of his locker. The promise of perfection kept him warm at nights, covered in soft folds of confused wishes.

Then, a young man named Castle Nash inadvertently managed to get his foot in the door. He was discovered on the Santa Monica Pier. Sitting on a bench, alone, drinking a cherry soda. Watching the sun set. A studio exec happened upon him, slipped Castle a business card, and the rest is just as the saying goes…

Although, it should be noted, history has a rich tradition of double dealing.

Castle Nash grew older. A young star rising in the sky of a celluloid city, even as Gavin’s body continued to contort to the every beck and call of his hormones. It was the mid 1990s, and America’s urgent need for a celebrity fix was picking up steam. A train set to fly right off its tracks, ushering a golden era of runaway idolatry.

Gavin hit sixteen years on the same day that Castle’s first major motion picture hit the theaters. The resemblance between the two was there all right. Subtle. Slight. Close to inconsequential. But as far as the world was concerned, Gavin didn’t exist; until he hit twenty-one, Castle’s twenty-first movie hit number one, and the both of them became dead ringers for each other.

The cross-pollination had become uncanny. Gavin lost his virginity to a Castle Nash fan. His next lay was the exact same movie, save for casting. All those years, nothing, and suddenly, Gavin was tabloid-fucking his way through more women than his West Coast counterpart could have ever hoped.

He left North Carolina courtesy of an Amtrak ticket to New York City, one way. Nothing but the clothes on his back and the contours of his face. Got an entry level job at Citibank. Rented a cheap studio, then rented every Castle Nash film on tape. Watched him move, act, interact and react. Gavin studied Castle with a lethal eye. Learned to imitate his style of speak, every possible mannerism, an arsenal of greatest hits.

He researched Castle’s biography on the rapidly expanding internet. Kept up to date on the various sightings, details, hairstyles of the young movie star. Went vegetarian, got cliff notes on the Kabala, and exchanged his shaggy blond hair for an edgier, porcupine do.

Gavin slowly became Castle’s insignificant other.

He couldn’t go to the same bar more than twice. Getting laid was contingent on habitual rotation. Pick and choose, taking steps to ensure nobody discovered who Gavin really was. A bar in Greenwich one night, a dive in Brooklyn the next. Sit and wait for a woman to make him for someone else. Modestly make believe he wasn’t Castle Nash, then admit to his lie with yet another one. Take the young lady back to her place and systematically remove her underwear with his clout.

For the first time in his life, Gavin was in possession of all he would ever need.

***

Gavin sat down at the bar.

Got the bartender’s attention. Ordered a drink. Waited.

It was an Irish tavern, The Bishop. Third Avenue, between Ninety-fifth and Ninety-fourth, about ten blocks or so north of the Upper East Side martini belt. A mix of young professionals and long-time residents, none of whom were looking for anything other than just right. Reasonable drink prices. Average fare as far as food went, just the basics; burgers, mozzarella sticks, stuffed peppers and shepherd’s pie. Bartenders straight from the old country. White dress shirts tucked into black slacks. Consummate in their execution, every bit ready to make this occupation their life’s work ‘til the day they died.

Gavin ordered another drink. Tugged at his sport coat, loosened his tie. His entire outfit lifted straight from an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

I prefer to dress this way when I’m out and about, Castle had replied to the reporter’s softball. I think you’re more likely to get noticed if you go casual. Celebrity under the radar, and all that jazz. You’d be amazed how easy it is to blend when you’re dressed to the nines.

Took less than an hour before a makeshift blonde approached him. Stunning eyes and a vacant smile. She wore a form-fitting black miniskirt. Her face was pale, thin and perfect, brimming with awe. Cosmopolitan in her right hand, like a red light at midnight.

“Excuse me…” she began. “I know this sounds stupid, but… are you Castle Nash?”

Gavin smiled, left side of his mouth slightly higher than the right. “Not really.”

“You are, aren’t you?”

He sighed, caught in the act. All the while smiling on. “Yeah… yeah, I guess I am.”

“Oh my GOD!” her eyes rolled back into her head. “I love your work. I mean, I absolutely love it! When you were in Charm Angels, I really, actually thought you were an actual angel!”

“Well, that’s all acting is, actually.” Gavin let his grin grow wide. “Have a seat.”

“Oh, cool!” The blonde pulled up a barstool. “I know I must seem like some kind of lame stalker, but I have seen ALL of your movies. ALL of them.”

“What’s your name?”

“Cindy.”

“Cindy…” Gavin put out his hand with the ease of a pro. “Call me Castle.”

“Castle,” she repeated with breathless wonder. Met his hand with a timid grasp. “Castle Nash.”

“Can I buy you a drink?”

Cindy put a hand to her breasts.

Nobody gets that lucky.

Three hours later, her bare naked thighs were wrapped around his face. Straddling. Arms raised above her head, hands clutching the curtains of a south side window. Gavin grabbed her ass, worked his tongue deep into her. Cindy cried out, yes, Castle, yes! GOD, YES! MY ANGEL, YES! Gavin kept on, all the time thinking he should have been someone famous, because if Cindy had anything to say about it, he was certainly worthy of it.

That all happened on a Tuesday.

***

Thursday night, Gavin moved on to greener pastures.

Had to, in fact. He’d pulled the Nash act twice at that other joint, and soon people would start to talk.

This new place was underground. A dimly lit dive bathed in yellow candlelight. The clientele was mostly Haitian. Corner jazz bands playing their standards. The mood was quiet and mellow, so Gavin thought he’d stay a while, see if anyone was ready to recognize.

The bartender wandered over. Dark skin. Shaved head, bulbous features; a sly and superior grin that made him look twice his size.

Served Gavin a Jameson’s. Castle’s drink of choice.

Gavin drank and watched the band. A slow, wandering rendition of God Bless the Child filled every corner of the bar, set his mind wandering. He waited, thought about a girl he once knew in passing. He thought about high school. Back when he was the invisible man in everyone’s life. Translucent. The son of bank manager nobody knew or cared about. Unexceptional in every possible way.

A gale of mad laughter burst out to his left.

Some unkempt kid with drunken eyes and a tattered, grey leather jacket was demonstrating a magic trick. He drew a shot glass into his small hands. Waved it around extravagantly, placed it on the bar, picked it up. The kid made a gesture, claimed he could make it disappear. Then he threw it against the wall. The glass shattered into countless, glistening shards. Cheers from the regulars around him, and even the bartender joined in. The kid ordered another drink. The bartender served him a bourbon, handed him a broom. The kid swept up the glass, sat down, and kept drinking.

Gavin turned his eyes away.

What a fucking loser.

The night pressed on, and Gavin sat with his whiskey, but no cigarettes, because Castle didn’t smoke.

***

Gavin had to pride himself on how cool he kept it when Katie Lynn walked through the door.

Inside, a pathetically naïve cry of pure elation rattled his body to the core.

Katie Lynn.

Gavin still dreamed of her. Remembered her hallway smiles for other boys, legs crossed under a desk, red hair under gray morning skies, that one day he found it in him to ask for the time. She had answered through a mouthful of bagel, forgetting to wipe the cream cheese from her upper lip.

The time had been twelve-thirty.

Twelve-thirty on a Monday afternoon.

And in she walked. Into that cramped little wormhole. Far removed from his North Carolina history, Gavin was watching his past return, this time with fortune’s smile. Katie Lynn sat down at the far end, next to the kid. Her wildfire hair tied back in two separate pony tails. Satin blouse intentionally snuggling a pair of perfectly developed breasts. Form fitting jeans. She ordered a martini, pure class and elegance alongside the candles. Katie had always known how to carry herself. Gavin was mesmerized by her movements as he was with those eyes, playful and all-knowing, and to watch Katie Lynn take that drink down…

Gavin ordered another whiskey, prepared himself.

Sat and waited.

Katie Lynn struck up a conversation with the kid.

Gavin sat and waited.

The kid didn’t look much interested in Katie Lynn, and eventually, she would simply have to glance in his direction. Lay her eyes on Gavin, see the face of Castle Nash, and who could resist those eyes of his, splashed across countless screens?

Gavin waited.

His drink lost weight.

He ordered another one.

Katie Lynn kept chatting up the kid. Regulars crowding around, lot of interest resting at the end of the bar. No small surprise; Gavin had heard that Haitians were insatiable in their appetites. Culture, genetics, who the hell really knew? He watched and wondered from a distance. Stirred up all the wishes he could never leave behind, younger years spent confounded by what it took to capture the eyes of a Goddess, the sincerity of his heartache, it was all there in Katie Lynn’s smile…

But things were different now.

Gavin was different. Better.

He sat and waited.

Time passed.

Katie Lynn threw her head back, laughed uproariously at some off-color comment from the kid. She said something to him, and Gavin heard the word lucky somewhere in there.

He stayed put, in total agreement.

Only a matter of time now.

***

Edging on towards one in the morning, when it happened.

The jazz band had packed up. Sounds locked up with their instruments. Meager tips collected and counted, then right out the door. A splash of Caribbean music washed over the walls. The bar had grown bare, nothing but the regulars, that pathetic kid, and Katie Lynn. Everyone had descended into a sort of drunken ecstasy. Drinks consumed by the boatful, dangerous hopes bathed in the quiet reassurance of inoffensive, orange lights.

Yes, it was round about that time that she finally looked over.

Past the kid, down the bar, and right into Gavin’s eyes.

Deep into Gavin’s eyes.

Journey to the center of the earth.

This is going to happen, he thought, honestly worried there might be tears hanging from those words. Finally. Katie Lynn.

The years between that moment and his nonexistent days dissolved as she stood and made her way, a drunken sway to her hips, legs finding their point on the compass. The speakers and lights blended into everything, escorting this flawless scenario towards its natural, heavenly conclusion.

Perfect, man. Simply perfect.

Katie Lynn didn’t sit. Just stood.

Gavin gave her a look that had always killed in rehearsal.

The confidence of an angel, that was it.

He gazed into her eyes, preparing himself for nothing less than empire.

“Forgive me for asking, but… are you Castle Nash?”

Yes.

Her voice hadn’t changed.

Long vowels still flattened by the short, southern drawl tracing the fringes of every syllable.

Gavin smiled, left side of his mouth slightly higher than the right: “Not really.”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Oh…” Her head bobbed slightly under the influence of vodka and vermouth. She appeared to be preparing her next statement with expected care. Gavin watched her, waiting for his world to unfold inwards in a single, validating encounter.

“Well,” Katie Lynn managed, “I just wanted to tell you that your movies are awful.”

Gavin’s face changed, but not quite enough.

“Your movies are shit,” she told him. “It’s embarrassing, is what it is. And I have no…” She searched for the words…. “Respect. For you as a fellow actor. That’s all, really.”

Katie Lynn held fast for a moment, as though that might not be all, really.

It was.

She walked away.

Gavin stayed put, looking into a space once occupied by his past.

A new drink was placed in front of him, embarrassed ice cubes going to work.

“Tough break, son,” the bartender said.

“Huh?” Gavin was still grappling with what hadn’t happened.

“That one’s on me… Fucking Hollywood actresses, they all have a stick up their pussy.”

“I don’t understand.”

“That girl.”

“Katie Lynn.”

“Yeah, Katie Lynn. Give a woman a starring role, and she thinks she’s the center of the fucking universe.”

Gavin shook his head. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“That girl’s an actress, man.”

“She’s no actress… That’s Katie Lynn.”

“Yeah, the movie star.”

“My Katie Lynn.”

“I don’t know about yours…” The bartender abandoned his compassion for the sake of an ironic smile. “She seems to be working Lucky for all he’s worth.”

“Lucky?”

“The kid over there with the Jack Daniel’s.”

The bartender pointed yonder. Pointed right at the kid, that Lucky kid who could hardly manage to light his cigarette with those drunken fingers. Skinny little fucker, worn dress shoes, and a wine stain on his shirt.

A GODDAMN WINE STAIN ON HIS SHIRT!

And Katie Lynn was all over him. Leaning over, letting a sizable tit brush against his arm, fucking him with her eyes, catlike motions of her hands.

And Lucky wasn’t doing a thing about it.

Completely unresponsive, cold to the bone and his very soul, the ungrateful FUCKER.

And yes, when the fuck had Katie Lynn become a movie star? Gavin had missed it, somehow. Maybe she’d never been in a movie with Castle Nash, the only movies he ever bothered to watch. That had to be it. A small matter of six-million degrees of separation, bitten in the ass by his own body double.

That bastard Castle Nash had probably done it on purpose, Gavin fumed.

He turned to the barback mirror. Stared himself down, just to make sure he was even there. Katie Lynn’s laughter forced its way into his skull. He took down the rest of his drink. Ordered another one. That drink vanished faster than the previous one. He was losing it, whatever it was. His vision danced across the room, ganged up on itself. Another giggle from the lips of Katie Lynn. Gavin didn’t want to know what he had missed, loss and pain in a barstool seat, and he didn’t want to look.

So he did.

Sweet Katie Lynn.

Gavin watched her watch Lucky, and Lucky watch his drink.

The Haitians were all gathered around, enjoying the show.

“Goddamn,” Gavin said, louder than intended. “Goddamn, they’ve taken Katie Lynn away from me again.”

Everyone at the end of the bar turned to look at him.

Gavin shook his head, tried to clear it.

Even Lucky was watching now, suddenly interested, eyes treading water.

Whatever third-world mixtape had been playing, the music came to an abrupt halt.

Gavin stood up. Steadied himself on a nearby chair. Didn’t feel like a movie star. Didn’t feel like much of anything.

“Katie,” he said, struggling. Diverting energy from his mouth to his feet. “Katie, I’m in love with you.”

Katie Lynn favored him with an amused smile. “It think you’ve had a few too many, Castle.”

“I haven’t had anything,” Gavin told her, stumbling his way over red tiles dotted with cigarette burns. “And I’m not Castle Nash. We were in high school together. I asked you the time once. You were eating a bagel and smiling.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m Gavin Delanco.”

Katie shook her head, mouth ajar with a momentary plunge into confusion.

Here we go, Gavin thought, his entire body arguing over which direction to tilt. Honesty will win the day. Because then she would have to ask, Excuse me, but are you Gavin Delanco? And he would have to make do with the sly hesitation and reply that, yes. Yes, I am.

To which she would reply, Oh my god, I just loved you in Charm Angels, and the band would play on, all things following their predestined course, but instead, the sad truth of it all came crashing down, melting from the corners of Katie Lynn’s mouth, truly clueless as she asked, “Who the fuck is Gavin Delanco?”

He stifled a cry. “You had cream cheese on your upper lip. It was twelve-thirty…” He was by her side. “Twelve-thirty on a Monday afternoon.”

The Haitians all whispered amongst themselves.

Lucky remained the impartial observer.

“Nice try, Castle,” Katie Lynn said. “You’re just as bad an actor in person as you are on screen.

“Wait, that’s right!” one of the regulars exclaimed, pulling back graying dreadlocks to get a better look. “You’re Castle Nash! You were in that angel movie!”

Everyone started talking at once.

Charm Angels, that’s the one!”

“I think you are the greatest, man!”

“That’s right, that’s right!”

“What is this Katie Lynn talking about?”

“Woman, have you lost your mind?”

“We love Castle Nash!”

Lucky was watching it all with quiet fascination.

“I am NOT Castle Nash!” Gavin insisted, frantic. “Look at my face, it’s not my face!”

Gavin tried to move his mouth around. Roll his eyes, stick his tongue out, mess his freshly gelled hair. After a full thirty seconds of this, the entire bar burst out laughing.

“Oh, MAN, Castle, you are a TRIP!”

“You can’t change your face, man!”

“You are who you are!”

“And we still love you, Castle!”

“I AM NOT CASTLE NASH!” Gavin screamed. He turned to Katie, tried as best he could to hold her close, not caring where his hands landed. “I love you, and I want you, even back in school, and I want you to come home with me tonight, to my shitty little apartment, and we don’t even have to fuck –”

Katie Lynn shoved him away, told him to keep his mitts to himself.

Gavin lunged forward, gave pure exposure another go.

Suddenly, he was covered in Haitians. A dark cloud surrounded him, and the regulars all pulled, pushed him towards the door, not caring if he was a star. Not caring that he really wasn’t. Just trying to get trouble out from underground. Gavin struggled, neck cracking as he looked over his shoulder.

Katie Lynn was standing, mouth wide open, witness to his abrupt exile.

Her hand was on Lucky’s shoulder.

Lucky’s cigarette was lying in the ashtray, long forgotten.

A fist sunk into Gavin’s stomach.

Made its home.

He folded like a cheap greeting card, shoved out the door and into the streets.

Fell to the curb.

“Sleep it off, man!”

They retreated down the stairs, under the yellow glow of a sign reading CREOLE NIGHTS.

Gavin remained down and out, rolled over on his back. It had rained at some point that night. Water rolled through the gutters, over his hands, down the street. Tourists pointed as they managed the sidewalks. One group of pre-frosh NYU students whispered something about Castle Nash.

Cars drove past. Taxies and the like. Limousines with sunglasses for windows.

It was late.

Gavin was plastered, thought he might have to call in sick tomorrow. It would be Friday anyway. Gateway to the weekend. The bars would be crowded to capacity. Lots of women, lots of action, lots of opportunities. Thousands of opportunities, spread all over the city like a plague, a cancerous chance at greatness on every barstool.

Gavin coughed, vomited into the streets.

The door to the bar opened.

Through his canted perspective, Gavin saw that Lucky kid step out into the wind. Strike  a match, light a cigarette. He stood over Gavin’s body.

Gavin stared with heavenly conceit, unable to come to terms.

Lucky wasn’t saying anything.

Finally Gavin resorted to what was most simple: “Where are you going?”

“Home,” Lucky replied.

“Where’s Katie Lynn?”

“Inside, with the rest.”

Gavin did his best to keep breathing, but it wasn’t easy. “Why isn’t she with you?”

Lucky laughed, looked down along Macdougal Street. “I don’t fuck shadows,” he said.

Lucky walked away with pigeon-toed steps.

Gavin turned his eyes to the skies and watched the stars with a sick sort of wonder.

He laid there, waiting for the sound of Katie Lynn’s footsteps.

It was a brisk April night and everything on the streets crept silently towards some sort of warmth.

###

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the Stinson.

stories_from_a_big_bar-honey_resize

How good were things for a while, there?

Good enough to break a promise that had me back in Los Angeles, some six or seven years after the trigger was pulled. Thirty K in the bank, two hundred dollar per diem, all courtesy of HBO. Two straight weeks, paid to run wild among the best and the worst the apocalyptic metropolis had to offer. Boots on the ground. Countermanding the boulevards, alleyways and hidden storefronts of that sprawling warehouse. Coroners, executives, sheriffs, bus drivers, priests, undocumented aliens, parolees, Pentecostals, ID runners, drunks and gangsters of Echo Park.

My last night in town had me stranded at a community theater, a repurposed mini-mansion, once home to Spanish aristocracy. I sat in the nosebleeds and watched the rehearsal. A balls-out play about the life of Subcomandante Marcos. Prop guns fired, smoke clearing, the actor/director and all around bearded man proclaiming Es preferible morir con honor que vivir con la verguenza de un tirano dictando nuestros rumbos!

They ran through it six or seven times.

I took six or seven hits from my flask.

Replaying how it was I had ended up in that land of calibrated make-believe.

Fake backdrops bearing witness to the revolution, domed ceilings and historical pillars nestled against a dead-end sign deep in East LA.

***

Rehearsal ended at a punctual nine-fifteen.

I ran a follow-up with the director, took some notes. He seemed to believe his every last word, lips on a loop, talking art, culture, the rich tradition of the radical. As was the case with all compulsive artists, he never asked for my opinion. I got away with more than I needed. No need to fake my way through the proceedings. I wasn’t a revolutionary, was barely an artist. Certainly wasn’t a radical. I liked my bars empty, my mind broken, and my alcohol in whatever shade opportunity would allow.

He lit a cigarette, and at least we could agree on that.

Halfway through my Marlboro, Alana put in an appearance. Stood by her boss for a spell. Like any good director/actor and all around bearded man, he took the time not to notice, until the last traces of smoke had made their way to the upper balconies.

He introduced us.

We shook hands.

Then kissed abruptly.

A minor peck on the lips, just subtle enough to rearrange the letters in our names.

“So what are you doing here?” she asked. She smiled, a set of braces putting her anywhere between thirteen and thirty.

“Research.”

“You’re a writer.”

“Right now, just a peddler.”

“Research?” She lit a cigarette.

I copied her. Blew smoke. “Yeah. I got lucky.”

“And ended up here?”

“Long version ain’t nearly as lucid. Know a good cab company I can call?”

“Where you headed?”

“The Stinson.

“Downtown?”

“South Grand, between East Eighth and Ninth, that’s the place.”

“Can I drive you?”

“Would you?”

She was maybe four foot eleven. On a good day. Dark skin, an accent that spiked and ebbed in what felt like Venezuelan rhythms. Brown eyes split in half by a bridge that blossomed out into a wide nose. Lips with sweet meaning, lost to her furrowed brow.

“When do you leave town?” she asked.

“Tomorrow.”

“Let’s not waste time, then.”

I turned to say goodbye to my contact.

He was already back on stage. Enraptured by a cardboard boulder that gleamed with a white and silver paint job. The bottom boards told him some sort of joke and he laughed.

I laughed along and let Alana lead the way.

***

Ignition switched, every last emergency light awakened as the engine bitched right back. We reversed our way along a single lane of gravel and tilting telephone poles. The car was a standard shifter, which I didn’t think I had seen since the days of Milo’s beat up ’82 Corolla.

“I heard it was HBO,” she said.

“They’re looking to expand their base. Want a new series, miniseries about Latinos in East Los.”

“And they called you?” She spun her car up against a garbage can, back bumper knocking it over. Rebounded, turning the wheel, a near one-eighty onto the nearest cross street. “That’s kind of something.”

“They called me, my father and my brother,” I specified. “They were under the impression that a family of Latino writers would make a nice angle.”

“Would it?”

“It’s a gimmick.”

“So your father’s a writer?”

“He’s a journalist. Activist. Teaches at Pantheon University.”

“Your brother?”

“He’s whatever he needs to be at any given moment.”

“A real survivor.”

I rolled down the window. Lit a cigarette. “That’s him, alright.”

“And you?”

“Writer. Plain and simple.”

“You must be doing ok, though.”

“I ain’t the worst I been.”

“Nice.”

“I ain’t that, either.” I rolled the window down. Lit a cigarette. “What’s your story?”

She had herself a smoke. “Just a girl from East Los, you know? Nothing special.”

“Yeah, this town is kind of rough.”

“Been here before?”

“I’ll tell you some other time.”

“Like when?”

“Like when we get to know each other better,” I replied, knowing there was no chance of that.

“How about now?”

“You married?”

“No.” She paused at an intersection. “Well, yes. Well, engaged. Doesn’t matter.”

“Guess not.”

She smoked her cigarette and we stared out our respective windows. The entire city was alight with orange streetlights and the cold carriage of distant lives.

Dead oasis.

She pulled into the parking lot.

I tossed the last of a pack out the window. “Thanks for the ride.”

“That’s all?”

The radio reminded us of Operation Iraqi Freedom’s ongoing success.

“Don’t know what else there is.”

“This place has a bar, right?”

“You’ve been here before.”

“Buy a girl some drinks,” she said, stared with a puckered glare. “I mean, you can’t really be this stupid.”

“It’s been a while.”

“Now what does that mean?”

I reached into my bookbag, checked the situation.

Fresh pack of cigarettes and a sealed pack of Trojans.

“Hope you like your ice cubes warm,” I said.

“I don’t.”

She removed the cover to her car stereo, and slipped it into her bag.

***

The Stinson was a ten story cardboard box, carved out from the rapidly changing skyline of downtown LA. A few blocks shy of Broadway, where the crooks, hustlers, and one-eyed serpents still pedaled their porn, Prada knock-offs and gold watches that would turn your wrist green on a dare. A few unfortunate steps north, and your eyes would bleed at the sight of construction signs, large metal cranes stretching on high, Caterpillars laying the foundation for a playground of another color.

How the Stinson would survive was anyone’s guess. Home to the last of the great drifters, a transient mansion for men with no inclination of past or present. Either on their way to the next great adventure or postponing the inevitable suicide. Noose fastened tight, drenched in scotch and unbearable camouflaged memories .

Never mind the trailblazing smoking ban that would soon envelop half the country with its own brand of chamomile haze. The lobby’s mismatched armchairs, cracked sofas and wounded coffee tables all played host to cell phone desperadoes, tugging at the last remnants of their cancer sticks. Frenzied eyes, last minute deals to ensure the Stinson would not remain their home for even one week longer than absolutely necessary.

Same went for the bar.

The jukebox was drunk, the barstools splintered, and the ashtrays didn’t give a shit.

Master of ceremonies was a middle aged, platinum-dye job with thick lips, planetary tits and a dress in leopard prints. Silver eye shadow haling from some East Asian destination . They called her High Top. She was fast, sharp. A woman so quick to anticipate, that she appeared to simply drift up and down the bar on a lazy gust of wind.

I ordered a scotch on the rocks.

Alana ordered a white Russian, got carded. She flashed an ID and a blazing smile of electric diamonds.

I paid for both.

She raised her glass. “Salud.”

Salud.”

We drank in silence and smoked, let the record player turn over a new leaf or two.

“You’ve been here before,” she said.

“Not in this bar.”

“In Los Angeles.”

“Yes.”

“You said you’d tell me when we got to know each other better.”

“Yes.”

Alana glanced down the way. Knew I would follow suit, caught some ancient man with a fedora and a crippled hand talking nonsense to his drink. “This is as better as it’s going to get,” she said.

“I fell in love with a girl named Leah,” I told her. “I fell in love with her some several years ago, back east. Followed her here. Out to the wild frontier. Didn’t end so good…” I took a stab at my drink. “I was talking to some guy earlier today. Some kid, really, not much younger than me.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty four, I think.”

“Yeah, we all think. Go on.”

“He’d just got sprung from prison. Shaved head. Sad tats all over his arms.”

“Standard teardrop.”

“Yeah, Homeboy Industries, they got a tattoo removal program.”

“But they can’t do nothing about the teardrops, yeah. Too close to the eyeballs. Can’t have lasers that close to your eyeballs, can you?”

Black-and-white photography on the wall dealt out puddles of Sinatra, Mohammed Ali, and any other person you wouldn’t think might have thought to stop in.

“Yeah.” I told her. “He was waiting for his interview. Being brought back into the fold. His eyes were darting behind his glasses. He was trying to be positive, talking about his time in prison, his prospects for a new job. But his knee kept bobbing up and down. Rapid fire. He wasn’t doing as hot as he said, no way. And the only thing I could think was about the smell of this place. This city, the way things hang in the air. Even though my last encounter was everything west of Fairfax, all I could think was what happened last time I was here. Man, dangerous thoughts, when all you care about is yourself.”

“What did she do to you?”

“Huh?”

High Top stopped by and asked us if we wanted another drink.

Only one answer to that.

We lit a few cigarettes, and when our drinks arrived, High Top got her hemispheres upside down and handed me the white Russian. Gave Alana the scotch. We each settled on the hand we were dealt and drank.

“What did she do to you?” Alana repeated, taking another ride on the merry-go-nowhere.

“You’ve been here before .”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“You know this place.”

“You ever been stabbed before?”

I shrugged. Gave negligence a walk in the park. “Had a prostitute hold a knife to my throat once…” I took  a taste of her white Russian, let the milk coat my stomach. “Not on my tab. Someone else’s. Also, it technically happened to Wanda. But I stole it for myself, we used to have this agreement.”

“Well, Wanda can keep it.”

“You stab somebody, Alana?”

“I ran wild around downtown with a fake ID back when I was a teenager,” she told me. “I came here with  my boyfriend. Someone tried to put the moves on me, some old man with a crippled hand, but he was all muscle. Marine, or Navy Seal, or something you wouldn’t want to fuck with, anyway. Things got out of hand. High Top wasn’t bartending that night, and I guess it’s good for the both of us that she wasn’t. The cops told me his name afterwards, and it was Franklin. He stepped into the middle of the fight and my boyfriend stabbed him. I mean, it was an accident, but also, yeah, he stabbed him. He was dead by the time the EMTs showed up. He took off, ran his ass back to East Los. I stayed behind, holding Franklin’s guts in place. He’s no genius, my boyfriend — he left his blade behind and everything. The cops interrogated the shit out of me, just for fun, a chance to give their hands a little taste of my body. They never needed any of it.”

Alana took a bite of her straw. Lifted it from her drink like a slender cigarette and pointed some twenty feet away from where we were sitting. “There’s Franklin, all over the place.”

“So I imagine your boyfriend’s in jail.”

“Not anymore. And he ain’t my boyfriend.”

“Out on parole?”

“Just recently.”

“Yeah.” I sighed. Drank her white Russian, which sent my head spinning. “Twenty years knocked down to three? Got him to cop a plea without proper representation?”

“Yes.”

“Sounds like a match to me .”

She stared at me. “It’s not as likely as it seems.”

“What was your boyfriend’s name?”

“Manny. Manuel Castillo.”

I shook my head. Got the jukebox to hear my thoughts, send a little Rahsaan Roland Kirk my way, You’ll Never Get To Heaven. “I may have to check my notes,” I said.

“You’re wrong,” she said.

“Bit of a coincidence, then?”

“A familiar story?”

“Yes.”

“They’re all familiar stories,” Alana said. “And there’s no such thing as coincidence around these parts. Everything I’ve described matches everything you’ve described, because that’s all there is.”

I polished off my drink.

Alana had done pretty good business of her own, ordered us another round.

“Keep this up, you won’t be able to drive home.”

“Don’t be fooled. Sometimes, I like it here.”

I laughed with a tired wave of my hand. Lit a cigarette. High Top remained confused as to who was who. Served me the white Russian, slid my scotch between Alana’s awaiting hands.

“My room is a pastel rectangle, approximately fifty square feet,” I said. I handed her my cigarette, and lit another. “The walls are blank, cracked, like the rest of this place. The ceilings are fine. Higher than most hotels, possibly the most merciful part of this quiet thrust. The bathroom is a combination of wilted wall paper, blue flowers, and cracked porcelain. No television. Alarm clock wired to the radio. The ice machine on my floor has a hole in it, a plastic spider web spreading out. Like it was punched by someone who needed to get what was in there in a real hurry. Out of my windows, they face west, and you can catch the mirage of downtown LA as the sun sets, the buildings built into the freeway, the smoke and final solution to this crazy fucking city.”

Alana had herself a helping of what was rightfully my drink.Her braces gleaming, with an inadvertent laugh as she leaned close to me, she said, “Sounds like you ended up right back in LA.”

“And you just plan to never leave.”

She rubbed her forehead against my face, nose moving up, pressed against the corner of my mouth. “That was always the plan.”

I kept my hands where they were. Let my mind wander all over the angels in my imagination. Laughed a little. “Things get worse, don’t they?”

“Better hope they keep getting better,” she said. “You chose to come back.”

A few seats down, a perfectly bland nobody ran his hand through shallow streaks of grey. Turned to the man next to him and wondered where the time had gone. The man replied with a quick adjustment of his white undershirt. His eyes bulged behind lids that insisted on sleep. Didn’t look like that was going to be the case, though. Not as long as the sun continued to set, and certainly not as long as the clouds kept their distance for fear someone might recognize a familiar shape, somewhere in the world up there.

Not on that particular evening, promises broken, watching the clock strike midnight at the Stinson.

###

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the last time i saw blondie.

stories_from_a_big_bar-honey_resize

Last night on earth, it felt like, and the threshold was dressed in grapevines and parched skies.

I tapped my pen against the dusty pages of a blank notebook. Pressed my back against the wooden chair and pretended to scratch away a couplet of imaginary words. Temporarily distracted by a chorus of laughter, eyes forward.

I didn’t know most of them, but the percentages weren’t bad, and the night lights played tricks on us all. Waves from the pool sent flashback ripples on the collection of teenagers, drinking, smoking. Singing in dissonant Spanish lyrics.

I gave myself a few seconds with Sonia. Her black hair spilled over dark features, angular nose, skinny legs crossed, cat napping in her lap. She must have felt the weight of my thoughts, explicit details of that one night staring out her window.

She looked up, eyes the texture of a lunar eclipse. Teeth red with wine, lips one or two years gone, so recent I could taste it on my tongue through the curtains of her smile.

Shirt a tattered taste of royal blue, hanging loosely down one shoulder.

I said it out loud, in a language she didn’t know, words the entire world had been forced to memorize. “I love you.”

It was lost under the blare of a boombox playing Los Prisionros.

Her read on my mouth remained a mystery, and all I know is she laughed.

And coincidence urged everyone to do the same under cool, desert landscapes as someone cannon balled into the pool.

One single chord rising above the rest.

Blondie.

Standing, rather that sitting. Perched at a nearby table, wine stain on a shirt some seven or so days worn after disappearing for a full week. Off to the coast. Didn’t tell a soul, and the rest of us were left to second guess if we would ever see him again.

Only in the abstract.

Blondie was forever. Gale force winds, stars and constellations in a cartographer’s map.

“Lucky!” he called out. Washed it down with the final dregs of a Ballentine pint. Spanish luster radiating with blue eyes, dirty blond tangles reaching down towards skinny shoulder blades. “You drunk, mad, fucking poet. You’re going to blind the Gods for the rest of us and realize the world!”

I raised my bottle of Gato Negro.

He laughed and collapsed into the arms of a redhead, kissed her so deep, I had to imagine the truth was buried deep within her thighs.

Everyone was waiting.

I wasn’t sure for what. Couldn’t figure the occasion.

I was seven hours shy of a 747 heading back past the equator.

Cheers ruptured the fabric of our universe.

I sent my eyes to the source. Saw Daniel Bustos and his lady emerging from the house after what looked like an intensely satisfying fuck session.

He blew kisses.

She jumped into the pool.

All those after sex fluids emulsifying.

I caught Blondie clapping, desperately clinging to another bottle.

Grinning madly.

Daniel took a chair beside me.

His hair cut short, halting perfectly before a pair of black opals.

“You need an idea, Lucky?” he asked.

For once, I welcomed the offer. Lit a cigarette and nodded.

“So it’s about a nun,” he said. Took a hit from my bottle and continued. “She loses her faith in the church, of course, they all do. But behind closed doors, she masturbates profusely with a crucifix.”

“So far, so good.”

“Finally, she gets caught by the mother superior –”

“ – Mother superior jumped a gun –” Blondie interrupted as he soared past us. On the way to tickle the interest of another group. Another collection of people so in love with the way he lit the skies.

I made mental note to sit him down and tell him I felt as much, before Daniel kept on with his story.

“ – So the mother superior sends her on a pilgrimage to a neighboring mission, several many miles south. And on the way she meets a man with one arm, and a three foot tall undertaker selling tomatoes on the road.”

I took a pull of wine. Waited.

He did the same.

“And?” I asked.

He laughed. High off fumes and the pleasures of sex. “That’s your problem, Lucky!”

Somehow, everyone had been listening to us, and their amusement cut through my ears.

I thought about diving into the pool, but something told me I would need to save that act for my dying years. But before some future date made its way into the present, Blondie swooped in. Whispered something into Daniel’s ear. He nodded. The pair took off.

Left me with Sonia’s eyes some five miles away from me.

I drank my wine, let myself feel imaginary.

Drank some more. Tried to avoid her eyes, memories of losing my virginity, no matter what I would tell the young man by the name of James Joyce, some several years later, down underground, a tale of  sunrise spectacular.

They sky was turning a memorable copy of familiarity when they returned.

Carrying several copies of the daily press, fresh off the tumbler with last night’s ink.

The wait was over.

I broke my code, asked Sonia what was going on.

She told me what was what. Down in the alternate hemisphere that was Santiago, there was a test. Like the SATs only rather than have the results mailed, they were published in the daily paper. Every. Last. One, she said. Future laid bare for all to see.

“That’s fucking madness,” I told her.

And she responded by keeping to herself, uninterested in what the future held.

I watched as everyone else swarmed, picked up their newspaper leases and signed their names to a real daybreak. People hugged each other in random clusters, some grinning, some crying. Hopes dashed and dancing beneath strands of a cotton candy sky.

Blondie sat himself next to me.

I wondered where Daniel had gone, who had seen his exit.

“How did you do?” I asked him.

He grinned. “I’m going to be a historian,” he told me. Snatched my bottle of red and drank deep. Wiped his lips on his forearm. “Going to tell this county’s miserable story to the entire world, whether they’re willing to listen or not.”

“I love you.”

The words were devoured by the sad sobs of a girl in a pumpkin-colored shirt, smearing her tears along ink and paint. Typeset bundled in her fists, dry newspaper pressed to her face, secondary headline warning of waning exports.

Blondie rose, floated across the backyard.

Hugged her.

Because he knew it would all be all right.

***

We bottlenecked our way out of the sanctuary.

It was morning now, well and true.

Decorating the peculiars of my own particular moment.

We all hugged each other, said our goodbyes.

I caught ahold of Blondie’s hand, somewhere in the tangle of limbs and temporary farewells, because,

“We’ll all be seeing each other soon,” Blondie told me, bringing me in close.

He smelled like shit. Cheap red, and the rotten brine of oysters and shellfish.

I breathed him in.

“Who knows where we’ll be when we see each other again,” he said.

I took the cigarette out of his mouth, just to be the worst person I could. “Who knows?”

And before I could tell him all there was to feel, he was off.

Down the road apiece.

He put his wild hair into a ponytail and turned the corner, same time as a tabby cat popped right back around, darted through the hole of a chainlink fence. I turned to ask Sonia if she had seen it too. Just to make sure I wasn’t going mad, only four hours before my flight.

She was long gone. A familiar sight, out of sight.

A random girl reached into my existence and kissed me.

I murmured something into her neck, and then she was gone.

So I turned my back to them and made my way up the street. Escorted by graffiti and stray dogs. Watching the sun rise over mountains caked in eternal snow. I lit a cigarette. A slow shuffle leading me towards another suitcase, another unbecoming ticket to the rest of the world.

“Things are looking up for all of them,” I said.

A passing man dressed in a grey jump suit heard me.

Figured me for a tourist.

En esa direccion,” he said, pointing down the street.

Gracias,” I replied.

Left the surprise of my perfect diction to leave his ears ringing

as I wandered.

Asking myself where Blondie would be the next time I saw him.

###

in print:

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or for fucking free in digital

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so long and thanks for all the pish.

 

she just realized her husband is a dog.

dawn.jpg

 

What do you mean, what do I mean?

In this universe I didn’t leave Los Angeles all at once, never mind what I told James.

This one was a premeditated countdown, walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley.

Tender age of eighteen. Side by side with an introspective, unfathomable girl by the name of Leah.

Leah, large forehead, enormous eyes. Miniature smile always on the cusp of wielding a more hopeful weapon.

I’ll tell you more about her someday.

Just outside an art gallery, when we were hailed by a roper with the head and body of a slender, silhouetted extraterrestrial. He invited us in to have a look around.  One thousand or so square space. Bright lights shining down on five hundred or so rectangles. Stretched canvas. Water color, oil based, finger paints. Pick a medium. Pick a theme, any theme.

“And they’re all mine,” he said. Ducked down behind an easel.

Emerged with a beer and an olive strapped martini.

“Where’d you get the scratch?” I asked him. Watched as Leah made her way,  an anonymous friend in hand, checking images off a transparent list. “These are all yours?”

“That’s not an appropriate question, Lucky,” he said. Pulled back on his beer, and tilted. Let  it pour down his chin, on the floor. “Now you’re going to have to wait for this.”

“I didn’t want it.”

“Yes, not tonight.”

He wasn’t looking to land a sale.

Took a sip of his cocktail and motioned towards the back.

I let myself slide, losing track of Leah and the outside.

Settled in before a framed, six by two piece. Brushstrokes in the key of blue. Two figures standing face to face. One, a short, full figured woman. Young woman. Wide eyes staring blankly over her pert little nose. Mesmerized by an upright, cartoon beagle. Dead ringer for Snoopy in his later years.

“I like his one,” I told him.

“Speaks to you, does it?” he asked.

“Yes… got a title?”

“Yes… she just realized her husband is a dog.

I told him I would buy it for twenty dollars.

Going price was fifteen hundred.

I turned to ask Leah for the remaining $14,980.

She had already left the gallery.

The curator offered me his beer. “Are you ready now?”

Bottle neck just under my nose.

Familiar smell so close to nothing, it seemed good a time as any.

“Not ready,” I told him. Gave myself another moment with last night. Left behind on the roof top. Leah’s words like cold cellophane, stars and lights in the Valley trapped, sealed. Locked in. “Snow globe.”

“Paper weight,” he said. “Shake it hard enough, and there’s a moment when all those flakes touch each other.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Want to try it again?”

“Yes.”

“Could be worse, this time around.”

“How many times before I don’t have to see this ugly fucking piece of work?”

He held out the beer. “Any day now.”

I accepted the offer and drained it.

Bubbly liquid flowing down my throat, up my snout.

The smell of moldy bread mixing with my steps as I moved towards the painting.

Stepped on through and took one last look.

Saw Leah stepping back through the gallery door.

Wondering. Annoyed. Concerned.

Ambivalent, was the worst part.

Enough to send me through the frame, sucked in between that beagle and his newly enlightened wife, plaster paste surrounding me, up into my eyes, nostrils, every part that had an opening, even my ass wondering what would be left of me when I came out the other side.

###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

Smashwords.com

so long and thanks for all the pish.

lucky.

win

I could let the hours glide, seconds tick along to the radiator, watching Anya sit on the window sill. Cigarette between her fingers. Elbow resting on her knee, drawn up. Secondary leg stretched along the outcrop. Brown eyes between wide lids, watching the tower of neighboring apartments. Half-two in the morning, and most all those rooms have their midnight oil burning bright. Stained glow, mingled with lamppost illumination, it brings out a deeper hue from her pallid skin. Smoke trickles from feline lips. Sketch artist circles, up through the open window. Swirls headed for a waning moon, and this darkroom does wonders for those blonde curls falling past bare shoulders. Vaccination scar. Back arching against the breeze. Giving in to the cold, curvature leading down to a penny, stuck to her hip for how long now?

Turns with a tilt of her head, just for the sake of a question: “What?”

My lips work against the cotton filter, cherry highlight twitching. “So close to perfect.”

“What would be perfect?”

“If it was raining right now.”

“Yeah?”

Propped up in bed, thinking just maybe… “Yeah.”

Anya tosses her hair back and gave the sky a smile.

Lightning strikes somewhere in the city.

All we see is the light, waiting for thunder to shake the walls.

And when it does, it comes with rain.

From where, I don’t know. Not a cloud in the sky, but I think Anya doesn’t bother with details, and it takes less than seconds. Four or five drops against the glass before thousands make their way in through the open window. Their friends and family beating against the building. Begging to be let inside.

Anya laughs. Her body turns wet, water running down her face, landscaping, rivers taking detours past chest, breasts, belly, from the top of her knee, flowing to join the rest down past her thighs, and the moon is still out, her entire body shining.

Turns to face me. Hair soaking, engrained against her face, mouth open.

Water bursting from her lips as she asks, “How about that, Lucky?”

And her cigarette miraculously continues to burn bright in the window, allowing for all outsiders to stare in wonder at this warning, while miles away, the oceans crash against the shallows.

###

in print:

Amazon.com

or for fucking free in digital

Smashwords.com

so long and thanks for all the pish.