The brown rabbit

norbert kovacs

 

I stopped by the meadow because I was tired after hiking as far as I had through the woods that day. The place itself did not interest me. Its tall grass sagged in clumps, some brown though it was still May; hulks of ugly rock showed amid them. The weather did little to encourage me in the spot. The air was stifling. The sun gave a dull, pale light and the passing gray clouds appeared ready to spoil even that. Bowing my head, I remembered hearing earlier that the field had belonged to some old farmer. The man had died and the land never sold after him.

 

It seemed a place to forget in all honesty.


I had resolved to leave the spot when I saw a brown rabbit emerge from the woods and stop at the meadow's edge. He made an attractive, trim figure as he sat upright by the grass, head raised and alert. His dark eyes looked far into the field and its corners. He seemed to be reflecting on the place, if rabbits ever did. The idea that he was had fixed in my mind when I saw him crouch and speed into the meadow. I turned, interested to see where he went.

 

I spotted him soon in a clump of grass that had wilted in the heat. Only a furry patch of him stuck forth, no head or limb, with the green-tan blades between us like the bars of a cage. After a second or two, his brown fur shifted and the grass bowed, curtaining him; when it rose, the rabbit had disappeared. I looked onward for him, roused. The meadow rustled a couple of yards up-- moved by some large creature it seemed. I knew it had to be the rabbit: no other animal had come to the place since my arrival. I watched the golden grass heads bob once, twice, as if to prove he was among them. Then they were still. I waited, eager for the rabbit to make some sign he was there.


When I spotted him finally, it was only his long ears sticking through a patch of green, yards away. Flesh pink on the inside, those ears twitched, catching at the many, small sounds in the field around us. He gave the place some attention and I fell to considering the meadow more seriously myself for it. I discovered many, small lupines in the tall grass which I had not noticed earlier. I caught the scent that rose from their purple petals and fresh leaves. Above the field, I scanned the sweet air that was warming in the afternoon sun. And I heard crickets chirp quietly in the grass ahead.

 

Everything around and in the meadow had this intimacy. It felt a great thing, beautiful and peaceful. The sense was still new to me when I saw the rabbit's ears slip behind a tall, green tuft. The grass rustled and the next thing, the rabbit emerged from the side of the meadow. Without a pause, he sped into the wood from where I had come.

 

He did not return.


I walked back toward the trail I had meant earlier to take and thought over my rabbit. He must have somewhere to go, I knew as I stepped along. Someplace that called him. I listened as I went now for the call of birds overhead, eager suddenly to remember their names. I scanned the air for insects--gnats, bees--so I might follow the tangle of their flights. I had decided to trust in one or two of them as companions for the next part of my journey. Their company would help me pass into the woods, feeling not empty like when I had come to the grassy spot, but full and alive.

 

The idea of the rabbit working through the meadow convinced me it was worth doing. My heart warmed with faith in the spring day. I went, in fact, with a glad, easy stride, hearing the bees buzz in the heat.

A critical grade 

madeleine belden

 

Donna usually hated parent-teacher night because no one ever wanted her to be honest about their daughters. For some reason, parents always seemed to understand a child failing math.

She never heard shouting coming from the math lab on these nights.

 

But American history was different.

 

 

Parents always got upset about American history. Failing implied a choice. That the child was not studying for some reason or another. Some parents immediately

thought of drugs. One mother popped a Prozac as they were speaking, right after Donna said the f word (flunk). As the parents walked away, Donna was sure they were blaming it on her.

They were probably thinking that she was a lousy, spacey, unfocused teacher. Donna put her pen down and considered her own supply of Prozac. She glanced at the doorway and then leaned over, opening her right hand desk drawer and unzipping her purse. She found the pills, and rattled the cloudy prescription bottle. Two or three left, it sounded like.

Donna looked at the label. Blue type on white, stained paper. One of the corners was starting to curl. REFILL AS NEEDED, it read. Her mother had died four months ago after a long illness, and her doctor had suggested that Prozac might help even out her mood swings. The sadness and anxiety. One more refill, then she would see how things were going. Donna put her purse back and closed the drawer.

A friend had suggested that Donna might need to redefine her self-image, search for an alternative well of strength. That wasn’t the problem, though. Hours before she’d died, her mother had forced a promise out of Donna.

 

“Mrs. Binotti?” Donna called out. The small dark woman got up from her chair in the hallway and walked into the classroom, a cloth winter coat draped over her left arm. In her hand she was clutching a large, circular key ring with a plastic daisy hanging from it. One of the petals was missing, Donna noticed.

 

Her hair was wavy and swept up, and parts of it fell casually over her face and forehead.

Sitting on her left wrist was a bracelet made from uncooked pasta noodles. “Henry is struggling,”
she said, taking a seat. “But in the end, I think he’ll be fine.”


Donna picked up her student’s last three tests. They were all C-minuses. One D. “His
prognosis is uncertain,” she said.


“Prognosis?”


Donna stared at the woman for a moment. “Sorry. I meant to say, his final grade is up in
the air. I’m just a little tired.” And spacey and unfocused. “He needs to learn to prioritize the
information in order of importance,” Donna said.

 

“The final exam in six weeks will be a critical
grade. Anything below a B and he will fail.” Mrs. Binotti looked startled and Donna explained
that someone had to be the bad guy. Someone had to be honest. It was her job as a teacher to
hold a mirror up so the child could really see themselves. Donna stood up and stuck her hand
out.


“So I should push him,” Mrs. Binotti said.


“You’re his mother. If you don’t push, no one else will,” Donna said. Binotti. She was only
at the B’s. It was going to be a long night.


“Donna?”


She looked up from her cluttered desk and saw Paul Sales standing there. His hair was
still jet black and gelled, comb marks glistening under the fluorescent lights. Eyes on the beady
side, celery green. He bared his teeth in pretense of a smile.


“I just wanted to say hello,” he said.


“Hello,” she said.


“Did Amy tell you that my wife and I separated?”


“No.”


“Now will you go out with me?” he said.


“Mr Sales–”


“Paul. Or Pauly.”


“I’m working. This isn’t a bar. I’m not interested in going anywhere with you.”


He was the father of a former student and last year, in the middle of informing him of his
daughter’s B-minus average, he’d asked her to go to the movies with him. Donna suddenly
recalled every inappropriate word that had come from him at last year’s conference.


“You’re married,” Donna had replied in response to his invitation.


“I’ll tell you a little secret,” he had said, “my daughter doesn’t know it yet, but her mother
and I are about to separate. Any day now. If you hurry...” He’d capped his insider information off
with a wink, adjusted his right cuff link and smoothed out his tie, re-securing the clip in the
middle.


Donna couldn’t remember a time that she had ever been that sick to her stomach without
actually having some kind of flu bug.

 

“Nice to have met you,” she had said at the time, still
seated, eyes down.


She could still recall how he’d reached his hand out and his knuckle had just about
touched her lips, his fingers reeking of garlic and butter. In her mind she’d seen him seated in a
dark restaurant, breaking bread, sharing food of the earth with some duped, stacked woman,
assuring her that he was going to leave his wife soon, but that she shouldn’t call his house any
more on week-ends. At the time–his hand still planted next to her cheek–she had considered
biting it but worried she’d break a tooth on one of his gold rings.


“Donna?”


The cloying sound of him clearing his throat brought her back to the present.

 

“You’re in the wrong room, Mr. Sales,” she said, managing, finally, to look at him. “Amy’s a junior this year.You should be upstairs.” He wore the same tie clip–gold, with the letters PS engraved on the
front, but he looked a tad older. His suit a little worn.


He stood there, eying her. “You don’t like men,” he said now. “No problem.”

 

He shrugged, turned and left the classroom, his heels clicking loudly. She heard his hand with all its
gold bands ringing against the steel handrail, heard his feet slam hard against each step as he
traveled upward to see his daughter’s homeroom teacher.


That night, Paul Sales’s words stayed with her. Hovered over heads as she spoke to the
rest of the parents. Glared behind streetlights as she drove home. Four days later she still felt the
breath of this aural specter in WalMart as she approached the pharmacy window.

 

The pharmacist leaned over the counter, glanced at her legs and told her it would be a few minutes as
they were backed up with requests for Prozac.


“That’s okay,” Donna said. “I’ll just catch up on my reading.”


“Sure,” Hal, the pharmacist said. “I think there’s a new Us magazine since you were last
here.”


She collected an armful of periodicals from the rack and brought them to the medical
waiting area. It comforted her to sit there, reading. She liked to hear people coming and going as
she leafed through the glossy monthlies. Her cramped, bleak apartment seemed a million miles
away. She had let most of her subscriptions lapse since everything in the magazines had more or
less begun appearing on her home page when she turned on her computer.


“Sorry about the wait,” he said over the glass partition. “Shouldn’t be too much longer.”


He nodded at her, taking a long sip from a ceramic mug. “Did you get a chance to read that cover
story? It’s funny. I was kind of down last night and it made my night.”


She crossed her legs and a couple of magazines slid from her lap.

 

“I haven’t gotten to it yet,” she said, a little surprised that he was making conversation. A few minutes later she noticed him chuckle with a male co-worker. As he giggled his broad shoulders moved up and down
underneath the crisp white lab coat. His laugh was quick and strong, the catchy kind, the kind
that could infect you.


A few minutes later, Hal stapled the small white bag and handed it to her.

 

“Listen,” he paused and cleared his throat, looking uncomfortable. She wondered if he was going to caution
her about the Prozac. “If this is too forward, I apologize. I was just–would you like to maybe go
out for coffee sometime?”


She peered at his black eyeglasses. Lenses so thick that they must invite a fleeting
moment of pity from the average person seeking a prescription. The hair on his head was sparse.


Yet when he smiled, it was, in a way, non-threatening. Blushing, she looked down at the
pharmacy bag. “I’d like that,” she said.


On the drive home she started to worry about having accepted the date. What had she
been thinking? She was definitely taking a risk. If it didn’t work out with Hal she couldn’t use
that Walmart Pharmacy any more. There were other places, of course. CVS, but their magazine
selection was nowhere near as extensive. Walgreen’s was not only out of her way, but they were
way more expensive. Not an option on a teacher’s salary.


The upside, of course, was big. The way she saw it, she had to take this risk. If things
worked out, a certain very large weight would be removed from her shoulders for good. No more
guilt feelings regarding a certain unfulfilled pledge.


In preparation for her date, she returned to WalMart, avoiding the pharmacy by circling
through the domestic goods section into health and beauty, and purchased a new shampoo that
promised to make her hair smell like a rain forest. A new pale pink lipstick too. She vacillated
between feeling hopeful about the date and feeling anxious. To make things worse, when she was
nervous, she had a terrible habit of blurting things out without thinking.


“I’ve never been in love,” Donna said, a few days later, as she buckled her seatbelt, gave
the shoulder strap an upward tug and sat back. Hal paused a moment, started the car, and pulled out into the street.

After a few minutes he said, “Kind of a strange thing to say, isn’t it?”
Oh my God, she thought, replaying her own words. Did I say that? Out loud? She tried to
explain but she didn’t know how.


“On a first date?” he said, stopping for a yellow light. Hal turned and looked at her. He
seemed to have decided something. “Maybe that’s the reason you’ve never been in love. Maybe
no one’s ever asked you out a second time.”


“Oh my god,” she said. “That was so mean.”


His face reddened. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly.


The light changed. The person behind them honked. Hal had no choice but to drive. As
he drove he kept apologizing and explaining.

 

“I was just trying to...can I be really honest with you?”


“No!”


“Fair enough,” he said and then he was quiet for a while. He put his blinker on and made
a left hand turn and they drove in silence for a bit but then the words bubbled up again.

 

“I thought that what you said, you know, earlier? I thought you said it on purpose. That you made a
joke. You know? To lighten the moment? Because first dates can be so awkward?”

 

He sighed. “I thought it was gutsy and so I thought I’d be gutsy too. Make a joke too. Obviously I made a
mistake. Forgive me?” His voice collapsed into a bewildered sigh.


She put her head in her hands. She mumbled something about it being fine. To forget it.
Her fingers felt cold against her forehead. She had forgotten her gloves. And hat. She was trying
not to cry. Her head still down she could hear Hal quickly pointing out his old high school as they
were passing it. It sounded like he was babbling out of nervousness. He acknowledged an empty
lot where he had his first job, selling Christmas trees during college with his cousin Norm, now
also a pharmacist, but he slowed the car in recognition of something else.


“Well, look at that!” he said. “Do you remember this place by any chance?”


Between her fingers, Donna saw a chain-link fence with a large hole cut out of it,
surrounding a brick building with a condemned sign taped across the door.


“It used to be a community center,” Hal said, chuckling. “I was in a band when I was a
teenager,” he looked over at Donna. “You don’t remember going to any of those dances, do you?”


She shook her head.


“I’ll tell you what,” he said, his eyes on the brick structure, “we could really rock that
place. We even came up with a few original songs. My cousin Norm wrote one called
Prescription Love.”


He pulled into a parking lot. Donna couldn’t move. Why would she announce that she’d
never been in love? Hal was looking at her, studying her face, making sure she was okay.

 

“Look," he said, “I’m really sorry about earlier. I admit that I am much too direct. It’s a hazard that
comes with my job. If I’m not direct with people someone could die. It sounds dramatic but it’s
true, you know? Could we just agree that we got our signals crossed earlier?”


Donna faced the windshield. “Sure,” she said.


They were sitting in a parking lot across the street from an abandoned Dairy Queen.
There were two wooden, benchless picnic tables on a cement patio in front. Donna stared at the
wrecked, leaning Dairy Queen sign.


“I’m sorry,” she said. “I have no idea why I blurted out something so personal. It’s just
that my mother died. Oh! I did it again. Sorry!”


Hal watched her a moment. “Are you sure you’re in the mood to see a comedy?”


Donna wiped her nose across her coat sleeve. She reached behind her head and tightened
her ponytail. She blotted her eyes with the palms of her hands and then blinked. “I can’t wait,”
she said.


“I–we can...would you like to go read some free magazines at Walmart?”


Donna smiled. “No. I’m okay,” she said. She could smell something nice coming from his
direction. She didn’t know what it was: aftershave, shampoo, possibly a hearty skin lotion for
men. It was so thoughtful of him to provide a pleasant fragrance just for her benefit.


She let out a big sigh. “Look, I’m not blaming my mother. Maybe a little bit. It is kind of
her fault,” Donna said. “It’s totally her fault...but I mean...”


He began drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, bringing his hand down and
crossing his arms in a quick huff. “Shall we go inside?” he said.


Donna stared at him. “Do I seem like I’m in any condition to see a movie?”
“You just said...”


“My mother died. My grief is complicated. Now you want me to sit through a Judd
Apatow film and act like nothing happened? Seriously?” Donna blew on her hands and tucked
each one under the opposite arm. “Could you turn the car on? I’m cold.”


A streetlight a couple of yards away illuminated Hal’s profile. His ears were bright red,
his thick lips were compressed into an oversized, padded button.

 

“You’d rather sit in a cold carand cry than walk thirty feet and see a comedy? I pre-paid for the tickets. Not that that matters...people who feel sorry for themselves...I don’t like to examine things,” he mumbled,
starting the engine and speeding out of the lot. He stopped at a red light and turned to her. “It
gets you nowhere. Believe me.” “This is my own fault anyway. This is what I get for asking out
someone who needs a sedative.”


Donna leaned her head against the frosty window. The same scenery–yellow-brick
community center, the enormous high school with all the green hedges surrounding it–so
eagerly pointed out to her on the way now passed before her in a blur, and, much to her surprise,

she found herself almost wishing for a memory or two from Hal. Or maybe she just wanted a do-
over. She sometimes offered her students a do-over if they failed tests. She definitely wanted

one. How could she have behaved so immaturely?


He pulled in front of her building and stopped the car. He reached across her and the
sleeve of his vinyl overcoat brushed against the underside of her chin as he opened the door.


“I’d like to do this again sometime,” Donna heard herself say.
Hal revved the engine in response.
“You don’t have to be rude,” she said.


He suddenly faced her. “I don’t care if your mother...it’s not that I don’t care, I don’t
mean to come off as unsympathetic. I’ve lost both my...I just don’t think it’s fair of you to–” He
suddenly removed his gloves and eyeglasses, and pressed his fingers over his eyelids, rubbing
them gently. He had that look. The look that she often had after a horrible day of teaching. Or
being with her mother in the hospital.


“Hey,” she said, her voice different this time and she could tell that he could tell
something had shifted inside her. “I’d like to explain why I’m acting like this, but the reason is
so...I don’t even know the word for it...embarrassing?”


“Just say it. How bad can it be?”


Fuck it, she thought, so she told him about her mother’s promise that she’d marry within
a year of her passing. In the car, hearing herself say the words out loud at that moment Donna
thought it sounded like something out of a Victorian novel. She hadn’t told anyone. No one knew
about the tears that poured out of her mom’s eyes when Donna assured her that she was telling
the truth about keeping the promise to stop being so nitpicky about men and to get rid of her
impossible standards. Her mother had said, “We love in spite of.”


Donna told Hal that in the past three months she had been coping with guilt and anxiety.
There was no relief except when she was sleeping. The pills helped, but only a little.

 

“I honestly didn’t think that stupid promise would bother me. And it didn’t for about a week. A few days
later, after work, when I was at the Apple store, getting my phone fixed, my guilt started. Then it
changed to anxiety, just like that. It’s been getting worse.”


Hal turned and faced forward and pulled the zipper on his coat down a few inches.
Stretched his neck. His gaze fell to the top of the steering wheel as if studying it but it was
obvious to her that he was trying to digest her words. She liked that. That he really took it in and
didn’t have a ready made response.

 

“You’re looking at this the wrong way. You said something to make your mother happy before she died. Any of us would.”


She hadn’t realized it but she’d been holding her breath. Hoping he’d say something like
that. “Think so?”


“There was nothing else you could do. Yes. Be glad you agreed. Keep it in perspective. It
was just a death bed promise. Made under duress. That’s all it is. Nobody keeps those things.”


“Really?” she said.


He shrugged and shook his head. Nonchalantly. Like he was saying no to fresh ground
pepper on his salad. “Listen to me: you did exactly what anyone would do in the same
circumstance.”


He laughed and then she laughed a little, too. The relief she felt was indescribable.
“Do you like omelets?” she said.


“What?”


“I was thinking, if you want, I could make us omelets and we could watch something on
Netflix. What do you think?”


He stared at the key in the ignition. Tightened his seat belt. Stared out the wind shield.
He was obviously considering her invitation. The more time that went by, though, the more
annoyed she got. What was the big deal? She hadn’t asked him to invest in a time share! It was a
goddamn movie. She was about to tell him to go fuck himself when he answered.


“Yeah,” he said, gently, “I’d like that.”


It was raining as they walked the block to Donna’s apartment building. The air smelled of
worms, flushed out from their homes under the sidewalk and they heard nothing but the water
hitting the pavement. They walked together, hands in pockets, heads down, feet unintentionally
in synch. Hal held the door to the foyer open for her, lightly guiding her elbow. Two chatty
couples dressed for a formal evening tramped by. She informed him that she lived on the sixth
floor, but the elevator was broken.

 

She thought she saw a look of concern brush across his facebut then he simply said, “After you.”
 

When they reached the top, Donna pretended not to notice his huffing and puffing as she
turned the key in the lock. Opening the door, she turned on the light and hurried to the
bathroom to get some towels. He gently took one. It was white and extra fluffy. One of a set of
six. Her final birthday present from her mother.


“Thank you,” he said. “I appreciate it.” He dried himself off, folded the towel, and handed
it back to her.


She was starting to feel anxious. She had a tendency to nitpick at random things when
overcome with nerves. In the past her mom had called her a ball-buster. She hadn’t used that
word but she’d implied it. “Please make yourself...”


As she was speaking he removed his coat and she stepped back, never having seen the
bottom half of his body before–he’d always been partially hidden behind the pharmaceutical
counter, not to mention the lab coat he always wore. He was overweight. Overweight! In this day
and age! There was practically a gym on every corner of the city.

Ball-buster.


“Do you have the time?” she said. She explained that she had to get up early the next
morning.


He pulled his sweater sleeves up and she saw that his forearms were full of hair. Wiry
dark strands nearly covered his wristwatch. He looked down, parted some hair and glanced at
the watch. “Seven-twenty,” he said.


“Oh, well, we’re in good shape then,” she told him. She went and got him a beer and
reluctantly handed it to him, wanting desperately to point out how many calories it contained.
They clinked glasses and each had a couple of sips. Hal had a seat on the sofa. She sat in the arm
chair across from him.


He fidgeted with the label on his beer. Said her apartment was nice.


She told him that the elevated train was too loud and it had taken took her a long time to
get used to it.


“So, do you like being a teacher?” he said, turning his phone off. He set it on the coffee
table and glanced up.


“Yes,” she said. She kept her phone on.


“What do you like about it?”


The fact that he saw that she was caught off guard by his question annoyed her. “No one’s
ever asked that before,” she said. “I guess I like the ability to shape a person’s future.”


“By shape you mean tell them what to do and they have to do it. The power dynamics are clear cut.”
She had no idea how to respond. There was a tiny rustling of something uncomfortable
inside her.


“I just meant that guiding a life is a lot of responsibility,” he said gently. “I’m not sure I
could handle it. Did you ever want to be anything else?”


She blinked. “I wanted to be a clothing designer.”


“So why didn’t you?”

“Do you want another beer?” she said.


“I’m still working on this one.”


“That’s good,” Donna blurted.


“Why is that good?” he said, just as he caught her staring at his stomach.


She glanced back up at his face. In his eyes she could see that he’d connected the dots,
suddenly understood that she thought he shouldn’t have another because of the calories. “It’s not
good,” she stammered, her cheeks heating up.

 

“Or bad. I don’t know why I said that. What was your question again?”


“Don’t bother. I think I have the answer.”


“To why I didn’t become a dress designer?”


“Yes.” He took a big long sip of beer. He set the bottle down on the coffee table. He
glanced up at her.


“So what’s the answer?” she said. She picked up her phone and pretended to look for
something.


“Being a designer requires taking risks. Inviting others to evaluate your work. You don’t
strike me as someone who would survive being criticized.”


She put her phone down.


He studied her face. Then he started to backtrack, obviously unwilling to apologize again.
“All I’m saying is that if a person goes out of their comfort zone they will at–at some
point–be vulnerable to criticism,” he said. “You have to risk looking foolish. You can’t expect to
grow as a person without letting yourself be vulnerable.”


She felt soft flutters of anger in her chest.

 

“I told you about the promise,” she said.


“You did. And I admire you for that. Please don’t get upset. I thought we were having a
mature discussion. Forget I said anything. Weren’t we going to watch a movie?”


They watched a movie, which Hal picked out. She mistakenly thought that viewing a film
would distract her from her nerves. Pull her out of her head which would have been exactly what
she needed. But the movie Hal picked out had the opposite affect. The lead character–a woman

–seemed to mirror her own inadequacies. How she didn’t have very many friends. How she
was more comfortable teaching the same history lesson for the millionth time than socializing
with people her own age.

 

How, when she listened to people talk about being in love, she felt like she was from a different planet. Or that they were lying about how amazing love was. If not lying, then they were certainly exaggerating. Yes. It was a truly depressing film.

 

At the end the woman went on an Internet date and got murdered. While the EMT guys carried the woman’s dead body out on a gurney Donna stood up and cleared away the four beer bottles they’d consumed,
choking back tears. The film had left her shaken. Her head was spinning.


She brought the bottles into the kitchen and came back and told Hal she had to get up
early. He stood up. Thanked her for a lovely–albeit interesting– evening and she nodded
vaguely, afraid that if she said anything at all a waterfall of tears would stream from her.

 

He was not going to see her cry. That was for sure. She just had to hold on a few more minutes.
On the way out, Hal stopped in front of a small wooden table by the front door. He picked
up a framed photo of her and her mother.

 

“Wow,” he said, studying it. “You look just like her.”


“Really?” she said. The picture was taken when she was a college senior. Around the
holidays. Her aunt Martha had insisted that she and her mother get in front of the tree and link
arms and smile. Her mother was tall with a short blonde bob while Donna herself was on the
curvy side, with shoulder-length dark brown hair.

 

“I never thought I looked anything like her.”


He looked up. “How is your dad doing with all this?”


She took the photo and put it back on the table. Donna told him that he’d left when she
was twelve. “I see him once or twice a year. Maybe.”


Hal found her gaze. Held it. “I’m sorry you had such a jerk for a father. Some people are
just messed up. And they never get better.”


Donna turned and got his coat from the closet. Her chest tightened and she clenched her
jaw. The end of that movie flashed in her mind. “It wasn’t his fault,” she said. “At least, I never
thought so.”


“Thanks again,” he said slowly.

“My dad couldn’t do anything right.”


Hal paused before zipping the zipper. He clearly didn’t know what to say.
“My mom always needed to have everything her way.”


Hal just stood there, speechless.


“She’d just hammer away at him until he did what she wanted. ”


“Isn’t that kind of,” he said, his voice now had a gentle quality to it, that she’d not heard
in before, “isn’t that really what the death bed promise is about?”


“What?”


“Control?” he said.

He was searching her face, nodding, as though trying hard to extract some kind of mind-
altering insight from her. Though she hated to admit it, his question may have brought

something important to the surface. She felt a kind of relief that she hadn’t felt in months.
Similar to the relief she’d felt earlier. In Hal’s car. Just before she invited him up to watch a
movie.


When he leaned toward her, she felt the bulk of his flabby middle section, yes–but she
could also smell the lovely rain in his hair and traces of that nice cologne.

“I should go,” he said, but then he kissed her.


“Don’t,” she said a few seconds later.


“Don’t what?” he said. “Go? Or kiss you?”


The elevated train roared by.


“I don’t know.”


He kissed her again and it felt good. Better than good. Slow. Confident. Sexy. He stood
back and said that he was going to leave. To her great shock she felt disappointed. Outside her
apartment he paused at the landing of the steps and said, “Have you ever thought that maybe
you’re not dating because of your mother?”


She looked at him. His features were earnest. As though he was handing her a coupon
that would entitle her to a huge savings on her next purchase.


“That maybe you’re putting yourself out there–date wise–for you?”

 

He started down the stairs. There was that rustling again, some kind of anger itching to get out from inside her chest. She felt an overwhelming impulse to criticize his weight. His bulky coral sweater of the type
grown men haven’t worn in years. His arm hair.


She had an urge to yell down the stairwell, but then, in the very next second, something
flashed in her mind: that the impulse to criticize was one that her mother would have had. That
saying–the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree–invaded her mind and she found herself
connecting the dots. The ones between her mother’s behavior and her own. She steadied herself
on the wooden railing, put her head down and took a couple of deep breaths.


She went back into her orderly apartment, closed the door and went into the kitchen. She
filled her coffee maker with water. Three cups exactly.

 

As she measured four level scoops of dark

roast coffee into the filter, she wondered whether or not Hal was going to call for a second date.
But getting another date might not be the important part. Maybe her wanting a second date–for
the first time in her life–maybe that was the important part.

the poet's disease 

scott levy

 

You gotta get noticed somewhere. That was Ben Abbler’s view. The Cup O’ Sounds
packed them in on Fridays and Saturdays. He’d been sitting in on the much more sparsely
attended Wednesday Open Mics for long enough to have earned a weekend slot. Whether this
was due to merit or persistance mattered little-as far as Ben was concerned, they amounted to the
same thing.


Ben knew himself to be no stranger to hard work. He applied his ethic to everything and
everyone. This included his mood, which was currently simmering at a medium level of pissed
off. A man of convictions, Ben believed he had earned his anger. He worked to nurture it.
Caffeine was fuel, so he held up his cup for a refill. Lump, the bartender/barista, whose
appearance and attitude warranted his nickname, appeared on cue to pour.


“What are you putting in their drinks, Lump?” Ben asked in a tone he believed to
represent the same passion that infused his songs.

 

A potion that turns cheapskates into bigger cheapskates.” Even Lump’s voice was craggy.
“Man, I poured out my heart and soul to these morons,” Ben added, moved by the artistic
merit of the words he spoke. “And nothing happened. No applause, no recognition of power.
Zero, zip, zilch. And the place is packed for Chrissakes!”


“You need a better heart and soul,” Lump cragged, his dry voice rendering the air around
his cough drop-laced breath brittle enough to crack. He exited Ben’s presence, in pursuit of any
customer in the joint who would defy the odds and consider tipping.


Ben sipped the tepid java, hoping the slurp of liquid would partially drown out the quacks
and bleats emanating from the stage on the opposite end of the crowded room. The headliner was
up there, spewing his nonsense, his scrawny arm hammering the same simplistic three chords.
Could this looney’s trembling fingers even form a minor seventh? Could they fathom an
extended ninth? Did anything beyond a one, four, five interval ever enter the orbit of his ken?
Box Car. That was what he called himself. That was who the Saturday night crowds
cheered for. That scrawny mutt with the face of an old shoe and the voice of a movie prospector
gargling rotgut.


From the first time he’d heard this excuse for a performer, on one of the rare Wednesdays
this ragged pretender had deigned to smell up the joint with his presence, Ben had cast Box Car
in the role of nemesis.


One of said nemesis’cheering minions took a seat near Ben at the bar, a young attractive
woman carrying a guitar case.


“You about to do a set?” Regardless of her misguided adoration, Ben chose to strike up a
conversation. He knew that if he could win her affections, it would help undo some of the
damage done by the Philistinic response the room had yawned in his direction.
“I was hoping to grab a spot, but I don’t see how I could possibly follow him.”


Ben swallowed his disgust, and continued. She was pretty, in spite of an intensity in her
eyes that he found off-putting. He told himself to focus on the overall package.
“He sings gobbledygook. Songs need to be about something. Pain. Suffering. The blues.”

“Those are all in there. He just isn’t obvious and overly earnest.”


“Ah anyway, where are my manners? My name’s Ben.”


“Cheryl.”


“You should come by more often, Cheryl, and learn from a real pro. Learn the difference
between hard work and insanity. Come around earlier and you can hear my stuff.”


“I already did.” She looked around the space, seeing, as did Ben, as Box Car finished his
set, that more seats around the little venue were starting to open up as the deluded admirers of
the undeserving-headliner-nut-case, began to vacate. “Good luck with that whole hard work
thing.”


And with that, she moved on. Ben closed his eyes in frustration.


“Damn.”


He opened them to see his shaky nemesis standing next to him, flagging down Lump, who
approached with his usual lack of anything resembling enthusiasm.


“Singing is no work for the thirsty,” Box Car proclaimed.


“You bring money this time?” The weary bartender asked.


Box Car’s trembling hands managed to reach into his pocket and dump a mound of
clanging coins on the bar’s surface.


“I mugged a gumball machine.”


“You expect me to count that?”


“It’s either that, or trust me.”


“I’ll compromise and do neither,” Lump growled, as he swept the cash into an empty mug.
With the speed of a grizzled gun slinger, he deposited a bottle of beer and another empty mug on
the counter.


“Bless your pouring hands,” Box Car said. “The universal overseer of suds steers your
soul.”


Ben’s eyes rolled so far upward he could practically see his own brain.
“There’s your problem,” Lump said, his arid voice pointed Ben-ward. “You ain’t crazy.
Just bad.” His hasty exit punctuated the put down. Ben nearly shouted a righteous defense of his craft, but was preemptively interrupted.


“He-he-he’s wrongly wrong, though,” Box Car sputtered. “It is not the tortured mind that
sings the song. It is the equations.”


Ben took in the little man beset with tremors, wondering, for the umpteenth time, how he
even managed to play his rudimentary chord changes, so beset was he with the rumbling
affliction.


“Equations? There you go again, making no sense. Just like your songs. Utter lunacy. I tell
people what is.”


“You tell people what you think is. But you didn’t add up the numbers right. You, you,
you, you are a mediocrity merchant. Never learned the math.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?”


Box Car’s twitches and quivers were intensifying-yet the twerp was still able to reach into
his jacket pocket and remove a vial of pills. He swallowed one, followed by a sip of beer.
“What the hell is wrong with me, you ask? The poet’s disease. The pills treat it, but can’t
cure it.”


Box Car suddenly ceased shaking. He smiled.
“But you see good sir, it’s not even my lyrical condition that fuels the fire. It’s something simpler. Math. Crazy is just a detail.” His now still hand reached into another of his battered jacket’s pockets, removing a wad of pages.


“See these? Best songs I ever wrote. They work because the math works. Anyone can
learn it, but so few who know it are willing to share. But I don’t mind doing so. I hate people to
toil needlessly. I’d just as soon everyone relaxed.”


“Relaxation is for cowards.”


“You should try it some time. It does wonders for the asshole." Ben stewed for a moment, on the cusp of either throttling the usurper of good time slots, or hearing him out. He chose the latter-congratulating himself on his maturity.


“So, not that I believe it,” he said, wondering if that was actually the case, “but just how
does this so-called math work?”


“I’ll explain, I will, just gotta get my head aligned.” To Ben’s annoyance, Box Car’s tremors appeared to be returning.


“Isn’t the pill working?”


“They’re not exactly predictable. Add my head to the mix, and you have a volatile
cocktail.”


“Just explain how to do it. How hard can that be?” Ben was surprised by how much
wanted Box-head to continue. Perhaps, he thought, this math thing was like learning a new
chord. Or something like that.


“With a clear head it’s, it’s, it’s as simple as soup. But when I start to rattle, oooh boy!”


“Can’t you take another pill?”


“If they worked that way, they wouldn’t work at all. Too soon on, on, on the take-age,
and there are what is known as side effects.”


The little man’s quaking escalated. Ben prided himself on patience. It was how he had
learned to play guitar so well. It was how he studied and analyzed the various aspects of his
craft. It was why he was so skilled. But patience had limits.

 

His initial curiosity escalated to certainty. Box Car wasn’t a genius, he couldn’t be, but maybe there was a non-genius reason why he was the one getting the applause. The fire to move forward reached inferno level. With
the muscle memory of a well placed chord, his body charged, his fingers grabbed. He held Box
Car by the lapels of his battered excuse for a jacket and shook him with the force of ambitious
passion.


“Give me the goddamned math. I need something out of this. I work. I did everything I
was supposed to do. I know what pushes people’s buttons. Justice. Outrage. Compassion. I’ve
been a good student, now I want the rewards. Applause, women, respect. People don’t know
how to listen. But I will make them listen, and if you have that last ingredient, that one little
extra thing I gotta have, pony it up. Give it to me, like you said you would!”


He released the freak, who faced him with a weird expression on his face. If Ben hadn’t
known better, he would have sworn that it was dignity.


“I shake enough on my own. I don’t need any help from you. Now my bladder has lost its
patience.”


As he watched the weirdo stagger in the direction of the men’s room, he opened his hand,
revealing the fruit of his pick pocketed harvest. Box Car’s vial of pills.
Time to hasten the delivery of needed information. Ben opened the container and plopped
a pill into the partially consumed beer the afflicted poet had left on the counter. But would that

do the job? The one he had just ingested proved unsatisfactory. A second was quickly added to
the brew.


Satisfied, he looked in the direction of the bathrooms, awaiting imminent math tutor.
That’s when he spotted the pair of too-intense eyes, and the woman to whom they belonged.
Cheryl hadn’t left the joint. She had simply moved. Probably to get away from him. He saw her,
sitting at a table, sipping her coffee, alone and content.


He felt the justifiable rage rekindling within his belly.
He dumped the remaining pills into the beer. To hell with side effects. He was damn well
going to get that math. Ben quickly returned to his seat as Box Car returned to the bar.


“A good pee is almost as nice as a full belly, but not nearly as fine as even a fair lay.” And
with that, he took a sip. “Ah,” he said, savoring it in what felt to Ben as extreme slow motion.


“You need to learn to drink like a man,” Ben replied. Fueled by worthy artistic aspiration,
he dove for the object of his numeric education, and shoved the mug to his lips, forcing the
contents down his throat.


“Now, tell me the damn math!” Box Car’s eyes filled with helplessness. Hopelessness. Paralysis.


“I...can’t.”


“What do you mean you can’t? You stopped shaking again. You look sort of all right.”


“I’m not sort of all right. I’m too all right.” He stared at Ben, realization entering the mix
of facial distress. “You.”


“Me?”


“You did this, you greedy bastard. All you needed to do was wait. Too late now. If there’s
a hell, you’ll be in it. If there isn’t, you’re already in it.” And with that, he went completely still.


“Hey. Hey! Hey!” Ben felt for a pulse. Listened for a breath.


Nothing.


“Oh shit, oh shit. Oh no. Shit, shit, shit!” He looked around the room. It was even emptier now than before. Lump was engaged in service, his countenance as sour as ever. Cheryl sat, oblivious, focused on some inner smugness. No one else seemed to be paying the area around the bar any attention.
Ben placed Box Car’s arm over his own shoulder, hoping to create the appearance of a
friend supporting a drunk. He dragged the body out the door, into the alley. His breath was already slowing. He was adjusting. He could live with this. All would be well.


Hard work took many forms, he realized. Learning to play guitar. Learning to sing.
Playing gigs. Putting the body of an indigent in a dumpster. Taking from that body pages that
no longer benefited their former owner.


He sat near the bar. No one noticed him. He was accustomed to such indifference. But he
knew that was soon to change, and change for the better. He had the songs now. He would
present them properly. Anonymity would dissipate. Might as well bask in its final days.
Cheryl, the girl with the too intense eyes, was in conversation with the perpetually
jaundiced Lump.

“Thanks for the refill.”


“I never say no to the only person who tips.”


“Sorry people are so inconsiderate.”


“Everyone here is a either a genius, or trying to be one. Me, I work for a living.”


“I guess I’m lucky that I’m not very good.”


“And lucky that you know it.”


“Still, it’s interesting to watch the struggles and vanity. In a weird way, it’s like those
barbecue pits, the ones the pigs get thrown into. Smokey and disgusting, but it sure tastes good.”


“What’s that, poetry?”


“Would you be moved if it was?”


“Nothing moves me. But feel free to save me a mouthful of pig.”


He walked away, to clear some mugs from the now mostly empty tables. Ben, still unseen,
felt the need to change that status.


“I’ve heard better metaphors. Don’t flatter yourself.” Her body jolted. He smiled at his capacity to startle, knowing more of that was soon to come.


“Rudeness doesn’t compensate for mediocrity,” she said, in a tone of voice that matched
those off-putting eyes.


“It’s a dark night. As dark as I’ve ever seen. But the sun will rise tomorrow, brighter than
ever. You can bet your life on that.”


“Are those some new song lyrics?”


“I have the songs now. I did what I needed to get them. That’s the difference between the
lazy and the strong.”

“This is getting creepy.”


“Once you’ve paid your dues, you’ll have a different perspective.”


“I don’t want to pay whatever your brand of dues may be. I want to enjoy my life.” She
stood, haughty as ever, and walked quickly away, which was fine by Ben. There would be
plenty more where she came from.


“Fine. Leave. It’s not everyone who can stand to look determination in the face.”
At first, he failed to notice the tremble in his hands.


“If you’re gonna judge me, you’d better be ready for a fight.” The shaking escalated. He chalked it up to righteous anger.


“The gold is mine now. No math lessons, but the gold, gold, gold, is h-h-h-here!” He removed the papers he lifted from the death-filled jacket belonging to Box Car. The paroxysm of motion that now invaded all his limbs increased in velocity.


“I mined it! I earn-earn-earned it! Respect me! Re-re-re…” He became a helpless spectator to the chaotic motion. In violation of his will, his earth-quaking hands ripped the pages to shreds. No, was the word he attempted to scream. But zero sound escaped his open mouth. It formed a silent O that seemed large enough to swallow
the entire world, as if to choke on it.

Different frequencies

scott levy

 

Eddie got through the break without breaking down. Barely.


“For eight years, I have been with you, trying to make each week night less lonely. Music
has always united us. The marketplace now divides us. The owners have stated that changing
trends go against what we do. We are told that listeners have new places to take their ears. Radio,
the medium I have devoted my life to, is disappearing. I say this with great sadness. Starting
tomorrow morning, our signal will go silent. Just know that it has been an honor and a pleasure
to share my voice with you. Farewell, loyal listeners. This is Eddie Basko, signing off.”


The final record of his career commenced its spin. It was, appropriately enough, a blues
song. Six stations, six cities, twenty years-these were the numbers summing up Eddie’s life as a
d.j. He now added a new digit to the list: Zero. This summed up his existing job prospects.
With no place to go, and plenty of time to get there, he took a walk through the park. The
sunny weather was at odds with his mood. His goal was to be affected by the atmospheric shine.
This was achieved, but it in the opposite desired direction. Eddie’s thoughts darkened in direct
proportion to the brightness of the sky.


The park was particularly crowded, the pleasant climate drawing a wide array of people.
The sounds they made were the typical background noises to be found in such a relaxed
environment, which suited him. When contemplating a future that felt to be devoid of options, it
was best to not be distracted by sound. Given the recent silencing of his career, this seemed
fitting. Then his ears were attacked by shattering volume.


“NO, HONEY! YOU MUST BEHAVE! IT’S ALWAYS IMPORTANT TO BEHAVE!
YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR FATHER WOULD SAY!”


He turned in the direction of the aural assault. A woman was on her knees speaking to a
child of no more than five years old. Despite the overwhelming decibels ringing in his head, the
young mother’s posture belied the sort of tension usually associated with a scream. Her mouth
was barely open, as if to produce a mere whisper.


Eddie found this disparity to be so disorienting, it took him a moment to notice the
woman’s black eye. Before he had the chance to reflect on this, another voice blasted into his head.


“SORRY IF MY SKIN COLOR TERRIFIES YOU, MAN! SITTING IN THE PARK
MINDIN’ MY OWN BUSINESS DOESN’T MAKE ME A MUGGER!”


Eddie looked toward the source of the sound. A slim young man, probably a teenager, sat
on a bench, his head cast downward, his lips moving as if to form nothing louder than a mutter.
A middle aged man was quickly walking past the youth, his head intermittently turned in the
young man’s direction.


‘I’M NOT A WHORE, DAD! THE GUY WHO DID THIS LIED, THEN HE LEFT ME
ALONE TO DEAL WITH IT!”


Eddie saw a pregnant woman on her phone. Once again, her physicality suggested
someone speaking quietly.


The voices, complete with unbearable volume, continued to come at him with such force,
he started to believe he would not make it out of the park alive.


“I’M HUNGRY AND HOMELESS! ANY AMOUNT WOULD BE APPRECIATED!”


The man sitting on the ground before him, dressed in layers of clothing despite the warm
weather, was barely moving his lips. Desperate to quiet the cacophony, Eddie reached into his
wallet and gave him a five dollar bill.


“Thank you very much, sir.” The response arrived at a normal level.
After inviting him to join him at the diner, Eddie’s treat, the recently retired disc jockey
told the homeless man to keep the five bucks. As they were leaving the park, the high intensity volume of human sound abated. In the restaurant, he learned that the man’s name was Arnold Watson, and that he was once a claims adjuster for a large insurance company.


“Once I started hearing voices, it all started to go downhill,” Arnold explained. “I got
sicker, lost my job, family, and home. I’m still plagued. It helps when I can get my meds. But
that’s pretty hit and miss. Sometimes the best I can do is panhandle.”


Arnold’s story was often tough to hear, but Eddie continued to listen.

That evening, at home alone, Eddie postponed thinking about his next career move. He
still loved music. He would always love music. He decided to put on a vinyl record. Eddie
preferred the analogue recording to the more sterile, digital method that had long since become
the industry standard. He favored the imperfections and the feeling of presence. He liked having
the impression of being in the room where it was being recorded.

 

Much like his conversation  with Arnold Watson, pain and truth came through more readily when stripped of polish and pretense. He placed the flat, black disc on the turntable and closed his eyes as the first tune played. It was, appropriately enough, a blues song.

the cuckoo clock

sarah hinkes

 

The phone rang at exactly 8:05am in the morning. Greg rolled over on his side fearful of
who would be on the other line. He had been through this time and time again. There was in fact
so much one could do before it was time to cut the cord. He laid on his back, eyes wide awake
listening to the sound of the ringer play a lyric from his now least favorite song. This is now,
the beginning, and now together, this is the end
. As the ringer slowed to a muted fate, Greg
looked about his room and took in the array of clothes, glass, broken clock, and the usual debacle
that “she” would usually leave in her path as she departed.


In less than an hour he would have to resume his other life. As he walked around the
glass, careful to not cut his toes yet again, he closed his eyes for just a moment to transport
himself back, way back to just before “she” came into his life. He notes with a sigh that the man
he once was, happened to be smiling in the memory. Carefree, relaxed, usually curled up on an
old worn chair with his notebook scribbling feverously about a dream or illusion that captured
his spirit just hours before. As Greg picked up the old weathered clock, the cuckoo torn between
saying hello or choosing to hide within the recesses of the wiring. Frowning, Greg knew what it
felt like to feel that pull of in between the abyss of dismal to nothing.


As the clock chimed a broken nine o’clock, Greg headed out of his trailer and into his old
beat up truck, petting his dog Rusty on his way. Driving down the long windy road giving way to
meadows of corn fields and pastures, for anyone else this would appear peaceful. For Greg all
he could see was “her” walking along hand in hand, laughing at some silly comment he made, or
a joke he told that he knew wasn’t very funny, but she couldn’t care less as she smiled and his
heart would melt at the sound of her voice. For all she cared, he could tell her how he fell in
something wet, and the something, well one could use their imagination he would chuckle.
“Greg darling, you are the funniest, kindest, most generous man, in all the world, and I am the
luckiest girl to be with you”. Not allowing himself to be lost in the moment, Greg turned into the
parking lot of his once favorite landmark and where he lived so many years happy and scribbling
his fantasy of “her”.


He walked with purpose to the front door of the old aching monstrosity laid out before
him. He pushed with now it seems these days all his might as the great heavy door heaved
slightly open, revealing an old mildew smell that he had just remembered cleaning hours before.
His eyes adjusted to the light as the reflection bounced off thousands of charms on the crystal
chandelier that hung in the foyer of the great room. “She” had names for it would seem,
everything in life that was inanimate to most, but to her she found a beating heart and therefore
would name the lost soul to make it feel as if it had a home. His car the old pick up that spent
years traveling with them to and fro that destination and the next was simply “Rocket” to “her” it
was named aptly and there it remained.


Pausing in the wake of his memory once lost to him, he sat down in an old arm chair to
rest his tired eyes. If he concentrated just enough he could feel “her” finger tips running through
his now thinning, gray hair. He knew there wasn’t a ghost around but to Greg “her” had found a

way to live on through him and would be waiting for him when he was ready to find the courage
to leave. Just now his eyes blinked rapidly and he began to focus, he could hear voices near
distance. That didn’t seem right, no one would be here but him and the sacred memory of “her”.
“Greg it’s time for your medication now, don’t forget story hour is starting in a few”. A large
burly woman in a white coat held out a small paper cup with three pills for him to swallow.
Greg took a moment to take in the woman’s name tag that read Marty, her shoulders were
as broad as a linebacker, he swore he could make out a mustache over her glibly shaped lips.
Greg could feel a panic rise to his chest, he looked around and was surprised to see that he
wasn’t in the great room with “her”. He walked hurriedly to the window to look for “Rocket”
and she was nowhere to be found. Marty was following him at a very slow, measured pace, she
seemed like it was her life’s mission to watch him.

 

“I don’t understand, I was just in our home, I was snoozing in my chair and 'she' was there with me running her hands through my hair”.


“Now, now Gregory it’s fine, just fine, you have been reading too many books again and getting
ideas about a life that you have never lived.”

 

“NO, I don’t understand, I want my chair, I want my clock, I want my-" Suddenly his head felt woozy, he could feel a deep spell being cast upon him, he felt Marty take him by the hand and slowing drag him, saying it was time to get some sleep. That all his books and memories would be waiting for him in the morning.

 

“What about story hour?” he heard himself mumble.

“Gregory, you tell the same story every day, but you don’t realize that you are in here because you couldn’t let her love another. You have paid the ultimate price to love and now you must be a burden to us and yourself. Let’s go Gregory, the library isn’t going anywhere, it’s the only place that gives you and the other doctors and nurses just a few hours of peace and quiet."

 

With those final words, Greg felt his eye lids drooping to a close, his memory a black hole and the words of the pages he had written fall away to the darkness that enveloped his soul as he slipped into a dark coma hoping to erase the memory of “her” in the library of their home with the old cuck coo clock and shards of broken glass. That song’s lyric was the last words she heard as his hands penetrated her neck and she stepped into a light and away from his endless and timeless love forever.

One night with him

sarah hinkes

 

He wakes up daily around noon, takes a pull from his one hitter and calls out to Fenway.
Never one to make his bed or pick up his clothes, there is a maid for that.


He pulls on a jersey usually sporting a Chicago team label, Cubs, Bears or Hawks. Been to
experience about every Boston team game thus far, but can’t find a way to part with his home
grown boyish roots. He pops in the toaster a couple of slices, and finishes whatever stale beer is
left from the early morning hours before.

 

Fenway is getting restless and begins to prance back and forth from the couch to the front door in anticipation of the 30 minutes she will spend with her guy. Toast in hand, water to replace the beer, he calls out to whoever stayed the night that he would be back in 30.

 

If she makes it past date number 3, she is invited on a walk with Fenway. He loves movies, has a collection easily over a thousand and still growing. Favorites, well that’s simple, always Good Fellas, God Father Trilogy, and Star Wars. His musical interest range from anything country to rock and roll, missing his days when he could have been someone in his highschool band he jokes. His sense of style is nothing short of hip hugging jeans faded to black,tight fitted t-shirts just enough to show off the slender muscular design of his body, and thesleeves rolled up enough to reveal the arm length tattoo over his right forearm of his family crest.

His hair often a cross between a soft caramel, although these days a bit of wispy gray is peaking
through. More hair products than any guy should have the right to own, but each one has its own
specific use. Shoes, always a low cut black leather cowboy boot, cut just under the jean cuff, a
thick belted line across the foot peaks through. He wears boxers, or nothing at all.
Days when the New England weather is full of surprise, his leather jacket always available on
the back seat of his Jeep Wrangler.

An array of keys clipped on his jeans pocket to be tossed in the register at work for later.
Cash guy, doesn’t own a wallet or care too. Another one hitter/cigs stashed in his glove box in
case the evening’s atmosphere lends for a calm before the storm. He stops off at the gas station
down the block, purchases a new pack of Camels, and two Naked Juices, sometimes Red
Machine, other times Mango. Knows the gas attendant by name, they exchange a quick word or
two about work or the weather. Back in his car, he revs up the engine and just like his Jeep is
ready for anything so is he.


Pulls into the bar parking lot, takes a look around for any litter or butts on the ground. Enters
through the back door and salutes the door guy/host that night. Slides behind the bar, putting his
keys in the drawer of his register and slaps the girl who he is there to relieve, playfully on the
ass. She lets’ out a squeal, and you can just tell she wishes for more.


It’s Friday night, the bar is packed, the usual variety of young thirty something females have
staked their claim front row in anticipation of their favorite bartender and his cocktail magic. Not
missing a beat, Josh starts to shake up colorful potions that leave the mouth hungering for more.
If looks could kill, well in this case he has mastered Marshall Arts and has a couple of black belts
under him. At six foot two, lean, stealth and that smile that melts any heart strides over to take
your order. His favorite expression of all time is “come on now, don’t be shy, what is your
pretty heart’s desire?”

 

Then he sits back, flashing those intense baby blues, and watches as his victim of the moment stumbles something about not too dirty but well just as sweet, so next moment into a jigger he throws Absolute Vodka, Jalapenos, olive juice and a touch of Elderflower. Walks back over. 

“Here sweetheart, this is the Hot and Dirty named after you.”  twelve dollar drink in price, is handed a twenty, she bats her eye lashes, and tells him to keep the change.

 

“Thank you madam, be sure to come again”. And she does, every Friday night for the past three years.

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