Oweanka

“Not yooouuu!”

My daughter Kathryn sat on the toilet, her face red with frustration. She had been yelling “Mama” at the top of her lungs, but Mama hadn’t come. Papa had come instead, and this wasn’t acceptable to her 3-year-old mind. She tottered on the edge of the toilet, her pink cotton dress pulled up, her short hair encircling her miserable face. I knew I would get nowhere with her–she is not to be reasoned with in such a mood–and I left to get her mother. Continue reading Oweanka

The Interpreter

They were back in the generously air-conditioned boardroom. It was a warm, sunny day outside, but all of the curtains were shut tight. She thought about the layer of air between the curtains and the windows. When there was a break she would go to the crack in the curtains, open it up and bask in the accumulated warmth. Continue reading The Interpreter

Cyrano of Burlington MA

Scene 1

A dingy motel room. Through the window, a sign reads in yellow and blue “The Full Moon Motel.” Below that, the red neon word “vacancy.” It blinks on and off every five seconds. Cyrano sits at a desk by the window. His coat hangs on a hook by the door opposite. He writes a letter with a quill pen and dips, writes, and blots with assiduous energy. He lifts his eyes occasionally to collect his thoughts. When he does this, one of two things happen. If he lifts his head when the vacancy sign is lit he returns its stare blankly with a vague memory of the fall of modern man and his solitary integrity. If the sign is not lit, the flat black night and the desk lamp allow him to see his own reflection in the window. He speaks as he writes.

CYRANO: My dear Roxane. [sees sign] I trust that you recall Tuesday’s spectacle. I can only say of it that human vanity knows no bounds. You sat above the crowd, and I was deeply moved by the glow of your hair, your robust autumnal cheeks, by every feature in perfect composition. I swore that I saw love in your eyes and I swore that it was for me. [sees reflection] But surely there was vanity in that, for you loved the spectacle and not the man, not such a man as me certainly, who looked the fool that night [sees sign] was made to look the fool, rather, by that man, that pompous ass (pardon my french) who all knew was in the wrong.

(He pauses, blots, rereads, crumples and, in one swift motion, opens the window, throws out the paper, and slams the window shut.)

Continue reading Cyrano of Burlington MA

The Summit

We stopped on a face of sheer rock overlooking the valley. The late fall foliage scorched the base of Mount Monadnock, and a mist filled the gaps. A storm was coming, and the wind was beginning to show its teeth. It would be bitter cold at the top. We sat down to eat our lunch before continuing up, my father and I. Continue reading The Summit

Talking

ANNA: Just keep talking.

DAVE: I can’t think of anything else to say.

ANNA: Talk about anything. Talk about the house you grew up in.

DAVE: Okay … well … we had high ceilings and a black metal fireplace.

ANNA: Uh huh.

DAVE: My dad put it in himself. It didn’t have a mantle, so we hung the Christmas stockings on a console stereo that had three handles on the front, one for each kid… We had a cat named Balthazar–Czar for short. Big cat. Black and white… I wonder if he was really big or I was just really small…

ANNA: Shhhh.

DAVE: Our dog was named Ginger. I remember the day I came home and my mom was crying because it was the day Ginger got too old and had to be put to sleep.

ANNA: Shhh!

DAVE: What?

ANNA: Do you hear water running?

DAVE: No… Mmmm-maybe… No…

ANNA: It could be an underground spring. We should find it. Get up.

DAVE: I am up. I never sat down. Here, put out your hand. Are you sure you hear something?

ANNA: This way. It’s too narrow to hold hands. Try not to bump your head.

DAVE: I don’t hear anything.

ANNA: This way.

DAVE: My best friend and I played ‘Johns’ in the back yard. Why was it called ‘Johns,’ you ask? Because John was the coolest name and so we both got to be called John, and we were tough guys who could do anything…

ANNA: I think this is a passageway.

DAVE: If the Johns were stuck in a cave, you can bet they would find their way out. They would just punch their way out or something.

ANNA: Oh shit! Oh shit… Ow ow ow…

DAVE: What is it?

ANNA: I twisted my fucking ankle.

DAVE: Oh, lord. Well, sit down.

ANNA: You’re right, it’s hopeless. It’s hopeless! … Nice echo.

DAVE: That’s the spirit.

ANNA: Okay, talk about your childhood some more.

DAVE:

ANNA: Come on, what else did you and your best friend do.

DAVE: God, I’m so sorry about this.

ANNA: I know, I know. … Look, I’ve had a great life, even if it ends now. I got to move to America. I got to fall in love. When I was a kid, both of those things seemed impossible… And now I get to die. That’s something else I never thought would happen, somehow. It’s an adventure, isn’t it?

DAVE: Are you serious?

ANNA: Well, sure! We get to meet God!

DAVE: You know I don’t believe in God.

ANNA: That’s the beauty of it! If he exists, you get to meet him whether you believe in him or not. You get to find out. Where’s your scientific curiosity?

DAVE: Maybe I’m going to hell.

ANNA: You don’t go to hell just for not believing.

DAVE: Says who?

ANNA: Says me.

DAVE: Or maybe we just die.

ANNA: Agh! You’re really depressing sometimes, you know?

DAVE:

ANNA:

DAVE: Can you talk about what you did as a kid now?

ANNA: Okay, yeah… I went to the Black Sea every summer. I had allergies, terrible allergies, and the doctor told my mother to get me out of the city. We weren’t rich. My grandmother rented a room in a shack in a village close to the sea. I helped in the garden. We grew cucumbers for pickling…

DAVE: Do you think we would have liked each other if we had met as children? What if in some alternate universe we lived in the same country, the same town, the same street.

ANNA: I would have thought you were cute.

DAVE: I would have thought you were cute too. I’ve seen pictures.

ANNA: What did you like to do most when you were a kid?

DAVE: I rode my bike around. I rode it everywhere–a Huffy with a long black seat.

ANNA: I never rode a bike when I was a kid. I was afraid of them. Still am.

DAVE: Where was your favorite place to be?

ANNA: By the Black Sea, dropping rocks in the water.

DAVE: We had a lake, a reservoir, near our house. I rode my bike there and dropped rocks in.

ANNA: That’s where we would have met!

DAVE: Yeah. I can see us there, dropping rocks, drawing pictures in the sand, inventing games out of nothing, capturing bugs, wanting to hold hands but being shy. You’d hand me a stone you’d think was pretty, and I’d make it shiny in the water and rub it on my shirt. I’d look hard for one to give you. We’d stay there by the water until it was too late, and our parents would begin to wonder where we were. The crickets chirping, the air growing chill, our stomachs beginning to grumble. Not wanting to be called home. Not yet.

ANNA:

DAVE:

ANNA: Just keep talking.

All the Lights Off

Their bare feet thudded on the wooden floor. He struck a match and lit the candles on either side of the stereo cabinet. He blew out the match and held it’s carcass in front of him, waiting for the red coals to turn to black before dropping it in the waste basket.

“Why did you light the candles?” she asked.

“I like the way they make the room look. I like the way they make you look. I like the way they make me look.” His hand released a giggle in her, but she turned away. She looked at a picture on the wall, transformed also by the light of the candles.

He returned to the stereo cabinet and put on a compact disk: New Orleans style jazz music. He turned it down a little.

“Why did you put the music on?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered, but smiled at her. They fell back on the bed.

She listened to the jazz music and thought about the candles. They were props, and she was the third prop. And he was the fourth. The room itself was a prop, and the bed. She dug her elbow into the bed. She reached around him to grasp the comforter and squeeze hard. She imagined a little being way inside her who was cataloging all these props and looking on with detached amazement at the way they interacted. The light from the candles touched the wall, which also reflected the trombone sounds coming from the speakers. The bed creaked. At the center were the two human bodies, with their various limbs, their nervous systems. They were trying to fit together. Trying and failing and trying again and succeeding. The candles flickered. The CD skipped. He fell off the bed and onto the floor with a thud and a knock.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

“I’m all right,” he said. He lay on the floor for a few seconds without moving. Then she saw his hand reach up. She grabbed it and kissed it.

Goodnight Pond

The tadpoles were in bed and Mike sat on his favorite lily pad looking up at the moon.

“Croak.”

He enjoyed that time of day.

George glided over. He liked to skirt the edge of the pond looking for snails. A tuft of weeds jerked up and down in his beak as he chewed. George was a duck.

“Hi, Mike.”

George didn’t care for frogs, as food, and so they could be friends. Continue reading Goodnight Pond

Cheaters

“Let me tell you a story.”

The girl stared at the ceiling, and as her father sat on the edge of the bed she scooted back to keep her distance. She sighed meaningfully while her father began talking.

“When I was in high school they had a big Trivial Pursuit contest out on the quad.” The girl had never played the game, and probably didn’t know what a quad was, but she didn’t ask for clarification so her father pressed on. “We had a pretty good team. We were all honors students. Continue reading Cheaters

X-Ray Vision

David was nearsighted.  At the age of twelve he received his first pair of glasses. He carried them in a case in his backpack, and when the teacher wrote something on the chalkboard, he retrieved them discreetly and placed them on the bridge of his nose.  If possible, while taking notes, he kept his left hand on his glasses in order to take them off as soon as the teacher stopped writing on the board.  He hated his glasses. Continue reading X-Ray Vision