Posts Tagged ‘ Bukowski ’

Three Poems

The dream to come up with original content for this blog continues.

I swear.

It’s just hard to find the motivation to do so. It seems like most of my essays head over to Drunken Monkeys. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to come up with something anyway.

I can’t complain though. I’m not that negative. I’ve been traveling more, and through that, and the long line of weirdoes I’ve met along the way, I’ve actually been eager to write lately. My resolve to sell that second novel is back in fighting shape, and I’m even starting to think of how to expand a novella I wrote a while back into a third novel.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly fruitful. It’s been a long, long while since I felt the drunkenness that comes with having more images and ideas than I know what to do with (Old Crow helps with that drunkenness, but it also kills the whole spiritual high thing I was going for a moment ago). I’ve tried to nail down a few in two of the poems I’m tossing into this post, but I know that it’s going to be the kind of thing where I lose twenty such visuals for every couple I manage to lock away.

That’s okay, and the reason why that’s okay is because it’s not going to be the last time I get to knock around a small piece of the world like this.

**********
Hot, Moonless Nights Abroad
By Gabriel Ricard

Abel came back to life on a Tuesday morning,
but Cain had already been back for years,
and everyone had always liked him more anyway.

He wrote great poetry about dysfunction,
and could ride a bicycle down any hill in San Francisco
with his eyes closed, arms out and heart way wide open.

When you risk your life like that,
every day is the last day of summer,
and when it’s gone,
when your nerve leaves you with the bill
you’re never going to get it back.

What the hell was Cain to do?
He moved to New Albany,
gained two hundred pounds
and got a job at the post office.

It was never his plan to come back and cause trouble,
or tell anyone anything they weren’t going to believe anyway.

He turned bitter in a hurry. He became quiet about it, too.
That kind of thing can happen to anybody
with unrealistic expectations of what’s waiting for them at home.

What really killed him,
and this weirdo knew a lot about dying,
was how quickly you could get bored
with a town of less than ten thousand.

Right, right, right,
yeah, yeah, yeah,
fine.

The Kindergarten teacher was a burlesque dancer
with a missing leg. You almost always wound up
with either a dead body or a bag of phony diamonds
when you bought a used car. The local chemical engineer
wore his wife’s clothes, and stopped people
from committing crimes they hadn’t even thought of yet.

One man had seen “True Grit” so many times
that he could look at it fourteen different ways.

Some of those involved pretty far-out stretches of the imagination.

Some writer also just happened to be born there
as he was making his way to the little-known town
of Gravedigger in Hollywood, California.

Hapless, foolish, bloated, lonely Abel
came to regret the whole drunken notion
of returning to the land of living.

He drank beer like Mary drank secrets.
He waited for fights with people
who tried to use his apartment complex’s dumpster
but didn’t actually live there.

When he finally decided that he would die
if he didn’t leave and soon,
he checked with some of his friends from the old days.

No one recognized him,
not even his voice,
so they just assumed he was a really,
really confident liar.

That just made things even worse.

**********
Until The Day of My Tenth Life
By Gabriel Ricard

The sandwich shop is called Hell’s Kitchen.
I can guess,
and I’d probably be right,
that the gentleman in camouflage
and a shirt that used to be white
has been sitting out front a long time.

If he’s blind,
if he hasn’t got a friend in this blue and red world,
and if he’s been waiting for the leaves to change,
then my heart is obliged to go out to him.

If he’s just waiting for a sandwich and a winning horse,
then I wish him the best with that, too.

Even though my dearest comrades and saviors
started out as strangers I don’t ask him for his life story.
I’ve got places I don’t want to be. Places I don’t need to be.

My heart is a Hollywood Video next to a Civil War cemetery.
Or at the very least it’s catching some sun in the hands
of a young lady. She ran away from the circus
to rest her weary eyes
in the cool hush of an unforgiving room.

I will love her until the day my tenth life is up for auction.
Love her until the ninth one feels shiny and new to the touch.
Hold her until everything catches up to me.
Because a quick cut can hear me trying to breathe properly for miles.

Savages will be waiting for me in the future,
and I know they will be savages when the future becomes defunct,
and I have a whole new set of rules,
that will not reveal themselves to me
until long after the ambulance forgets to pick me up.

You pay a lot of people,
leave a lot of heirlooms on a lot of doorsteps,
I guess, I think, I suppose,
if you want to be as happy as the person
you’re cheering up in spite of your downtown health.

I didn’t ask the man outside Hell’s Kitchen for his story.
He didn’t ask me for mine.

We didn’t even exchange a nod,
but if we had made eye contact
I think we would have.

It’s not about making a lifelong connection.
It’s about finding people you know,
and I mean know,
you’re going to see standing nearby
when your private worlds simultaneously collapse.

I’m amazed at how many of us
are members in good standing of that philosophy.

**********
Everybody’s A Drug Addict
By Gabriel Ricard

It took twenty-four years to reach out
and press my palms against the building.

There was no story there.
The memories of the brave and cynical
did not rush from the cracks to greet my tired blood.

And I waited, too. Believe me.

I might as well have been hanging around
for some easy money and one of those cowboys
who sings, but probably shouldn’t.

It wasn’t a disaster though. I didn’t cry,
or miss the bus at 35th and 5th on purpose.

I just reached out to shake hands
with those who live in the details of the shadows,
and are damn near stalking me at times.

I reached out whenever I felt the presence
of something very lost and very human
in the winds of summer. The kind of breeze
that digs deep before you can even wonder
why you’re suddenly so cold.

My youth sings on in a less-than-stellar
part of the world, and I wish all the time
that it would just shut up, go to sleep
and wake up in what I am working to make
a much more forgiving past.

This is just the kind of thing
I think about when there are more streets
around me than I know what to do with.

Bad intentions to my left.
Sobbing empires of dark clouds on up ahead.
Physical consequences of anxiety to my right.
Broken hearts and cheated livers right behind me.

What’s a young man who doesn’t actually feel young to do?
Do I play dress-up, change my name
and act that people might consider a little classier?

Do I prove that I’m smarter than at least ninety-percent
of the car crashes I’ve limped away from?

Do I learn how to at least make sense to myself?

I can’t keep visiting these old buildings,
and assuming the spark has been there
waiting for me all along.

It’s better that I act as though
I ran out of years to look forward to years ago.

Especially since it might be true,
and that one day love and travel
just won’t be enough.

Right now
I’m content
to be so good at pretending I think otherwise
that you might mistake it for arrogance.

Could be.
Could be that I’m just out of coffee.

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Cohorts and Collaborators (Part 1/2)

I started writing poetry around 2001, 2002. I have to credit a couple of people like that, but the biggest credit I have to give is to my longtime friend, Rhea McJames. Rhea and I go back about eleven, twelve years at this point. We’ve never actually met, but that almost doesn’t matter to me at this point. She’s one of the all-time greats. One of those people I would absolutely, completely trust with my life and health (what little of it I pay attention to).

I haven’t the faintest clue why she continues to put up with me, and her poetry is a large reason why I finally made the leap in 2001/2002 and added poetry to the rest of my writing.

A lot of things have come along to influence and mess around with my poetry since then. This includes people, places, travels, bad calls, good decisions, weird circumstances and a whole mess of things I can’t even begin to try and remember now.

There’s no question that the website Pathetic has been a pretty big influence. I joined the site in 2003, and in the years since (almost ten? When the hell did that happen?) I’ve been very, very fortunate to meet a wide range of talented, strange and relentlessly fantastic people. I couldn’t even begin to list them all, and what their work and friendships have meant to me. I won’t try. I’m instead going to focus on one of those most positive things I’ve gotten out of my time there.

Pathetic is big on collaborations. It’s not uncommon for two or even three people to get together and come up with some kind of poetic middle-ground for their respective voices. I’ve had countless chances over the years to work with some of the best writers I’ve ever known. Collaboration in poetry is always intimidating to me. I always feel the struggle to keep up with these extraordinary people. But I suppose that’s a good thing, right? I’ve learned from it, enjoyed every second of it and have never, ever felt as though it was wasted time or motion.

I’ve collaborated on dozens of poems over the last eight or so years. I have them all somewhere, but I’m not going to dig that far into the past. What I’d like to do here is focus on a few of my favorites from the past three years. I won’t get into a lengthy dialog about how I perceive my work, but I will say some of the most significant changes to my poetry have occurred over that stretch of time. A lot of that has come through the day-to-day business of my life, but I also think a lot of it has come from being able to work with such a wide range of writers. With their kind permission I’m going to share some of them with you here.

Laura Doom is usually much too smart for the likes of me, but I’ve loved her work for years, and I’ve loved that I can pitch just about any general concept to her, and have her be completely on board for it. I never know where the hell our poems are going to go, but I trust her judgment on the direction completely.

Vince Blake writes some of the best imagery I’ve ever seen. We’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we could bring a town or two to its knees, and get some great writing out of it in the bargain.

Ava Blu has a knack for the kind of honesty that makes your knees buckle. She and I have come up with some unbelievable narratives.

It has been a pleasure to see the evolution of Johnny Crimson’s work over the past several years. His poetry takes me right into the heart of the absolute, best kind of madness. He’s another one who keeps me on my toes.

Samantha Bagley doesn’t write often, but I’m grateful when she does. I wish she’d give herself a little more credit though. Her voice is considerable.

Meghan Helmich
can devastate me in just one line. She’s that good.

A few people are being left out of this entry. That’s not a slam on them. I’d like to run every collaboration I’ve ever done, because all of them have been brilliant, but I can’t. I hope they believe me (should they read this) when I say that I love them just as much.

And this may well be the longest introduction to date, so let’s stop screwing around, okay?

I could ramble forever, but you’ve probably figured that out by now. I’d say it’s better if we just get this thing off the ground.

And if you write poetry? Get your ass over to Pathetic and sign up. It’s a good place to hang up the hat.

Just watch out for romance.

And note that my stanzas are marked with a “-“

**********
In The Talons of the Nighthawks (w/ Vince Blake)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I don’t have a lot of sympathy
for the people who are too drunk
to stop dancing. The ones who are just insane
are a different story altogether.

-God knows why I’d come here
any old night of the young week
let alone Friday. This is the absolute worst
of the underground cartoon cavalcade, and there’s thousands of rooms
just like this one to have to look through.

-At best I’ll be around thirty before I’m actually ready
to face who I’m looking for.

and at worst, i’ll be wading through the same cesspools
with the rest of the late-night,
bleach-burned,
lounge-singer gestapo
until i catch their disease,
and kill myself as remedy.

but i suppose i’m selling the sin a little short,
and perhaps the merits of being this demented
might warrant more of tonight’s masochism
than i have been so far able to admit.

-Because it’s the entertainment district
you gotta watch out for. Those lounge acts are known
to carry guns, assume every woman is a whore
and wave handfuls of guns around whenever
a cell phone starts to ring.

-The slot machines take cash, wedding rings
and whichever arm you can learn to live without.

-It’s definitely not a good idea to be broke
if you’re in love or have dangerous people looking for you.

-Around here you write that story after they send you
to the morgue in a new suit.

which is not to say that the new outfit
was gonna cost anyone half as much
as the things they’d have bought for themselves
with cash snatched from your pockets
before your body hit the floor on a good night,
or any fraction of the royalty checks
they’ll be banking on that story of yours.

but legends don’t come cheap,
and around here,
they come with asterisks even then.

-They come with cups of coffee,
bad knees and stories about meeting Dean Martin
when he came of entertainment age
during the greatest heartbeats of Atlantic City’s
early days of glamour and corruption.

-I’ve been in these tunnels and rooms for years,
and I’ve carried a sinking feeling for just as long
that no one here has ever met anyone of substance.

-Unless you count acid flashbacks
and dreams that wake you up with more adrenaline
than you can take.

-I’ve got all that going for me,
and I’m pretty sure loved ones are starting to notice
when I magically come back from the dead six days
after I left with good intentions.

but although damnation ain’t exactly in short supply,
giving a damn ain’t hardly the same as “noticing.”
and that’s not even to mention the facts
that iron-clad alibis
have never once matched steel-toed boots
impression for impression,

or that our spines curve for a reason.

**********
Beneath the Oaks (w/ Johnny Crimson)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I don’t want to sound cruel,
but I’ve seen better productions of King Lear
in taxi cabs where the addicts have nothing to lose
but the words to their favorite song.

These were the digital eyelid
imprints of a ten-second release
and she keeps a counter for every
fucked faint intrusion.

-But I guess you learn to live with what
when you give children guns, cough syrup
and a list of every bloodthirsty lawyer in New Orleans.
I guess you learn to live with trading in sincere Catholic candles
for sympathetic ears under long raven hair and a lot of bad ideas.

Trading pixie sticks for blow
and squeezing whatever begs for it
under the dim neon light pouring from the church windows,
they caught an EVP of the sucking sounds and the loose change in his pocket.

-It’s not as bad as it sounds though. In the end it’s just a lot
of weird music from the glory days. You just have to keep your head down
and spend as little time as possible wondering why there’s more
fast food restaurants along the Armageddon boulevard than anywhere
else in town. Don’t stick your hands out the window when you’re best friend
gets desperate and guns the car up to a hundred and eighty.

Plead with us in the backseat
as the brain matter tickles her freckled jaw.
Let us teach you the meaning of eating your nerves.
This is the discontent of a generation,
the fever goes up and we leave the thermometer inside you.

-They take good care of you when you’re sick,
but lots of luck finding smooth hands to bless what’s left
of you when you’re too old to get to the top floor
and finally get the welcome home party you deserve.

We bathe in the unforgiving cake mix
of a hot-glue pasted surprise.
These are merely remnants of what actually happened to you,
the proof has been lost in the tides of Hunter Lake,
yet her skirt still rests atop the flagpole.
With mission complete and cigarette packs in our t-shirts
we flip leather jackets over our shoulders and whistle the walk to school.

-Sometimes there’s too many people wandering around
in bathrobes looking for their loved ones,
so I hitch the first moderately dangerous ride to come along,
use my cell phone as collateral and assume payday
will be in the mailbox by the end of the afternoon.

Shaking tiny slides in front of the light
and bending the plastic between my fingers
I remembered how flexible you once were.
What we did to you was fine and believe me the credit is shared,
but I can’t get the image of you winking me over
to your corner of the boys and girls club out of my mind.

**********
Go Ahead, Talk about Our Son
By Gabriel Ricard (w/ Laura Doom)

-Tuesday is our day of rest,
and I’ll be dammed
if we’re going to let that be ruined
by your faith,
in the notion that one person is not enough
to knock down your fears of sleeping alone.

-Why don’t you just marry the Mormons from 3H?

-Their orgies will top my winning smile
every single time.

And that would be the messianic ‘we’;
the pronoun that pronounces a smile
to frame a portrait in mime?

Did I hear that right?

I can take the myriad of stares
that shift your eyes to eulogize
the vices of love, a shimmer of blind lament
that’s wasted on the virtuous.

But if lust is the chicken that came home
to rut, then love is the egg
that scrambled my faith, and I can’t see
there’s a whole lot riding on the result.

-Well, Hell’s bells,
why didn’t you tell me from the start
that we are nothing but fantastic gestures
of kindness. Terrible motions
that trouble our friends, annoy the spirits
and guarantee we’ll be together for thirty more years.

-I think that’s what you’re trying to tell me.
I’m only half-listening,
because you’re only trying to get the skin
off my back with about half of your usual enthusiasm.

-I’ve also got the TV on,
and I really think George C. Scott
is going to run away with Diana Rigg this time.

-Sweetheart,
it’s not that I’m unhappy.
It’s just that I’d rather see us accept old age
before we actually get there.

-We’re not dramatic teenagers anymore,
and people are starting to stare.

Or maybe they’re busy shooting each other
to pay for the upgrade
from hospital to network;
staring at walls, dancing
round those fatal floors.

Meamwhile, we are gaining morals
and losing morale with every passing option
sold off to the silent majority
screaming democracy and breeding
provincial minorities that roll their eyes
at compromise.

For them it’s just business, as usual
but we can’t afford to buy time, or spend
our Mondays window-smashing. It pains me
to say it, but you are far from cost-effective
and I like to conduct my affairs
with economies of scale in mind.

-I’m cost-effective plenty,
you stupid, half-drunk, all-gorgeous,
all-kinds-of-unhinged broad
from the Island of Transferred Souls.

-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.

-Blame the old woman in 5G.
She does this non-stop Popeye impression,
and uses it to scream the headlines of the day.

-Who the hell gave her a computer?
Who the hell is even aware she’s alive?

-I ask too many questions. You don’t.

-You assume the water-tower is half-empty,
and that the cops will never figure out
what you said to make that friend of mine cry,
and drive her car right through the only florist I know,
who still has a pure heart.

-You wouldn’t know morals,
if they mounted you from behind
and sang your favorite Leonard Cohen song
in your perfect ears.

-Don’t take that the wrong way.
Sweetheart. Red-light-of-my-life.

You know, when that tongue’s not tied
it sure is spiked — I’ve had death-threats
less intimidating than your back-handed compliments.
Just because you give good tail
there’s no excuse for losing your head.

How many weeks have we been living
one year at a time?

Take it from me, I have answers
to which you’ll never find
incredible questions; the woman in 5G?
Her son stole that laptop from a pole dancer
working the Arctic 24/7 scene. He prefers
to stay out of touch that way, since
the luxury cruise off the coast
of Somalia, and her subsequent
incontinence.

It’s better this way; insomniacs sleep
on a need to be ignorant basis.

If it wasn’t for that arid humour
that has me wetting myself
before you lay a finger on me
I’d be on the next caravan to Carnal City
kicking up a desert storm.

Besides, you are the one eccentric constant
in my otherwise mundane chaos.
And who will be there for you
to take out your frustrations on
once I’m impaled on your prurient pedestal?

-Jane Russell is coming back from the dead,
and assuming Bob Mitchum isn’t right behind her,
I might just give her a ring instead.

-I kid. I love. I drink, watch and reference
the same five movies, no one under forty
cares to remember.

-Remember,
when I fed those stray cats you stole,
While you were out realizing
that women can be just as bad in bed as men?

-I think that speaks volumes,
but I’m notorious for grasping at chewed-up bendy straws,
so it’s your call
and your fantastic, low-cut wardrobe
for all apologetic occasions.

-What can I say?

-It’ll be twenty years at half-mast before long.

-You say it better than I ever could, anyway.

-I don’t mind,
because sometimes it makes me brilliant by default,
and because I firmly believe
that the gashes on the back of my head build character.

-Like shoveling snow for a bloody August dance-a-thon.

Don’s BBQ

I like this one. It’s just never found a home. That could be a question of the right story for the right home, or it could just be that the story is fundamentally terrible.

I’d prefer to lean on the first choice. My ego is a tired, half-drunk animal these days.

This was written six or seven years ago, and then edited a couple of times over the years. The source material was a diner I happened to kill about five hours in. God knows why I was trying to pass that kind of time. A good deal of my life is spent in transit, and just waiting around for the traveling show to pick me up. That can be fun, and it give me ideas like this one, but it can also be a little on the exhausting side sometimes.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything, of course. I try to keep my regrets to an absolute minimum. Anything that gets material out of it almost never leaves me feeling as though I was wasting my time, or should have done something different. That kind of thing can age you horribly if you’re not careful, but I’m a lot better at taking care of myself than people give me credit for.

There’s something safer about submitting work to magazines over just throwing it on a blog. I’m already assuming the worst, but I do remain hopeful that people will find something worthwhile in whatever I’m trying out here. That’s a good mix of self-loathing and ludicrous optimism if you ask me.

Enjoy the story. Give me some thoughts on it. I’m a sucker for those.
**********
Don’s BBQ
By Gabriel Ricard

When her nails dug into the rag so much that her thin digits were touching each other through the material, Maggie decided that it was time to stop, take a deep breath and get her shit together. This whole line of thinking was ridiculous, and she wasn’t going to let it bother her. Not today. Jerry, Elizabeth and Tom, Martin and any combination of his construction worker buddies. Everyone else. All of them were counting on her. The same way they counted on her every day. There was definitely some level of comfort that could come out of that. A need to continue as if everything was all right. Washing the same spot on the counter for the seventh time, she couldn’t help but laugh a little. Really, what would they think if they walked in and found her sobbing over something as silly as one of the coffee machines breaking down?

Most of them knew it was an ancient, shitty machine anyway. In fact, it was a miracle the other one hadn’t collapsed, too. Which meant it was still there in the first place. Coffee was still an option to anyone who might be interested. Maggie knew that it just meant she’d have to put a little more effort into making sure everyone got enough. There was nothing wrong with a little extra effort. On top of that, everyone was well aware that the two machines were in desperate need of replacement. No one would really be all that surprised to find out that one of them had finally died off. Hell, they’d probably have a great joke in mind when they heard the news. She laughed again, finally moved on to another portion of the counter.

She nodded. She felt better now. A little, anyway, but she still felt better.

The door opened quickly. As though someone was actually in a hurry. Maggie smiled. Only two people opened the door like that everyday, and Rick didn’t come in until lunchtime. She looked up from the counter, ready to turn the day around as quickly as possible. “Jerry, one of these days, you’re gonna break that—”

She stopped immediately, when her mind told her a thousand times in about thirty seconds that it wasn’t Jerry. A run through of all the regulars, which usually wasn’t necessary, but sometimes came up in circumstances like these, also told her that it wasn’t someone she knew.

The stranger, who couldn’t have been much older than nineteen, remained at the door, looking around as though he was the only one there.

Maggie barely managed to keep herself from frowning. Whoever this kid was, he didn’t match up to anyone she knew. He didn’t even look one of those jerks from the college a few about ten miles away. It wasn’t tourist season either, the only time of the year when it was absolutely necessary to deal with anyone outside of her trusted group. Beyond college and tourists, the number of newcomers was almost non-existent. There was, after all, a Pancake Kingdom franchise on the other side of the parking lot. They had more food and better prices. People who were willing to take that in exchange for a cold, impersonal breakfast experience went there instead. It had been like that for almost a decade now.

Once again, she could feel her hand squeezing the rag.

The stranger finally stopped glancing around, devoting a moment of his time to the post cards, twelve countries and all fifty states, the small stuffed animal collection of famous cartoon characters, and the humorous posters. Obviously, the family pictures on the bulletin board straight ahead hadn’t caught his attention yet. He looked straight ahead to Maggie and smiled. “Are you guys open? I didn’t see a sign or anything.”

Again, Maggie found herself forcing her smile to stay in place.  Of course, it’s open, she thought. You fucking idiot. She kept all this to herself. She had to. Imagine how Tom and Elizabeth, just to name two, would react if they walked in and found her screaming insults and obscenities at some stupid kid unconsciously looking to fuck up what was already amounting to a very difficult day.

They’d probably want free coffee!

She laughed aloud at this idea, without meaning to. “Of course we’re open,” she said to the stranger, immediately trying to play off the mistake and doing a pretty good job of it. “Why don’t you have a seat, and I’ll take your order.” In one well-practiced motion, she grabbed the pad of paper and pen from the register and walked out from behind the counter.

The stranger, the idiot kid with thick, stuck-up glasses and a wardrobe that consisted entirely of faded black, took a seat at the booth to his right.

Maggie noticed him setting a book down on the table. He slammed it onto the table in such a way as to cause one of the creamers to fall out of the little bowl. As a reflex to that, her left hand was suddenly doing it’s damnedest to snap the pen in half.

“So, what’ll it be?” she asked, still smiling through all this uncalled for and admittedly very minor tragedy. If Don were alive, he’d know how to handle this arrogant little shit. “You’re a skinny looking guy,” she went on, bringing up some of the bullshit conversation she utilized during tourist season. “So, I think you ought to go for the deluxe pancake breakfast. That’s two pancakes, two eggs cooked however you want, three strips of bacon, three sausages. You also get your choice of a side of toast or a plate of hashbrowns.” Her pen, no longer in a death grip of any kind, tapped relentlessly against the pad of paper. “And, of course, the whole thing comes with your choice of milk, orange juice, apple juice, water, coffee, sweet tea, or soda.”

The stranger nodded through all of this, his eyes never leaving the menu. Finally, he closed it and held it up for her to take. “That sounds just fine. With toast, whole-wheat, if that’s possible, coffee and orange juice, and,” he paused for a moment, “Eggs scrambled.” He inched the menu closer towards her. “Thank-you.”

She took the menu and returned to the safety of the area behind the counter, which was also the kitchen. She went to work quickly, with everything but the toast in its beginning stages in less than two minutes. Everything was made right in front of the customer. An element Don had decided to go with twenty-five years, three months, and sixteen days ago. Something she took a tremendous amount of pleasure in presenting to all of her friends. The little jerk, he probably didn’t have the ability to appreciate such a thing. She was tempted to cook up the regular pancake breakfast, just to see if he’d been paying even the slightest attention.

But no, Don most certainly wouldn’t approve of something like that. It had always been him with the soft spot for the ones who were only planning to stop in a single time. She knew that if he were with her right now, he would scold her for even trying to hold those thoughts back. “They shouldn’t be there at all,” he’d say, probably a dozen times after the stupid kid left. “A customer is a customer is a customer,” he’d go on, before leaning in slowly to kiss the top of her head the way he always did. He always knew she had a good point in gathering more of her solace from the usual faces. But still, in the end, he was right. She still couldn’t accept the idea completely. It was rarely possible. Being alone made it worse. She flipped the bacon and pancakes, moved the sausages a bit to prevent sticking, put the bread in the toaster, and flipped some the eggs over.

Even with her back to the door, even with the food half-done, in that stretch of time where it was bad idea to turn away from them, she couldn’t keep her eyes from moving to the door when she heard it open. The way the door opened was instantly unnerving. It once again failed to remind her of anyone she knew.

The toast popped up. Maggie set the pancakes and eggs on one side, making sure that neither item touched each other, and then proceeded to set the bacon and sausage on the other. The toast went onto another plate. Grabbing a coffee mug and glass from the shelf under her, she filled the mug to the top with coffee, and then did the same with the orange juice. She was right to feel this way, too. Just who the hell was this woman in sweat pants and a tattered college t-shirt? There had to be some sort of connection to the Jazzercise building three doors over. But that place didn’t open for another three hours! There was no fucking excuse for this! “Be with you in a minute,” she managed to promise. The two plates of food were set down on the counter, followed by the orange juice and coffee. She was going to let the kid get up and take the food himself.

He did without complaint. Maggie took note of his face, the possibility that he thought she wasn’t being fair. She didn’t see anything outright but still decided that in tune to his character, he wouldn’t leave a tip.

With the first undesirable out of the way, Maggie readied herself to face the next one. She imagined that this one would quietly despise her too, for the hate crime of making her wait a whole two minutes. Turning around, she found the woman seated in the booth across from the other one. If only one of her friends would show up, this would be a lot easier to get through. She didn’t think anyone should have to suffer this much so early in the morning. Unless they had a sense of humor that ran to car crashes and grim stuff like that.

Where were they anyway? It was five-thirty. At the very least, Martin and his crew were in around this time.

The rag was put away in an effort to get rid of anything that made it seem like her mood wasn’t that of a gracious host and warm old friend. This wasn’t the time to fidget with something to the point where everyone was staring. Don would hate that. He’d roll his eyes, put a hand around her waist, and remind her that she was absolutely hopeless at times.

She picked up the pad of paper and pen once more and walked around to the table. She smiled. The second time around, it was making the corners of her mouth hurt. “Morning,” she said. “What can I get for you today?”

The woman studied the menu, but only for a second. She set it down and looked up, offering a smile that struck Maggie as unrepentantly insincere. “Just a coffee please.”

“Just a coffee?” The words came out with their mild surprise before she could pull them back and change the tone a little. Maggie scribbled down the ignorant, time-wasting order, hoping it would make this cow believe that everything was just fine. That it was perfectly reasonable to just waltz in and not only get her hopes up with the promise of being someone she could rely on but to arrogantly use up her valuable time and energy on such a pointless fucking order. She wanted to point out the useful attributes of the four nearby convenience stores. Why, you could get a goddamn coffee there and drink it wherever the hell you wanted to. You could live the dream of true freedom, and you’d get it without bothering a waitress who had better things to do than take this from some dumbass bleach-blond cunt.

“Not very hungry, I’m afraid,” the woman replied. “I don’t think I have a whole lot of time to eat besides.”

Maggie was glad that she had already written down the order. She could feel a slight tremor running through her hands that was getting stronger by the minute. Enough that if she had to write down the order now, she would probably punch a hole through the paper with her pen. “One coffee coming right up.”

“Melissa,” she said, as though anyone really cared. “My name’s Melissa.”

Maggie nodded. “What a wonderful, simple name,” she said, walking back to her area to fetch the coffee. How could people like this even exist? What right did they have? She started to pour the cup.

“Can I get some more of that while you’re over there?”

She nearly dropped the pot. It was that goddamn kid again. Again! She glanced behind her shoulder to see him leaning over the counter with the mug in his hand. What kind of person drank coffee that fast? As thoughtless as he already was, even this guy could have had the decency to take a little breather between cups for her benefit. But, no. Of course not. “Just a second,” she said, setting the other cup aside and turning around quickly to take his.

The little asshole released the cup before she could take hold of it herself. She tried to scoop it up in time, but she missed it on the second try and watched the cup explode into roughly a dozen pieces on the floor.

“Jesus!” He jumped back.

As though it had all been an accident! For a second, Maggie was positive that she was going to kill him. To hell with the bitch drinking her coffee, watching the whole thing as though it was some kind of free show. But she didn’t take advantage of the thought. The second passed, and it was possible, though barely, to smile yet again and pretend that idiots came into her diner all the time and destroyed her personal property. “Oh, honey, it’s perfectly okay.” She kneeled down and began picking up the chunks one at a time. “Perfectly okay,” she repeated. “If you just give me a minute,” she went on, dumping a handful into the adjacent garbage can. “I’ll make sure you get a new cup.”

“I-I’d like to pay for it,” he said. He “I really can’t believe I’m that clumsy and stupid.” He laughed. “God, what a day.”

It came out in a whisper. She looked up to see him setting some money on the table. A twenty. Probably twice what the cup was really worth. Fine, she thought, taking the money and stuffing it into the left pocket of her jeans. Let him pay whatever the hell he thinks is necessary. Between him and the coffee-drinker in horrible looking clothes, and all of her time they had taken away, forty dollars would just make it in the way of a decent tip. Even if it wasn’t enough to pay her back for destroying any chance she had at a good day. She wondered if the whole thing was related to karma somehow. She tried to think of some awful mistake she might’ve made at some point in the recent weeks. Nothing came to mind though, and when it became that much more obvious that none of this was deserved, she found it more important than ever that these people leave as soon as possible.

When the last of the coffee cup pieces were in the garbage, she grabbed another cup and stood up to get his refill. Until they left, she still had a job to do. She touched the pot and stared at it for a moment. It was empty. She wasn’t entirely how that could have worked out after pouring only two cups of coffee. She casually wiped away a couple of tears that were running down her face. The rag was gone, leaving her with the only option of clenching her fists. This was only a minor problem. Compared to everything else, this is not worth getting upset over. Hoping to minimize this latest crisis, she turned around. The nosy little bastard was still standing at the counter. He couldn’t just sit down and wait to be called, could he? “I’m afraid I have to make a new pot,” she announced, loudly enough in case the other one needed to know this as well. “If you’ll just have a seat and wait, I’ll bring it to you.”

He didn’t move at first. “I really am sorry about the cup.”

He sounded like he meant it, but really, you just couldn’t be sure about these things. Turning away from him again, she waved him off. “It’s not a problem.” She filled the machine with water and replaced the filter. “Heck, I’m willing to bet I’ve got a million of those things.” She was drawing on memories of Don now, what he would say during a tragedy like this. She wasn’t ready to draw on memories of him like that. Not when tourist season was a good three months away. “One just isn’t going to matter.”

When she finally moved back to facing him, she saw that he was back in his booth, staring at the rest of his food that was now, most likely, rigidly cold. Oh well. Serves him right.

Her gaze moved onto the woman, Melissa, who, apparently, took forever when it came to finishing a simple cup of coffee. She didn’t even have a newspaper, she was just laying around and taking up space. All for a buck twenty-five and, probably, no tip!

Where were they!

Honestly, what if Jerry, Tom and Elizabeth, Martin, or the others came in and found that they couldn’t have the seat they wanted. All because some jackass invaders that were acting like the place was theirs and not hers. She couldn’t imagine that any of them would want to stay when faced with something that annoying. She didn’t want to imagine that. Not when they had become more crucial than ever to salvaging the day. Twenty-five years of her life had been spent working here, living in this small restaurant, and this had never happened before. Even on the slowest of days, at least one or two could be counted on to show up, if only to just grab a quick cup of coffee.

The door opened. She didn’t need to look to know that she was going to be let down again. The sound still didn’t match anyone she knew and needed at the moment. Since karma was out, she couldn’t use that as an explanation for why this was happening over and over again. Still, this had to be a test of some kind. An examination by some kind of great power to see what she was capable of. She finally looked to the door.

Oh god. She watched as they took a seat at the booth farthest away from her, without even a hello or good morning. It was a couple! Two more people! Two goddamn more!

Melissa raised her hand. “Can I have my cheque please?”

“Hold on.” Maggie knew her reply was close to a growl, but she didn’t care. She was too busy trying to figure out why these people weren’t in bed doing whatever it is that disgusting couples like to do. She watched the man, who appeared to be a good couple of decades older than his female companion, stare straight ahead to her. He grinned. Maggie had a feeling that he was drunk. Just barely six o clock in the morning, and this guy was drunk.

“Two coffees,” he said. The girl laughed, he whispered something to her, and she stopped. “And some eggs,” he added. “Just some eggs.” The girl started giggling again, and he didn’t try to stop her this time.

Maggie bent over to grab two more cups. The pot had been ready for a while, and she remembered that the fucking kid wanted some more as well. She poured some into all three.

“Excuse me.”

She turned around to face Melissa so quickly that she nearly dropped the pot again. Her glasses slipped a little down her face from saving it. “I know, I know.” She took a deep breath, though her body rejected most of the effort. “If you’ll just give me one moment.”

The clumsy little shot approached the counter as she said this, his wallet in the palm of his hand. “I think I’ll just get going,” he said. “Can I have my cheque as well?”

Before the coffee pot could continue to be a risk, she put it back on the burner. She was just going to have to throw one of the three cups away. “Yes, yes, of course.” She picked up each of the two remaining cups. “Just hold on.” She walked past them. They were glaring at her now. Maggie was sure of it, even with her back to them. Let them. It wasn’t as though either of them were ever going to come back. She set the two cups down at the far end of the counter, as close to the ugly drunks’ table as possible. “I’ll be back in a couple minutes with your food,” she added.

His arm around the ridiculous girl, the man frowned slightly. “I have to get up?”

No, she thought. Please, sit there. Don’t move. Make it as easy as possible for me to throw these at you, you fucking asshole. Surprise, surprise, she didn’t say any of this. She couldn’t. There was absolutely no possibility that she could force herself to say something polite and forgiving. Her legs more or less did all the work, carrying her back to the register to get rid of the other two. Behind her, she could hear him getting out of the booth.

“Don’t know who the fuck you think you are,” he said.

Maggie remained at the register. She wanted to take care of those who wanted to leave before asking him and his giggling twit of a lady friend to get the hell out of her restaurant. “Okay,” she whispered, picking up her pad of paper to consult the order itself, even though she knew all of the prices by heart. She flipped it open to Melissa’s idiotic order and pointed at her. “You had the coffee.”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“1.45.”

Melissa nodded and reached into her purse.

While she waited for the moron to find a whole dollar and forty-five cents, she turned to the clumsy kid who tried to buy her off with a lousy twenty dollar bill. She flipped a page in the note pad. “Yours comes to 8.79.”

The clumsy kid, the first of the strangers to attack her day, pulled a ten from his wallet and set it down on the counter. “Hold on,” he added, smiling. “I think I have some pennies.”

“Hurry the fuck up and take my order, bitch.”

The girl laughed.

Maggie ignored him once more and moved onto Melissa while she waited for the clumsy kid to find four stupid pennies. She was still searching her purse for the money.

“Jesus Christ on a crutch,” the drunk cried. “What kind of Days Inn bullshit is this?”

The girl scolded him mockingly.

No one at the register said a word. Maggie heard him say something else, but she couldn’t make it out.

“Don’t, honey, stay here.”

That time it was the girl, and she sounded serious. Maggie did her best to pretend that she couldn’t hear him getting out of the booth. She kept her gaze locked on the customers who were eventually, god willing, going to leave. She also kept her breathing steady, enough that she could focus on the people in front of her. It was starting to become difficult.

“Oh, here we are.” The clumsy kid produced four pennies and set them down on the counter. “Sorry it took so long.”

And he offered another one of those goofy looking smiles. Maggie was starting to find the expression repulsive looking. ”It’s–”

She never got a chance to finish. The drunk was with them now.

“What the fuck’s your problem, lady?” He asked, his voice rising with each word. He pointed at his lady friend sitting in the booth. “Me and my girl here are hungry as a motherfucker and you’re standing up here with these goddamn idiots.” He gestured towards Melissa and the clumsy kid. “These stupid bitches that can’t even count money.”

He had a point there, Maggie thought. But she didn’t want to tell him that. Really, she wasn’t sure what she should say. It had always been Don’s job to deal with the crazies, the heavy drinkers trying to make everyone else’s life as difficult as theirs, the disgruntled losers constantly on the verge of violence.

“Hey, man,” the clumsy kid said. “Just chill out, okay? I’m leaving now, and I’m sure she’ll be happy to—”

The drunk took this in for about two seconds, before pushing the clumsy kid into the table of the nearest booth. “Fuck off, punkass. No one asked you to say a goddamn thing, so just keep your fucking mouth shut.”

Maggie jumped back and fell against the wall, knocking over the framed picture of some Irish castle Don had loved on their second to last vacation. She couldn’t do much about her crying now. It moved as seamlessly as breathing.

The girl he had come in with was on her feet now, walking quickly towards them. “Mark, honey. It’s not worth it now, come on.”

He turned on her. Puffing himself up like a parrot, in such a way as to suggest that she was next. “Sit the fuck down, Jane.”

Though Jane didn’t move, she didn’t say anything else either. She folded her arms and stared at the floor.

“I’m calling the police,” Melissa announced, reaching into her purse. She had the cell phone out for about a minute when Mark knocked it out of her hand. Her reaction was to jump back a step like she had been electrocuted, the same way Maggie had a second ago.

“You’re not gonna do a goddamn thing,” he shot back. “Except pay for your fucking food and get the hell out of here.”

The clumsy kid had finally pulled himself together by this point. He simply stood there, back against the table, and watched the scene in awkward youth silence.

Mark had his attention back on Maggie. Pitiful, dull-eyed hate flowed from him like a broken fire hydrant that had better things to do than give up the only thing it knew. “Lazy bitch,” he muttered, one hand on the table.

He said this as the door opened. Maggie looked to see who it was only because they might do something to help her. Regular or otherwise, she didn’t care at the moment.

It was Martin. Behind him were two other men. They worked with Martin in some way, of course, but it took Maggie a second to remember their names, as they only appeared with Martin for an occasional lunch.

Everyone, including Mark, paused and looked at the three new entrants. Mark was the first to speak up. “Take a seat and the lazy bitch over here,” he waved a hand at her. “She’ll be with you when I’m done talking to her.”

Martin grabbed him by the neck of his shirt, whirled the two of them around, and shoved Mark into the door. He kept his hold on the shirt. His companions moved aside to make this possible. “I think it’s time that you hit the road, buddy.”

“Fuck you.”

Without releasing the shirt, Mark glanced at his two employees. “Guys, will you do me a favor and take this guy out to his car.”

They did this without saying a word and without giving Mark a chance to pay for the two coffees.

Jane waited until they had both left before following. Her footsteps were slow, fearful. She stopped at the door. “I’m really sorry about this,” she said, her voice a whisper. “Mark’s going through a rough time right now.”

Maggie didn’t reply. She just nodded slightly and tried to wipe some of the tears away.

When Jane left, the clumsy kid reached for the money he had placed on the counter before and pushed it closer to her. “Keep the change,” he muttered, before turning to the door and walking out.

Her hand making the bare minimum effort to cooperate, she picked up the money, opened the register, and placed the money in the appropriate slots.

At long, long, long last, Melissa produced two singles. “I was trying to find exact change too,” she explained. “The last thing I need is more nickels, dimes, and pennies.” She laughed nervously and put the money on the counter. “So, don’t worry about the change or anything.” Another nervous laugh, and she started for the door. She stopped with her hand against the glass and glanced at the post cards. “I noticed those coming in,” she said. “They’re really cool. It’s a good touch.” She pushed the door open and disappeared into the dull, steady beam of light that was streaming through the glass to cover almost everything in the room.

Maggie thought that Melissa had only said that in the mild hope of getting to take one home. That or just stealing them outright. She tried to stand up straight, without leaning against anything, but it wasn’t feasible.

The two friends’ of Martin stepped back in. They were sharing the same smirk, the same feeling of a job extremely well done. The taller of the two nodded in Martin’s general direction. “All done, Marty, man.”

Martin sighed. “Bill, not the Marty shit right now.” Effortlessly, with the skill of someone who knew the area flawlessly, he moved to stand next to her behind the counter.

She jumped, though just a little bit, when Martin put an arm around her shoulder. She needed the gesture, without question, but she didn’t know if she was up for anyone touching her. She settled into the arm, while accepting the fact that the more she did this, the more she was going to cry.

He was here now. He was here. And he was going to make everything okay again.

“You alright, darling?” He squeezed her shoulder and moved the arm around her for a full embrace.

Closing her eyes, resting her head against his broad, comfortable shoulders, Maggie let out a single loud sob.  One thousand, eight hundred, and twenty five days of hell on earth, and she had earned a good cry, as far as she was concerned.

He continued holding onto her, gently running a hand over her head. “Shh,” he said. “Shh. It’s okay, now. Everything’s going to be just fine.”

“Oh, god, Don,” she replied. She was shaking so much that she couldn’t keep the hands on his back perfectly still. “Oh god.”

Two Poems

The great plan/dream/etc is to run a short story, and I’m thinking I’ll knock that out this week, maybe run something random after that, and then get back into those damn movie challenge reviews that I’ve slowly starting to hate writing.

I’m determined to finish the damn thing though. The only upshot of being obsessive (besides the chain-smoking) is that I usually finish projects I’ve started. This is true of much of my life, but it’s at least a positive with writing and acting.

These are the last two poems I’ve written. I have around 2000 in the vaults. Of those there’s probably fifty or sixty making the rounds to literary journals and the like. The challenge is always trying to figure out what to send. There’s a bunch of stuff that will probably never see the light of day, because I’m too lazy to go through the entire folder (collecting every poem I’ve written from about 2002 to the present), so I’m always wondering if there’s some magic poem in the folder that wouldn’t turn it all around for me. Bring along that fame and fortune that will finally bring me that, what’s the word, happiness I’ve been hearing other people talk about.

I also don’t like focusing on poetry too much. I’m usually trying to push the short stories, novels and scripts a lot more.

A note on the tags: It’s not that I think my work is as good as these writers. I’m just listing influences. Writers, musicians and even films that have strongly influenced every aspect of my writing (and sometimes even with the acting). I’m also hoping the tags will help more people find this blog. An audience isn’t essential, but it’s nice to know sometimes that people are digging what you’re up to.

**********

And A Chest to Pin It On
By Gabriel Ricard

My life hasn’t been just weird dinner parties
that turn violent in the backseat.
Just before the million-car pileup and leaving the emergency room
in a fury of hooks and shouting,
because I’d rather leave like that than quietly and alone.

Tuesdays are a bat out of a barnyard Heaven.
You know what I mean?

They’re worse than Fridays,
and how the train station is only everywhere
from four a.m. to nine p.m.

My life is more than hoping, praying
for a time to come soon when I’m again unfamiliar
with my surroundings
for five thousand miles in every direction.

It’s not just taking Adderall and ordering off-the-menu
Irish Coffee at IHOP,
because I’m not interested in the wild stuff anymore.

I have a very good reason
for not speaking to one of my brothers anymore.

I’m better than all of that,
and it shouldn’t work against me
that all of the witnesses have mysteriously disappeared
over the years.

Some good stuff has happened, too.
I’m selfish, but I could never commit
to being habitual about it. Sociopaths
get even less vacation time than I do.

There was even one time
when I kept someone alive
for at least five more hours.

It’s not that I’m trying to be carried out of the room by starlets.
I’d just like to be able to even the score while there’s still time.

She was ripping her hair out,
twisting the legs off the dolls in the baby’s room
and screaming
into a broken smartphone.

I stumbled through the crowd,
made it to her with seconds to spare
and whispered something in her ear.

Can’t remember what is was now,
but it worked well enough. She calmed down,
apologized for not getting being better
at getting attention, and we spent most of the night
and morning talking.

Don’t remember the details of that either,
but she was in good atheist spirits
when I put her in a cab and told the driver
not to stop until they got to Knoxville.

That just seemed like the right distance
away from this town.

Most of us wouldn’t dream
of making travel plans so ambitious
even if we were deathly homesick.

I have no idea what happened to her after that,
but I was able to keep her going for those five hours,
and that’s something better than whatever comes before nothing.

Pride isn’t something I’m fond of anymore.
I think it’s just nice to be needed
once in a while.

**********
Monkeys Forgive My Sins
By Gabriel Ricard

It had only been a couple of hours,
but I had a really good feeling
about her. The energy was something
special, kiddo.

The streetlights became a thunderstorm of fire.
The sun knew when to take a third-round dive.
The news channels took their technical difficulties to heart.

I could even smoke
if I opened a window
and didn’t say anything to hurt the mailman’s feelings.

She could do impressions
and always kept the room at sixty-five degrees.

I was in love, you know?
I was doing well, considering I had only been awake
for a couple of years at that point.

My expectations for adventure when I’m breaking
into the gas station for cigarettes and cough syrup
are not spectacular. I’m usually happy
to just get what I need from life and get home
before the heat wave meets the blizzard,
and all of it splits the sky’s back like three anorexic twigs.

I didn’t expect to run into someone like her,
and I didn’t know you could live in this part of town
without sweating it out in the minor-league rehabs first.

Her legs were fantastic and not in the least dangerous.
I’m still willing to say that.

An hour to feel comfortable around her
then another hour to fall head over heels
and shake off the concussion almost immediately.

It took a lot less time to nod slowly,
kiss her throat, excuse myself to the bathroom
and never, ever come back.

Maybe I’m prejudiced.

I could have loaned her my grandmother’s ring
and hung in there for twenty more years,
just to be sure.

Panic is the only consistent justice I believe in.
It set when she told me that for an extra five hundred,
she would nail my hands to the desk and paint my portrait.

I used to have an open mind.
I’m a champion Hide and Seek player
with the Civil War ghosts at second-to-last old high school.

It may well go down in history as a real shame.
I ducked out of there, stole a cab from an old woman
and stashed myself and my good fortunes
at a grocery store that’s been renovating since 1948.

No one needed to tell me I was a fool.
I drank warm beer in the aisles and wrote dirty limericks
on the linoleum floor. I knew it was going to be a long
damn time before I ever fell in love again.

And I was right.
Forty-five minutes went by,
until I finally noticed the girl
at the thirty-aspirations-or-less counter
screaming in Chinese
and threatening everyone in her line with a shotgun.

She had kind eyes.
I was thinking about this,
as I scribbled my number
on the back of an old bus ticket
and confidently made my way towards her.

 

Old Men Go Crazy

When I got back from the city on Monday morning
I went to bed and told the box turtle
in the bathroom to hold my calls until Tuesday.

I went to bed
and hoped for the best.

An hour later,
and I’m riding with a friend who spit lit cigarettes
at red lights and swore he’d kill the judge at his court hearing.
Unless the assault charges from his son’s fifth birthday party
were dropped with extreme prejudice.

You can only imagine
how things turned out.

Two hours after the helicopters
left the scene of the crime,
I was trying to believe that the June bride
sitting across from me at The Waffle House
really did want to leave her husband for me.

Let’s remember she looks at life as being
a lot like some of the darker Zevon tunes.

Let’s also keep in mind that she came back
from the dead last Christmas, and that she clearly suffers
from Multiple Personality Disorder.

I don’t want to be presumptuous about her sincerity,
but I think it was smart to just sit there,
look sad, drink four liters of coffee
and squeeze the waitress’ hand when she brought the cheque.

The bride and I parted on good terms,
and by the end of the afternoon
I was auditioning for a play at gunpoint.

I did that while sending furious text messages
to a homeless guy who claimed to know
my whole future and just wouldn’t leave me
alone about it.

Palm readers don’t even bother
with human interaction anymore. It’s insane.

I didn’t get the part,
and I had to spend most of my evening
watching amateur doctors pass out
at the sight of the four bullet wounds in my left leg,

There was a riot just beyond the cold operating room,
but I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I just walked through
the wreckage, gave the guy at the grand piano a five-spot
and tried to make my way back home.

I almost made it.
I almost hit the pillow on my bed
from as far away as the long steps up to the front door.

That’s when I got a phone call
that had me spending the rest of the week
wandering the Mexican bars in Chinatown.
Keeping the crowd around me entertained
and pretending I had never fallen in love the hard way.

I’m a fool, you know.
I was still optimistic about getting some sleep
when I finally made it home the following Sunday morning.

My box turtle knew the score though.
She wouldn’t even look up from her dried-out lettuce.