generational music in a cafe

It’s tearin up my heart when I’m with you. Turn up the volume. Mouth the words. Don’t sing it out loud. Don’t let them know. There’s a little stuffed pig up on the ledge, it’s wearing bluejeans and a pink shirt. My daughter would play with that. Did they put it up there hoping someone would see it and chuckle?

I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother. Turn the volume up. You had to listen this to this quietly when you were a kid. Bad language. There was an episode of Clarissa Explains It All where Sam had climbed up to Clarissa’s bedroom and he was protesting something and he chanted “hell no, I won’t go” and I wasn’t allowed to watch Clarissa Explains It All anymore.

Don’t sing it out loud. Resist. Just mouth the words.

Last time that we had this conversation I decided we should be friends. Turn up the volume. The boy barista is flirting relentlessly with the girl barista. It’s spring. Let them slip it in while they can. All too soon life takes over and there’s no time to slip it in anymore. Would they even know who the Spice Girls are? Jamiroquai performed at the 1997 MTV VMAs. Would that sentence even make sense to them? I’ll give you everything on this I swear just promise you’ll always be there.

There she goes again racing through my brain. On the back of the bus, an overnight trip for school. Roman Holiday was playing on closed circuit tvs, and she kissed me. No tongue. The other girls giggled. Turn down the volume. I don’t like this one.

You’ve already won me over in spite of me and don’t be surprised if I fall head over feet. My sister had to explain what it meant when Alanis sang “would she go down on you in a theater.” I noticed a gray hair in my beard this morning. My wife said it’s sexy.

Say my name if no one is around you say baby I love you. At the back of the cafe the Boomer can’t conceal his eyes traveling lower as he admires the ample assets of the high schooler standing in front him. I was always a bigger fan of Kelly than I was of Beyonce. Just mouth the words. Don’t sing out loud.

The girl barista perfects her selfie face. The boy barista adjusts his crotch. The Boomer returns to his book. The high schooler puts on sunglasses. I turn the volume up.

Step One

I don’t know if I can ever thank you enough.

It felt too informal, awkward. Something that’s said at the end of a eulogy. We hadn’t talked since the day before he was fired. Six weeks before graduation.

I don’t know if I can express how thankful I am to you. You changed my life, and I am a better man because of you.

The mouse hovered over the Post button.

Mrs Culfer had the duty of telling us that he was no longer going to be our teacher. We were offered no explanation, we were told not to contact him. Standard practice, applied to those deemed dangerous by the administration. It could have meant anything. When sin is subjective, it’s hard to ever know.

I opened the private messaging app.

I don’t know if I can express how thankful I am to you, Josh. You changed my life, and I am a better man because of you. I ran into Lisa at Starbucks last week, and we spent the better part of an hour reminiscing about all of those lunch periods we spent in your office.

I highlighted his name, and typed Mr Godrell in its place. After all these years, it’s still uncomfortable to call him by his first name, even though he wasn’t much older than we were. At seventeen years old, anything after college is lumped into that generic “adult” category. Once I hit thirty, I realized that I still felt like a child. There’s no way that he was older than thirty.

Twenty-nine was a scary year in my life. Young, depressed, daily phone calls from debt collectors were my only connection to the world outside my marriage. I could not recognize my face in pictures. Pieces of my soul that I had worked hard and long to eradicate asserted themselves.

I went to the cabinet and pulled out a plain piece of 8.5×11, an envelope, and a pen.

Mr Godrell —

A few years ago, my wife and I left the fold to find our own way. We lost our safety net, our social circle, our careers, and found ourselves with nothing. I never got to explain myself to the people in my life who deserved an explanation. The pain of starting over was unreal. Is this how it was for you?

I hope you’re well, and I hope that someday soon we can reconnect.


I placed my pen on the desk, folded the makeshift stationary, sealed the envelope. I didn’t have his address.

I navigated to his page.

Fifteen years later, you’re still teaching me lessons. Thank you.


This piece was first published June 9, 2017 by Poppy Road Review.


“Look, I’ve been visiting Salt Fork for my entire life. I’ve never seen one of these things, and I’m never going to see one of these things, because they’re imaginary.”

“Well, sir, if they’re imaginary, then somehow a whole hell of a lot of people have the same imagination. For thousands of years, people all over the world have reported sightins, have had encounters, have heard them outside their campsites. I was talkin to one guy a couple of years ago and he says, ‘Jim, I was always a skeptic about this stuff. I didn’t see nothin, but I know what I heard down there in the valley. There was somethin down there, and it’s somethin that I don’t wanna run into.’ And I meet these people all the time, I’ve heard so many stories from them that I needed to start writin them all down. And by the way, I am gonna be stayin after the meetin for a while to sign books if you want your book signed.”

“Okay, but in the millions of years, nobody has ever found the bones of one of these. Nobody has ever hunted one successfully. It just doesn’t make sense!”

“Lemme take this one Jim. Sir, I’m an investigator with the Cryptozoology Society of Ohio. I dunno if you know what Cryptozoology is, but it’s where we study the animals that have kept themselves hidden from us for whatever reason. Now, first I wanna correct you on somethin. You said millions of years, but we can prove now that the world has only been around for ten thousand years at the most. An that’s science. There’s a museum about it over in Kentucky. But what you asked was about bones, and we believe that scavengers have a special attraction to these creatures. An we know that the Good Lord has made everythin work together, so we can figger out that mice and hawks and ants and maggots must all just be in sync with these creatures, so that when one dies they take care of the body real quick.”

“That makes absolutely no sense.”

“An to your point about the huntin. Look, these things are smarter than other animals, and they’re crafty. That’s how they get away all the time. An you’ll find if you read Jim’s books that most of the people who have encounters are the women and the children. We think that’s because when they see a man they sense the danger, especially if that man is carryin a gun.”

The cookies on the back table were stale. The coffee was weak.


[word count: 433]