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.

–Harvey

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.

Post.


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

hyperbole

“Extraordinary!”

Did he even see the work he’s reviewing?

“Flawless!”

The seams show, yet these ass kissers won’t acknowledge, hoping to sway me with flattery.

“A triumph!”

I ache for honesty, I crave perspective, I long to be taught and tutored.

“Unbelievable! Completely unexpected!”

I followed every formula available, relied on tropes and cliches in lieu of creativity. Trashed my integrity for a quick buck.

“A failure in every way.”

Well, you don’t have to be such a dick about it.

 

[word count:  83]

catering

1. So that takes care of the appetizers, we need to move on to the main course. Your package will include three entrees: a beef dish, a chicken dish, and fish dish. We also have some vegetarian options, if you have special needs. Now, we have a lot of options to look at —

2. Time is a little short though, so maybe could you pare it down a little?

1. Of course, miss. Of course I could, but you wouldn’t want to make a choice without knowing all of your options, right? Tell you what, we’ll go through the list and then instead of choosing three of each to sample you can just choose two. Does that sound alright?

3. It won’t take too long, honey.

2. Fine.

1. Wonderful! Okay, so first I’ll show you the chicken options. We always take great care to make sure the chicken is cooked perfectly —

2. Let’s just do the options, we don’t need to be sold on the preparation.

1. Okay.

3. Sweetheart —

1. Like I was saying, we always make sure that our meat is perfectly tender, so we marinate —

2. I just said not to go into the preparation. Are you even listening to me?

3. Baby, calm down. We’ve got plenty of time. We’re only gonna get married once, we want it to be perfect. Please, sir, continue.

1. The options are —

2. I wish you wouldn’t say that.

1. — a chicken cordon bleu, using only locally sourced ham —

3. Say what?

2. That we’re only getting married once.

3. What’s wrong with saying that?

1. — teriyaki chicken breasts served over —

2. You know it’s not true. Why do you have to rub it in my face?

1. — noodles. A chicken marsala risotto, now this one is —

3. It’s the only time that WE are getting married, dear. I don’t care —

1. — very special, because we use three different types —

3. — about anything else.

1. — of mushrooms —

2. Of course you care about it. Of course you hate it. But it’s not going to change, no matter what. And I wish that you would stop bringing up my ex at every opportunity just to make me feel ashamed as if I don’t already feel bad enough about it. It happened, I married him, and I know it should have been you in the first place but it wasn’t and I was wrong and if you can’t get over it then you’ll need to start getting over me.

3. Wait, where are you going?

1. Shall we reschedule?

 

[word count: 400]

 

closing time

I opened the door, felt the crisp air hit my face, and stared out into the dark, black void. I had to wait an extra thirty seconds for my eyes to adjust, too much to drink. Stupid. Stupid decision.

I turned back to the bartender. “I don’t recognize you.”

“I don’t know why you would.”

“You’re new here then? You’re new in town?” I tried to disguise the slurring. But this was the guy who’d been pouring me drinks all night, what was the use? Besides wasn’t that illegal or something? Didn’t he have to cut me off if I’d had too much?

“Would have loved to have this conversation a couple hours ago. If you come back tomorrow we can talk and share our life stories and braid each others’ hair or whatever but tonight, now, it’s time to go.”

“I won’t be here tomorrow. I’ll be dead tomorrow.” I slammed the door behind me, which threw off my balance. My face, red hot with booze, made first contact as the rest of my body spasmed, trying desperately to right itself.

A breath. The motel. I needed to get to the motel. I pulled myself up, too numb to rightly assess the damage. Keith took my keys when he left, so my only option was to walk the three miles.

 

[word count: 221]

small town
small town, part 2

small town, part 2

Small Town, Part 1

“My condolences,” he said as he polished off his beer. His third? Maybe fourth? I couldn’t remember how long he’d been sitting with me. “She was a good lady. She deserved better than that.”

I indicated to the bartender that another round was in order. I didn’t have the strength to face sobriety.

“You know, you’re the first person that’s recognized me all day,” I said.

He chuckled. “Whaddaya think we’re dumb? Becky saw you at the diner this morning. I figured if you were in town, you’d be here so I came to find you. Figured I should see it with my own eyes.”

My stomach dropped. Maybe I’d had too much to drink. “What do you mean?”

“Come on, man. You think that a haircut and some new clothes is all it takes to make yourself anonymous? Use your head. Just because they haven’t been talking to you doesn’t mean they don’t recognize you. You look good, better than I ever seen you, but you still look like you. And no amount of time will change that.”

I knew that. Of course I knew that. Just like I knew that… “Do they believe it, Keith?”

He downed the rest of his glass. “Where are you staying, man? You shouldn’t be driving anywhere tonight. I think the boys are looking for you to mess up, give them an excuse. And you better take care to look good in the morning.”

“Keith, do they believe it? Do they actually believe it?”

“It doesn’t matter what they believe, and you know it. God himself could show up in the middle of the town hall and tell them they’re wrong. These people don’t care about the truth, they care about convenience. And there’s nothing so convenient as someone else to blame.”

I hailed the bartender. Another round.

 

 

[word count: 305]

small town

“Since when do you take credit cards?”

The look accompanying her response belied the slogan painted on the windows – WHERE BREAKFAST IS FRIENDLY. “A couple of years ago. Minimum is $20.”

How anyone is supposed to spend $20 when the daily special is only $4.50 escapes me. Whenever I come to town, I’m prepared with cash. People are already going to talk about my natty clothes, don’t need to give them any more ammo.

Remember, buddy, you’re only here for two days. You can do this. A final goodbye then you’ll never have to come back again.

small town, part 2

 

[word count:  97]

after the lunch rush

The boy placed the small white pill under his tongue, surveyed his tray, and decided that limits be damned he would stack up five more cups from the dirty table. Maybe she’ll see me carrying all this and then she’ll be all like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe how strong you are and how helpful you are and how nice you are for taking care of my tables so I can get my side work done.’ Cause then I could be all like ‘No really it isn’t a problem I mean I’ve been doing this for a long time but I’m not gonna do this forever.’ And then she’d be all like ‘Oh really? What are you gonna do?’ And then I could say something like ‘I don’t know yet, but I know I need to make a difference in the world. I can’t live the rest of my life working for a place that makes me wear a Hawaiian shirt as my uniform.’ And that will totally get her thinking about how I’m not a bum like some of these other guys here and I’m motivated to better myself.

The fifth cup wobbled. The fourth cup followed. The third, second, and first cups obliged and collapsed, unbalancing the overloaded tray. As it hit the ground, salsa sprayed in a perfect arc, leaving a chunky red line that ran from his stomach straight down to his crotch.

The girl rushed out of the kitchen. Are you serious? Who can’t carry a goddamn tray. I wish they hadn’t cut down to two servers yet. Now I’m gonna have to help clean up this mess and he’s probably gonna make some pervy comment again about how he wouldn’t mind if I cleaned the salsa off his pants or maybe he’s gonna ask me for pills again. I’ve gotta tell the manager that I’m not gonna work alone with him anymore.

He stood up and assessed the damage. And opened his mouth to say something about the state of his pants. The look on her face stopped him short. “I… uh… I’m gonna go wash up and be right back to get this cleaned up. Sorry.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll run back and grab a mop for you.” As she walked back to the kitchen, she slipped a white pill out of her pocket and placed it under her tongue.

The assistant manager looked up from behind the bar. These fucking kids.

 

 

[Word Count: 410]