The Patient

Dr. Harris sat in his office, trying to look calm. He was skimming the notes he had on Karen, trying to convince himself that she was just another patient to be treated. Five minutes later, Karen entered his office for her appointment. She had short, blond hair and greenish eyes; she was also a little overweight and wasn’t the most beautiful thing ever, but there was an ineffable quality that hovered about her presence, obviating any mere imperfection. “How are you,” Dr. Harris quietly asked.

Karen took a moment before answering, crossing her legs (she was wearing a skirt) and prepared a smile. “Fine.”

“Fine?” Harris nodded, “That’s good. How’s the new job, you mentioned your manager…”

“Yeah. No. Work’s been fine.”

“That’s good.” Her eyes faced him, but Harris felt as though they weren’t looking at him; this was something that frustrated him, as though he didn’t exist and was merely a springboard for her to talk about her issues. But this didn’t stop Harris from looking at her eyes.

Suddenly, her head jerked to the left, toward the window and she said, “I don’t want to talk about it, but I guess that means we should…”

“You mean…”

“Yes. That. It’s been almost a year since he’s died. And I’ve been thinking about him.” She turned herself back to Harris. Harris noticed that she, unlike his other patients, always guided the sessions. He considered this a part of her arrogant personality, but this was just another thing that both excited and agitated him.

“In what ways have you been thinking about him?”

She sighed. She looked so pale. “I guess…I shouldn’t say I’ve been thinking about him. But things surrounding him. How…he wasn’t a bad person; he was more human than most people who just walk around dough-eyed; he could have been a great artist, but things prevented that.”

“His drug addiction.”

“Yes,” she said sharply, “His drug addiction. But that’s not what I mean. The things pushed him onto that route…” She trailed off; her eyes started to turn red. Suddenly, Harris felt so small behind his desk. Her voice returned. “I was just thinking about how little control he had. He could have been great, could have been larger than his past.”

“But, he made his own choices. No one was forcing him…” before he finished that thought Harris stopped himself. Karen didn’t respond to this; she seemed to be in her own world, a place that he couldn’t access.

“All men are tethered to circumstance,” she suddenly said, “Even great men had little control of what they became.” She waved her hand. “I don’t know, it’s a silly thought, but it’s something I keep having. Maybe I like having this thought.” Harris didn’t know what she meant by her last statement. He just nodded and let her continue.

An hour quickly passed and Karen was gone. Harris went to lunch and came back to talk with another patient. He tried to stop thinking about the enigmatic Karen, but he couldn’t quell the image that floated within his mind. There was that thing about her that he couldn’t analyze, that he couldn’t reach or even touch upon—it was beyond things and beyond him. He knew he shouldn’t be treating her considering his feelings toward her—he also couldn’t help her—yet she was there, every Wednesday at 11:30.

The patient Harris was with was another dull, middle-aged, middle class guy, just like him. The patient babbled on and on about his wife; Dr. Harris nodded and moved his pen.

In the Sand

Every morning, the sun slips into the sky, the cold water moves itself and the old man is summoned. He’s gathered to the edge of the beach; he doesn’t gaze at the living ocean or the red giant’s rising, but fixates on the sand. He holds a long, metal arm with a flat head hovering above the sand, and walks slowly down the edge, barely avoiding the water’s receding touch. He searches and the metal arm helps him see. Sometimes, the arm alerts him with a pinging noise; this is when the old man slowly bends down and digs at the sand with a tiny shovel. Some metallic object is uncovered and pulled from obscurity, for now, and is dropped into the old man’s pocket. The old man continues on, no change in expression, always seeking a treasure that sparkles in his skull. A few more treasures and then the old man’s body fails, dies. But it doesn’t matter—the old man is replaced; another old man with a metal arm becomes tethered to the same march along the sand. The essence of this scene is greater than you and I.

This scene, or one like it, will move along even as its original players drift from the spotlight; it may come across differently, but the import will be sustained. It may not be an old man, or his imperishable search, but those things are just vessels anyway. Meaning will touch you by other means. The old man’s searching, which has remained with me through the years, will dissipate once I die, but others will see what I saw in other things, and live with it. It’s the meaning of the image that will live longer than me, its mere recipient. But for now, the old man remains, perpetually searching the sand because my mind deems it so for, like the old man, I too grasp for something.

Duty

Age: Eight

Gabriel playing outside, blue sky paved above old buildings. Rides on his green bike (beautiful bike) air sweeping sides of his face, only thing pa ever gave him. Passes by group of black boys smirking, yelling “spic” and throwing rocks.

Gabriel home without his bike, mother kisses his face. She is crying too.

Fifteen

Gabriel on the couch—suspended again knocked-out Red who’s twice Gabriel’s size, almost happy. Mother in the kitchen thinking about Gabriel’s pa.

Nineteen

Gabriel enters the kitchen, stares at the plates in the sink—she’s gone. Finds the window, takes another swig, pushes the window up, yells at the kids laughing outside.

Twenty-Six

His girl doesn’t understand, he has to do this—who he is. Heads out, on patrol sweeps the area, Gabriel sighs. This city: people who think they can do whatever they want, less than dogshit. Car in front of him, sirens, pulls them over. Soon gets one on the ground breaks his arm–another rat, can’t believe such a pathetic thing still breathes.

Next day: Gabriel drives around, blue sky. Follows a group of them on the sidewalk, one of them turns gives him a face thinks he can do whatever he wants.

Twenty-Seven

Convenience store robbed a few blocks away: Gabriel on alert. Minutes later, senses something. Looks over, there is a shadow that marks a building’s side, leads him to a hooded man moving down the sidewalk. Gabriel and his partner pop out of their car.

Minutes later. Sixteen year-old killed (five in the chest, unarmed). Gabriel thought he heard his laughing. Now the laughing is gone. Gabriel puts away gun. Looks at his partner.

Thirty-Eight

Gabriel with new family, new city. Kids in the window, Gabriel sips his coffee: warm and nice—every morning is like this. But the sun’s going to move again and Gabriel will be pulled by the night, to hunt the streets for the rats. It’s who he is.

A Good Husband

Melinda was fine, better than my ex-girlfriends who were ugly, desperate things clinging to some idea they’d pinned me to. No, Melinda was fine, not the greatest-looking thing, but average. If one were to walk through a mall or some crowded space and happened to go by Melinda, nothing of her would enter and linger in memory. But I held her—she was my Melinda. We rarely argued and when we did the bickering was never indicative of a deeply-seated malice toward the other. We were good partners, married for seven wholesome years.

Melinda was a decent cook, and whenever I made a terrible joke or remark she always managed to smile for my sake. Good Melinda. She wanted a family; I told her I would make a terrible father and about the ills of overpopulation. She understood. But if there were any flaw in this immaculate system it would be that she loved me. I disliked the way she looked at me when everything surrounding was silent. I hated her looking because I was never able to truly replicate it to her benefit, even when her life was dissolving away. There were days when I believed that she knew that the feeling wasn’t mutual and this would always sink some guilt into me. Poor Melinda; I didn’t love her.

It was when she was in the hospital that I tried to heighten the illusion, but there was always an undercurrent of doubt which rendered my attempts visibly facile to me, and as a result I couldn’t help but feel she perceived my performance. But I remember her face, a small smile rising from the white. Her contentment and lack of fear made me feel better, but it also made me want to make her truly believe that some other loved her. So I tried being there for her, telling her how much I loved her (maybe I told her too often,) but the more I tried the more gaudy and ineffectual it all felt.

Then, of course, she died. I was out when it occurred. At first, I hoped Melinda believed, but I was also touched by guilt; she spent the last nine years of her life under a deception. I soon returned to our room and sat on the bed. I started thinking about how she should’ve spent her life with someone else, one who could have done more than paint a fabricated spark. But she never had anybody, not even me. Pathetic Melinda.

But the new wife is good; she’s a better cook than Melinda. But I’ll never tell her about my previous wife, I mean, I’ve said things of her, of course, but I never told her about Melinda and the things she represented to me because I need to retain the wife’s safety and faith in me. I also need to move on—we’re going to have a family it turns out. I’m fine with this outcome, though I wouldn’t mind having a son over a daughter. I hear taking care of girls is a troubling endeavor; boys are simply easier. And plus, I don’t want a daughter to become one of those women who sit alone in crowded places, groping for my eyes.

The Fat Man

It was nine o’clock at night at the fast food joint; Jeremy’s head pointed down at the hamburger on his tray while his father watched—they hadn’t spoken to one another in years. The moments alternated between silence and eating; occasionally, Jeremy’s father would ask his son a question about school or girls to which Jeremy would answer promptly, then everything would return to silence.

Jeremy wasn’t mad at his father for leaving or for the things he’d done. He looked up and saw a desperation within his face. “So, what’s it like living on your own?” Jeremy nodded. “Good.” “Yeah,” his father said, “I think it’s a good experience to have.” A moment, then Jeremy returned to the burger, barely a chunk left.

The both of them wished that they could make their meeting mean something more, but Jeremy had nothing to say to his father and his father had nothing to say to his son. Jeremy didn’t mention how he was in a bad place because he didn’t want to burden his father with such things, not now.

However, minutes later, they were both pulled by an image that entered their peripherals—an overweight man in a gray wife-beater shuffling toward the condiment trays. His fat head turned and looked down at the trays; Jeremy and his father both watched. The fat man observed the empty tray for an entire minute then scratched his chin. “No more mustard,” he muttered to himself before making the trudge back to his booth. Jeremy turned and noticed his father still watching the fat man.

It wasn’t until the grotesque sat down at his booth when his father’s eyes quickly fixed themselves back to Jeremy. Suddenly, he leaned over. “Did you see that?” Jeremy laughed at this. His father shook his head. “God. You know, I read somewhere that airplanes need extra fuel now because everyone’s gotten so fucking fat.” “Really?” “Yeah!” They looked over at the pathetic fat man stuffing fries into his burger and then taking a bite. “So that’s why flying is so expensive.” Jeremy and his father laughed together at this and then nodded. A few minutes later they walked outside. In the parking lot Jeremy’s father squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder and told him how proud he was, then he was gone. And so was Jeremy.

Meeting Joe

Let’s look at Joe.

A low darkness has taken the place of his home. We enter through the window, approach a door; it opens. A light hums here, revealing Joe standing over a sink. There is no mirror so we don’t know what he looks like–we just know the back of his head and neck. Where is your face, Joe?

Morning enters, Joe disappears. His world is no longer concealed; his apartment is small. There are things on the walls. Trophies have fallen from their mantle. Plates on the floor and the table is hidden underneath papers and magazines. What do you read, Joe?

He returns. There’s his face, but he has no TV. Joe opens his computer and plays his guitar for it. Another song from Joe. He has written thousands, none good enough for ears. But we can hear this song. It’s a good song, Joe.

Joe looks out the window, watching the cars. There is no phone. We watch Joe walk around, we watch Joe eat, we watch Joe. There’s nothing there, we think. Joe sits down and his eyes are fixed in our direction. He isn’t looking at us. He can’t see us. What are you thinking about, Joe?

Night fills everything once again. Joe is hidden from us. No lights are on tonight.