Saturday, December 26, 2009


You only know order from the waist down
And the rest is primitive distress
That feeds from your need to compound
The crime of your lifelessness.

The solemn terror that perturbs
Your affection gives no protection
Against any sentiment that disturbs
The purity of your direction.

Blame, like a graceless crown, shifts
And crawls across all I have lost.
I affirm its terms with gifts
That defy all reason and cost.

The Labors of Nada

Where is my hatred now?
Does it pervade my own infidelities
Or do I harangue the specters
Of others treachery?
Do I dare to dance on gilded threads
Of shapely rage, framed in rhyme,
Or do I turn my vaunted hand of trivia
Towards a just and proper end?

I should reserve my hatred
For what I have become
And not chastise what I deserve.
I should conduct my contempt
Through proper channels
Sweeping into the swill
The foundations of a poisoned life.
I must aspire to cloak my heart
In a new-found clarity
That rejects the obscure glow of wrath
That powered a personal iconography
Justified in my eyes.

But instead, I will dither at altars of song
And forestall all life,
A yeoman working at the labors of nada.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Hounds

The hounds were snapping at his heels.

They were vicious, murderous beasts. Their grotesquely misshapen teeth were green and jutted far outside their mouths. Throbbing internal organs clung to their distended bodies and oozed a red putrescence. They seemed ravenous in their thirst for his flesh and pursued him in great, breathtaking leaps through a charred and lifeless landscape. Purple storms of color flared around him.

He was running for his life. Occasionally, one would catch up to him and wound a leg. The pain was intense. He would batter the animal with a few desperate blows and continue to run. However, there was no escape from them. They never seemed to tire. On the other hand, he felt like he had been running from them for years. Every inch of his body throbbed with excruciating agony. He could not keep going much longer. His mind raced with thoughts of them overtaking him and eviscerating his flesh.

He woke up. His frantic eyes stared upwards as he gasped for air. He was in a large tent illuminated by an opaque twilight and a foul odor clung to the air. He briefly convulsed and felt a cold layer of sweat covering his entire body. His heart was racing at a furious clip. Though his thoughts were scattered, he sensed the presence of someone next to him and slowly rolled his head to the right to look. His friend, Walter, was huddled in the rear corner of the tent and looked at him in astonishment.

“Fuckin’ Christ, you scared the livin’ shit outta me, Johnny! What the fuck is wrong with you?” Walter asked.

Walter was in his late forties, but looked ten years older. He had a face scarred by ancient pits of acne and covered by a ragged, patchy beard and mustache. He was thin, looked malnourished and his arms looked like loose, fleshy spools of rope. His gray hair was thin and matted down to his head. He looked very sick and very drunk.

Johnny’s thoughts had gained some semblance of order. He ran his hand slowly over his face and sighed. “Sorry, man. A nightmare.”

“I’ll fuckin’ say. You started thrashin’ ‘round like crazy!” He paused for a second and looked at Johnny gravely. “I’m kinda glad it happened though. I was havin’ a nightmare too and you woke me up.”

“Is there any of that bottle still left? I need a fuckin’ drink. I’m startin’ to shake already.”

Walter nodded. “Yeah, little over half.”

Walter reached inside a nearby backpack and pulled out a half-gallon of vodka. This was the solvent of choice, the poison that scoured away the crime of their birth. He handed the bottle to Johnny. Johnny unscrewed the lid and used both hands to hoist the bottle to his mouth. He felt the liquor reach his stomach and relax his overworked nervous system. He passed the bottle back to Walter. He took a drink from the bottle before putting the lid back on.

“You got any tobacco left?” Johnny asked.

Walter nodded. “Want me to roll it?”

“Yeah, man, if you would. My hands are shakin’ really bad. I’d just fuck up the paper.”

Walter reached into the backpack once again and brought out a tattered Ziploc bag full of rolling tobacco and a package of rolling papers. He reached inside the bag and pinched out some tobacco. He looked at Johnny before rolling the cigarette. Worn down from days of drinking, both men were teetering on the edge of a toxic abyss and Johnny looked particularly worse for wear. His face was pale and puffy, and dark rings had formed under his bloodshot eyes. His balding head glistened with sweat in the dim light and his bloated stomach heaved erratically in an attempt to regulate his breathing. The smell of alcohol not only lingered on his breath, it came from every pore of his body. He was obviously a very sick man.

“What kinda nightmare was it?” Walter asked.

Johnny’s face went pale and his eyes widened. “It was fuckin’ horrible. These hounds were chasin’ me and bitin’ me. They were turned all inside out and I could see their insides. They had horrible teeth and they would bite and tear at me every time they caught up to me. They were like demons.”

“Damn. I have nightmares too. I was havin’ one when you woke me up.”

“What did ya see?”

Walter finished rolling cigarettes for both of them and handed one to Johnny.

“I was in a strange house built outta human bones. I was lost and these horrible fuckin’ faces and claws would come out of the walls for me. They were snappin’ at me and talkin’ to me.”

“What did they say?”

Walter took a long drag from his cigarette. “They screamed I was scum and deserved to die like a dog in the streets. They told me they’d get me and I was gonna die soon.”

Both men fell silent again.

“It was so real, man. Swear to Christ, every time those dogs bit me, I could feel it. I mean, really feel it.”

“They were just dreams, man.”


They became silent. What more could be said? They were two sick, dying men living in a tattered tent. Their tent was in a wooded area within a large city. A railroad switchyard was nearby. Beyond the wilderness were the lights of another world but, despite the proximity of civilization, they were not part of such things. Their isolation was total. The bottle and its attendant fever dreams was life. Their families were long gone. They got by as such men get by; scraping for metal and aluminum, day labor or petty theft. Anything to finance their descent into the void.

“I heard voices too, Walter.”

“Voices?” Walter asked incredulously.

“Yeah, the hounds were talkin’ to me.”

“Whatda say?”

“They talked about us and said they were gonna eat us alive.”

Walter felt a chill pass over his body. It left him profoundly unsettled to have been a part of Johnny’s nightmare.


Johnny took a couple of short drags from his cigarette. His eyes were tense and restless. “Yeah, both of us.”

Walter shifted uneasily. “Well, it’s just a dream, like I said. I’m gonna get another drink. You want one?”

“Yeah, I sure need one.” Johnny replied with a whisper.

Walter took a long drink and passed the bottle to Johnny. Once more, Johnny steadied the bottle with both hands as he took a drink. Afterwards, he looked at the bottle with resignation and weariness.

“Is that all we got left?”

Walter frowned and nodded. “Yeah. But we got a little money left from yesterday.”

“Enough for another one?”

“Yeah, I think so. What time ya got?”

Walter shrugged. “Shit, man, I don’t fuckin’ know. Lemme find my watch.”

Walter searched through his backpack for a few moments to no avail. “Motherfucker! Where is that damn thing?” He sighed loudly. His frustration sprung full born from the dread they both feel at the idea of running out. They had been drunk for two weeks and their withdrawal would be tortured.

“Well, ya know, ain’t been that long since the sun went down. So I imagine it’s eight, maybe eight thirty. Plenty of time. We didn’t pass out too long.” Johnny said. “I need that bottle, man. I don’t feel right.”

“Alright, man. Lemme roll a couple of cigarettes for the trip, and then we’ll go get another jug. I don’t wanna run out either, man.”

“Yeah. I think I’d fuckin’ die, man, I really do.”

There was a heavy quality to the nighttime air that seemed to slow everything down. Their tent was placed in a tiny clearing amidst many tall, robust oaks. A small footpath led from their camp towards the railroad tracks. However, the sky was a black, starless vault and the darkness they faced was total. The only sound that punctuated the dark was the sharp crackle of dry foliage under their feet. With no light to guide them and an inability to think straight, they staggered into the wilderness baffled and desperate.

“We missed the trail! I can’t see anything!” Johnny shouted.

“We’ll find our way. I ain’t very steady though and I can’t hardly see.”

“You and me both. Just take it slow, okay?”

They wandered recklessly through the darkness. Increasingly, the trees seemed to leer over both men like implacable sentries crowding their perspective. They stumbled over fallen tree limbs, lost their balance in hidden dips of the earth, and vines and overgrowth alike smacked them in the face. Nevertheless, they plodded onward with purpose, but without any particular design.

“I’m scared, man. Ain’t no light at all.”

“Man, I don’t think there ever is ‘round here.” Walter replied with a barely audible mutter.

Johnny suddenly froze. “Walter, did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That sound! Shhh! I think somethin’s followin’ us!”

“I don’t hear nothin’.”

Johnny sighed and shook his head sadly. “My head’s a mess, Walt. I wanna sit down for a while.”

“Okay, no problem.”

They sat down and fell silent for a moment.

“How’d we get like this, Walt? I’m scared and my head’s all fucked up. Shit keeps movin’ ‘round on me.”

“We’ve been drunk for two weeks runnin’, man. Hell, I don’t even know what day of the week it is.”

“I’ve been seein’ things for days, man. I don’t feel right in the head. If it wasn’t for you bein’ ‘round, I’d think I’d gone fuckin’ nuts. And it’s gettin’ worse.”

“Whatcha seein’?”

“Those fuckin’ dogs. Insects as big as fists. Colors seem all fuckin’ weird and, I’ll tell you, the air even smells funny.”

“What? The air?”

“Yeah, smells like the whole world has gone rotten.” Johnny replied with terror in his voice. He reached inside the backpack once again and removed the half-gallon bottle of vodka. He took a couple of drinks from it and passed it to Walter.

“Tell me again what those hounds looked like, Johnny?”

“They were horrible, disgustin’ things. They were turned all inside out and this red slime covered ’em. They had fur, huge deformed teeth, and big heads. And when they talked…” Johnny’s voice began to tremble.

“What? What about it?”

“They sounded like you and me. They told me they were coming for us both and we couldn’t escape them.”

Walter lit a cigarette with shaking hands. “Maybe we should go back to the tent and lay down. Worry about getting’ a bottle later. I don’t think it’s more than nine o’clock, we’ve got six more hours ‘fore the liquor store closes.”

“I sure wouldn’t mind layin’ back down. I can’t think straight. I’m scared.”

“We ain’t got nothin’ to be scared of, Johnny, it’s all in yer head. ‘

“Let’s just go back to camp, okay?”

“Okay, man. we’ll turn around. I don’t think the tent’s far.”

With that, the two men turned around and tried to walk back the way they came. The tepid breeze that slid through the dense wilderness was not comforting. The tree limbs clashed and rustled in the wake of its secretive current.

“Walter, I’m scared.” Johnny said. His voice trembled with uncertainty.

“What’s scarin’ you now, Johnny?”

“We ain’t findin’ our way outta here and I feel really weird. I keep hearin’ things, man. HEARIN’ THINGS, MAN!” His voice strained with mania.

“There ain’t nothin’ out there, Johnny, I’m tellin’ ya.”

“Walter, don’t tell me that shit, I’m hearin’ what I’m hearin’. There’s somethin’ fuckin’ out there!” There was rage in his voice now. He was convinced that something was stalking them both and would no longer broker any disagreement.

“You’re losin’ your mind, Johnny. I’m tellin’ ya, we’re just fucked up and lost. We’ll figure it out.” Walter tried to remain patient. He knew Johnny was sick and out of sorts. His own condition was marginally better.


He’s lost his fuckin’ mind, Walter thought to himself. “Johnny, let’s just sit down again and see if we can get our bearings.”

“Yeah, you motherfucker, let’s sit down.” He was no longer screaming, but his voice had taken on a sinister edge nonetheless.

Walter sat down on the ground and Johnny practically collapsed beside him. Without a word, Johnny found the half-gallon bottle of vodka and took a drink from it. He sat the bottle down in front of Walter. After a few seconds, Johnny’s entire body began to shake. At first, it was merely a tremor, but soon reached a feverish pitch. He began to writhe wildly.

“Johnny, what’s wrong?” The sudden outburst terrified Walter. He reached out and wrapped his arms around Johnny’s emaciated frame in an attempt to stifle the convulsions.

“It’s gonna be alright, man, it’s gonna be alright! Just hang on to me!”

However, Johnny could not stop shaking. With a sudden surge of energy, he pushed Walter away and began to scream. He leapt to his feet and staggered blindly into the darkness.


Johnny did not respond. All Walter could hear was Johnny crashing through the woods as he ran away. The sudden silence that came next was disconcerting. He felt utterly helpless as he walked in the direction Johnny had fled calling out for him in hopes that he would answer.


Out in the dark, Johnny waited. The hounds had come again and, if they found him, he would fight. They would not take him without a fight. He knew now that Walter was helping them as well. He wanted to lead him to some place where the hounds would be waiting. Johnny’s mind turned as his eyes scanned the darkness for any sign of his foes.


He could hear Walter coming. He would not allow Walter to reveal his hiding place. He would not permit Walter to lead him to the hounds. He would protect himself at all costs.


He was only a few feet away. Johnny silently reached in his pants pocket and pulled out his knife. He opened the knife with an innocuous click. He would put an end to Walter’s attempts to murder him. He leapt out of the darkness with startling speed and plunged the knife repeatedly into Walter’s back. A warm spray of blood splashed onto his face.


Walter collapsed to the ground and landed on his back. Johnny jumped on top of him and clutched a handful of his hair. With one decisive slice, he slit Walter’s throat from ear to ear.


Then, out of the darkness, the hounds came again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Music of Serpents

I will arrange the music of serpents
To sing of the loftier connections.
The skin that spans the strict observance
Of the quality of our affections.

The bitter slander that rests on the tongue
And venomous melodies of malice
Will uncover marvels still yet unsung
Spinning within the night's starry ballast.

I assert the raw power to enchant
The vipers that bedevil every dream.
The language of man will recant
The lies that its music cannot redeem.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spanish Tony

Marty was ten years old when his rock and roll parents divorced. His dad played guitar in a rock and roll band. His mother, Beverly, was a blue-collar girl from nearby Spencer with a fetish for blonde-haired, blue-eyed and broad-shouldered guitar players. After a whirlwind courtship in an alley behind the bar, they were inseparable from the moment they met.

It lasted a year. He was cheating on her, she was cheating on him, he was a druggie, she was a whore, all the various sundry civilities that distinguish the end of such relationships. They agreed on custody with surprising ease. Marty Sr. agreed to a loose custody arrangement that entailed him ceding some of his parental rights in exchange for smaller support payments and moved to northern Indiana. He neglected to tell his son about moving for six months. Soon afterwards, Beverly married once again. True to type, if nothing else, she married a man who handled sound for a number of local rock bands. Dwayne. He hated Marty from the start and the feeling was mutual. Familial bliss, at last.

The year was nineteen eighty-two and Marty Jr. was twelve years old. The rock music that achieved popularity in that era was the likes of Kansas and Toto, arena rock with a bright, inviting pop sheen. Toto’s hit song, “Rosanna”, enjoyed considerable airplay during that summer. The dramatic sweep and strong melody of the song impressed him greatly. He found himself humming or singing it to himself since he first heard it.

Even as a child, music stirred a tempest of emotions for Marty Jr. and it grew stronger as he grew older. Cut from the same cloth, his mother demonstrated an appreciation for music that masked an outright obsession. She expected that her child would be a strapping, blonde haired guitar player. No other instrument would do.

“Mom, what if I wanted to play drums?”

Beverly frowned. “That’s stupid, drummers don’t mean anything.” She paused. “Well, what I mean is that they usually don’t get any recognition ‘cause they’re at the back of the stage and they’re usually pretty stupid too. You don’t wanna be stupid, do you, Marty?”

Marty’s eyes widened. “No, mom.”

“Then quit makin’ stupid suggestions.”

She wanted a budding stud, a slender, blonde-haired blue-eyed rock god in the making and what she ended up with was a sensitive, pudgy, blonde-haired myopic little boy. At least he got the blonde-hair part down right. She made him wear his hair long despite his protests. She harangued him constantly about his weight. It invariably came cloaked in concern but with a cancer at the heart of every word.

“Marty, don’t you wanna be like other kids? You should do more.”

“Mom…” His voice was strained, emotional.

“Mom what? Marty, you’re too fat. You need exercise or somethin’. Don’t you wanna ever have a girlfriend?”

“Mom, I’ve had girlfriends!”

“Who? I think you’re lyin’. Girls don’t like fat boys, Marty. Don’t come cryin’ to me later.”

It was always about the music, or so she claimed. The first time she caught him listening to Toto’s “Rosanna”, she teased him.

“Marty, you’re listenin’ to Toto? I thought I taught you better.”

“God, mom, I like this song!” he insisted.

Beverly snorted. “It’s a pop song, a crappy pop song. You wanna listen to some shit like that instead of good rock like The Stones?”

“I think it’s kinda cool. I wish you liked it.”

“Not in your wildest dreams, buddy-o.” Her expression hardened. “Fine, listen to your pop music. I’m disappointed, my own son, gettin’ into shit like this.”

She left the room in a hurry. Marty rewound the cassette tape, lowered the volume a little to prevent from provoking his mother further, and listened to the song once again.

The strains of The Rolling Stones song "Street Fightin’ Man" swelled from the next room. Marty recognized the song immediately. He heard his mother singing along with a thin, reedy voice.

He would quit listening to Toto and start listening to The Rolling Stones. He would love his mom’s music and, in turn, she would love him. She would see that he could be cool and that she could be proud to call him her son. He was certain it would work. A rush of excitement came over him as he imagined his mother loving him.

He stepped into the next room and found her cleaning the living room while the music played. She seemed lost in her own world, unaware of her son’s presence, and wore a thin smile on her face. When she saw her son at last, she stopped and her smile disappeared.

“If you’re done listenin’ to that shit, go out and play or somethin’. You can’t hang out in here right now, I’m cleanin’.”

“No, mom, I was wonderin’ if I could borrow a couple of your Rolling Stones tapes.”

She seemed taken slightly aback. “You wanna borrow some Stones?”

“Yeah. I’m startin’ to think their pretty cool.”

“Pretty cool? They’re the greatest rock and roll band in the world, honey.”

“They are? Cool.”

“Lemme get you a couple of tapes.”

She left the room. As soon as she passed through the doorway, Marty could not help but smile. She called me honey! There were only scattered occasions when she had used such terms of affection for her son.

She returned with two cassette tapes in her hand, Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers and a book. She held onto them when Marty reached out to take them from her hand.

“First, don’t lose this stuff. Lose it and your ass is mine.”

“I won’t lose any of it, mom.”

She looked skeptical. “Let go for a minute and lemme tell ya about this book I want you to read.”

Marty released his hold and stepped back.

“This book is called Up and Down with the Rolling Stones. It’s written by a guy named Spanish Tony who was Keith Richard’s best friend. Keith is the guitarist for the band and one of the songwriters. He wrote this book because he was worried that his friend, Keith, was in bad shape because of drugs. You gonna read it and tell me what ya think?”

“Yeah, mom, sure.”

He took the book and cassettes from her and returned to his bedroom. He put Sticky Fingers in the tape player and heard the raucous chords of “Brown Sugar” begin. He didn’t like it. It was too raw, not tuneful enough. He liked melody and this song didn’t have much of one.

However, he could feign enthusiasm. He could act as if they were the greatest rock and roll band on earth and that he had never heard anything like it before in his short life. He could read this book and act awestruck. He could do it all if she would love him in the end.

He read the book on the school bus over the next few days. Written from the point of view of Richards drug connection, it was a grim, dark account of excess and debauchery. The world depicted in those pages was one where everyone pretended to care for each other while greed and disease reigned.

He finished the book on the way home from school. Eager to share all he had learned from the book, he hurriedly stuffed the book into a backpack pocket and rushed off the bus. His mom was sure to be impressed with his knowledge and his enthusiasm for the subject. He napped in front of the television until his mother came home from work.

“Hi, mom. I wanted to tell ya I finished that book today!”

She had sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette. She puffed on it nervously.

“Really? That’s quick. What’d ya think of it?”

“I loved it! It was fun to read. Especially those stories about Keith and all his guns!”

She smiled. “Yeah, lots of rock stars carry pistols. They probably should considerin’ what happened to John Lennon.”

“What happened to John Lennon?”

“He was shot by a crazy fan. You really liked the book?”

“Yeah, mom, it was cool!”

She smiled again. “That’s great! Come here and give your mom a hug!”

Feeling as if he were walking through a dream, Marty practically leapt up from the couch and ran to his mother. He gave her a long, tight hug that seemed to dispel the years of contempt and outright neglect. It felt warm, affectionate, and sincere.

“Okay, honey. Go get the book for me so I can put it back up. You’ll have good taste in music yet, just like your mom.”

He smiled and went into his bedroom.

The first sign that something was amiss was when he noticed the backpack pocket wide open. He opened it and looked inside. It was empty. He frantically searched every pocket, but he knew, he knew all too well, that the book had fallen out somewhere. He had to retrace his steps.

He tore out of his bedroom and ran outside, bypassing his mother. In their front yard, he found nothing. Obviously, it had to have fallen out either in the yard or on the bus. However, his mother wrote her name and phone number on the inside front cover, so the bus driver would have called. It seemed that it had fallen out in the front yard and someone walking down the street discovered it and claimed it as if it were their own.

He did not want to go back inside. He wanted to run away, far away, far beyond the place where he had to answer questions. He wanted that moment when they embraced to last forever; he did not want this. However, there is was nothing else to do. There was nothing else to do but walk back in and tell his mother what had happened.

He went back inside. She was sitting at the kitchen table.

“Where did ya rush off to?” she asked jovially.

“I thought I mighta dropped somethin’ in the front yard.”

“Did ya?”


“Oh. Well, go get the book, honey, like I asked.”

He lowered his head and shuffled his feet. “I… lost it.”


“I think I lost it, mom.”

“Lost it!”

He nodded slowly.

“How? Where? Jesus fucking Christ…”

“I don’t know..”

“You don’t know? You DON’T FUCKING KNOW? You weren’t payin’ attention and lost it!”

Marty was on the verge of tears. “I think so… mom.”

“DON’T YOU MOM ME, MOTHERFUCKER! DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT BOOK WAS TO FIND?” She took a deep breath. “No, ‘course you don’t. You wouldn’t know. Everything’s about your little world and nothin’ else.” Her tone was disgusted and resigned.

“It’s not true! It was an accident and I’m sorry!”

“Everythin’ is an accident with you. Just accidents all around. When you gonna take some responsibility? You ain’t gonna be a kid forever.” She glared at him intensely. “I thought you were my friend. Guess I was wrong. You’re just my kid.”

Marty wept and felt like he was going to pass out. “Mom, that… that’s not true. I’m your friend. I love you.”

She snorted. “Save it. I don’t wanna hear it. You know, you’re like Spanish Tony. Keith trusted him with his secrets and Tony wrote a book. I trusted you book and you screwed me over. Your own mother.”

His sobs were painful and they wracked his body. “Mom!”

She waved him away. “Get outta here. I wanna be alone. Go to your room.”

Marty slowly walked to his bedroom and shut the door behind him. He began playing “Rosanna” once again and looked outside his window. The backyard was empty. The plaintive vocals overwhelmed his emotions and helped bring tears to his eyes. The drums, guitar, bass, and keyboards conspired to transform his sorrow. He immersed himself in singing the words, placed his fingers against the glass, and wept.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Drawers

The drawers are full of despair
And the dead have your tongue
Splattered on clots of paper and ink.

The heated missives still declare
Phantom passions sung
As we plunged over the brink.

We struggled in a spectral time
And loved as only we could.
The gentle vicissitudes of youth,

The years of articles and rhyme
No longer serve a greater good
And lack the ring of truth.

The Throne of History

The throne of history,
Cheapened by concessions,
Governs in mystery
And lauds its digressions.

Its alien address
Seizes the fluent seat
And presides with finesse
In glorious defeat.

With all I can muster
I will seek to depose
The fierce, regal bluster
I forever oppose.

I covert no new speech
To quell the mind of man.
The throne is out of reach,
Silence smothers the land.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Moon

If I were the moon, I would be cruel
And flatten men with my milky fist
Until they can come to concede
The reason I exist.

I would breathe to fill cradles of beauty
That imbue our days with meaning.
I would live to summon daily redemptions
With a mammoth hand of dreaming.

If I knew the moon, I would linger
Over limpid lips that persist
In spurning my every advance
And spoiling every kiss

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And So Goodbye

Written for a class and my first attempt at writing a theater piece in over a decade. It's crap, but it documents development... of some sort. Inspired by a one act play written by Tennessee Williams entitled Steps Must Be Gentle that depicts a dialogue between the poet Hart Crane and his mother in the afterlife.

Cast of Characters
Thomas “Tennessee” Williams, a son
Edwina Williams, a mother

Scene: The characters are ghosts. Thomas has a Southern drawl as thick as molasses and, in many ways, is the prototypical Southern gentleman. His sense of humor has a caustic edge that can be shocking to some. Edwina is one of those people. She is a woman of great pretension, very fussy with her appearance, and her sweet criticism of those around her hides a reflex to belittle others. During the play, they move slowly and, as one talks, the other will sometimes stare off into space. They stand at each end of the stage facing one another. The set is some netherworld beyond our own. There are no props, per se. As the action takes place, the stage lights change colors constantly against a black backdrop at the rear of the stage. A thin mist occasionally fills the stage.

They enter from each side of the stage when the play begins.

Thomas: (flatly) Mother.

Edwina: Where am I? I don’t know where I am. Who are you?

Thomas: It’s me, Tom.

Edwina: (sternly; primps her hair a little) Is that you, Cornelius? I’ve got nothin’ to say to you, Cornelius.

Thomas: (smirks) It’s me, Tom, your beloved son. Dad isn’t here.

Edwina gazes around the stage. A baffled look in her eyes suggests she is trying to comprehend her surroundings.

Edwina: (hesitantly) Tom… am I dead? Are we –

Thomas: (interrupting) – dead? Yes, we’re both quite dead, I am afraid.

Edwina: Is this heaven?

Thomas: (smirking) I find it inspiring that you, of all people, should assume that, being dead, you must surely be in heaven amongst the angels.

Edwina: Such an insolent, disrespectful son, even in death. I endured the… impurity of bringing you, your brother Dakin, and your sister Rose into the world, I endured the revolting behavior of your father, and this is my eternal reward.

Thomas: (unaffected; speaking calmly) How funny that you mention impurity, mother. Our hearts can be impure and we can commit foul deeds. But I have found that the lack of forgiveness has its own impurity. We are meant to forgive. Even here, in this place.

Edwina: (fingers her hair nervously) What is it that you want to forgive?

Thomas: (his face softens with emotion) Not what… but whom. You, mother.

Edwina: (genuinely surprised) Well, I don’t understand. Forgive me? What for, Tom?

Thomas: For our broken Rose… how you failed her. The terrible crime you committed against her.

Edwina: Tom, I don’t –

Thomas: (becoming emotional) The mutilation –

Edwina: (horrified) Stop it now! I will –

Thomas: - of her brain!

Edwina: (whispering, almost hissing) You don’t know what you’re talking about! You’re crazy, just like her. It was my cross to bear. Cornelius and his progeny, none of whom would appreciate the refinement I sought in life, and all of whom would come to hate me for merely aspiring to higher things.

Thomas: (amused) Such as submitting your daughter to a lobotomy because she has “scandalized” you? Is that among the higher things you aspired to? I never knew your zest for life was so… versatile.

Edwina: She was full of filth. She behaved in a filthy manner, she said filthy things, and she harbored filthy thoughts. The doctors told me and your father it would stop it all and she would be peaceful.

Thomas: Peaceful? Yes, peaceful, and completely broken, but for what? For expressing her desires! For taking pleasure from life and delighting in her body! If she became dangerous, it was because you drove her to it. And what about me? I was something you loathed and could never discuss. A homosexual.

Edwina: (stiffens) I don’t wish –

Thomas: What you wish is immaterial right now.

Edwina: (indignantly) It was always immaterial, my son. I was a minister’s daughter and I was raised to respect a certain way of life. But my husband brought me nothing but grief with his drinking, card playing and philandering and then my children brought me nothing but crushed hopes! A daughter who changed before my very eyes! You can’t imagine what it did to me. You’re too concerned with yourself to see it!

Thomas: Oh, the indignities you suffered! Your daughter spent her life in institutions, you witch! I kept her comfortable, but it was all I could do. And… I had devils of my own to contend with. (laughs darkly) Promiscuity to ward off despair. Drugs – pills to sleep, to wake up, to shut down, to work, to stagger through the rehearsals and rewrites. The liquor, the endless, brainless gallons of liquor I washed down to bury the promiscuity to ward off despair, the drugs to sleep, wake up, shut down, work, and get through the day. While I was being a brother to what you deemed to be undignified, I lost my way. My glorious life ended alone choking to death on a pill bottle cap in a New York hotel room. I should have died with Rose at my side so I could tell her how I loved her so. The indignity you couldn’t love!

The colors on the backdrop behind the actors begins to cycle through different shades of blue. The stage lights dim slightly.

Edwina: (visibly shaken): Our lives were disasters, it seems. Perhaps I shouldn’t be forgiven. This world is lit by tears and I haven’t paid for my crimes yet. My son, don’t forgive me. Not yet, not even now. (she extends her arms out towards him) I am sorry though. Sorry for the disaster of our family, and I’m grateful for the good times we had. Search for forgiveness, but it doesn’t matter if you find it for me, I’ll be sorry for all of this into eternity, Tom. And so – goodbye.

Bloomington's Best Betrayal

I didn’t want to be there
In the dishonest fluorescent glow
Of a Steak and Shake parking lot
Fanning the fires of another.
After flirting over milkshakes,
Her mouth was convulsive and tart.
I relished the taste of her tongue
With the knowledge I could transmute
Bitterness into desire, on the fly.
But I swear,
I didn’t want to be there.

I wanted to be with you,
But we drank our coffee too.
Bloomington’s Best Betrayal
Served by a disinterested college girl
Who lacked the aplomb
Of her televised counterparts.
I thought of you.
Believe it, ‘cause it’s true.
Your home was two miles away
And I wondered if my scream
Could cover such a space.
I would shout
You pushed me away.
It’s your fault that I’m here.

I followed her home
In a cloud of unknowing
And though I didn’t want to be there,
I took her nonetheless
Into an icy thread of unsparing lust.
As she thrashed wildly with me,
I hissed there would be no other
Until that frozen thread unraveled
And its murky promise dissolved.

I didn’t want to be there,
I wanted to be with you
And wept in another woman’s bed,
You can believe it, ‘cause it’s true.
We lay awake until the dawn,
The stain of betrayal between us,
Like grudging penitents
Discovering the scope of our sin.
And since I didn’t want to be there,
I would not see her again.

Bring me another coffee
To thin the filth and bile
That inflames my stomach
When I recall my guile.

This is the poem for when all else fails
To blacken my tears
And the paper cross I climb
To show my love of nails.
This is the flavor of my betrayal
That I still taste when I insist
It was you who left me in the end.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Deceivers

The deceivers take on a shine
In our affairs
And we too often bask
In the nimble larceny
Of their desire.

We are what we cannot love
And search for what we cannot find
In ourselves.
Our frightened, fitful dreams
Are fodder
For foul tongues
That will not yield
In their brazen approach.

Honesty is beaten.
We are drunk on sublimation
Disguised as selflessness
And all too willing to exonerate
The brittle survey of our love
So that we are not alone.

Groping Towards Grace

I have been groping towards grace.
Anguish has dogged my pursuit
But I cannot rest.

I must command the space.
By my hand I will uproot
My gnawing distress.

There are roads in the hearts of men.
There are journeys towards joy
That I could never master.

Nothing will stop me ever again.
But the despair that I destroy
Can fall no faster.

This has a plodding magic.
There are no loud wonders
To bless the day.

My trials are rarely tragic.
Miracles disguised as blunders
Show me the way.

Faith and Loss

“Chuck, man, you don’t look so good.”

He was a black man in his early fifties who looked ten years older. His real name was Charles, but no one ever addressed him as anything other than Chuck. A fast rising Air Force officer, Chuck had been a part of the project that had constructed the second Cyclotron at Indiana University. The Cyclotron was a particle accelerator used to perform nuclear physics experiments and its presence had brought the university some national recognition. He was married, had just become a father for the second time, and owned his own home. However, something was terribly wrong with it all.

“Jericho?” He seemed unsure about who was standing next to him. He reeked of urine and vodka.

“Yeah, man, it’s Jericho. You alright?”

“No, man, I’m not doin’ so good. I ain’t done no good in a long time.”

Despair dogged him still, as it had when he was younger. A gnawing, growing sense of dissatisfaction had born holes into his stomach and destroyed his commitment to both family and country. He was a successful black military officer in an era when such inroads were earth-shattering achievements. Despite facts such this, he had no faith that his life had any real meaning.

“Where ya goin’?” Jericho asked.

“Well, I need to get another bottle and then go to 9th Street Park.”

Jericho worried that if Chuck went into the liquor store, he would end up in jail. He was in such a state that some horrified clerk would likely call the police. Furthermore, if Chuck tried to make the trip to 9th Street Park unassisted, he was going to hurt himself. He would fall down again.

“Lemme help ya, Chuck. I’ll get yer bottle at Big Red and make sure you get to the park.”

“Don’t bother, man. If I don’t make it there, then fuck it.”

“What if ya fall again and break a leg or somethin’?”

“If I do, I do. Who gives a fuck? I sure don’t. Maybe I might get lucky and break my neck.”

“Aw, come on, man, don’t say that. I like ya, you’re a damn good guy.”

Chuck smirked. “Yeah, I bet ya do.”

“Listen, man, I’m gonna help ya, that’s all there is to it. I’ll go in and get the bottle and make sure you get to the park.”

Chuck shrugged. “If you wanna.”

The two men walked together and Jericho stayed close to help ensure that he remained upright. Why did Jericho bother when so many would not? He wished he knew what happened to Chuck that drove him to this end and perhaps he saw in him hints of his own possible demise. He wanted a glimpse of what dark forces swam in the bilge-like depths of Chuck’s brain so that he might better understand the phantoms of loss that threatened to darken his life.

From his earliest days, he had no faith whatsoever in his enduring worth as an individual. It was true that he was a successful black military officer and his involvement in the Cyclotron project was a feather in his professional cap. However, what purpose did his work serve? To build a better bomb? He was a father and a husband, but to what? Two gaping maws that sought to devour him whole on their journey to the abyss and a bleached, deadened shell of a wife who grew increasingly remote as time went on. His despair had been total.

Jericho left him sitting outside the entrance to the liquor store while he went inside. When he returned, Jericho saw that Chuck had tipped over and was lying in a flower planter outside the entrance. Though he had lain like that for only a few minutes at the most, he was already snoring. Jericho shook him harshly by the shoulder.

“Chuck, man, get the fuck up! This place’ll call the law on you in a second!”

Chuck stirred and mumbled angry, incoherent words whose meaning Jericho could not discern. He slowly pulled himself upright. When he looked at Jericho, there was no recognition in his eyes.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“It’s me, Jericho, man, you know me.”

“Oh. You got my bottle?”

“Yeah, man. Let’s get outta here before we get busted.”

Chuck began to rise and Jericho gripped his arm to help support him. Chuck leaned heavily against him and, once he reached his feet, they began walking again. Crossing College Avenue, one of Bloomington’s busiest streets, was a thankfully simple journey. After that, it was just a matter of reaching the railroad tracks.

Chuck could barely walk. Because of his deteriorating condition and drinking, he had begun to frequently collapse and two of those falls had been traumatic enough to fracture both of his ankles. However, he failed to seek treatment and continued to walk on the fractured bones. Consequently, he had lost the steady stride of a healthy adult male and now had the inconsistent shuffle of a wayward old man. Likewise, his health was failing. He walked around half slumped over and his ratty clothes did not fit his emaciated frame. His eyes were yellow, a sign of hepatitis.

“Chuck, you been eatin’ much?”

He shrugged. “Here and there.”

“Man, you gotta take better care of yourself.”

“Why?” He sounded contemptuous of the idea.

“Chuck, I don’t wanna see you die. You’re a tough bastard, and if you just took a little bit better care of yourself, you could probably go another twenty years.”

He laughed loudly. “I don’t wanna go another twenty minutes, let alone fuckin’ years. I ain’t gonna make it much longer. Can’t.”

Though his voice was little more than a drunken slur, Jericho heard a horrific clarity in his words that chilled him to the bone.

“Man, why so dark?”

“I gotta pay. I betrayed everythin’ and there ain’t no gettin’ round it.”

“You gotta learn to forgive yourself.”

“Forgive? Ain’t no forgiveness in this world. The best we do is bury things and go on.”

“I still have faith that everything’s gonna be alright in the end.”

“You ain’t gonna lose it either. You’ll give it away, just like I did.”

When they reached Rogers Street and walked onto the railroad tracks, Jericho knew that they faced a new set of challenges. The crossties connecting the rails were not of uniform height and posed hazards to the clumsy. Walking on the railroad tracks required a certain degree of coordination that Chuck did not possess.

He did not make it far before he collapsed. His body exploded upon impact and his broken limbs lay spread out upon the tracks. If he could have only stayed on his feet a little longer, Jericho thought. A nearby line of trees would have hidden him well. He moved vaguely, hinting at ultimately inconsequently efforts to rise. Jericho rushed to him.

“Man, Chuck, this ain’t no fuckin’ good, man, you gotta get up!”

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can, just get yourself up slowly. You can lean on me as you’re gettin’ up.”

Chuck nodded and reached for Jericho. He clutched Jericho’s belt line and began his attempt to stand. However, the moment his body rose from the ground, Chuck pulled on Jericho with all of his strength and both men toppled over onto the ground. Jericho hit the gravel especially hard and skinned his hand.


He scrambled to his feet and moved around Chuck’s prone body to face him. “Looks like I’m gonna have to help ya up on my own. I’m gonna try to get you off to the side of the railroad tracks and into the underbrush so I can get some help, alright?”

“Okay.” There was a vacancy in his eyes and voice now, an unmistakable, inebriated weariness.

Jericho put his arms under Chuck’s and wrapped them around his chest. With a sharp intake of breath, Jericho attempted to pull Chuck up to his feet. Even though Chuck was underweight and had a small frame, he was dead weight.

“Come on, Chuck, get your feet under ya! You want me to go to jail with you?”

“No, man, no.” He was semi-conscious, but no closer to regaining his footing than what he was when he first collapsed. His head hung down and slowly lolled from side to side.

“Then you hafta help me, man. I can’t carry ya all by myself. Just one leg at a time and you’ll be able to do it.”

Jericho looked to the right and saw two Bloomington city police officers approaching them. They had parked alongside Rogers Street and another car had parked on the opposite side of the street. Jericho watched as an obese, middle-aged man climbed out of his Chrysler Town Car and followed the officers.

“Shit, Chuck, the cops are here! I told ya! Now we’re both goin’ to jail!”

“Sorry, man.”

“I’m gonna sit you back down on the ground, okay?”

“Okay. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. What’s done is done.”

The officers reached them. A physically imposing man in his early twenties, the first officer sported a severe crew cut, a clean-shaven face, and a dark suntan. Bulky and middle-aged, the second officer had a swollen face and large eyes. His entire demeanor appeared much more hospitable than that of his younger peer.

The younger one spoke first. “Looks like you guys are havin’ problems.”

“Yeah, my friend has been drinkin’ and I’m tryin’ to help him home.” Jericho said.

“Where’s he live?”

“11th Street.”

“How ‘bout you? Have you been drinking?”

“Yeah, I’ve been drinkin’ too.”

The older officer turned towards Chuck. “What’s your name?”

Chuck’s head rose slightly and he looked at the officer’s chest. He slurred something indecipherable before his head lowered again.

The younger officer snorted. “Pretty sure I know where he’s going now.” Behind the officers, the heavy man driving the third vehicle stopped and watched. A small cell phone was in his hand.

The younger officer turned his attention towards Jericho. “What’s your name?”

“Jericho Adams.”

“Where do you live?”

“436 South Pierce.”

“How much have you had to drink today, Jericho?”

Not enough to be dealin’ with this, he thought. He looked at Chuck. He was still sitting on the rail and his head rested in his lap.

“I helped drink a fifth earlier.” It was not honest, but it was believable. If you wanted to split this eighty proof hair, you could say that he was telling the truth. He had just finished a fifth of cheap whiskey no more than a hour ago downtown. However, the whole truth would have to include that first fifth of whiskey that he finished at ten this morning.

“Jericho, you think you can make it home okay?” the older officer asked.

“Yeah, I can.”

“Then I strongly suggest you go there. And if we see you out again, you’re goin’ to jail too.”

Relief swept over him. “No problem, officers.”

“Okay then, you’re free to go. Your friend’s goin’ to jail.”


Jericho turned away and walked westward on the railroad tracks. He had Chuck’s fifth still held in the waistline of his pants. He heard the men talking behind him.

“I saw these two struggling and the black one couldn’t stand, so I figured they were a couple of drunks. I had to call.” It was the heavy man from the third vehicle.

“We’re glad you did. If they’d been here when a train came though, it would’ve been a disaster.”

Jericho heard the first officer laugh. “Oh well, not much of a loss. Motherfucker! This drunk fuck pissed all over himself. Lemme put my gloves on.”

The Best Intentions

He wanted to be the Jewish Neil Young. However, his parents made it clear that rock music was out of the question for a good, Midwestern Jewish boy, much less playing the type of fuzzy, languid rock wafting eastward from drug-addled California hippies. Despite this, Mike was undeterred. He wholeheartedly embraced the idea that rock and roll could change the world. He was going to be part of that change even if it meant that he brought shame on his family and faced the rejection of his peers. He saw no other way.

Mike’s father owned Evansville’s oldest newspaper for many years up until the 1970’s and his mother had been a music instructor at a private school. Both parents were orthodox Jews and attendance at synagogue was compulsory for Mike as a young boy. He greeted their attempts at indoctrination with a level of resistance beyond his years and increasingly chafed at the restraints they sought to impose. He planned to turn his back on the world that he knew. He dreamt of the day when he would reject the faith of his ancestors and the affluence of his youth. In its place, a new identity would form that, while not terribly original in the context of the times, was nonetheless a much truer vision of who he was.

He first heard Neil Young in 1969 when he was fifteen years old. It was the year of Young’s first album with the band Crazy Horse. Forbidden from listening to such music, Mike heard the album for the first time in the bedroom of his cousin Clark.

“Wow, what’s this song called?” Mike asked.

“Cinnamon Girl.”

“Listen to that guitar! This sounds incredible, Clark! What’s this guy’s name again?”

“Neil Young. Usedta be in a band called Buffalo Springfield.”

“Never heard of ‘em.”

“Heck, I’ve never heard anything like this before.”

To Mike, this music went beyond cool. He felt the ragged and dangerous qualities of the songs call to him somehow. Those guitar chords slashed away at the carefully constructed reality his parents had erected. Over the next three years, his enthusiasm for music blossomed into outright obsession. Softening his stand on modern music, Mike’s father bought him a guitar that he played all the time. By his eighteenth birthday, he grew into an accomplished musician. It was then when he announced that he was not going to college in the fall.

“Dad, I’m not going to school in the fall. I’m gonna travel, see the country, play my guitar.”

His words clearly horrified his father. “Do you realize what you are saying? The chances that you are taking with your future?”

“I don’t care. I’ll go to school, but I want to experience some of life first before I do.”

“This is foolishness. You should be getting ready for school, yet you insist on this waste of time. I will have you know, Michael, that we will not underwrite this excursion in anyway and we will not bail you out of any scrapes.”

“I don’t expect you to, dad.”

“This country is full of folly, violence, and sin. Freedom is knowing your path in life, not pursuing childish daydreams. Dreams are just that – dreams. They aren’t meant to come true.”

“I disagree. It’s a new day in America. Things are changing.”

“Trust no one, Michael. People are treacherous. Go on though, if you feel you must. There’s a lot coming to you, I am afraid.”

In the summer of 1973, Mike took to the road with a righteous feeling in his heart. It was arrogant self-empowerment fueled from Watergate, Wounded Knee, and the end of Vietnam. Mike truly believed that music and an united front of like-minded souls had ended the war. He believed that Nixon was reaping his karmic reward. He believed that the government was evil and corrupt and that with their succession of recent failure, there was now opportunities for lasting change. He drove westward with the conviction that one hippie kid with his guitar at a time was the way to change the world.

On the third day, he stopped his van at a campground near Cheyenne, Wyoming. A lustrous, blue carpet of sky unstained by clouds and the surrounding dense thickets of prairie grass gave the campground a pastoral quality. Mike cleaned up and cooked some pork and beans on a campground grill. Afterwards, he rolled a joint and took a walk around the surrounding area.

While walking, Mike came across a small group of stranded hippies. Their school bus was elevated on cinder blocks and the tires sat nearby. There were three of them. The first, a man in his early thirties, was shabbily dressed, heavy set, and had a long, unkempt beard that resembled a thick tangle of wiring. His light blonde hair was greasy and immobile. The second man was younger, no older than his mid-twenties, and much more presentable than his counterpart. The third hippie was a woman, also in her early twenties, who clearly was the younger man’s girlfriend as she continually hovered near him. Her stringy brown hair needed a brush and her gaunt, oval face, fair complexion and small breasts gave her certain doll-like qualities. She was tall, over six feet, and rail thin.

“Hey man, you guys need help?” Mike asked.

The two men looked at each other. The younger man looked back at Mike and smiled.

“Yeah, brother. There’s some heavy liftin’ here and we could use some help.”

Mike offered his hand to the younger man first. “My name’s Mike.”

“I’m Tim. This is my older brother Stan and my girl, Terri.”

Stan shook Mike’s hand, smiled faintly and nodded. However, Terri embraced him and pressed her body tightly against his own.

“Man, it’s really cool to meet ya. Ya got a joint, brother?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. Let’s smoke out before we work.”

They agreed. The four of them sat in a circle near the bus and, as they smoked, Mike discovered they were Midwesterners like himself. Travelling to a commune north of Sacramento, California, they were now waiting for Terri’s father. The bus needed a new radiator and new front tires.

“So where ya goin’, man?” Terri asked.

“California first. I wanna play my guitar in Golden Gate Park and see Frisco. After that, I’ll go back east and then head south.”

“Seeing the country, eh?” Tim asked.

“Yeah, man. The war’s over, America’s America again. Things are gonna change for the better. I wanna see the country before I go off to college.”

“Good idea. Fuck that damn war. Shoulda ended years ago.”

“I did a tour. 71’.” Stan said to Mike.

“You didn’t try to dodge the draft?”

“Couldn’t. I was waiting for trial on some shit and they gave me a choice.”

“What kind of shit?” Mike asked.

“Just some bullshit.” Stan spat the words out with a finality that was hard to miss and discouraged further questions.

“Hey, man, we got the money for new tires, just not the radiator. You think you could give us a ride to the next town and back so we can get those tires?” Tim asked.

“Sure, man, I’ll help ya out.”

The four of them walked back to Mike’s van. Once out on the highway, they began talking once again. Terri sat in the passenger seat. Tim and Stan sat behind her and Mike.

“So ya really think that since the war’s over, everything’s gonna be different?” Tim asked.

“Yeah, man, how could it not be? It’s gotta be better.”

“I didn’t see better in ‘Nam, man.”

“’Course not, Stan, you were in combat, anyone would be outta their mind in that situation.” Mike replied.

“What would you know about bein’ in that situation?” Stan asked.

Mike heard the undercurrent of frustration and anger in his voice. “I don’t know anything about it, man. I didn’t mean to offend. I just figure that’s the way it is.”

“Fuck, man, this is just another Vietnam. Another fuckin’ jungle where human life doesn’t mean shit. The end of no war ain’t gonna change that.” Tim said.

“So you play guitar?” Terri asked.


“Wish I could play somethin’.” Tim said.

“My guitar’s gonna help pay for this trip. I got a pound of good grass too that I’m gonna sell along the way.”

“Really?” Stan asked.

“You ain’t lookin’ for some along with those tires, are you?”

Mike heard Stan mumble something indecipherable and the two men briefly jostling behind him.

“Let’s talk about it after we score those tires.” Tim said.

“Cool, man.”

The vein of granite highway struck through a robust, grassy world. Mike kept his arm resting in the open window as he drove. He relished the warmth that radiated over his skin.

“So you said fuck college, I’m gonna travel, play my guitar and sell pot, huh?” Terri asked. She had a coy smile.

“Yeah. I’m not going to do it forever or anything, you know?”

“Outta sight, man. I betcha your folks weren’t happy.”

“They weren’t, but I don’t care.”

She smiled and crossed her legs slowly. She was showing them off and Mike could not help but notice.

From behind the driver’s seat, Stan spoke. “Hey man, do you think we could stop for a while? I got a bum knee that I need to stretch out. Need to piss too.”

“Sure, man. I’ll break out some of that weed too and roll a joint.”

They drove another half mile before Mike pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. The four of them climbed out of the van. The clouds resembled icy splashes of glass smeared against the sky. Stan stretched his back and stared off into the distance. Mike saw Tim whispering into Terri’s ear.

“I gotta piss too.” he said.

Tim nodded. He took a few steps before he heard someone moving behind him. Nothing would ever sound the same again. A monstrous blast of pain seared his senses for a split second and he descended into the dark.

A truck driver found him alongside Highway 80, fifteen miles east of Cheyenne. His face was bloody and an inch wide skull fracture was visible. This truck driver, a burly alcoholic, ensured that Mike would survive. He was delivering auto parts into Cheyenne and a past career as a moonshine runner served him well in the rush to save Mike’s life.

The police never made an arrest and Mike’s memories of the events preceding the assault were virtually non-existent. What became of him? What exactly survived? It did not matter that his family, friends, and even his cousin Clark were complete mysteries to him for the rest of his life, the crucial faculties of memory and visual identification disfigured by the vicious attack. They crowed that none of that mattered; Mike was still Mike, even in this state. His thick blonde hair still swept over his shoulders, his slender jaw line lent his face a gentle air, and his lustrous blue eyes still commanded your attention. However, he was gone, he was dead, the promise of his life snuffed out for a doddering van in need of a new carburetor, a guitar, and a pound of grass. What men considered sacrosanct was not the earnest need to transform the colorless stratum of our human affairs, the tenderhearted striving towards the stars. What men considered sacrosanct was the feral, mercenary lust to claim their bounty in life at any expense.

Back To The Family

“Living this life has its problems
so I think that I'll give it a break.
Oh, I'm going back to the family
'cause I've had about all I can take.”

- Jethro Tull, “Back To the Family”

            If only people were as honest as these squirrels, Gene Getty thinks to himself. It is a warm spring day and he sits alone in his backyard feeding squirrels walnuts that he collects specifically for this purpose. He gently tosses them into the grass and watches as they vie and tussle for their bounty. They furtively run away and disappear up nearby trees. Such is the nature of a squirrel. They harbor no pretensions of fealty and make no secret of the fact that their undivided attention is dependent on his continued largesse. In the instant that he ceases offering walnuts, they will abandon him completely. They’re honest and people never are. To him, these simple animals are paragons of candor.

            He is a barrel-chested man with deeply set, mournful eyes. His hands are large and rough-hewn. His face is rugged and possesses a quality of unlikely sweetness. He is an automobile factory supervisor, a father, and husband who puts the proverbial food on the table, pays the bills, and ensures that those aspects of his life continue with precise, unspectacular dependability.  His diligence in these areas rewards him with material security; he measures his worth by the durability of such achievements. His peers like and respect him for his easy going and convivial nature. Despite this, the joy of life is an unknown commodity to him and his spirit is a deflated vacancy haunted by the echoes of eviscerated passions. His life is duty and obligation and any emotional turbulence meets a stunning lack of will to address the issue that begat the disturbance. It is no small testament to his depression that feeding walnuts to squirrels is one of the few things bringing him pleasure.

            He hears the familiar sound of a school bus stopping in front of his home. His daughter is home from school and he knows it is only a matter of moments before she rounds the house searching for him and calling out his name.

            “Daddy! Are you back here?”

            “Yes, Ruth, I’m here.”

            Ruth comes around the corner of the house and her face brightens when she makes eye contact with him. He smiles in return. She is nine years old and has a stocky build for a young girl. She is dressed in a t-shirt and a pair of jeans that have the legs cut off to make them shorts. She has thick, straight blonde hair tied in a pigtail that reaches her shoulders. Her chubby, cherubic face suggests sweetness and a generosity of spirit. Despite her frequently animated conversation, she rarely says anything without first weighing the potential consequences of her remarks.

            “Come stand beside me, Ruthie. How’d your day go at school?” Gene asks.

            “Well, I got to play kick ball with some boys today, but they were mean to me.”

            “Did’ja tell your teacher?”

            Ruth shakes her head and smiles slightly. “No. I told them they were mean and couldn’t even play right. Then I got away from ‘em.”

            Gene laughs a little. “That’s good. I bet they won’t mess with you again. What else did ya do?”

            “Well, do you remember me tellin’ you ‘bout that big walnut tree we have in our playground?”

            Gene nods. “Sure, I remember that.”

            “Well, I’m almost able to climb halfway up it. I will soon!”

            Gene’s expression turns grave and serious. “Ruthie, I know you love to climb trees, but be careful.” he replies, but his words of caution seem insufficient. He feels adrift and cut off from the authentic emotion that the situation requires. He can’t even bring himself to hug his own daughter usually. What’s wrong with me? I’m totally useless. He looks distractedly for his squirrels; they are situated nearby and watching him attentively.

            Ruth notices her father’s caution. “Don’t worry, daddy. It’s only a little taller than this one here in our backyard.”

            Gene looks at her wistfully. “Ok, Ruthie. I trust you. Just be careful?”

             “Sure, daddy. Wanna hear what else happened today?”


            “These girls in my class started makin’ fun of me at recess! They said I was fat! They said we were poor and my clothes weren’t as nice as theirs!” Her indignation and pain alike knows no bounds and the anger in her voice is palpable.

            Gene regains his focus and looks questioningly at her. “Did’ja tell your teacher?”


            “Why not, Ruth? You shoulda told your teacher. So what didja do?”

            Ruth suddenly looks ready to cry. “I told ‘em they were mean and they should quit being mean to me and leave me alone.” Her voice, full with primal outrage only moments before, is now distressed and choked with emotion. Gene stares at her for a moment in frozen horror. Her intense emotions are a direct challenge to his apathy, but all that he has to answer this challenge with is his sense of duty and parental obligation. Give her a hug and tell her everything’s gonna be alright, he thinks.

            “Come here, Ruthie, give me a big hug.” he says and opens his arms for an embrace. She virtually leaps into his arms with desperate ferocity. He absently strokes her hair and mutters, “It’ll be alright in the end, trust me. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with ya.”

            “Ruth! I need you to come here for a minute!” It is the shrill, demanding voice of Gene’s wife, Beatrice, calling out from a window above them.

            Gene gently pushes Ruth away and frowns. “Better go see what your mom wants.”

            Ruth nods silently and runs around the house to its front door. She is careful to make sure the soles of her shoes are clean before she goes inside. The interior of the Getty home is a bastion of orderly middle class taste. The arrangement of the furniture in the living room and their attendant accessories is typical and lacks any personality. The dining room is modest in size and has large windows on the western wall that floods the room with hazy streams of light. This is the scene of a crime. The crime is that there isn’t a real family living here. This is a cast with little discernable skill offering a performance of family life. Their home is the stage.

            Beatrice Getty steps out of a small kitchen adjacent to the dining room. She is a tall, slender woman with a well-manicured appearance. She is in the early years of middle age and a few strands of gray are visible around her temples. She has fierce, intense brown eyes and a face that is a mask of worry and tension. She has been cooking dinner and looks a little flustered. The smell of chicken, cooked vegetables and bread fills the air.

            “You wanted me, mommy?”

            Beatrice nods. “Yes, I do, Ruth. Dinner’s almost ready and I want you to set the table.”

            Ruth takes three glass plates from a nearby cabinet and steps back out into the dining room. She eyes her mother wearily; her mother does not return the gaze. Ruth is afraid of her mother and that maternal dread has many faces. She can falter in the face of her mother’s hypercritical diatribes and frets with the threat of her censure.

            “Wanna hear about what happened at school today, mommy?” Ruth asks.

            Beatrice nods distractedly as she works at the stove. “Sure, Ruth, tell me.”

             “Well, there’s this walnut tree in our playground that I’ve almost climbed half way up. It’s even bigger than our walnut tree!”

            As she cuts some chicken, Beatrice glances back at her daughter. “I hope you’re being careful, Ruth.”

            “Oh yeah, mom, don’t worry.” she replies. “You wanna know what else happened today?”

            “Sure.” However, she doesn’t really care now. Her interior diatribe eats at her constantly. I work all day and I have to come home and cook every night? Why can’t he cook some? All he does is watch other people work. There’s nothin’ hard about his day. And Ruth climbin’ trees… what kind of nine-year-old girl likes climbin’ trees so much? She should be interested in dolls and maybe even in boys. Not climbin’ trees. What a strange kid.

            “Well, I was playin’ kick ball with these boys and they were ok at first. But then they started talkin’ mean to me and I told them they should leave me alone!”

            “Uh huh.” Beatrice says as she steps from the kitchen into the dining room. She looks the dining room table over, frowns, and glares at Ruth.

            “Ruth, you put things too close together! Someone’s gonna knock their glass over when they reach for their silverware!” she says. When she glares at Ruth, Ruth does not see her mother.  What she sees instead is a monster.

            “I’m sorry, mommy, I just got to talkin’ and wasn’t payin’ attention.” she pleads.

            Beatrice is unmoved. “That’s your problem, Ruth. You don’t pay attention. I’ve told ya how to do this over and over, but you never listen, you’re just off in your own little world. You need to grow up.” She sighs deeply. Here is the eye of the storm. “Just go tell your dad that dinner is ready. I’ll fix the table.”

            With that, Ruth walks away utterly defeated. It leaves her feeling as if her mother does not love her and has little interest in her life. It is only a fraction of what is going on. Ruth cannot see the worry around her mother’s eyes. She is too young to note the wild, unhinged look on her face when she starts on one of her customary tirades. Her mother and father are sick, but she doesn’t know it. She is far too young to understand how a child can inherit all of this and carry it over into adulthood and parenthood. All Ruth knows is the pain of rejection and its savage agony will cling to her for the rest of her life.

            As she walks around the corner of the house with her head down, she bumps into her father coming from the opposite direction.

            “Whoa, watch were you’re goin’, Ruthie.” he says. His smile is unenthusiastic.

            “Sorry, daddy.”

            “Dinner ready?”

            “Yeah, mommy said to come get you.”

            “I figured as much.” He nods and forces another smile. “So… what has your mom fixed for dinner?”

            “Boiled chicken, cooked vegetables, and some bread.”

             “Yum. Let’s go eat.”

            The two of them walk inside the house together. Ruth finds her place at the dining room table and carefully watches her parents interact. They do not embrace or exchange any kisses. Beatrice stands at the kitchen counter transferring green beans from a cooking pot into the serving dish. Gene leans over her shoulders and smells the air.

            “Smells great, Bea.”

            She smirks. “I’ll be surprised if you can eat it. I didn’t have time to make it and I’m damn tired. I never know exactly when everyone is gonna be home so I can start dinner anyway.”

            Gene frowns with profound displeasure. “It doesn’t have to be done so soon, Bea. I can wait a little while after work before we have.”

            Bea slams her right hand down on the counter. The sound reverberates throughout the entire house. “I don’t wanna wait until after six to eat! I need my rest, dammit! I have to work too, you know!” She sighs loudly and her mood suddenly changes. “Besides, the last time the two of you ate was at lunch, and I’m sure it wasn’t much.”

            Gene sulks away from his wife and sits down at the dining room table. Beatrice joins him and sits directly across from Ruth. She picks up a nearby serving dish of green beans and passes it to Gene. Once more, the nightly imitation of family life begins with the communal meal. This is the prototypical nuclear family, circa late 20th century America; the father, omnipresent head of the family unit, flanked by his loving, nurturing wife and his lovely, luminous daughter. However, something has gone awry here; for this family, that celebrated ideal ran off the rails long ago. There is no real meaning behind their gestures of formality, only a grim insistence on decorum in the face of the undisputable fact that their lives, individually and collectively, are shattered.

            Beatrice cannot believe the lack of consideration she gets from her husband and daughter. She works hard as a cafeteria cook for the local college and meets her obligations as both a mother and a wife, but no one seems to give a damn. They don’t appreciate her efforts or sacrifices; they don’t appreciate how hard she works for them and worries about them. They just don’t seem to care. Perhaps they really don’t care. I give and I give and they take and they take and that’s my life. This over-heated reasoning echoes through her mind like a mantra. She glances at Gene. He has his head down in sullen concentration eating his dinner. He’s no help. Look at him. He just gives his stupid, harmless grin and goes through life showing up for things and nothing more. And he can barely do that. She turns her attention towards Ruth.

            “Tell me again about your day in school, Ruth?” she asks.

            Ruth glances briefly at her father. He looks at her with an expressionless gaze and resumes picking away at his dinner. He is a cipher, disengaged from virtually everything, and has nothing to offer. Ruth looks into the eyes of the most important woman that she will ever know and does not know what waits for her. She begins to talk about her day.

            “Well, I climbed halfway up this walnut tree that we have in our playground.”

            Gene briefly stirs to attention. “How much taller is the walnut tree in our backyard?”

            Ruth’s eyes widen as she pictures the tree in her mind. “Oh, jeez, ‘bout twice its size, daddy.”

            Gene frowns. “Like I said earlier, Ruth, just be careful. Don’t climb any higher than you can handle.”

             “Yes, daddy, I will. Don’t worry.”

             “I don’t think you should be climbing up any trees at all,” she says with palpable haughtiness. With this opening salvo, Ruth’s attention is completely riveted on her mother. Gene stops eating for a moment, but stares down at his plate. He knows what is coming. His inability to respond perplexes and terrifies him.

            “There’s nothin’ wrong with a kid wantin’ to climb trees, Beatrice. I did it myself when I was her age.” he says.

            Beatrice snorts slightly. “But she’s a nine year old girl. Why is she climbin’ trees? I don’t get it, I guess. Nine-year-old girls should be spendin’ time with other nine-year-old girls, playin’ with dolls, whatever, but not climbin’ trees. It’s weird. Maybe it’s too much to ask that people make an effort to fit in.” While her words are sheer invective, the tone of her voice is sad and disappointed. The tone doesn’t matter to Ruth though. She hears her mother’s rancor and trembles within at the idea that she has let her down once again.

            “I don’t wanna be like those girls! They pick on me and call me fat!” Ruth says.

            “Did’ja tell your teacher that they were callin’ you names?” Beatrice asks.

            Gene shakes his head and says, “No, she didn’t, and I’ve already scolded her.”

            Beatrice smirks derisively. “Lots of good that did, I’m sure.” She turns her attention squarely to Ruth and stares at her. “You know, Ruth, you are a little heavy. If you would lose a little bit of weight, those girls wouldn’t be able to say some of these things about you.”

            “Ruthie, there’s nothin’ wrong with you. Don’t listen to what your mom says. If those girls bother you again, tell your teacher.” Gene says. He offers Ruth a wan smile that barely registers on her. She is horrified. This is turning into one of those spectacular family dinners that scald a child’s psyche. She wants to weep, to scream, to lash out. She harbors these things inside of her, nameless and powerful.

            Beatrice and Gene look silently at one another for a moment. There is a mixture of sullen resignation and outright contempt in their faces. The palpable tension that colors their lives with one another has smashed any memories of the days when they were on the same page and striving for common goals. It was only a few years before their communal love tumbled into discord and acrimony. They remain connected by inertia alone. Beatrice hates herself, but you will never get her to admit to it. It is marital brinksmanship, jockeying for position, and little Ruthie is a pawn. Gene is fighting back for now and when he rouses from his compliant stupor, the deep fissures in their marriage leap to the fore. Gene looks away at last and breaks the spell. He looks fearful and confused as he absently picks up his fork and begins to pick at his dinner once again. Beatrice gives him a final, curiously sad and wistful glance before returning to her food. The resulting silence is taut with fear. Gene picks away at his food and loses himself in thought. I can’t lose her. I can’t do anything about this. I couldn’t bear it, Ruthie couldn’t stand the divorce. I can’t stand it.

            Ruth is falling to pieces inside. She is dumbfounded about how to reach out and say she is hurting. She is afraid and feels alone with her agony. Her eyes well up with tears, but her parents cannot look at each other, let alone her. With great difficulty, she makes an effort to defend herself.

            “I don’t wanna be friends with those mean girls! They say my clothes suck and I’m poor!”

            Beatrice is grossly offended, but not for the reasons you assume. This assault on her daughter is not only an affront to Ruth, but, more gravely, it is an indictment of her failure as a mother to furnish her child with such things. She has worried what other people think about her all of her life and cannot abide the displeasure of the crowd.

            “Who in the hell do these girls think they are? Born of royal blood?” she asks her husband. However, she isn’t looking for an answer from him. She is seeking someone to affirm her molten rage.

            He disregards Beatrice. “They’re snobs, Ruth. They got no place at all to be talkin’ about you. Their parents might have some money, maybe more than us, but most ‘em aren’t good people. Mark my words, Ruthie, those girls will grow up to be just like their mommies and daddies.”

            Beatrice nods vehemently. “You think there’s anything wrong with her clothes, Gene?” she asks. Her sudden interest in his opinions is illusory. The truth is that this husband and wife only have any use for their partner’s opinion when seeking agreement with their own. This is not give and take; this is not a parental unit working in tandem to address the pains of their child. This is theater.

            However, Gene plays along. “No, I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with her clothes. I think she’s a pretty little girl.” he says and offers a well-practiced smile. She smiles in return. She knows that there is something wrong with her father, but she does not know what.

            Beatrice looks at her daughter skeptically for a moment and asks, “Do ya think somethin’s wrong with your clothes, Ruth?”

            The question fills her with fear. She knows that her mother is looking for a specific answer. She feels anxious as she searches for the safest response.

            “No, I like my clothes, mommy.”

            Beatrice sneers; she finds her answer unconvincing. What a little brat! She doesn’t appreciate a damn thing I do for her. “Well, you just tell those girls that not everyone has doctors for parents or whatever and can afford the nice things they’ve got!” Little Miss Priss. The things I do for her, and look at the gratitude that I get in return. The emotions within Beatrice are bilious and profane.

            Ruth says nothing, cowed by her mother’s incoherent accusations and rage. She is afraid to look at either one of them. She has watched them before in moments such as these and did not like what she saw. In her father’s eyes there is always the same emptiness and square-jawed detachment that somehow makes it clear that she is on her own against her mother. In her mother’s eyes, she sees unbridled contempt and an absolute absence of warmth. Her face has hardened into a swollen, embittered mask.

            Gene breaks the silence and points at a pie on the opposite end of the table. “Bea, can ya pass the raspberry pie here please? I think I’ll have me a piece.”

            Beatrice hands the pie to him. “Are you gonna mow the grass soon, Gene?”

            He glances at her and then turns his attention to his piece of pie. “I’ll need to do it before the weekend. I won’t have time for it then. Tomorrow probably. Hopefully it won’t rain.”

            “Is that piece of shit lawnmower gonna start? I don’t know why you had to buy something so damn cheap. When ya gonna get a new one?” The disgust infecting her voice is impossible to miss.

            Gene frowns and sighs deeply. “There’s nothing wrong with the lawnmower that can’t be fixed. We don’t need a new one.” His voice is hushed and unnaturally calm. He works mightily to keep his temper reined in. Don’t let her bother you. Keep cool. It’s the way she is and she ain’t gonna change.

            Beatrice smirks. “Of course you don’t think so.”

            Gene frowns once again. He cannot muster the necessary indignation to challenge her. “I’ll get it fixed, Beatrice. Don’t worry.”

            “Yeah, sure.” Beatrice replies disdainfully.

            Ruth finishes her dinner. She cannot get out of here fast enough. “I’m done eatin’, can I go outside for a while?”

            Beatrice stares blankly at her. “I suppose.” she mutters.

            As Ruth stands and moves around the dining room table, Gene looks up from his plate and says, “You have any homework?”

            Ruth nods slowly. “Yeah, daddy, but just a little bit.”

            “Well, don’t spend too long out there. A hour at the most. It’ll be getting late soon enough.”

            “Okay, daddy, I will.”

            Beatrice says nothing and looks at her. It is a cold, vacant stare. Ruth quickly returns to the backyard and discovers Gene’s lawn chair and sealed barrel of walnuts exactly as he left them. She sits in the chair and feels a cool breeze pass over her as she begins to cry.

            I just want my mommy to love me. Why can’t I make her happy? What can’t daddy make her happy? What’s wrong with my daddy anyway? He seems so sad all the time. I just want them to love me. Is there somethin’ wrong with me? Why can’t I be like they want me to be?

            Ruth doesn’t understand any of this. She doesn’t understand how her father can let her mother behave in such a way. She cannot fathom why he is always so removed and distant. She cannot penetrate the veils and masks that he has adopted to conceal his terrible despair. He is sick. Nor does she understand her mother in any meaningful respect. She has learned precious little more about her other than the value of her scant approval and the withering vehemence of her criticism. There are no subtleties in their relationship. Fear and anger dominate their dialogue.

            Why are things so hard? Why can’t they just love me? Through the stinging vision of her tears, she sees that a few squirrels have gathered in the grass nearby. They look at Ruth with glassy, startlingly attentive eyes.

            Her father suddenly appears from around the corner of the house wearing a faint smile. He walks the short distance to where his daughter is sitting.

            “Hi, daddy. You wanna sit here?”

            He shakes his head. “No, honey. You sit there. Can I sit down beside you on the grass?” he asks weakly.

            “Sure, daddy.”

            He sits down close to her chair. Their eyes lock for a moment and a brief swell of emotion threatens to overtake Gene’s carefully maintained equilibrium. She’s been cryin’, I gotta do somethin’. After that performance in the dining room, I gotta say somethin’ to make it better. Oh my god, what have I done? I can’t do this. I hafta try though. He suppresses his sudden surge of emotion and begins to speak.

            “Ruthie, I wanna talk to ya for a minute.”

            “Okay.” she whispers. The same fears that assailed her in the dining room return with renewed intensity. The near-hysteria already boiling within her mind leaves her struggling to process the implications of another confrontation with a parent. It is miraculous that she can even speak.

            “I’m sorry for what happened at dinner, Ruthie. You know, sometimes we don’t have a choice about who we love. We may wonder why we love that person and we can try to tell ourselves that we don’t, but we know better. We love them, in spite of themselves. Do you know what I mean, Ruth?” Gene asks. He’s tentative. I sound ridiculous. Can she even understand this? And who am I really saying this for, me or her?

            “I think so. We should love mommy no matter how she treats us?” she asks. Her tears threaten to overtake her. The restraint that she displays is no virtue however. It is yet another by-product of fear. They’ll hate me if I cry in front of them. I can’t cry. I’ll cry alone, but not in front of mommy and daddy!

            Gene nods slowly and frowns. “Yes, Ruthie. Mommy will be better one day. You watch. And you know, she loves you very much. Whenever you feel sad like this, just remember all the nice things she does for ya. The birthday cakes, the nice Christmas presents. But you should love your mommy no matter what. Never think for a moment that she doesn’t love you.”

            Her eyes are narrow slits as she turns back every urge to weep, weep as no other child could weep on this day. She wants to howl with anguish that these words from her father cannot assuage. No child should know this woe. This is a woe so insidious that it will thicken the entire thread of her life. She wants to believe that her mother loves her. She wants to believe that so much. However, the evidence often seems circumstantial at best. Nevertheless, for the benefit of her father, she lies.

            “I know she loves me daddy, no matter what she says or how she acts.” she says. The strain in her voice is noticeable.

            Gene fights back the impulse to erupt in tears and hugs her instead. She returns the hug with considerable ferocity. “You’re a good little girl, Ruthie. And I want ya to know I love you too.” He releases her and stands up once again.

            “Are you okay?” he asks.

            She isn’t. “Yeah, daddy. I’m okay.”

            I don’t know what to do. I’m a fucking failure as a father, a husband, and as a human being. I’m worthless. What kinda man lets this happen to his daughter? I should kill myself.

            “I love you, Ruthie. No matter what happens, always remember that.”

            “I love you too, daddy.” Her voice is little more than a hoarse choke.

             “Alright then. I’ll leave ya alone now.” He stands once again, brushes himself off absently, and walks away. As if on cue, the tears begin to seep from Ruth’s eyes at last. The hesitant trickle soon gives way to a convulsive eruption of tears. However, she remains oddly silent throughout it all and, soon enough, the tears begin to subside. She stares straight ahead with a fixed, resolute look on her face.

            I wish mommy and daddy were like these squirrels, she thought to herself. Simple. There are three adult squirrels near her. They have a healthy appearance and their brown fur was thick and robust. Of the three, two scramble through the grass with their tails up in the air and their noses to the ground. The third stands upright on his haunches near Ruth and watches her with vigilant eyes.

            I’m all alone. I’m not like other girls and they don’t like me ‘cause of that. My mommy can’t love me or daddy. She’s so mad at me. My daddy is sad and doesn’t know what to do. Why can’t we be happy like the squirrels? Why’s things so hard?

            She leans over the side of the lawn chair and removes the lid from the barrel. There are many large, dark walnuts inside. She reaches down, plucks up three of them, and slides herself to the end of the lawn chair. The squirrel nearest to her still stands in the grass and watches her intently. He is less than four feet away. She takes one of the walnuts and, placing it in the palm of her hand, fearlessly extends her hand towards the squirrel.

            “Come here, I know you’ll love my little treat for you.” she whispers softly to the animal.

            The squirrel remains inert and stares at her hand. He suddenly jerks to life and scampers across the grass towards Ruth. He stops just out of her reach. With raw, impatient speed, the animal snatches the walnut with his claws and viciously bites Ruth’s index finger as he draws back. He runs across the yard and up a tree. A warn stream of blood runs from Ruth’s wound and her howl of pain shatters the sunny afternoon.