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.