A Meal for a Day

walmart

The automatic doors opened like a sideways mouth and swallowed the two brothers into the belly of the local Walmart. Standing as tall as his 12-year-old frame could hold him, he smiled nervously at the ancient greeter, pulling his younger brother by the arm. Everything they had ever longed for, ever imagined, was held hostage between these four walls.

As they turned the corner toward the food section, they were stopped by a giant toothy-grin asking if they needed help. “We’re meeting our parents …” they responded in unison and kept moving. Stay focused. Move deliberately but without hurry.

He grabbed the rotisserie chicken from its warm cradle and walked towards the Home and Garden section. Finding blind spots behind bed frames, patio sets, and grills, the two brothers ate their one meal of the day as quickly as they could, turning on their heels when an employee came in their direction.

*Photo by: r. nial bradshaw

The Ball Arcs Through the 3am Night Sky

Moonlight illuminates the ball as it arcs through the 3am night sky and smashes on to the roof of the moving car. 

“5 points!” you shout.

The car slams on its breaks. A man gets out, sees the ball rolling toward the curb, and peers out at the trees lining the road.

You all remain silent and still. There’s only the sound of crickets and wind and the man’s footsteps as he walks toward you.

If he gets too close, you’ll make the signal and you’ll all burst out of the trees, hollering like crazed animals, running past him as if your lives depended on it, up through the neighborhood streets, and into the safety of your backyard.

Your heart will pound and you’ll all laugh uncontrollably and it will be impossible for you to know that these friends, who helped devise the car-tossing scoring system (5 points for the roof, 3 points if the ball smacks the hood or trunk, 1 point for the doors), who spent hundreds of hours hidden with you by the side of the road in the dark, staring up at the sky, waiting for the next car, imagining what life could become, would, in the very near future, fade back into the dense tree line, nowhere to be seen.

A Certain Spontaneous Realization at the Corner of 4th and A

A few minutes before, Antoine had exhausted his anxiety in a certain spontaneous realization of his place in the cosmos. He understood all at once why he had suffered as a child, why his parents couldn’t possibly give him the nurturing he needed, and how he had ultimately contributed to his recent divorce. It was a moment he treasured, sheer white light on stone.

And yet now standing at the corner of 4th street and Avenue A, the sidewalk slick with rain, the sky pale grey, he was no longer able to put his finger on the thoughts that, minutes before, seemed to have changed him irrevocably.

His idea had been undone, pushed aside by a million variables of cause and effect in front of him. The facade of a clothing store, the yell of a bus driver, the smell of a wet street, the blurriness of his vision, the thought of his sick uncle.

So focusing his attention on his feet, Antoine resolved to remember how he had eradicated his previous worry, only to feel, a few minutes later at a loss; the future would continue to arrive, undoing him and his thoughts again and again.

They Saw No Fins

Every year since she was young, Jill’s family summers near a remote beach on Martha’s Vineyard.

On the morning of her disappearance, Jill’s mother leaves the house before everyone is awake, barefoot, and walks into the mist toward the beach.

The sun does what it always does and the short dirt path to the ocean is wet and muddy. She throws her hat into the sand and walks in curved lines up the beach.

She strips down to her bathing suit and leaves her clothes in a tightly packed pile in the sand. Walking out into the surf, she dives over a breaking wave and cracks the surface of the water.

The night before, Jill writes and performs a play for all the family members who are sober enough to pay attention. Her mother helps her into her costume and gives the introduction.

Before bed, she tells Jill about the importance of solidarity, that a carpenter’s union strike had sparked on the island, and that they were going to bring them sandwiches tomorrow.

Even though her mother had long ago left her modest upbringing for the riches of an industrialist turned software mogul, she still retained a sense of mutual aid for others.

A week later and her mother still missing, a shark attack occurs.  When the shark is killed they find a bathing suit inside. A local newspaper reports that people on the beach “saw no fins”.

Jill was 7 years old when the shark without a fin maybe stole her mother. The carpenter’s union lost. Jill kept living. She’s now 36 years old.

The Planetary Expansion of Capitalism

“From a Marxist perspective. . .”

I heard professor Burston’s raspy voice fade into a soundscape of clinking silverware as the guests began their first course.

Mother liked to invite rumpled intellectuals to dinner, particularly those who were against the very existence of our kind, the capitalists, the owners, the inheritors of the city’s fortune. 

“Money becomes the physicalized form of our daily enslavement to Capital,” he continued leaning back in his chair.

“Well,” she interrupted him, “L’argent n’a pas de maître.” (Money has no master), which she refused to translate, even after the prompting from my stepfather seated at the opposite end of the table.

In the few moments of silence before Burston responded, I recalled a time not too long ago when the debate between capitalism and communism had held real consequences; when human nature, morality, god, even our clothing choices were bound up in the ideological battle for the future of humanity.

And yet my side had won, still inviting the last disheveled believers to a meal at a table where they’d never have a seat. 

Giovanni’s City

When I felt down, I’d call Giovanni, my architect friend, and ask him to walk me around the city and talk about the buildings. Like a gardener who lives their life with plants, Giovanni lived structure and at the heart of it was his visceral love of form.

“A building’s edges against the sky makes my body vibrate, like jumping into a cold lake.” His Italian accent hung from his french consonants.

Lacunar, a paneled ceiling. Apse, the polygonal end of a chapel. Gable, the triangular portion of the wall under a roof. Lunette, a half-moon shaped space.

We walked along the Canal St. Martin and turned down the Rue des Récollets towards Gare de l’est.

Portico, Pelmet, Plinth. Spandrel, Spire, Tracery.

My mood began to lift with each of Giovanni’s descriptions, brought back to life by the peculiar way language, when spoken with great attention, takes us beyond itself, into the world of stone and steel, into the city I lived but never really saw.

 

 

The Wrong Choice

When Werner saw Georg’s newest sculpture and the praise it was lauded by their teacher, he became depressed. He imagined within it his own artistic deficiencies, his lack of imagination and formal technique. Rather than take this recognition as a call to action, Werner sank deeper and deeper into despair. After almost three years in art school and hundreds of private lessons, he worried that he had made the wrong choice with his life. So after days of sulking, Werner called a meeting at Bar Wolke with Christophe, Charles, and Olga to discuss his future. They drank four rounds of beer, and then standing up, Werner placed his right hand on the table to steady himself, and declared that he was no longer a sculptor. “From today on, you will know me as the playwright who transformed the German theatre!” and then fell over, cutting his hand on a protruding nail. 

Pemberton Goes to the Opera

Michael Pemberton pushed open the lightly gilded men’s room door. He could still hear the voice of the soprano as he walked through the threshold. Tonight’s production of Christopher Ulang’s new opera Crimea was challenging, discordant, and grim. The house was filled with ambitious music students awaiting the first words in over thirty years from the reclusive composer. Inside the bathroom Michael saw a hulk of a man huddled between the urinals. His tuxedo shirt was bloodied, bow tie hanging over his shoulder, hair wet and messy. He had a bruise under his left eye and a long gash that ran down the length of his pant leg to a pair of shoes covered in mud.

When Michael approached, he immediately recognized the man as Charles Finnois, the critic known for his vitriolic reviews of contemporary opera. Finnois had a reputation for taking a composer’s work personally, and if an opera didn’t quite live up to his critical ear, like a scorned lover, he’d set out on a war path raging against the piece for months in any newspaper or magazine that would have him.

Finnois leaned his head back against the wall and groaned. “Are you alright?” Michael said. The plum-colored bruise under his left eye twitched. “I’d rather not talk. It just fell apart.” Michael nodded and then heard the sound of clapping. Intermission. In twenty seconds, Finnois would be surrounded by a line of old, half-seeing men, doing everything they could to relieve themselves. “Shall I help you up?” No response.

So Michael stood there, wondering what to do and thought about how odd it was that even in the rarified atmosphere of the opera house, where every note is crafted and considered, where performers cover imperfections with makeup, where guests button themselves tightly into impossible outfits and speak of important things, entropy still pokes through, kicking up fights and laughing at out cultivated efforts to stave off the specter of death. 

You may not sleep well tonight

Every evening, Robert paints at the front table in a small cafe on Greene street. He wears a backwards baseball cap, a shock of messy grey hair sticking out the back. He’s old and thin. Tattoos cover his right forearm.

Before he begins, he pulls out a metal desk lamp and plugs it into the wall socket. He shines the light on two notebooks filled with paintings.

Next to the notebooks he places two boxes of pastels, six tiny jars of acrylics, thin brushes, and a third notebook used for sketches. He drinks from a glass of water and considers his work.

From the street, he looks like a drunk, worn out and redfaced. As he works, well-dressed women stare at him from the street. Robert looks at them wild-eyed and they scurrie off.

At half past eleven, Robert stops working and places each item, the notebooks, paints, brushes, and pastels, neatly into a red duffle bag. He’s careful to put each object in its proper place.

He finishes his routine by turning off the desk lamp and putting it into his backpack. Old time jazz plays on the cafe speakers.

Sometime before midnight, he takes his backpack and duffle and walks out into the cool night air. He passes the bank and the realtor’s office turning left toward the beach. He no longer sleeps on the sand because the beach patrol wakes him too early. Instead he heads for the small walkway behind the shops on Main street. Between a dumpster and a bush lies a ten by four foot space of grass that fits his sleeping pad and blanket.

At midnight, the church bells ring. Robert lays his head down on his jacket. He hears a radiator click on and then looks up at the sky. The weather is getting colder he thinks and then pulls his blanket tightly around his neck.

H.A.G is the Name of the Bar

Across the dead street lives a karaoke bar that smells of seafood and tacos. The neon sign spells out the initials H.A.G. There are no windows except for a small horizontal pane of glass at the top of the door. If you look through it, you’ll see bodies pressed up against each other moving through a fog of smoke and sweat. Tiny red lights pop in an out at various points. There’s a rumble of sound but you can’t make out anything definitive.

On most nights after work, Corey walks by the bar without noticing it. He’s wrapped up in his thoughts, his body tight from sitting at a desk all day. Tonight, the sky is oil black and the street is silent. He hears the smack of his rubber shoes on the pavement and goes inside.

Four hours from now when the street is a corpse, Corey will exit the bar without his jacket or wallet wearing lipstick and eyeliner. His hair will smell of shrimp and his shoes will be dirty. He will not know what the initials H.A.G mean.

Down the street he’ll feel the cold air on his thin arms, shiver slightly, and look back to the bar. He’ll wonder if he went inside with a jacket, realize he had, but decide not to go back in. The night will plaster itself on his temple, heavy and thick, and the only sound will remain the faint hum of Stevie wonder’s voice.