The Only Thing He Knew How To Do

Coyote stood, waiting for the train to pass, then someone waved at him from the open door of a box car. He couldn’t believe what he saw or how it made him feel.

He started running alongside the train. Three cars ahead, the girl in the boxcar turned and started cheering. Coyote ran, the ties and the gravel slowing him slightly, so that he was now four cars back. The train started to curve for the bridge over the river. He heard a voice cry out to keep going, that he could catch it still.

“Next time maybe,” he hollered.

Five Thieves

Two of the thieves climbed up into the cart, while a third kept his bow drawn taut on the driver. A fourth dropped from a branch above eye level, and gave the fifth, somewhere up in the treetops, a signal to keep lookout.

The guard fell from beside the driver, landing heavily on the forest trail, already dead. A chest thrown from the carriage followed, and then another, and then the first two thieves climbed down. They each dragged a chest into the thick ferns lining the trail, and disappeared.

The fourth bowed, and then he and the third followed.

Scene Three, Take Two

We open on a breakfast table, seen from above as two people sit across from each other, half-full plates, coffee mugs half-empty, glasses of water and those little plastic packages of jam torn open and scrapped clean. In the background we hear [generic restaurant noises], but the two sitting beneath us are mostly quiet, except for the occasional scrap of a fork against a plate,to get that last little bit of eggs.

And that is it. And although there is a sense of something about to happen, that we are on the brink of discovery, we slowly fade to black.

It’s Likely Been Brewing Awhile Now

He threw the window open and stood there, staring out at the storm. He walked across the room, bare foot, looking for his cigarettes.

“What do you got that open for? You’re letting all the hot out.”

“It was stuffy in here.”

“I can’t see why. You spend all day cooped up, smoking. What did I tell you about these ashtrays?” She lifted one from the table to illustrate her point. The wind blew a thin cloud of ash across the room. “Close that damn window.”

He did, then leaned forward, so that his head rested on the cold glass.

Lost Dog, Reward

You never want to have to tell your kid that their dog ran away.

Their little eyes will well up and you’ll have to likely spend the whole night comforting them, even if you already had plans. Then, after they stop bawling, they might start asking questions. How could he have run away? He was inside? Weren’t you watching? You better have a story ready. How you looked everywhere, knocked on all the neighbours’ doors, drove around to all the parks, sacrificing your whole day to find it.

But it’s better than admitting you drowned that yappy fucker in the sink.

Jack Of Hearts

Beaver wished he learned how to play harmonica. He thought of this as he did the dishes. The house was cold, and after he pulled the plates from the soapy water and rinsed them and set them in the rack, he could see steam coming off them.

He had a system. Salad plates first, leaning away, then dinner plates, then cups and bowls to balance the weight. Then the cutlery. He’d leave the pans soaking overnight.

Tomorrow, he decided, tomorrow he’d screw his courage on tight and see if that girl in the office wanted to get a coffee, sometime.

Laps

By Daphney Alarie“There’s this old Italian guy at the pool where I swim.”

“You swim?”

“Started a couple of months ago. Tuesdays after work and Saturday afternoons. Gets me out of the house. A little exercise. Keeps me away from the beer.”

A pause, something floating there, between them. A flash, and it was gone.

“Anyway, I’d seen him for a while now. Hello, how you doing, that kind of thing, you know. Nothing serious. Seemed like a nice enough guy, but I didn’t know his name.”

“How did you know he was Italian then?”

“He just looks that way. Like in the movies. The mobster ones.”

She pulled a cigarette loose and looked over, waiting. He finds a books of matches in his jacket pocket, ripped one loose, lit it and leaned across the table. They both sat back.

“Anyway, one time I’m just about done changing, and I hear these slow, heavy steps from the showers. Slap slap slap. He walks in, towel wrapped high around his waist. I’m trying to button my shirt and get out of there because I’d managed to get that far, four and a half laps, but now there was no denying it, I was going to have a drink.”

The waitress filled their cups and waited just a breath too long, then went on to her next table. He pulled his in close.

“Hello, there, the guy says to me. I nod as I’m rolling my trunks in my towel and stuffing it in my bag. Looks like we have the same schedule, he says. I laugh a little and agree. Tuesdays and Saturdays, I say. Then he asks if I’m doing anything, and all I can think of is, well you know, so I say no. And he says, great, let me get dressed, we’ll go have dinner.”

“So this was a Tuesday?”

“What?”

“He said dinner.”

“Yeah, Tuesday. Not this one, but the one before that. Does that matter?”

She left her cigarette burning in the ashtray, tore open two sugar packets, poured them in her coffee and stirred. He reached over and put it out.

“I decide to go. Figure this is a good distraction. Might make for a good story. Something to tell people.”

“That makes me people?”

“So, I wait outside the change room. And I wait and wait, and now I start thinking this is a bad idea. Real stupid. Or maybe it’s some kind of joke. He’s making fun of me. I start getting angry, because I realize I could be halfway home, or already there if I could’ve caught a bus maybe. And now that little voice inside me is screaming for a drink.”

“How long were you waiting?”

“I don’t know, ten, fifteen minutes. Why?”

“I was just wondering.”

He pushed back against the boot and spread his hands out. He drummed his fingers against the table.

“I wasn’t in the best place, I guess.”

“Never mind, finish your story.”

He looks to his right, out the window. Watches a car drive away. Sees the rear lights get smaller and smaller.

“So I go back into the change room. To see what the hell is going on. And he’s naked, laying on the ground, in front of his locker.”

“Some joke.”

“I run over and I don’t know what to do. There’s no one else in the change room. I don’t know if I should leave him.”

“Was he on his back or his stomach?”

“His side kind of, it almost looked like he was swimming. Can I get one of those?”

She tossed the cigarettes at him, and he fumbled one of the pack.

“I’m still standing there,” he said, exhaling. “It wasn’t quite panic and it wasn’t quite fear. It wasn’t anything, but, like, the absence of something.”

“I just stood there. Watching. Wondering if anyone else was going to come in. Wondering what they would do, what they might say, or think. Or accuse me of, even. Then I noticed he moved. Just a little. And even then, I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t just imagining it.”

The waitress came and left the check tented on the table. Neither of them looked at it. They stared over the half-full ashtray, and the empty cups, and the brown rings on the table. They stayed like that for a long time.

“Finally, I knelt beside him, on the wet tiles, and put my hand on his back, and he was still warm, still alive.”

A Beginning, A Middle, and An End

You start as nothing, less than nothing, and then for a little while, in the grand scheme of things, you become something. A blip. A flash. How loud or bright you eventually become is up to you. You and the world around, I mean, can’t forget the world. You could burn bright and fast, or simmer for a long time. There might be great fanfare, or a low hum.

It’s up to you.

But anyway, when you become something, you don’t stay that way for long, that’s just the way it is. Sooner or later, you go back to being nothing.

As His Father, and His Father Before

Wolf counted fourteen sunsets before realizing he would never reach the Mountain if he continued trying to trap time as it flowed past him, like salmon in the river.  Instead, he sang along with the hymns and ballads played by the leaves fluttering and branches swaying in the winds.

Forests gave way to great grass plains, gave way to wetlands, gave way to staggered outcroppings of stones, gave way to rolling highlands, gave way to sharp cliffs. And then, in the distance, growing larger, looming with every step he took the Mountain of the Always Circling Hawk.

Wolf began to run.

 

Written while listening to this, over and over:

Never Said Anything About Benevolence

The man his elbow had the long drawn face of someone who wakes up every morning disappointed that he did. Dzinski watched him in the mirror behind the bar. His head hung down, only raising when he steadily brought another shot glass to his lips.

Grey hair, cropped to the skin around the ears, but long on top. The leather skin that always looks like it needs a shave.

“You all right there, friend?”

“Right enough,” he said, signalling for another drink.

“Have a good night then.”

Dzinski left the bar, crossed the street and convinced himself to get home.