This City (a bit of visual poetry)

This City

I’ve enjoyed creating images for bits and pieces of my poetry. You can read the full poem This City here. Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When Lost…

When Lost...

She travels with her opened box
(only a script)
Between dueling images
Her greener grasses
To learn two sides will make a whole

A hole where the world sleeps
While she picks up the pieces
To find lessons like rain they fall

In Fall when her dreams come
(mainly sanguine)
Between dueling images
To master the contents of her gift

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two: The Story of the King of Pirates

Print: Femme à marguerite  by Alphonse Mucha

 

There. Just over the horizon. Hidden behind the loping gallop of grey waves against a grey sky. There was land. None knew it but the captain and his navigator…and Samuel Bellamy, a lowly sailor, though his good looks were unsullied by the hard life of his rank. Samuel paid no mind to the constant sway of the ship beneath his feet. He did not bother with the smell of rotten wood and flesh and food or briny air with the metallic threat of rain.

A calling as strong as the sea, a scent that rose in the air. Loamy and dusty. A tender shoot, brand new that fluttered on the spring wind and sang to Samuel of earthly things. That place of new beginnings, opposite of the ancient sea. Samuel felt his heart rise in his chest the way the gulls rose to the sky.

“Land ahead!” he cried before he could stop himself.

The first mate spit over the side of the boat. “You mind your place, boy, or it will be a lashing for you again.” The first mate pointed a finger swollen with gout. “Land ahead!” he cried.

Land. Samuel tripped his way down the docks, but the ocean called out to him as old friends do when they part. He stopped to watch twilight spread over the harbor.

“You are my last,” he said to the decrepit ship that had been more a home to him than anywhere else. He turned his back on ship and sea. The town streets lit happy and yellow. The townspeople dressed bright and lively. Out on the cliffs beyond the city a white clapboard cottage stood dark and silent.

“When I have the money,” said Samuel. “I will buy that cottage. I will fill it with food and furniture and neither of us will ever be empty again.”

He found a tavern to drink off his sea legs. His first steps on the soil of the American colonies, where a man might work hard enough to own a bit of soil for himself.

Can land be owned? A voice poked at the back of Samuel’s mind. Can you really own something that can’t be carried away on your back?

“Ach,” Samuel yelled at himself as he stumbled through cobbled Cape Cod streets, “that is nothing more than the drink talking. Men own land. That’s what men do. Land isn’t like the ever changing sea. And it isn’t plate or a fork or a farthing either.”

You haven’t told me one thing about land but what it isn’t, said the voice. You know nothing of land. It is a thing as living and breathing as the sea. Your ancestors gave up the land long ago, Samuel Bellamy. You will never own one speck of dirt because you are of the sea.

“No, not anymore I’m not. I’m a man.”

Are you now?

Samuel took another beer and drank it fast. The voice drown beneath it, but that night Samuel dreamt that he swam inside the dark and endless sea. The dark was frightening, but he was free. Free of the smell of rot. Free from being owned by the ship’s log and captain and company.

The land ties you down, Samuel Bellamy. The ocean sets you free.

Day came bright and sunny. Samuel’s head barely hurt from the night before. He walked down a path that wound into an orchard of apples. The blossoms on the trees blew everywhere in clouds of white against a blue sky. Here was a world fresh with spring. The call of the dark and endless sea faded from his memory.

Today holds promise, he said to himself. I can feel it in my bones. No voice invaded his mind to tell him he was wrong. Maybe that voice was dead and gone.

“Would I walk down that path again?” Samuel often asked himself when the apple orchard was far behind him. “If I knew then that the feeling in my bones was the promise of love. If I knew then that with love comes the torment of hope…would I walk down that path again?

“Yes.”

Maria sat on a bench in the middle of the orchard. She started to sing, her voice as pure and light as the apple blossoms that fell all around her.

Here is my hidden place

Where I grow the dark

To shroud the light of love

That mythic, burning passion

Acceptance and desire

Hope and longing

The push and pull of twin souls

Kisses turned to constellations

I will not share the lost belief

Hopeless hope grown timeworn

Yellowed and…

 

                She looked up from the reverie of her song. “Who are you?” she asked.

 

Samuel smoothed down his tattered clothes. He ran his fingers through hair that needed cutting. I am not worthy of her, he thought.

“Samuel,” he said.

“Why are you walking so fast on such a beautiful day?”

He wanted to leave her before she laughed at him.

“I am walking so fast because I haven’t got any place as pretty to sit,” he said.

“This half of my bench is free.” Maria slid to the edge.

“I have found very little in life to be free.”

“Hmmm,” Maria tilted her head, and blond curls fell across her face in a way that made Samuel hold his breath. “You are more than welcome to pay for it if that makes you more comfortable.”

“Do I look like someone who has much to pay you with?”

“There is more a girl might want than money.”

“What else might a girl want?” What else in the world could there be?

“If a girl asks a man to sit with her on a bench, chances are she might only wish to be repaid with a kiss.” Her words were bold, but she blushed and looked away.

That bench, which was the only place Samuel wanted to be, seemed a million miles away. It would take an eternity of steps to get there. Yet somehow Maria’s lips pressed soft against his, she laughed (not at his expense but at her pleasure), and then she was gone. The best day of his life stretched a lifetime and over too soon all at once.

Samuel thought every meeting with Maria would be his last. He woke from his endless ocean dreams in the middle of the night and burned with the thought of her.

“Send Maria to me one more time,” he prayed to the stars. “Let me kiss her once more, and I will give you anything in return.”

With all of his bartering and promises to heaven, it never dawned on Samuel that Maria came to him each time of her own free will and simply because she liked him too.

But she was rich and he very poor. Her parents didn’t approve of the match.

“I want run away with you,” Maria whispered to him under the moonlight.

“To be a poor man’s wife?”

“You will not be poor for long. I know it.”

“But I am poor now, and I have not got any prospects for that to change. I will not have you alone to scrub the floors with a baby tied to your back and another at your knee and another in your belly. I won’t have you miss meals for children that keep coming. I will not listen to the crying and see them ask for more, and you look up at me with eyes that know I have nothing more to give.”

“Oh, Sam. I would never look at you that way.”

“You say that now because you can kiss me and then go back to your safe and comfortable home.”

“That is not my home. Not anymore. My home is with you.”

Samuel kissed every part of her face.

Tell her you love her. Every part of him ached to say it, but he would not let himself. He spread her out below him instead, and they both learned how to take the ache out between their legs.

Maria sang with joy the whole way back to her parent’s house. Samuel dragged his feet with dread beside her. What if he had made a child that would grow up as hungry and scared as he did? What if Maria was taken from him as his own mother had been?

She is not like your mother, said the old voice.

Samuel pushed the voice away, kissed Maria goodbye and tried to meet her radiant smile with one of his own. He walked to the cliffs and let himself feel the pull of the tide under the full moon.

You are a prince of the sea, the waves sighed. Come back to us. Come back.

“I will only come back if I can bring wealth right up to these cliffs.”

Oh, we will give you wealth. We will bring you back, right here in this place where the moon gives light to the sea foam. It is your destiny, Samuel Bellamy. Will you come back to us?

The smell of apple blossoms danced all around him, and the feel of Maria still clung to his skin. Maria wove deep into every dream he had for his future, and the waves offered all the answers.

“Yes,” he said.

Come. The sea swelled higher. We will make you King of the Pirates.

Maria woke with a lover gone to sea, and the first spark of new life in her belly. She went to the cliffs and looked out over the waves with only one song on her lips.

Samuel.

Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan….

 

Bob Dylan will turn 72 on Friday

My first exposure to the potential for beauty in words and stories came from Bob Dylan. When I was a girl, my mom was brave enough to let me listen to her record collection. I’d spread the albums out and sit cross legged on the floor in front of the record player. Dylan’s voice wailed through the tinny speakers, imploring his lady to lay across his big brass bed. While the five year old me had no idea why anyone would want to get in bed with someone with clean hands and dirty clothes, I felt the rare beauty of the invitation in each poetic phrase.

John Wesley Harding and Oh, Mercy were the soundtracks to my first “grown up” college romance (free of the constraints of curfews and porch lights that flashed when I lingered in a boy’s car too long). Discovering someone who wasn’t as old as my parents who loved Dylan too seemed fateful at the time. Oh, how young we were. A few years later, I walked in the door with my first broken heart, turned on the radio and Just Like a Woman was playing. That seemed like fate too (and oh, what a jerk he was).

Dylan constantly reinvents himself and his music, but I have also reinvented and rediscovered his music as I’ve grown up.  From records to tapes to cds to Pandora, Bob Dylan has woven tales about heroes and saints and lovers and heaven and hell. I’ve held my breath, waiting for a well turned phrase or suddenly discovered some new question to ponder.  What does it mean to be a hero or a criminal or a lover or a loser? Mysteries quiet or bold left to linger unseen in a nearby world, like the flowers in my neighbor’s garden.

In his autobiography, Dylan says he had a second artistic renaissance at 40 years old, and the same has happened for me. He talks about those secret moments of wondering if he was too old, of wishing he could have been twenty years younger, but doing it anyway. I know my own artistic impact is a thousand times smaller, but I can relate.

I haven’t got a clue who Dylan really is as a person, but an artist with over 60 years of creative passion is worth celebrating. Wake up every day and make it happen. Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan.

Part One: The Story of the Birth of the King of Pirates

The midwife hurried through a cold, foggy night. She came with an empty stomach, because a family who lived in the sailors’ district could hardly be expected to offer more than dinner as payment. She would roll her eyes, say she could think better with food in her belly, and food she would get. It was always better when there were already children in the house with older girls who could tend to a good meal, but it would have to do.
It will have to do, she mumbled to herself as she knocked at the door. A woman’s shrill cry cut the thick air. The midwife pushed the door open. It looked like dinner would have to wait.
An old sailor, sea-battered and red faced, held his young wife around the shoulders. He wore a red coat and she was in a white nightgown. It seemed to the midwife more like a murder scene than a birth.
“What are you doing to that poor girl,” the midwife cried.
“She will not stay in the bed. She says she wants to have the baby in the waves.”
The midwife looked out the tiny cottage window. Beyond were the cliffs, and the sea below. None of that could be seen through the fog. The midwife shook her head. “She will catch her death down there. And people would talk.”
The young woman moaned.
“Don’t worry love,” said the midwife. She stepped forward into the firelight. The mother to be was hardly more than a child. “We will not take you to the sea,” she whispered to the girl, “but there cannot be anything wrong with bringing a bit of the sea to you.” She turned to the husband. “Take a bucket down to the beach and fill it with water.”
“She will flee if I let her go.”
“She will die if she tries to fight you and birth at the same time.” The midwife looked the girl in the eye. “Will you stay if we bring you a bit of the sea?” The girl’s shoulders sagged. She nodded once, very slowly.
It was not the way things were done, the midwife thought, but if it settled the mother and gave the husband something to do…what could it hurt?
What could it hurt?
It was a quick and easy birth after that. The mother delivered a beautiful baby boy with jet black hair.
“He looks just like you,” the midwife cooed as she laid the babe on his mother’s chest.
“That is what I was afraid of.” The mother sighed.
“You are young, with a good birth and a healthy baby. There is nothing in the world to be afraid of.”
The mother sighed again.
The midwife sent the husband out to register the new child at the church while she tidied the room and waited for the afterbirth. She waited and waited, but nothing came.
“Maybe he is human after all,” the new mother murmured as she stroked the baby’s cheek.
“Of course he is a human baby,” the midwife tisked. A tired new mother might say strange things now and then, the midwife assured herself.
The mother jerked forward. The baby cried. The midwife took up the mess.
Except it was not a mess at all. It was a skin, soft and sleek and as silver as the moon. This was not right. Not right at all. The midwife took it to the fire. It was an unnatural thing, and it would be better to destroy it. She threw it on top of the flames.
“It cannot be destroyed,” the mother groaned from the bed. “Take it out with the tongs and drop it in the bucket of sea water. When you leave here, take it with you. Throw it over the cliffs, out into the waves.”
The midwife stood her ground. She crossed her arms and left the thing in the flames, but the mother was right, it did not catch fire.
“You should do as I say.” The mother’s voice was stronger this time, and carried an authority that belied her years. “There will be bad luck if you do not, for you and for your men. There are unseen things out beyond the waves that can take the fish from the nets. They can empty the cages. You do not want to be responsible.”
Oh, how the midwife wished she had never come to that house. She did not want their dinner. She did not want anything to do with these otherworldly things. Things one heard about in whispers. Things that lurked in fog and foam. She pulled the mass of silver from the flames, dropped it in the bucket and ran to the cliffs as fast as she could. She flung it far into the water. She made the sign of the cross. She made the pagan sign against the evil eye, the one her grandmother used to make. She tried to remove the notion from her mind of that beautiful baby boy with the jet black hair.
The next morning the fog lifted. It was unusually bright and sunny. The midwife looked out her window. She saw the husband in his bright, red coat walk down to the docks. He stepped onto a ship. He wore something strapped to his back. That something was topped with a tuft of jet black hair. The mother was nowhere to be seen.
Again, the midwife could not stop thinking of that boy. He would need praying for, if anyone ever did. The midwife went to the church and asked the priest to open the large dusty ledger that recorded all births and deaths. She told him to point to the name he had added the day before, and then to read that name. The priest lifted his thick finger from the spot. He read the name.
“Samuel.”

The Story of the Queen and the Selchie

Long ago, the greatness of a warrior was measured by the strength of his adversaries. In all the known lands, the children of the Lochlann king were by far the best fighters. There were eight of them, four boys and four girls, all of them beautiful to behold with their fair skin, dark hair and wide, brown eyes.

At that time, and in that place, the mothers were responsible for training their children in combat, and the Lochlann queen was an unrivaled teacher. Each of her children held a special gift in endurance, strength, speed, grace and many other qualities beside, so that a band of eight of them might defeat a whole army. As they grew, they became the target of many who wished to be remembered in the songs for their bravery.

But the children were still quite young when their mother was laid to rest on a great flaming ship sent out to sea, as was befitting such a queen. She had been as beautiful and strong as the children she bore, and when she died the King had no eye for a woman for many years. In the end, it was his own children who persuaded him to search for someone to fill his loneliness. He left half-heartedly, but returned with a renewed glow in his eyes and a beautiful wife. Although still very young, she was already a widow left frail from the disease that had killed her first husband.

It was not hard for the new wife to take the children into her heart as if they were her own. She loved the king dearly and his children were an extension of that love. But there was always a distance between them, because the children saw no strength or bravery in the new queen.

Even with their differences, the family might have found contentment if a great force had not gathered to attack Lochlann. The Lochlannach, each and every one, prepared for the upcoming fight. The fragile queen was the only one unfit for battle, and the king was uncertain how best to protect her. At last he decided to send her to a remote cave in the cliffs high above the sea. He trusted only his own children to act as her guards. The children did know all the love and happiness the new queen had given to their father, and for this they cared for her, but they cried out and rebelled against being left out of the clash. Surely the Lachlannach could defeat anyone before they came so far as such a remote cave.

The queen also fought the plan. If the invaders were able to cross to her, it would mean her husband must be dead. How could he let her live a second time as a widow? She called attention to the fact that her life in the hands of the enemy might be far worse than death. But her husband would not be swayed from his plans. He did not have the heart to lose another wife.

When she saw her persuasions had failed, the queen contrived a plan of her own. The Lochlannach did not understand that courage is not only found in battle. One day, as she walked among a group of rocks exposed at low tide, she spotted one of the Finnfolk who are powerful magicians and shape shifters. This Finn looked young, which might have deceived her. Even a young Finn has been around a long time by human standards. They are not immortals, but because they make their homes in the Otherworld, they do not age at an Earthly speed. This Finn had assumed the shape of a man, with his head and torso in human form, but his lower half he had shaped into a thin pointed boat.

Not many humans would call out to a Finn, especially a woman alone, for the Finn men are known as powerful seducers. The queen called out to him because she also knew they were gifted in sorcery. If the queen could learn his secrets, she might contribute to her new family even if she was physically weak. And so she called out to him until he turned to her. Once he saw her, he was beside her before she could blink an eye. The Finn are powerful oarsmen.

The queen pulled three silver pieces from a purse she carried at her hip and held them out for the Finn to see. Finn folk have a great weakness for silver and can’t resist it.

“Three silver coins for three magical secrets,” she said.

The Finn had a dilemma. What did he wish for more, the beautiful human or her silver?

“Lie down with me here on the rocks, he offered, “and that will be all the magic a human would need for her lifetime.”

The queen kept her hand out and made her bid again. Three silver coins for three magical secrets. The Finn stroked at his chin.

“Are you aware that my magic will be considered dark arts in your world?”

The queen nodded her head.

“Don’t you believe your soul will be tarnished? And to what purpose? For children who hardly notice you?”

The Finn folk are mind readers. They understand thoughts better than emotions. He searched for the queen’s weakness in the hope that he might attain both her and the coins. But the queen was not swayed.

“Three silver coins for three magical secrets.”

Too fast for human eyes, the Finn snatched the silver from the queen’s hand and took hold of her face. He blew a magic breath into her as they plunged into the sea. They dove deep into the black water far from the sun and the air. The queen thought she was stolen for sure and would never see the surface again.

But the Finn kept to the queen’s bargain. He took her to a place where she might learn from him for more than a year, while in her own world only minutes had passed. When the queen reappeared on the shore, she was, by mere human standards, a powerful sorceress in her own right.

She returned with eyes that radiated bright understanding of our true world. The king, too smitten with her, was blind to the change. His children noticed, and they shivered whenever they were near her. They tried to warn their father that their stepmother was different, but he would not listen.

The day came for the queen to hide in the remote cave with her stepchildren as her defenders. Before she left, she put a spell over the king that would make him untouchable in battle. She told him it was just a small prayer she had brought with her from her own land, but it was really something much more powerful. She left with confidence that she would see her husband again. From the far-away cave, children and stepmother waited out the uncomfortable silence. For three days they watched their army as it camped unmolested below them.

It was daybreak on the fourth day when the attackers swarmed, but it was not the camp they sought. The enemy had arrived on the other side of the rock, hidden from the view of the Lochlann army. They had not come to do battle with the people of Lochlann; they had come for the king’s children.

The Lochlannoch children formed a circle around the queen. Soon she was surrounded by the cries of battle, the crash of metal, the smell of blood and sweat and fear. She formed her own circle of enchantment around her family and held it as long as her mind would allow.

The children fought well. The floor of the cave could not be seen beneath the bodies of fallen warriors, yet more lined up to meet the children in combat. The queen felt the strength of her magic begin to fade, and though they were not injured, the children were spent from the fight. She raised her arms and, in front of all who were present, she began to chant a powerful spell. The winds swirled and the waves smashed against the rock. The warriors dropped their swords to their sides, and the fighting stopped as they watched her. After a time, the seas became calm and stretched smooth as the best woven fabric. The queen opened her eyes and looked to her stepchildren.

“Make haste for the sea,” she commanded them. “I have cast a great spell that will allow you to hide deep in the ocean, as strong and swift and courageous in the water as you have been on the land. If your captors wish to follow you, they will drown in the attempt.”

The children knew they could fight no longer. They clambered down the rocks with their approaching captors at their heels. As soon as the feet of the children hit the sea, they cried out in pain, but they did not stop. By the time they were neck deep in the waves, their human forms were gone and in their place the heads of seals bobbed up and down in the waves. Some of the enemy did attempt to catch them, but each one who tried was pulled under by the powerful current. Many were more prudent. They did not give chase as the children ran to the sea. Instead, they turned their swords on the queen. In her haste she had protected everyone in her family but herself.

She knew she could not defend herself and return the children to their human form at the same time. Even if she did turn them human again, who would protect them until their father’s army arrived? She turned with uncertainty out toward the sea.

An enemy near the queen saw the indecision cross her face. He made his move, plunging a knife deep into her chest while her guard was down.

The air grew hot and still. No birds called from the sky. No waves crashed against the rocks. Every human breath suspended.

Something…or rather someone…emerged above the taut surface of the ocean. He appeared without causing so much as one ripple on the water around him, and his presence seemed tied to the stagnant suppression of life that had settled upon the world. The face that stared up at the group on the cliff was inhumanly emotionless, but when his sharp eyes fell on the limp body of the queen, the sea began to churn and froth around him, clouds gathered in the sky and great gray waves rose toward the opening high above in the cave.

The terrified warriors ran as fast as they could from their destruction, for they knew that it was unlucky to cross the sea folk. They hoisted their sails and sped away, only to face storms the likes of which have not been seen before or since. The abandoned body of the poor queen dangled over a rock high above the wild sea.

A drop of blood rolled from her chest down the smooth curve of her arm, over her hand, along her finger until it hovered for a moment like a teardrop from the tip of her nail. It fell reluctantly into the water. One spot of red suspended in a wild gray sea. One spot of red, a combination of the queen’s own life force and the force of the magic she had created, merged with the rage of a Finn. The unspoken spell to bring the children back to human form was forever altered by the sea.

The children and their descendants became the seal folk, neither meant for land nor made for sea.  Each full moon, the seal folk shed their sealskin to walk once more in human form upon the earth. They live between two worlds, always wishing for land while in the water and for the water while on the land. If they are held to the land, the wild ocean will always call to them. They might close their eyes, but no dreams will come, because with sleep their souls will return to the sea.”

The Center for Fiction

The Center for Fiction 17 East 47 Street, New York, NY
The Center for Fiction 17 East 47 Street, New York, NY

On my last day in New York City, I decided to make a pilgrimage to a bookstore I visited last year. I walked until my feet were blistered, but I could not retrace my steps back to that little bit of nostalgia. I wandered off in a different direction instead. It started to rain. The wind pressed against me, but I’m not one to let weather ruin a chance to wander through any city.

I’m glad I didn’t give up.

Nestled amongst a nondescript row of office buildings, a burgundy banner waved in the wind heralding  The Center for Fiction, located at 17 East 47 Street. Whether you are a writer or passionate about the written word, here is a warm and welcoming place for all lovers of story.

I was wet and cold and the word fiction makes my heart beat faster. The combination of warmth and a center dedicated to my favorite word was more than I could resist. I was not disappointed. The Center for Fiction is not large, but it manages to be at once a library, a bookstore, a quiet space for authors to work, and a location of great literary events. So good to find a little corner of the world still celebrating, maintaining and supporting the advancement of the art of telling stories.

The Center for Fiction

The staff was very friendly. The girl working behind the desk chatted with me for a long time about their section dedicated to translations of European authors who are still relatively unknown, at least in the States (and most especially to me). I ended up walking away with a lovely gem of a book, The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker. I might never have discovered such a good read on my own. That in itself was worth getting lost in the rain, but I also managed to walk away with a pile of used books that came to a total of $10.

The Center for Fiction is open to the public, but it is also one of the few membership libraries still in operation in the United States. The benefits of membership include attendance at events with free or discount admission, reading discussion groups, access to their lending library of over 85,000 titles as well as discounts at their bookstore. Above all, membership supports an independent, not for profit organization dedicated to keeping the written word alive and well.

If you find yourself in mid-town Manhattan, leave your friends at the souvenir shop and stop by The Center for Fiction for a gift of good books and memories that are just as much a part of the city as another tiny replica of the Empire State Building (and yes, I bought my children tiny replicas of the Empire State Building too).

For more information on The Center for Fiction, visit their website: www.centerforfiction.org

The Old Italian Woman

The Old Italian Woman, Edgar Degas, 1857
The Old Italian Woman, Edgar Degas, 1857

What became these days
Here behind frosted glass
Here where patience still won’t answer
And my children echo on yellow walls
This living down to threadbare rugs
This hope to tease despair
To turn a longing into song
There was the smell of sun warmed grass
There was a drink of sea worn tears
The flavor of a kiss I never tasted
Those broken words
Those nightingales turned to larks
Old letters turned to an old man’s scars
What stumbling
What chance breath
Became these days

 

Angie Flanagan

Ophelia

Mourning Ophelia Torso Turning

 

She exhaled. Her breath moved warm and moist against his cheek. His mouth slid off hers. He shifted her underneath him. The heat of her burned through the fabric of his clothes. Her thigh made bare as the short summer skirt fell back onto her hips. Pink Floyd called to him softly from the tape deck on her nightstand and carried him along toward his own state of comfortably numb.

“You still listen to this?” He whispered.

“Mmmmhmmm”

She stopped and sank into his kiss.

The music. Her body. His breath.

She lifted like the sea, like the time his parents brought him to a swank Mexican resort. He’d stood ankle deep in water. The waves had moved gently over his skin like caressing hands. The breeze had moved over his face as warm as her breath.

Dive in. Learn the mystery of her depths.

All the invitation he needed to ignore the litany of doubt that plagued his mind. He rolled off her, propped himself onto his elbow and began a slow journey along the buttons of her skirt.

“You don’t have to unbutton all of them.” She laughed.

“I know, but I love you.”

She raised herself up and pressed her mouth against his.

The spell slipped away. After all, he had never taken the plunge in Mexico. His mother had called him back to the cabana to put on more sunscreen and told him the under tow was too dangerous.

I’m an idiot if I stay, he thought.

She parted his lips with her tongue.

NoI’m an idiot if I go.

Do not stay. Do not stay. Do not stay.

But leaving hovered in the air with the resonance of a funeral bell. Time turned on itself. The trunk of his car packed, and he would never be back.

Make her a memory before she becomes something more.

It would be easy to let her spread across him. Too easy. She always made it too easy.

He raised the gate against her with the courage of a lock keeper. The water dammed again and under control.  As the hero of a system he neither designed nor understood,  he refastened the buttons that held the airy fabric of her skirt.

She came up off the bed behind him and waited amiably for a kiss.  He didn’t give her one. He wanted her to believe there would be another time for that, wanted, in fact, to believe it himself.

Someday.

He eased himself out the window, dropped into the grass of her yard and crossed over to his own. He went to his room and threw himself onto the bed. He fell asleep to dreams of her spread beneath him. Her hair and sighs and an undulating sea. In the dream there was no doubt. He forgot the moment he woke.

In the soft yellow light before sunrise, he dropped behind the wheel of his car. Her window was dark. He half expected and half hoped to catch a glimpse of her. He waited until the first red glow of morning reflected in her window. On the passenger seat sat a small box that contained the letters she’d written. He placed his hand on the cover, remembering her words, forgetting her heart. The car door slammed shut and echoed down the empty street.

She woke, looked over the open windowsill, and saw his car swallowed by the edge of her world. A tiny porcelain dancer, the only token he’d ever given her, sat on her bedside table. She threw it against the wall.

The garbage man made slow progress down the street in his rusted dinosaur of a truck. One by one, lights glowed from the windows of perfectly equal, perfectly similar, perfectly perfect two story houses in various shades of inoffensive gray. Across the street, Mr. Anderson laced up his shoes for a run while he thought about how much he wanted to crawl back into bed with his sleeping wife. Because there was no obvious achievement to be found in the warm invitation of her body, he forced himself out the door. Mrs. Anderson dreamed that her tennis instructor bit her damp salty neck, his body pressed against her back as he guided her arms in the arc of a perfect serve.

Next door, the Johnson’s dog let himself out the doggy door and took his morning piss in the same spot as always. It had become a bare patch where no grass would grow. Mr. Johnson could do nothing to improve this open admission of imperfection in his yard. At the end of the cul du sac, Janet Oliver had come into the kitchen to bake a cake while her two boys slept blissfully in their bunk beds upstairs. A half built city of plastic blocks and match box cars left scattered over the taupe carpet.

The girl picked up the fragments of her broken figurine and dropped them out the window. A shard split the skin of her index finger. Blood fell like small drops of rain that break the silence before the storm.  The dam burst. She held her breath.

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