Friday, April 5, 2013

The View from Suburban Chicago

I can hear the humming of small cars zipping around small, tightly curving roads; the idle buzz of sun-soaked conversations.  This is odd because I am not in a roadside cafĂ© in Italy, but in my third floor apartment’s foyer in the suburbs southwest of Chicago.  It’s three o’clock on a Sunday morning.  The roads outside are not busy.  The neighbors below us are 87 years-old, they’ve been asleep since seven.  Our neighbors to the left just had a baby that, to my knowledge, is not an extraordinarily gifted mimic.  Marilyn and I have no neighbors above us or to the right; we live in the top-right corner of the building. 

She must have fallen asleep with the television on again.

Coat in the closet.  Shoes by the door.  I pull a handful of grapes from the cluster on the kitchen counter and start flipping them into the air.  I stand, head tilted back and slack-jawed, as the first grape falls and bounces off of my check and onto the floor.  I bite thin air when the second one hits my lips before joining the first grape on the floor.  I catch the third and then drop the next three before deciding I might still be too drunk to properly play with my food.  I shovel the last four into my mouth pointblank and decide I might be too drunk to be properly conscious.  In the far corner of the kitchen, atop the counter and nestled between the coffee maker and the toaster oven is a photograph taken of Marilyn and I in cooking class after a particularly spectacular failure.  The right half of my face is dripping the internal workings of a wild berry pie.  Little bits of crust sit suspended in the goo.  Marilyn is bent over the counter laughing and I am wide-eyed, not fully comprehending how the pie got from the counter to my face.  The picture is a commemoration of one of my favorite moments with my wife.  It is, however, misbehaving at the moment.  Instead of standing still incased in amber, as good pictures should, it is heaving and laughing and looking around for an explanation.  I can hear Marilyn’s voice, gasping for air between fits of laughter and ridicule.

How…how did you…

Behind me, I still hear sporty European coupes whirring through curves.  I turn and I see sporty European coupes whirring through curves.  Abstract black humanoids gesture lazily in time with the buzz of conversation.  A waitress sets down a tray of hors d'oeuvres before wandering over to another table.

Smooth saxophone flows from the living room.  There is now a vaguely cubist jazz club rendered in greens and reds and in full-swing hanging to the left of my entertainment system.

It occurs to me that my being drunk might be shielding me from the worst of the shock of seeing all the paintings and photographs in the house coming to life and that Marilyn, who is in all likelihood sober, might be having a harder time with the situation at hand.

I stumble up the stairs and find shreds of Grandma Addie Millar resting on the carpet below an enthusiastically disemboweled hand-carved wooden frame.  A few scrapes lead toward our bedroom. 

After seeing the finished oil portrait, Grandpa Frank had said it captured Addie’s essence.  After seeing the state Marilyn left it in, I assume it captured her lip as well.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Campfire Ugly

“Yeah.  Yeah, guy was a dick.”  Grayson rubbed at his stubble.

Rob chewed his lip and nodded jerkily.

Torver grunted.

Mercer exhaled and took a drink.  The silence stretched out.  It stretched until the only sound was the silent tearing apart of their peace of mind and the tearing grated mutely until no one could think of anything but that deafening tearing.

Mercer smiled.  “So what the hell is up with Parrish?”

Rob blinked and squinted, his eyes flickering wildly.  Comprehension dawned.  “She’s cool.”

“Cool?  She’s been around for, like, six years and now she’s cool?  She’s one of the guys, man.”

Rob dragged the toe of his sneaker through the dirt, building a little pile of dry earth and dead pine needles.  “Yeah, she’s cool.  She’s one of the guys, none of that catty girl bullshit.”

Torver nodded.  “That’s actually really solid.”

Rob smiled at his little mound of earth.  “Yeah.”

The silence crept back between them, sooner this time.  Each of them pulled at it, fraying the edges in nerve-numbed fingers.  When the edges they held unraveled, they tugged at the silence for more to fray.

Grayon bounced to his feet.  “I’m gonna build the fire back up.”  He picked up a leafy branch from the firewood pile and jerked it down over his thigh.  It snapped in half.  He picked up another branch, this one slid down the side of his thigh and jabbed at his knee.  He shifted his grip and broke the branch the second time.  Grayson scooped up another branch.

Rob toed the dirt.

Torver rubbed at his nose.

Mercer laced his fingers together, rolled his shoulders, and stretched his arms high over his head.  “Who wants another beer?”

Everyone muttered assent and Mercer ducked into the tent, coming back out with two beers, crossed at the neck, in each hand.  The bottle opener arced back and forth over the sullen fire.  A branch snapped in the flames.  A soft breeze, little more than a breathy exhale, drifted across their clearing.  Torver grabbed a handful of leaves off the ground, lit the tips in the fire, and let them stagger and spin like drunken firebombers wobbling around town square. 

“Yeah.  Guy was a dick.”