a story in progress…

Matthew Malachi took no pictures. Not even of the train sets in the natural light of the glass ceilings. He descended to the Riverwalk past the replica of the Spanish Mission and strolled through the indoor vineyard. By the side of the pool he drank a Blue Moon without an orange peel–the waterfalls there his shower after lifting weights in the fitness center. Then a filet at the Zeppole Coastal Italian restaurant. FILETTO AL BAROLO. Crumbled bleu cheese atop, whipped parmigiano potatoes and crisp grilled vegetables red and yellow peppers with asparagus over a red wine reduction sauce. The waiter had him sign no receipt. Not even his name and room number on the meal voucher. And so Matthew retired to his room on the fourth floor in Hill Country after shopping in the boutique having spent nine dollars for a beer, thirty dollars for two Texas t-shirts one 4T and one small for his daughters, and seven dollars for a sign in the kitchen of his ex-wife which read: I kiss better than I cook.

so what you don’t know
you can’t forgive

no and what that means you can’t forgive me for you don’t know what to forgive me for public scandal of Man secret sin known only to God in one faith one baptism and so listen to that cry marked by a time in the field the fruit of that most requested song the indulgence of well-placed motives like ad services that know what you want what you fear and why… to sell sell sell

yes and what that doesn’t mean what they say about even good people going to hell those sad words: I never knew you… and God yes God has put eternity in our hearts this the great amoral anguish of our existentialism the idea the very indignity in shame of free food and drink after a prodigal sunset and so… Eighteen years ago I was twenty still a virgin when I flew in to San Antonio to make hospital corners before I knew what love stains meant

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and the Priest says Look at your hands and I look

He doesn’t seem the part. No white collar. No black smock. He wears the uniform of the Air Force–a lieutenant colonel–the silver leaf on his shoulders. A bald pate. Glasses. The comfortable pudge of mid-forties not quite reconciled with youth but not yet banished into old age. He too a virgin–or I assume. Here with us behind doors locked from the outside. I am twenty-three now. Yesterday was my birthday. The day before I died. It’s a good thing I’m not Catholic.

Take and drink she says
I don’t… no

This is my body it is naked they do not cover me

Do you want us to pump your stomach? Drink it
But what…
I tell you the truth unless you drink you have no life in you

And she hands the liquid charcoal in a paper cup the priest saying

Do no wrong to do what is right Heaven is like your hand in that you focus on the lines you see the fingers bend and straighten and even if your eyes are closed you may still reach out and practice the art of feeling You may You may… see that as a guide like unto a fiery pillar which though you must exit it shows you the way you must go from the way in which you came for Man is not destroyed you are free to make the choice and if it be sin that rules over you you see your hand for one thing while I see it as a negotiation a communion a greeting between you and me for the pragmatic has the eternal in it in that if it does or does not work it comes down to moral reasons questions of conscience for all good is in how it feels after you feel it and if that cannot be shared who are you to call it good? See not the before See not the after in that marriage banquet of consequences that mysterious union of bride and bridegroom between man and woman one flesh the church and Christ The night has the day in it the day the night so are you surprised that in death there is life and in life there is death?

I am an anathema of composites

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He awakens. It is day seven and the sun has already set. He can hear them in the other room. They are laughing. His daughter is laughing… and I will lay in bed here I will lay and listen like all stories are heard how all stories are told a man writing them down from a woman who has his ear because I died here before and I died twice after that and now that I am thirty-three I must look back on the missing years and try to forget that I need to remember anything for how lucky can one man get to know his stories come from a woman who he wants to be no one else who to save her own life from death lets me die so as not to kill me and she tells me she tells me her truth… the picture framed now from when she was two her sister unborn yet conceived on that day a picture of her laughing her hands clasped between her legs leaning forward in the frills of a purple gown with fairy wings her mother bought for Halloween her blonde hair still the fine baby strands almost too fine for her mother to braid and she’s wearing her pink Cinderella slippers made of plastic which as she walks the sidewalks of their employer-paid housing in College Station go Clip-Clop Clip-Clop echoing through the stairwells of the apartments above she is laughing laughing through the echo as I chase her the instant the moment captured on her mother’s cell phone camera before she makes it to the wooden bridge which leads to Wolf Pen Creek… yes I will lay here and listen until it is time to work the night one day soon she will love a boy she will tell him stories of when she was a child the friends she had the friends she lost one day soon she will be as her mother was to me and

You must commit
I’ve been committed… And she says

a lot of my high school friends have died car accidents drug overdoses suicides don’t ever turn when someone waves you through they might be trying to be nice but a car behind them might try to pass that’s what happened to Melissa and she got side-swiped she didn’t die instantly she bled to death in the helicopter to the hospital Jessica she had Lupus she was always wild she’d break into her uncle’s house and drink from his liquor cabinet each glass she took she’d measure out the same amount of water and pour it back into the bottle and mix it up she died of a cocaine overdose you have to do a lot of cocaine to overdose and Oceana she died from heroin she was vomiting and passed out with her head in the toilet she drowned her father found her that way Elmer shot himself Matt too and Big Joe and Timmy they hung themselves I don’t know why they did that seems like it’d be a lot easier just to blow your brains out you know a lot quicker a lot less painful

for all things come to the good of those that love but be not weak to your own hands how it all seems so small so short-lived how in the days of your youth you fear someone will hurt you and then someone always does you are betrayed you love and are not loved back you are lied to and you lie to someone else about the lie yet you still live you still breathe and even with no one to trust no one to turn to you have yourself and what your heart hears calling you’re only fear the fear itself and it’s there it’s always there an old friend now and you look back to look forward

and someday Lord there will be no mirrors
to see yourself and what’s behind you

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Matthew Malachi knew it was time to face the music. But nothing happened. He just took his family and left Texas. It was the third time he’d left and so the alibi of autobiography. The first was when he was twenty and he wasn’t even alive to be dead the four weeks he spent at Lackland during his boot camp his field training. Then he was twenty-three with a gold bar on his shoulders and by the fourth week of a space systems acquisitions class the day after his birthday he overdosed on a bottle of Atarax. A week in the Wilford Hall psych ward then back to his duty assignment in El Segundo, California. The third came later some ten years later after a medical discharge from the Air Force returning to school to become a medical lab tech a girlfriend with a learning disability and then a married woman who he met in tech school two more suicide attempts the summer of his thirtieth year during the affair and then marriage after she divorced a daughter born in the first year of their marriage a house and then foreclosure accepting travel lab tech jobs to escape a bankruptcy they couldn’t escape first going to Montana and now Texas a night shift seven on seven off—Matthew Malachi was back in Texas for the third time—if you didn’t count when he was a boy and his father was stationed there his only memories being four playing in ant hills and getting himself muddy with a friend before a vacation to Big Bend where he rode a horse.

yes ride ‘til she bucks you the story of my life and it’s that getting back up the moment before you stand you hunger you thirst like there’s a hole inside nothing can fill and in that brief instant before you get back up you want to be knocked down again you want bad you want evil humiliation failure pain you want to hurt a child a woman an animal you want to do every obscene thing even if you’re caught even if everyone knows if everybody knows as you do the truth that ineluctable wisdom that comes with alcohol any drug followed by hangover the truth that you know how to be happy without anger at peace content what inevitable follows trying to do the right thing even if it all goes wrong God’s fingerprints everywhere not that I cannot tell a lie but I don’t have to and it’s funny it’s the false ceiling of the sky you see before you stand on your own two feet again and say God bless me… but it is an American dream you’re willing to sell your soul to the Devil for for no man ever yet hated his own flesh

all that you’re willing to give up for health prosperity achievement a relationship

and Matthew says:

was I sealed? am I holy and blameless? have I been redeemed adopted ready to receive my inheritance? is my salvation sealed sealed by the Holy Spirit? and I was nine when I said Yes and thirteen when I said No and I said nothing when I was twenty and No to a Yes at twenty-three and Yes to a No at thirty-three and now five years later the fourth time around why Why do I still yearn to do every bad thing even when I can see ahead by looking behind when I know the pain is real and yet I want I want pain I want to say an indignant Yes to Hell even when Heaven is what I’m looking for what’s been promised me no one saying No only the reciprocity of my knowledge… but nothing happened nothing happens to these holy catechisms like the one my father high-lighted in the book I gave him for Father’s Day in the year that he died the day after Christmas 2001 A River Runs Through It my purpose in his death a tithe in His storehouse for it is written: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever…

Mr. Malachi?
A man wants to buy you a drink

Texan Station lies in the center of the glass atrium above the Riverwalk…