here are the first two stories that comprise a work in progress called Catadoupe and the beginning line to a third story concerning the Charlie Birger gang… hope you enjoy the read

CATADOUPE 

THIRD EYE IN TEXAS

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 an Air Force officer–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 I 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 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 his second daughter conceived—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 inevitably 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?
Yes?
A man wants to buy you a drink

Texan Station is a sports bar in the center of the glass atrium above the Riverwalk. There’s not a small screen in the place. Besides the TVs over the bar front and center is a big screen spanning over 700 square feet—the size of a modest apartment bigger than Matthew Malachi’s apartment where he subsisted after the divorce but close to his children and still enough money left over after child support to de facto date his ex-wife—a big screen with picture in picture of current sporting events. This time of the year it happened to be baseball. And golf. Matthew didn’t sit at the bar, or in the dining area in back. He sat at a table parallel to the big screen in the enclosed patio for customers that want to take their drinking to a place they can eat from the menu, and like what was listed there if you looked at the people there was much to choose from not just in style or appearance the dressing of business casual guests of a luxury hotel but those subtler richer truths to a sport with invisible trophies

like when you fuck up. the offense and the defense the nature of the beast whether you ever say you’re sorry and you mean it not just scared we all get scared that deer in the headlights look when in the pit of our stomach we know something’s gone horribly wrong with finger pointed straight at you what you do as you find an ear not as a witness to the prosecution and in them you try to find something someone else to blame and your words are not as the psalmist said: we are fearfully and wonderfully made… and no freedom is never having to say you’re sorry the sport of it in the endgame of forgiveness those final words before you go to sleep at night—will you will you do to the same to the least of these? and how does it feel? how does it feel when it’s not you that has done the wrong when you’re the one paying for the food is it there—is there sympathy for the devil?

like how someone looks you in the eye when they know what you’re talking about and when they do not when you let someone else talk assert control pass judgment on being judged when you know something they do not or at least you think you do and they feel the same and does it kill you kill you to just say okay alright and look away to just play the fool and they think you a fool because you just say okay alright and this to someone younger than you but older now and maybe it doesn’t get any better it’s just more of the same more of the pretending because you’ve also let someone older than you do it to you too when you were younger the truth in that beginning deceit the lie in the promise of wisdom what now crawls on its belly when you learn to hurt yourself but not hurt others to cooperate in the belief it’s in everyone’s best interest thus bringing the olive branch of peace for it’s not just in the saying of it’s going to be okay alright it’s not just this which makes you use the illusion of you are weak and someone else strong this paradox of serpents and doves that is not the true display of dominance to have someone that should be telling you what to do do what you tell them this the mere lackluster of the moment which shall pass and truly it is not in the last laugh either for that just makes way for tears because in a society where knowledge is handed down filtered through media it’s best to keep in mind that you are always the recipient even as you say what has been said to you as you practice or rebel against what you preach for in truth you can wake up one morning after a dark night of dreams and everything will go your way not just in health prosperity achievement a relationship but even in the minutiae of every interaction the right words just coming out received in the best of all possible light and then there are other days (or weeks months years dispensations) when even after sweet dreams and the focused attention on all the concepts of positive thinking nothing seems to go your way the words just don’t come out right or they’re taken the wrong way serving not as a servant to all and successes and failures are built on this on luck fate what have you and your own veritable deniability to the openness of opportunities and Matthew Malachi says:

but I am a suicide open only to the tragedies of my own vanity

so have a drink and remember
taste is a matter of timing

And it just so happened he was thirsty the man who bought him that drink not a stranger. He was an old friend who looked him in the eye. Someone who knew Matthew Malachi before all his trips to Texas as a man and not a child a man who knew him from his college days—his name Kenneth Dean.

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yes taste is a matter of timing education not really important for you don’t learn this in a book how to feel good and what comes after feeling good a matter of timing and yes Man shall not live on bread alone but that other sweet manna of heaven-sent love when you say: Soul I love myself—and we all say it—this what stories are told about simple short stories the parables of a fool because none of this here do you take with you and who Who will have it? The question is flawed. The question: Why am I here? Good is good ‘til it ain’t good no more. Our flesh can’t handle heaven and that’s where love is. And the devil may say everything burns, but water doesn’t burn neither does blood—it just boils over into steam. Matthew Malachi had learned to hold his tongue with his ex-wife saying to his soul he suffered the impiety of injustice and someday Lord she will see the hurt she has caused me. Just as sure as she in her prayers before bed at night her first words to God in the morning were blessings to him as the naysayer to his children. But Matthew wasn’t home now. He was in Texas. In the community of hotel guests—asking: Why I’m not there? So with Kenneth Dean he let the cat out of the bag:

I married white trash
Uneducated?
No… worse than that. She’s confident
Ever had a cat?
No…
You should get one
I’m a dog person
You never did date much
What’s that got to do with cats?

never speak ill of a child’s mother or disrespect a man trying to be a father—they have their mother in them their father’s blood—they must honor their parents lest they be discouraged…

and Matthew Malachi says:

I just wonder what she would do if it was the other way around. I wasn’t mad when she told me. I wasn’t upset when DCFS investigated. It could happen to anyone with two children two girls aged 4 and 6. That’s not what bothered me. She never once took any blame. It was the department of child and family services prying into her life putting her up on trial snooping through her apartment when they came the next day without warning, the caseworker even looking in her refrigerator and through her trash—asking her if she just lived on my child support and food stamps. It was the people who took our daughter inside after she ran off because if they’d just stayed outside with her my ex would have found her without getting the cops involved… it could have happened to anyone it doesn’t make her a bad mother. But she never once said she was sorry. She never once took any blame… What would she have done if it was the other way around? What if I had the kids and one of them ran off? When we separated she placed in order of protection against me. At the court hearing she told the judge I drank and was suicidal with delusions of grandeur about my writing she even inferred about an episode where she came out of the shower and suspected I’d been masturbating in front of the children. The order of protection was dropped three months later. We even violated it at her discretion two months after the court hearing when she considered getting back with me because I found a job. She knows I’m a good father that those girls love me yet she said those horrible things in front of a judge… what would she have done? What would she have done if it was the other way around?

cats don’t never tuck in their tails
what?
don’t get a male a tomcat—they never stick around and once they knock a female up they’ll kill the kittens to put her in heat again
why would I ever want a cat then?
to watch
watch what?
what makes them stay around. what makes them purr. what makes them play… they are jealous for your attention. you have to earn their love… and maybe that’s the best kind

don’t try. for have you ever stared have you ever looked into a cat’s eyes? half in half out. there is no reflection in them…

and then you know
and you forgive

It’s good to be wrong. You get to see what forgiveness feels like. And it can just be a look in your eye a prayer a promise…

God is love

so Matthew Malachi says to Kenneth Dean:

I should have learned it in college. About cats you know. My marriage would have gone a whole lot better…

He walks with her. Holding her hand. I had a purple day she says That’s six in row What did you learn today? He asks Doubles Doubles? Yes zero plus zero equals zero What’s three plus three? And she counts three fingers on one hand and three fingers on the other Six! Sunday night there were fireworks Today is Tuesday it is six days before he leaves for Texas another Sunday he flies into Dallas to train on the Architect and I am thirty-eight he thinks to himself and it was in the first minutes of Labor Day we made love and I told her of my college days those days these days when you’re young you have momentum and all things are new discovered and you think your folks never had it right you even do things to make them mad what you know angers them just to give them shit what’s conservative in old age mere foibles to liberal youth and as knowledge abounds grace is more so that when I hold my daughter’s hand now and she is six her younger sister home taking a nap on a bellyache of parade candy I say now I have peace not really knowing what that means but I feel it like a storm front moving in and I could sleep sleep for ages and be content feel loved forgiven and even when something goes wrong to disturb my day I still know a thing or two now I know how to fix it without being scared without having to ask for help and then this too gives me peace for life and work are all about the challenges and when you say I won’t give up I won’t give in you overcome this too God’s blessing because if it ain’t broken don’t try to fix it and even broken things can be restored they are called opportunities THEY ARE the desires of your heart and you can count to ten on rules and commandments for a happy life the tenets of Love but really there are no rules only expressions like when you look into your lover’s eyes a woman you divorced and say: Sweetheart

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Kenneth Dean was in Texas for a USDA conference. A job of ten years after a MBA in marketing. He’s not surprised that Matthew has become a writer. The meet and greet sign stood at the entrance to the Java Coast—they were having in outdoor wine and cheese tasting. The Gaylord Texan hosts many conferences. It’s the official hotel for the Dallas Cowboys.

college is a sophisticated refinement of what you learn in high school. it fades ever so fast in the making of money. sometimes we prefer power over love. even in small children from an early age (our children should never surprise us) if love is not given the alternative enjoyment is to seek control. to gain respect for our cleverness even if it is love we want. this is the basis of a writer. a writer wants to triumph over love.

you have to make something to find out what’s wrong with it. look at your bestsellers. if you took an educated guess most books on the shelf at Wal-Mart or the Dollar Tree aren’t written above the third grade level. the untold truth is what we are given as information what entertains us the intentional derivative is that they who share it dumb it down. yet there is still something intelligent there–an intelligent plot–for what makes you turn the page is a temptation. you are tempted to listen, tempted to watch. tempted to read on.

Kenneth Dean looked at his interaction with Matthew Malachi as a man playing cards and he saw him again as on that last day the day they graduated:

yet you love her anyway
yes… yes I do. what you love the most inspires what you hate about yourself
and if you died? if she died?
I am not so small of soul that I have to be missed, but…
what would you miss?
her laughter

and what lightens the soul is that easy yoke of lugubrious seriousness like when someone is telling you a joke and you’re already ready to laugh just waiting on the punch line and it’s infectious you want to be around it the effects of it–the effects of a free soul a soul not yet hurt by love or that has and wants to protect you from it…

for she is beloved

yes you have to make something to find out what’s wrong with it. and so it is the way of this world. to go about fixing things and in this process it’s always the same the same story told in multifarious ways: the story of good and evil–whether you bluff or go all in. and a fold–well, you never fold on the last of your money. you’re just betting on the next hand. And Kenneth Dean says:

I saw his father and I knew him

an RV in the narrow streets of New Orleans is not a wise thing and just outside of St. James on the near side to Rolla he follows a few steps behind his father’s brother shirtless a .22 slung over his right shoulder the stained and stretched blue jeans loose below the belly fat the love handles of white skin only the face the neck the arms below the elbows tanned the worn jeans falling over slender hips and skinny buttocks the tightie whities in need of bleach butt crack showing and from his left hand at his side dangles the lifeless body of a dead squirrel and the sun don’t shine on that day the moss don’t grow they just emerged from the forest into the field but something snapped and he had a sense of direction then so in the dew dusk of summer twilight Rhett called Punk has his truck there and Lonnie his father the brother the uncle they use a sledgehammer to right a truck bed door badly mangled from mistemper loading two hundred pound bales of hay and Lonnie bangs away (still shirtless a generic cigarette dangling from puckered lips his face permanent in the features of something sour) his father the brothers joining in the inventive cursing of cousin and nephew while he (who I knew now) stands in the truck bed also smoking standing there tall above the cursing and the connection of metal on metal Lonnie laughing in his cursing (in fact they are all in a good mood) and with cigarette in the corner of his mouth Lonnie says: I’ll be damned if we don’t get her what you think Jim? Shit now girl! Come on! Cum or bleed! and what is love that is righteous? yes I knew him from his father from what his father came from that long debate of ourselves and the world where we so easily trade love wanting to be loved by something else something out of our reach something imagined some faceless audience when love is right there in present company family children dead fathers living mothers friends and once lovers the people you run into in your routines and errands your coworkers the stranger trying to make eye contact this love this love given to us so that we may see tears the fulfillment from our own cries of loneliness this love do we know for love cannot truly be love if it is not a love which is righteous so that it knows your heart He knew their hearts and what is the heart of Man if not a deceitful and desperately wicked thing… and before the deer hunt the night before Hazel gone to work night shift just the men the brothers and his senior year of high school Lonnie brings it out—the porn—chicks with dicks and other weird scenarios the brothers watch with Luzianne iced tea his father doesn’t smoke Lonnie keeps turning his head to see their reaction with guffaws his lips chompin’ absent of teeth and they talk of women and whores they knew when they were boys and in the guest bedroom that night he tries to sleep knowing at 4am they go to the deer stand who being equal with God did not consider it a thing to be grasped instead taking the form of a servant his momma inside that RV yelling Jim! Jim! as his father blocks traffic clambering up to the roof to lower the forgotten antennae more inventive cursing but this not in a good mood his momma with bible and prayer books and those old eight tracks of gospel saying You have to know him to have his mind because you can talk about God the Father and intelligent design spiritual forces of good and evil but you gotta know Him you gotta know Jesus who is righteous and who loved… they kiss (his father says he will kiss Jesus) they kiss in brotherly love Lonnie all in tubes and needles unshaven and bedridden the cancer too late and too fast his father already a year into his chemo his hair all fallen out they kiss as brothers and his father prays and Lonnie dies the next day and his father a week later the day after Christmas no it will not be a good day a good day for some who do not defer only to capitulate when every knee shall bow and tongue confess the love the role of servant the lamb who was slain now the face of a lion the countenance of a king… righteous this duality and can you fathom it O my soul turned to the face of one whose love never fails yet is righteous there is no evil in it righteous in the sin it can’t condone a mind quietly watchful of your next move and where it leads there ahead of you waiting gently saying Don’t do it… and it’s over it was settled long ago over but here here with me now in seeing in his eyes the eyes of his father all the pain…

we are the body of our God

and the Priest says Look at your hands and I look the vanity crumbles and I see lies—beautiful wholesome lies to the benefit of the masses—and do you not know what Nature intends for sustenance for waste for these hands touch and what they touch they love and what they love they destroy and all the dreams the unfulfilled dreams they too dissipate like an aromatic vapor they too breathe Time the misfortunes the fecundity of rot your reward… the consequence

we are the body of our God

the product of tears the pronouncer of words feet that dance hands that clap feet that run away or stand frozen hands that form fists that hold on to things so easily grasped to seem the dream this dream within a dream and on their wedding day the rest would have to wait with life vests on the drill of escape to a sinking ship yes wedding days which cripple the creed of one flesh today tomorrow divided for should you lie the lie that escapes is truth to the best man the better man the consummated seed to… No but I cant… Yes you can! No! the grace that is sufficient says I cannot do all but one all but No other gods before me… And after? When I lie to protect to save to serve? When I say hell yes I lied! And I’d do it again! What you know I know—this loneliness—forgiveness is the inconsolable loneliness of Man We have educated ourselves to the encroachment of imbecility And Jesus? Jesus was the product of the Romans…

I see the bones beneath the skin. I see the blood that is blue. And Love… love is for sale

yes and so say nothing to no one and if it be truth let it die with you the is becoming was corrupted corruptible to stand beneath windows in lyrical beauty in protest in steadfast resolution this all becomes what it already was never an is to begin with merely a sound byte for our time a memory from a dream you have never dreamt the last gasp for freedom as we say believing it: I Am… but these words we can never say for as soon as they are said another takes your place and you must go to that lonesome valley where hope fails and the dream dies and when the dream dies you die for how can there be an I Am if there is no dream for the dreamer? No it is not the dream that is dreamt and all the plausibility of moral relativism cultural pluralism theological secularism the Great Spirit of our age—all this—in all this the dreamer is replaceable so if I was to say an is that is anything at all I will say: Do not dream that which needs a dream to dream it…

And Kenneth Dean says:

You can know something and still not believe it. Are you humble?
By God yes I’m humble
That’s just with folks. Your peers. Your inferiors. Your superiors. How is it really?

all God’s children got wings… speak in code

I’m beginning to lie more, or not really lie, but think about lying
So?
I was thinking maybe honesty is naïve. Makes you like a little kid you know—easy to read
I can count on my fingers the times I’ve lied to my wife
I don’t lie to my wife…
But you still think you need to be forgiven?

mannerisms don’t take to verisimilitude much

This is not what I want
What do you want?

No I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there is truth and then there is truth. I don’t believe in science but it answers. I don’t believe people change and then they change me…

Why are you here?
I was sent here to learn something

Have I? The spirit cries out… and so does the flesh

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In anything there’s truth and then there’s bullshit. In the words of Kerouac you start your life a sweet child believing in everything under his father’s roof, then comes the day when you know you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked, and with the visage of a gruesome grieving ghost you go shuddering through nightmare life. Matthew Malachi had liked Kerouac in college. In a search for identity he emulated him. And other writers. Maybe it was a bad choice in the pursuit of happiness.

but those first things have been forgotten

He needed a list. He realized no one really knew what he looked like. In his own reading descriptions were the parts he skipped, but while he sat there under the big screen of Texan Station, Matthew began forming pictures in his mind. Not words. Pictures. Moving pictures. And he needed at least three he supposed–three things to make a list. Three things he could say about them. His children. His father. His ex-wife. And Kenneth Dean…

THE GIRLS
1. No sense in buying them a toy. They never share. One has it and the other screams.
2. She crinkles her nose when she’s thinking. The younger one doesn’t have this. It’s like a muscle only she knows how to exercise.
3. They both have blonde hair that is darkening with age.

THE FATHER
1. He had bushy eyebrows.
2. He cried sometimes singing gospel songs.
3. He bit his tongue when he was concentrating. Like when he was sawing wood.

THE EX
1. She knew how to stand in a confrontation.
2. When she laughs (which is often) she raises her chin.
3. Her brown eyes glow in the sunlight.

KENNETH DEAN
1. His hair was short now, but when it was long in college he looked like Shaggy from Scooby.
2. He never made a girl wait.
3. He could talk, but he couldn’t write.

As for Matthew Malachi? Well, his bucket list was short. He knew what he wanted. He just didn’t know how to get it…

Yes you do She says You just don’t want to do what you have to do to get it

i am not a salesman

And this is the story of a town. A town in which the American Dream changes. The name hasn’t been mentioned yet, but it’s not in Texas. The setting is really not some resort hotel. That’s just where Matthew Malachi went not where he was from not where he returned after his fourth time around to Texas. And cats? Well, that’s a motif through all of it. After all what kind of community doesn’t have cats? The third eye being technology—a generation of it—forty years or thereabouts for Matthew Malachi is only thirty-eight. And that was the point of the trip to Texas wasn’t it? He was there to train on a machine that performed chemistry assays using photometric, potentiometric and chemiluminescent methods. The Architect ran your chemistries after a blood draw and Matthew Malachi was a medical lab tech reporting out your CMP’s and Lipid Panels after your yearly physical. And so in his arms in those first minutes of Labor Day she says:

guess I’ll go to the family reunion while you’re away you won’t kill yourself again will you Lloyd is playing with his band he sings and Jason is on guitar I told you about Jason didn’t I we grew up together as kids he was dumb I mean dumber than your average dumb though he wasn’t bad-looking he always had a girlfriend I never dated him the last time I saw him was I guess before we got married I was getting gas and he’d just got out of prison after a ten year stretch right out of high school back then he and Lloyd got a house together and they both sold drugs I knew that how else could they pay the rent because they didn’t work and girls don’t come and go in a house where men don’t work then they got into some fight and Jason moved out and stole some stuff which Lloyd promptly stole back and Jason called the cops and when they searched his apartment the dummy had LSD in his freezer and he got ten years when I saw him he was still on house arrest I think his full sentence was twelve but they let him out early but then he got another five for sleeping with a fifteen year old girl he just got out again a while ago—the dummy’s been in prison for most of his life since he was eighteen I think he’s living with his parents now… their band sucks they call themselves A Score to Settle and Lloyd can’t sing he sings from his throat and not his belly and he just stands there I tried to listen to one of their 70’s covers (they don’t write their own stuff) on Facebook but it was awful and I couldn’t listen to it all and you know me I’m a music lover but it was really bad kind of like how you feel when you read bad writing I don’t think I’ll stay at the family reunion long

And sometimes it’s when you least expect it. The story and how the story ends. The night Matthew Malachi had a drink with Kenneth Dean was his last night in Texas. His ex-wife’s family reunion had been that last Sunday the Sunday after Labor Day. Not in their hometown (for Marion was their hometown now) but in the town where his ex-wife grew up just about an hour to the north a short drive from St. Louis. The interstate runs through it (Marion)—north to south—and the forest is south. The Shawnee National Forest. Sprinkled with lakes. Matthew counted one time on a map and eight lakes surrounded Marion. Like a missive postulate gone fishing. Things were slower down here. Everybody waited at a stop sign. Crime was low and the tragic hand of suicide was even lower. Contemporary Christian music blasted from a radio station on the town square where a tower clock was circled in a roundabout. The bars closed at midnight on weekdays. On Sundays they weren’t even open. A dry county the Wal-Mart and gas stations sold no beer or wine. Drive-thru liquor stores were less than churches on corners and crosses at street signs for as for me and my house… The college town was too the west (where his father and mother met) and The Garden of the Gods was to the east. If you took 148 North it led you to an Italian community a festival there over Memorial Day and a fine deli which sold Muffuletas and excellent sausages cooked with garlic and red peppers. 37 South took you to Lake of Egypt with houses by the water and the town of Goreville where his grandmother was born and raised under the maiden name of Hancock back roads leading to two state parks—Giant City and Ferne Clyffe—I mean back roads with names like Lick Creek and Happy Hollow dotted with wineries and pastures of baled hay. In town center on the other side of the railroad tracks just across from the county fairgrounds stood Small’s with its sign: Nobody Beats Our Meat—weekly ads posted on-line sales on T-Bones and ground chuck meat bundles for your deep freezer and pork steaks and ribs smoked daily. The VA sits on a patch of land off Main Street just down from the Pepsi headquarters on Old Route 13 and that’s where Matthew Malachi worked—a federal government employee that made him think of the days he spent growing up on Air Force bases and ROTC drills in New Orleans for here here the patients had stories veterans of war and we walk the trail to the waterfall soon October earth soon the fanfare of Homecoming pumpkins for Halloween the leaves are falling falling like whispers transcendent they let go from their height on mottled branches colored red and gold resting on the green moss of ancient rock sugar maples going first then the oak treasured in glistening dust the verdant abundance which gives this place its name a place dark and cool a place of fragile light meek water to meditate alone in to share with family to let your dog loose the cats always wild silent whispering the air a hush before the snow buries all is before time and after it hinting in the hanging shadows where the sunlight appears… Shh… be still for everything floats here and not just the dying leaves the old men the veterans saying:

it does not destroy itself
yes but people want help to help themselves
you are a Christian who means well but…
Nature does not destroy itself even brute and basic it is…

born to be born the trail loops back without taking the same steps
the story the woods tell

and yes by God goddammit I should know the truth by now or at least my semblance of truth what I call the truth and live by it because talk of Jesus God the devil enlightenment don’t really matter much day by day your religion your philosophy like getting up in the morning and picking up your kids from school and drugs alcohol the pills you take prescribed by a doctor you need to trivialize their importance it don’t change inspiration much just what you do for a few hours while you wait to do something else just the running around in thoughts and fears to make you feel young again cause we all stand in line sometimes and better when there ain’t no talkin’ everything quiet like a sedated peace and even if you totally fuck up it’s just today and there’s always tomorrow for the sermon on Sunday might put you to sleep or touch all the open unguarded things you bring to the feet of your Lord then there’s still Monday morning and all the things you need to do on Mondays even the things you don’t have to do and you say: is it the dream that’s died?

and what is the dream what was there what you see recalled in a newborn’s eyes then one two three four the words taking over the dream the rules of words that grammar to make your mouth talk pretty one day the secrets you knew forgotten the secrets of the world unfolding into the not-secrets of he is my father she is my mother and they have names they had dreams and then I was born and they try yes they try they tell me all about my world the world they have made what was made for them and they tell me I will be a slave to money too as they buy me the things I need the things I want when before I could just cry and a breast would appear and I could shit myself and be happy I had wisdom but now I will have knowledge that wants the wisdom back again so that someday eighty years from now before death catches up with me I will learn to laugh at myself again and what is a dream if it makes me sad for in this dream I am either this or that if what the dream is is to happen and if I die before I wake for this other dream to be born shall I let it be let it be for me to talk pretty one day?

So you tried to kill yourself and became a writer?
Yes Matthew Malachi says
And then that identity put everything else in shadows even love?
Yes—daily love
And then now you said you said what?
Time is money

I am now for what I will be for that is a greater length of time than time which is now even if unhappy unfulfilled for I see the dream that no one else sees something more than just mere existence… a dream where one day you will share in my reality

And your children?
I love them
And your books?
I love them too
Yes but which one? Which one will love you back?

and I see a cat looking over its shoulder—at me

so Kenneth Dean thinks but doesn’t say:

be careful what you’re dreamin’ because you say I want love and want is there in your eyes eyes that say Do not hurt me but by the do not you do you set yourself up for it counting on the kindness of strangers and if you were really kind you would not say Be kind for the assertion would already be there in the kindness and so damn them damn the lonely people and where they come from for I want to tell him to just go home Go home to where you came from Go back but do not hide in the illusion of your shyness the exaggerated vanity that says Look at me but do not hurt Look at me and love but do not touch for if you touch me it’s like lifting the lid on a white-washed sepulcher what’s dead inside only living in a dream a dream which says Be sad as I am sad for sadness is the only truth I know the only truth which allows this dream to be…

You’re settin’ yourself up for a broken heart, kid
Yes but he used to say it he used to say: Your father is a genius

the reality is there before your reality—the foundations of your world. you look and it plays out how you look because it ain’t that hard to get somebody to love you—you only have to let them

and he knew the horror the horror of saying so this is me now love it when any five year old kid could tell him that could tell him what a child seeks from a father but it takes an old man to know what glorifies the father sanctifies the son and to finish to finish well it’s not about you it never was for the one thing you take from this world is it doesn’t love you you can love it all you want and all your people in it but it’s as fickle as a woman as fickle as a stray cat being fed because attention is cold never warm and the focus is always intense and better to give your attention to the world than to ask for attention from it for it is always better to say I love than to ask beg borrow from the words: Love me please… better to love than to be loved but ask any child before it is man or woman and you’ll get the same answer—teach a child in the way he should go and he will follow it all the days of his life

the thing is it’s never taught it is the inherent unhappiness of humanity all you have to do is just picture the words see him in your mind and remember—Daddy…

she got the shits after they fucked just over a year since their divorce the fireworks romantic the kids worn out and in bed early he’d spent the night before but always in the bed of their children but on this night Labor Day in the morning they made love not long but long enough to work the gas out of her so in his arms she farted after wiping herself off in the bathroom the love stains on the sheets there the next morning Ugh… I’m sick she says You just feel extreme relaxation he jokes but she rolls over and says Don’t you have to work tomorrow?

and do you know it? do you know the dream?

not the stuff of young men with its emotional disconnect internet porn shaping a view of female sexuality degrading often violent and totally off the point of what should turn you on what being inside a woman is all about not the loving you loving you but sympathy for a fellow human being with desires not indifferent from your own who says yes this is America and it’s the 21st century and the motives for sex and the way it makes you feel aren’t much different now than it was then for man or woman in a society where gender roles are blurring and we don’t lead with what we want to happen and it may all stem from where is he—where is the father?

life should be better for everyone with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement… is this the dream?

no it is the dream of instant wealth won by audacity and good luck
a college education is the ticket
we gonna live off the fatta the lan
our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults
“it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it”

and my younger daughter is four now and someday she will have to deal with a whole host of issues about sex that are directly tied to porn and maybe men would know be aware sensitive to the fact of how they treat women if they have to look to their own daughters and say My God—is this what I’m working for—an ex-wife that is a friend and boys growing up thinking only with their dicks?

and she says:

don’t kid yourself the only dream you want is a dream that isn’t wet

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Matthew Malachi didn’t know if he was missed, but he came home from Texas on a Friday. Saturday he knocked on the door with presents. The two T-shirts he bought his daughters and the sign for his ex-wife’s kitchen. And it was a good day. That night they took a walk as a family. That’s when she chose them. That’s when the cat chose him.

and Matthew says to his ex-wife:

she committed suicide he told me his wife was dead two weeks after having the baby their first child she was afraid what she looked like in her bathing suit

i saw her there in the darkness hiding in the bushes and when i bent down my hand out before me she came askance her gray blending in with what little light there was the moon behind the clouds a tabby in that gangly suspension between kitten and full-grown not really skinny but like her legs were too long for her body and the hind ones kind of rotated not quite in step with the rest of her and she came to me with her head down sniffing

some women are like that she says they look at others then look at themselves but you can’t have the same body you had when you’re nineteen but you see them at the pool leaning back on their hands their feet dangling over the water they look at legs then look down at their legs they look at bellies then look at their bellies always comparing always turning to look over their shoulder at the mirror avid for fashion that gives that ocular illusion of ten pounds lighter ten years younger

yes but is it that is it postpartum depression? she died ugly drowned in her bathtub

and I hear sometimes on the radio a song I know all the words to and I can remember the first time I heard it and how I played it over and over and made others hear it hoping they heard that they heard what I hear the same sharing other things that said this is me a better me and eclectic tastes ever yearning for the obscure scorning the popular and with sarcasm telling all my friends don’t watch that don’t listen to that because there’s this and it’s cool but I won’t say it’s cool because it isn’t cool to say that but if you want content here is style and if you see style dig deeper to see the content it’s what’s on the outside what’s on the inside and there ain’t nothin’ that’s only skin deep

just old getting older you don’t read as much you don’t keep up on the latest trends or look back to what was obscure before you were born it’s like looking for a piece of you in the mirror of someone else’s truth in erections they like to call art… experience… I like food now and when you’re asleep you don’t share your dreams

is it over—the sharing?
No but the excitement is. You know the new isn’t new and the old isn’t that old. You don’t have to tell the world you know something they don’t know you know when to follow or when to lead you know when…

when what? a cat’s meowing outside your door?

now move move to more than a month later

trick or treat was postponed because of the weather. Tornados were in the area, but the next day—All Saint’s Day—the sun was shining and he vowed to finish it Matthew Malachi vowed:

I saw an old friend a friend from college and I envied him once
his wife downed a bottle of Percocet fell asleep in the tub and drowned

I see him now like I see him then I see Kenneth Dean his daughter just learning to walk he sits at a bench at a playground as she goes down the slide and there is no one there to take pictures his wife is not there to take pictures and instead of looking at my hands I look at his face as he watches his daughter alone he is alone with no one there to help him to share it with and I see his eyes and your eyes say what you are and his eyes say sorrow Sorrow

and all because of stretch marks
I wrote this because because…

You wanted to lie?
No I told the truth
Then what’s it about?

it’s not a story I just went to Texas again I was there as a young man and I thought I discovered the truth only the truth kept changing because like any story you relay some facts and a character is shaped by other characters but then some facts are left out and some facts appear after the story is in mind and these facts make the story different and so you add them in too and then you don’t really know what you’re saying anymore when something happens to you or a person you know and you try to put your finger on it and say this is fair but this is not and out of the injustices maybe a tragedy takes place but then something you didn’t know suddenly sheds some light on the injustice and you have to laugh and then you’re just not sure you’re not sure anymore if it’s a tragedy or a comedy a satire or a mere anecdote and all you can do is just put it down put it all down and to hell if it even makes sense and if there ever was a conflict at all the resolution was before the first word and…

They named her Sassy but he called her Sassafras and if you look at his hands now you will see the scratches of her playfulness a fever that is until he gave her away to Junior his next door neighbor an old black man on social security disability lonely and in need of a companion his eyes like the eyes of his friend Kenneth Dean and the funny thing is you need a next story to know where she came from how she was a kitten to a cat and what this means to another man and woman and their children the same as now but before and the town if this story is to be about a town and the people who live there you must know they close the streets the streets are closed to the children in their costumes but this year it doesn’t fall on the last day of October but the first of November and tomorrow? Tomorrow she says:

We will pray
pray for those in the bosom of Abraham

that they may go from grace to grace until they are finally received
in Heaven  

CAT BONES

The husband and woman found the bones under the back patio deck when they returned to the house, the adhesive tape of the bank notice wearing on the windowpane of the front door since the foreclosure. It wasn’t their cat, and they didn’t really discover the bones—their oldest daughter did—at that age where she was curious about everything, especially animals. The woman surmised the cat belonged to the previous owner—the old woman they bought the house from—it had been her house for over 30 years, her husband dead twenty, and when they bought it she was living there with a cat, a cat and her son, who still lived at home. It seemed to make sense so the husband agreed with the woman. He agreed by not saying a word, but their daughter, well—she always had questions.

“Did she die?”
“Everything that lives dies, honey,” the woman said.
“God lives. God doesn’t die.”
“That’s true… but all animals die. She was an old cat.”

The husband is driving. They live separately in another town now, and it was one of those weekend afternoons where they decided to get in the car and find a shaded park near sunset for the girls to play. Their youngest is napping. She doesn’t remember the house. She wasn’t born there like her sister.

“Did another animal kill her?”
“I don’t know, sweet pea. I think she was just really old. Old animals do that. They go off and hide when they’re sick because they wanna be left alone.”
“Well… she’s still alive. Her spirit is!”
“You might be right, darlin’. Some people believe we’re born again and again.”
“Different bodies, but the same spirit?”
“Yes…” the woman turns to look back at her five year old daughter strapped in a booster seat. She smiles at the quizzical look, the eyes lost in thought, and when she smiles and makes eye contact her daughter’s face brightens with a smile too. She begins laughing, a loud and infectious little girl’s laughter.

The previous owner’s name was Hilda. Shortened from Reinhilde, her German name. And being German she lived up to it—a devoted wife, wishing only the survival and well-being of her children, or in this case her one son, George. She worked in real estate, getting her license in the early eighties—she sold homes for a living, which made handling the selling of her house easy. The only thing keeping her from selling sooner that cat, and not the fact her son was living with her.

The son wasn’t a father, and maybe that was the problem. That strange thing that happens when a son becomes a father, when a daughter becomes a mother. And it happens to cats too. Hilda’s cat—Queen—she named her cat Queen, had litters of kittens, perhaps too many litters. She was in heat the day George got that discrete package in the mail containing what was advertised as bath salts and climbed the roof of the house. She’d been in heat before, and Hilda was used to her behavior, but George’s behavior that day, well, that’s a different story.

You don’t really become a father, become a mother. You either are one or you aren’t. Maybe it helps to have a reminder, and George didn’t have that—his father dying when he was just a boy—a suicide. He shot himself in a room upstairs. The same upstairs George lived in now, making it his home, which had a window out to the roof. Hilda thought it was strange her son wanted to take a bath in the late afternoon. It wasn’t like he’d worked that day, worked on anything that got him dirty, but she went on with cooking dinner when her son went upstairs and closed the bathroom door. Queen following him. She loved George. Or rather she loved the catnip in his pocket. He always carried some with him when she was in heat.

George was a college graduate and a disabled veteran. He received disability from his medical discharge from the military—a suicide attempt—like his father. After coming home, after trying suicide, he decided he wanted to be a musician, and so he played a guitar, a guitar his grandmother gave him when he was in seventh grade. He wrote a few songs, but didn’t really feel them. The words more inspired from others rather than his experiences. He managed a few gigs, most at fish fries for the Legion and the Knights of Columbus, where he played cover songs—the songs people wanted to hear—not because he was playing them, but because they remembered the words, the melody, and George just managed to be good enough to remind them of that—that first time they heard the song.

But that isn’t to say he was totally without experience. One just had to follow his habits to know of his life, know his friends and enemies, his values. He was introduced to drinking at sixteen by a family member—his mother’s brother. This led to a friendship in his senior year of high school with a co-worker at his first job. A fellow busboy just a year short of legal drinking age. He discovered back roads and AC/DC. The cops also discovered him, and a DUI was expunged just after his eighteenth birthday due to his good grades and an ROTC scholarship. And so he went to college—in New Orleans. His drinking there finding friends, but no loss to his virginity. Fumbled experiences in high school further delayed. His sophomore year he became addicted to cigarettes—this starting with a cigar, once again introduced by his mother’s brother with the late birth of George’s cousin—an It’s a Boy! cigar. He had to get by the initial taste just like he had to with beer, but he liked the nicotine buzz just like he liked the buzz from alcohol, and after coming back from winter break he started bumming cigarettes from his college roommates on nights out at bars, soon buying his own packs. Packs leading to cartons. He was still a virgin when he tried pot and LSD, and by his senior year he’d been to a rave with ROTC buddies rolling on ecstasy. He was still a virgin when he was commissioned as an officer, not commissioned with his class at graduation due to a fractured ankle at that year’s Mardi Gras—a drinking binge with a roommate’s girlfriend, who he sort of had a crush on. He had to complete his physical fitness test back home in the Metro East of St. Louis—his mother pinning on his gold bars. He spent ten months in the military, his first duty assignment in Los Angeles, and it was another alcohol binge, this at a training exercise in Texas, where he swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills due to anxiety. He was twenty-three and still a virgin.

He had to lie about the drugs he experimented with in college for his security clearance in the military, but after his suicide attempt he didn’t feel the need to lie, and before he went home to live with his mother he visited a prostitute on Crenshaw Boulevard—a massage parlor. He came home and began practicing on his guitar. Singing songs he hadn’t felt, but he felt like he had, and that’s when he met a girl at a fish fry, who introduced him to smoking weed every day. This in a way good for him—not the weed, but the girl. Because he didn’t have to lie. He really wasn’t a virgin anymore.

It’s a mystery and then it’s not. How this girl helped him, and then she didn’t. Just like a drug. It always feels good at first, and then it still feels good, but you can’t forget—you can’t forget how you felt before—the bad you try to escape, because it’s still there. And so you take more, you take more of the drug and you try different drugs to forget. Even though it still reminds you of it, what you can’t escape—this the cycle of addiction—and how love, even love, can become a drug… The facts of life being what they are there are always withdrawals. Sometimes you have to go without. You have to go without some things, even love sometimes, and somehow despite all of it you still have to survive—you still have to love yourself. At least this was George’s experience. His experience with girls and drugs. And he was only twenty-five. He was twenty-five when he met the girl and twenty-seven when they broke up. He was twenty-seven and now he had three addictions—beer, cigarettes, and pot. The beer and cigarettes came from family, but the pot—the love of pot—came from the girl. And he didn’t know how to end it—this the sour truth he had to face. He didn’t know how to quit. He didn’t know how to end any of them, especially the girl. His maturity level showing. The sign of maturity when something ends. When you quit something, and not because something makes it end.

So he tried legal highs. The seed planted by the girl. In the alternatives she gave him as a friend. She quit smoking weed for a job, and then didn’t want to be around anyone who reminded her of it, including George. She’d heard of salvia, and so she told him about it. He ordered the leaves and some 10x extract online after reading testimonials of it being a substitute for marijuana, bypassing the tales of hallucinogenic trips out of skepticism. Mazatec shamans of Mexico long used the plant to facilitate visionary states of consciousness during spiritual healing sessions. They chewed it and mixed it with tepid water, seeing the plant as an incarnation of the Virgin Mary, who they say speaks with a quiet voice. George smoked it. It only took one hit of the extract. The leaves four or five puffs—the trick the flame—getting enough heat, the right temperature for the leaves to combust. The first time he broke through he was in his mother’s kitchen. Hilda wasn’t home for she had a bible study she went to every Tuesday. Fifteen minutes later he was standing in front of the open refrigerator, not sure where he was and what he’d just done—he didn’t remember taking a hit. And that was it. He didn’t try the extract again. The scientist in him (he had a bachelor’s in chemistry) explaining it as a dissociative drug. The spiritual, the out of body experience, the effect of salvinorin A, which if concentrated and smoked at the right temperature takes the you out of you, somehow a disconnect—your higher brain functions, the consciousness of your mind—separated from your body. George liked it, and then he didn’t. A few puffs of the leaves added colors to the day, but it wasn’t like weed at all, and after watching several videos on YouTube to see what he looked like on it he decided to pass. It wasn’t addictive anyway. The one good thing he took out of it his loss of introspection, at least for a while. Salvia didn’t make him go in like marijuana. It didn’t feed his self-love, for what it showed him was there was no self. His body an illusion—this academic, amateur philosophy and the dogma of most religions. He decided to stick to his beer and cigarettes, and maybe find something else to replace the weed because like it or not he still liked to love himself and real life was still real life.

So then he tried K-2, or spice as it’s called. He’d read in the newspaper how the cops had confiscated it out of local head shops, and he figured it must be good. After salvia he tried some of the legal buds on-line—wild dagga, or lion’s tail—smoked by prisoners in Africa, and some other ethno botanicals available, steering clear of the ayahuasca vine, or DMT, after his experiences on salvia. He read The Yage Letters and that was good enough. George didn’t really want to hallucinate or take a trip to find some spiritual truth—he just wanted to feel good—to get over the pain of the girl, at least that’s what he told himself. He found the legal buds were just a waste of money. It wasn’t weed—it didn’t really get him high, and that’s when he investigated synthetic marijuana, already illegal in his county, but not in the county to the north. All it took was a drive of twenty miles and he came out of a head shop with a gram for $15.

George liked that it was legal, but then he wasn’t really sure if it was. It was sold as herbal incense. With a warning on the package that it was not for human consumption. From what he read online the people that sold it just keeping one step ahead. In the family of synthetic cannabinoids some were banned and some weren’t—at least not yet. Local governing—states and counties—leading the way in making it illegal, as producers came up with new names and synthetic strands not on the list of banned substances. But George didn’t really care if it was legal or not. He wasn’t concerned that marijuana was illegal, and as far as he was concerned salvia was more dangerous than pot. George didn’t live by these laws. Alcohol and tobacco were legal, and addictive—many dying from it. No one died from pot. You could smoke as much as you want and never worry about overdose. And he could buy K2 with a credit card. Marijuana was hard to get after the girl broke up with him. Her connections his connections, and George didn’t want to have to go underground, go hunting in the black market. He wanted to be in control.

You might be wondering by now what this has to do with the cat. The bones a five year old girl found visiting a house in foreclosure. Why you should care about George, a son pushing thirty living with his mother, and his history of drug abuse. In a story one thing always leads to another, and Queen was in heat the day George got high on bath salts and went out on the roof. Laws were in play that day. Laws a five year old girl was learning about discovering those bones—the history contained in them—about what lives, what dies. And just like state and local laws were banning substances like salvia, K2, and bath salts, the story of George’s experience on that roof with Queen is a story about laws and how everybody, deep down, wishes they could be a cat, because that’s one thing we know for sure—cats love themselves just as much as they love cat nip—and therein lies the story, even if all that’s left in the end is bones.

K2 is like weed and then it isn’t—it’s much stronger—it has a stronger binding affinity to receptors in the brain than THC, with psychoactive effects. And being strong it was addictive—you wanted it—you wanted the feeling… Self-love is the strongest drug you can consume—the all-natural opiate. You’ll never feel better than when you’re in love with yourself. This perhaps a good thing. When it’s natural, when you’re given that love, but George had to be something. He had to be something to love himself. Like when he lied to friends in college about not being a virgin. He couldn’t be that. He couldn’t be that and love himself, which is maybe why when he came home to live with his mother he wanted to be a musician. People loved musicians. People sang and danced to their music, to the songs. George had to be that to love himself—something he thought people would love—and this is where self-love can become a sickness, a lonely sickness. When you have to be something, when you have to fit a picture in your mind in order to love yourself. You’re always seeking validation, verifiers to your reality, and that—well, that will always make you unhappy. You can’t be happy on a false sense of security, and counting on anyone but yourself for your self-love is a false sense of security. Since George couldn’t get this from people, from a girl, he turned to drugs. He numbed himself with alcohol and relied on the hand to mouth of a cigarette. And K2, well—it was easily available, and with one puff he still knew where he was, he knew that, but he just didn’t care. He found being what he wanted, what he wanted to be to love himself—an artist—didn’t need other people—he could rely on his beer, his cigarettes, and the synthetic feeling of the spice, in his loneliness. It made strumming his guitar without an audience easier.

But it’s the scene, his experiment with bath salts, which you have to see. What happened that afternoon on the roof when the go-go powder George got online came in the mail. And Queen—what happened to Queen—the story. How the story ties into the questions of a five year old girl and the story of that husband and woman and why they’re defined as such, as a husband and a woman. For that’s the tell—the tell of the story. The engagement what happens between being told this and what that makes you feel—the conclusions you draw. The conclusions you draw without saying a word. Like how conclusions were drawn when those cat bones were found. In how a girl had to ask, how she asked her father and mother about animals—about the wild ones, and the tame. How she asked about how you tame an animal, the time and effort it takes—the love—what it takes to make a wild animal tame. How you can never quite tame an animal if it’s been wild too long. And a cat, well, a cat—even Queen—a domesticated cat, is never quite tame. You have to earn their love—a cat’s love. And George just cheated. He cheated that afternoon on the roof, in how Queen followed him. He knew she was in heat, and that’s why he had catnip in his pocket.

One thing you learn as you get older is you’re not unique. Not in the way you feel. When you’re honest with your feelings. When you’re honest with what we all learn from the past. What embarrasses you would embarrass anybody. You know what love feels like. And jealousy. And it’s the same with drugs. People wouldn’t take them if they didn’t feel the same way. The effects might be slightly different from user to user, but it still can fit nicely in statistics. George was a virgin for a long time, but this didn’t make him unique, and neither did his songs, and when he felt that he felt the songs. As for the girl that broke up with him, she was just another girl in the world—she wasn’t special either—and many twenty-somethings in this day and age still live with their parents. Even George’s suicide was nothing unique. It was the fact that he thought he was unique, that no one felt the way that he felt, which caused him to try suicide in the first place. Fathers are fathers the world around. Children are children. Death a common denominator to us all. Hilda a religious person, who believed in the power of prayer, not because it really availed much, but because it made her feel good. The different ways we deal with death, our feelings, not really unique at all—we just try to find people who believe the same things we do. The story of how this happens a world of givens and really only a few choices. The same choices made over and over. And as for stories we tell about it, well—it’s the same with them too—how the stories get told. There may be different ways of telling them, maybe even rights ways and wrong ways, but what they make you feel—probably nine out of ten people will give you the same response, perhaps even the outliers easily explained. By that want—the want of the feeling—to be different, and we all know what that feels like. Maybe George felt special when that gram of bath salts came in the mail—a free sample with his order of K2. The first order had been lost in the mail, and when he emailed the company they sent him another package, this one containing a free sample of their bath salts. Everyone likes it when they think they get something free, and George was no different. And like with anything we feel is free we’re not afraid to try it. So that’s exactly what George did.

He went out on the roof because he saw his father. Queen just wasn’t afraid to follow him. Maybe if he would have made it through the first ten or fifteen minutes nothing would have happened. You’d just see a guy frozen to a chair. But George saw his father. It was the same room where his father shot himself. George was sitting in the same chair where his father sat when he put a gun to his head. Pictures coming of his mother washing away the blood stains, the brain matter, a bucket of soapy water, and the sound of it as she scrubbed. He could hear the sound of the brush. Hilda was a Christian, and she wouldn’t get rid of it. She didn’t get rid of the chair. And maybe he knew. George knew he just couldn’t sit there. He couldn’t be his father. That’s the only thing that became clear—he couldn’t be that—and maybe that’s what gave him the inclination to go out the window, that subtle shift of the drug where who you are gets lost, and instead of a ghost making you remember you are the ghost. You are what makes you remember, and this is fear—fear in its most basic form. George’s father wasn’t there. He wasn’t there anymore, and when you imagine what makes you imagine this can only be evil. This is pride—the pride of life. And we all know that feeling… Queen just wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid of what she followed. She was just following the catnip.

There was an old cherry tree outside. In the back yard. Just under George’s window. It had seen many harvests just as Queen had seen many litters. And now it was partially dead. After a bad summer, lack of rain, and maybe even disease—Hilda wasn’t sure—and she was its caretaker. She was the one that picked the cherries every late spring, sometimes getting George to climb a stepladder to reach the cherries on the top limbs. She froze them. Later making them into jam. It was just after the summer solstice when George climbed out that window, and the cherry tree had seen its last harvest. Many of its branches barren. Just naked wood—no leaves. No fruit. What could be picked from it had been picked, and now it was George’s chore. Hilda wanted help cutting it down.

It just never was. George never got around to it, and when his mother sold the house, after George’s hospitalization, it was still there. By the back patio deck. And when the husband and woman discovered the cat bones, or rather their five year old daughter discovered them, it was their two year old that screamed. She screamed pointing, pointing at the barren tree. Maybe somehow she knowing. She knew it was dead, even if there were still a few branches that showed life. Maybe she screamed because she knew how something dead could still show life. And she could only scream because the words weren’t there—she didn’t know the words yet to ask questions. Like George didn’t know what to ask of his father. She could only point to the story she saw in it.

And as far as George’s story, well—he just thought he could fly. At least he did after he saw Queen jump off that roof chasing the catnip. Queen jumped into that old cherry tree. Because that’s where George threw it. Standing out on that roof, the sun in his eyes, wondering if his father was really there or if he wasn’t, he suddenly didn’t want Queen there, rubbing against his bare feet, purring. And when she scratched him, scratched his foot with her claws, he threw it. Maybe he thought he was getting rid of it. Getting rid of the drugs. The history of his life in his habits. Maybe he thought he was finally saying goodbye to what he remembered, goodbye to his father, to a girl, and he didn’t want to be around it—a cat in heat. He knew she only followed him because of that catnip anyway, and perhaps he felt ashamed, guilt a feeling we’ve all felt that’s only unique when we don’t share it, and so on impulse he threw it away. He took it out of his pocket and tossed it into the cherry tree. And Queen didn’t hesitate. She jumped. She jumped right in that old cherry tree, the outcome just fine, because she landed in what was dead, and even in that, even in that reckless chase after her fix, she had nothing to fear—that really it, the story—about how even a cat in heat always lands on their feet… As for George, well, he wasn’t so fine—he let out a barbaric yawp—that’s true, that’s no lie, but that tree didn’t cushion his fall when he decided to jump. He kept going. Right down to the ground. The outcome a broken leg… That was George’s story. That was George’s experience—his experience on a free sample—a free sample of bath salts.

A cat can’t overdose on catnip. Usually they know when they’ve had enough. It grows like a weed. A patch of it growing under the deck—that back patio deck—where Queen’s bones were found. After the fiasco on the roof Hilda decided to sell. Their neighbor was a cop, and no prayers, no amount prayers can change a reputation. Her church was forgiving, but that has no effect on your status as a homeowner, and Hilda didn’t want to live in a neighborhood where everybody talked about the old woman living with her crazy son. George’s leg healed. Eventually he found a job working on computers for a pharmaceutical company, renting an apartment and finding dates on Match.com. He still smoked cigarettes. The guitar–well, that he didn’t play so much anymore. Maybe he just no longer needed it to love himself. Hilda moved into senior living community, spending some of her profits from the sale on plastic surgery—a chin lift—one of the rules of her new community no pets. Queen had run off anyway. Maybe some old tomcat happy to find her in heat. Her death—why her bones were found under that deck—no mystery. Perhaps she had her last litter of kittens there, surrounded by catnip. One can surmise that—that she died happy. At least it’s nice to think so. To feel that way.

As for the husband, he was looking up at the clouds, and he knew he couldn’t fly. He was looking out the driver side window, thinking about God and what his five year old daughter just said. It was nice visiting the house where they once lived, and he was wondering, wondering again why it had two front doors, only one with a foreclosure notice sticking to it. When they bought it the inspector told him it was for funerals, for processions—one door for going in, and one for going out. He was thinking of this, looking out on the clouds, when the woman said:

“I don’t want to be the devil or anything, but I think we should smoke weed.”
“I thought you wanted to use that money on the divorce.”
“You ain’t got no job anyway. Working four days a month. Let your mother pay for it…”

The man stopped looking at the clouds. He stopped imagining what made him imagine. His eyes on the road. His mother needed help with the salt. Four bags of salt were coming tomorrow for the water softener. Maybe if he helped her with that she wouldn’t mind loaning the money.

“We’ll see… we promised to take the girls to a park first. We’ll see after…but we promised—remember?”

BENEATH WAS THE VAN GOGH

Now it’s a barbecue shack on Route 13…