Men’s Room Confessional

“Excuse me?” asked Henry.

“How long since your last confession?” repeated the raspy, time-worn voice from the next men’s room stall.

“I’m sorry, are you talking to me?”

“Yes, my son.”

Henry shifted uncomfortably on the toilet seat.  He suddenly felt trapped in this tiny stall that stunk of Friday night drunkenness and piss knowing that he had business to take care of with a potential loony in the next stall.  First of all, stall-talk in general was not within his comfort zone.  He valued his privacy too much.  Secondly, either this guy was joking or he was dead serious, and joking would be the lesser of two evils.

“Ha ha.  That’s pretty funny, but it you don’t mind–”

“Would you like to pretend that I’m joking?  Because we can do it that way if you like.  It’s up to you, my son.”

Dead serious it is.

“Listen, I don’t know what you’re up to over there, but I just want to take care of business and get out of here.   So, if you don’t mind–”

“Most men who come through here are hesitant at first.  I completely understand.”

“Look, I’m not even Catholic.”

“Neither am I,” he replied.

“And I haven’t been to church in years.”

“Hehe…and this certainly isn’t a church.”

“Yeah, no shit.  Pardon my French, Father–er, or whatever you are.”

Although a little incense wouldn’t hurt right now.  Jesus Christ!

“Look, you may never have this opportunity again.  I’m offering you 100% anonymous confession.  I don’t know you, you don’t know me.  It doesn’t matter to me what you’ve done or who you are.  What matters to me is that you find absolution…if that’s what you need.”

“I’m doing just fine.  I’ve managed to make it this far without confession or absolution or whatever.”

But he wasn’t fine.  He knew he was lying to the man, perhaps even to himself.  His marriage was in the crapper.  He had few friends to talk to.  He was on his way to becoming a divorced, lonely drunk .   As he sat in the restroom of his favorite pub, five whiskeys down, little to lose that he wasn’t already losing, the weight of his sins began to materialize out of the fog of the emotionless stupor he’d been living.  His heart sank.  His eyes welled with tears of pain and regret. As crazy as it seemed, he decided to play along.

“Ok, listen,”  he spoke in tones hushed and strangled by rising emotion,  “I’m not sure why, but I trust you.  So how does this work?”

“Simple, you tell me what you’ve done wrong.  And I offer you forgiveness and a penance.”


The words did not come immediately.  He began to draw them together from images and deep longings and deeper regrets.  He spoke for the first time about the affairs and the constant stream of lies he’d been living with.  His fears of his daughter becoming like the women he was using, or worse…

that his daughter would grow up to marry a man like him, a man like his father.

Dad.  Dear old dad.  It’s no wonder I turned out this way.

The music and chatter from the pub vibrated the walls around him.  There it all was, hanging in the air around him, the stench of his sin and pain and struggle, and the source of it all.

All the old painful memories of his neglectful, womanizing, drunken father who he had not seen or spoken to in twenty years came rushing make to his consciousness, and a vow formed on his silent lips.  I will NOT become my father.  It’s not too late.  I WILL NOT become my father.

“My son,  are you truly sorry for your sins?”

“Yes! Yes I’m so sorry.  I am so sorry, Father.  But what can I do?  Tell me.  What do I need to do?” he pleaded.

“Go home and beg for forgiveness from your wife, before it’s too late.  And if she is still willing, let her help you.  Do whatever she says to do.”


“And make me a promise.  When you’ve gotten your life back together again, I want you to take a turn on the other side of this wall.   Hear someone’s confession, just like I’ve done for you tonight.  And then offer them forgiveness.   Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, Father, anything.  I’ll do it.”

And then the words that had never meant anything to him before, pierced his very soul.

“My son, you are truly forgiven.  Go in peace.”

you are truly forgiven

He did not know until this moment how much he needed to hear these words.   He knew he didn’t deserve them, but somehow he was receiving them anyway.  And for that moment, he truly was at peace.  His mind was clear.   In sharing his heavy burden of pain and guilt and shame and wrongs, he could see new possibilities.  Like a tiny flame lit from the kindling of dead twigs on a cold night, hope was born in his heart.

“Thank you, Father.  Thank you.”

Quickly, he washed up, and left to pay his tab.  As he headed for the exit he glanced back to the men’s room for a moment, hoping to catch a glimpse of the unlikely priest .  And as he did, he saw an older man emerging.  Even in the dim light of the smoky pub, he could see tears glisten in his eyes.  Henry stopped and stared hard.  Through the tears, through the wrinkles, and through twenty years of absence he recognized him.

The man he had just this night called Father, was the man that he had once called Dad.

And in that moment Henry knew, that this could not have been a chance meeting, and that this was not just about the sins of one man, but two.


The Ballad of the Butcher’s Daughter

There was a stranger who walked alone,
Who came from far away.
Who sought a job to feed his mouth,
And a bed for which to lay.

He reached a town with open gates,
And began to look around.
The people there did stop and stare,
Not a friend there could be found.

He came upon a butcher shop,
And dared to venture in.
He pulled his hat down off his head,
And was welcomed with a grin.

“Good morning,” said the Butcher,
What business have you with me.?”
“I’ve traveled far to find a job,
Do you have a job for me?”

The butcher looked him up and down,
And rubbed his chin in thought.
He said, “You’ll work for room and board,
My pay for you is nought”

The stranger wept in gratitude,
And bowed his humble head.
The butcher kindly handed him,
And little loaf of bread.

The Butcher gave a warning glance,
And said, “I have one rule.
You’re not to touch my daughter fair,
She is my precious jewel.”

The stranger stood up tall and straight
And made a solemn vow.
“I shall not look upon her face,
Or you may butcher me like a sow.”

That night he came for supper,
With the Butcher and his wife,
She brought a honeyed ham
And a fork and carving knife.

The Butcher carved the ham up,
And served it with a wink,
The Stranger caught his meaning,
His cheeks and ears turned pink.

That night in the Butcher’s barn,
He lay in softest hay,
And wondered of the maiden,
How long he couldn’t say.

Then late at night as he slept,
Another wandered in,
He woke to find the maiden,
Her mouth an open grin.

They kissed and stroked each other,
His love for her he spoke,
Until the cock crowed three times,
The two of them awoke.

And then the Butcher opened
The barn door with a bang!
And saw the frightened lovers,
Their heads they now did hang.

“My daughter!” cried the Butcher,
As he stood over them and fumed.
“I love her!” cried the Stranger,
But he knew that he was doomed.

The town did never see him,
Nor never again did meet.
But the Butcher’s ham and pork chops,
Had never been so sweet.


Brian sat with the other forty-five hostages, trying desperately to make sense of what he was hearing; hoping to find a pattern in the steady stream of gibberish pouring from the captor’s ever smiling mouth. Brian scanned the room for some sign of recognition in the eyes of the other captives who lined the four white walls, and realized that most had simply given up.  They sat resigned and hopeless…hostage.

For a moment, Brian suspended his effort to interpret what his captor was saying, and focused on his face.   His smile was devoid of feeling and without humanity.  It spread grimly across his coffee stained teeth.   And although he smiled, his eyes were dead… lifeless.

Recognition’s dawning was so gradual that it was hardly perceptible.  At first it was a word, repeated throughout the endless discourse.  A word in which the captor appeared to be…appeared to be what?  Proud of?  Was the captor proud of his word?  He polished it with his voice as a prized ruby or emerald.  Eventually, it seemed as if whole phrases might be making sense, but just when he thought he might grasp their meaning and relevance, they would dissolve into obscurity.  No, it was only single words that truly registered in Brian’s mind.  They were persuasive words, without meaning yes, but persuasive; and steadily repeated throughout the captor’s seemingly mindless rambling.

He spoke  of “alignment” and “impact” and “transparency”, and “synergy”.  This was the word he was most proud of. Synergy. That and “win-win”.  The words swirled energetically around the room at first, but ultimately fell to the floor empty.

Brian carefully considered his quandary.  Could he escape? Could he somehow persuade his captor to make a halt to his madness? He wondered why exactly they were all there, and what the captor’s motives might be; motives for holding forty-five adults hostage in a corporate boardroom.  But his demands were clear enough.  They were to listen to each word that was spoken no matter how absurd or incomprehensible.

Then the pace of his words began to slow.  Could it he be that he is running out of words?  And rather than building his presentation to a meaningful climax,  the captor’s talking dwindled, his words as stale as his smile,  until there was nothing left to do but open up the floor for questions.  But what do you ask of a madman?  Some stood and offered token questions perhaps hoping to ingratiate themselves to the captor, while the rest sat in painful silence; praying for mercy.

The crisis ended as innocuously as it began.  Brian and the other hostages were released except those who were asked to “go offline” with their questions.  The relief in the room was palpable as, one by one, each returned to their cubicles; some stopping to chat, some stepping into the restroom for much needed assuagement. The captor, satisfied, returned to his corporate office on the east coast to gather more words and plan more meetings.  It was over, and work…true work…could resume.

#5MinuteFiction Week 39: Teapot

His ears and face were burning red. Why was he on the verge of tears? Was it fear or shame? Was it the thought of bearing his father’s disappointment? Poor kid. But the teapot…

The teapot had always been in my life. It was a great loss. I couldn’t even speak to him about it yet. It wasn’t that I was angry with him. Loss is just…loss. I could still see the bright green, ceramic teapot sitting on my grandmother’s stove. I could see her pouring out the afternoon tea. Feel the steam on my young face.

It didn’t matter whether or not he’d been careless. I just needed to look at it for a moment trying to imagine how it could be repaired. He would have my forgiveness soon, but first the loss. What would my mother say if she saw it lying here in pieces? That it didn’t matter? That Grannie didn’t really like this teapot that much anyway? That accidents happen? Probably.

“Come help me clean this up, ok?”

He didn’t look at me. I could tell he was trying to hide his reddened cheeks and teary eyes from me.

As we collected the broken pieces, I put my hand on his shoulder and smiled his face up to mine.

“Hey, accidents happen. Don’t take it so hard.”

In my own voice, I could hear my mother’s and her mother’s. It was ok.

Bay City Runaway

Walking Home On a Foggy Night - William Buckley Jr

She didn’t move.  She didn’t even blink.  She just stared back at me with a single question in her weary eyes . I still wasn’t sure if she was actually there.  After downing five drams of single malt some time earlier, I had passed out and had only just awoken at the sound at the window–actually, my body still slumbered in a scotch induced stupor, but my eyes were awake, and the shock of seeing someone at my window in the middle of a cold night had set my ears ringing.  But even still, I understood what she was asking.

I could just make out her face in the dim, halogen porch light of my Powell Street home on the edge of China Town.   I’d seen her earlier that evening down the street outside of Foley’s when I stepped out into the foggy night for a smoke.  She’d approached me, ghostlike and wordless, communicating her desire to bum a cigarette with a faint hand gesture.  I didn’t speak and I barely even looked at her, save a single moment of eye contact as I lit her cigarette, then she walked away glancing back at me once.  In her eyes I could see her need, and on her face I could see the bruising of a cruel hand.

A dilemma had frozen me in the stare, our eyes locked in an unanswered plea.  I’d met my share of hustlers in this bay city, but,  she was so lovely that  it would almost be worth the hustle.  But no, the need on her face was real, and she couldn’t have been more than seventeen.

But why me?  Why would she follow me?  Why not a friend or family…or a shelter?  Jesus! I was a stranger to her–a drunken, lonely bastard of a man on the street; too young to be her father, too old to be her lover.

I broke the stillness with a nod.

She was pale and shivering from the cool, damp night.  I watched her intently and silently as she passed over my threshold into my living room.  No words had come to my mind, so I did not speak, and even if they had, my tongue would have been too slow to form anything but foolishness.  She sat on my couch, and I handed her a heavy woolen blanket.

She had not been on the street for long, I guessed.  She didn’t smell badly–only of damp, night air and Marlboro.  Her clothes looked relatively fresh–jeans, hoodie, backpack, and sneakers.  I poured her a brandy from a crystal decanter–the one thing I kept for myself–and sank back down in the leather club chair where I’d just moments before been sleeping and had been every night since I’d moved in three weeks earlier.   She put the glass to her lips, her eyes never leaving mine.  Her mouth showed only a trace of grimace from the strength of the drink as she swallowed.

She broke the silence.

“I’m Amy.”

I took a sip of  scotch, and cleared my throat a bit.

“Hey, Amy.  I’m Brian.”  The words hung around my spinning head as if they weren’t mine.  “How can I help you?”

She shrugged her slender shoulders.  “Can I crash here tonight?”

“Why here?”  I replied, clumsily, perhaps even coarsely.

She shrugged again.  “I guess you were nice to me in front of the bar?”

“Look,” I started, “if this is a hustle,  I….”

“It’s not a hustle!”  she shouted, her voice breaking.  “Listen, I just need a place to stay tonight.  That’s all.”  Silent tears began to rolled out of her eyes pleading for just an ounce of mercy.

“Ok, ok.  Relax.”

Gesturing toward me, she said, “I guess you seemed–I dunno–like you’re running away from something, too.”   Her body relaxed into a slump as she dried the tears on her hoodie sleeve.  She sniffed and  took another sip of brandy making a sour face this time.  She put it down on the coffee table between us.

“Do you need to call anybody?”

She shook her head, and pulled the blanket close around her.

“Amy, are you ok?” I asked, my tone softening.

She nodded and settled back into the couch.  She seemed so at home…or maybe just too exhausted to care.

I watched her sleep for a while and listened to her breathing–almost peaceful– unconsciously timing it with the ticking of the mantel clock.  Asleep, her face was a child’s, spoiled only by the green and purple bruise under her right eye.

She was gone when I awoke the next morning, the runaway.  The blanket was folded on the arm of the couch exactly as it had been when she’d arrived, brandy snifter put away.  I might never see her again, and I wasn’t really certain I’d ever seen her at all.

As I let the steam from my freshly brewed coffee rise to my face, I pondered her words:

you’re running away from something, too…

part 2

Final Pilgrimage

He meditated on the sound of his boots pressing into the freshly packed snow, a million crushed snowflakes singing out together in fatal communion, while a burning Camel Blue that had promised peaceful succor in the icy sting of winter hung weakly from his lips.  He’d walked this path many times, and he wondered how many more times he would need it.

The snow around the tiny building of glass and aluminum was undisturbed, artfully sculpted by the sweeping winds of the Oklahoma plains.   He entered the smokers’ shelter as if it were a sacred chapel, and in some ways, it had been.  First kicking the snow from his boots, he sat down at the table and extinguished the cigarette in the glass altar that awaited his ashen offering.

For a moment, he listened to the wind pressing it’s force against the northern wall of the structure and pondered peace.  Would this next smoke bring him any peace?  Would it trigger the dopamine rush that began his worshipful love affair with a god that rolled itself in white and brown paper?  Doubtfully, he fished deeply in the pockets of his woolen, smoke-stained pea-coat and fingered the smooth, steel of a Zippo and the sharp corners of a cardboard Ark of the Covenant of sorts.   Ritually tilting and patting the half-empty pack, he eased out a cigarette and lit the end with a crack of flame.

Each puff was a dying prayer to a dying god.  Plumes of faintly felt bereavement poured from his mouth and nose.

After driving the final paper nail into the now dead altar, he dropped the pack and the Zippo in to the waste basket, knowing that this would be his final pilgrimage.  Slowly endeavoring the return journey to his office, he let the cold hand of Winter caress his cheeks numb hoping for some kind of purification.  From deep within his ruminations, an old idea awoke in his mind, that peace–true peace–had not forgotten him.  It sang its song under his feet, whistling in his stinging ears, cracking a new fire in the dark places of his restless heart.

Lenten Man

The Lenten Man - David Wilson-Burns © 2010

“Where am I?”

“Oh my God.  Phillip.  You’re in the hospital, honey.  You had an accident.  Oh sweety.”

His neck cramped with pain as he attempted to survey the room, his eyes eventually focusing and settling on a praying woman at his bedside.  He squinted at her through the bandages and crushing pain in his face and began to cry hot, stinging tears. Something terrible was wrong, but he knew this woman.  Somehow, he could feel her love flowing through his veins. He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths.

“Jessica.  You’re Jessica,” he croaked, his voice barely audible.

“Yes, sweetheart, it’s Jessica.   I’m your wife.”

“Jessica.  Yes.   I know you.  Yes, sweetheart.  Yes, I’m your husband…so confused…don’t remember what happened…can’t remember. ”

“Honey, just rest.   You’re going to be ok.  God is taking care of you.”

All the time she’d been holding his hand.  And she kept holding and patting his hand as she bowed her head and wept in a low, murmuring stream of sobs and prayers.

“Yes, God is taking care of you, Phillip.”

God, thought Phillip. Yes, God.   God is taking care of me.

Glimpses of the last forty days began to form in his aching head.  Glimpses of prayer and fasting and worship and study of scripture.   These things he held on to, turning them over and over in his mind like precious jewels that he could scarcely believe were his.   They were nearly all he had left.  He thought of his wife who was holding his hand.  He thought of —Yes, children–his two beautiful children.  And he thought of his God…who took  care of him

Phillip’s memory never fully returned.  He remembered pieces of his childhood.  He remembered how he and Jessica had met.  He remembered falling in love with her.  He didn’t remember the days his children were born.  He wasn’t even there, but he didn’t remember that either.  He just remembered that he loved them.  He didn’t remember the nights of pouring stinging, numbing booze down his throat, the endless string of one night stands with roadside bar girls, or the times when he threw his fist into other drunken men’s faces.   He didn’t remember Easter night three days before, when he plowed his truck into an the 60-year-old, oak tree a half mile from a bar off route 77 with a fifth of bargain whiskey in his gut.

The only span of his life that he could remember with any completeness or clarity was the the forty days before his accident.   The forty days of Lent in which he annually–miraculously–managed to straighten out his crooked ways out of devotion to the God of his mother and her mother before her.  The forty days that had kept his wife hoping and praying desperately year after year for a permanent change…for a miracle to save their marriage.

To Phillip, those forty days were his life,  and they would continue to be his life.

Lost and Found Street Hustle

Stepping off the curb onto a dim lit street, Connor dropped an expired Marlboro and crushed it with the sole of his boot as he continued across.   He was not sure where he was heading at all– just heading–thoughts of life and age, and shoulds and shouldn’ts on his mind, cold, damp bay air nipping his ears.

Too old to start smoking, too lost to care.  Up the hill or down?

He turned down the San Francisco street not looking ahead, just down.  On he walked, past house gates, over steamy sewer grates, across quiet side streets and further into the night.

“Hey!  Hey, man.  Slow down.  Lemme aks you somethin’.”

Connor turned to see a scruffy, street-worn black man of indeterminate age.  His light brown skin was punctuated by dark freckles across his nose and cheeks.

Great, more street hustle…fine..nothing better to do

“Yeah?  What do you want?”

“Hey hey, man…relax.  I don’t want nothin’..shiiiiit.  I just wanna aks you somethin'”

“Ok, so ask.”

Connor kicked the gritty sidewalk with his foot watching the tip of his boot and discreetly touching the pocket that contained his wallet.

“Come here, man.  I ain’t gonna bite you.  Shiiiiit.”

Every phrase he uttered broke into a raspy cackle which caused him to bounce and shake his head.

“I’m standing right here in front of you, man.  What the fuck do you want?”

The man took a step toward Connor as if he were about to intimate something to him.  The smell of cheap musk cologne barely masked his stale bodily filth.  Connor held his ground, but sharpened his senses for anything.

“You from around here?”

Connor shrugged.

“You got any weed?” the man asked.

Connor shook his head, keeping his face darkened by a brown, corduroy driver cap.

“Why?  You know where to get some?”

“Shit, man.  If I knew dat, I wouldn’t be askin you.”  What teeth were remaining gleamed yellow under the street lamp.

Connor relaxed his posture a little and smiled.  “Sorry, man.  Got nothing.”

“Das alright.  You just look like the kinda dude who might be able to help a brutha out.”

Connor chuckled.  “Oh yeah? Whatever you say.”

“Hey, listen.  Check dis out.  Man, you ain’t gonna believe dis shit. I’m gonna show you somethin you ain’t NE-VAH seen on no brutha.”

Connor held up his hands and took a step back, still smiling, “Whoa!  Now hold on!  I don’t need to see nothin!”

“Nah nah nah…it ain’t like dat, yo. ”

The man reached up, and with all the flare of a magician offering his audience a slow reveal, pushed the front of his raggedy toboggan hat up over his forehead.  Connor squinted and took a step closer as the man pointed with a dirty index finger protruding from his finger-cut glove.

There on the mans wrinkled forehead was a scratched-in homemade tattoo of a symbol that Connor truly was surprised to find:  a tiny swastika.

“That is fucked up! That is sincerely fucked up man!”

For a moment, they were just two men on the street laughing at the surprise and oddities of life.  The man laughed and wheezed at his own bizarre joke.

Wanting to know why a black man would have a swastika on his forehead, but not wanting to linger any longer on a lonely street past midnight with a bum, he looked further down the street and then back at the jovial beggar, he said, “Ok, man.  Umm…yeah…thanks for that.  That what truly weird, but I’m smiling, so thanks.  See you around, brother.”

“Ha ha!  Alright, yeah, I will.   Hey, but…maybe spare a few dollars?  Just need to get me a burger or something.”

“Shoot, I’ll do you one better.”  In a moment of rare clarity, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his pack of Marlboro Reds, a lighter, and a ten dollar bill and extended it to him.

“Alright, brutha!  Das what I’m talkin about.  Sure you ain’t got any weed?”

“Yeah, man, I’m sure.  Later.”

Before Connor had even taken a step, the man was lit and taking his first puff.

As Connor reached the next crossing light, he could hear the mans voice echo after him, “Thaaaanks!”

And Connor walked on, this time headed for his hotel, ready to give up his wandering…at least for tonight.

Cheap Irish Whiskey

“Why’d you fill my sorrow with the words you borrowed?” mourned the Irish singer as Eric stepped in from the cold city street.  The singer sang with his eyes closed in a revery to misery on the small stage at the end of the long, polished wooden bar–a meticulous and lavish tribute to Irish pub culture.

For a moment, he felt as though he were intruding on a sacred event.  The singer’s passionate outpouring of music and love and sorrow kept his audience rapt.   But thunderous applause and raucous thumping and cheering broke the spell as the song came to a close, ending their set.

“Tank you! Tank you! We’ll be comin’ back after a piss and smoke, so don’t you be going anywhere!”  he said into the mic, and the packed bar settled into a steady rumble of chatter, some streaming out onto the street for a smoke as well.

Eric scanned the bar for a seat, and saw a woman putting on her coat and slinging her purse over her shoulder.  He pushed through the crowd to claim her stool before anyone else spotted it, brushing against warm bodies, through a scented haze of beer and fish and chips.

Got it! But the triumph provided only a glimmer of joy.  He had come searching for a missing piece of himself, hoping to find it in a connection or lose it in a bottle of whiskey.  Seeing nothing but doting couples, armchair basketball coaches, and lonely bastards like him , he started with the whiskey.

The bartenders wore white dress shirts — a white as Jesus fucking Christ’s robes after the goddam transfiguration — with green and black striped school ties, and long aprons.  They tossed bottles and slammed drinks and chatted customers while he perused the whiskey shelf for the perfect drink to start his evening.

A bartender stopped by and raised wiry, grey eyebrows at him.

“I’ll have a double Laphroaig 10 neat. And can you pour it in a single-malt glass?”

He grabbed a small brandy snifter and held it up for Eric to see.

“Closest we got, pal!”  said the old bartender, his voice like the grit on a damp side-street.

Eric glanced down at all the other patrons.  Pilsners, Rocks glasses, tumblers, wine glasses, high-balls, old fashions.

Not wanting to be the dandy with the snifter, he shouted back, “Just pour it in an old fashion.”

The bartender smiled and nodded and reached up for the green bottle with the simple white label and poured out to the brim.

As he set it in front of Eric he raised his eyebrows and said, “Single malt drinker huh? You know they used to sell this Laphroaig stuff as medicine back in the prohibition days,  right?”

Laughing, Eric replied, “Yeah! No one could believe anyone would drink the shit for pleasure…smells like iodine and burnt tar.”

Despite the Friday night rush, the old bartender grabbed a shot glass and poured himself a dram of the same.  Raising it he said, “Cheers!” and the two clinked glasses. The bartender tossed his back and Eric swigged a large gulp of his double.

“I see what they mean,” he said, grimacing. ” I’ll stick with my Chivas, pal!” and he was off.

For a moment, Eric was lost in a reverie of swishing, sniffing and tasting the scotch, dwelling on it’s finer points, then he remembered why he was alone.   Who am I kidding?  Who’s gonna want to be with me.  She sure didn’t. The last place he wanted to be was in an empty apartment.

“Hey, so what’s the deal with that stuff, huh?” came a woman’s voice to his left — surprisingly close.  She nodded at his drink.

“Did you witness that bit of foppery?  Hehe…ummm…yeah.  Sorry about that.  I should just order drinks like a normal guy.  That’s fuckin’ embarrassing.  I just like to pretend that I’m not going to end the evening drunk off my ass on cheap Irish whiskey crying and singing along with O Danny Boy.”

She laughed hard and grinned broadly at him, and he half-smiled back at the petite young lady with punky red hair, mischievous eyes, and soft features.

Her smile and laughter lifted him out of his brooding enough to say, “What are you drinking then, darlin?”

“Cheap Irish whiskey.  No kidding!  The cheapest they got!”

With that, Eric broke into laughter with her, their legs brushing up against each other, his rough edges softening.  He placed one hand on her bare shoulder and motioned to bartender. Still laughing, he held up two fingers and pointed to her glass.   Then he raised his glass of expensive single malt to her glass of sweet Jameson on the rocks and straightened his back for a solid toast.  She followed suit, and they locked eyes.

“To cheap Irish whiskey!  Without which it would cost me a goddamn fortune to get you drunk enough to sing along with me!”

Her smile warmed and her eyes grew soulful in his bold gaze as she clinked her glass to his.

Leaning in to his ear, she said, “I’m Kyra.”

“Eric,” he said, taking in her perfume.

She extended her hand and he took for a moment–so warm and soft, the first feminine warmth he’d felt in a long time. His ex had become so cold–at least to him–in the end.

“So, Kyra, are you here by yourself, too?”

She laughed, the alcohol taking effect, “Uhhhh…interesting story.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Not really.  I got stood up, but I liked the band, so I just decided to stay — ”

“And drown your sorrows in a few of these?” he said, smiling, and grabbing the freshly poured Jameson.

“Yep!” she said, raising her glass again to his.

“What a fucking asshole.”

“What?  Me?” she giggled.

“No! Ha ha!  The guy who stood you up.  I’m lookin’ at you and thinking, this guy either got run over by a truck or he’s fucking crazy.”

Her face turned crimson, she looked down, and asked, “Why is that?”

“Because now that I’ve seen you, I can’t take my eyes off you,  you’re so beautiful.”

Still looking down, she shook her head, “No I’m not.  Don’t say that.”

He couldn’t stand it–a beautiful woman like this who just wasn’t seeing it.  Gently, he touched her face and nudged her chin until she looked him in the eyes again.

“Kyra, listen to me, I don’t lie.  I wouldn’t bullshit you.”

She did not speak.  Shhe steadily returned his piercing gaze and the whole bar around them faded away, and for a moment, Eric found that piece of himself that was missing…in Kyra’s  green eyes.

The band returned and began a new set, a soulful ballad.  “Nothing unusual, nothing strange. Close to nothin at all…” the singer crooned.

Eric grinned and extended his hand to her.  She took it and let him take her in his arms for a dance.

His heart glowed both with the warmth of the whiskey and the warmth of her lovely smile, which never quit–even through the solemn occasion late in the evening when the entire bar joined together in singing “Danny Boy” before the two of them stumbled out onto the cold street together, her on his arm, cheap Irish whiskey on their breath.

Dignity for the Dead

It rained all night. The next morning, Daniel found a dead mole on his front lawn, victim of a flooded home.  The sight of the tiny, lifeless drowning victim both saddened and repulsed him .  A turn of nausea forced him to look away before retrieving a shovel from the garage to tend to it’s burial.

Although the rain had passed, a stiff breeze stirred a small shower of rainwater that had been clinging to the outstretched branches of the large, red oak tree standing overhead, chilling him to the core.  Yet, he endured it with grim stoicism, returning to the place where the mole lay.

He carefully scooped up the corpse along with a little of the dirt and grass just near the small burrow where it was resting.  He offered the smallest prayer of gratitude in the form of a nod and the release of breath he had been holding, and headed for the backyard.   Picking out a spot under his largest tree, he rolled the body off the shovel on to the ground,  dug down about a foot into the damp earth and laid the soil aside.  Using the very tip, he gently rolled the body into the hole, sure to fill and tamp the hole firmly enough that the dogs wouldn’t easily disturb the grave.

Leaning on the shovel, he stood, eyes closed in solemn remembrance of all of the others he had buried over the years .  He thought of their bodies becoming food for this grand tree, and reached out to touch the tree with no small amount of tenderness and gratitude.   Even if he couldn’t yet feel it in his body, he could feel his rapidly approaching death in the mole buried at his feet.

In touching the tree, he had  surrendered his stoicism.  It’s stony wall began to crumble as salty tears slowly filtered into his mouth, and his eyes began to flow with wet, bitter sorrow.   Sorrow, for the the years of his son’s life that he would never see.  Sorrow, for the years that he had hoped to spend with his wife.   Flashes of events he would never see emerged in his mind:  Jacob’s graduation, he and Ashley’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, grandchildren.    He mourned a fatherless child and widowed  woman.  The thought of their pain and loss was unbearable to him as he began to shake with the force of his tears.

With a deep, cleansing breath he ended his weeping.

He returned the shovel to its place on the garage wall, wiped his muddy boots off on the patio doormat, and entered the warmth of his home.  Not wanting to track any of the dirt or rain onto the kitchen floor, he took a moment to pull off his boots and set them by the door to dry.

It was still early on a Saturday, but his son had risen nonetheless to join him at the kitchen table and share a sip of coffee.

Jacob, glancing at his fathers wet boots by the door asked, “So, whatcha been doing?”

Daniel nodded his head with a measure of gravity and sipped his coffee.

“I buried a critter this morning:  a mole.”

Jacob met his father’s gaze with a dignity beyond what a ten-year-old boy should ever need to possess, as he nodded and sipped his own cup of coffee.