My father told me that cabbage pancakes are the only ties he has to the celestial world. No corn fritters or eggs with a side of bacon and orange juice. Japanese style cabbage pancakes with sesame oil and two tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce. Like the initial hints of summer weather and shoes without socks for the first time in six long months.
We ate jumbo prawns with sirracha and took big gulps of dark beer as the sun set over Sunday’s shadowy silhouette. Our home was a dollhouse, our dinner table a breeding ground for stifled insults and the soft chew of browned goodness. I sent my belly good vibes.
There’s something to be said about the stress of living up to parental expectations that far exceed what reality actually is. I’ve sewn my artistic nature into the linings of all my shirts so I can share secret, intimate moments with my own skin. I can use my hands to scoop up seaweed coated in creamy Greek yogurt and still be the same tattooed person I’ve always been. I’ve never had corn fritters but I think I might like them.
Because when it comes down to it, I am just as free as my father was. He stole hubcaps from old muscle cars in the 50’s but he was still chained to cigarettes like I am. He wrote his name in red paint under the 59th street bridge, and even spelled it differently, like I do.
With his mouth full of cabbage, he turned to me and he said, “you’re the spitting image of Farrah Faucet sometimes, you know that? You have the same kind eyes.”
Augie woke up in a puddle of black ink. The side of his face was covered, he could feel it dripping down from the easel and into his hair. He got up, went into the bathroom and cleaned himself up as best he could. A piece of paper was stuck to his cheek, the ink having dried on from the early summer heat. He looked at the paper. It said “Luc”and some numbers, but was mostly covered with ink. It was someones phone number, but he couldn’t remember whose.
Washing his face, Augie tried to remember what had happened. He was so tired. He must have passed out at some point during the night; the last thing he could remember was standing over the easel, thinking about getting a hot bath and reading his Kabbalah for Dummies to wake himself up. That’s when he must have passed out, hitting his head on the easel and knocking everything askew. Augie hadn’t slept in nearly four days.
Things were harder now that Augie’s friend, Fredrick, was gone. Augie hadn’t seen Fredrick in three weeks. Nobody had. Fredrick was known to take weeks off from his job at the local multiplex and write without seeing anyone. He wouldn’t even leave his apartment building on Tenth Avenue to take out his trash. Instead he would go through the rear fire escape—the alarm having stopped working before he even started living there—and drop his trash down three stories, hopefully landing in the dumpster.
The only time anyone could ever spot Fredrick was when he would stand on Eighth Avenue waiting to catch a bus to downtown Pittsburgh so he could donate plasma. Augie lived above an African shop on Eight Ave, not far from where Fredrick’s usual bus stop was, but he hadn’t seen Fredrick there in weeks. Things were harder without Fredrick around because Augie needed a base. He had no other friends. Fredrick was hard and he could get by. Augie couldn’t. He needed someone around. Without Fredrick, Augie had holes in his days. He stayed up at all hours, working on paintings he would forget about the next morning. Without someone around to keep him in line, Augie didn’t know what to do with himself. Augie was very sensitive. Fredrick just thought he was queer.
It was 7pm. The phone rang. Augie was watching a pot of water boil, trying to decide if he wanted to make anything for dinner or not. He idly walked to the phone and picked it up.
“THIS IS A COLLECT CALL FROM A CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION. YOUR CALL IS FROM…Hey it’s me. Don’t pick up. Do no…PRESS ‘1’ TO ACCEPT THE CHARGES. OTHERWISE, HANG UP.”
Augie didn’t understand. Was that Fredrick’s voice? He hung up the phone.
It rang again.
“THIS IS A COLLECT CALL FROM A CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION. YOUR CALL IS FROM…I’m in the County. Sorry…PRESS ‘1’ TO ACCEPT THE CHARGES. OTHERWISE, HANG UP.”
Augie hung up again. The phone rang right after.
“CALL IS FROM…Don’t worry, though. Everything is fi…”
Augie hung up. Phone rang again.
Working Things Out
The thing about sleeping alone is that you wake up alone, and I am no exception to the rule. So went the first year of college, so too the first weeks of summer, days filled with fantasy pulp escapism, save that day I managed to forget entirely.
Don’t do shit, don’t need shit.
Eventually I got tired of this shit, and I walk back to my first job. Behind the counter I can see the store manager busying around, patties need flipped, shakes need shook, business to be busied along. She’s dropping some fries in oil when it flashes back and burns her hand, she turns away to nurse it and sees me from the corner of her eye.
“Stephen! Jesus, I never thought you’d be back. Got your degree yet? Where are you working now?”
No, and no.
“Actually, I came to talk to you about that. Are you hiring?”
A smile spread across her from her significant bust to her significant hips and trembled along her significant arms; mind, not obese, strong, former military strong. She stepped out and held me close, pulling an application with her.
“How do you feel about being a shift supervisor? Makes ten an hour.”
I signed the form before anything else,
“Ma’am, I need the money, college books are expensive. Is it gonna be okay that I’m going back in the fall?”
The great girlish charming full-bodied smile.
“Not a problem. It’s good to see you, you know?”
They call me the next day for an interview with the district manager. He’s younger than I imagined; when I first started the district was run by an aged bitch that made my co-workers cry. Now I agreed that maybe they were in the wrong, but somewhere a line has to be drawn.
He was instead this young blonde up-start that apparently raised a pizza place from the rubble the moment his Midas hands were handed up into management. The company was proud that they had snatched him up. He was kind and calm, and I had this feeling as the anxiety of all this new responsibility left me. I wasn’t much younger than him, and he was doing damn well, and all I needed was a few months of this.
“And you told your manager that you’re going back to school in the fall?”
“I did, and she seemed to think it would be okay. I’m not sure if she wants to use me as a place-holder or something.”
“Well I’m okay with it as long as she is.”
I went to work the next day with new shoes and a grin on my face.
This beautiful caramel girl greeted me as I came in the door. I smiled, but not too flirtatiously. I was going to end up her boss after all, if only for a little while.
-Stephen T. Kennedy
Tomorrow is the ceremony. They’re going to pull out my wisdom teeth, and I will become an adult. I’m afraid. Alloran’s teeth came out last week. He wasn’t the same after. He didn’t want to play, and when we pestered him into it, he just followed along.
He used to be a good story teller, but he couldn’t even get The Robber and the Bishop right. They say that’s just what happens, getting out your wisdom teeth robs you of your childhood, but brings about the extra space in your head for adulthood.
There is one older person in our village who still has his wisdom teeth in. Jokoss, they call him. It means “fool”. He refused to let his teeth be pulled, now he writes. Day and night he writes, and they read his works and put on his plays, and cheer and gush. Still, they taunt him.
I’m going through with it. It’s time for me to become an adult. Tomorrow, I’ll wonder why I was so scared. I hope.
My most dearest desire,
Today makes a new day without you. Summer is here, and I cannot feel Helios’ sun upon me as you do. Your meadow must me wonderful, as you are in it tending your upper world garden. I long for you, my love, as I always do during the seasons without you.
It’s been eons, but the question still lingers on my mind; why did you only eat four arils? Did you know some secret that escapes me about the earth? Could winter only last four months? Would the earth whither away and die?
If my brothers allowed it, I would cause another Ice Age and an enduring winter would be ours to share, but I shan’t. I know how you love the upper world, and damned be the straw that I drew.
Had I been the Lord of the sea, we would spent all our days together. Had I been the Lord of the sky, the heavens would be ours. Instead, I have the darkness that keeps me cold for eight long months. You are my light, Persephone, and more than ever now, I need your light.
Tell me you love me, and I will be able to endure. Tell me that you desire me more than the sun, and I shall wait as long as it takes. Tell me that your heart longs for me, and I will continue on.
My love, my heart, my desire, I am forever yours.
They’ve already told us all we need to know -
so what’s left is the experience.
No regrets, he says, as he orders T-bone steak
at two in the morning at iHop, wearing a lopsided
tuxedo, rented, from a lopsided man - his date
sits next to him, encouraging his valiant act.
The waitress does not ask medium rare or
rare. He waits nervously.
The picture in the menu is unappetizing, we protest.
You will end up with food poisoning, we warn.
But no regrets, and he’s scarfing down
two short stacks and three large, cut outs
from the extra well-done cardboard
disguised as meat.
And we’re all laughing, I guess, all of us,
at the mediocrity of this breakfast joint
and at the ridiculousness of our fancy clothes
getting wrinkled and syrupy in a booth
next to pancakes and maple.
And that’s when I burst. Everything
I’d been holding in for the night surrenders
at this rundown place like the messiness
of tears has excuse. What dignity
is there to preserve at a moment like this -
So I run to the bathroom like I’ve got a
real bad stomach ache. I’m not even the
one who’s eating the steak.
But I’m so sad, my eyes are
breaking open the dam, and I’m sobbing
into the public sink - hoping no one comes
through the door but having a myriad
of explanations in case someone does -
You see, I loved him, but I only saw
a planned paradigm before us - like
we were loving for the experience, not
for our own sake - And you see, I was
too selfish and too selfless, and he
was too, and we hurt so bad and so
good. I miss him tonight, but at least
it wasn’t a burden. But that’s a lie…
I ask God to bless the creator of
waterproof mascara as I squeeze a few
drops of disinfectant solution into my eyes.
I walk back into the scene, glittery soul
and cheap eyeliner -
Let’s live out the cliches; we’ve got
nothing original of our own. No regrets,
and then, obligatory after-party, and
then, falling asleep on a smelly leather
couch the parents put out for us silently.
They’ve been here before, too.
And we follow familiar steps;
rarely do we venture into the unknown.