Today

I can still feel the sun’s heat on my face,

even when fear wrestles with grace.

I can still see love in another’s eyes,

while facing the darkness of demise.

I can still water a flowering bud,

as my emotions get swept away by the flood.

And I can still believe today will be tomorrow,

when my heart mends from subsuming sorrow.

The Virus

In the quiet of the night

In the hole of the soul

In the alley where it lived

Under the moon covered in clouds

The sadness it did bring,

Pulling the stitches of the world

Infecting the tears of many

While living in the body untold

Through the darkness it spread

Killing wisdom with a stone

But through it all a tiny light did glow

And with it, brought hope

Small and grand gestures brought healing

Like vitamins from the sun

And the virus disappeared

Into the cave from which it did come

For humanity is the strongest medicine of all

The End

The metronome clicked at the required intervals as Kai completed her pre-travel report. She had no idea how many times she had completed this same activity in her lifetime. Her life was not the focal point of a single timeline now. Kai happened throughout time, completing this same activity when she finished what she was asked to start along one point in time before traveling to another, thus requiring another pre-travel report, or a PT as referred to by all field agents of Traveler’s Quest, Inc. The only consistency in Kai’s timeline was that Cole Rainier was present at every point in time she landed in this plain white box of a room for PT completion.

“I see you are not quite done yet with your pre-travel report. Are you feeling fatigued from your most recent activity?” Cole walked up on Kai like he always did. She could hear his self-important breathing before he even spoke.

“How would I know? I don’t remember what I did. I only fill out PTs. I assume someone else is collecting the results of what I did last,” Kai snapped.

“Fair enough. You wouldn’t be here though if you didn’t want to be. This is your choice.”

“What made you think I was complaining? I’m just stating a fact. I was simply having a moment wondering how many PTs I have filled out.”

“I could tell you, Kai, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean much other than a number to satisfy your sudden curiosity. Curiosity is the first sign of burnout in our agents according to a recent study,” Cole said as he shifted his substantial weight from one foot to the other and placed a hand on his hip.

“No need to get bothered by my curiosity, Cole. It is not that important. You should be more worried about me finishing this PT before the metronome hits my travel click.”

“I was simply checking on your well-being. We do care about our agents here at Traveler’s Quest. The world needs your service to determine how The End arrived. It is the only way we will find The Begin Point.”

“So you say. I would very much like to be the agent that finds Begin Point.”

Cole stepped away without further word at this. He was skilled at talking in generalities or disappearing when it came to a discussion regarding the purpose and importance of agent work. Kai was sure it also had something to do with his strong concern over agent burnout. She quickly averted her mind back to the PT in front of her as time was waning based on the clicks, which she learned to count in the background like a concert pianist.

She took her chipped hand with her assignment in it, held it to her empty report screen, holding her hand there until her PT populated. The next step was to review her PT assignment and agree to it by once again touching her chip to the screen.

Kai found it odd sometimes that there really did not appear to be a clear process for disagreeing with the assignment. She always just agreed to what was in front of her. Today should be no different until she started to read the screen.

“For this assignment, you will be sent back to 2020 on the afternoon of October 10. You will report to a bar called The Green Door in Lansing, Michigan on the night of October 10, 2020. You are a waitress named Kate at this bar, and you will report there for your shift at 21:00. You have a vial of poison in the travel pack on your right thigh. You will empty this vial in the drink of Cole Rainier, your customer, at approximately 23:00. He will die. You will leave. PT complete.”

Kai gasped and looked around the room in vain for anything which could be recording her or provide some sign of how to reject this PT. Had she been asked to kill before? And why would Traveler’s Quest want one of their own dead? If they she and Cole were here working, they were part of the solution to get to Begin Point, not a part of the problem that led to The End.

Kai started to scream just as her metronome hit the travel click, and her world went black.

Luci

She can turn the world with her smile.

Her heart, a song, coloring your eyes with something better.

She is fiercely kind and kindly direct.

Swiftly tilting her head, she questions the patriarchy.

A poet mathematician. A singer scientist. A musician doctor, healing your tired mind with her laughter.

She is precisely messy, delightfully charged, a force of joy.

A daughter, sister. friend to all.

She is Water

She is water,

Flowing, dripping, dropping, water-falling.

Washing the inequity from the streets of

your indifference.

She’s a tidal wave, a force to level out

the wrong done upon her sisters.

The tides are made of her opinion.

You can bathe in her beauty, her fresh, pure springs.

She crashes, white, frothy surf, commanding

the attention of her audience on the beach.

She is holy water. She is nature.

You must drink her for life.

She is water,

Cascading, swirling, drowning in strife.

Mimi: Part 1

I watched tentatively as she let her cigarette dangle out of the side of her mouth and ash while she cooked a substandard meal. I don’t think she heard me when I said I didn’t like mushroom soup. She was not helping her case as she worked to stir the salty, gelatinous blob in a soup pan while burning some grilled cheese to dip into it.

My grandparents seemed to have a lot of this soup though from a ten for eight dollars sale at Publix. I was only here for two weeks, and Mimi was trying her best to be a Grandma. I knew she would prefer to do hair and nails in her back salon rather than tend to my care, especially since I arrived ill, unkempt, and sad.

I was interrupting the weekly gossip collection from her elderly clients on the island. As she gingerly cut and styled what remained of their hair, they were more interested in whom Mimi’s bookish granddaughter from Michigan was dating. For once in my plain life, I could count two young men in the mix. They were also the reason I ran away for two weeks to the exhausting heat and solitude of Anna Maria Island.

I always wondered what it would be like to travel back in time to my grandmother’s salon in Detroit. I could see from the old photos she was pinup gorgeous, and her nails were always perfectly manicured and painted. I was currently somewhere between goth and grunge, and I’d prefer to pick at my nails versus painting them. I had big plans, and they did not involve being a pinup or small business owner. I still appreciated the glamour of Mimi. Even with time marching against her, she had a way of preparing and carrying herself that called for your attention.

It was already in the nineties today, and there was a minimal breeze coming in from the waters of Tampa Bay across the street. I finished what I could of the misbegotten lunch when Mimi asked me what I would do for the rest of the day. I think she was ready for me to venture out on my own for a bit.

Twenty-Twenty

A year in the swirl of the twirl of a life

A blink and a tear from the center of her eye

It came, and it passed, unpaused by the strife

Ignoring the very question, an existential “Why?”

It spun, and it sputtered, finally rushing ahead

A child, somewhat wild, quietly perplexed

Dreams in rough shape yet decidedly undead

Broken, not battered, mildly vexed

Swiftly absorbing the ending of reality’s play

She’s a year, a lifetime, a decade of plenty

Living a lifetime in moments today

Flashing forward, to tomorrow, twenty-twenty

 

 

 

The Unknown

The cold steel gazes upon the fragile flower,

losing its petals in the breezeless sun.

Twisted metal climbing to the clouds while ivy dies on the trellis,

masking darkness only with fleeting life.

Mortal made versus a once eternal beauty,

and man versus a gift that gave a thousand-fold before sunset.

Where there was no end, concrete was placed stealing the illusion

that we could plunge into the sky

and dance along the points of light

to beyond what we know.

We gave it up, sold out, and found a temporary peace with each other

amidst the noise of reality.

Yet when I am alone, under a fall frosted tree,

I remember the mystery and the mastery

of the magic of the unknown.

 

The Neighbor

 

I rarely saw Bob these days, and I was okay with this. We had lived on the same street, a pleasant suburban cul-de-sac with 12 houses, for over 16 years now. He was not entirely unlikable. I just don’t think my family of five or my modern ways could merge with his archaic principles of what constituted good living. I imagined him judging our life from the grand piano perch in his picture window across the street. I was so worried about his silent opinions I did not know this past summer had been hard on him.

I was in line at the local grocery store before Thanksgiving with my nine-year-old daughter when he stepped in line behind me. I turned around to grab our supersized bag of potatoes when our eyes met.

Bob smiled and said, “Hello, how are you today?” This was the most pleasant his voice had ever sounded to me during our random interactions, or interpersonal collisions as I’d like to think of them sometimes, throughout the years.

I cleared my throat, “Great, just getting ready for Thanksgiving.”

“That’s quite the cartful you have there!” He was judging me.

“I have plenty of people to feed, Bob.” His eyes darkened ever so slightly. My daughter was now standing next to me with a gap-toothed smile wanting to intercede. She loved to be a part of every social interaction in which I desperately wanted to exit. Bob’s face lit up again. What came next was obligatory. I held back my eye roll.

“This is my little Luci. She is nine now.”

“Wow, you are lovely, Luci. I can’t believe how much time has snuck away from us.” He waved to my girl, and she waved back. I wish I could screen her thoughts before words come out of her mouth.

Luci cheerily chirped, “What’s your name, and how old are you? You seem old, very old.”

Even the cashier snorted. I was about to perform mommy cleanup for this threat level red “child who says whatever she wants” faux pas when Bob did me solid.

“I am old, so old that I stopped counting, little lady. I remember when your mom would walk you in a stroller during the spring and summer. Every so often, she would stop long enough for my wife and I to look at your beautiful little face and shock of ginger hair. You can call me Mr. Miller.”

Luci giggled. “Okay, Mr. Miller. Where is your wife?”

The air was suddenly sucked out of the grocery store, and I could imagine a rainstorm over Bob with the look that shadowed his face.

“She could not be here today unfortunately.” I softly reached for Luci’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. This had become our much-needed signal of recent days to not ask further questions of any human, animal, or inanimate object. She was smart and understood.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Miller.” Luci continued to smile, the air came back into the store, and we were right for now.

I finished up my order as Bob stood quietly behind us. I could not help but notice his meager grocery trip. It was a grocery order for one, something I had not seen since my days of being single in my early twenties. These days, I nearly needed a second cart. We exchanged the required farewells, and I only turned back once to see the light Luci shone upon Bob disappear as we neared the door.

That night, I shared the encounter with my husband.

“I saw Bob in the grocery store today.”

Dan rolled his eyes. “Did he issue a friendly suggestion that we clean up our leaves or buy a new roof? Or perhaps he asked for the thousandth time if we were going to replace our windows or siding.”

I chuckled. “No. He was different. He really liked Luci. He couldn’t believe how old she was.”

“Well, he is like Gandalf old. Maybe he could use some wizardry to clean our leaves up for us this year.” We had an early cold spell and snow. Nobody wanted to clean up the leaves at this point. Michigan could get to you like this, throwing two to three seasons at you in one week.

“That is not very nice, Dan. His wife was not with him, and his order was small and sad.”

“Maybe she couldn’t stand him either and had to go live in a home.”

“Or maybe she is sick or worse.”

Dan blinked rapidly as if I had made him nervous with my suggestion. “Well, let’s take a look.”

A short internet search later, and we were on the obituary page for Gladys Miller, beloved wife of Robert Miller. She had passed away this summer, July to be exact. I remember her as the stately elderly woman who donned a wide-brimmed sunhat and worked religiously in the Miller’s palace-like garden. I would stop every so often on walks with the kids or dogs to take it in and, if I was lucky, ask for a few tips for my own garden. Even messing about in dirt, Gladys looked fancy in a way that I could never hope to achieve. She was timeless. I was sad.

“I feel bad we didn’t know.” We had lived on this street for so long, it felt indecent not to know when a neighbor had passed. I sent no card. I visited no funeral home. It just happened, and my daughter awkwardly marked the occasion in a grocery store line.

“It wasn’t like we were close to them,” Dan said bringing me back to the moment. I love Dan because he is always trying to make me feel better about our messy life. I did not want to feel better about this though. I wanted to feel worse so I could be motivated to make it right. For now, we let it rest. He kissed my forehead and gave me a quick hug as he went back to cleaning our house for Thanksgiving festivities.

Thanksgiving was done, and our three children were excited by the buzz of the holidays. Luci was still our only generator of the myth of Santa. My teenage son and daughter now saw Christmas as the only time outside of their birthdays to ask for one hundred-dollar shoes or even bigger ticket items like phones and game systems. Despite their consumerism, Christmas was still fun.

Bob and his loss had quickly slipped my mind as I tried to keep up with our holiday family schedule, fueled by coffee and short runs in the bitter cold. It was exactly on one of these runs, light snow in the air, I saw Bob again. He was hanging an elaborate ball of white lights from his one expertly trimmed tree in the front yard. He was on a ladder. I waved as I ran by and smiled, trying to be more conscious of his loss and less conscious of his past judgment. He fell off the ladder as he smiled and waved back. I ran up on his lawn to help him, a form of trespassing on his perfect green carpet as we had discovered on occasion thanks to our kids.

“Bob, are you okay?” He looked bewildered, and he was grabbing at his arm. He shook his head no. I realized he had some blood on his head, too, possibly from hitting a metal container near his ladder. This was my fault for waving. Not only did my family irritate Bob’s sense of perfection throughout the years, I was now a danger to him. I called 911.

The emergency crew arrived quickly. No, I told them I was not his daughter, though I wondered why the daughter and son I knew he had never seemed to be around. Yes, he was on his own here as far as I knew. No, I did not have contact information for his family. Bob, coming to his senses a little, insisted that there was no one to contact. He became aggressive as they pushed him to disclose an emergency contact. I volunteered to stand in as the contact. Bob looked at me sheepishly at first, then grinned through his pain. I ran back home, grabbed my keys, and followed a few minutes behind the ambulance to the hospital leaving my family to wonder if I hit my head.

I waited forever in the emergency room. And after forever, I waited some more. I wanted the neighbor of the year award for this. I traveled through my memory banks of the last 16 years of living on Briarwood Court. I saw Bob as his younger self, a lawn farmer on the weekend and a lobbyist downtown during the week. He name-dropped to me on several occasions. I was Generation X, and I despised lobbyists. While I chose not to despise Bob as my neighbor, I can’t say that I chose to like him either. He was critical. He said rude things to Dan and me. He quipped at my young children to get off his lawn even though they were only touching the edge. Bob could annoy me from afar. Yet here I was being called up to his hospital room as he would have to stay for a surgical consult for a severely broken arm and observation for a concussion.

Bob smiled as I walked into the room. It was a warm smile which I assumed came from an IV full of painkillers.

I sat down by his bedside. He cut the silence with sincerity, “Thank you for taking care of me. I was just trying to hang a little Christmas décor.”

I felt like I, for once, needed to give Bob practical, unsolicited advice. It was part kindness, and three parts revenge for all of his advice giving through the years. “You really should ask for help. I feel partially responsible for waving at you, but you also should not be up there on your own.”

Bob blinked twice. “Well, I am on my own. I really don’t have a choice. I don’t know if you had heard. My dear Gladys passed away this past July. I wanted to tell you in the grocery store, but I did not want to make Luci sad.”

“Bob, I am so sorry. We did not know until the other day. After seeing you in the grocery store, I wondered. So, we did a quick search and found her obituary. I am so, so sorry we did not know.”

“It’s okay. We seem to leave this world a lot more quietly than we enter it. Also, while I am drugged and prone here, I guess we can get really honest. I sensed I was never one of your favorite people to start, so I did not expect you would be closely following the turns of my life.” Bob wound his lips up even further into what looked like a drug-induced super smile. I guess this was his form of a peace offering after dropping truth like a bomb.

“Well, now that you have put it out there, I always felt like nothing we could do would please you. We were always the last to clean up leaves and the most likely to step on your precious, perfect lawn. Seriously Bob, it looks like freshly laid, bright green carpet. You could be singlehandedly contaminating the water supply with pesticides.”

“Spoken like a true liberal of your generation, young lady.” We both laughed quietly, respectful, at first, of the hospital environment. I am not sure how I felt about being called young lady until I studied more closely the significant lines in Bob’s face and sadness in his eyes for the loss of Gladys. I was definitely young compared to him.

“Bob, where are your kids? Why didn’t you let the emergency crew call them? Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to be here to help. I just don’t understand.”

“Oh, I think you do. My kids are a little older than you. I have grandkids, too, four of them. My kids all moved away, and they choose not to come back now that their mother is gone.”

“I’m sorry to hear this.” My heart was beating rapidly. I could not handle the thought of my kids doing the same as they grew older. I was fidgeting now. Bob probably sensed my panic.

He continued, “I don’t think you need to worry. You are a good mother. I can see. Dan is a good father. I can also see this. I was too hard on my kids. I was too busy trying to be a power player downtown. I missed so much. And now, here you sit in their place. Thank you for being here. I don’t deserve it, but I am thankful.”

I was going to give Bob some credit. “You know, I think you had a valid point about the leaves killing the lawn if not cleaned up in a timely manner. Remember when we had an entire patch of lawn turn yellow from it?”

“How could I forget? You live directly across from me. It was hideous.” We threw caution aside and laughed generously, causing a nurse to sternly look in on us with her finger to her mouth.

“Bob, do you have anywhere to be for Christmas?” He did not. “We are gone Christmas day, but we would love to host you Christmas Eve. Even if you have surgery, I bet you will be out of here by then.”

Bob’s stern look, his natural resting face, tried to creep onto his face so he could turn me down. It shorted out though and a genuine look of joy won. “That would be wonderful. Please let me know what I could bring. As you have seen, I have some room in my shopping cart these days.” We laughed again. We laughed some more over the next couple of hours, sharing neighborhood stories and quips with each other. Bob could be lovely. I could be less dismissive of his old school ways. I returned home liking Bob in a way I never thought I could.

Bob died in his sleep that night. When I went to see him the next day, I learned his heart had simply stopped. We attended his funeral. I cried, surprising both Dan and me. A young family moved into Bob’s house in the new year, and in the spring, children’s toys and weeds littered his lawn, causing me to shake my head when I came out of my front door. I cleaned up my leaves as early as possible the following fall. Years down the road, Bob was right. My kids and eventually their kids, came to see us often. Every Christmas, I hung a ball of white lights on one of the three unkempt trees in my front yard. I had taken it off of Bob’s lawn after finding out he died. I knew in my heart he would want me to have it.