Garden & Gathering

Nature is Party to All

Category: Story

Dinner

I love this bus stop. She is kissing my neck. She smells of grapefruit tart, smack of concrete, and juniper from gin. I am trying to drag from a cigarette. I love this bridge. Louisiana-Pearl. I whisper it to her, Louisiana-Pearl. She doesn’t say a thing, she is biting my ear. Louisiana-Pearl: old-world, maybe European if we weren’t standing in the Queen City of the Plains. Below I can hear the bell from the light rail. The bell rings three times to announce an arrival and three times for a departure. She stops for a moment and seems to listen, muttering a phrase about not liking shallots and maybe she should go.      -We are going. -Where?

The 11 passes by and I can feel its weight in my feet. My shoes are white, almost, and the sidewalk is white. Below, the highway pulses alongside the light rail. The blood of a city is running below us, some river rushing. Red lights leaving, white lights coming. Fountains of fragmented light, we are dodging into the shadows. Unseen and alone, almost, except for the consistent motion of that lit tip extended from my hand rising and falling. -There is a late night taco stand near my place. -Maybe. I don’t feel hungry.

She is no longer kissing my neck, but I can feel her breath behind my ear. I can’t hear her, just the waves of cars tracking lanes. I hold her, watching a man pass on the other side of the bridge. He holds two fluorescent pails, one in each hand. I can see his eyes watching us in the pale city lights. In the city, stars are dead. The moon creates a fragile light like a lamp burning out. His hat reflects the street lights strung above. He is a shadow of himself, but light keeps catching his eyes and holding. A flame slowly receding. I carry his eyes as he passes. She stares into the dark street and glances toward me. Strips of paint reflect across pupils, eyelids slightly closed. She asks me what I am looking at, -It’s nothing. Nothing, he is gone. Leaving us with a glowing green screen floating towards the crest of the bridge. The silhouette of the driver sits dark in spectral light. The phantasmal 12 approaches with a warm exhalation into the evening, the hiss of hydraulic brakes echoing toward the city. -What did you say? -I said I could make you some food if you get hungry. -I’m not. -But you might be later.

-I won’t be. She breaks from my hold and enters an invisible queue to board the bus. I step in behind her and touch her shoulder, but she doesn’t turn around. The doors to the bus open. Transfer? The driver doesn’t look over, just holds up the transfer, a bookmark with worm holes. -No thanks.

-I’d like one. She takes the transfer and studies it, walking toward the back of the bus to an empty bench. The bus is clean and mostly empty, it smells like an airport. Sterile. The lights inside the bus are a flickering green. Strips along the ceiling. Paths along the floor. They flicker just strong enough to keep us awake. -That night at Jeanie’s house. We were all drinking Rainiers on the lawn. Pouring out libations for the dead. There are no dead. We played Yo La Tengo on the record player. It was skipping and we ignored the repetition. We laughed about drinking on a Tuesday night, like it was really different than any other night. -That was a long time ago, Clare. -No. It wasn’t. Her eyes are closed. The transfer in her hand is crumpled, obsolete and impossible to read. -We were given life so carelessly. They didn’t tell us what it would be like. -What is it like? -Monsters terrorizing the maidenhead of dawn. Our minds once sharp, alert, are dulled by morning dew. Chewing on our passion. Chewing the fat. Dull teeth for a life uncelebrated. -We celebrate. -No. We make toasts to the dead. The stars are already dead. The last of their light is just now reaching us. What happens when… -We will be okay. -No. We won’t. There are two other men on the bus. They talk anxiously, their mouths close together. Their hands, their hands cannot leave each other’s head. Cradling a chin, a neck, running fingers through long hair, or brushing a cheek. Their faces are impossibly close. I move my head from side to side to meld their features into one. I try to read their lips. -I could make some egg drop soup. I could make some spring rolls. We could have Mexican. I have a vegan taco salad recipe. I can make you…

-Are you hungry? -No. -I could make you… -I feel intoxicated with night. Poisoned. Don’t turn on the lights when we get to your place. We exit the bus. The sky is an empty tank to the East. Few buildings block our view. A star falls. I didn’t know how to explain it to her, if I needed to. The way a star falling makes sound with light. A rock falling to the ocean. The wind whistling, a splash hardly detectable over the sound of waves. I tell her how the meteor enters at such a speed that the air cannot part quickly enough. Air compressing and transferring that terrifying energy. Burning a rock weighing barely an ounce. “It gives life to what was dead,” she stops as I say this and sighs, as if I don’t understand something.

I enter the key code to the front door of my building and let her walk in ahead of me. She reaches her arms out and brushes the walls with her fingers, moving silently to my apartment. The door is unlocked and as she opens it, wind rushes in through the window. She takes off her shoes and slips them off her feet and under the bed. I lay her down and sit next to her, faintly hungry.

The breeze comes in bursts that weave through her wavy hair. Her breathing deepens. From the street a ribbon of light reaches the kitchen. I pour packaged soup into a saucepan, ignite the gas stove, and steal a bite. -Still cold. I whisper to the spoon. I seat myself at the coffee table and wait for the heat to rise.

New Breakfast with Avocado Excerpt

In August 2012, I posted the beginning of a short story I was working on at the time. I put it down as a completed short short, but would pick it up and tinker with it over the months. This is where I am at / where this one is going. 

 

Lillian opens her eyes to the window still damp from last night’s rain. The crossbeams cast a shadow along the bed where Deez’s arm lays across her waist. There are dead flies in the sill that shine black and purple in the light. She slips her slender frame from his grasp, he grunts and rolls over. Her legs stretch cautiously towards the hardwood floor, it’s always cool in the morning. A blue button up shirt lies near the foot of the bed, which she slips over her head. In the same motion her feet find her slippers. Slippers of simple neutral color that are shaped to her feet, the same slippers that have found their way into five past boyfriend’s bedrooms. She heads to the bathroom and locks the door. The porcelain toilet seat is cooler than the floor as she sits, trying to recall her dreams while she relieves herself. Her eyes close and she listens to Deez breathing in the next room. His breath seems forceful, she listens long enough to not hear anything else. The toilet flushes. The sink runs. She watches herself in the mirror, to see who will make the first move. His breath still roaring in her ears. She moves away from his bedroom to the front door.

 

“And this is our life,” Lillian whispers to the morning sun splashing through the kitchen window, “no goddamn knives.” The sink is full of late night bowls of cereal, pans with last week’s dinner clinging to the edge, five sponges, a ring with no known owner, and a glass pipe. Lillian pushes the dishes around, certain there is a knife to be found. She’s had it for years, long enough to forget how the knife had fallen under her protection. Likely thrifted, possibly stolen from a condo dumpster, and probably left behind when she kicked Jameson out of the basement.

 

Fucking Jamo. On top of hardly paying rent on time, he blessed the house with scabies. Twenty-seven years old and lived in what could only be called a crawl space. The attached basement had its own kitchen, but the only thing he knew how to use was the microwave. She almost gave him credit for being able to operate an oven, but he too often left the plastic wrap on frozen pizzas. She woke many times to the smell of burnt plastic doll. He left in a rage. Throwing dishes, breaking bottles. “The rest of the house likes me,” he had tried to a few times to turn her roommates, and old friends, into his allies.

“No Jamo, they put up with you.”

“Well, where the hell am I supposed to go?”

“That’s not my problem. You have thirty days to get your shit out of this basement. Don’t forget to clean that goddamn oven.”

Lillian knew that would be too much to ask for. He left most of his meager kitchen supplies spread across the dusty cabinets and drawers. Jameson felt no need to hold on to a chef’s knife (when Lillian reflected on the matter she was certain this was true) that must have been bought for him by some very distant relative.

 

“Oww.” Her finger meets a sharp edge and she has found her gypsy knife. With only minor stains, Jameson’s forged steel chef’s knife has traveled with Lillian across two cities, four boyfriends, and twice as many kitchens. Tiny drops of her blood fall on a white dinner plate and race toward the drain. After she bandages her cut, Lillian runs warm water over the knife and fishes out a sponge to assist in the cleaning process.

There is movement on the windowsill above the sink. A line of ants mach proudly home from a secret stash of sugar behind the toaster. Lillian watches carefully and leans in to whistle a marching song for their journey. “I hope your queen is proud of you, 10th Kitchen Infantry Division. Godspeed,” her lips blow a kiss of good luck as she straightens her back. She looks around her small cooking space. The cutting board sits atop a makeshift island Deez built her on their last anniversary. It’s legs are starting to wobble, but Lillian doesn’t mind. She sometimes uses the wobble to help her cut tough vegetables. There is a soft lean to the left from the time Deez pushed the island up against the counter and scooped her on top. She smiles and heads to the corner nook, where a bowl of fruit sits empty except one avocado. The table here is covered in old newspapers and unfinished Tuesday New York Times crossword puzzles. The flower in the vase has wilted almost down to the table and a joint floats in the brown water. Lillian grabs the avocado carefully with both hands and presses her thumbs softly into the skin. She stares down at the dark green ripples, hypnotically lost in their maze.

A perfect avocado sits in the center of a moldy cutting board, which sits on the center of rickety island, which sits in the center of a sticky kitchen floor. A shaking occurs in Lillian’s hand as she presses the knife into the dull skin, holding in her breath. There is tension against the knife, this fine fruit fighting, but the point finally slips into the green meat below and finds the seed inside. A sigh audibly escapes first her lips and moves silently through her nose. Sliding the knife in a straight line, she carefully rotates the avocado. Her hands are now steady and certain. Lillian rocks back and forth from heel to toe, humming on the edge of a precipice she doesn’t realize she is standing above. The avocado splits neatly in half, revealing its most secret self to this young, hungry woman.

Lillian knocks the knife, without hesitation, into the persevering seed. At a twist of her wrist, the rock inside gives and falls to the floor. Lillian kicks it towards the trash, it slides easily across the linoleum floor. She peppers the meat before slicing longwise down the halves.

 

Damn you, Lil. Jameson pushed his things across the floor with his feet. The boxes he used to move out were the same he had used to move in. They had started to mold on the bottom from the moist basement. Spider egg sacs were scattered throughout the cardboard. Jameson opened the drawers and doors in the kitchen looking for anything else he should bring along. Most of the dishes he hardly recognized. Pint glasses from pubs that no longer existed. A copper mug that he didn’t remember ever seeing before.

Jameson became frequently distracted while piling clothes in his canvas bag. A box of crayons under the bed, which he uses to write “Life is Boredom, as is Death” on his closet wall. Jameson slumped his tired body against the closet floor. His feet splayed out from the closet and into the bedroom. The room is bare except a bed piled with his boxes and bags, Jameson’s legs, and some trash scattered in the corners. Jameson rubs his watering eyes with one hand and holds his crayon limply in the other.

 

“Don’t worry Basil. I didn’t forget about you,” Lillian scoops up her calico cat and brushes his ears back from his face. His eyes are slits of green and gold, he purrs before gingerly jumping from her grasp and finding his bowl on the floor. Lillian smiles at his curling tail as he eats face down to the ground. She washes her hands in scalding water and shakes them over the sink. Basil looks up for more as Lillian finishes drying her hands on the window curtain.

Impressions of America

It may be snowing today, but tomorrow…

Tomorrow I may be walking with flowers in the park. Until then a fire is welcome. Some whiskey with three ice cubes and a game of Yahtzee. Watching television for news of the storm and browsing movies, the ads play scenes from beaches with Corona. Telling myself Sunday is my last day smoking, but running out today. Braving the weather to buy smokes, to buy eggs, to buy our provisions. Dreaming of a time when I can provide my own provisions as I walk toward the fairway of Hole 16. It may be snowing today, but tomorrow will be another version of the present.

Where I walk the park looking for budding trees. The secret life and death of plants is a secret. I know their cells have only slowed, that the freeze will begone. Green will scatter on limbs, climbing towards the sun. Yellows, oranges, and reds will run from the sunset to our feet. I will walk among the flowers in the park. In Autumn, I may be a fool gardner washing my hands free of dirt. I will wait until next year when what is hidden reappears. Tomorrow may be a walk, but the future cannot hold.

I will be running then, stern and focused. The familiar leaves will brush along my beard, painting my vision in Impressions of America. If I pass any wild flowers waiting by the road, I will stop to take one to dry above my kitchen sink. There will be laughing coming from the springs, naked and hopeful in the rejuvenating power of sulfur. I will keep running until I come upon my stream, calm above. That day there will be no snow, but the stream from mountain steeps washing the sweat from my face. I will walk the rest of the way home.

Sardines

Across the street lived a girl in a purple dress. Her room was on the main level of the foster house. Often her foster parents wouldn’t let her play. She knew all the best hiding places in the neighborhood. We would play sardines with the twin named Mike. The entire block was open territory that we would explore like amateur Indiana Jones. Jumping fences, we would hide under cars and behind trashcans where she would try to kiss me.

 

When her parents wouldn’t let her play, I would sneak around to the back of the house until I found the screen window that she lived behind. We would chase the summer sunlight down through the trees in her backyard. Afternoon showers would chase us into the fort, but I was afraid to kiss her back. God was watching from the sun breaking through the clouds and I still shuddered under that Eye. I knew then, but I never spoke up until she told she was leaving.

 

One summer after college, we had all sat down in my one couch living room. The bars had shut down, but we were anxious to fill the night. Three in the morning and Lindsay stood up in her purple blazer, “You guys want to play Sardines in the alley?”

Eating in Denver

First, I need to apologize for not posting all week. I was getting text messages from friends bugging me about it. My excuse is that I have been packing all week and I never took that in to account. When I realized it would be a few days until I could find time to sit down and write, I decided to post a group of stories by Sunday to make up for the week. So here you have it, I group of stories.

Second, I have been nothing close to a “foodie” during my tenure in Denver. What I have enjoyed is many meals with friends and family. I have also enjoyed many meals alone. With friends, it is the meal and conversation. When alone, it is the preparation.

Mom – Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s was a favorite for my family growing up. We broke pita bread together here on Sunday afternoon’s almost every week. This is where I requested to go for my birthday. The little yellow hut near Denver University served warmth to feed my family.

Laura – Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner

Laura really taught me how to cook. Vegan lifestyle taught me how to cook. Poverty taught me how to cook. Mornings running to Whole Foods to grab veggies for a scramble. Light filtering in through garden level windows between green plaid curtains. Trying to take pictures of our creations in the little natural light we received. Smacking kale over pieces of bread for lunch, taking it to the park to enjoy in the early Spring sun. Coming home from work and immediately starting to work on dinner. Drinking tall boys while blasting music and taking smoke breaks. Dinner always took hours to prepare and minutes to eat. It was no different alone.

Jake & Brandon

After a couple of beers at Renegade brewing, we went downtown to Illegal Pete’s. Jake was in town for just a few days and I had run into Brandon over the weekend. We hadn’t all been together since a few years back in Seattle, when Brandon visited. We sat on the patio and drank more cheap beer with our huge burritos. Jake ran into a friend who joined us for a cigarette. We discussed our past and the future. Who was doing what and how it related to what they had already done. Jake and I were fairly disconnected from our past, so Brandon’s input was a bridge to all our old friends. A woman walked up to ask if a chair was spoken for, when we told her it wasn’t, she sat down.

Cobb Salad

My grandma was in her room. We could hear her breathing in the monitor. We had all been sitting and waiting for that moment. Prayers and conversations, a day of whispers. We all ate Cobb salad and raised our whispers into laughter. I sat listening to my aunt and her best friend tell stories of their youth together. The adventures they shared in the mountains and traveling the world. Gossip about friends in the past. It was beautiful to know that life, in the end, is this.

Laura & Jose

I told Jose that 3 stars wasn’t too hot at Thai Monkey Club. I got 4 stars for my curry. Our faces were bright red and our eyes teared up for the remainder of dinner. After the heat began to recede, it felt like Novocain coated my mouth and endorphins raced through my blood.

Laura, John, & Dana

Dinner with John and Dana at City O City was one of my favorite meals. We choose from a few different plates and everyone shared each other’s dinner. Wine was consumed. Glasses shattered. I have never laughed as much during a meal. Both John and Dana are creating their life together and apart on a day to day basis, they are truly my inspirations.

Laura, Alaina, & Patrick

A few nights in from arriving to Denver Alaina and Patrick invited us over to dinner. We would be staying at their condo for a week while we looked for a place to live. Their building rose next to the Performing Arts Center. It was the center of downtown Denver’s high art scene. The apart was immaculate. Mirrors, white, marble, and a beautiful view of the mountains. I had my first Denver-brewed beer from Great Divide, which was also my first IPA. It begun a year long obsession with local beers, especially from Great Divide. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I remember the hospitality that the Riley’s showed for their guests. We sat after dinner and drank wine while listening to the record player. We discussed the music industry and the direction they felt Denver was heading. We slept comfortably in the guest room and woke to the sweet smell of breakfast pancakes.

Breakfast with Mom

Waking up in the basement of a log cabin, I was struggle up the stairs to a bright open room. Plants lined the windows and cast morning shadows across the island and steam rising out of a kettle. I would drink a cup of coffee, while my mother blew on her tea, and talked about plans for living in Denver. When we started working, but hadn’t found a place to live, she would make us a smoothie before the sun would rise.

Thanksgiving

I baked two loaves of bread for Thanksgiving dinner with Laura’s brother and his friends. It was one of those rare occasions for me when I can be with a group of people I don’t know and flourish. Some of the families had young kids, the football game played in the background, we smoked on the back deck, three turkeys were prepared. Including a deep fried turkey. This is what they mean when they say friends are the new family. We put down our distractions, our technology, and were able to connect to other humans if only for a few hours. Those few hours we are all connected.

Christmas

I was terribly sick on Christmas Day, all I remember is a delicious vegan cornbread.

Editor’s Note: Even though this took a week for me to write, I didn’t do much editing. Also, I love the Oxford Comma so lay off. 

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