The Story in The Story

It is six thirty in the morning and I am sitting at our dining room table with a cup of coffee on one side of me and the window half open on the other.  I opened the window hoping that inspiration would be carried on the back of the cool morning breeze. The half-light of the sun barely illuminates the living room, which makes the dark grouping of objects seem more like a suggestion of furniture instead of concrete reality. If I were to stretch my arm through the window I could almost touch the brick corner of our neighbor’s building.  But it remains just out of reach: as does any inspiration for a story.

As a writer a great deal of my time is spent trying to bridge the world around me with the world inside of me. Often times, Paul will catch me staring blankly into space.  I worry that he feels like he is living with a person who is experiencing the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease; someone who is not always present in the world.

He will snap his fingers in front of my face and say “Hello? Can you repeat what I just told you?”   When I flatly recount his story verbatim he’ll look at me and say “Wow, my story sounds even more boring when you tell it.”  To which I respond
“Not really.”

But that is the crux of the matter.  Any story can be told, but it is the way in which it is told that matters. If I write about my grandfather’s table, I can describe the way it looks.  It is round with dark grained wood, curved legs and has multiple leaves to make it bigger. All of these things are true.  It is an object in this world.  But if I speak of its journey from the mountains of North Carolina to its spot in our dining room with our blended family sitting around it for the first time together on the evening before our marriage, it becomes something else. It becomes the bridge between this world and my world; a story in a story.

“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Rodin said.

I suppose that is what I do with a block of words.  Whittling them down until the story hiding inside of the story is revealed.  It runs in my family.  My grandfather did this with his drawings.  We would sit at his dining room table and he would begin to draw as if the picture already existed on the paper and his pencil merely highlighted it.    And so must his mother, who was a musical prodigy, have done the same with him; at the very same table singing in French as she played the Mandolin. The love of art and the art of love played out over and over again upon this table.

Paul walks into the living room humming and arranges the pillows on the now clearly defined sofa.  The clock above me plays its tune and strikes eight.  I sit up, stretch my arms, look out through the window and catch a glimpse of my neighbor sitting at his kitchen table.  I wonder if he has been there the whole time.

“Did you find any perspiration?” Paul asks playfully, knowingly misusing the word as he kisses me.

“Yep” I say, ready to join the real world again.  “It was there in front of me the whole time.”


And Miss This? (Flash Fiction)

The moon drained the sunlight from the sky, leaving in its wake a red stain of clouds.  If there had been any news of an eclipse, I couldn’t remember it.  But it seemed right.  It fit the occasion.

When Tommy finally showed up, he acted like he didn’t see it.  That’s when I knew that he couldn’t, that he wouldn’t forgive me. So I held out my hand and said “See, its right there!” pointing along my arm at the round light with a crescent of black at its edge. That’s when he started to cry.

“Jesus Tommy don’t do that. I told you it only happened once and it won’t happen again.” I said.

This was not the way I wanted to it to go.  When I sent him the text message I hoped that he would remember all of the good times and forget the bad times.  He would walk up to me the way he did the first time.  He’d smile nervously and say that he forgot his watch and ask me if I knew what time it was.

“It’s the Golden time of day.”  I said then and he cocked his head.  His eyes and his crooked smile asked questions that his voice could not. I took off my sunglasses so he could see my eyes, see the answers and said “It’s a title of a song, but it’s also my favorite time of the day when the sun creates this glow” I said pointing to the glittering ocean.

He sat down next to me on my towel then, his shoulder touching mine and asked why I wasn’t going home to take a gay nap like most of the other boys did at the end of a beach day, resting up before heading back out to the clubs late at night. “And miss this?” I asked him and let it hang in the air.
Three years later and we still used that line.  We’d be at the grocery store on a cold winter day loading the car.  Tommy would look at me, his brown curly hair turning white from the snow, his hazel eyes red rimmed with the cold and say “And miss this?”  Or late at night while lying in bed I’d stroke his hair and whisper “And miss this?”  Or the final time when my heart practically burst as we sat silently for what seemed like hours at the dinner table when he finally broke the silence and bitterly asked “And miss this?”
As the moon passed in front of the sun the world became dark, I looked up at Tommy and waited to hear him say it.  But the sound of the waves became too loud and the Earth broke free from the moon’s shadow.
It’s not the pain of dying that is unbearable; it’s the truth that’s unleashed.  Like the glaring headlights of an oncoming car, not an eclipse, and the shattered pieces of glass glistening like diamonds on the ocean.  It’s the pain of letting go, the final release, dropping the phone and leaving an unfinished message.
There is a dark space between the sun and the moon, between what is and what should have been and if you can’t connect the two, you have to accept what is missed.
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Walk Like a Man

Katherine was fourteen when I first noticed that she had settled into her adult walk.  No longer the carefree skip of a child, but not yet the determined gait of someone who had lost sight of magic in the world. I don’t remember what triggered the recognition. Perhaps it was the day itself. Brilliant sunshine danced on the tender green leaves of spring and the gently undulating foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains framed the sky.  As I walked behind her I realized that the unhurried, graceful walk that my daughter would carry into adulthood was the essence of that day.  Sadness followed pride as I realized that the little girl I had carried on my shoulders would from now on carry herself.

I remember too, following in my father’s footsteps.   I would take great, giant like strides as I placed my feet in the imprints of his feet on the sandy beach, quickly stepping into them before the water could wash them away, my arms held out like a boy balancing himself on a tightrope. As I grew older I began to notice how his feet turned outward, which seemed awkward and duck like to me. I began to modify my walk, consciously choosing to make it my own.

In college none of us could afford a car.  We would walk to the local pub in groups and drink “quarter” drafts; watered down beer served in plastic cups.  Walking back from the bar one night a girl following behind me shouted out “I wish I had a porch swing like that!” implying that my walk had more of a swish to it than a man should have.  I corrected my walk again, keeping in mind that my feet should not turn outward like my father’s and my ass should not have more of a swing than my mother’s.

It’s hard to walk naturally when you are consumed with how not to walk.

When I met Paul, I felt again like the little boy that struggled to keep up with his father on the beach.  Walking behind him I noticed the confidence in his walk, the square shoulders, arms straight by his sides, palms always facing back, head held high and the giant stride of his long muscular legs.

“Are those hairy little legs having a hard time keeping up?” He would turn around and ask while tilting his head and flashing a big toothy grin.

He would then take long slow exaggerated steps and say “Ah’m sorry, I forgot you is from the soooouth” elongating every vowel to match his ridiculously slow walk.  Laughing, I forgot to think about how to walk.

On a recent fall evening I walked from work to meet friends for dinner, and thought about a vacation video that Paul took of me, uncharacteristically from behind.  In the video I am walking through the lobby of a hotel in Miami.  Most people would cringe looking at themselves walk, but surprisingly I rather like it.  It is my father’s stride and my daughter’s unhurried pace.

It was a cool October evening like this when my father’s footprints were washed away for good.  But I can still hear them in the click of my shoes on this brick pavement; on streets laid out by ghosts. As the lamp lights soft glow illuminates the turning leaves I walk comfortably through these streets I know so well.  I have finally settled into my adult walk.

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