HAIKU BEEYATCH

pass the mulling spices...

STORIES

The Coward
Even longing he couldn't get right. At best it felt like a half-assed emptiness. And to be fair, he loved women, the beautiful ones, like exotic hardwood trees with the curves that made his cock throb in the middle of the day. She was all ass and ardor with those brown legs coming out of the ground and that untamed hair whipping across her pretty mouth. Walking sex, he'd called her, in a moment of ill-considered bravery. Her wild eyes gored his chest and then lower and lower till the heat ran right down the core of him, like lava that cupped his nuts and he squirmed like a worm on fire. No one had ever given him a blowjob like that.

That night, in fact it was practically daybreak, when she got out of his SUV, (which actually belonged to his wife), he’d stared at her as if she were already a ghost. She was about to walk away, and the longing was there, but he wasn’t sure how to handle it, how to feel about it. He wasn’t sure he was made for this roiling desire, even if the alternative was sexless hoping. He smiled at her, not sure what his face conveyed, and words came out of his mouth that he couldn’t really hear. The words were “See you later, sexy,” which was the best he could do, totally non-committal and completely non-confrontational, the last whispered bunch of nothing before you run.

The words, and his smile caused her eyes to sparkle like little glittering planets, where it was customary to consume treachery each night, as a delicious dessert. Her chest was swelled up with love for him because he’d kissed her on the forehead about twenty times that night, their secret covenant, and he’d quoted Camus while she snuggled his neck, and since she mistook his overwhelming guilt and cowardice for genuine caring, she was now near the point of knee buckling and drool. He drove away, feeling nauseated, relieved, heartbroken, clammy. It started to drizzle and he took a hit off his pipe before he’d even reached the stop sign.

“You’re really good at that,” he’d told her. Jesus, did he actually gesture toward his penis when he’d said that? A penis that prior to this month, had not been touched, nevermind sucked, by a woman for years, even though he lived with a pretty one, who he loved very much, had accidentally impregnated, so obviously they’d done it before. A penis with a little patch of hair on it about 2/3 of the way down, something he’d always felt uptight about, but she’d said it was prize-winning, fit in her mouth perfectly, even though he knew full well that it was kind of on the small side.

Desperate for a candy bar, he drove down 12th Street to Black and White Liquor. The rain had stopped and the sun was coming up. He was idling at the plaza that smelled like pigeon shit, where all the old Chinese women did their early-morning calisthenics. One lady in a black quilted jacket was cantilevered over a low retaining wall, slapping her own ass vigorously and repeatedly, as if determined to remind that ass, who it really was. The balding woman nearest to his SUV looked up into his face with such a violent grimace, it made him feel as if he was some sort of exploding, pain-causing meteor, showing up utterly uninvited to panhandle the souls of the elderly who didn’t have any money, but could tell him a story or two, if he would just sit down and listen. A clammy sweat crawled up over the back of his neck and he wiped at it with the inner fluff of his black hoodie. Just then, a chihuahua on her morning stroll, clad in an adorable corduroy vest, perhaps sensing his discomfort, looked straight into his eyes and tipped her graying doggy chin up, in something close to a nod of assent, wordlessly validating, the idea that wherever he went, he'd be surrounded by oblivious others, and that he’d drift through, day after day, never really certain of what to feel. The light turned green and he had no choice but to go.

Back at his apartment, he leaned into the doorjamb of their bedroom, watching them. The just-past-dawn light spewed in through the open curtain of their window, casting itself on a dust mote right above her sleeping face, and creating a whirling fantasmagoria that threatened to draw her away into a netherworld. She was curled up peacefully under the comforter, in a lacey, pale blue nightshirt that he could see around her delicate shoulders. Little Camille, not yet two, was nestled in the crook of her arm. The center of their universe.

The candy bar wrapper crinkled in the pocket of his hoodie. It was a KitKat, and he’d wanted it so desperately, but now that it was gone, he struggled to remember the way he’d felt while he was yearning for it. And how did it taste when he had it in his mouth? Did he even enjoy it? He backed away silently, afraid the crinkling noise would wake them up, and he’d have to explain why he was hovering in the doorway, fully dressed and smelling of sex, instead of cuddling in bed with them, weighed down in numb devotion, where he belonged.

He retreated to the bathroom, to wash the musky smell of her off his skin and brush the sweet, salty taste of her out of his mouth. He removed his hoodie and laid it down on the counter, to the right of the sink, on top of the baby wipes. There he was, in the bathroom mirror. A ghost, the way she’d become a ghost when she stood saying goodbye to him in front of his SUV, his wife’s SUV, really, and he must not see her again, must not even fantasize about her again, especially not here, in this bed. A ghost, turning the cold water on full-blast. He’d stay awake for a month, if that’s what it took. The cold water attacked his face like a punishment. “Thank you for affirming me,” he’d told her, smirking but also truly grateful. He’d had no right.

They’d been talking about books in the car before he said he had to go, books and the stars and the importance of kindness and how she was special and the way his father, who he loved, was sort of an asshole and how he’d trapped her and it was wrong and she needed to find someone who could give her his whole self, and she said he made her feel high and then for some reason she said, “And everyone knows that crazy is good in the sack,” and he forgot why, exactly, probably because they were speaking to each other at cross-currents, but he’d told her he didn’t want to be “that guy”, which seemed righteous at the time, but now, as he stood there, totally still, gazing at himself in the dim reflection of the mirror, like a tree who merely exists, instead of allowing all the noise of the world to influence how it grows, he was shot through with the notion that this had all gone sideways, his commitment, his fear.

With no one there to smell the nervous sweat that dripped from his armpits, he allowed himself to feel fully, just for a moment, that this affair was the most honest thing, the realest thing, he’d done in a long time, and it all swam around in his mind, and he was no longer sure which “guy” he actually was, or who was the right guy to try to be. He fought back tears, the same way he’d done in the SUV, his wife’s SUV, and his chest burned and there was a voice that said, “Good morning, babe,” and there she was, barefoot in the doorway, in that lovely pale blue nighty, with their sweet baby on her hip. She’d never looked so beautiful.

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Exit the Mistress
She dragged herself across each day like the longest shadow in the world. Occasionally, her shadow, taken by force for an evening by the gods of practical jokes, would be propped upright and thrown on the ceiling, where she found herself willfully bobbing in a river of people who recognized her, greeted her. "How are you?" "How are you?" "How are you?" "How are you?" But the people who asked didn't want to know the answer, not really, so there was no need to tell them. There were interesting paintings hung around and lots of stylish couples hugging each other. Talkers and laughers drinking wine.

She was a slow moving statue with a flask full of tequila from home, because that's cheaper. With not much else to do, she walked past artwork and sipped from the flask and considered going back to bed, where she could be alone in private. The smell of falafel in the air made her mouth water, but because she was getting fat and old skipping meals seemed prudent. This also made the tequila work better.

A couple of months ago she was young and frisky, more beautiful than many women half her age, but that colorful dynasty had come unplugged and only the dregs of it could be seen circling her feet on the way down to oblivion. Up top, at the head, just over the wall on the other side of her eyeballs, all was stark and crumbling, like the ruins of a bombed out city. The place was a hopeless shambles, with roofs caved in and ash floating though the air. You could choke on all that ash. And you had to squint because it burned. Amidst the chaos, random people were hunched over and fleeing, but completely at a loss about where to go. There was nothing to eat. There was only ash, and also the enormous boulders that were stuck, and timbers that had fallen and were blocking things they ought not to have been blocking. It was the least comforting place, so she rolled through the river of happy faces, looking at familiar mouths talking and kissing and drinking and smoking, attached to people who presumably did not have heads stuffed full of fire and ash. In this way she hoped to ignore for a time, the heavy detritus plopping down like an angry god's massive gray turds inside her skull. Look at the pictures, she advised herself.

She was hugged. Sometimes she was kissed, a couple of times kissed on the lips. Some people had scratchy beards. Some smelled sweet. Some were made uncomfortable by cotton-mouth. The familiar sets of eyes glittered at her, sometimes through trendy glasses, and the familiar teeth glistened. The track lights shown down on the strands of people's hair. Some of the strands were gray. There was dandruff smirking on the shoulders of the darker sweaters. Cold, swinging earrings pressed into her face. One got tangled in her hair as she pulled away and a third party had to intervene. None of this felt like much, of course. Not compared to the bombed out city inside her head where people were running around shrieking because everything beautiful had been destroyed and no one knew what to do, or where to go.

All was lorn. But there was this one bit of skin on a random man with a fedora. It was a bit of skin pulled across his collar bone and it glowed white-ish blue. She had the urge to reach her tongue out to that patch of taut milky skin and taste the warm saltiness of it, pull the cotton button-down shirt away, and open her mouth up to an even larger area, rub her lips and tongue and cheeks over everything and suck on that skin, a ripe, salty peach. The owner of the skin patch looked her way and ruined the whole thing, so she stared at the cement floor and decided to get the hell out of the hall of fun-havers, who would probably need to deliberate for a while before realizing that, nah, they didn't actually want to attend her funeral. Not that she was dying, not at all. At this point, the horrible truth was that she was irreconcilably alive.

She tilted her head way back and emptied the tequila from her flask into the part of her head where the fiery smoke plumes were billowing. After that, she turned around and pointed herself in the direction of anonymous leaving. Outside she could see her breath and hear her shoes clicking on the sidewalk, punching little holes with each click so that the colorful dynasty of her gloriously joyful, recent past could run down her legs in drips, to festering pools underground. A car wheeled slowly by, blasting bombastic music that harassed her resolve to undertake this 9pm social implosion. The guy driving the car looked like a frigate puffed up for mating with the wind. Her eyes locked on his, and shot hateful lasers at point blank range, that accused him of trying to look inside her dripping shadow's panties. Leave. Us. Alone.

It was dark inside her car and no one else was there. Just her shadow riding in the back without a seat-belt, and the swimming ideas about ice cream thrills and down quilt super heros that might salvage the night with the illusion of sugar seduction and the promise that it would end warmly and soon enough. At home, she piled man-sized pillows onto the other side of the bed, to give some weight to her shadow, for the cuddling. And hoping to interest the cats, she turned the heater on high, because the bombs were smothered by soft, beating, senseless things, human or otherwise.

She turned now, to her ever-willing shadow.

"Night, baby."

xo

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In the Headlight
We sat there side by side, out in the hall. He hugged his knees and stared into the wallpaper. I dug my nails into my pants and fought the urge to think things through. This is what we’d become accustomed to doing, juggling a mental scramble of facts, always keeping events aloft, never allowing reality to coalesce… but this was bad. There was no way around the image of my grandfather laying in the bathtub like a big gray hairy rubber doll. Dead. The water in the tub was pink, with a horrible yellow froth bubbling around the rim. A disgusted smirk pinched my mouth after my brother and I had chugged the last of the stolen tequila, and I remembered that pink frothy water.

The liquor store smelled like cat piss. 

“Let’s steal it,” my brother said to me, as we wandered the dusty aisles a few hours after escaping the new family catastrophe. We’d looked at each other then, and passed information between our faces, the way siblings do. Pain, fear, hope, anger, loneliness, lust- all in two seconds. The florescent bulbs in the store cast a blue tinge on my brother’s face. 

“You really need to pop that zit Josh,” I nagged him, “It’s green.” 

My brother was thirteen months younger than I, and recently I’d accused him of ruining my entire life, because it’d been his fault that my mother had stopped breastfeeding me before I was ready. I looked down, and noticed he was wearing the rock star pants he’d bought in Australia. Tight white jeans with black stripes running down, only now they were stained pink near the crotch. He passed me the tequila bottle, I slipped it under my sweater and we left, the little sleigh bells on the door jingling after us.
I rolled up my pants, and rode him on the back of my bike to the train tracks. It was perfect, walking along in the dark, swigging and talking. The moist grass along the tracks hadn’t been cut in ages, It tickled my calves.

“All I can say is, thank god we’re not him.” A hot shudder ran through me, after a particularly daring swig.

“Who?” Josh asked. I stared up at my brother, who at fifteen, was already six feet tall, and smiled, waiting for the gears in his peanut head to turn.

“What?” he offered, oblivious. Josh had a way of protecting himself by pretending like he didn’t get it. We sauntered on, swigging in silence.

“What do you think he’s doing right now?” he eventually asked, focusing intently on his Swatch wristwatch.

“That’s what I’m talking about.” Glug. 
“He’s probably hefting old rubber Johnny out of the gore pond at this very moment.” Glug.
“Fuck. How’s he going to deal that with all by himself?”
“Whhoo knowzz,” I slurred. 
“I’m sure our mother would have helped him out if he hadn’t had her killed.”
“Lenora, you’re just saying that because it sounds cool,” Josh blurted. 
“You don’t even know if it’s true, and anyway, what does it matter anymore? Remember what we said? Dead is dead, right? And all that really means is that you don’t get to see the person anymore, right? That’s the end of it. We don’t have to feel anything about it. We can just think about it, and stop there.”

My face was engulfed by a fizz of gnats, and because I’m a spazz this sent me flying over a tree root. I landed on my stomach and ate a mouthful of dirt which mixed with the liquor and rolled down my chin, but I was working the tequila bottle like Old Lady Liberty, hoisting up her torch. Not a drop wasted.

“Josh, I’m not having this conversation with you,” I said, from down on the ground.
“Well why?” he took the tequila. 
“Answer me. Why?” he yanked at my arm, like pulling up carrots.
“Fine,” I dusted off my pants. 
“They don’t have to, we don’t have to feel anything, and maybe dad can hoist the old geezer out of his slime pool without falling into it himself. I bet he can handle it fine, ok? Grandpa’s blood is all over your pants, by the way.”

Josh took an extra long chug of tequila and gagged. Making him feel uncomfortable was one of the few reliable pleasures I still truly relished. Normal siblings fought over who was going to walk the dog, or do the dishes, or command the TV. Josh and I bickered over whether or not our father murdered our mother, which kept us from ever interrupting the old man’s bingeing on rum and cigarettes, or prying him off the cantaloup sized breasts of his Russian mistress, who had ruined teeth the size of dominoes. Mrs. Lorder, my guidance counselor at school, had annoyingly advised me that depression DID run in my family, after all, and that these were the types of traits that one should strive at all costs to avoid when choosing a reproductive partner, “like clubbed foot,” she’d said.

“Remember when dad got wasted and tried to take the car into the city to see Natasha? Remember how grandpa had to tackle dad and then threatened to put his head in the oven after the meatloaf burned, and then you started shrieking about now wanting to have to be my new mother?” Josh had stopped walking now, and was addressing a small pile of rocks peppered with white, crispy dog shit.

Swig. “And what?” I threatened. “Who should I feel sorry for? Dad? Grandpa? Me? You? Dad was depressed and shit faced, grandpa was depressed and suicidal, I was depressed and crying because I felt guilty that through all of his bullshit-suffering, dad managed to make us a stupid meatloaf.”

“And burned it,” Josh added.

“Fucking retard,” I echoed, scorching my throat with a swig of tequila that made me choke, so I laughed, which made Josh laugh, even muster up enough hope to kick the crispy dog shit into the air, which made me laugh even harder, till I peed in my pants a  tiny bit.

It was a humid night and I was starting to feel the sensual dizziness that comes from too much booze, so I trolloped through the wet grass over to the cement retaining wall at the edge of the tracks, to sit down and dangle my legs over the side. Sitting there I noticed my breasts for the first time in a couple of hours. The breeze had made my nipples hard. It felt nice.

The tracks were about ten feet down. Just enough distance to give me the slightest bit of vertigo. We’d seen a really cool movie in school about kids on drugs playing around by the train tracks at night and ending up looking like scrambled eggs with ketchup under a spotlight that was meant to showcase the glistening viscosity of their minced corpses. The movie was to act as a deterrent, to keep teens from doing exactly what we were about to do. Josh was arcing a stream of piss against a tree. I watched him shake his penis off and stuck out my arm, beckoning him closer. He swished over in those striped rocker pants and dropped down next to me, propping his shoulder up against mine. Those pants were like a perfectly wrapped package, with the black and white lines drifting and converging, and then running away, down over his knees, toward the tracks.

“What a couple of rats,” I said.
“Who?” he asked. Josh was so predictable.

I took his hand and we jumped. We landed in pebbles that were still warm from the day’s heat. The warmth felt nice on my cheek, even though I did notice the taste of blood in my mouth. We scrambled to our feet and I saw that I’d also opened up a gash over my right knee which trickled a little rivulet of blood down into my sock , but it was okay because this was all in fun- nothing compared to my grandfather, offering up the whole volume of his soul, a great warm crimson feed bag, to no one in particular. A fucking waste. And that horrible froth. There was no more tequila, but I toted the empty bottle around like an urn that contained the troublesome facts of our evening. 

We hooked arms and swung around in circles, singing the tune from “My Three Sons” until we were so dizzy that we bashed heads and fell down on top of the tracks with our legs tangled together. When I opened my eyes the silhouettes of the trees were spinning against the stars in the sky. I suppressed the urge to vomit and put my arms around Josh. There was a loud whine in the distance, coming closer. Josh began to chuckle to himself, and I didn’t ask him why, because I could see it too. It was the headlight of the train, getting closer and closer, and the whine was growing louder, but our legs were in a complete scramble and the spinning wouldn’t stop, and since I knew we were stuck there together, I reached out for Josh and I kissed him right on the mouth. I kissed him hard. His lips were warm. His tongue slipped into my mouth and I felt the nauseating urge to live, so we rolled together, over and over, as if this was a strange field day event, only in the dark. Josh and I lied there, holding each other at the base of the retaining wall, gasping hot, drunken  breath in each other’s faces, hearts hammering, pale skin crawling, and the train whizzed by, smashing the tequila bottle to smithereens.

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Trolls Do Love
Once there was a strange troll, with beautiful sparkling blue eyes. He had just the right amount of hair on the backs of his fingers and a wonderful scent and a perfectly formed, milky white ass that glowed in the dark when you fucked him. This troll lived in a little cave on the second floor of a charming crumble-down tenement. I lived in the hobbit hole opposite his, across the patch of dirty gray tiles, at the dead end, under the greasy bulb that was coated with the same black soot that I blew out my nose every night before bed.

The troll’s name was Kermit, yes, like Kermit the Frog, but don’t think of Muppets, think of Irishmen with stubby beige teeth, sweating and spitting while they lean into you, heavy headed with the drink- men who trill their Rs, and smell like mildew and Listerine, mixed with stale beer and wet cement and cigarettes.

Kermit had a voice that put Tom Waits in counter-tenor range, and a habit of getting so galoshed, that when he reached his front door, late at night, his keys turned to turkey feathers in his hands. He wore a lucky rabbit’s foot, which I suppose was working alright.

The first time it happened, I was up in the loft, asleep, naked with all the lights on. I heard it, and gasped back through the sleep barrier. My skin was a slimy melting bomb pop. I listened. The strangest arrangement of sounds was coming from out in the hallway - two colliding battleship hulls, chewing each other up, and also something dainty, tinkling in the background, like sleigh bells. I hugged myself and held my breath, but the noise kept coming, so I sat up and shook my head around a bit, thinking this might clear things up. Still no light bulbs, so I figured further investigation was called for.

I knew what I had to do, but first I had to put on some panties. My sleeping head had been flat on the mattress, because I’d used the pillow to masturbate a bit earlier, and it was still twisted up between my thighs. As I crawled down from the loft, reason began to coalesce behind my bloodshot eyeballs. These were not the sounds of the hostile alien invasion that would result in my front door being torn off its hinges, and catapulted  ass over tea kettle, through the wall and into the next galaxy. Nor was my scrawny blue-white body to be sucked up by the navel to the land of the gray insect creatures, not tonight. This was way too noisy to be robbers, and thank god it was certainly too late at night to be the dreaded Jehovahs.

The alarming sounds were looping. They began to resemble a gravely, slurred landscape. Something recognizable. Cunt, pussy, motherfucking lock. Lock, motherfucker, dick, shit, motherfucker.

I figured that the red undies would be the ones, and as I pulled them up over my cherry apple ass, I contemplated my position on the inebriation-continuum. Unpleasantly damp skin, evil pains in the head, dehydrated like a shrunken granny smith apple, eyes resembling glassy planets covered in tiny blood rivers, throat walled up against feelings of shame and regret. I was hovering somewhere between dead asleep and counting down to the moment when they give you the electric chair. Perhaps this is why I was only vaguely aware that I was about to breach the security of my dwelling place, in the middle of the night, wearing nothing but a pair of shiny red underwear.

I scuffed to the door and began the elaborate Alphabet City ritual of undoing all my locks. Twist–pull-yank-click-turn, swivel-dislodge the steel poll, and there… the shaft of light coming from the filthy bulb, was full in my face, blinding my hamster eyes. I looked up at his scruffy mug, which was closing in fast. He staggered and fell on me, with a lusty laugh that only an extremely crapulous black man can pull off, only Kermit wasn’t black, at all. I sort of cradled his head for a moment, and after the five or ten seconds it took for him to catch up with what was happening, his eyes popped open in mortified revelation, like two cooked clams, bursting from their little shells. Kermit began apologizing with much deference in his fine Irish brogue, “Sorry Miss, really, really sorry I’m doin’ this.” I thought he was apologizing for waking me up at this un-Catholic hour, but then I looked down at his hands and noticed, that like moths to smallish light bulbs, they were cupping my bare breasts.

Now, at this point, any normal woman would have started screaming for help whilst smacking the stewed troll away, but not I. At the edge of my sight, I saw something scurry across the landing, something undersized and ugly that was trying to find the next hiding spot so as to avoid being squashed by an enemy boot. I invited the troll into my apartment, so we could keep drinking, and hopefully fuck like animals, a dirty thumb in the eye to all those assholes that’d drawn us together.




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Luft Balloon 
Jennifer Joy was actually just her porn name, but she'd kept it even after the cellulite took over and she started trimming her mustache with the scissors. There she was, sitting cross-legged on the plastic covered mattress, counting the spider veins on her old naked legs. So many veins, sprouting from other veins and at this point, her skin had become almost translucent under the fluorescent lighting. The counting was a meditation, interrupted only by Jennifer Joy’s relentless hacking.

"Plastic surgery costs as much as a new car, for God's sake." And once she'd given up on removing the stretch marks and enhancing her withered breasts, she began simply breathing in and out, in and out, as best she could, without worrying about her inexorable deterioration, which was ironic, because at this point, she really did begin to unspool, as we all will. Sooner or later, every woman has to face the idea that it doesn't matter if she rubs her lotion in with upward strokes. Gravity will win, and with the exception of one's gray hair and yellowed fingernails continuing to grow past the point of death, the last laugh is pretty much on us, so Jennifer Joy exhaled and pulled the starched white sheet back up over her body.

Sure, she'd aged prematurely. That's the way it goes when you treat your sensitive areas so brutishly. “Exchange comfort for vitality,” even though the day comes when the vitality you’ve chosen renders you inert, just a putrid bone pudding, corroding in the hallway underneath a miasma of stale cigarette smoke. Somebody at least throw a wig on that thing. But it had been a ride worth the price of the ticket. She could certainly attest to that. Yards and yards of glittering ribbons that morphed into black liquid eyeliner that morphed into lines of cocaine being snorted off her tits and morphed again into exploding European fountains and then hot pink feathers floating on air. And there had been love. Merciless love.

Lonny Erb came in with the bedpan. Took Jennifer Joy at a run with that thing, because this had become the only way.

"Elimination's just part a' life, honeybuns," he'd say, cheerily. Then he'd reach under the sheet and shove that thing down under Jennifer Joy's balding privates. One time, Jennifer Joy took a cat swipe at Lonny and knocked his glasses clear across the room. Lucky she hadn't scratched his corneas up “because that's an injury known to inflict a whopping level ten on the pain scale.” This is what he'd told her while he braided her wiry hair into pigtails the following day.

"Right up there with natural childbirth," he insisted. 


"Well you'da deserved worse, you scum sucking queer." Jennifer Joy loved Lonny unconditionally, and wanted to make sure he understood this.

"Oh yeah? Well there's a reason I'm giving you French braids, you wrinkly old whore."


"Maybe so, but at least I haven't lived the provincial existence of a country bumpkin who's unfit to deliver anything but a soliloquy comprised of anecdotes all meant to elucidate the notion that the chicken is a filthy bird." 


"I left the hillbillies a long time ago, sweetheart."


He started on the second braid.


"Well you still have straw between your teeth, you mac and cheese addicted fruit toucher."
"You keep talking like that and I'm gonna have to catheterize your flabby ass."


Jennifer Joy laughed, and then the coughing started up again. Caught her by surprise for the thousandth time. In a moment Lonny held out the blue plastic spittoon, so Jennifer Joy could halk a loogie.


"Hey,” she rasped, “wheel me outside to the rock garden. I need a smoke."

Jennifer Joy was hooked up to tubes. Lonny wasn't really allowed to disconnect those tubes and certainly, cigarette smoking was not supposed to figure into Jennifer Joy’s hospice experience, but Lonny loved Jennifer Joy unconditionally, and wanted to make sure she understood this.

He pushed the wheelchair faster than he should have. 


"I love this wind Lonny. I feel like a stallion. It's great for my rotting gums. When I hold my mouth open like this, the wind blowing in there makes my breath feel fresh, and it's been a lonnnggggg time since any part of me felt fresh, you know what I mean?"

An orderly saw them coming and held the double doors open, so they didn't even need to break wheelchair stride. 


"Ahhh, I love this rooftop air. Part flower smells, part noxious gases and part laundry smoke. All the facets of life, right here, minus the sex and the whiskey."


He wheeled her to a far off corner and passed her a lit cigarette. Jennifer Joy took a drag, and her cheeks imploded with the ecstasy of it. She nodded in contentment and the neighboring skyscrapers winked back at her, in the setting sun.

Lonny Erb had seen lots of people die. His video game addicted little sister had died of cancer. She got a tumor in her head that ended up with her looking like a Cyclops laying on the hospital bed staring up at the ceiling. One big blue eye, like a mountain peak at the top of her face, blinking and squinting and darting around. When the death rattle came, the eye was full of fear, until it lost its hold on even that, and glazed over one last time. After witnessing this, Lonny became a hospice nurse. It's not that he wanted to, but more that he had to admit it's what he actually was. Not everybody understood, but Lonny did.

After a few epic drags on Lonny's cigarette, the coughing started, a series of high-pitched barking outbursts, that made Jennifer Joy clutch at her chest. On each downbeat, Jennifer Joy made a noise that sounded a bit like a guy playing the saw. The barks and the saw noises continued for about a minute, while Jennifer Joy turned blue. Then everything stopped and Jennifer Joy fell over. She slumped unconscious in her wheelchair. Her mouth was open, and a thread of spittle trailed from her bottom lip to her hospital gown.

Instead of zooming her back into the hospital for stat medical attention, Lonny Erb finished the cigarette slowly, gently rocking the wheelchair back and forth, back and forth, crooning a lullaby of sorts; and when he was sure, he rounded on Jennifer Joy, smoothed her hair, kissed her on the forehead, and just like releasing a brand new balloon into the air, he let her go.