The lounge was a cave-in: dark, no air, bad smells. The taps were formless blobs behind the bar. Some startled when a voice appeared to take their order.

Not Thom.

A regular, he knew what he wanted, where it would be placed, and had his cash arranged into bundles of drink plus tip. He understood how important the bartender’s happiness was. He could pour anything; it was only mutual respect that kept Thom from lifting a glass of gall.

(Written for Esquire’s 79-word challenge. Harder than I thought; I felt like Gordon Lish.)


The Country I Live In

In the country I live in, there is a female orange and white cat that is sleeping in the sun. It is very hot in my country; at least it is today.

It is Indian summer in the country I live in and there is no breeze to rustle the leaves of the sycamore tree, or the privet, or the oak, or the other trees that I can’t name but are also here and silent.

It is a holiday in the country I live in. The post office and the banks are closed, although they are not much help when they are open, at least not in my country.

There is an American flag hanging perfectly still in the country I live in. Sometimes, when the mood strikes me, it is a Portuguese flag, sometimes it is the flag of the Azores, and sometimes it moves with the breeze; today it is an American flag and it does not move.

There are young boys on the street selling lemonade in the country I live in. One of the boys is a good businessman and employs hard-sell tactics to off-load his inventory.

There are a lot of people riding bicycles in and around the country I live in. Some of them are wrapped very tightly in spandex fabric with company logos stretched across their bodies. They look a lot like escapees from the deli counter at the grocery store of my country.

I haven’t heard of any such break out, although news does travel slowly in the country I live in when it’s hot, when there is no breeze, when the banks and the post office are closed, when it’s Indian summer, when the female orange and white cat is sleeping in the sun.

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A Morning Visitor

The boy was still asleep; at least he thought he was. His face, turned toward the large window beside his bed, was beginning to respond to the summer morning sun. He had started sleeping next to the open screen in order to take advantage of the cool night breezes that carried the soothing sounds of crickets as well as the occasional croaking of a bullfrog.

The southeastern exposure would usually ensure that he would rise before his younger sister. The two had an on-going understanding that whoever got out of bed first on Saturday morning could choose which cartoons they would watch while eating their matching bowls of cereal. This morning, however, was too delicious to rush. The boy sank back into his slumber and even the world outside seemed to hold its breath, not quite ready to get on with it.

As he drifted, the boy was disturbed by the pesky presence of what he believed to be his sister, now awake and triumphantly standing at the side of his bed ready to lord over the fact that it would be she, and not he, who would control the morning’s entertainment. He didn’t even bother to turn over, as the sight of her gloating little face would ruin what was turning out to be a pretty comfortable groove. “It’s OK,” he spoke into his cool, downy pillow. “Go ahead and watch whatever. I’ll be up in a little bit.” The boy was ready to sink effortlessly back beneath the waves of slumber when a sudden certainty hit him like a bucket of cold water. That’s not her.

Now more awake than he had ever been in his life, the boy lie there for a second, staring at the cracks in the plaster wall. Every nerve in his body was on alert as he tried to sense if the intruder was still there without giving up that he was no longer asleep. She is! Two thoughts chased each other through his mind: How do you know it’s a girl? This is ridiculous, turn over.

The boy tensed every muscle, and with no warning, flipped over to face away from the window and toward whoever was standing there. Immediately he was seized by another cold chill as he saw that beside his bed stood a young girl dressed in a white 19th century-style dress. Her appearance was completely devoid of color, as if he was watching her on a black-and-white TV. The girl just looked at him, without malice, and not entreating him; until suddenly, without changing her inscrutable expression, she shrank back into the room, her form getting smaller as she got further away until she was … gone.

Terrified, the boy jumped out of bed and ran to his sister’s adjoining bedroom. “Were you just in my room?” he demanded of his still-groggy sibling.

“What?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “What are you talking about?” The boy didn’t bother to repeat the question, as he knew the answer. He stood there for a moment watching his little sister come to life, and as if someone had thrown a switch, her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “Cartoons!” In a flash, she was headed out to the dining room and the boy could hear her bare feet rounding the corner through the uncarpeted hall and off into the TV room.

The boy stood there a moment, not wanting to go back to his room, and not yet ready to forget what had just happened. What did that little girl want? A gleeful “I get to pick the cartoons!” came from the front room, and the boy could hear the springs on the ancient recliner ring out in protest as his sister settled into her position of power. Maybe she wanted to watch cartoons, the boy pondered, and went to the kitchen in search of breakfast.