This War Rages On

We are the battlefield

Photo by The Creative Exchange via Unsplash

I don’t know the woman who walks past me in the grocery store at 07:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. She’s wearing blue jeans, a cropped top, and sensible slides on her feet. She brushes against me lightly. I’ve forgotten what that feels like. Her hair is everywhere — neatly. It’s organized chaos — a private dancer for the wind.

She excuses herself.

She’s not wearing a mask and upon seeing that I have on mine, she panics. She cannot believe she stepped out of her car, walked into the store, brushed against another human being, and spoke to her — all without the proper face covering.

I deal with this sort of thing daily. I feel like a soldier, manning a station from a deadly enemy as his allies try to trickle in without one of the things combating it — a face mask. She has forgotten hers and I feel the need to reclaim safety for myself and those around me.

I calmly advise her that anyone can make this mistake, anyone. She is a fit of tears and apologetic to the point that I’ve now stepped closer to her with my hands slightly raised indicating that I mean no harm and I motion for her to follow me to the automatic doors.

We exit.

We locate her car. We locate her mask. She’s still apologizing — telling me all the ways she’s done stupid things in life but this is now the stupidest. I don’t think silence is the best response. That would mean, I agree. I don’t. There are a ton of things far more stupid than what we found ourselves rectifying and I tell her this.

The tears pool deeply in the beds of her eyes. She blinks and two tears plop to the ground with a loud thud. I wait with her while she covers her face. We walk back to the store and I spot my cart and the unattended bananas, apples, spinach, and yogurt. I retrieve it. I am eager to finish my shopping and get back home.

She’s still beside herself with intense emotion but there are no more tears — only the puffiness of her eyes and reddened cheeks. And freckles. Freckles I didn’t notice before. She tells me — sweet onions are on sale as well as all-purpose flour and at this early in the morning, pre-breakfast and coffee, I’m struggling not to morph into an Addams Family character and spook her.

I want to move on.

This is my war. The store is my battlefield. She has fought her battle in the middle of a war and I want to move on from it. I let her know the morning is incredibly young and she is in the store early enough to catch all the sales. I wish her well. I mean it.

These days, I always mean it.

She grips the handlebar of her cart, pops it twice, and removes two pieces of tissue from her handbag. She splashes hand sanitizer on the tissue and smooths it over the bar and the sides of the cart. I nod to her and move toward the “No Pulp” orange juice and mouth a goodbye (out of habit).

Her glasses fog up and I miss her freckles. I wonder, what will be on the menu if there are sweet onions and all-purpose flour, both on sale. She follows me. She is talking to my back, luring a conversation.

The gods must dislike me this morning because my energy was zapped the night before at work and as much as I love to empathize, listen, and give my all to someone in need, my body nor mind can take it this morning.

“You like the ‘no pulp’ kind too, huh?”

Oh, this is about the orange juice. While I would love to skip meaningless chit chat, I do love talking about interests with another person. “Yes, I prefer it.”

She smiles. I can’t see her beautiful mouth anymore — her full lips, but I notice the eyes — they light up. She remains six feet away from me but leans in toward my cart and slaps an orange juice in her hands. It lands across her cropped top. I move along to the dairy section. I need cheese and milk. She comes along as well.

*What is going on here? Why does she keep following me*

“I have to get cheese, milk, biscuits, and creamer. They’re on my list.”

“Oh. I need cheese and milk as well. Please, after you.” I move to the side, allowing her to brisk by, and I walk slowly behind her. She glides — it’s not a stutter-step. She is floating toward the dairy section and her everywhere hair bounces as she moves.

*Am I smiling? I am. I am smiling. Why?*

I wait until it is my turn to retrieve cheese and milk. She stands idly by — watching as I retrieve said items, patting her feet while coating her hands with sanitizer. “I’m sorry. Is there a reason you keep waiting for me? Is there anything you need?”

I didn’t want to seem crass, but I am not used to people accompanying me as I shop. It’s a self-sufficiency thing. I’d much rather get in, get what I need, get out, and keep it moving. But this woman, the one whose eyes pool tears quicker than I keep breaths . . . the one with the organized chaos for hair . . . the one with freckles right under her eyes, just above her cheeks — freckles that come alive when she smiles — wants something from me and I have to know. What is it?

“Oh. Um. Well. I like your shirt. I also like your mask. I don’t know what half of your face looks like, but I’m willing to bet it’s likable too. I’m Rain.”

She extends her hand, and immediately, I tense up. Am I supposed to touch her? This is my battlefield. This is a war. A war between doing what I would normally do in the past without hesitation versus not doing it because it could well, kill me . . . And of course, her name is ‘Rain,’ of course, it is.

“Oh. um. Is it okay for me to shake your hand? You are okay with this?”

“Sure. You’ve already seen me without a mask. You helped me get it. I doubt my shaking your hand would do us any harm. But if you’re opposed, that’s okay too. Is it all right for me to give you my number? I don’t have many friends here — moved three weeks ago from Van Nuys, in Cali.”

“Get out! As in Los Angeles? A good friend of mine lived there for years before moving back east. What are the odds?”

Her eyes light up again. Her freckles dance. I watch her patting feet. I don’t know what this is, but I welcome it for a few moments. It feels nice — something I remember doing before — communicating with others outside of work and in person.

“So, is that a yes, me giving you my number. What’s your name?”

“Oh, okay. Sure. That’d be cool. It’s Tremaine, Tre for short. That’s ‘Tree-Maine.” I pull out my phone, hit contacts, and add her name, then her number.

“You live on this side of town, ‘That’s Tree-Maine.?’”

“Haha. You got jokes. Nice. Yeah, I’m about three miles away, right off the highway.” She smiles again. I smile. I give her my number and watch her sway back and forth on the balls of her feet. That’s odd. She must’ve danced in the past or maybe she still does.

“I know it ain’t the right time to be dating. Social distancing is a motherfucker, but I’ve been holed up in my new apartment for the last three weeks and you’re the first person to make me smile since I moved here. You wanna grab dinner one day next week — my treat?”

“Dating? Oh. Is this a date? Are you asking me out? You’ll have to excuse me, I am out of practice on this bit.”

She smiles again and I find myself loving the sight of dancing freckles and everywhere hair.

“Let’s just call it a thing until it becomes whatever it needs to be. But for now, it’s dinner, my treat.”

“Okay. Bet.”

I tell her I must finish shopping. I have work waiting for me at home and a dog who likes to boss me around. She laughs and a few customers look at us. I shrink into myself — hating to be stared at, but okay with it too. That’s odd. Everything is odd around this woman — this Rain whose eyes pool tears and freckles that dance, and hair that does its own thing without any regard for the goings-on around it. I look back, she’s watching me. Eyes curved — lit up. She’s smiling.

This is my battlefield. The war rages on.


*Author’s Note: This is part fiction/nonfiction/fantasy. Originally published on Medium.

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The Strange, Unforgettable Little World of Tyson Liston

Part II: The Stapler Thief

Photo by Everyday basics via Unsplash

“Son! Have you seen my stapler?”

Roger looks all over their cabin-style home for his favorite stapler. He has a project he’s working on and one of the key tools to use is his heavy-duty stapler. Their home is quiet — only the hum or the a.c. unit can be heard. Dena and Celia are both out doing the weekly shopping, so he and Tyson are manning the fort.

“Son! The stapler, have you seen it?!”

Tyson is fiddling with a few knick-knacks for his train set — careful not to misplace anything. Since he found out the magical toy comes to life when no adults are around, he is adamant about being discreet. He is mindful of how he explains what he’s doing and why. The last thing he needs is for his parents or sister to begin snooping around his “secret place.” He barely hears his father as he enters the family room.

“Shh! I think I hear my dad coming.” He warns Tyson#2 as he risks his existence to listen carefully for Roger.

“Son. Hey, Tyson, buddy. Did you hear me? Have you seen my stapler? I am working on a project for your mom and I need it.”

“No, sir. I haven’t seen it. I thought Celia had it last, but then again, Mom likes that stapler too.”

“Oh, God. If your mom had her hands on it, there’s no telling where it is by now. I’ll just wait until they come back from the store and I’ll ask her about it. How’s the train set?”

Tyson watches his dad’s eyebrows arch in a peaked position — eager to hear his report about his grandpa’s gift. The old man did a little two-step when he heard the whistle blow last night. Tyson was going to have to keep his eyes on him.

“It’s great! It’s the perfect gift! I’m nearly done setting up the village.”

Roger tousles his son’s hair, turns on his heels, and walks briskly down the hall to the kitchen. Tyson checks on Tyson#2 and finds him standing by the window.


Photo by Brandon Morgan via Unsplash

“Hey, there. What are you doing?”

“That thing your dad’s, (well, our dad) looking for. Is it big, pink & white, and has a floppy, sharp edge?”

“Yes! It’s his favorite stapler! Why?! Have you seen it?”

Tiny Tyson has a look of guilt plastered on his face. He tries to find the right words to explain to Tyson the whereabouts of the stapler.

“Well, yeah . . . kinda. Johnny Boots, Tommy Townes, Mikey Loops, and me — we dragged it out back, made ourselves a diving board for the pool. It’s so hot out. We were going to put it back later, didn’t think anyone would miss it.”

“A diving board? You guys could’ve gotten hurt. Do you even know what a stapler does?”

“Well, it’s a pretty good diving board right now.”

Tyson waves Tiny Tyson off with the flick of his hand. He leans his head over the roof of their tiny home, looks to his right, and locates the stapler.

“I’m putting this back where it belongs. This isn’t a toy.”

“You sound like one of the grownups.”

“Well. Well . . . Someone needs to be a grownup in this here village. You can’t go stealing things or taking them without asking. You’ll get me into big trouble if you do.”

“Okay, calm down. I didn’t know it would stir up such a fuss. I’ll be more careful.”

Tyson runs as quickly as he can to his dad’s tool shed. He finds his toolbox, lifts it quietly, and places the stapler in the upper compartment. Roger circles back around for one more check.

“Buddy, I can’t believe this. I’ve looked everywhere. Are you sure you haven’t seen my stapler?”

“I’m sure, Dad. Have you checked your toolbox?”

“I did! That’s the first place I looked. I’ll go and give it another look-see, though. Couldn’t harm things at all.”

Roger shuffles off to his tool shed, picks up his toolbox, and breathes out a sigh of relief. His stapler sat perfectly placed in the upper compartment.

“Found it!” He yells to his son excitedly.

Tyson looks at Tiny Tyson, stifles a giggle, and signals him to be quiet.

“Shh, that’ll be our little secret.”

And it was.


Part I

Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

 

 

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little black dress

womanblackdress
Photo by Anna Shvets via Pexels

in her little black dress, she stood
confidently, statuesque.

I bore witness to a goddess
laying claim to a nation undertaken
by neverending storms–stoicism
epitomized . . .

I bit my tongue
sensual words hung from it
and I needed to be professional.

I needed to see past
the little black dress and into
her heart, her mind, and her spirit.

this is how you lose the old you
in order to capture the new you
and grow apart from them both
eventually.

that little black dress
taught me how to step back
in order to move forward
and she agrees.

Beware of Stormy Weather

Musical Selection|Jill Scott: Not Like Crazy

Beware of Stormy Weather

Flash Fiction

Photo by engin akyurt via Unsplash

They’d tried to warn me, but I didn’t listen. I was drawn to her, like bees to honey — connected without thread and I knew once we kissed, that’d be the end of me. I remember the day we met. Her wild hair was blowing in the wind, her lips quivered and I wanted to place a single finger on them to steady their tremble.

It was a cold, blustery day, the sun decided to sleep in longer than usual. We met on the A-train. She entered from the platform and scanned the guts of the mighty beast headed East towards Grove Street. Her eyes landed on me. I moved my backpack from the only free seat remaining and she plopped her mother’s gift of an ass down next to me — thighs thick and welcoming. I tried not to stare. We were too close not to talk. I broke the ice.

“I’m Cash. What’s your name?”

“I’m Stormy. Weather. Stormy Weather.”

My eyes widened. I thought she misspoke or maybe I didn’t hear her correctly.

“Come again?”

“You heard right the first time.”

“No shit!? So, there’s a story behind this, right? There’s gotta be a story.”

“If you wanna call two teenagers high off Quaaludes and weed, bumming it out in my dad’s bungalow, who named their firstborn while listening to Jefferson Airplane a story, then yeah. There’s nothing moving about it. They were young, high, horny, and there was a storm. Factor in my dad’s last name — Weather, and you’ve got ‘Stormy Weather.’”

I watched her mouth as she spoke. She had a chipped tooth. Her tongue also looked pierced. I didn’t wanna stare but I did.

“Stare harder and I’ll have to charge you.”

She smirked in a sexy, inviting way. I wanted to know more about this woman sitting next to me on the A-train. Where was she from? What did she like to do? Why did she smell like the first day of summer back in ’88?

So fresh and new . . .

“Anyway, enough about my name. Who gets branded with a name like ‘Cash’ and doesn’t talk about it?”

“We can talk about it. ‘Cash’ is short for ‘Cashion’. My last name is ‘Day’. If you want me to take it a step further, I’ll share my middle name too. ‘Free.’ So, ‘Cashion Free Day’ at your service.”

She was now the one staring and I gotta tell you, something in me stirred up quicker than I could tame it. She smiled and I noticed two deep dimples crown her cheeks. I waited for her to speak.

“Okay, so there’s a story, right?”

“Touché. My parents are hardcore activists and human rights officials. They spearheaded a non-profit organization, the whole nine . . . When I was born, they cashed in on their loan approval and sought freedom from the average 9-5 everyone else seemed to work. Thus, the names ‘Cashion’ and ‘Free’ were given to me. I have my mom’s last name. They never married, but they’re still together.”

“Well, what’s your dad’s last name?”

“Bottoms.”

We laughed. A few people on the train looked up from their devices to catch us locked into each other. They quickly went back to ignoring us.

“Well, Stormy. The next stop is mine. When’s yours?”

“It’s mine as well. You wanna grab a bite to eat? My treat. I know this little soul food spot — a hole in the wall, but the collard greens and mac-n-cheese are heaven-sent.”

“How do you know I don’t already have plans?”

“I just know.”

“Oh? Is that right?”

“That’s right, cuz whatever plans you have, they’ve now been changed.”

She winked at me, that same smirk covering her face. I was gonna fall for her and there’d be no stopping it. The train came to a halt in the station. The squeaky doors opened and we exited. I turned to look at her in full view and that’s when it happened. She kissed me. Not just a peck on the lips, but an open-up-your-damn-mouth-and-let-me-in kiss. I fell in sync with her. My hands strayed away from my sides, finding her mid-back, then resting there. Her tongue was definitely pierced. I was in trouble.

Deep trouble.

“Here, lemme put my number in your phone.”

“Okay.”

“When we’re done with dinner, you can call me to set up our next date.”

“You don’t waste any time, do you?”

“I don’t, especially when I want something or someone.”

She wanted me and I wanted her and all we had in common so far were crazy names given to us by our parents. Still . . . I was caught up and there was no turning back now, not even if I tried.

“Be careful. I might bite. Aren’t you even a little scared?”

“I bite harder. And no, I’m not scared.”


I am sitting in this god-awful butcher shop, waiting for the cuts of meat my mom ordered and a woman who looks just like Stormy walks by. I got a glimpse of her profile — no deep dimples. She stops to look into the windows — pork’s the special for the afternoon. Larry, the butcher, always puts a huge sign out with a list of specials and a bonus $3 off, if you can guess what the next day’s special is. This woman, although not Stormy, struck up so many memories of her within me.

I thought back to that first day on the A-train. How she moved fluidly — one with the world, without even thinking about it. And I smelled her. I could taste her. I remembered everything about each moment we shared.

Three years later, she left me for a woman she met on the #2-train named ‘Dawn Knight’ and I’ve had this damn dark cloud over my head ever since.

*Ping* “#15! Order up! A pound of steak, a pound of pork chops, and two pounds of thick-cut beef bacon.”

A damn dark cloud.


Originally published in Prism & Pen via Medium.

The Strange, Unforgettable Little World of Tyson Liston

Flash Fiction

Photo by Jarod Lovekamp via Pexels

Tyson’s Grandpa Joe bought him a Hornby Collection Br Class 5MT 4–6–0 Era 11 Model Train and a small, unique village to accompany it for his eighth birthday. Tyson’s dad, Roger, put the old locomotive model set together for his son. They sat alongside the living room couch, sprawled out on the cool hardwood floor, creating what they believed to be art. Tyson looked on in amazement, eager to commandeer the train from his dad and shout “Vroom-Vroom” and “Choo-Choo” as loud as he could. The village had little trees, people, railroad crossings, businesses, and tiny homes cramped in five separate boxes. It also included a conductor and engineer — in their very own boxes.

When Roger finished, he stood up, signaled his son to do the same, and they each ogled the scene before them. They salivated in wait, invigorated by a deep passion and connection between father and son. Roger gave Tyson the thumb’s up, and he jumped straight into action. He stepped away from his son, satisfied with his endeavor.

Alone with his prized possession, he bid the conductor to conduct, the engineer to navigate, and looked in on his village people and their families. He was animated in his voice-overs and fancied every piece before his eyes.

“Attention all passengers, this is your conductor speaking. We have several stops ahead of us and the first will be Quantum Row. Please have your tickets ready for verification and do enjoy the ride.”

Tyson blew heavy breaths from his thin lips, giving his best impromptu steam of the engine and roared on with a deep, guttural whistle from his belly. An avid fan of The Polar Express, he pulled on the hem of his t-shirt and threw a baseball cap on his head. He tapped the bill just as a conductor would. He channeled Tom Hanks as he continued.

“Tickets, please. Tickets, please. Have your tickets ready.” Just as he was beginning to fake verify tickets, the train moved on its own. The conductor sprang to life. He looked into the homes of the village people, and they were alive as well — moving on with their days as planned.

He rubbed his eyes. He shook his head. He stood up and looked down at the toy set and all its pieces, then kneeled back down for a closer look.

“What . . . what did you say?” Tyson looked at the conductor with both fear and excitement in his eyes.

“I said, tickets, please, young man! Where is your ticket?”

He sprang up quickly as straight as an arrow and fumbled around the living room for a piece of paper. Surely, the conductor wouldn’t care about his fake ticket — he just needed to have one. He chewed the inside of his cheek, nervously bent back down to the conductor’s eye-level, and handed him a small, ripped off piece of paper.

“Thank you, young man. You may take your seat.”


Photo by Felix Mittermeier via Unsplash

He sat down, slightly overwhelmed by the actions of his toy train set and its accompanying pieces, but he was definitely curious. He peeked into the windows of the village people. A family of four — mother, father, son, and daughter, were having breakfast. His gargantuan head and pool-sized eyes frightened them as he stared at their seemingly normal life. The mother screamed and pointed directly at him. The father bolted upright from his seat and raced toward the window — shouting boisterously at Tyson.

“Hey! What are you doing there?! What in heaven’s name? What are you?!”

Tyson backed away from the window and crawled a few inches to his right. Another family seemed to settle in for the evening. A mother, a daughter, a cat, and a dog. No father. No son. Just a quiet evening for them — or what looked like it. He lingered on and noticed the mother and daughter resembled his mother and sister. He leaned in closer and gasped unexpectedly.

“Mom! Celia! What is go-in-g on . . . What’s happening?”

He searched each room of this home with darting eyes. If his mother and sister were there, surely he and his dad had to be around somewhere. But how could he be in two places at once? This place didn’t even look like their actual house. He lifted the roof of the tiny home and searched each room, growing even more curious as he scanned the area. He found a strong, stout, and handsome man clearing boxes from the family room’s floor. He also found a little boy standing next to him.

“Dad? Hey! Hey! That’s me! How is . . . What is . . .? This can’t be happening.”

Little him looked up and nodded in his direction. He moved closer and opened his mouth to speak. Tyson pulled himself together, eager to hear what this tiny version of him had to say.

“So, you can see us? Can you hear us? Can you hear me, I mean . . . Can you hear you?”

Tyson nearly fainted. He rubbed his eyes in a hurried motion, bit the inside of his cheek once more, and fell back on his bottom.

“This can’t be real. I’m asleep. I’m asleep. Wake up. Wake up, Tyson!”

“You’re not asleep, silly. This is our world. We created it. Didn’t you know this would happen when you and Dad began setting up this place?”

“But, how come Dad can’t hear me or Mom or Celia? Why only you? I mean, me. I mean . . .”

“Grandpa Joe made us. He blew magic dust behind my ears and gave me the ability to hear and see you — me. I’m the only one in our family who can.”

Grandpa Joe was a jokester, but magic dust? Talking miniature versions of him and his family? A conductor who sounded and looked like Tom Hanks?! He would have a talk with Grandpa Joe, but first things first.

“Will you always be . . . you know — um, alive,” He asked Little Tyson. He twiddled his thumbs as he waited for the answer.

“As long as you are, I will be.”

“But, I’m gonna grow up. I won’t stay eight years old forever. Will you?”

“You must ask Grandpa Joe about that. He whispered nothing to me about growing with you — me.”

Tyson could hear his dad’s footsteps coming toward them. And as quickly as the action started, it phased into nothingness. The train stopped. Families froze in place. And Little Tyson stood by the window, a clever smirk covered his face.

Tyson placed the roof back onto his family’s house. “What a strange, unforgettable little world,” he mumbled.

Roger was interested in knowing what his son thought about his birthday gift. He patted his belly lightly and brushed his left hand over his beard to smooth it before speaking.

“So buddy, whachu’think?”

With an intense interest in his eyes and a glow all about his small body, he repeated — this time, so his dad could hear, “What a strange, unforgettable little world.”


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

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