Three Months: Part One

Kiki lay on the side of the road, gone. A truck ran a red light and hit her as we were crossing the street at night. Red hair covers her lifeless eyes. My wife, dead, again. I cry. I always cry when she dies. It never stops bothering me. No matter how many times I travel back, how I change things, she dies. She doesn’t deserve this. Not sure if I do either.

I walk away from her body. I sit at the bus stop bench down the street. I take three deep breaths, and think where I want to be: home, three months back. Right before our last big fight.

I open my eyes and I’m on the couch. Alex Jones yelling on the TV screen. It’s the best background noise for passing midday away, bullshit conspiracy theories. Kiki’s coming home from a long day at work. This is when we have our last big fight. I’ve been through this in every way possible and I’ve come understand this: if Kiki wants to fight, we are gonna fight. I prepared the apartment for her wrath. Everything was clean and tidy, dinner in the oven. Her favorite brand of wine on the table and her E-reader next to it. She opens the front door and drops her purse, coat and keys on the floor.

“I have fucking had it,” she yells.

“Hi honey, how was work,” I ask in a sarcastic tone. Sarcasm, it’s our thing.

“I am one bad day away from shitting in Bernice’s purse,” Kiki says

“I got dinner in the oven if you want to load up for tomorrow morning.”

“She doesn’t deserve good home cooked turds. She needs truck-stop-nacho-shits in her purse.”

She’s got a sailor’s mouth. I love it. She looks around the apartment. It’s the cleanest it has ever been. She walks to our bedroom, sees its immaculate glory and asks,

“What did you do wrong, Kirk?”

Always the cynic, Kiki.

“Nothing.”

“Did you sleep with someone?”

“No. I just want my lovely wife to come home to a nice clean house. Is that so wrong?”

“Where’s my lazy husband? I want him back,” Kiki says playfully.

She walks over to the couch and leans in to kiss me. Her thin pink lips, the physical contact. It’s unreal. The sensation of her affections gives me a weird feeling. Caressing my wife, who was dead in front of me just moments ago, fills me with a strange mix of emotions. I trick myself into thinking that I’m just happy to be next to her. I put my hand on the side of her face and push it a little closer. She falls over me. We giggle, we start making out on the couch. Maybe if I raise her temptations her emotions won’t get raised. We might not fight.

“Baby, you said dinner is in the oven,” she says.

“I’ll take care of that when it’s ready, but I’d love a snack,” I say. My hand on the button of her pants.

Kiki giggles, slowly pushing my hand away. She unbuttons her pants and looks me in the eye.

“You can have all you want, but first, I want to know what’s going on.” Kiki turns away and buttons her pants.

“What do you mean? You’re suspicious that I want you now too?”

Kiki let out a short growl. That’s her tell, she’s angry at me now. We’re fighting. Mission failed. The oven bell goes off too. What timing.

“No, you’re being fucking weird, and caring and I want to know: what the fuck is wrong with you?”

 I get up to grab the meatloaf out of the oven. Walking away from Kiki during a fight, regardless of the circumstances, infuriates her even more. Four years of marriage taught me that when she’s like this, anything sets her off. She growls again.

“Don’t growl, honey, you’re a human, not an animal,” I say. This always makes her crazy, but the rodeo has already started. I put the meatloaf on the dinner table and go grab plates.

“I am a woman, I can do what I want, and you can’t stop me,” Kiki says.

This line. It’s a Hail Mary. She knows I’m right and that I’m not a misogynist. She just doesn’t want to change her ways. We both know it.

“You about done there, bell hooks?”

I pull out a chair for her at the dinner table. I say to her in a calm voice:

“I will tell you what’s wrong after dinner, I promise.”

She grunts.

“I’m not going to eat when a man wants me too.”

I finally lose my patience. I yell.

“Ok, well I guess I’ll have to tell you on an empty stomach.”

“I knew it, tell me.”

“I can travel time.”

“Fuck you, Kirk. Why lie to me?”

“Not lying. I mean it. I wouldn’t lie to you. I can travel in my own timeline. I got drunk at the bar one night and found out.”

“What an origin story. Are you Captain Drunky?”

“That’s true, it is kind of sad. No, I haven’t done anything heroic with it yet.”

“Why don’t you fix our money situation?”

“That’s hard to explain, I tried a few times,” I say, “ but we’re happier together when we’re struggling.”

“You can make us rich but you don’t, because we are happier together?”  

“Yeah,” I say. I know it’s a lie.

Kiki pauses. She looks at the floor and calms down.

“That’s sweet, I guess,” she says.

“Yeah, I know, a real heroic deed from Captain Drunky,” I say.

We laugh. We set up the dinner table and eat meatloaf.

We spoon on the couch and watch Voyager, again. Kiki turns over to face me on the couch, she caresses my cheek with her soft delicate hand.

“Do things get better for us,” Kiki asks in her soft voice. The TV lighting the side of her beautiful face.

I take her hand in mine. I look her in her lovely pale blue eyes and say:

“This is better.”

We kiss. It goes on. We make love on the couch. Our bodies intertwined writing carnal poetry. We passed out in the living room in each other’s arms.

I wake up to Kiki getting dressed. Morning news is on the TV. That means Kiki is probably late for work. She usually is on this day. She sees that I’m awake.

“Hey, I want to talk about what you told me last night, but I’m–”

I finish her sentence: “Running late.”

“I guess you would know what’s going to happen, Captain Drunky,” she says, smiling.

She kisses me and leaves for work.

I get up and run my hand through my sex-messed hair.

“Fuck,” I say to myself.

Hundreds of times I’ve gone back to try and save Kiki. I’ve never told her I can travel time. That changes everything. Now I got to figure out my next move to make sure she survives these next three months.

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I Forgot

It doesn’t hurt, till you remember you’ve forgotten what a father’s love feels like.

A hand on the shoulder, a conversation about life. They add up to make a man.

Those moments drifting downstream. To heaven? I don’t know. 

If I forgot them am I still part of him?

Ripples of fatherly advice move the pond of mind. Quickly fading.

My father cut short from cancer. My lessons cut too.

Sometimes I recall his face, his voice, the warmth of his hug.

The rememory wakes me in tears. I forgot about him, again. My wife comforts me,

“He raised a good man, he’d be proud of you today.”

I wouldn’t know. So much forgotten about him.

I don’t know what he wanted for me in this life.      

Here I am, years later, holding his pocket watch, crying.

Every now and then, a feeling. Echoes, whispers, of what was there before.

A piece of me, gone.

All I Saw Was a Dead Man

The job was hard. Driving ambulances back and forth at high speeds. Taking care of people having the worst day of their lives. It was 12 hour shifts for nine bucks an hour and after a year and a half of it, I quit. I got burnt out. It’s a thankless job when you really look at it. People put life and limb on the line to save other people. You make a pittance and you’re expected to take the shit and enjoy it. Some people really do love the life. I can’t blame them, it’s a lot of glory. Some nights though, like my last night as an EMT, leave you with nightmares you just can’t shake. (Names and places have been changed in this story)

When you work in an ambulance you work in pairs. One EMT, and one Paramedic. I got to work with my Captain/Mentor Kent. Captain Kent was a great man. He was a true American: He enlisted in the Army to fight in Vietnam, after that he bought a farm in the middle-of-nowhere Flagstaff. He owned and trained therapy animals for service members, and whenever he could he would remind everyone about the Second Amendment. He did his duty, did it proudly, and always gave 110%. He wore cowboy clothes all the time. We all called him “Walker, Texas Medic” behind his back. Most of the friends at the station were from the Fire Academy. I was still known as Stackhouse.

It was Walker Texas Medic and I driving around for the night shift. A full moon was out. We were on the beginning of our shift. That meant we could talk to each other without getting too much on each other’s nerves. I spoke to Walker:

“Full moon tonight.”

“Yup,” He said in his gruff Texan accent, “we got our work cut out for us, Stackhouse.”

I always tried to lighten the mood with a silly joke or question,

“Reckon we’ll get a call on a werewolf tonight?”

“Ain’t no such thing as werewolves, Stackhouse. Chupacabras, on the other hand–”

We laughed. Minutes later we got dispatched to a two car collision on the outskirts of town. The county cops declared the scene a mass casualty incident before the ambulance or fire department got there. Whenever someone declares a situation an MCI, it doesn’t mean a bunch of people died, but that it is going to be a lot of work to help the people involved in the accident. I turned on the lights and sirens and started driving. It was 30 minutes out of town and we were the closest unit to the scene. The fire department was 45 minutes out.

When we got to the scene there was one vehicle that barely looked damaged. It was an old beater of a truck. A 1980’s Ford. Back then, cars had all steel bodies and frames. When they crashed, they didn’t crumble like the cars made today. When an old steel body vehicle crashes, it plows. The truck looked empty. The driver was launched out.

The police were right to call it a mass casualty incident. There were scraps of aluminum and gore sprinkled across Highway 89. The other car was destroyed. The only intact passenger was the driver, he was safe on the driver’s side. Everything else was sheared off, even the rear driver’s side seats.

I parked the ambulance on the side of oncoming traffic so no one made our day harder. There are two deputies. They couldn’t do much except clear the road of body parts, and made sure the man in the car didn’t move. One was walking around the scene with a clear plastic bag full of blood and meat. The other was trying to get to the man in the car. The Captain and I went to the destroyed car and realize we need rescue tools to extract him. I covered the man with a tarp from the ambulance, so he doesn’t get hurt when the glass starts flying, and so he doesn’t see the remains of his passengers.

When the firefighters arrived we finally were able to start extracting the man. I was the smallest person on the scene. So I was the one who held the man’s neck in place while the firefighters cut through the mangled door with a sawzall. He became conscious when the saw revved up. He started to move, I had to inform him, with the phrase we always use,

“Sir, you’ve been in an accident and we need you to stay still while we get you out, okay?”

“My family, how’s my family,” the man asked.

“We are doing everything we can,”  

I lied. We always say that to patients, even if there’s nothing you can do. It’s our job to keep them calm and get people to the hospital, but not explicitly lie to them.

After 20 minutes of holding the man’s head in place while he dozed in and out of consciousness, my hands were seriously cramping. Another small firefighter came in to take my place.

Captain Walker was with the deputies cleaning up the gore. I came up to him massaging my hands and spoke to the Captain,

“Hey Cap, we gotta look for the driver of the other vehicle.”

The Captain gave me an intense stare. It wasn’t my place to tell him what to do. I knew picking up gore wasn’t as important as finding another survivor. He knew it too.

“Stackhouse, take a look in the truck and see where you think he went.”

I walk over to the driver’s side door of the truck. I immediately smell the stench of strong booze. This was the cause of the accident. The windshield had a circular hole the size of a large man. He was launched for sure. I reached in the truck to pull the keys out, and put the emergency brake on.

I went over to the Captain and told him,

“The driver was drunk and he had to of been launched into the trees across the way.”

“I thought so. Did you see the red dust caked on the truck? It’s a rez-mobile.”

The rez meant it was from the Navajo Reservation. The man was most likely a Native American. Flagstaff always had a problem with Native American drunkards. There was a higher population of rez drunks than any other kind. Not a racist statistic, just the truth. I figured that the Captain saw the cake dusted on the truck and made the conclusion I arrived at by investigating the inside of the truck. Captain Walker wasn’t racist; Native American drunks were causing problems so often that he knew the story without having to dig deeper.

“Should we go see if he’s over there,” I asked.

Captain Walker let out a big sigh. He handed his bag of body parts to the near by deputy.

“Reckon we ought to.”

I had the Captain’s medic bag ready. I handed him a flashlight from the side pocket, and I grabbed mine, and we headed across the highway to the pine trees. The Captain was walking faster than me. He wasn’t weighed down by a medic bag. We saw some blood on the ground and a trail of it leading away from the road. The drunk man was launched 70 feet, lived, and tried to crawl away.

We followed the trail. Captain Walker ran significantly faster than I could. I tried to catch up. By the time I caught up with Captain he was kneeled over a body that was covered in blood soaked denim. I could see his skin color, brown. I could smell the booze on him from two feet away. A Native American drunk.

Captain Walker had his gloved hand on the man’s neck. There was so much blood and it was so dark, you couldn’t see signs of life otherwise. Captain Walker held his finger over the man’s neck for 30 seconds, per protocol. Captain Walker looked up at me and shook his head. He was dead. The Captain got up to leave and as he moved I saw the Native man’s chest move slightly.

“Captain, I think he’s brea–”

“He’s ain’t got no pulse and we need to take the man in the other car to the hospital. Let’s go, Stackhouse,”

He interrupted me, and spoke in a very direct way I haven’t heard since I pissed him off a few months ago.

“Cap’n we might be able to save hi–”

“Jason. We are short on men, and supplies. We follow the MCI protocol, and now we take care of the living. Is that clear?”

He’s never called me by my real name. The Captain was serious. I nodded my head in acknowledgement.

“Good, now grab the spine board and the stretcher. We’re gonna need it.”

We let the cops know there’s a dead guy in the woods. The firefighters got the man out of his car after a monumental effort. We loaded him up in the back of the ambulance. I drove towards the hospital while the Captain monitored the patient’s vitals. The patient was conscious and spoke to the Captain.

“My family, how’s my family?”

“They are doing everything they can, we got to make sure you’re alright. Can you tell me your family’s names?”

“My uh, my son, Jimmy. My daughter, Emily. My wife, Stacey. God, please tell me they’re okay?”

“We are taking care of you now, sir, we need you to calm–”
“Stacey, she’s pregnant, oh god, is the baby alright?”

I looked in the rear-view mirror to see the Captain looking back at me.

“They are doing everything they can right now,” the Captain said.

We arrived at the hospital. We got him unloaded and in the emergency room. It was over for us. There was an uneasy calm. I got to cleaning the ambulance for our next call.  It is usually the best time of the day depending on the shift. No matter how bad the previous patient was, picking up used bags of saline, bandage packaging and wiping up body fluids is, by far, the least stressful thing to do. Like monks raking a rock garden, an EMT can zen out and mentally prepare for their next call. Solitude before the storm strikes again.

The fire engine from the scene pulled up next to the ambulance. Captain Walker went up to the fire truck window and was speaking to the Fire Captain. This man was the head honcho for us First Responder types. He was the Godfather. He taught you everything you needed to know. He helped you get a good job, and he kept everyone in the fire department and ambulance companies in check. This was a mob meeting.

I finished cleaning. I closed the rear doors and heard my Captain calling me over to him. I went over. As soon as I was within speaking distance the Fire Captain asked me,

“What did you see in the woods, son?”

“We saw a man I thought might be alive but–”

“I’m gonna ask you one more time,” the Fire Captain said, “what did you see in the woods?”

“All I saw was a dead man, sir.”

“And you’re certain, boy?”

“Yes sir, it will be in the report.”

“Good man, good man.”

The Fire Captain put his hand on my shoulder, walked back to his engine, and drove off. It was just Captain Walker and I, sitting on the rear bumper of the ambulance. We were looking at the moonlit doors of the ER bay. I took a deep breath. I was stressed out. The start of my shift and I was drained already.

“Five people dead, Cap’n,” I said. I wasn’t sure what else to say. “Good job,” or “you did well,” those platitudes don’t ring true on calls like this.

“No, Stackhouse. Six. Ain’t no man gonna come back from loss like that.” Walker, Texas Medic spoke. He lit up a Swisher Sweets and gave pause.

“I reckon we ain’t the same after this, Captain.” He offered me a puff of his cigarillo.

“I reckon you ain’t,” He said.

I took a long drag.

The Train

Out from work with nothing else to do, I start on the path home. I walk up to the platform that is wet with funk from the city. Boarding the train that came shrieking in, I sit down on the side seat facing a window. The train doors close and the electric conductor tells the passengers our next location. I’m alone on the train car. I look at the buildings reaching out toward the sky. The train squeaks and bumps along the rails, stopping every few minutes. I see my reflection in the window along with the fading skyline. I leave the present. I’m not here. I’m in Sedona.

I’m with my group of friends, Dirty Randy, Diago, Sage, and Caitlin. We’re in Dirty Randy’s GMC Jimmy. The spare tire holder on the back of his car says “BONES” in all capital letters that are connected. The funny part is if you look at it, the bone part looks fine but the S looks like a lowercase “r”. So we called it “The Boner”.

So Dirty Randy, Sage, Diago, Caitlin and I are in the Boner with my Dad going to the creek. Dad has never been to the creek before, and we decided to take him before he left.

I drove us there, piloting the Boner through the traffic of Main Street Sedona. Past the rust red mesas, past the overfunded high school, I drove past all signs of civilization. I came to a dirt road speckled with mesquite that smelled sweet and tangy. Three miles later on the dirt trail, I came to a hill with no guard rails and a 50 foot drop. We drove down the hill. Passing a wall of aspens on an old man’s land. A green field with trees and grass. The flowers were in bloom. They surrounded a brightly painted observatory with an aluminum dome. My Dad and friends were awake from the bumpy cliff drive. Dirty Randy stared at the observatory almost as if he was contemplating deep questions. He sighed and said:

“That dude really likes stars.”

“I think he jerks off to them,” Sage suggested.

“I think he stares at his neighbor’s bathroom,” Diago blurted out.

“Does everything with you guys have to be about sex?” asked Caitlin.

“You are in a car nicknamed the Boner and you ask that question?” I replied.

She rolled her beautiful green-grey eyes and went back to reading her book. My Dad looked at the building and said, “The guy is probably married and he’s looking for aliens to abduct him.”

All of us sat there for a moment and thought on my Dad’s theory. We nodded in agreement that my Dad was correct. Not Caitlin, she sighed and kept reading. We arrived at the creek. It’s hidden away from the rest of the world, in-between reddish pink mesas and past the house of a man with a field of trees, an observatory and a possibly bitchy wife.

Sage, Dirty Randy, Diago, and I grabbed all the stuff, and headed down the trail. Dad and Caitlin were behind us, she was helping my Dad with his oxygen tank. I carried their stuff. Along the path carved by our footprints from previous visits, we talked about life issues. We debated if we would have sex with a Klingon or a Borg. We weighed the issues of elf/ hobbit relations. We determined that an elf would only bang a hobbit if they had a foot fetish.

We arrived at our spot. Pink rocks surrounding us with a creek in-between. The breeze blew coolly, making the weather perfect. A pink slab of rock laid across the landing from where we are standing. It’s a nice place to splay out and tan.

We got situated. Towels laid out, sunscreen on the side, a cooler of beers for us. We got into our swimwear.

Dirty Randy is a huge man, and under the shirt was a mass of belly that was unhealthy but epic. Caitlin was taking off her clothes to reveal the bikini underneath. We all sneaked a peak. Diago didn’t take his shirt off. Native American machismo. Sage took off his shirt, and showed off his full back piece of a Japanese Poseidon God riding a horse made of water, all in Japanese styling. We all stared in awe. The same way we stared at Caitlin revealing her bikini.

“My body is a work of art,” Sage said.

“Then why do you have a zombie Old Dirty Bastard tattoo on your calf,” I asked.

“Art has imperfections too,” Sage said shrugging.

“That would be a sweet lampshade,” said my Dad.

“Roy if you want to turn my back into a lampshade after I die, I welcome you to it. That would be awesome,” said Sage.

“I’m gonna beat you there, Sage. You’ll have to give the lampshade rights to Jason,” my Dad said, letting out a good clean laugh before going into a coughing fit.

“Jason, please turn my back into a lampshade when I die. It will be how I live on, through my art.” Sage said in a joking plea.

My Dad still coughing.

“I will. I’ll give it to my kids, and my kids’ kids. Your work of Caucasian pseudo-Japanese art will live on forever.” Sage held out his hand. We shook on it.

Dirty Randy and Diago got right to it, being the fatter ones of the group. They hopped in the cold creek water to cool off. Randy and Diago then tried to convince Caitlin to dip her toe in the water. They grabbed her foot and pulled her in the freezing creek. She screamed. We all laughed. My Dad had another coughing fit.

Noon came, and the sun was high. Dirty Randy, Diago, Sage and I were relaxing across the stream that had a beach landing. We laid supine, occasionally looking up at the other end to see Caitlin in her bikini reading her book, and to see if my Dad was napping. Or dead. Sage looked at the sky, clouds mottling the blue. He sighed and said,“You know what dude, I gotta leave this fucking place. It’s a shit hole.”

“Yeah man, you gotta tell your family to stop leeching off your money too,” Dirty Randy said, pointing out an obvious truth we didn’t want to mention.

“Dude you gotta leave. If you don’t, your family will just shit on you till you’re dead inside,” Diago stated with his eyes closed, taking in the sun.

“I think you can let your family know you need time to yourself, Sage. I think you could tell your mom that you’ve already raised your brother and sister. She could do something too.” I said with my eyes on my Dad.

“I know dude. I know,” Sage sighed, looking at the water roll by.

“I can’t wait till I get out of my Dad’s house and get a respectable job,” confessed Dirty Randy.

“You know you could have done those things by now if you didn’t drop out of NAU,” said Diago.

“Yeah man,” Sage agreed, all three of us nodding our heads.

“You know what Diago, you make the most money here, and you’re still at your mom’s. What the fuck?” Dirty Randy mumbled in annoyance.

“Dude I don’t feel the need to be out of my mom’s house, I feel fine there.”

“You spend all your money on movie weapon props and Vikings jerseys,” I pointed out.

We all laughed. Except Diago, he nodded.

“Jason you know you could’ve done the same thing, you had that job at the hospita–”

“I got fired for surfing on stretchers,” I interrupted Diago.

“You still could’ve had the money to leave if you stayed with the fire department du–”

“I almost fell six stories because my crew was too busy making fun of me, instead of looking out for me–I quit when I realized I wasn’t safe.”  

“Still, dude, you could’ve left after that radio station paid you for writing those bits for them,” Dirty Randy argued.

“I spent that money.”

“All of it? That was a fuck-ton of money, dude! What did you spend it on,” Sage asked.

My Dad woke up from his nap gasping for air. It was a coughing fit. The worst one yet. I didn’t answer Sage. I swam across the creek to help Dad with his breathing medication.

Diago opened his eyes, raised his head and looked at us across the creek, he shook his head and sighed,

“On hospice.”

They all looked across the way, seeing my Dad panic as his lips turned blue, struggling to get his mask on. I talked him through his breathing treatment. After my Dad’s coughing fit subsided Caitlin asked me if I was okay. She put her hand on my arm and looked at me. We locked eyes for what seemed like awhile. She quickly pulled back, blush rising. I gave her a quick nod as I turned toward my Dad.

My Dad didn’t want to go home yet. He told me to help him over to the creek. Caitlin and I got him over. He put his feet in the cold, clear creek water and stared at the sky and the trees.

“I’ll just stay here for a while,” He said “I’ll just stay here.”

After taking care of Dad’s coughing fit, I swam back to the guys across the way. We were now sitting up and staring at Dad. Dirty Randy and Diago put their hands on my shoulder and sighed. Sage handed me a beer. I took the can from him and nodded. Holding back tears, I cracked the beer open and said,

“Thanks guys.”

The sun started to wane. We decided to pack up and head back to the Boner. Dad was too tired to walk on his own so Dirty Randy and Diago helped him all the way back. Caitlin, Sage and I carried everything back to the car. We were all exhausted, and by the time Dirty Randy, Diago, and Dad came back. Sage and Caitlin had fallen asleep in the Boner. Dirty Randy and Diago got Dad in the front seat. Then they passed out in the back of the truck. I got in the driver’s seat and headed toward home.

We left at the perfect time to see the sunset as we drove through the forested canyon up the switchbacks to Flagstaff.  CCR’s “Midnight Special” was playing on the radio. My Dad was looking at the orange and red sky in-between the 40 foot pine trees. He stared and took as deep of a breath as he could and said:

“Your friends are weird.”

Dad and I looked in the back of the car. Sage was bundled up in his towel, and his thumb was in his mouth. Diago and Dirty Randy were in the way back laying down, unintentionally spooning. Dirty Randy was the big spoon. I looked forward to the road and said,

“I know.”

“It’s good to know that you have such close friends. It makes me happy knowing that they’ll be here for you,” my Dad said, looking at the tall green pine trees.

“They are really my strange second family” I said, focusing on the road.

“You know, that Cait girl likes you. I can see it in the way she looks at you.”

My Dad said this with a hint of enthusiasm.

“Yeah? I like Caitlin too. What do you think of her, Dad?” I asked hoping he’d give me his unorthodox bit fatherly judgment of character. He looked back at her and saw her passed out on the other side of Sage. Her head was tilted back, mouth open, snoring. My Dad smirked and said:

“I wouldn’t kick her out of bed for eating crackers.”

“Neither would I. Think I have a chance with her?” I asked, laughing.

Dad got serious, he spoke:

“Don’t worry about those kinds of things, son. Everything will work out as it should. I can see it. You two will move away from this tiny place and finish college, working shitty jobs to pay rent. You won’t be rich, but you won’t care about the money. Like me and your Mom. You’re going to have so much to do. Oh man, you’ll finally get to be serious about your comedy! Caitlin will do whatever she wants to do too! You’ll be there for her. Don’t forget that son. You’ll always be there for her. And she will always be there for you, which is good. You’re going to need her to be there because sometimes you’ll be sad. You will be sad, because I’ll be gone. That will be fine too, son. It’s ok to be sad. You have to remember; if I’m not around–”

Dad stopped to take the trees in a little longer. He looked at the oxygen hose leading up to his nasal cannula.

“I won’t be in pain anymore,” he said putting his hand on my shoulder. “I won’t hurt no more”

I wanted to tell him I heard what he said. I wanted him to know that I didn’t want him to be in pain anymore. I wanted to tell him: I know. I will be fine because you raised me as well as anyone could.

Instead of saying those things, I kept my eyes on the road and said:

“I know, Dad. I know.”

He moved his hand back to his lap and stared at the sunset. The sunshine faded and the bright Flagstaff stars shone in. He fell asleep staring at the speckled night sky. I drove through the canyon and headed down the road that cut through the tall ancient trees.

Dad died seven months later. I don’t want to think about that now.

I’m near my stop. I get off the train and walk home down the dirty streets. I get to my apartment and open the fridge to grab a beer. I close the door and see a post-it note. It says:

“The wedding photographer called, got prices. XOXO!”

I look behind me and Caitlin is sleeping on the couch. I go over and cover her up with a throw blanket and sit next to her. I run my fingers through her hair.   

The Jaws of Providence

When I left town it was an unpopular decision with my friends. Flagstaff has a way of seeming perfect. It’s like Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. People talked about leaving Flagstaff all the time. The next day they would just grumble and pick up where they left off. My group of friends, who have been tight knit since the 6th grade, were feeling schadenfreude about my leaving. None of us have actually left. I was the first. I promised to keep in touch.

At the last minute Dirty Randy and I decided it would be cool if we only texted each other once a week. Each text would be written in the style of Civil War letters written on the home-front. It lasted for a while. Here is our conversation:

 

Unclean Randall,

 

Brother, as I am writing this, I am under the Illinois stars. My, how beautiful they are. The missus and I are about a day’s drive from the City. The weather knows no end of this cold onslaught. If anything terrible were to happen, I fear to admit our finances are a yarn string away from having to turn back home.

Our Life with the missus and I is out to a tumultuous start, but, God willing, his angels have set us on the path of fortitude to prepare us for our future endeavors. I must go now, as our accommodations are ready, and I must rest up for the long trip to the Second City tomorrow.

 

Well Wishes,

Jason.

 

My Brother,

I was eager to receive your parcel today. The weather has been equally unkind in our town too. Four feet of snow, I had to dig out Ol’ Miss Mayberry from across the street.

I am sorry to hear of your financial misgivings, but I believe that the Good Lord gives you only what you can handle. My dear friend, I have seen you strive through the toughest of times with finesse I have not seen in another.

A week gone and I already miss our conversations. Our town is a little less shining without you and yours among us. Our peculiar musings on the big questions of Life hold a special place in my heart as of late. My Fear is that our distance will sever a connection that took lifetimes to build. A brotherhood thicker than blood. My only solace is that you are happy in your grand adventures. I guess I just miss my friend.

 

Yours,

Unclean Randall.

 

My Friend,

It has been some time since I have last written. God sees fit to cast a blight of rough times on our road. We have, since my last correspondence, moved into a shabby dwelling. It is not fit for one person to reside in, let alone two. Our quarters have become a cramped situation that compresses me in every way. However our humble abode is right behind the general store, and across the street from the always open confectionery. Italian cuisine is caddy corner to the barbershop across the alley. I am indeed surrounded by supplies and will not be in dire need of many things for a while.

My betrothed has turned to a rather nasty mood. It seems every detail of my routine is suspect to her reckoning and I am the creator of all our misfortune. Hell hath no fury, my friend.

My patience is none more than a prized virtue in these tough times. I fear my beloved has begun to disdain me to my very core. Her inclinations towards aggressive negotiations combined with our atrociously freezing weather have begun to sap the warmth from my being.

Brother, I miss you as well. Our time together seems to have been a gift from our Creator. However, I shall not back down from my plight for fiscal independence because of some bad weather, and terrible manners. Though indeed yearning for home seems to have frostbitten my soul.

Class will soon be starting at the University, I cannot wait to attend. I wish you were able to cast aside some responsibilities of home and make way to Chicago to attend our illustrious Institution. It is you who tutored me through the finer points of high school after all. I would not be the College-man I am today without your vast intellect which carried me to the entrance of higher learning. I thank you.

Sincerely,

Jason

 

Mister Jason,

I have good news. I have struck lucky at the market today. My boss has said he is promoting me to foreman of the warehouse. It includes a healthy raise, and gives me a chance to pursue a life of the mind. I fear I will not be able to attend your fine institution, but I will be expanding my wealth of knowledge with you in spirit.

I am sorry to learn of your sickly situation with your beloved. Travel and cohabitation are hard on the love of a courtship. I pray that you and yours find yourselves in good graces soon. I believe your love together is a force stronger than most have ever seen. I urge you to look within yourself and you might see the strength to which I refer.

I am in high spirits today, my friend. I look upon the San Francisco Peaks in the morning and feel an invigoration that quenches a thirst for life I did not know I had. I see the charcoal black sky at night and feel Providence under the moon and stars. I finally feel home. The Lord has blessed me with something I thought impossible in this land. I hope you are happy for me brother, as I was happy for you when you left.

I am eager to hear from you soon.

Best,

Gainfully Employed Slightly Cleaner Randall

 

Dearest Brother,

I am ecstatic to say the least. Your hard work and determination have finally paid off in a county where gainful employment is harder to find than a south mossed rock. I pray for more good news upon confirmation of promotion.

University life is somewhat swell. My betrothed is flourishing in class. It is good to see her blossom when I once saw her strain to grow in our home town. I, however, am struggling to meet the expectations of my professors. I feel doubtful of my future as a scholar. My writings seem to dwell too much on the fantastical to my Professors’ chagrin. They don’t speak ill of my work, but they do not praise it either. I fear that I am but a salmon stuck in a pond with my studies.

Relations with me and mine are recovering from the unforgiving blight. Though we have not spoken vows, we hold ourselves accountable as if we have. It turns even the most unruly incident into an obstacle we can overcome. I fear for our future still. Vows are not wrought iron, and will can strain for so long till the levies of commitment and patience breaks. However God has sought to give me and my betrothed the stubbornness of Miss Mayberry’s mule. If our commitment ceases, so it seems, our heartbeats will too.

I look forward to reading your good news in the future.

Yours,

Jason.

 

For My Brother,

 

I am writing to you on a sad day. My warehouse is closing. I am without employment. I fear my promotion was a political ruse by my boss. His friend was the previous foreman before I was appointed. His friend now has my market job. I am not a very learned man, but I feel the gears of nepotism turning in the town.

How could I be so foolish, brother? To think that I could carve a life for myself. No man without silver in his blood can maintain a livelihood here. Am I to flounder because I have no copper mines in my family? Do I become a vagabond because I have no friends in the town establishments? Does my upstanding character and resourcefulness count for nothing in this place?

If I were to somehow stumble upon a goldmine, would it not matter because I am a second citizen here? Was I born to fail in this forsaken town?

I was mistaken in my last correspondence. This town is a Beast. The Peaks are nothing but a bauble to lure men into the jaws of Providence. Where manufactured misfortune keep the ungilded down in the stomach of vagrancy. The moon is the beasts eye. Always watching its prey.

I feel no more urge to continue this exchange.

Best,

Randall

PS

Fuck this, let’s talk over Xbox Live.

There’s a Better Life For Me and You

Valentine’s Day is coming up. I don’t enjoy the holiday. I do enjoy romance, but forced romance on a specific day other than your anniversary? Get out of town with that shit. This month’s story is about just that, getting out of town, and relationships. It gets weird, so prepare yourself (names have been changed, because Flagstaff has internet, and it’s still close knit. If that one person is reading this, sorry, it’s still fucking weird).

The ratio of men to women in Flagstaff was always high. There were only so many options. You had your chance to court regular ladies, the ones you went to elementary, middle and high school with, but that was only 170 women. Then you had the Mormon women who were home-schooled but still showed up to town events and things like that. But they were Mormon, and that was a commitment not many men wanted to make.

Dating got strange as you got older. The women knew they were the minority and it changed how they acted. Even worse, the number of women decreased because not everyone wants to date you. Everyone was dating each other and growing up together. It was weird. Borderline incestuous.

One time a very nice woman was interested in going out with me, but she had already been in long term relationships with 6 of my other friends. She even said, “You’re lucky number 7.” A phrase that shouldn’t be used in dating, I think. I couldn’t have dated her, there was no chance I could have known her biblically. She knew all my friends biblically. She couldn’t have that kind of power. Some knowledge must be kept secret: the Ark of the Covenant, who killed JFK, and your group of best buddies wiener sizes and bedroom performance. Sacred knowledge.

All of the information above can be summarized as such: For a young man in Flagstaff, pickin’s were slim.

I, however, got lucky and dated one of my best friends. She was a military kid, and wasn’t tainted by the cesspool of the square-dance-dating going on. She was (is) perfect.

We were in talks about what to do with our lives next. We didn’t know what we wanted, we just wanted it to be together. After a rather loud discussion about our future, I was a little upset. I went to a friend’s kickback in the middle of the woods. I needed to take a step away from the unsavory discourse.

This is where things get weird. Stay with me here. My friend, has two best friends. They all have 2 kids. Each from the same three wives. One kid was from the husband and wife, and the other kid was from a previous infidelity with one of the best friends. I found out that night. Instead of blowing off some steam, my mind was blown.

I showed up and just saw six people holding six kids. That wasn’t weird to me. Flagstaff was where a lot of not-too-crazy-Mormons pitched their tent when they left the crazy compounds on the other side of the state. However, we got to drinking, and shooting the shit with the guys. I found out the information I shared with you above. I was surprised.

They were all cool cheating on their wives with each other’s wife, knocking them up, and raising them all together. It was horrifying to hear this. I didn’t say anything bad about it to them. I took a deep breath and a gulp of beer, and said:

“Well that’s mighty big of you guys to be so forgiving of each other.”

Cleveland said,

“It wasn’t too hard, Cletus’ wife was a freak in the sheets!”

Cletus nodded his head and spoke,

“Yeah well, Clive’s wife fucks like her life depends on it!”

Clive nodded his head, and exclaimed,

“Shit yeah she does!”

They all laughed and raised their beer bottles in a toast. I did the same, apprehensively. In my head I was thinking one thing: I got to get out of here. I finished my beer and waited to sober up to leave.

Cleve’ tried to explain the issue to me in a more reasonable way.

“You see Jason, women in our fine State have the run of the land. Remember what you’re daddy, God bless his soul, told you junior year when that Hawaiian chick left you for that dumb-fuck Greg?”

I sighed, I remember when my father gave me a hug and told me some wise old guy shit when Greg gallivanted away with my high school girlfriend. I looked at the group and said the lesson aloud,

“She’s not yours. It’s just your turn.”

Cletus, Cleve and Clive all gave a stern nod. They raised their bottles in acknowledgement.

Cletus spoke,

“I’m glad that our group is so close that I know Cleve’, or Clive got my wife if I go. That’s a fuckin’ family. It’s just nice to know our group is tight like that.”

Cleve chimed in,

“Not as tight as your old lady’s pussy!”

They all laughed and high-fived each other. I reciprocated. The information I was trying to process sobered me up enough to drive through the woods to get back home.

“I gotta go guys, it was nice meeting your families. Cletus, Cleve’ Clive, it was a pleasure”

Cletus replied,

“You bring your old lady by sometime soon so we can get a good look at her!”

“Will do, bye now.”

I drove home through the lonely woods. You can only get one radio station that far into the mountains. I blasted the radio to try and purge the memories of the mind fuck I discovered. It was playing The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”. It stuck with me. It rung true.

I got to my girlfriend’s house. I apologized for our loud discussion earlier. I told her,

“I love you, whatever we do, we gotta get the fuck out of this place.”

“Yes! I love you too! My parents and sister are moving to Washington State. We can move with them.”

“No,” I shouted, “we have to grow away from our families shadows. We got to get away, far away from here.”

My girlfriend was shocked to hear these words come out of my small town mouth.

“Where should we go,” she asked.

“Chicago,” I said, “let’s aim for Chicago!”

I didn’t know much about Chicago. I just knew it was far from Arizona.

“OK, I guess we are moving to Chicago then!”

We hugged in excitement.

“How was hanging with your friends,” My girlfriend asked.

“Mind-blowing.”

Nancy Chew

Flagstaff was great before the boom. It was a tiny tourist town nestled in the mountains between a ski resort and a shitty liberal arts university. It had character. You could raise a family in Flagstaff and your kids would’ve had a complete experience: from finding a random retro porn stash in the woods to walking down the train tracks with your group of friends to poke a dead body with a stick. It was great. This is one of my stories from Flagstaff I call “Nancy Chew”.

Before I moved to Chicago and became a comedian I was a small town kid. I had usual hopes and dreams: get a hot wife who looked good in gingham, own a nice truck, and become a firefighter. There were only so many available women, and I was only so attractive (it’s my story, just go with it), and owning a nice truck is like a mustache, you gotta earn it. However, the fire department was always looking to recruit.

I said usual hopes and dreams, but like many 18 year-old kids, I didn’t take a lot of steps to better myself or prepare for tough challenges. What I’m trying to say is, I was a weakling. The fire department is like any other emergency service, you gotta be strong to get through each day. My Captain knew I might not make the cut, but he liked me anyways, he pulled some strings. They partnered me with the biggest guy in the Academy, Grant, he shook my hand, and asked,

“You’re Jason? Mind if I call you Stackhouse, like that Tru Blood show?”

“As long as I can call you Tiny, I think it’s fine,” I said.

“Deal,” we shook hands and our friendship had begun.

Grant was a very different man than me. He was a varsity quarterback from Anchorage, Alaska, and it’s not hard to admit that he was an attractive man (I’ve yet to introduce him to my wife). Most of all, he was built for firefighting, he lived and breathed the lifestyle. He carried me through most of the Academy. The Academy itself was like a hard college class and working out was homework. Every Saturday we spent the day learning life saving techniques, sweating our asses off in full gear, and playing with fire. It was grand.

Most of what I remember was Tiny and me driving to class, shooting the shit. We were so different that we made each other our anthropology project. Every day was an exploratory conversation.

“How do you drink that much protein powder? How can you dip, doesn’t all that spitting get to you? Do you play video games?

“How have you stayed alive with so little muscle mass? Why do you drink so much Diet Coke? Have you ever been with a woman?”

These conversations would go for hours.

One day we got to the Academy as another group was still doing training. We sat and watched them do hose techniques for the better part of an hour. One woman was part of their group, she saw us observing. She looked lovely, even under all her turnout gear. She smiled and winked at us. Right away Tiny said,

“That wink was for me, Stackhouse, and you know it.”

He was right, I knew it. These lady firefighters didn’t like tiny men who play Warcraft in their spare time.

After their class was done, she took her turnout coat off and we could see the suspenders hanging on to her delicate shoulders. She wore a tiny tank-top drenched in sweat. Her flat bronze stomach glistened with sweat. She stretched her rather muscular arms into the air for a few seconds. She walked towards us. The Baywatch theme played in my head for some reason. I panicked. Like a dog chasing a car, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught it.  Tiny, being the expert he was, ran his hand through his pompadour hair.

She got to us, put a big smile on her face, and before she spoke, she turned her head and launched a large disgusting amount of dip spit. She asked, “What brings y’all here so early?”

We were both dumbstruck. This was obviously Tiny’s thing. A beautiful strong woman who dipped. Because, he got cold feet, all of a sudden. He was silent. A pregnant pause lingered.

“Just thought we’d come by and enjoy the view,” I responded. The woman turned to me and blushed, “Oh, you are cute! What do they call you?”

“They call me Stackhouse, but you can call me your next date,” I said.

She giggled, “I just might do that, Stackhouse. You can call me Nancy. Do you want a pinch?”

She offered me some dip. I was on a roll. I didn’t want to ruin it by dipping. I’ve seen The Sandlot enough times to know what happens to rookies.

Tiny showed Nancy his dip can in solidarity.

“I-I don’t dip,” I said.

Nancy looked at me, “Oh, that’s such a shame, hon,” she said.

I ruined my chances. I knew it. She looked at the floor, then back at me.

“Here, take this, and get back to me when you get some hair on your chest,” she said, putting a can of Skoal long cut mint in my hand. Like it was a family heirloom she was bequeathing.

She turned around walked away. She shouted, “I mean it, Stackhouse, come back when you’re a real man!”

I looked at the can and smiled. I had a chance to court a nice lady who dipped and could kill me with her biceps. There was hope. Tiny looked at me and said,

“Boy, you’re going to dip today.”

I did. Right before training. I puked everywhere. Everyone laughed. My Captain benched me for the day. It was good fun.

Later that week I tried to find Nancy. She was in a different county. In Arizona, living in a different county is like being star-crossed lovers.

I was a Coconino, she was a Maricopa. It was never meant to be.