Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Close Shave

I was in the locker room of this shop where I worked, getting changed into my uniform before my shift.  I was heading out to work with the rest of the crew when I heard a sharp grunt of anger somewhere behind me.  The locker room was filled with clouds of steam from the showers, but I made my way through the steam until I came upon one of my co-workers holding a pair of electric clippers in one hand and brushing his other hand across a spot just above his ear.  I looked close and I could see that he had nicked himself with the clippers and taken out a big chunk of hair above his ear.  I told him that the only thing he could really do to fix it was to shave the rest of his head.

He made a hard frown and a curse, but he acknowledged what I said and he headed over to one of the mirrors above the sinks on the other side of the locker room.  But things got confused in the cloud of steam and suddenly it was me holding the clippers and walking towards the mirror.  It was me that had to shave my head now.  The steam had fogged up the mirror.  I tried to clear the fog away with my hand, smoothing out a clear circle in the middle of the mirror, but as soon as I had that hole cleared and I tried to see myself so that I could shave my head, the mirror would just instantly fog over again.  I tried to just shave my head without being able to see what I was doing, plowing long even strips up one side and then the other.  But when I pulled the clippers away and felt my head to see if I'd gotten everything, I would always feel thick patches of hair that I had missed.  I would never be able to do this without being able to see myself.

There was a room upstairs above the shop, where I thought I might find a mirror and maybe a little pair of scissors to get a closer trim.  The room was a brightly lit bedroom with a low ceiling and a big four posted bed with thick, darkly laquered, wooden posts. There was a matching wooden dresser across the room.  It sat beneath the front window which looked out on the grey day outside and the quiet residential street below.  I rifled through the drawers of the dresser, trying to find the mirror and the scissors, but there was nothing but old bracelets and earings and little plastic figurines and loose red and white dice misplaced from some board games.  

I finally found a little pair of nail trimming scissors in one of the bottom drawers, but still no mirror.  I looked out the window and I saw someone in a heavy winter coat passing on the sidewalk below.  I could ask them!  They could trim my hair.  They could see what they were doing.  I fumbled with the latch on the window, trying to get it open so that I could call down to the person on the sidewalk and ask for their help before they slipped away.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Total Eclipse

It was a nice, spring evening, and I was driving eastward through town when I noticed the clouds begin to clear in the sky ahead.  As the clouds drew back, I could see that there were stars behind them.  It was still too early for the stars to be out, and I knew immediately that this had to mean that there was a solar eclipse taking place in the sky behind me.  I began to panic.  I was afraid that I would be irresistibly drawn to look at the eclipse and that I would end up damaging my eyes.  I pulled into the parking lot of the local library.  I kept my head down as I got out of the car, but I couldn't resist making a quick sidelong glance at the sun.  I only got a glimpse.  I saw the massive dark disk slowly sliding into position.  I saw the huge interlocking mechanisms of nature momentarily exposed beyond the limit of what human eyes can bear.  I kept my head down and went looking for shelter.

I went inside the library.  There was a reading room in the basement, and there were other people taking shelter there. It was quiet and still and everyone was hunched down as though holding their breath and waiting, their eyes all raised towards the ceiling, trying to stay perfectly still until this terrifying alignment of celestial bodies had run its course in the world above.  A number of people had even piled into a closet.  They were all crammed in there with hardly room to move or breathe.  One of them, a small child with a smudged face, stared into my eyes, shaking and trembling.  The sight of them all cowering in the closet made me reconsider my fears.  I had never seen an eclipse, and I might never see one again.  As long as I didn't look directly at the sun, I'd be alright.

I decided to go back out.  I climbed the stairs, back up to the main doors of the library, eager to get back outside.  But when I opened the doors, there was just a huge grey gust of wind sweeping past.  I stepped out and found the sky completely clouded over and darkened and grey.  There were a few inches of snow on the ground and there was thick snow swirling in the air.  The bright spring evening had been swept aside by the eclipse.  The sun and the moon were out there beyond the clouds, conspiring to leave us in the dark and the bitter cold.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Resting in the Fields

I was living out of an old van.  Most of the time I kept it parked in an open wheat field, and in the evenings I would sit with the doors open and let the breeze blow through as I listened to my programs on a little TV that I had set up on some wooden crates.  I had to listen to the shows instead of watching them because the picture tube was blown out on the TV.  Somehow it was better that way.  There was a drama that was set in a hospital that I especially liked.  I would sit back with my eyes half closed, seeing the scenes in my head and getting a glimpse between my fluttering eyelids of the golden waves of evening light rustling out there in the wheat with each passing breeze.  My friend would come by sometimes with a few cans of food to cook over the fire after the sun went down, and he would find me there in the back of the van, smiling and about to doze off.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Station House

I was a rookie cop, and it was my first day on the job.  I reported to the police station that morning.  The station was located in an old house.  The large kitchen had been made into a break room.  Cardboard boxes filled with files from old cases were piled up in one of the back bedrooms, and the hall closets were stuffed with uniforms and supplies.  It was a simple, laid back place and it seemed like most of the cops just sat around the station there all day.  There were card games going in the break room, there was steam in the air from people using the shower upstairs, and some of the cops kicked their feet up on the coffee table and sat on the brown couches reading magazines out in the common area that used to be a living room.  There was a lot of talk about what it meant to be a cop, what a tough break and a rough deal it was, and how they put their lives on the line, but no one ever seemed to leave the station to go out and do any real police work.

I started to get kind of anxious.  It was one of those jobs where you're expected to look like you're keeping busy, but no one really gives you anything to do.  My training officer was sitting in on the card game, and she hadn't told me much of anything since I'd reported for duty that morning.  I wandered from room to room, not quite sure what to do with myself.  I didn't feel right about plopping down on the couch and reading a magazine, so I would go to the window and look out at the birds splashing around in the stone birdbath and perching on the old clothesline still strung up between two rusted poles in the backyard.  Then I would wander down the hall to the kitchen to look at my training officer's cards over her shoulder, and I would stand there awkwardly for a while until that got old, then I'd head back down the hall to the window to look out and see what the birds were up to.  I looked at my watch, and there was still another six and a half hours to go till the end of my shift.

I really started to feel awkward when this woman in a grey suit showed up with this grim and aggravated look on her face.  Someone whispered to me that this was the police commissioner.  She looked at everyone lounging around, and she didn't seem too happy.  Two men followed her wherever she went, scribbling things down on yellow legal pads.  She barked orders at officers as she passed them.  She snapped her fingers and a cup of coffee was brought to her. I tried my best to look busy.  I pointlessly sorted through some paperwork at the main desk, and she walked by without noticing me.  This was driving me nuts.  I couldn't spend all day trying to look busy when I had nothing to do.

After the commissioner was gone, one of the other rookies came up to me.  He had been feeling a bit anxious and bored too, and he suggested that we head out in one of the patrol cars and see what was going on around the town.  This sounded like a great idea, and I jumped at it.  It was sunny and a little cool outside.  We took one of the patrol cars that were parked out along the front curb under the shade of a large maple tree.  It felt good to get out and get some fresh air and really be doing something.  The other rookie told me that he had a hot lead on something and he knew just where to go.  I nodded and we drove off.

We pulled up outside a jewelry store in town.  The other rookie cast a few quick glances up and down the street as we got out of the patrol car.  He fidgeted with something on his gun in his holster, and I wasn't sure what he was doing.  I was starting to get nervous about the whole thing.  As soon as we came through the door and the electric door chime sounded, the rookie pulled his gun and started yelling at the people behind the counter to put their hands up.  It took me a second to realize that he was robbing the place.  I started to say something and he turned to look over at me, and just as he did, one of the owners grabbed a gun from under the counter and started firing wildly in our direction.  I dove for cover behind one of the display cases, and as I looked up, I could see the other rookie flailing about as he got riddled with bullets.  Blood and glass rained down everywhere as I tucked my head in and curled up behind the display case.  I never should have taken this job.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Robot Parts

I was visiting this elderly couple that I knew.  I was helping them go through some old junk that they had stored in a large overstuffed closet upstairs.  We carried some wooden chairs up from the kitchen and we sat half-buried in the brown suits and dresses hung up around us as we sorted through boxes of old papers and photographs.  There were papers from the old man's war service, along with metals and citations.  There were letters that the old woman had kept, correspondences from friends and relatives who had passed away.

In one of the boxes I found a bunch of small, loose, mechanical parts.  I wasn't sure what they were.  The old man explained that he had patented the design for a toy robot many years ago.  The parts were from the prototype that he had made.  He had taken it apart and stored it up in the closet.  He had forgotten all about it.  He reached out eagerly for the box.  He wanted to show me how the whole thing fit together.  Then we could wind it up with the brass key and watch it hobble around on the hardwood floor.

As I went to hand him the box, I noticed that there was some kind of green goop on my hands.  I sniffed at it.  It smelled rotten and sweet and foul.  The old man told me that some of the battery acid must have leaked out from the battery compartment after sitting in storage for so long.  I could feel it burning on my hands.  The old man tried to tell me not to panic.  But the more I tried to wipe the acid off, the more of a mess I made.  I had spread it to my arms and even some on face.  I felt it burning in my throat, and I felt like I couldn't breathe.  I got all tangled up in the hanging clothes trying to get out of the closet.  I felt around for the doorknob and I burst out the door and ran down the hall clawing at my skin.    

From the Bridge

It was in the middle of a winter night and my car broke down on an icy bridge over the freeway.  I got out of the car and the car disappeared.  The night was perfectly still and quiet and there was a strange comfort in standing there in the open.  There was no traffic on the bridge; no traffic on the highway below the bridge; no lights from the town nearby.  It was just dark and quiet; just my breath steaming in the frozen air.  Everything was shut down.  Everything was done for the night.  Everyone was asleep everywhere, curled up somewhere warm, wishing all their silent wishes and dreaming all their silent dreams, and the stars twinkled in the sky above without the moon or the city contending for their light.  There was nothing there on the bridge but the cold crystal radiance of the cosmos and the rising clouds of my breath as I stood there amazed by it all.      

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Outside Line

We got home and the house was dark.  This teenage kid from down the street had knocked out all the phone lines and power lines in the neighborhood.  There was trouble at home with his parents and he was upset about it.  His mother had gotten a letter in the mail informing her that she had a cancerous growth on her right eyelid.  She didn't want to talk about it and she had thrown away the letter, but the father ended up finding it in the trash.  They avoided one another after that, the mother in denial, the father not knowing how to approach the subject.  He stopped halfway down the stairs one morning, and through the bannister and the crack in the bathroom door, he could see see her in the shower.  She caught him looking at her, her right eyelid drooping noticeably and uncomfortably, and she turned away so he wouldn't see.  The father just stood there in his blue pajamas halfway down the stairs, not knowing which way to go or what to do.  I guess the kid figured that if his parents weren't going to communicate, no one else in the neighborhood was going to either.

I felt bad for the kid, for his parents, for his family, but I was still mad that he had knocked out the phone lines.  I gave up and slammed the dead phone down on the hook.  My wife suggested trying our old answering machine that was built into the phone.  We could at least pick up our messages.  I shrugged and figured it was worth a try.  There was only one message on there.  It was from my daughter's old high school principal.  He was droning on and on about something, making endless digressions that began with, "When I was your age," trying to make it clear that he sympathized and understood.  I was about to erase the message, but my daughter said that she wanted to hear it.  She said that everyone always got a kick out of the principal's long boring stories.  I handed her the phone and she put it to her ear and listened, laughing from time to time.    

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Ballroom

There was a party of some sort, a formal occasion.  I was dressed in my black suit, sitting at a round table laid out with glistening silverware, surrounded by other guests chatting and sipping from champagne glasses.  The women wore satin dresses and leaned affectionately against their dates as they laughed.  Our table was in the middle of a vast ballroom, the ceiling vaulted far above and murals of grape vineyards painted high on the walls.  Candles flickered at every table and the evening light shone down from the windows, casting a soft haze about the room as though this were all already taking place in a memory.  People got up here and there to dance, and the brass band up on the stage would launch into another number with a sharp blast of their instruments.

A fat, balding man in a white suit and a bow tie, some local big shot, came in with a brunette draped on his arm.  There was a blonde in a glittering dress at the bar.  Her face fell when she turned and saw the fat man walking in with the brunette.  The blonde was apparently the man's wife and the brunette was his mistress, or perhaps it was the other way around.  At any rate, a huge screaming fight broke out between the two of them with the fat man in the middle hanging his head in shame.  The blonde and brunette sniped and clawed the air at each other, while the bartender stood by, not saying a word and hoping that none of his glasses or bottles would end up broken.  Over at our table we raised our glasses and whistled and yelled as someone proposed a toast to all of them.  They stopped and stared over at us.  The blonde sneered with disgust.  We didn't care.  We all laughed.  The music started up again, the drummer rattling the cymbals, the trumpets and trombones piercing the air.

The music was still pounding in my ears after the event was over and we started hitting the town in a long black hearse that had been converted into a limousine.  The back of the hearse, where they used to keep the caskets, had been made into a small lounge with a bench that wrapped around the sides and windows that still had the little pleated white curtains hung over them.  We all crammed onto this bench, smoking cigarillos and passing bottles around till morning.  I peeled back the curtain and looked out the window over someone's shoulder and I could see that we were parked outside of a convenient store somewhere, rocking the vehicle around on its springs, and I felt the flush of normal, sober life come back to me.  I started thinking about getting home.  Everyone else was still half drunk, and they argued over who would drive the hearse.

Someone took the wheel and started weaving their way towards my house.  About a mile from the house there was a point where the driver almost veered off of a cliff and I had to lunge up front and grab the wheel.  I looked around the car at everyone laughing, and I realized that they were all on this drug that made everything seem like a cartoon.  Either the driver hadn't seen the cliff, or they had all thought that some cartoon physics would come into play if we went over the edge.  Maybe they'd been on the drug all night.  Maybe I was on it too and didn't realize it.  I asked them to let me off at the curb.  Faces and hands popped from every window as they all yelled and waved and the hearse drove away.