Into the Clouds

You were, as the kids these days might say, tardy to the party. In your misguided, frantic, and seemingly pathological efforts to keep everyone’s attention on you, you neglected the ever-important duty of keeping track of what your competition was up to. They one-upped you, and it was almost like you were asking for it.

Some would probably say that your failure was rooted in your pride, that because you felt you could rest on your laurels, you got your just desserts. You know that’s not the truth. You know how vigilant you have been, guarding your turf jealously, steadfastly monitoring the grounds for infiltrators.

But while your eyes were on the ground, your competitors were taking to the skies, building castles in clouds. You probably could have seen that coming. You’re not dumb, you know. You apparently just let yourself fall into the trap of thinking that simply because you were one of the first kids to stake a claim on the block, you earned for yourself some kind of exclusive say in where the future explorations and innovations might go.

We beg to differ.

Your notion of innovation apparently involved incessantly revisiting that first trick you learned to do, constantly adding new zoom-zooms and wham-whams, bells and whistles, pieces of flair. And that worked, for a lot of people. They say you can fool some of the people all of the time, and you’ve carved out your considerably large corner of the market in those people. But some werent’ fooled. Some began to see the emperor’s clothing for what it really was.

And that was when they began to take to the skies.

Don’t worry, though. We see you’re beginning to catch on now, too, and that you’re starting to develop some real estate in the clouds, too. And maybe you’re right; with that significant chunk of the market share you’ve accumulated over the years, you’ll probably do fine even if you are “tardy to the party.”

Congrats on, Microsoft. You’re moving into the twenty-first century.

The Shoeless Shoemaker

As his family had done for countless centuries, the cobbler labored long hours each day to make shoes for the good people of the village. The shoe-making techniques his family passed down through the years yielded shoes that were of peerless quality, and the good people of the village would wear no other. When his son grew old enough to begin learning the secrets of the trade, the cobbler told him the story his father once told him, about a time when the first shoe-maker in their family was very poor and down to the last of his leather for shoes. His problems were solved by dwarves who came in the night and made perfect shoes for him, so that he soon became renowned through the village and the country as the best shoemaker in the land.

That was the source of the family’s superior shoe-making trade, the cobbler explained to his son, and it has been handed down through the years, father to son.

And so the father taught the son.

The cobbler also instructed his son on one other point: each year before spring, the son should do as his father and his father’s father and so on had done each year, which was to craft a pair of small outfits, two small shirts and coats, two pairs of pants, and two small pairs of shoes, all of which should be set out on the porch step on the first spring morning. Each spring their family had done so, and each spring the clothes were gone. This, the father instructed the son, was how they ensured that their shoes would continue to be of outstanding quality.

For many years, the father and son worked side by side in the shoe shop, and each year at spring the father crafted clothes to set out on the first spring morning. The son smiled at his father’s superstition, but took no part in it. If his father was content to make clothes each spring that were doubtlessly taken away by the neighborhood children, such was his choice.

When the son had a wife and child of his own, his father took ill and passed away, leaving the family shoe shop under the younger shoemaker’s watchful eye.

The younger shoemaker was diligent in his practice of his father’s shoe-making techniques, and continued to earn the praise of the good people of the village and country for making the best shoes in the land. The first spring morning came and went, and the young shoemaker set no clothes on his porch steps, nor did the thought of doing so ever cross his mind.

Before the moon had completed its first cycle of the spring, the young shoemaker had taken ill. His feet swelled and grew, and became tender and painful to the touch. He could not stand on his feet to do his work, nor could he conceive of covering his feet with shoes, socks, or even a light sheet as he lay in bed.

His wife did her best to make the shoes in his absence, but already the word had spread across the land. He became known as the shoeless shoemaker, and his family quickly grew poor and lost their home.


This was written in response to a suggested experiment approach, involving rewriting part of Genesis as a way of working in a distinctive voice. I’m posting it today in honor of Zombie Jesus Day. Enjoy!

  1. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day before the end. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it displeased him.
  2. And God said, Behold, I have taken from you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be forbidden.
  3. And from every beast of the earth, and from every fowl of the air, and from everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have taken every green herb for meat: and it was so.
  4. And God cursed man, and God said unto them, Be barren, and die off, be starved by the earth, and subdued by it: and be dominated by the sea and its fishes, and prey to the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
  5. And God said, We have destroyed the man We made man in our image, after our likeness: and let them no longer have dominion over the fish of the sea, or over the fowl of the air, or over the cattle, or over any the earth, or over any creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
  6. So God destroyed the man bearing his own image, for the image of man repulsed him; male and female he destroyed them.
  7. And God destroyed the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it no longer mattered.
  8. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
  9. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day before the end.
  10. And God cursed them, saying, Be barren, and die off, and vacate from the waters in the seas, and let fowl be no more on the earth.
  11. And God said, Let the waters expel mercilessly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
  12. And God destroyed great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters expelled mercilessly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
  13. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day before the end.
  14. And God said, Let there be no lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them cease to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
  15. And God cast them out of the firmament of the heaven to no longer give light upon the earth,
  16. And to no longer rule over the day and over the night, nor to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it no longer mattered.
  17. And God destroyed the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he destroyed the stars also.
  18. And let them no longer be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
  19. And the evening and the morning were the third day before the end.
  20. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it no longer mattered.
  21. And God said, Let the earth bring forth no more grass, no herb yielding seed, and no fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.
  22. And God looked upon the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas: and God saw that it no longer mattered.And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be scatter among all places, and let the dry land disappear: and it was so.
  23. And God looked upon the firmament He called Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day before the end.
  24. And God dissolved the firmament, and allowed the waters which were under the firmament to rejoin the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
  25. And God said, Let there be no firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it cease to divide the waters from the waters.
  26. And God ceased to call the light Day, and the darkness he no longer called Night. And the evening and the morning were the last day.
  27. And God saw the light, that it no longer mattered: and God sutured the division between the light and the darkness.
  28. And God said, Let the light appear no more: and light was no more.
  29. In the end, God destroyed the heavens and the earth.
  30. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.


I could still taste the runny yolks in the back of my throat as I walked along the red-brick sidewalk, my vision blurred slightly by the few persistent tears I couldn’t quite manage to suppress. The only thing Jeanine does worse than babysit is cook eggs. She definitely can’t cook eggs like Mom, who cooks the bacon first and uses the bacon grease to fry the eggs. And she can’t cook the eggs like Susan, the woman who used to be our morning babysitter. Susan was better because she didn’t even usually cook eggs, and made us toast with gravy instead. She called it S.O.S., or stuff on shingles. She said some people think the first S stands for something else, but we should just call it S.O.S. instead. She was way nicer than Jeanine, but she got a regular job so she couldn’t be the babysitter to come wake us up for school in the mornings anymore. Now it was Jeanine and Gerry, they took turns on different days. Gerry is really pretty, with blonde hair and a friendly smile. Jeanine is always in a bad mood. Gerry doesn’t make eggs, she usually gives us a choice between cereal or oatmeal. She says “do you want cold cereal or hot cereal,” because she says the oatmeal is hot cereal. I like both better than eggs.

Jeanine made fried eggs this morning, like usual. I told her before that I only like scrambled eggs, but she doesn’t care. She set our plates on the table in front of each of us, and I could see right away on mine that it was going to be tough to eat these eggs. The white part was slight gooey in some places and burnt in others, and the yellow was the same way. She told us to hurry, so I started eating my toast, trying to think of ways to get out of eating the eggs. When Tim was little, he used to hide food he didn’t want to eat under a little ledge that was part of the way our kitchen table was shaped, so he could come throw it away later. This table wasn’t like that, so I would have to come up with something else.

Eat your eggs, she told me, as I tried to work out a plan. She stood and looked at me after she said it, so there was no way out. I cut off a little part of the white, and accidentally got some of the runny yellow leaking onto it. I brought the fork slowly to my mouth, wishing it was cinnamon-flavored hot cereal instead. I tried chewing for a second, but knew I needed to get it over with fast. I swallowed, and felt the sliminess of the egg in my throat. Before it got halfway down, I felt my stomach heave. I hate throwing up, so I fought it back. It came out as tears, instead, so before she could see me cry I stood up and yelled at Jeanine.

“Your cooking is gross! I wish you weren’t our babysitter!”

I left the house right away, and on the walk to school I settled down some.


I don’t know how I always let him get under my skin like that. It was a perfectly good morning, with the only exception being that it was my morning to go wake up Colleen’s kids. She’s good friends with my mother, though, so going to wake up her kids, feed them breakfast, and send them walking to school before I go to school myself two or three times a week isn’t so bad. But this morning it was a little harder than usual, because I was running a little late. For a family that doesn’t have much money, the kids are sometimes very spoiled. I had a hard time waking them up, as they usually just roll over and go back to sleep after the first one or two times I rub their shoulders. So today I had to resort to yelling, a good old “rise and shine” like my dad used to do.

They finally started getting ready, so I went downstairs and started their eggs. Five kids, five eggs, five pieces of toast. It’s not so bad; I can usually whip it up in about ten minutes, if I cook two or three eggs at a time. Of course, their stovetop is uneven and the frying pan slightly misshapen, so sometimes the eggs don’t cook very evenly. I finished buttering the toast while the last three eggs were cooking, put the food on separate plates for each of the kids, and took them out to the table.

The middle kid glared at me. He has never liked me, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. I think he might have a crush on Gerri, the senior cheerleader who wakes them up when I’m not around. I don’t think she even makes them breakfast. I looked at the clock and realized I needed to get going if I was going to be on time to school. I told the kids to finish their breakfast, and while I tried to remember whether I’d brought my geometry assignment, the middle kid pushed his plate away and started screaming at me. His brothers and sisters started laughing when he stormed out the front door, so I told them to finish their breakfast. I already at some oatmeal at home, but if the kid wasn’t going to eat his egg I didn’t want to let it go to waste.

The Story

Tell me a story, she said. Her voice was sleepy and her eyes half-closed.

I began to tell a story.

In English, she said, as she did every night. I want to hear a story in English.

But you won’t understand.

It doesn’t matter. I want to listen to you tell me a story in English.

Very well, I said, as I did every night. Where shall our story begin?


Once there was a young man who grew up happy and loved, very much contented with the place that he called home, and the people he loved, his friends and his family. But like in the beginning of many stories, the young man reached a certain age and began to sense that something was missing, something he would not find at home.

And so it was that after much waiting, the young man bid farewell to his tearful family and friends, and promised to return once he’d found what he was missing.

After traveling many places, the young man eventually found himself in an incredibly beautiful place, far from his home. Everything about this place seemed quite perfect to the young man—the scent of the air, the way the clouds floated lazily in the sky, the radiant colors of the sunrises and sunsets, the lush landscape filled with majestic trees and rolling hillsides. Everything felt right about it, as if it was precisely the place he was looking for. The young man stayed in this wonderful place and came to know the people, their language and their culture, and felt himself very much at home.

Soon, he met a quiet young woman who smiled and looked away whenever he was near. Eventually the young man summoned the courage to talk to her, and soon they fell very much in love. She complimented him on his ability to speak her language, but each night she asked him to tell her a story in his own. She loved the way his voice sounded as he softly spoke words she would never understand. Each night the young man created a new story, but every story told of a young man and woman falling in love and growing old together.

The young man eventually began to wonder about his mother and father, as he had not been home for many years. He wanted to bring his lover to meet them, but before they could leave she became pregnant, and so they waited for the child. They had a son together, followed by two daughters, and their children grew up happy and loved, very much contented with the place they called home and the people who loved them, their family and friends. He thought often of returning home; first he was too ashamed to return because he’d waited so long, but in time the young man grew to become an old man, and he was too afraid because he thought his parents might be gone.

When the young man’s son reached a certain age, he began to sense that something was missing, something he would not find at home. He bid farewell to his tearful parents, promising to return when he found what he was looking for. The young man and young woman grew old together, each day missing their son more than the previous day, but grateful to have each other’s love as their source of hope that he would find what he was looking for.


Was it a happy story, she asks, as she does every night.

Yes, I answer. The young man finds what he was looking for.

The 100% Perfect Burrito

This week’s writing experiment. with apologies to Haruki Murakami

One beautiful August afternoon, at a food truck on some narrow side street in west LA, I ate the 100% perfect burrito.

Honestly, there was nothing about it that made it particularly delicious. It didn’t seem to have any special ingredients. The underside of the tortilla had been left on the grill slightly too long. It wasn’t especially appetizing. But still, I knew before I even took a bite: It was the 100% perfect burrito for me. The moment I smelled it, my tongue became moist with saliva, as I anticipated savoring its every bite.

Maybe you have your own particular favorite type of food—a pizza with crisp pepperonis, say, or a bacon-wrapped hot dog, perhaps. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at a plate at the next table to mine because something about a dish has captured my attention.

But no one can insist that his 100% perfect meal correspond to some preconceived type. Much as I like tortillas, I can’t recall the texture of that burrito’s ground-flour wrapper. All I can remember for sure is that there was nothing especially gourmet about it. It’s weird.

“Yesterday on the street I ate the 100% perfect burrito,” I tell someone.

“Yeah?” he says. “Tasted delicious, eh?”

“Not really.”

“Your favorite restaurant, then?”

“No, I bought it from a food truck. I can’t seem to remember anything about it—the flavor of the meat or the texture of the melted cheese.”


“Yeah. Strange.”

“So anyhow,” he says, already bored, “did you take down the name of the food truck? Are you going to follow them on twitter?”

“Nah. Just had the burrito and went on my way.”

The food truck drove from east to west, and I walked west to east. It was a really a wonderful August afternoon.

Wish I could have seen the person on the food truck prepare burritos. Twenty minutes would be plenty: just watch how they grilled the meat, how they folded the tortilla. Discover how the complexities of fate had wrapped perfection in a thin wrapper of wax paper and tin foil. The burrito had surely been peppered with mystical seasonings, ingredients from a time when children played happy and free on the corner lot, sand in their shoes and joy in their hearts.

After speaking with my friend, I felt I should have taken down the name of the truck, or at least made note of its appearance, or where and when I had seen it. Having failed on these counts, what recourse did I have? I could track down all of the food trucks on the west side, one at a time, sampling their wares. Ridiculous. I’d gain all sorts of weight, and who knows whether I would even be able to recognize another burrito as coming from the same truck.

Maybe the simple truth would do. “Good afternoon. I believe I once at the 100% perfect burrito; could it have been served at this truck?”

No, who would believe it? Or even if they did, they would probably not be able to recreate the experience for me. Sorry, the employee could say, we may have made the 100% perfect burrito for you, but we have since changed our produce suppliers and have not had the same luck with avocados that we once had.

It could happen. And if I found myself in that situation, I’d probably be through with burritos. I’d never recover. I’m nearly thirty, and I know that losing touch with the flavors of youth is a simple fact of growing older.

I recall walking away with my burrito, as the truck’s ignition roared to life behind me, and they prepared to drive away. I walk a block further, slowly eating the burrito, and turn: the truck has already turned a corner as I am nearly halfway finished with my snack, the taste of sour cream and grilled onion lingering on my palate.

The Proclamation

Last week’s submission for my fiction class. Enjoy.

As the time for him to walk onto the stage drew nearer, Philip’s deep sense of pride at having been chosen to read his essay at the town celebration became all the more completely eclipsed by his intense nervousness. This year was a big celebration—one hundred fortieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation—so everyone was talking about how the crowd would be the biggest one until, of course, the big one-five-oh. Among all the seventh graders in Hardin County, Kentucky—proud birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, only Philip had been ballsy enough to write an essay about the vast differences between what it meant to be a Republican in Lincoln’s time and what it means now.

Of course, he knew better than to submit that essay. The essay contest was judged by several prominent Republicans, so he submitted instead an essay about how proud Hardin County should be of having such an integral connection to the only United States President yet to have had a patent in his name. In the “ringer” essay, as Philip liked to call it, he wrote extensively about how shameful it was that the commercial boating industry of Lincoln’s time had failed to pick up on his ingenious ballast tanks, which would have worked wonders to help buoy ships over shoals. The essay judges fell for his trick, and now he was set to read his real essay in front of this large crowd.

As he waited in his seat, next to the podium on the rickety stage in the hot Autumn sun, Philip felt a drop of sweat dribble slowly from his knee down the side of his calf. He knew he shouldn’t have worn his favorite black corduroy pants. Would the man at the podium—an ass of a man with an ugly bowtie and a bushy moustache—ever just shut up and introduce him already? At least the white button-up shirt he’d worn wasn’t soaking up as much heat as his pants. He wondered if these Republicans knew his father was a die-hard Democrat; it would explain why they hadn’t given him a bottle of water, or anything at all to help with his parched throat. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Finally, the bow-tied brustache man introduced Philip to the crowd and initiated a round of applause. Philip stood up slowly, clutching his essay tightly in his sweaty left hand while the brustache man overzealously shook the right one. He stepped up onto the small box they had provided for him behind the podium, set his papers down, and looked out at the crowd. Now standing, he could clearly make out the scent of funnel cakes and corn dogs, and he felt a drop of sweat form on his temple and roll slowly down his cheek.

“Republicans,” he said, not yet looking down at his paper. He had memorized the entire first paragraph. “Republicans are not today,” he said. He stared out at the crowd of people who had come to celebrate Lincoln’s birthplace, and he didn’t see a single person who wasn’t white. The edges of his field of vision, too, began to go white, and he felt the box below slip out from beneath him as he collapsed behind the podium.

My Onion Wanna-be Piece

Every week we’re supposed to write a short (250-500 words) piece of fiction, based on a list of experiment ideas. Last week I submitted this, based on the experiment “Chronicle,” which suggests trying mimic the style of writing used in newspaper articles. Naturally, I gravitated toward an “Onion” style piece. I will try posting my other experiments here, as well, in the weeks to come. Enjoy!

Area Man’s Attempt to Use The Secret to Remove Ants from His Bathroom Horrible Failure

Fresno (AP) – Local twenty-something Jack Jackson recently sought to employ techniques learned from reading the back cover of a recently popular self-help/spirituality book entitled The Secret, which suggests that readers can effect profound change in their lives through focused positive thinking.

Jackson rents a single room in a condo located in the Fresno Townhouse Association of central Fresno. “I also have my own bathroom,” he stated in an interview, “and I can use the washer and dryer any time I want.”

Jackson claims that he has noticed ants in both his bedroom and bathroom before, and even occasionally an ant or two in the shared kitchen space. They have never really bothered him.

“They’ve never really bothered me. I just let them be, same as spiders,” Jackson mentioned, seeming overly proud of himself. “Sure, there have been times when I left a cereal bowl in my bedroom, and that’s my bad. But after the recent wet spell, the ants in my bathroom were out of control.”

Saundra Meyers, the woman who rents the bedroom to Jackson, verifies that he has, in fact, left food in his room. “He’s just like a teenager. Pizza boxes sit in his room for days, and you can see the trail of ants carrying away crumbs, but he doesn’t do anything about it.”

After scanning the back cover and first few pages of popular New Age spirituality book The Secret while waiting in line at Target one evening, Jackson began to think that maybe his best bet would be to use the “law of attraction” to “manifest” a bathroom free of ants.

“I don’t know if the mouthwash attracts them or what. I always put the lid back on tightly, but it doesn’t seem to matter, and I always feel bad when I smoosh [sic] the ants. So I tried envisioning a bathroom without ants, and really believing that it would become a reality.”

After three days of positive thinking, Jackson’s attempts to use The Secret failed. He then borrowed a can of Raid from Meyers, who gave him a vaguely disapproving “I-told-you-so” look.


Tony woke up on a cool early-Autumn morning in a wooded area in one of the city’s larger parks. He sat up on the park bench, set his jacket next to him, and breathed in the refreshing September air. The nights were getting cooler, but the afternoons weren’t so oppressively hot anymore, and Tony preferred being cold to being too hot. You can always put more clothes on, he reasoned, but there are only so many you can take off before you’re naked. During the cold weather, people who had no place of their own could seek shelter during the day in public libraries, or cafes if they had money for a bottomless cup of coffee, and for the cold nights they could find additional clothing or blankets, usually dispensed eagerly by charitable organizations. Tony had learned that he could insulate himself against the elements by placing wadded newspaper between layers of clothing. On the coldest days of this last winter, his first without a place of residence, he’d looked much larger than he actually was. He was a short and stocky Polish man, but not fat by any means, and he had bundled up more than most homeless guys because the reality of the cold took him a bit by surprise. It wasn’t quite time yet to get bundled up like that again; even on the chillier nights, Tony was comfortable with a light jacket as a sort of blanket. And after enduring the last winter’s cold, it would have to get pretty cold again before he would even begin to feel it.

The sun had already probably been up for at least an hour when Tony woke, and he took note of the perfect temperature. Not much later in the day, it could easily be too hot again, and day by day it would grow colder each time he woke. He shook it off the thought and stretched his arms in the warmth of the sun, but stopped short when he felt a pain in his gut. He recoiled and held his hand to where the pain had been, regretting that he hadn’t tried harder to find something more to eat the night before. The struggle to eat well was consistently the most difficult part of this life for Tony. Sure, it took him a while to get used to his natural scent, but that hardly bothered him anymore. Not being able to eat whenever and whatever he wanted was a different story. Without a job or the willingness to panhandle, finding something to eat could be a real obstacle at times. He typically ate one meal a day, in the evenings, after spending the day collecting cans and various metal scraps that could be sold to the recycling guys whose shop was near the landfill on the southeast side of town. He hadn’t been able to find much that he could sell the day before, so when it came time to cash in and find something to eat, his options were very limited. He thought back on the can of soup longingly, wishing he would’ve been able to afford two. Or maybe that he would’ve eaten it later in the evening, so that he wouldn’t feel so hungry now.

He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as the hunger pangs subsided and took in the beauty of the woods around him, already busy with the day’s work of living. The walk path and the occasional park bench along the side of it were the only reminders of the civilized world beyond the small stretch of peaceful woods. He sighed as he thought about the fact that he’d have to get up soon and go back into the fray. He pulled out his pouch of tobacco. The morning cigarette would be so much better if he had some coffee with it, but sometimes it could be such a hassle. He had enough change for a cup of coffee; it was only a matter of whether or not he wanted to make the walk to get it. He put the tobacco back into his pocket, deciding that the cigarette would be much more enjoyable if accompanied by a cup of coffee. Together, they provided the incentive to get moving and get the day started.

He wondered, as he made his way down the walking path out of the woods, who would be working at the gas station this morning. The clerks there did appreciate one thing in particular about Tony—he didn’t use their place of business as a place to panhandle. It was inevitable that panhandlers would hassle customers for spare change in the parking lot from time to time, and the attendants had very little patience for it. Tony could recognize the look from clerks who didn’t know him; he could see how they waited for him to misstep so they could tell him to hit the road. But he never asked for anything from anyone. He hated the idea of making people uncomfortable, and he didn’t like drawing attention to himself. He tried to interact with only as many people as he absolutely needed to, which amounted to essentially the employees at the gas station and the recyclers at the junkyard who bought his scraps each day. If he could get through his day to day life without irritating any of those few people, he considered himself successful.

The pan-handlers are high-rollers on the street, a little bit of change here and there really adds up over the course of a day. Some of the panhandlers need to make a lot of money to support their drug or alcohol habits, but others have places to live and no real excuses for not working straight jobs, except for laziness or difficulties with authority. Tony didn’t look down on them for not wanting to work, but it disgusted him that they take the best of both worlds: living on the streets by day and sleeping in homes at night. Tony once had a home, and he couldn’t imagine trying to live the two different lives at the same time. He was living in an entirely different world now, and saw about as much use in thinking about his old life as he saw in imagining living on the moon. People who lived in any sort of a home didn’t live in the same world as Tony, even if they did roam the streets by day.

As he reached the park, Tony scanned the horizon to make sure no one would see him emerging from the woods. He hated being seen as a homeless person, and being caught waking up in a park seemed about as undignified as being seen taking a shit. This was why he insisted on scrapping for the money that he used to buy his food. It might not have been a job, but it was his work, and he was getting by on his own right. The park was clear, so Tony made his way across the picnic and playground area. Sometimes he’d sit near the playground for hours on mornings in the summer months, when stay-at-home parents and babysitters brought children to play. He sat far enough away to avoid the glares of the more suspicious folks, who doubtlessly presumed he was some kind of pervert, but close enough to appreciate the innocent joy and pain of the children playing. He was sort of a sponge; he couldn’t help but be infected by the carefree spirit of the kids. If doing heroin was really anything like being a child again, as he’d once heard it was, he could understand why it would be so addictive. As he passed by the swing-set, he longed for the return of the warmer months and the children playing. Soon enough. Not much traffic on the street, he noticed, crossing from the park to the business district. Maybe he’d woken up a bit earlier than he’d thought.

Walking through the downtown area wasn’t bad in the morning. Later in the afternoon, more panhandlers would be out asking for hand-outs, and pedestrians would try to preempt any solicitations from Tony with dirty looks. In the mornings, the business types were too wrapped up in their thoughts about the day ahead of them or still trying to wake up, and they treated Tony with indifference that he found comfortable. He recalled a time when he’d been the one to ignore the urban landscape that he now had to pay close attention to. The few people he passed on the street this morning showed no signs of noticing him, making the walk a pleasant one.

As he approached the bakery, Tony caught the scent of fresh pastries, which directed his attention once again to the empty feeling in his gut. The smell alone was enough to tease his stomach, which responded with pangs demanding substance. His gaze fell involuntarily on the croissants and Danish in the window, and he couldn’t seem to avert his eyes, so he quickened his pace to get past. Memories of fresh Danish or warm scones with butter in the morning floated in the air around the bakery, trying hard to creep into his mind through his nose. It would be possible, at the right time of day, to go to the dumpster around back and get some of the leftovers, pastries no longer fresh enough for the paying customers, but Tony refused to go there, if for no other reason because he didn’t want to spoil his good memories of baked goods with stale rejects from a dumpster in an alley. Fatigue or weakness was overtaking the muscles in his arms and legs, so he stopped once he’d made it far enough to be free of the smell of the bakery. He leaned against the brick wall of the next building to regain his strength. It was just the temptation from the bakery; coffee and a cigarette could curb his appetite until later in the day, and he was almost halfway to the gas station. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing as the feelings of weakness waxed and waned with each breath. He began to feel stronger. He could make it.

If he was willing to forgo the coffee, he could pick up some sort of little snack if he wanted to, a pack of donuts or maybe granola bars, but he quickly discarded the idea, not wanting to sacrifice the coffee, and worse—end up hungrier later. It was better to eat nothing at all than to eat just a little bit, because if he waited an hour, his feelings of hunger would subside, but if he had a snack, he’d end up twice as hungry in two hours, with no money to do anything about it. Eating had become a vicious cycle for him; the more frequently he ate, the more often he found himself hungry. Coffee and a cigarette would give him the steam to get out and find enough pop-cans or other salvage to get money for dinner, and with how hungry he was, he was determined to get enough for a painfully filling evening meal. One meal a day, especially if it had lots of protein, was quite sufficient to keep him moderately healthy. It wasn’t like he was withering away.

Once the gas station was in sight, relief passed through him, giving him a renewed sense of hope. Each step felt easier to take and he lost sight of everything except the entrance. He reached into his pants pocket on the right side, the only pocket without holes, to fumble with his money. He hated having to try to get his change out while standing at the counter—the clerks’ patience wore thin quickly when he did—so he made sure to count out the proper change and have it ready before going to the counter. His twenty-four ounce cup of coffee would cost a dollar sixty-seven, and he had a dollar eighty-one when he checked the night before. As he made his way across the gas station parking lot, he pulled coins from his right pocket and placed them into his left hand one at a time, keeping track of the total in his head. He was up to a dollar fifty-four when he approached the door, where he stopped walking so he could finish his counting.

A woman, probably in her thirties, opened the door and walked out, giving Tony a meek smile when their eyes met briefly. She looked down at the ground quickly, but stood holding the door open. He realized that she was holding the door for him so he began to walk in, half-coughing as he tried to clear his throat to utter a Thank-You. Talking to a woman as attractive as this one—dark brown hair, fair complexion, stunning green eyes, and a slender, almost athletic build—was without exception the most humiliating experience he could imagine in his current state. He managed to get his Thank-You out almost intelligibly as he walked through the doorway holding a random assortment of coins in each hand. Had his smell disgusted her? Did she think he was stupid for barely being able to thank her? He wished she would’ve walked out without paying attention to him, or better, that he would’ve counted out his change farther from the entrance, and she wouldn’t have seen him at all. This act of kindness, insignificant to her, had made him grossly uncomfortable. If only it could’ve been a man holding the door for him. The woman was an unpleasant reminder of something he missed, maybe more than anything else—affection. He sighed as he looked at the change in his left hand. He would have to count it again.

When he’d gotten a dollar sixty-seven counted out in his left hand, he clenched the hand into a fist and walked down the aisles, trying hard not to notice the candy bars and bags of chips whose shiny packaging screamed in his peripheral vision. How much would the company really lose if he lifted one bag of peanuts? Keep moving; the coffee is straight ahead. He fixed his eyes on the stack of cups and refused to look away. He managed to make it to the end of the aisle without being swayed by the immense gravity of temptation.

He pulled one of the twenty-four ounce Styrofoam cups from the stack with his right hand, his other hand still gripping the change in a tight fist, and placed it under the coffee urn. He filled the cup and set it by the stack of lids, where he found the appropriate lid and placed it carefully on top. He could feel the sweat building against the cold metal of the coins that he clutched in his left hand, urging him to hurry as he attempted to secure the lid with one hand. At least he didn’t have a dollar bill in his fist, soaking up sweat. That was always embarrassing. But not as embarrassing as the time he knocked over a full cup of coffee during his one-handed lid-affixing procedure on one cold winter morning. He’d made a mess all over the counter, spilled coffee down the front of his pants, and dropped his change all over the floor. The clerk who’d been working that day helped him clean the mess and told Tony he could pour himself another cup. Tony thought he should pay for the cup he spilled, but the clerk insisted that he only needed to pay for one cup, so he graciously accepted. It had been at least a year since the last time Tony had seen that clerk, and Tony imagined that he was probably doing well for himself, wherever he had gone. He was a really nice kid.

Tony walked up to the counter with his cup of coffee and fistful of change and waited as a young man paid for gas and a bottle of soda. When it was his turn, Tony placed his coffee and his change on the counter, carefully with the change so it wouldn’t scatter. The clerk thanked him, and Tony responded with a Thank-You much more understandable than when he’d responded to the woman at the door. He took his coffee from the counter and walked outside, ready to enjoy his morning cigarette at long last.

The best, closest place to sit and smoke was a bench on the other side of the street. Some mornings, Tony waited for a bus to come and go before sitting on the bench, so as not to confuse the bus driver by appearing as though he was waiting for a ride. He didn’t have the patience, this time, so he made his way to the bench without delay. His hunger demanded something, and the coffee would be his answer. He took a seat on the bench, sitting on the end farthest from the intersection, and set his cup of coffee beside him. He got out his thin, yellow foil pouch and unfolded it to reveal the dry, stringy tobacco and a pack of cigarette papers. Probably another day’s worth of tobacco left, Tony noticed as he pulled out enough for one cigarette. He rolled it carefully, his back turned to the gentle breeze, and then exchanged the pouch for the lighter in his pocket. He sat back and relaxed, the cigarette in his left hand and lighter in his right. It was a beautiful day, and this was his favorite part of any day, beautiful or otherwise. He put his cigarette in his mouth and held the flame to it, taking a puff to get it burning. The familiar feeling of smoke in his throat and lungs sent sensations of gratification in waves through his body. He felt his muscles loosening as he exhaled the first drag, his shoulders dropped and his legs went limp. He took another deep drag, the smoke not too harsh or too mellow, indicating that the tobacco had reached the perfect moistness. He picked up his coffee and sipped gently, testing the temperature and taste, and then drank more eagerly. The coffee was good and fresh and had cooled enough since he poured it that he could enjoy it without burning his mouth. With a large gulp, Tony reeled in his enjoyment of this simple pleasure that gave him the motivation he needed to get through each day.

“I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,” he thought with a chuckle. This park bench, the coffee and cigarette, the bright blue sky with only patches of fluffy white clouds; this was his nutshell, and he ruled it with joyful benevolence.

His feelings of ecstasy had peaked and began to decline, then his thoughts drifted to the rest of the day—the loathsome chore of surviving until this very same time of the following day. He was nearly half-finished with his cigarette and had about a quarter of the cup of coffee left, and each time he tried to enjoy a drag or a sip, he couldn’t help but think about how he was bringing himself that much closer to the end his respite. He continued to smoke and drink his coffee, trying to put the thoughts out of his mind, but he was growing restless. The restlessness was familiar; he’d experienced this nagging sense of despair before.

He impatiently flipped what was left of his cigarette into the street and kicked back his cup of coffee to finish it off. The moment was over; his nutshell had shattered. He looked down the street to his left, wondering where he should begin the day’s search for scraps. He tried to think of what day of the week it was, which garbage routes would be collecting the next day, but he was having a hard time focusing. He could see a man walking in his direction about half a block away and he began to feel rushed. He didn’t want to be sitting on the bench when the man reached him. Another pang of hunger came, a sharp sensation in his stomach that pushed him past the threshold of patience. He stood quickly and began to walk. He only made it a few steps, however, before his legs gave out under the weight of his body, which had lost all strength to support itself.

“Hey! Hey, man! Are you okay?” A young man was on his knees at Tony’s side, shaking him gently. As Tony regained his wits, he recognized the young man as the one he’d seen walking toward him down the street. “You fell out, man! Are you alright? Are you feeling okay?” Tony sat up slightly, trying to piece together what had happened. His shoulder hurt a bit, presumably from falling, but it was overshadowed by the empty feeling in his stomach. He looked up at the young man, whose light blue eyes projected genuine concern.

“I. . . I’m fine,” Tony insisted softly, tears forming in his eyes. He wiped them away with his shirt sleeve, not wanting to see the young man’s reaction. Who could feel anything but disgust for such a wretched person?

“You’re sure?” the young man asked softly, still gently holding onto Tony’s shoulder.

“Maybe I could call someone, or walk you to a hospital so they can check you out, don’t you think?”

Tony shook his head at the man, still not looking at his face, and pulled away from him as he struggled to get back on his feet.

“I’ll be alright,” he said more firmly, “I just got a bit dizzy; that’s all.” He was back on his feet, and the young man stood with a puzzled look on his face as Tony walked away trying to seem as calm and composed as possible.

It was over, he told himself as he put distance between himself and the Samaritan. Soon he would be pulling valuable scraps of metal from dumpsters and putting together his stake for the day, and he would feel so much better with a nice, hearty meal. He could do this.


When his father, Donald, called to say that his mother and brother had been in an accident, Simon went to the kitchen and threw together a quick sandwich. His father had sounded calm on the phone and even said the two hadn’t been badly hurt. He couldn’t help but wonder what good his presence would do for his mother and brother, but there really wasn’t any excuse not to go and see them. They would appreciate his concern, he decided. He went up to his bedroom and took the books from his desk—his textbooks for the semester—and put them back into the large plastic bag from the bookstore. He hadn’t had the books long enough to throw away the bag; maybe he’d still be able to get a full refund. He’d have to make sure to find the receipt before he tried.

The top of his desk clear, he opened his middle drawer and pulled out two stacks of staff paper. The smaller stack was still in the cellophane wrap, two hundred sheets in four packages. The other stack, some sheets wrinkled and folded in places, carried the ink of Simon’s pen in the form of notes scribbled out in a hurry and then revisited to ensure accurate transcription. Simon set the stacks next to each other on his desk and looked over the top sheet of the bigger stack, letting the music come to life in his mind.

As he meditated on his music, Simon’s thoughts wandered to his mother, Sarah, whom he would soon see in the hospital. A new melody, similar in feeling to those he usually heard when he felt comfortable and safe, drifted into his mind. There was an unusual movement to it this time, hints of more somber notes as he wondered about her condition. He began transcribing these notes on a fresh sheet of staff paper, but anticipation of his father’s arrival vied for his attention. The emergence of a dissonant tune, nervous and angry, made it difficult to capture the first. He tried to separate the two in his mind as he scribbled notes alternately on two sheets, all between frantic bites of his sandwich. If he could at least capture the essential spirit of each melody, he would be able to recreate pieces later, when his mind wasn’t so clouded.

He filled three quarters of the first sheet with parts of the peaceful, sad tune and almost half of the second with the darker, scary tune before his efforts were interrupted by the sound of a horn from outside. The sounds of the world around him regained priority and he recognized the hum of the diesel engine. He jotted down a few more notes, grabbed his sandwich, and ran down the stairs and out the front door.


In his childhood, Simon hummed or whistled the vibrant and energetic tunes that came to him, and his brother Benjamin would smile, laugh, and bounce around in an effort to dance. There was no time for music when their father played with them, as he insisted on tossing a football or baseball around, or coaching boxing between them after he bought child-sized boxing gloves for Christmas one year. Simon was never as enthusiastic about the sports as Ben, who wanted to impress their father. After their parents divorced, Benjamin went to live with Donald and Simon stayed at home with his mother. The boys only saw each other on the weekends, which they spent alternately at each of their parent’s homes.


Donald was listening to classic rock on the radio while he waited outside. Simon said hello when he climbed into the truck, trying to recall the last time he’d seen his father. It must’ve been the last time he’d gone to his house for dinner, probably two or three months back. The two remained silent and Simon tried to endure the classic rock. He rarely listened to music, but when he did, it was strictly classical. Lyrics and singing consistently interfered with his ability to understand music. And he might’ve been more able to endure if his father was not obviously in a sour mood. When his father was in better spirits, he’d vent lightheartedly to Simon about how stupid his coworkers were or how one particular sports team stood no chance against another. Simon knew that his father didn’t care much for his opinion, but he felt good smiling and nodding in agreement anyway. When his father wasn’t in a good mood, Simon tried only to avoid being a source of irritation. The ride to the hospital was tense, but as long as Simon didn’t say anything, he wouldn’t become a target for his father’s anger.


The last he had dinner with his father, Benjamin had been the target. Donald made snide comments about him to Simon, who knew what it felt like to be the butt of his father’s jokes. He laughed along with his father anyway, taking full advantage of the opportunity to be Donald’s ally, even though he didn’t harbor any ill-feelings toward his brother, who knew better than to be offended by his brother.

Benjamin, just like Simon, had learned long ago to side with his father whenever possible, no matter what you really felt on an issue. Simon thought back on the evening just as they pulled into the lot at the hospital and found a parking spot. Donald had spent the better part of dinner that night criticizing Ben for not getting involved with some girl. The daughter of the union’s vice president. Donald couldn’t get over the fact that his son, who wasn’t otherwise involved with anyone, wouldn’t just take the girl out a few times and make her feel special; it would’ve been good politics, and not only was she attractive, she really liked Ben. “Not good enough for my son, I guess,” Donald chided.

“I guess not,” Simon had agreed with him. “Must be waiting for a real princess.”


The two walked into the waiting room and Donald asked the girl at the desk about Sarah and Benjamin. After a few words, he turned and walked toward Simon, who stood back, casually glancing around the waiting room.

“It’ll be a bit before we can go in and see them,” Donald said to Simon, walking past him to the seating area. “The doctors are just reviewing test results to make sure everything’s okay. They seem to be mostly okay.” Simon followed his father and sat down after him, leaving an empty seat between, for comfort. He wondered if his father would visit his mother, too, or if he’d only come to see Ben.


His parents had arrived at the decision to divorce calmly and mutually, except for the fact that Donald insisted that Benjamin should live with him. Simon, firmly in place in front of the television with his brother, overheard an argument between the two coming from the dining room shortly before the divorce took place. His mother said that the boys should live together, but told Donald that he wasn’t sensitive enough to handle Simon. Donald explained, calmly at first, that he wasn’t worried about Simon. “He can live with you; I don’t care,” he said, voice rising. “I’m just letting you know that Ben will live with me. If this ends up in a custody suit, I’ll take them both, if that’s the only way you’ll let me keep Ben. So keep Simon. The boys will get along fine visiting each other on weekends.” For the first few years, the kids spent their weekends alternately at each parent’s house. Simon’s visits to his father’s house trailed off after that, falling to one weekend a month, at best.


He looked over at his father, who was reading articles from a Popular Mechanics magazine. His father glanced up at him after a moment, as if to ask, “What are you looking at?” Simon looked away before their eyes met. This trip to the ER must’ve been the closest to intimacy he had shared with his father since his early adolescence. Since then, he only visited his father when he was able to visit with his brother too.


Not long after the divorce, Benjamin had begun making fun of Simon when he whistled, calling him a sissy. Donald gave Simon a hard time about not playing for Benjamin’s little league team and criticized Sarah for indulging Simon in music. She enrolled him in lessons for three different instruments in one year, each time spending a substantial amount of money to buy the instrument. The instructors were inevitably frustrated by Simon’s refusal to practice the music they gave him; they didn’t realize that he spent all his time teaching himself to mimic his imagined melodies with the instruments. Aside from teaching him to read sheet music, Simon’s instructors were at a loss to direct his learning. When the third instructor—violin—told Sarah that he could not teach Simon, she simply let him spend his evenings playing with his instruments. Benjamin complained about the music on his visits with his mother, as Simon would spend hours experimenting as Sarah and Benjamin prepared dinner or watched movies together. Then Benjamin would bring up the topic of music during Simon’s visits with his father, so Donald would go on about how Simon should get a paper route or mow yards to learn a sense of responsibility. Simon wouldn’t say a word to these suggestions, but instead glared at Benjamin, who had been so much nicer before the divorce.


Simon couldn’t think of a reason that his brother Benjamin would’ve been with his mother, and didn’t think that asking his father for more details would be worth the hassle. He got up and wandered over to the vending machines, reaching into his pocket to grab his change. It was all he had left of the twenty-dollar bill his mother had given him a few days before. Four packs of staff paper and a couple of cheeseburgers. Now a Dr Pepper; twenty dollars gone. He walked from the vending machine to the reception desk and asked the young lady how his brother and mother were doing. He refrained from turning to look at his father.

“I’ll check with the doctors and see if someone can come out to update you,” the young woman told Simon. “You can have a seat and someone will be with you soon.” Simon turned around and walked back to his seat, trying not to look at his father, though he could feel his eyes burning on him.


After high school, Benjamin became an apprentice in his father’s carpenter’s union and Simon enrolled in classes at the community college. His father criticized the fact that he hadn’t stayed in the high school band after all of the time that he spent horsing around with instruments. His father was the sort of man who not only lived by the John Wayne Handbook for Being a Man, but he also believed strongly in seeing what you wanted in the world and taking it. Where Benjamin earned his father’s accolades for engaging himself in a career path, Simon was ridiculed for his aimless efforts at educating himself. It didn’t bother Simon that he didn’t know what he wanted to do with himself; he knew that he loved nothing more than to capture the music that came to him. He knew his father and brother wouldn’t understand that, even if he ever did get the courage to try to explain. He wondered, briefly, if his brother Benjamin loved the work he did in carpentry. He’d never bothered to ask.


“Why were they riding in a car together on a Tuesday afternoon?” Simon turned to ask his father, who looked up from his magazine slowly. “I mean, shouldn’t Ben have been at work or something?”

“What the fuck am I, your brother’s secretary?” Donald eyeballed him questioningly with an air of irritated superiority. Simon slumped down in his seat and crossed his arms as he looked up at the reception desk; Donald rolled his eyes at Simon before going back to his article. Simon made an effort to put his father’s cruelty out of his mind and let his mind wander to the young lady in front of him. She was quite attractive—dark hair in a pony tail, fair complexion, and soft brown eyes with a trace of naiveté—and probably just a few years older than Simon, maybe Benjamin’s age. Simon imagined that his father had already calculated the amount of time and number of drinks it would take to get her back to his place.


Since the divorce, Donald consistently dated women much younger than he was. Sarah had only dated two men, each of them very close in age to her. When Simon was seventeen or eighteen, he overheard his mother telling someone on the phone about her last date. She was talking and laughing with her date when Donald walked into the restaurant with some young girl. He spotted Sarah as they waited for a table and told his date to wait at the front. He went to Sarah’s table and said hello to her, not looking away from her companion. She introduced the companion, who extended his hand to shake. Donald slapped his hand away, telling the man that he could buy Sarah dinner all he wanted, but that he’d better not find him hanging around in the house he built. “You’ll be sorry,” Donald told him. Sarah hadn’t been on a date since.


Donald shifted in his seat, crossing his right leg over his left knee and resting his left arm on the top of the seat next to him. His knuckles had little cuts and bruises, some from occupational hazards, others perhaps from bar-room scrapping. His quick temper with other men had led to countless bar-fights over the years.


Simon could remember the last time he’d been afraid of his father. He was sixteen and trying to complete his hours of supervised driving to pass driver’s Ed. It had been three months since he’d spent a weekend at his father’s.

“Come on, Dad!” he yelled up the stairs. It was nine a.m. on Saturday morning. “I gotta practice driving if I’m gonna get my goddamned license!” He tried to reach out and grab the words as they bounced their way up the stairs to Donald’s bedroom. He didn’t care if the boys used foul language, unless it was directed at him. Simon began taking steps backward instinctively, even before he heard the footsteps, first from his father’s bedroom, very shortly after from the hallway. They were moving closer quickly. It was amazing how his father, small man as he was, could make such heavy footsteps when he was angry. Donald came down the stairs two at a time in his boxer-shorts; Simon continued backing up, not paying attention to what was behind him. Just as Donald reached him, fist loosed and on a collision-course with his cheek, Simon bumped into an ottoman, falling backwards and out of his father’s reach. He found himself on his back, his legs draped over the ottoman, his heart pounding. His father stood on the other side of the ottoman, his fists clenched tightly and his face red.

“Serves you right you ungrateful punk. I’ve got company up there, and it’s not enough that I buy instruments you don’t fucking use, you think I’m here to be your goddamned driver’s Ed instructor.” He kicked the ottoman and Simon felt the impact run up through his back. “I’m going back to bed, so try not to be down here sulking around when we come down for breakfast.” Donald turned to walk back toward the stairs and Simon rolled over slowly and got up off the floor. An energetic tune surged through his head as he watched his father lumber up the stairs, and he was soon overcome by the music. He began whistling the loud, shrill, vibrant tune. His father stopped and looked back at Simon, his mouth partly open in awe. Simon continued whistling, staring directly into his father’s horrified eyes. The tune made the hair on Donald’s neck stand up. His hands went slack and he headed back up the stairs, not taking his eyes off his son until he rounded the corner at the top of the stairs. Simon stood proud, his whistle trailing off. He’d inherited his father’s small build, just like his brother. Unlike them, he was neither strong nor quick. He was clumsy and awkward, but he learned then that he could be more frightening than his father.


Donald made it to the back cover of his magazine and they still hadn’t heard anything from the receptionist or any doctors.

“Did they tell you anything new when you went up there?” he asked Simon, frustration clear in his voice.

“No, just that someone will come out and talk to us soon.”

Simon couldn’t help but wonder why his father didn’t know more about what was going on. Simon knew that Benjamin didn’t necessarily work on the same crew with his father, even though they worked in the same union. Still, he thought that if Benjamin had needed to leave work to do something with his mother, his father would’ve caught wind of it somehow.


The last time Simon spent time with Benjamin had been one day in March when he called, seemingly out of the blue, to say he’d like to come over for dinner that night. Before that, the two boys and their mother hadn’t been in one place together since Christmas. Sarah made a big deal of Benjamin’s visit, leaving work early to clean up the house and prepare a nice meal. Baked chicken, dressing, and au gratin potatoes; Benjamin’s favorite. Benjamin arrived half an hour late, still dressed in his work clothes and old tattered baseball cap. He seemed to be in a great mood and had a very lively conversation with his mother over dinner. Simon occasionally spoke up, feeling more comfortable than he usually did around his brother. When they’d finished eating, Simon told his brother it’d been nice to see him, and he meant it.

“You got homework to do or something,” Ben asked, turning his full attention to Simon. “How’s school been going, anyway? Are you still doing your music stuff?” He seemed genuinely interested.

“Well, I’m not really doing music at school,” Simon told him, mildly uncomfortable talking about himself. “I don’t really like the way they try to teach music. As far as school goes, I’m just trying to take the basic classes and figure out what I should be doing.”

“That’s cool,” Ben nodded, “you’re bound to find something you like. Do you still work on music in your free time, though? You were really into that, weren’t you?” It seemed like a strange question at first, but Simon realized that he probably hadn’t actually talked about his interests with his brother in years.

“Yeah, I still like to try to write music and play around with my instruments. It’s just for fun though.”

“Well, if it’s what you like, you should try to do something with it,” Ben said earnestly. “Worst case, you’d find out that you can’t or don’t want to do it. It wouldn’t be like you’d lost anything.” Simon felt like his brother was making things sound much simpler than they actually were, but he appreciated the unexpected encouragement, and didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed uncharacteristic of the brother who’d always been so much like his dad.

Simon declined his mother’s offer of homemade cheesecake, knowing he could get some from the kitchen later if he wanted to. He said good-night to his brother, who got up to hug him. Simon patted his brother’s back uncomfortably while Ben held him close with open hands. Ben held on longer than Simon expected, and when he finally let go, Simon stepped, or stumbled, back. He gave Benjamin a nervous, questioning smile and said good-night again before going up to his room.

He didn’t hear his brother drive away until two hours later, and he waited another half hour before going downstairs to get a slice of cheesecake. His mother was still sitting at the dining-room table, her eyes looking a bit red and her arms folded over each other on the table.

“Is everything okay, Mom?” Simon returned to his seat at the table, but looked to the kitchen, regretting that he hadn’t gone to get a piece of cheesecake first.

“It’s your brother,” she said after sighing deeply. She sat up straight and crossed her arms over her chest. She took a slow breath and held it, then looked at Simon and exhaled, “He says he’s gay.” Tears formed in her eyes, which she wiped with the back of an index finger.

Simon couldn’t help but grin, his typical reaction to tense situations.

“What?” It was all he could say. He did his best to suppress his nervous smile.

“I knew something was going on with him, but I never expected this. Not with the way your father is. I thought maybe he’d gotten some poor girl pregnant,” she tried to laugh, but it sounded like a sob to Simon. Her tears were flowing freely. How would his father take something like this? “I think he might just be confused,” she said hopefully. “He never really did date any girls in school or anything, right? He just hasn’t met any girls that he really liked! If he met a nice girl…” she trailed off, her wishful thoughts falling apart as soon as she gave them breath.

Simon folded his arms over his chest and stared blankly at the floor. He looked up at his mother. “He’s not going to tell Dad, is he?” He blinked back tears as he hugged his mother. He went to his room after the conversation and wrote a long, slow piece as he tried to imagine how long Benjamin had known or suspected what he admitted to his mother that night. He stopped to cry several times before finally finishing the piece.


Simon had to wonder now, here in the waiting room, if this recent revelation had anything to do with Benjamin’s reason for being with his mother. Maybe they’d had lunch together? She hadn’t mentioned spending more time with him.

A doctor came to the reception desk and began talking to the receptionist. He leaned over the desk and spoke too quietly for Simon to hear. He looked up at Simon and Donald after a moment, a look of concern on his face. Simon looked over at his father, who was intently reading from another magazine. The doctor walked around the desk and through the door to the waiting room. Simon stood and his father looked up.


“Yes, that’s me.”

“Your mother and Benjamin are fine,” he said calmly, “and your mother is asking to see you.” Simon felt a wave of relief.

“I can go see Benjamin now?” Donald asked, firmly gripping his magazine.

“Sir, your son has specifically requested that you not be allowed in to see him,” the doctor said apologetically, holding his open hands up to demonstrate his inability to do anything for Donald. “We can’t allow you in,” he went on, taking a half-step back and resting his weight on one leg.

“What the fuck is this?” Donald said, raising his voice. He tossed the magazine on the seat beside him and stood up, raising one finger to point at the doctor. “That’s my son in there, and I have a right to go talk to him!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the doctor said, taking another step back, “but if you don’t lower your voice you’ll be asked to leave the hospital altogether,” he went on, his voice cracking a little. “Your son doesn’t want to see you, but your ex-wife said that you could talk to her, after Simon does, if you want.”

“What a bunch of happy horseshit this is!” He threw his magazine down on the chair he’d been sitting in. “Have fun with the fucking winner’s circle in there,” he said to Simon. “You fit right in.”

When his father was gone, Simon made his way to his mother’s room and peeked cautiously through the door, partly to make sure it was her room and partly because he felt anxious about how she might look. He continued on into her room; she was in bed, looking out the window. Aside from a bandage on one side of her forehead, he could see no signs of major injury. He took a seat next to her bed.

“Hi, Mom,” he said quietly. She muttered hello without looking at him.

“You know,” she said after a few minutes, turning to look at him, “I just can’t figure out whether I should be mad at myself or your father.” Simon cocked his head, unsure of what she meant. “I didn’t think your father would make good father when I first met him. I bought into his bad-boy image the same way all those other young girls do. I thought he would change. You hear that so much, but I really believed it.” She looked into Simon’s eyes and said firmly, “He might be a violent man, but I knew he’d never hurt me.” She rested her head on the pillow and looked at the ceiling. “But I guess I knew that I’d never do anything to make him that angry. Your brother, on the other hand…”

“You mean Dad hurt Ben?” Simon interrupted, seeing a new piece of the puzzle. She turned to look at him.

“Your father didn’t tell you? Ben told him that he was gay. Your father went berserk. Mike was working with them, but he was in the other room. When he heard the commotion he had to come in and pull your father off of Benjamin. Mike called me to pick up Ben, and I was taking him home when we got into the accident. We were both so emotional; I was in no condition to be driving,” she said, beginning. The sad melody that Simon had written for his brother returned, drowning out his mother’s voice. He should go see his brother. The room was down the hall.

Simon found the room walked in without hesitation. Ben lay there with his eyes closed, and Simon resisted the urge to wake him abruptly and talk about what had happened. Ben’s left eye was swollen shut and he had stitches down his right cheek. It was impossible to tell what his father had done and what had happened in the accident. Simon wiped his eyes and sat in the chair next to his brother’s bed. He tried to picture his brother, how he’d been as a little kid. As images of their childhood play came to mind, he hummed along with the happy music that accompanied. Benjamin turned his head toward the music, tension leaving his face to make way for a pained smile.