Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 5

October 20, 2014

Brandon called Amy McCoy at noon and was asked to meet her at McNally’s in two hours. He loaded his printer with nice heavy stock for his resume, which consisted of his educational background and his experience at two Portland bars. He made a second pot of coffee and thought of witty lines to explain his situation but came up blank. He brushed his teeth, washed his hands twice and at a quarter to two he walked out of the loft wearing a black wool suit and blue Royal Oxford shirt and silk tie. It was an outfit his last girlfriend picked out so they could attend a wedding.

Amy sat at one of the bar’s corners with a clipboard and her second glass of rye. She had just called in the week’s order to the distributor. Her reddish blond hair was pulled up in a bun and little white wisps flared out from the nape of her neck.

“You don’t plan on working in a suit, do you?” she asked

“I could if you need me to.”

She laughed. “What are you drinking?”

“I’m okay, but thank you.”

“Rule number one, always say yes when a woman asks if she can buy you a drink.”

“Okay. Jameson on rocks.”

Amy ordered the drink, and Brandon took his resume out of a leather portfolio.

“You even brought a resume.”

“Who doesn’t bring a resume?”

“Look, I know you can bartend. I just have a few questions I need answered, but I don’t want to interrogate you, either, so we’re going to hang out for a while if you’re okay with that.”

They went outside and smoked cigarettes, picked classic rock and 80s pop on the jukebox and split an order of hot wings.

“Three things you never talk about in a bar?” Amy asked.

“Religion, politics and music.”

“Music?”

“Fanatics and zealots.”

“Do you want to work days or nights?”

“I prefer days but don’t mind either.”

Amy waved over George Franklin. He was the head bartender, a large man with a large brown beard and friendly disposition.

“George is going to train you a couple days this week unless you’re busy. The register is a touchscreen and pretty self-explanatory, but I’m sure there are some quirks.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“We don’t currently have any openings, but you’ll be on call and hopefully be available to cover.”

Mrs. Fair walked around the class room with a box of sandwiches. Peanut butter and raspberry jam or turkey and pepper jack cheese. It was the weekly lunch meeting for the College Prep Club, and almost all the juniors and seniors preferred the turkey because it was more sophisticated by their estimation. Besides the underclassmen, the only student who regularly had the other sandwich was Saan Saeteurn, and he usually had two or three of them. He was president of the club for the second year running and also the school’s star quarterback. Saan’s older half-brother chartered the club a few years ago and when he graduated, the club members naturally voted for him, and it seemed prescient when the club figured out his SAT scores from the previous spring and dubbed him “Mr. Perfect”.

Saan spent most of the lunch period going over different thought processes for how to find the answers for tough verbal analogies and word problems, but when he was done he spent the rest of the time talking with the underclassmen about their various interests and the different paths they might take to do something they would enjoy. However, Mrs. Fair knew the kid had no idea what he wanted to do himself. She remembered a conversation they had the previous year when he was her student and asked for help on an essay that was already better than you could hope for from someone his age.

“Aren’t you going to play football or basketball in college?” she asked as she looked over the paper.

“If I’m good enough.”

“Saan, all those schools are giving you scholarships to do just that.”

“But what if I get there and I’m not good enough.”

“Well, what do you like to do? Besides football and basketball.”

He thought about it for a while. “I don’t know. I like to compete.”

“You’re still young, and that’s exactly what college is for. I have no doubt you’ll find your calling.”

“But I’d rather find it now than later,” he said with a look of desperation.

“It’ll be soon enough.” She put a hand on his shoulders.

When she had her surgery and chemotherapy that winter, he brought her flowers and get well cards signed by her students and the kids in the club. And even though she never wished to have Brandon replaced, she was overwhelmed by guilt the moment she imagined Saan was her son.

Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 3

October 18, 2014

Vanessa sat up on the couch and wiped the dried rheum from the corners of her eyes. She looked around the loft with satisfaction and pulled open the balcony’s thick blue curtains.

“Too much light!” Brandon yelled from the mezzanine.

“It’s almost ten o’clock.”

She stepped onto the balcony and her throat got drier just from seeing the cigarette butts in the gas grill. Vanessa grabbed the empty beer bottles and took them to the kitchen to rinse.

Brandon and Vanessa walked a few blocks to the Downtown Café and arrived just after the morning rush. The tables were still full, but most of the customers had finished their meals and were just having coffee and conversation.  They took seats at the counter.

“I’m really sorry about last night,” Brandon said.

“Seriously. Don’t worry about,” Vanessa insisted. “But, I do have a way of getting back at Dennis.”

Dennis lied on the weight bench and did ten reps of 205 pounds. On the last repetition, Vanessa held her hands under the barbell just in case he needed help. He didn’t.

“I still can’t believe you guys ditched me,” he said.

“From what I saw, you wanted us to ditch you.”

“Everything was going fine until she disappeared to the bathroom while we were waiting for a cab, and the next thing I know, her friends are carrying her out the bar.”

“You roofied her?”

“Shut it,” Dennis said. “And you disappeared to move furniture with Brandon?”

Vanessa smiled mischievously as they moved through the crowded gym to the leg press machines.

“Wait!” Dennis said. “No! No, you didn’t?”

“I’m not saying anything happened, but if it did, it wasn’t very good.”

“So you’re not coming back to the light?”

“Not for him, that’s for sure.”

“Too small?”

“No, if anything… I’m not talking about this anymore. Put two forty-fives on your side, sir.”

Vanessa contorted her body into the proper position and did twenty leg presses easily. She ran the 1600 meters in high school and always had strong legs, but she hated the hard workouts. Besides, she wasn’t looking to bulk up.

“God, I barely remember anything,” Vanessa said. “We damn near drank the whole bottle of Jameson. Yeah, I definitely blame it on the Jameson. Do you want a ride to your car later?”

“No, I think I’m going to jog. Get tired of these treadmills after a while. Besides, the weather’s perfect for a nice run.”

“Good, get out of here because you reek of booze.”

“You don’t even drink Jameson.”

“Well, apparently I did last night.”

Brandon pushed his shopping cart through the produce section and glanced at the list on his phone. It not only reminded him of what he needed, it prevented him from buying too many things that could spoil, especially fruit. He was always mesmerized by the way the fruits gleamed under the bright lights. Yes, he was a merchandiser’s dream, but his list restricted him to half a dozen bananas and a combination of six apples or oranges. He grabbed a bag of red potatoes and headed to the meat section, where he selected a whole chicken, three T-bone steaks and a pound of thick bacon.

In the liquor aisle, he put bottles of vodka, scotch, bourbon, rye, gin and cognac into the cart.

“Am I getting an invite to the party?” Kristen Ferguson asked. Her wild black hair was tucked under a blue Golden State Warriors hat.

“You haven’t RSVPed?” Brandon responded.

She laughed. “I’m just kidding. Gotta work tonight anyway.”

“There’s always the after party.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, no, just shopping to fill up the apartment.”

“Cool. You live around here?”

“Actually, I’m down the block from The Revisionist.”

Kristen was thirty-five years old but looked much younger. It must have been from her mother, who was carded even for cigarettes until she was almost fifty years old.

“Well, I will be there all night if you get bored.”

Dennis kept a seven minute pace, and even with the traffic lights and his mind wondering if Vanessa actually slept with Brandon, he reached Brandon’s loft in less than fifteen minutes. He checked his car, and it was untouched from the previous night.

Brandon answered the door with a glass of Jameson in hand. “Hey, come on in.”

“Got any water?” Dennis asked.

“Did you run here? I think there’s still Gatorade from yesterday. Kao and I are just watching the street fair from the balcony.”

Dennis looked at the counter and saw a bottle of Jameson that was still three-quarters full. He felt relieved and didn’t say anything. It was the same bottle from the previous night, but after he left the gym, Vanessa called Brandon to fill him in on the conversation. Coincidentally, Kao had just stopped by with a bottle of Jameson as a welcome gift, and Brandon put that new bottle in a cabinet above the fridge. Otherwise, he would have done the same with the other.

They went out to the balcony.

“I have to run,” Kao said. “But if you guys want to play, there’s going to be some cards next door tonight.”

“Five-ten no-limit is too rich for my blood,” Brandon said. “Hey, thanks again for the Jameson.”

“Welcome to the neighborhood. I’ll let myself out.”

Dennis chugged his Gatorade and took a deep breath.

“Heard you found a lady last night?” Brandon asked.

“Oh, god, I don’t even want to talk about that,” Dennis said. “Just came from a workout with Vanessa.”

“Nice, how’s she doing?”

“Did I ever tell you she’s a lesbian?”

“No, why?”

“Well, she is.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look, she already told me about last night.”

Brandon smiled. “Yeah, what did she say?”

“That you weren’t any good.”

“What? That’s bullshit.”

Dennis started laughing. “Yeah, apparently, you failed to convert her.”

“Convert her?”

“Make her straight again.”

“Oh, Jesus. I didn’t even think of it that way.” Brandon paused. “I just wanted to christen the loft.”

“Christen the loft? That’s terrible,” Dennis said.

“Wait, are you in love with her?”

“No, I’m not. Well, I don’t know.”

Brandon debated telling his friend the ruse because he didn’t like being cruel, but he also knew Dennis wasn’t in love with Vanessa, so he said, “If we’re going to be friends, you can’t go falling in love with my sloppy seconds. Besides, you’re the one who ditched her to make out with Lucy Lush.”

Kao’s loft was decorated more like an office than a living space, but this night the furniture was pushed to the side to accommodate two poker tables. One table had $5-$10 no-limit Texas Hold ‘em and the other hosted a $20-$40 limit Texas Hold ‘em game. Most of the players were local businessmen in their forties and fifties and looking to just blow off steam, and they all chatted with little inhibition one is prone to do with longtime friends.

Brandon watched the tables from a distance but wasn’t impressed. He played a bit when he was in high school and college, mainly on-line but he logged some time on live tables as well. Right away he saw almost all of the guys playing too wide a range of hands and without enough aggression. Too many hands went to a showdown. When Brandon went to smoke on the balcony, Kao joined him.

“I’ll stake you if you want to play,” Kao said as he pulled a cigarette out of its box.

“No, it’s been too long since I last played.”

“Like riding a bike.”

“Why don’t you play?”

“I will later or if they need an extra body. Besides, I want these guys to have fun and get into their rhythms.”

“Patterns?” Brandon asked.

Kao smiled and lifted his glass for a toast.

They walked down the block to The Revisionist and Kao commented on how dead it was for a Saturday night. Most of the bars were at half capacity because of mid-terms and there was also a stabbing the previous weekend that was all over the local paper. At the door, the bouncer nodded at Kao and let the two in while checking the IDs of a group of girls.  The speakers pumped nondescript dance music with a repetitive beat to a few dozen people dancing in front of the deejay’s stage.

“Well, you sure meet everyone fast,” Kristen said when she saw Brandon with Kao.

“Just wanted to make sure you’re coming to the after party,” Brandon said.

“You said you weren’t having one so I made other plans.”

She poured Bombay Sapphire on ice with a slice of lime and put it in front of Kao.

“What are you having?” she asked Brandon.

“Same.”

Poem – Fortune Cookies, Too

Fortune Cookies, Too

The son becomes the father
          when the father passes
your obligation becomes your life

We replace the old
     hardwood living room
          with thick gray carpet
it’s not an accident if you allow it

Katie’s waist thins over time
stretches mark the months
          Billy depended on her
make sure to caress them
     when you bathe

Mother spends the day with her grandson
     the sparkling boy waits
     to become a man
everyone loves you, she says

His first word makes Katie
     feel like a mother
his second muffled
     just too obscure

The cognac is to remember him.
everything else; habits over time
     never too much
just enough to keep warm.

He can’t be replaced
     she screams from the bathroom
          we’ll find him if it’s the last thing I do

The salt in her tears
     remind me to keep her
face on my neck
when she cries

Don’t try seeing around corners
     make slow wide turns
a moderate speed is key

His face blank when he sees
     his younger sisters
          distorted reflections of time
sometimes the experience
          is neither joy nor sorrow

Katies weeps as she squeezes
     and feels him all over.
make sure parts are not missing.


-Saechao

Poem – The Next Day

The Next Day       

As our language thrived
father faltered in his bed
trying to push his once strong thoughts
the noise
he succumbed to
the pitter patter
     beeps from machines
          sounds of the gong

My nephew blows into a fifty year-old
rhino horn for fun
delight
mimicking the old man
in flowing silks and flat linens
he hops around like a manic Easter Bunny
     pink and red and white
          flapping against the wind

According to records
he could have been fifty-five
the next day
but who knows

about the next day

she wakes and walks
into a room of smoke
smell of freshly slaughtered swine
the horror hidden when she sees
the lips of the creature, already puckered
     pursed for a devilish kiss

Shrill cry of the child
     ripping the room’s sheet of smoke
I hand my young nephew to her
the reluctant acceptance
he reaches right for her brown tresses
still ruffled from the cat nap

I almost felt bad about sleeping with her
the night before
we were quiet, almost motionless.  Breathless.
The unfamiliar room.
I wanted a new life
a replacement
someone new to love
the timing was wrong
it never happened

The words terse,
ensuring no slips.
Nothing wasted,
nothing given.
Guarding ourselves;
what can happen.

Oh, the memories.

The soundtrack the light provides
the clichés we avoid with might
we don’t want to make love
pushing the trap away

the scorn we possess

And we watched then waited.
And we talked then waited.

Driving through the hills
with the beautiful trees
dying again with their sunset foliage:
This exodus into the ground.

-Saechao

Poem – Wanderers

Wanderers

Looking for a place to settle
my Father walked me
     between the tracks
leading to the next town, our town
with a different name, familiar enough.

Trains push air under dust,
it is so dry, our breathing;
like eating dirt
from the earth.
It’s a drought, he says,
not looking at me.

Our destination
     is not visible
curves hide
          what we’re looking for
we see buildings
                        above treetops

Later,
Father pours Tennessee whiskey
     from his flask
onto my bee sting, Russian vodka
     into my shot glass;
we bond that way
          desecrating our bodies.

My Father talked
into the night,
     our loose rhetoric.
His stories’ morals
     I can’t live with
his heroes
               suffering
          less than he has.

I mumble his words to my wife,
     not verbatim,
          and in English;
I don’t remember exactly what he said.
My artificial intelligence,
     resident of a child’s closet,
remains untouched, unblemished.

-Xiong

Poem – To Jazz

To Jazz
A Conversation with Steve Davis

From the stereo system
someone unnamed from the Golden Age
     or so it seems
filters through the dancing smoke

Dueling trombones
     on rolling rocks of Pennsylvania
echo of
               glacier tympani in Yosemite

               Hear that counterpoint
Cats don’t play that way anymore
modern day baroque
                                  and most are broke

“Shit!  Man…no more like this, no more…
god bless ‘em.”

Sweet sippin’ gin to
milky singin’
hands, fingers moving
                      grooving with the break,
wrist slapping
hands clapping

Lace that shit,
it’s gotta stick.
Nothing’s too fast,
     Nothing’s too fast,
keep up, cat.

“You can do this,
      you won’t need a demo.”


-Saechao

Fiction – The Dragon’s Wok

Chapter One – The Dragon’s Wok
-Saechao

He catches me trying to slip out of the door.

In a game we’ve been playing since his third day home from the hospital, the difference now is he can chase me, albeit with wobbly steps.  Like always, he looks up, eyes questioning where and why I’m going.  At first, I stopped so he wouldn’t cry, though he had never given me any reason to believe he would.  Now, I want to be caught.  I want to explain the destination, to promise an early return, to kiss him on his forehead.

We meet halfway in the living room and I scoop him off the carpet.

He leans his padded cheek against my ear as we twirl in front of my mother.

Turning my head, my lips to his ears, I whisper words he has heard many times, a secret I hope he remembers.  Before too long, my restless mother asks to hand him over, and I kiss his forehead before holding him out to her arms.  I can feel them watching me walk out of the room and the front door.

Continue reading