Search

Present Ghost

Telling stories

Dust and Grass

12112095_926852503582_8145702877660597654_n

There was chicken wire instead of a fence. It was nothing more than rusty, twisted wire caging dust and slouching, fading headstones in the middle of nowhere. All the sparse grass stayed out, as if cast from the perfect deadness of the small cemetery. It lay at the edge of the street of what was left of Baden, Iowa, a town someone in the German branch of my mother’s family had founded some time in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

My father parked in front of a building the same color as the unpaved road. Nothing was painted, and if it had been, it had been a long time since the last touch-up. Mom walked toward the cemetery to look for relatives, and my little brother and I wandered around what looked like a movie set from a Clint Eastwood western. About a half-dozen buildings with false fronts lined both sides of the street, and every one of them seemed emptied of life years before we showed up that summer afternoon.

Although the church wasn’t padlocked, it was vacant and likely without any congregants but a few field mice. The  general store had the only open door we found, but the windows were boarded shut. An old Pepsi machine on the front porch still had working lights, and I hoped we’d be able to get a Coke or Dr. Pepper. Mom didn’t trust how long the cans had been in there, so we left it disappointed and walked inside. One man stood behind the counter in a warehouse of dust and junk. Broken toys and tools sat on shelves and in cracked barrels. There were horseshoes and legless ballerinas in music boxes. I wound one and watched her twirl to a lullaby on a dirty pedestal, then closed the case. Continue reading “Dust and Grass”

Conclusion of “The Fault”

bones faultWhen he got home, she wasn’t there yet. Because this never happened, he assumed she’d gotten an angry phone call from Chelsea, who would have told her everything in such a way that he would be the stereotypically chauvinistic sex fiend. He would be unable to wait to explain himself or defend himself against her accusations and threats. So, he called her.

That’s when he heard her phone vibrating on the counter, right next to a half-emptied glass of room-temperature orange juice that had been left there for, he guessed, about nine hours and thirty-some-odd minutes.

He checked the phone, and saw that no one had called her all day except for him.

Draining the glass, he proceeded to corral the rest of the unwashed breakfast dishes to the sink. He’d only turned on the tap when he heard the door open and the jingling of her keys banging on the side of her thigh.

“You’re home early,” she said, before he could greet her.

“You’re home late—well, later.”

“I’m taking cues from you.”

She pushed past him to the refrigerator with her lunch bag and purse still hanging from her arm. Scanning the contents of the refrigerator, she reminded him that they were out of milk and shut the door.

“Were you in a hurry this morning?”

She wasn’t paying attention, so he repeated the question, this time with more concerned, projecting so she could hear him over the clanking of the dishes he was stacking.

“Hm?”

Again, he repeated the question.

“Oh, no. I mean, I guess. I didn’t sleep much, so I was slow starting.”

“Oh.”

“Thanks for doing the dishes, by the way. I have no desire to do anything tonight. I’m thinking of skipping out on the art center, too.”

“Wow. Already?”

“I’m not quitting. I just need to regroup. I can’t start out running on low. I don’t know. I am exhausted.”

He paused, and let go of his question about her suddenly renewed interest in ballet, not because he knew the answer but because he thought of another question.

“Hey, speaking of dishes, have you seen my chip bowl? I couldn’t find it the other day.”

“It was broken.”

“What do you mean, ‘It was broken’? You mean you broke it.” Continue reading “Conclusion of “The Fault””

Communion from “The Fault”

IMG_8877

The confusion of cell phone alarms and plug-in clocks battling each other with beeps and MIDI ringtones woke them five hours later. She kicked off the duvet, jumping up to make coffee.

While he showered, she cooked an egg for herself, and pulled out a box of cereal out for him, then poured a glass of orange juice for herself. They traded places in the bathroom as soon as he walked out. When he entered the kitchen, he realized that she hadn’t set out the bowl, spoon, or milk. Yesterday she kissed him, last night they’d had sex, and today, she forgot to leave his food on the counter. Just when he thought he was beginning to read her again, she would forget things that had been routine for the past several years that even though they were mundane, foregoing them seemed like sacrilege. It was childish, he knew, to expect such service to continue forever, but it seemed that she had been purposeful—defiant, even—in doing something so incompletely that was for him.

He could only remember one other morning when she had forgotten breakfast. They were late for work and had run from their tiny apartment down the stairs because they realized it was nearly eight, and though they didn’t know much about the area, they knew the difference between the printed and the actual train schedule: what should take an hour would always take more. Having smoothly pressed pants took precedence over a healthy first meal of the day. To remedy the omission, as they were speed walking to the bus stop that drove them to the train, she insisted that he wait just a minute while she exchanged a handful of quarters for a cup of coffee poured into a Styrofoam cup and a huge, sticky glazed doughnut to a nearby vendor.

Grinning, she hustled to keep up with him and balanced the pastry atop the cup. They barely caught the bus but were lucky to find a seat open. She took the window seat, jamming her tote between her legs and the wall to free her hands for distributing the elements. The edible lid kept most of the coffee from sloshing out, but the coffee soaked the underside of the doughnut so much that by the time they could eat it, it had half-dissolved. Giving him their cup to hold, she broke their bread in haste, dividing it equally as possible. While he sipped the burnt and already chilling coffee, she licked the glaze from her fingers. They took turns passing the coffee between them, both commenting on how bad it was, yet she insisted it was “romantic” to eat breakfast on the bus. He agreed with her, and reached into her space, grabbing for the remaining soggy bit of doughnut that she held in her right hand. Immediately, she popped it in her mouth and swallowed it, trying to keep from snorting it while she laughed at her victory and their play.

Continue reading “Communion from “The Fault””

Breaking, from “The Fault”

krista-mangulsone-53114
Photo by Krista Mangulsone

When they reached the door, the knob was cold, and it wasn’t “eightish.” It was 9:37 p.m. She was surprised that she hadn’t stayed later on purpose. What had taken the most time was talking with the class coordinator at the art center. She was positively thrilled to have a volunteer instructor signing up.

“So many people want part-time gigs right now with the economy, you know.”

The woman at the desk leaned toward the office window, inviting the new teacher into her tedious chinwag.

“If you ask me, it’s usually just an ego boost for the prima donnas who never made it.”

The short, chubby woman wore too much rouge, but she was attractive, radiating the same kind of quirkiness that trinket shop owners in American tourist trap towns label as “sass” or “creativity” that is expressed in multi-colored reading glasses, spunky short haircuts, excessive eye makeup and bauble-wearing, and an inexhaustible admiration for Joni Mitchell and Emerson Lake and Palmer.

These kinds of women always have mints or chewing gum, she thought, as she allowed the talk to pass beyond her face and float toward the gargantuan local impressionist painting behind her. She tried to listen or empathize, but all she really wanted to do was get upstairs to check out the mirrors and see if they really had a decent practice space. Continue reading “Breaking, from “The Fault””

When her bones crack, from “The Fault”

jimmy-bay-195699
Photo by Jimmy Bay

That evening she was wearing her tights again, but this time she skipped dinner to begin exercising at the studio. She thought she’d leave the house before he returned, but that day, he didn’t come home late. Just as she was lacing her tennis shoes, the loud rubbery smack of the front door frame insulation startled her.

The kitchen wall clock read five forty-five.

“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” he said, as he reached to grab her hair that was wound into the fist–bun again.

She batted at his hand, insisting that he was “messing it up.”

“I’m growing out my bangs, so it took forever just to get it all up, okay?”

Mark smiled and apologized for his junior high flirting that still crept into their interactions from time to time. Although he knew it was more annoying than affirming, it was a remnant of their dating days when she learned that he wasn’t really all that funny at all—just charming and thoughtful in the same way small sons can be when they’ve been told that they’re good. It was that brand of corniness that was somehow simultaneously boyish and paternal that was occasionally endearing but never sexy.

She resumed tying her shoes.

“You’re still going to leave?”

When she didn’t answer, he offered to make dinner.

“Maybe we could watch a movie or I’ll rub your back.”

This sudden interest surprised her, so she hesitated in collecting her bag and keys. Her cheeks colored when she observed his obvious intent, but it drained when she looked at him. He tried again. Continue reading “When her bones crack, from “The Fault””

Morning scene from “The Fault”

wang-ward-195913
Photo by Wang Ward

Morning came too quickly for both of them. He had to meet with his boss to discuss the agenda for the all-company meeting taking place that afternoon, and she didn’t say what was causing her to hurry. Her lunch was already sitting out on the counter with the brown paper curled forward like a grade-schooler’s lunch.

All it needs is her name written on it with permanent marker.

When she wasn’t looking, he scrawled it across the side opposite the fold, and then he busied himself with pouring cereal. He hoped she would notice the decoration when she picked it up and headed out the door, but she forgot the bag altogether. He ran down the stairs after her to give it to her.

“Have fun at school, dear!” he said, handing her the bag with her name facing her.

She blushed her thanks.

“You are the biggest nerd. I’ve got to go!”

Before opening her car door, she surprised him with a light kiss on the mouth. Then, she threw her stuff and herself into the vehicle and drove away. He watched until she turned from their driveway, and then he walked in to get his things because he was going to be late.

He was shocked, but he told himself that the kiss meant nothing. It was just routine, a goodbye given upon departure perfunctorily, not passionately.  Continue reading “Morning scene from “The Fault””

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: