Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 20: Open Topic

He would love her forever. Standing over her grave now he knew it as surely as he knew his own name. Letting go wasn't even an option. She was in his heart, a permanent resident, no vacancies, a lifetime lease. Her wildness had infected him and her spirited independence made him proud that she had chosen him to share even a portion of her life.

She was dead. He had accepted that. Feet planted here now, at the edge of the other place she would never leave, he felt certain of it. It didn't change the immutable, irrefutable, irrevocable truth. He belonged to her heart and soul, body and mind... pocket-watch and handkerchief, socks and shoes... something and... something else.

The last thing he consciously thought was “I think I'm losing my train of thought... it seems to be de-railing...” and then there was darkness. The faint took him so quickly, he never even saw the black earth displaced by Mary's grave rushing up to meet him.

Peter? Peter, open your eyes, dude. You're scaring me, buddy.”

The voice was like thunder scraping over gravel. Peter struggled to sit upright to look at the speaker but decided against it when he felt the first wave of nausea roll over him in a tsunami wave. He fell back carelessly, not even noticing the softness by which his head was swallowed. The first thing he truly noticed was the smell. Life and death had surely had a battle here and death was the victor, by far. Pungent rotting, covered not at all effectively by a spicy-sweet incense (is that frankincense that's just weird who even burns that anymore jesus god where the fuck am I for chrissakes) filled his nostrils. He could taste a warm stickiness in the air mixed with copper and electricity and

“Where the fuck am I?” he croaked as a big, hot (burning and dank) hand cradled his head and shoulder (goddamn that hand is big how the) and lifted him upright. His head swam and he gratefully accepted an offered mug of thick, black coffee. As he downed the black gold and re-righted his brain, feeling the synapses coming back online one by one, he realized (not in Kansas anymore Toto what the fuck is that a goddamned minotaur or some shit) he was NOT where he last remembered being... which was... standing... (OHGODNO) at Marys grave. Not caring anymore where he was, he gave in to the grief and allowed it to pull him under. His chest heaved and contracted as he sobbed and moaned. The mug dropped from his hands unnoticed and spilled its contents into the bed upon which he was apparently ensconced.

As his hitches devolved to hiccoughs and hiccoughs to shuddered breaths, he took his first real look around the room. He wiped his running nose with a clumsy swipe, picking up the edge of a sheet dampened by coffee and swiping it across his eyes and nose, then rubbing his hands on it, before dropping it onto the (bed is this a bed its more like a coffin with edges and are those chains or god its like some bdsm dungeon or something where the hell am I) bed.

Dude, you need to orient yourself. And careful with the linens. I got those at Marie Antoinette's Everything-Must-Go and they are the fanciest things I own!”

The absurdity of the statement brought Peter firmly into his present and he finally looked right at the speaker. It was a minotaur.

I'm not a minotaur. Those don't exist. Dude, seriously. Get it under control. I'm a demon, nothing fancy, nothing major. Just a demon. I don't even have any horns. I'm just a bit blocky and have a square chin and big nose... and maybe my hair is a bit spiky and my nails sorta long... but sheesh! You Americans and your profiling.”

Peter realized he hadn't spoken the word 'minotaur' aloud. Alarmed, he shrunk back, away from the beast and attempted to roll off the (platform is it a platform or some kind of altar ohmygodohmygod he's going to sacrifice me) bed and landed firmly on a blackened stone floor.

'Sacrifice?!?! Do you even think before you think, dude? SHEESH. I'm not going to sacrifice you. Just stand up and get hold of yourself, would you?”

Peter struggled to stand, finally righting himself by holding onto the (be..

BED! It's my BED, dude! They are safety rails! I have night terrors and they keep me from rolling off! OK? Now STOP FREAKING OUT!”

The bellow of the demon was so shockingly deep and forceful, it seemed to suck the air from the room... from Peter's very lungs... and time seemed to slow. He looked at his captor with fear but held onto his nerves like lifelines. Deep, counted, deliberate breaths became his only focus and he forced the calm to envelop him. It was only after it washed over him completely and submerged his panic that he realized the demon was breathing with him, counting and matching his breaths, eyes closed and huge clawed hands bent into the Gyan Mudra yoga position.

With that image firmly in his sight, he began to laugh, cackle even. He laughed even harder than he had cried only moments before. The demon, startled, seemed puzzled but then was swept up into laughter as well and the two filled the room with unconstrained, joyous release.

When the sound died down, Peter finally asked his first coherent question.

“Where am I?” As he spoke, he took in the room, finally able to focus without fear. It occurred to him that he was way calmer than he should be (probably all empty now spent my fear my joy my grief my pain nothing left).

Hell, of course, though it's my understanding you never really believed in it, so... SURPRISE!” The demon attempted what Peter thought must be a smile. He quite suddenly knew exactly how the rictus grin of a corpse must appear.

That's an uncharitable thought, bro. Seriously. I'm doing my best. This is my first solo job and I really am trying to make a good impression. We're off to a bad start. Let me just explain.”

He motioned over to a bench, indicating Peter should sit. Once he was settled, the demon explained.

I'm sure you remember Mary. Her death, your grief, your unwillingness to let her go and subsequent pledge spell for her to own you, body and soul, etceteras... well, it's my job to see to the technicalities of all that, set the proper binding, get the signatures, file the cohabitation plans... you get the idea. I was just retrieving you when you fainted. I didn't want the guys on the third floor to see how badly I botched the return, so I brought you here first to get you a bit calm before I take you in.”

The demon looked at Peter as if he had just explained everything Peter needed to know and was waiting for a response (as if any of this makes sense as if he just told me was getting a refund on my taxes or needed a cavity filled what the very fuck is this) in order to continue.

Um. Peter. I think we've already established I can hear what you are thinking, so why don't we use our words, buddy? Instead of being so rude and thinking behind my back?”

Peter nodded and managed to whisper “Please, continue. I'm still a little iffy on the details, um, Mr...”

OH! How rude! I'm so sorry. I'm Dantalion.” He crossed the room, grabbed the edge of a large desk and dragged it noisily to face Peter, then pulled over an ancient carved oak chair and sat, picking up a set of round spectacles and setting them over his wide nose. Then he reached over the desk and grasped Peter's hand in his own. His huge hand completely obscured Peters, almost up to his elbow. The size disparity between he and his new acquaintance became crystal clear and Peter finally felt a bit of his previous fear creep back into his heart stealthily.

Now, Peter, let's get to work, shall we? We can just cover all we need to cover here and just do the signing in the office in front of the Witnesses. This is much more intimate and less stressful, don't you think? Now, here we go. I have here the basic agreement, Mary's addendum, your acquiescence forms, in triplicate of course. The riders are all listed in the appendices and cross referenced for your ease of navigation. Will you be needing to have counsel review the contracts for you before we get Mary in the office to sign them?”

The pause was long and deliberate. When Peter finally spoke, it was as if the words were being drug from him without his permission.

“Do you mean... to tell me... that Mary... MY Mary... is here? In... Hell?”

Dantalion let the question hang there in the air. He drew a deep breath and carefully chose his words.

Peter, I'm just going to stop here and let this sink in while I take a moment to apologize. As I said before, this is my first solo case and I may have rushed you along too quickly. Let's just back up and let me state the particulars. This is Hell. Mary is here because she died with some serious sin chops, I mean, we were really all impressed with her record, WOW. She's the first person in centuries to be given a title and job right away upon entry. Very impressive. I can tell you. Heck, in a few centuries, she'll probably be my boss, real up-and-comer. Anyway, when your pledge to her was noted, she jumped at the chance to have you by her side.”

“Mary... still wants me? Even in death?” Peter felt his hopes rise, even in the current circumstance, to think she still wanted (needs me loves me still oh mary even in death we will be togeth...

Wait, Peter, please... I think you misunderstand. Mary doesn't want you as her... lover or husband or whatever you are imagining there, buddy. Mary needs a trainee subject, you know, to perfect her OJT.”

The room seemed to darken and lose shape as Peter let it sink into his mind.

She's gonna torture you, buddy. First one always has to be a volunteer from your own life. Lets you let go of your humanity once and for all.”

Peter was unaware of the tears flowing down his face. He stared at Dantalion and listened as a litany of Marys sins and trespasses mounted. The demon had called it the 'full disclosure' statement and said he had to read it in it's entirety. For what seemed like hours, Peter was subjected to a detailed account of Mary's deeds.

The horror of who she was, how she had hidden the monster she truly was, broke something inside him. She had killed her own mother, sold her own child as an infant to a sex trade ring, slept with countless men for the purpose of rolling them. She had killed several men in gruesome, torturous ways. She had hooked up with another psychopath and doubled down on her debauchery by making a game of murder. In an even more detailed accounting, Dantalion listed off her transgresses against Peter himself.

...and then, the weekend of March 5, 2003, when your mother died and you called from your aunt's house crying... while she was talking to you on the phone and comforting you? She and her partner were making a kid smother his own puppy in order to save his own life... then they killed him anyway.”

“STOP!!!! I can't hear anymore! Please! I want to go home. I take it back! I was never hers! She was a lie! Please! Dantalion... please (pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease)

You... you take it back? You mean, you aren't volunteering? Because the rules are clear, we will have to have a volunteer here, man. Um, oh man, I hope I haven't screwed the pooch on this one, Peter. I mean... Are you sure you won't sign? Mary really needs you.”

Peter stared at the stack of papers in the demons hand. He hadn't even gotten to the current decade and there were hundreds of pages of apparent sins against him still to be revealed. He felt his stomach lurch and his eyes grow dim. (can't no god please I want to go home please)

Dantalion sighed. He hoped perhaps the partner Mary had mentioned might be more forthcoming. This dude was hopeless. He prepared the spell to send him back. Better to have delays in the paperwork than outright mistakes. Nothing less than perfect would get his seal of approval.

Ok, Peter. Close your eyes. It's all just a bad bad dream. You'll wake up at home, having just fainted at Mary's graveside. Maybe you were just overtired or perhaps it was something you...”

“...ate? I mean how long since he even drank anything?”

Peter could hear his brothers voice distantly and rose up from his aunts couch to the fuzzy sight of his family gathered around him, worried expressions worn by all. He couldn't really wrap his head around how he had gotten here or why everyone looked so concerned.

“What happened? Did I faint or something?” As he asked the question, he realized he could still smell black earth and roses. He glanced at the front of his shirt and saw muddy stains.

“Yeah, man. You went down pretty hard. We have been very worried. You haven't eaten today have you?”

Peter knew his brother was right. He hadn't cared to eat in days, not since Mary had... he expected the next word he thought to sting, to shoot grief throughout his body in great waves... died. It laid there in his mind until he realized...

“I'm ok, I'm ok.”

He managed to sit up. His stomach gave a loud grumble and he realized he could smell his sister-in-laws famous meatloaf mingled with hot bread and something spicy, maybe sweet.

“I'm famished, y'all. Can we eat, maybe?” Concern turned to purpose and as they all sat down to eat and comfort their beloved Peter, life went on, none the wiser.

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 19: Invitation

I suppose you're all wondering why I invited you here.

I figured the only way to get this done was to call this meeting, so never let it be said that I'm afraid to confront my feelings. That's the reason for this gathering. I need to say my piece so y'all can just grab a drink, have a seat and hear me out. You belong to me, so you damn well better listen this time.

Let's just start this ball rolling by addressing the elephant in the room. I'm sure you have all noticed that lately I seem to be... losing control of my management position. Let me assure you that it's not for lack of trying. For some reason, possibly trying times, maybe a bit of aging thrown in... I seem to have lost the ability to give a...

What's that, Propriety? Oh, yes, I'm sorry. What I mean to say is... I am less inclined to worry about what others might think of my emotional displays and therefore have been less than careful in where and how I show you all off to the world. That said, let's get to these evaluations and suggestions and perhaps you won't all have to worry for me so much.

Empathy, I love you. You know that I do. You have made my life easier in so many ways. You've made it possible for me to be careful of others feelings and to raise my boys in a loving and tuned-in fashion. You have given me insight into the world that many people do not enjoy. I am hooked into the live wires of the human condition and WOW! It's pretty intense. SO intense. Like... WAY TOO INTENSE. Can we perhaps dial it back a notch? I mean, I'm all for 'understanding' people, but it's exhausting to just KNOW things by turning on to a person. I can feel all their pain, their suffering, their hopes, their losses... I can't watch a friggin Audi commercial without bursting into tears. It's bad enough that I suffer wanting to absorb all the hurt for my boys, but the whole world? Every little old person who is obviously alone, every disaffected youth I encounter, every woman I see shrink from the world in fear... you know I can't heal them all... so could I maybe just not feel their pain so acutely? Thanks.

Anger... maybe I shouldn't have seated you so near Doubt, Jealousy, Shame and Fear. You all seem to pal around together so often, I guess it was just habit. Thing is... I think I'd like to let the lot of you go. Oh sure, every now and then, a little Fear is healthy I suppose and maybe even a bit of Anger, but your shtick is getting really old. I'm tired of your shit, so give it a rest. I know I'm not inadequate, I know I try my best... I know there aren't Bad Things just lurking around corners waiting to pounce. I also know that I don't hate as many people as you tempt me to... so yeah, let's just give it a bit of a pass, what say?

Sadness, Grief, Guilt, Melancholy... You have your places in this dynamic, I assure you. As long as you don't try to take over, I will always give you your due. It's just that, sometimes, it feels as if you are sapping all of my resources just to feed your low burning fires, and I just can't have that. I'm sorry. You have your places and I honor them. Now, step back and let me have the reins... make some room for the others... everyone at Table Three! If I can address you as a whole for a minute... Enthusiasm, Energy, Creativity, Motivation and Willpower... Where the bloody hell have you all been? I've been drowning over here and I could sure use a hand. You promised me when I was younger that you were inexhaustible, and now that I really have needed you, you've dribbled in your help as if it were some precious and rare commodity. COME ON! Give me some help... a lifeline... I need you. Please, come back and I will nurture and appreciate you every day. I promise. We can take on the world if we just pull together!

Shut up, Cynicism! I didn't even invite you. Don't make me have you removed!

Pragmatism, I'd like to introduce you to Trust, Hope, Bravery and Common Sense. I feel as if my life would improve greatly if y'all could work TOGETHER as opposed to just popping 'round when you want to be heard. Perhaps a concerted, constant effort to 'trust but verify' should be a new policy. We can hash out the details later, but basically, I'd like to see us with more people on the 'ok' list and fewer reasons to ask 'Paranoia' in to vet new folks.

I would be remiss if I didn't make a few thank yous, too, I suppose. Love, you are always surprising me with new ways to enjoy this life, so I am deeply indebted to your wisdom. Generosity, I can't tell you how much you have given me, ironic as that sounds. By teaching me to give, you have gifted me beyond measure. Kindness and Compassion, I reach for you every day. I need you and your service is invaluable. Intellect, even when you think a bit too much of yourself, you serve me so willingly and so faithfully that I have been enriched to my very core. Lastly, a humble and inadequate thank you to Humor. I would have surely succumbed and given in without your constant reminders to smile and laugh and feel your spirit living in me always.

A couple of announcements before we go... I have made yet another attempt to embrace Forgiveness, both for myself and others. I know most of you have been extolling the virtues of doing so, and I am making a valiant effort... but I ask for your patience. It's a hard road. Speaking of, if anyone sees Patience, please pass along the reminder that I am a bit crazed at going without contact.

Lastly, I'd like to thank you all for accepting this invitation and listening so intently to my ramblings. We're all in this together and there's only one lifetime to get it right. Let's put out our best, shall we?

Drink up. Bar is open.

Cryptic Toast

LJ Idol 10: Topic 18: Intersection: Location Location Location

It has to be perfect. Every detail has to shine! If I mess this up there won't be a do-over... no mulligans on a gaff like that. I need to find a spot so perfect her breath will be taken...

A pothole rudely interrupted his train of thought as his SUV bounced down the overgrown dirt road. He smiled and imagined how funny it would be driving Camille down this road tonight. Her confusion at how such a country back-lane could possibly lead to the formal affair he had implied would be something he knew they would laugh over later. He had told her to wear her cinnamon evening dress, the one with the hand sewn trim and rhinestone spaghetti straps with the slingback Manolo Blahniks she had saved up six months to buy. She loved dressing up and that dress made the auburn highlights in her hair catch fire and spread into her jade eyes to dance. It was just right for the surprise he had planned.

He had known when he saw her the very first time that this moment would come. He had felt it before, with other girls, to some degree... but Camille... she had really opened up his heart and inspired him to take the chance. It had taken weeks to get her to relent... but they had been dating now for six months. He loved to remind her how hesitant she had been in the beginning...

And look at us now! Tonight will change it all!

He bounced along, deliberately slowing over and over to get a better view of this spot or that. Rusty autumn leaves were just beginning to peek through the green, with a dab of yellow here and there. One place would seem right at first then something would reveal itself under closer scrutiny that could ruin everything. The next one seemed perfect, then he would see a patch of poison oak or a muddy embankment... another one felt right, then he would realize it would be facing away from the view on which his whole spiel depended.

Can't convince her that she is my 'moon and stars' if the harvest moon is hanging behind the trees instead of orange and glowing in front of us!

He walked over his whole speech in his head, every word he needed her to hear, every line carefully crafted to fit, to lead this evenings narrative to its perfect conclusion. He felt a giddy burble in his stomach and laughed out loud.

Nerves! WOW. Ok, I can do this! It's the first day of the rest of...

BAM! This pothole was bigger, practically a ditch across the road. His head slammed into the roof of the vehicle as he instinctively braked hard. Having come to full stop, he raised his hand to the top of his head and rubbed gingerly.

Ow. Sheesh. I need to pay more attention. Gotcha, Universe!

As herubbed the sore away, he looked right and left, then a doubletake back right. If anyone could have seen the grin that broke out on his face as he glanced toward the top of the hill where he had come so abruptly to a halt, they would have used words like 'cherubic' and 'boyish innocence'. He beamed at his good fortune.

“There it is! Oh god, there it is! It's perfect!”

He felt a lump in his throat as for a moment, he was caught up in the joy and relief of completing his quest. Seated on top of the hill was a lovely grove of shagbark hickory and red ash trees, situated in a crescent shape around a small clearing. Facing east, the hillock boasted thick grasses, still green in the warm September morning. The climb was reasonably easy, a meandering path, seemingly clear of debris, winding it's way up to the sheltered glen. Getting out of the SUV, he walked to the bottom of the hill and caught a waft of earthy sweetness.

TOO perfect!

He felt his earlier excitement return with a rush as he realized there were clumps of wild nicotiana growing up the hill and around the boulders jutting from beneath the black soil. Camille's perfume, Woo, had undertones of the flowering tobacco plant so common around these wild spaces. She was always so surprised when he knew such details about her. He liked to tell her it's how she could know how much he cared.

“The devil is in the details,” he would tell her as he wowed her with another intimate tidbit he had gleaned from his observations. Still, it surprised her every time. Surprising her had become his favorite game.

He headed around to the back hatch, keeping his eyes on the little glade at the top of the hill. He could just see her tonight, silhouetted against the pregnant orange moon, dress billowing around her legs, hair in ringlets caught in the breeze as the gorgeous natural perfume of the place became swept up in her tresses. He could imagine returning here, year after year, on the anniversary of this life changing day... he caught a hitch in his throat at his own sentimentality.

“Yes. It's perfect, my love. Exactly where our lives entwined should begin.”

He lifted the hatch and removed the spade and gloves. Carrying the shovel slung over one shoulder, he wound up the path to her perfect place.

Oh, Camille. You're gonna love it here.

(My partner marlawentmad can be found here with The Distance Between Us)

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 17: The Rent I Pay

My body breaks. It folds and creaks and barely contains the spirit inside it. Daily battles to keep it on an even keel have become the 'just how it is' of my life. And it's good. “Ill advised” was the catch phrase when he came to be. A gorgeous bundle of cells, draining my resources, but filling my heart. Potential personified, his little heartbeat thrummed and became the rhythm of my whole life. “I thought you couldn't!” was the exclamation of friends as they congratulated me. “No, just that I shouldn't.' the whisper answered in my head, but I drowned it out as I danced to the thrumthrumthrum. His outrageous intellect and quiet humor drive me like the battery I need to keep going. Sixteen years and I've never looked back. So sweet was the song, I added another heart to our rhythm and our little trio hums and bops and winds along this life. My health was the price. It is the rent I pay.

My heart breaks. It cries out and begs for mercy where there is none to be found. I can only console it and hope my consolation is enough. And on I go. Toxicity is a killer and I fight it on all fronts. When encountered, I excise the wound and drain it away. Like a warrior, I hone my skill. After more than four decades, I am a master at dodging and drilling and when necessary, retreating. I pull back and never cross those fields that are contaminated with lies and manipulations. So many faces I've left behind on those battlefields, people I loved. The wounds they inflicted were too grave, their sins too great, so I sounded my retreat and never looked back. The fife and drum became all too familiar. My family was the price. It is the rent I pay.

My resolve breaks. It pushes me to the brink and yet I return. I borrow from one and beg from another. I pretend I'm not hungry. I feign calm when a tempest rides the crest of my panic. A week is passed and no time to celebrate surviving it, I press forward into the next. I became an expert at finding a little here and a little there so my boys can't feel the pinch. Somewhere along the way, my pride became nothing, my beloved career an irritation. Left with an untenable choice, I saw an opportunity. Two faces look to me, two burgeoning spirits pushing at the boundaries, struggling against these clay pits we humans set for ourselves. Time warned me not to blink and I feared I would miss it. I pushed away from my desires and looked to their futures. I needed to be here, not out there somewhere making another sale, gathering another accolade... here, where learning to read became learning to live. My career was the price. It is the rent I pay.

The rent I pay is high. It gouges at me, taking away pieces too big to scar over. Its passage leaves rents and rifts, expanses to never be crossed. To keep this life, the one I've designed, built, arranged... I have to pay, and pay I do. I don't complain or lament. I shell over the blood price and hold tight to me those for whom I pay. I'll never look back nor regret one cent. I lay it out with interest and penalties and hold nothing back.

It is the rent I pay. I'll pay it every time.

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 16: Thunderclap

He was ready to marry her before they shared their first conversation. He blew in off the road that night, wasted and worn. He wanted a shower, a coffee and to wait until his hours rolled back over so he could finally shed this load of cars he was pulling and get onto the next haul. When he laid eyes on her, a thunderclap of clarity smashed his reality and he knew he would never be the same.

He could see in her eyes that she felt it too. The air between them was charged with their passion. The storm roiled around them, tossing emotions like dinghies in a tempest.

Her name, I bet it's something so sexy... it's got to be Roxie or Candy... something I can moan into her ear.

The place was packed and it took her a while to get to him. He could see she wanted to get closer, could see the longing and interest, even as she glided from table to table, feigning interest in the other customers, doing her job when all she wanted was to be there with him. She was definitely a good girl, he could tell. She kept a distance between her and the other truckers that filled the tables in the too-bright lights. She knew too, that she was his. It was in the very way she moved. Finally she moved closer, little white tennis shoes shining below her blue waitress dress. He could see how she was walking for him, so seductively, tight little steps. He raised his gaze slowly to her face.

God, her eyes, who has eyes like that? Violet depths and golden flecks... a wit and a mischievous light. So young, her body so lithe. God!

“What canna getcha, darlin'?” her voice was as soothing as honey, every syllable dripping slowly from a mouth perched like a bow on her perfect face.

“Coffee. Cherry pie.” His own voice was husky, he knew. He could feel the storm building to a crescendo inside. When she reached over the table to fill his cup from the pot in her hand, another jolt of lightning ran through him.

“Don't got cherry, just chocolate and coconut.”

His eyes met and held hers as he intoned his intentions, knowing she would understand. “I know you have a cherry somewhere. You've just been keeping it for me.”

Her eyes flickered and he knew she had gotten his message. He could tell in the way her body language subtly changed. . She feels it too. Oh baby, this is gonna be so sweet.

“Sooo, how bout I just bring you a piece of both the kinds we got and you can just trust me on the rest?” Her tone was light and controlled. She must be worried about her boss the way she's looking around like she's being watched. Don't want to get her in trouble but love at first sight can't be denied.

“Sure, honey, just whatever you need to do. I'll always see to your needs.” He winked so she would feel at ease that he'd gotten her message. As she turned to skip away, obviously run ragged by a difficult job, he tried to catch a glimpse of her name stitched on her pocket, but only caught sight of an “A” before she was gone. Amanda, I bet Or Amy. Yes. Oh Amy, honey. I'll take you away from all this. I'll take care of you... and you will only have to take care of me.

A few minutes later, a busboy dropped two pieces of pie on the table. He looked about for Amy, but didn't see her on the floor. All the tables had left and the rush seemed to have receded into nothing.

“Where's my waitress?”

The busboy looked dully at him and mumbled something about her shift being over. Oh! She must be waiting for me! Gotta get out there! He dropped a ten dollar bill on the plate and pushed back from the table in a rush, almost toppling the busboy in the process.

“Move! I have to find her!”

At his exclamation, a tall, broad man with a hateful, hairy ugliness emerged from behind the counter with a resigned sigh. “Hold up there, partner. Why not just slow your roll and enjoy that pie you haven't touched?”

He's going to try to stop me! He can see I'm going to take her away from this drudgery and make her happy! He's been hurting her! He's been using her!

He launched himself toward the door, attempting to put as much space between him and the fearful obstacle as possible. He almost made the door before he felt ham-fists tighten on his bicep. He tried to fight, tried to call out to his love. Amy oh god! I have to save you from this man! I'm so weak! I need you! You need me! AMY!

“No! No! I have to have her!! Let me go to her! Let me go! AMY!!!”

The busboy started and met the big man's gaze. “Heph... who's Amy?”

Hephaestus turned, shrugged and bodily adjusted the man into an unbreakable hold. “Aeneas, go and retrieve your mother, please. I think she's done it again.”

The young man winced. “Do I have to Heph? She's already pretty put out with me.”

“Now. We can't leave him like this, poor soul.” Hephaestus held on firmly as the man went from fighting to pathetically sobbing for his one true love. Aeneas disappeared into the kitchen door and after a short interval, practically ran back to Hephaestus and his restrained victim, now gone limp with grief.

“She's coming... but she's, well... she's really herself right now.” Aeneas looked furtively at the door then back at Hephaestus apologetically. The next instant, he was out the door into the darkened night beyond.

The waitress practically flew through the swinging door, head lowered over glowering eyes and intent as angry as the trucker was sorrowful.

“WHY CAN'T I HAVE ANY FUN?!?!?” She bellowed as she stormed over to her waiting husband. Her beauty was at full storm, her hair practically sparking with electricity and her dulcet tones raised in ugly words. Hephaestus stared at her coldly, not taking her bait.

“My dear. Kiss your trophy here and let's get to closing. It's all been great fun, but now it's time to turn him loose.”

The woman gave her husband a glowering stare. When he didn't react, her face softened to acquiescence, but only just. Her eyes playfully darted from her husband to her prey and back. “Jealous, Heph? Just a wee bit?”

Hephaestus growled, not entirely in exasperation. In softer tones he gave up a little ground. “C'mon, honey. He's only human.”

“Fine.” Her pout turned her lips into the perfect kiss. The trucker raised his eyes and found one pure moment of joy in hers as she kissed him deeply on the lips. His last sight as he drifted from consciousness was the entirety of her name, embroidered in red on her little blue dress... Aphrodite. How lovely...

- - -

The trucker awoke in the cab of his truck around 2 am. The fluttering neon of the diner sign proclaimed “Hammer & Anvil Cafe” but the lights inside were long out and the closed sign turned out on the door. He awoke refreshed and drained all at once. He stretched and shook the cobwebs from his head.

“Damn, never even made it inside! I must have been wiped!” He checked his logs, recorded the time and put the truck in gear. Heading out on the highway, he kept his eyes peeled for an open truck stop. All he could think of was a shower, a cup of coffee and maybe a nice piece of pie.

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 15: Patchwork Heart

LJ Idol 10: Topic 15: Patchwork Heart

There's something about my heart

that has always needed mending.

So many hands over time

have been responsible for it's tattered state.

Some stretched it beyond it's capacity,

rending pieces away...

others carefully stitched lines with zigzag love.

Time has offered layers of batting

as well as the wear and tear of misuse and neglect

... and more than one reason

to use it for rags and let it go for scraps.

I've often given it to a seeming master tailor

only to find I've laid work to novice hands.

Over time, patterns and textures merged, blended...

stripes with dots... plaids and solids...

a quilt of ill placed trust chased with threads of optimism.

Still, I wear it, weathered and torn,

on my sleeve for all to see.

The cost has been high, the style passe.

Taking up the needle myself,

challenged with threading one

in the midst of storms, my fingers bleed

with every missed attempt.

My eyes weaken in the dark

and I struggle to keep my seams straight.

But on I sew, no longer trusting bumbling hands,

taking credit for every stitch in this perfectly flawed

patchwork heart.

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 14: Campfire Stories

we touched the skies

while walking in clay

greedy for every step

on trails beyond

our familiar terrain in

urban landscapes

we marched along

paths unseen by human eye

for decades past

and shared together

the secrets that come from

complicit silence

lying in darkness

couched in beds of denial

shadows dancing in flickering light

philosophical fortresses

providing illusory security from

tangible danger

we walked in forests

towering with questions

bending in winds of change

hardly speaking

finding profound meaning in

mundane words

we cast blankets

on hillsides and filled them

with portable feasts

but hoarded our loaves

and fishes from the

hungry masses

all the while others

strode in blood-soaked fields

facing their unknown fates

under uncaring skies

bearing the suffering with

resolved hearts

when paths cross where

hills and roads give way

to alleys of forgotten travelers

they huddle for warmth

around blazing drums that feed

familiar monsters

one by one they speak

their bold narratives as they

rub their hands over flames

which pop and spark and rise

to the very skies that reduce them to

campfire stories

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 12: Salty

LJ Idol 10: Topic 12: Salty

I knew as soon

as I could smell

the passionflowers

on the balmy night air

when white satin wind

caressed your strawberry

curls and wrapped them

into my memory

a strand of beach lay

colorless in moonlight

before us

a blanket covered in the result

of cheap wine and priceless


to try

and try again

until we found each other

tidal hearts captured by

the boundless tempest

pounding the shore


limitless horizon

a vast indigo promise

of unquiet

sealed with briny kisses

an ebb and flow to match

the movement that thirty years



I knew


as I know now

because our love is still


on my lips

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 11: The Blue Hour

LJ Idol 10: Topic 11: The Blue Hour

Every day was a struggle. She knew it didn't have to be, but she preferred it that way. Clifton would have said she was being cantankerous. He would have been right and they would have laughed and laughed. Then he would pat her cheeks, cradling them like she was made of china and kiss her nose from bridge to tip.

When they were twenty she had told him it was a condescending habit, to hold her head so as if he owned her and place uninvited kisses. At 30 she would blush and feel the heat spread. The forties brought a contentment she hadn't thought possible. A decade more of his particular brand of love and there had been such solid comfort. Once they reached their sixties, their grandchildren called their little rituals 'cute'. When Clifton had gone in their 70th year, it was that she missed the most. Well that and his insistence that she made her own life harder on purpose just so she could win at something. He must have remarked that once a week for 50 years.

Of course I always have to have a challenge. Been that way forever. And why shouldn't I?

She wasn't sure if she was speaking aloud. Never was certain these days. It didn't really matter at this stage.

Stage, huh. That's a funny word. Didn't know that as I got older words would be defined as shades of themselves or altogether different.

Like love... who would have thought its meaning would change so over the years. Just like their little ritual, love had taken on new meanings as time mercilessly marched forward. Time was plodding, then became a quickened step... then a frenzied race... just as love went from heat and honeysuckle... to wine and roses... and onward through cheerios and sticky faces riding a relentless wave into dorm move in days, weddings and christenings... and now here, in this blue hour of life... now is the cold yearning. Love went from heat to yearning without a warning shot. It just slipped up on her in the dark and did its worst.

I didn't know love would be so much, so quickly. How could we share all that and not this? How can I be gripping this walker and shuffling along, without his arm at my elbow to hold me up? All my colors are fading. It's getting dark and I can't see my way.

“Oh Clifton.”

Her joints screamed as she pulled her way to the porch. Every shuffling step brought her closer to her favorite place on Earth. They had never been able to afford a fancy house, but Clifton had made sure she had her wish of a west facing door with a big covered porch. The sun was in it's last stage of the day, falling imperceptibly behind the horizon. The dark crept over a blue sky, the summer wind covering twilight in jasmine. The sky was so blue and so deep, she thought of India ink on her mother's carpet, a childhood accident she hadn't thought of in years.

What a funny thought. I must be sleepy.

“Oh Clifton! There you are!”

Cryptic Toast

LJIdol 10: Topic 10: Take a Hike

LJ Idol 10: Topic 10: Take a Hike

Even after 30 years gone, I can still hear the raspy drawl of my great grandmother calling me to supper. Her tiny four square house was filled with the lingering fragrance of the back to back Winston cigarettes she smoked... along with day old coffee, bacon grease and fresh, hot biscuits. If food is love, my grandmothers was the kind that wrapped you in memories and wishes all at once and left you wanting more. I learned early that she was mercenary in doling out that love. She was sparse with her hugs, but generous with her gravy. Her words of praise were few and far between, but her fried chicken was spicy and plentiful. Once you tasted her love, your loyalty was unquestioning and your obedience guaranteed. No one wanted to be on the bad side of Miss Clara Bell, lest they find themselves hungry for her affections, starving for her approval.

Though her passing came well before I ever entered high school, my loyalties were deeply ingrained so far back I couldn't ever remember a time I didn't serve at her table (and her whim). When Granny Whitey (so called for her helmet of ash white hair) said jump, I jumped, all the while hollerin' “this high 'nuff?!” I never questioned her, talked back or refused to cooperate. There was no compromise or back up in her. Her compliments were so rare they gave you chills. Her rebukes so viciously common one became almost inured to their sting. There was something written in her eyes that forced you to decide immediately if you were in or out. I was all in.

She was born in the twenties and lived a hard life with seven siblings in a dirt floor shack. Life was never easy and always lean, skeletal... and more often than not, brutal. I suppose that's what turned her focus in life to food. It seems as if every day was spent growing, gathering, scrounging, cooking and consuming food. She perfected Scarlett O'Hara's vow to 'never go hungry again'. She hoarded canned and dry goods and I never entered her house that there wasn't something in some stage of preparation or consumption.

Our summers together are my best remembered. Most folks in Tennessee have figured out their own strategies for surviving the relentless heat and humidity. Some of us have the 'just go on' method. I learned this from Whitey. It pretty much means, you pretend nothing is different, do what you have to do with the resources at hand and hush complaints, because you can't change it. That's how we met every summer together. While many folks were sitting under fans, languidly melting into the days, we were soldiers in the war on hunger, scrounging and working to feed the family.

It's only been since I have grown and had a family of my own that I realize this behavior was a neurosis about food and I, an unwitting enabler. She was no longer needed or required to feed her children (and subsequent grandchildren) because they were grown and doing fine for themselves. Her scrabbling and scrounging were merely symptoms of her fear of of returning to those hungry days. Those that stopped and ate every day were more getting their share of her love than they were her food. Considering she was the only family member that ever showed any interest in me, I suppose I was in it for the love too.

In my need to please her, I followed her everywhere she would take me. One of my favorite places was Land Between the Lakes (a lovely place shared by Tennessee and Kentucky). Known to locals only as LBL, it has been a staple in many lives raised in this area. It's a conservation area boasting backwoods camping, bison and elk herds, red wolves, a planetarium, a real 1850s working farm and of course, fishing. Whitey was crazy for fishing. It was a practically free way to provide tons of good food for her family. Just like every other pursuit, I was her willing and obedient accomplice.

A typical day at LBL started before the sun was up. We'd have fried country sausage on big old cathead biscuits (with a generous dollop of mustard each) along with a few cups of strong black coffee (I reckon she never even considered I shouldn't have it). We would pack up her giant 1972 Ford LTD with cane poles and an ancient wicker creel. She would've had me digging night crawlers for a couple days beforehand, so the earthy, wriggly creatures would be fresh from the fridge in their perforated cardboard carton along with a styrofoam cup of 'stinkbait', which anglers can tell you is essential for catching Whitey's coveted prey, the catfish.

She'd include an ancient green steel thermos of strong, black coffee (no matter the weather) and a lunch basket packed with rag bologna sandwiches thick with hand sliced American cheese, a cold green-glass bottle of coke and more often than not, two big ripe tomatoes from her garden. These latter would be eaten like apples with a salt shaker in hand. In the trunk of the giant pine green Ford beast was a wooden box, handmade by my uncle with no nails or glue, only dovetail corners and leather hinges, inside which was a collection of hooks, bobbers, sinkers, line, tools and knives. With that, we were completely outfitted for a day of fishing.

The ride was always interesting considering Whitey stood barely five feet tall and therefore drove by looking through the steering wheel, not over it. It was riding in her car that I came to learn Whitey was fearless, afraid of nothing at all, up to and including dying in a fiery twist of crunched metal. We would arrive in LBL as the sun was just coming up, her very determined and focused, me somewhere between sleepy and harrowed. We'd park on a gravel roadside, always at some place she just felt was right and then would start the hike.

After loading me down like a pack mule, layering on bag after basket, she'd lay the wooden box across my arms and take the cane poles in hand. Where I saw no path or way through, she would find the way, leading me on an exhausting but interesting trek through brush and bramble. Later, in my twenties, when I had the leisure to be philosophical about my life, I reflected on these hikes and likened them to Great Life Lessons I felt she was somehow gifting to me, the favored grandchild. Each step, laden with these essential tools of survival and heading toward the necessary work-before-reward scenario, was a step toward enlightenment and survival acumen. Now that I am older, with strong, capable children of my own, I know the even deeper truth. When you are old, you really need someone to carry your stuff.

When we finally reached the shore, it would be perfect. A great strong bank, not too steep... tons of cover for the catfish (they love cavorting around in cool, sheltered places)... lots of shade... isolated and not 'fished out'... she really had a secret talent to find just the right fishing spot. We'd spend hours sitting in mostly silence, only broken when she would correct my form or technique. Much like hugging and praising, chatting just wasn't in her wheelhouse. We'd load the creel down with catfish, almost without fail. I can't remember a bad day fishing. Then again, why would I?

The trip back to the car hours later would be even more exhausting. The picnic basket at least would be empty of food and the thermos drained but the hike back with full creel was almost more than a little kid could handle. Like Whitey taught me, I just did. Once back to the car, I would momentarily be relieved to drop the load into the trunk, but then quickly fear the ride home. Once back, work wasn't done by any stretch, as there was gutting, composting and meal preparation to be done.

At the end of the day, long after the sun had lowered to pinks and blues of summer sky, there would be a table groaning with catfish fried up in spicy corn meal batter, hushpuppies (made with onions and beer), handmade black pepper slaw and white beans topped with tangy chow chow (put back last year) with cold sweet tea and strawberries and cream over leftover biscuits for dessert. I could almost correct 'food is love' to 'food is religion' considering the spiritual nature of just the memory, much less the experience. All thoughts of the hard work and hiking were replaced with the mercenary love of my grandmother... and I miss it every day.