Classy and the Strong, a start at something new

(fiction)

“I’ve got a question for you.” Alex leaned on the patina-coated Michigan Ave bridge. He looked down at that brown-brown liquid which in 300 feet would turn, somehow, into a wide-horizoned, blue-green beyond.

Classy, what he alone called her, leaned on the bridge-rail alongside him. Their hair and sleeves and pants and shoestrings billowed like sails in the wind—caught up in all promises, all the possibilities of the windy city.

He turned toward Classy, leaning his elbow up against the rail. His posture moved always so seamlessly, debonair and gentle, in every way. “How should one love dangerously?”
Classy exhaled one of those breathy laughs. Odd as it seemed to her, he always did see her as some kind of cave-dwelling, vehement sage. She suppressed a smirk and glanced over her right shoulder. She could see their dear friends, behind them, dancing about in 76-degree, sun-slathered delight. Classy knew he was talking about them, perhaps even for them.

Alex flashed one of his strong looks. His right eye glinted the noon-time rays and spelled out the delight that descended on him. His left eye condensed the sadness and fear that made his love so real.

“All love is dangerous,” Classy pontificated in her pretentious way. Her tide-watching gaze rolled back to reality, “—at least the way that you do love.” She shivered at the thought—of falling over the bridge rail.

He looked at her with furrowed brow. A corner of his mouth suggested charm. It never did matter who or what or when, the man just infused the world with glory at every glance.
“Don’t you think we ought to get a move on?” Classy glanced at her watch. “Harper’s supposed to meet us there at three, is he not?”

Alex stroked the back of his head, situating every strand of his slick hair.
Aline slid between them. Her soft maroon skirt swept around Alex and Classy’s legs like a delicate embrace. “Do you think I could drink it?” She gazed down to the river.
“I think you could fly!” Jonnie shouted as she jumped up onto the ledge. Thighs pressed against the rail and arms ready to be off with the wind—she seemed to kind of hang there. Perhaps, she even did lift off the ground for a moment.

Right away, Classy yanked at Jonnie’s dewy arm. “Back to the concrete, back to the buzzing motorcycles, and blaring horns with you!” Classy sneered, playfully sober. The tingling sensation that spread across Classy’s back, the moment Jonnie took flight, did not dissipate for sometime thereafter. She kept on imagining Jonnie finally succeeding in one of her venturous acts of splendor and stupidity. Down she’d fall, splashing right into the middle of that dubious river.

Meanwhile, Aline tucked her arm around Alex’s arm and enticed him to continue down the street. Her dark voluminous curls sprung to the rhythm of her steps. Aline’s head only reached Alex’s elbow, but height is no sign of power.

Aline landed in the city only two years ago, but her bright eyes and pure spirit were well-known. The homeless men that sat leaning against the Tribune would yell out as she passed. “Aline, my love!”

She never gave them more than a wink or a smile, but that was enough. Everyone that knows Aline, knows that that is enough. Her quick pace and hard steps, though awkward, had a rhapsodic flicker. Her hair felt like the blues and her eyes could enchant even Psyche.
Classy peered over her sunglasses at Jonnie. “I guess we move onward.”

“Well, I guess so!” she sassed in return.

The four eased their way down the Sunday-crowded sidewalks. Gliding north on Michigan Avenue at 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon is quite arduous for the city-dweller and the suburbian-shopper alike. But, Aline, waltzing was her custom and she led the way.
“At what point do you think Harper will find bigger and better things to do with his time?” Aline peered up at Alex.

“Harper’s not like that Aline,” Jonnie butted in, “You’ll know when you meet him. It’s like passing from Northwestern’s Microbiology program straight to the Goodman theater never even phased him.”

“He’s a singer then?” Classy peeked around to see Alex’s face.
Jonnie stopped mid-stride. “Of course he’s a singer!” She rolled her eye’s over to Classy. “You’d think working at that uppity bar might inform you about the regality of the town.”

~

Carol and Harper were going to meet the fan club at 3 p.m. just south of the boardwalk. Harper sat on the open air bench while the waited for the brown line train. The smoke from his Winston swirled in the windless moment only to be swept away in a thick gust diesel smog that ran through on the infamous Chicago wind. He reclined on his left—eyes down, inspecting the ever fragile wood slats.

Carol shot up from her seat beside him. Her feet slowly tight-roped along one of those slats. When she neared the edge of the platform, she swirled around on one toe and started her way back to the bench. She did this five or six times before Harper flipped his cigarette onto the ground. He stomped it and used the outside of his foot to slide it into a crack, to fall into an even more secure death—cremated and into the wind.

The tracks trembled. “Train,” Carol stated.

The doors slid open and Carol slid in. Harper picked up his canvas tote and walked into the car. “Suppose they will make it there?”

“Ya mean before us? Or ever?” Harper blank stared at Carol, who felt laugh rise up in her throat. Carol was a bad egg, three months new to the city, fresh out of the Indiana’s wheat. She stroked the straight blonde hair tucked behind her ears. Everybody was somewhat unclear as to why Carol was there. Why she moved to the city that is. She was not a dancer, or singer like Harper nor was she a wide-eyed university student, as Harper once appeared. To tell you the truth, she kept her past to herself for the most part. After her highschool-sweetie husband left her she learned not to trust anyone.

Harper smiled at her. “I suppose that you would like to know where I was last night?”
Carol’s eyes rolled to the far end of the train and back to his, “I don’t really give a damn.” She lied. “Just glad you’re here now.” She truthed.

The train weaved its way around the buildings. Brown line bore the most scenic and interesting rides. Neither of them had to look out to know that they were curving around the Steppenwolf theater, a very distinct bout of the ‘El.’

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The little sign of Jeanne Clever

(fiction)

Tragedy—I sensed before me some horrendous fate. At age eight, I thought I’d be orphaned by thirteen. At age nine, I suspected that I’d be paralyzed—in some capacity—by fourteen. At age ten, I figured I’d die by fifteen. It all had to do with these dreams. They weren’t nightmares, but, like, a grand fortitude that would awaken me in the night and launch me into an excessive state of awareness. On one shoulder, a weight of pain, and on the other, purpose.
By year number eleven the dreams had so well chomped away at my psyche that a doom took autonomous root. I didn’t even notice the dreams set sail, until three days after Mom clonked the infamous, recurring plate down in front of me.
I still liked venison. It was a real miracle. The thin, muted meat supported a dollop of clearly cornstarched, sienna gravy. A few peas rolled around on the far-side of the meat, which was all fine by me. The only thing that did bother me was the same thing that bothered me at every meal. Those damned plates—just short of beige with the rings of fruit-laden garlands looped around the edges—were such a distraction. They made even the most colorful food look like week-old leftovers, not to mention the irreducibly spookish tinging noise they made when a fork touched down.
Across from me, Dad drew out his seat down. Mom had been calling venison “O’bone steak” for a number of years. When the boys were young they didn’t like the thought of eating a deer, so “O’bone steak” became the code-word for venison. To the three of us though, it was just slang. Mom knew that I liked deer, and I knew we had to eat it over the winter—no mystery to veil.
After we prayed, I poked at that thin, flaky little piece of meat and lifted it to my mouth. Eating venison on Good Friday felt sacrilegious. I knew the Baptists didn’t really care what you ate. I guess it was just all those years of Catholicism behind me that had me anxious about it. The great burden of fasting still lingered on my eleven-year-old frame. You see, Mom and Dad used to pick up a blueberry muffin for me every Sunday between CCD and Mass, until, of course, my first holy communion. Then I had to fast, to mourn the significant loss of berry-stippled dough.
I forked a second square of steak and plunked it into my mouth. The miraculous part: that deer and I had some history. Looking back on it, I could very well have been disgusted by venison for the rest of my life given our situation. Lo and behold, we met once a week, at least, and I never uttered a word of disdain.
The previous December Dad lobbed a snowball into the ominous, crow-housing pine tree which recreated a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds. I tumbled backward into the snow. It towered over my head. I struggled up to my feet and ran for cover. Bounding through the dense snow, I hiked my knees up to my chest. The little, garden playhouse entered my vision—a close refuge where I could escape my snowball-pelting father. I swung my arms wildly as I reached for the little metal handle. I heaved the door. The frozen eyes of a skinned deer stared me in the face. Stunned and screaming, I, again, fell backward into the snow. The door slammed shut. I sprung up. Dad chased me into the trees.
More snow fell overnight. I headed back out in the morning since it was good ol’ packing snow. I set out to reestablish what was left of my fort, but on the way, I stopped at the playhouse. I hiked over, wishing I had a pair of snowshoes like Jeremiah Johnson. The door creaked as I slowly pulled at the little handle. The deer hung there. It didn’t look as horrifying as I remembered. My eyes descended to the OSB floor. A little snow-drift ramped up the back wall. The brown slush bore dark red droplets, all frozen in place. I noticed that the deer had been ripped open down his stomach and his antlers had been cut off, but even so, he appeared to have peaceful countenance.
Shortly thereafter, my brother’s deer was evicted and sent to a kind of purgatorial resting place, the basement freezer, until chunks of him were brought up once a week.
Little did anyone know, I remained haunted by the vision of his frozen innards. However, these visions didn’t bother my eating habits, except for that Good Friday, though it had nothing to do with the fact that I had visions of the deer in his most vulnerable state.
We ate early because the Good Friday service started at six. Mom cleared the table and insinuated, as only moms can do, the necessity for my father and I to go change our clothes without actually having to say, “Hurry up and get your sorry butts in the car!” She already had on her make-up and had her hair curled out into an equilateral triangle. I changed into my black dress pants and a suit jacket. For the Good Friday service, it was a tacit rule that one must wear black or a muted color of some sort, more or less ranging on the cool side of the wheel.
Mom was sitting in the front seat of the car when I entered the garage. When I opened the back door a blast of icy wind slapped me in the face. Mom had the tendency to get to the car five minutes before me and ten minutes before Dad. When it was cold out, she’d blast the air, hoping that the car would be warm for us when we got there. Regardless of my mother’s good intentions, the blasting air was always, always still cold when I got in.
We ascended the final hill swiveled into the parking lot. The church had an aura of death about it. The low-hanging steel-city clouds nearly brushed the tip of the steeple. The clouds’ misty tentacles reached toward the roof, but could only stroke the treetops.

 

Everyone carried umbrellas at their sides, anticipating rain upon exiting the service. Dad stopped in the restroom and mom and I ascended to the balcony. The lighting was dramatically dim, as the Baptists preferred. We took our seats. The can-lights emitted a soft glow. Their gold interior reflected down warm light. Some of the bulbs seemed a stronger wattage than the others, but when squinting they joined together in an amber chorus.
The worship pastor walked onto the stage. A spotlight flashed on his face. His deer-in-the-headlights reaction quickly returned to somber—downturned lips and incandescent eyes. He welcomed everyone and began leading an acapella hymn. “When I survey, the won-drous cross, on which the prince of glo-ory died. . .”
The sanctuary filled with funereal voices, one of them was mine. The singing evoked in me a kind of darkness. The trial of our Lord ought not to be startling, after my eleven-odd years of reflecting on it, but it still was. Every year Good Friday felt out of place. I didn’t like it. I just wanted to get to Easter already—not to mention the glorious chocolate bunnies and eggs and crosses that awaited me. After eleven years, my heartfelt constricted, as if my lungs sank in and squeezed it.
Dad joined us. He set his Bible on the pew and began singing. He had a way of moving his hands about when he sang. They moved differently than his routine sign-language dialect.
A sadness washed over me, a heavy, weighty, inescapable sinking of mind, weakening of body and yearning of heart. The pastor extended his arms, letting us know we could be seated.
The lights darkened black for a few seconds. Twelve figures scurried around the stage. Then, a woman’s scream rang-out. The lights rose, brighter on stage than on the congregation. All very close together, three Roman soldiers stood on one-side and a group of rag-tag Jewish men and women stood on the other. Peter had just cut the ear off one of the soldier’s ears and Jesus was about to restore it.
That’s when my hands began to rise in temperature. They felt painfully hot—hotter than hell-fire-and-damnation. I looked down at them and slowly turned up my palms. There in the middle of each hand was a little pink line. The lines extended barely a centimeter long, but were symmetrically placed on both my right hand and my left hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mom’s face fixed on the stage. I discretely looked back down at my palms. The line looked like a two-week-old scar.
At home, I had a little Bible with pictures inside. An image of Christ colored the whole right page next to the ascension story. He stood upon cumulus clouds. His long, white tunic blended into the haze at his feet. A purple sash draped around his shoulder and trickled down his side. Christ’s arms were extended forward showing his palms. The scars from the nails gleamed a vibrant red.
With odd resolution, I concluded, perhaps, I would be crucified. One time, Dad had a vision where he hung on the cross. He said, that he turned his head to the side and looked over his shoulder. He found Jesus hanging on the opposite side.
I rested my hands back on my lap and looked at the stage. Simultaneously, I felt both pride and dread. I had heard of those scars before, but they settled somewhat obstructed in my mental dossier. The scars must have been downloaded from somewhere, from some conversation, from some CCD lesson, or some evening story-telling. A few of the saints got the scars. They meant that those individuals had a special likeness to Christ. Those chosen ones were granted special access to him. I felt a little smirk creep onto my face. Beneath the smirk, I sensed a whisper of fear.
The can lights gleamed a starry night. My senses swelled and swelled, the way they do when you know something is about to end. It’s like your senses get extremely spongy so that they can soak it all in.
Everything looked so clear. The cool air rushed through my sinuses. The rough and worn-down cushion allowed my butt and legs to rest on the hardwood pew beneath. With all this wonder, still, dread-drenched my tongue. The dread settled so thick that I couldn’t swallow it down.
On stage, Jesus hung on the cross, unclothed, for the most part. Looking at the audience, he said, “It is finished.” His head clunked to the side. His eyes still peering forward shimmered a vacant stare.
The service lasted only forty-five minutes. The lobby, usually full of laughter and jabbering and hugs and little kids scurrying through the cracks, lay silent save a hiss of whispers. Outside gray clouds radiated a cool brightness. It was so dark in the sanctuary that even the cloud-covered sky blinded me. Mom popped open the umbrella for our trek to the car. An old woman’s perfume clung to the hair follicles in my nose almost the entire way.
We rode home. I examined the scars. My hands no longer burned.
The scars remained through Saturday, yet my hands felt normal. The pink fleshy scars felt no more tender than the rest of my palm as if they were some trick being played on my mind. Throughout the day I glanced down at them. They didn’t inhibit any of my playings, or drawing, or helping Mom pre-cook stuff for the family get-together on Sunday. They just stayed silent and secret, there with me.
On Sunday, I found my Easter basket. It hid behind the old, maroon, rocking-recliner—an easy spot. Mom and Dad ran out of good spots, and I suppose they figured I didn’t care as much since I was getting too old for the whole shebang. Who’s to blame them? Kids try to give off that vibe when they are attempting to seem more mature. I wasn’t exempt from that.
We went to the church. The clouds had lifted since Friday, but the sun remained covered. Even so, the bright colored dresses of little girls and the smiles and kisses from the old-people illuminated the lobby. Streamers and multi-colored lights flashed in the sanctuary. That’s one of the first things I learned about the Baptists. They are stigmatized as “those roisterers so terribly fond of celebration.” Every holiday they sought to be more extravagant than the last—oddly enough it really did seem appropriate.
The whole morning was so exhilarating that I never even noticed the restored quality of my palms until I plucked the bread from that excessive, gold plate.

The post-apocalyptic nature of the Southwest Airlines boarding process

Alas, Thanksgiving has thus inaugurated the holiday travel season. The airports will be bustling, packed with both puddle-jumping passengers and long-layover wanderers alike. The floors will resound with the steps of estranged children nervously returning from passive-aggressive dinners. The air will carry the scent of Grandmother’s embarking on extensive journey’s so that their sons or daughters won’t have to finagle a way to transport the kids’ Christmas gifts without them knowing. The cabins will be crammed with hairy arms and puffy jackets and tiny slobbering mouths and oversized rolling carry-ons scrapping against the plastic sides of aisle seats. I find holiday travel both masochistic and somehow…alluring.

The first time I actually traveled on a high-capacity travel day was about six years ago. It was the day before Thanksgiving and I was to fly Southwest Airlines direct from Chicago Midway to Pittsburgh International. The flight scheduling mechanism, whether human or digital idk, scheduled the plane to leave at 6:00 AM. After a 45 minute journey on the brown line to orange line to Midway, I arrived at the airport at 4:00 AM. The security checkpoint was already a good two-hundred people deep, and counting. We were all stressed, but we were all stressed together. I found that comradery abnormally satisfying. The security line, the bathroom line, the Hudson News store line—they bring some sense of unity when it comes to our common despondency of waiting. But, I must say there exists one line that effaces them all.

Now, I’m all for Southwest Airlines. I’ve got the Southwest credit card and the Southwest app, and if I could find one I’d even don a Southwest baseball cap from time to time. But, just shy of a month ago a friend of mine tipped me off to the abnormal state of passengers when actually boarding the aircraft. In his words, “It’s like post-apocalyptic or something.” I immediately saw that his statement was in fact quite true. It all starts the twenty-four hours before the flight. I sit at my computer waiting for the dictator of modern time, the apple clock, to strike. The digits switch. I slam my index finger to the keypad igniting the “check-in” button. I wait. . .[C18]. How could this be possible?! Who else is up at this godforsaken hour doing this?! I’m destined to be smooshed in the back row between two six-foot seven-inch three-hundred-and-fifty-pound humans and my carry-on will be gate-checked. I mean that’s what I picture when I see “group C.”

Soon enough I am standing, creeping up to the metallic sign-posts, waiting for the boarding process to commence. There is something about that boarding by alphabetical groups that turns us into Hydes. The whole scenario cutthroat. Darwin’s hypothesis at its finest. We are all just scrapping together the remnants of society. We scramble, searching and searching for the final non-middle seat, determined that we, with our wit, shall secure the premium seat and no one will stop us. Those high-browed business selects board with no worries—rewarded by there get-out-of-jail-free card but without the sigh of relief. Pre-boarding—oh, and what lucky people those are to be traveling with a moody eight-year-old and her nagging baby brother on the verge of a nervous breakdown over the retention of some kind of zip-locked snack. Pre-boarding—this is like the only time in all of your daily conscious pondering that you simultaneous envy and despise active military men and women who will leisurely dip there sculpted butts into the aisle seats. A man wearing wire-framed glasses and company rain jacket asks, “What number are you?” all while staring directly at your cell phone. He continues down the line and finally squeezes between an elderly woman and hobbling husband. Let’s face it we all want the best seats, that is, of course, the aisle seat in rows one thru seven or the second the last row, which has easy access to the lavatory yet still reclines.

Perhaps my Hyde still haunts me, but one particular flight only a few short years ago stirred some deep well of emotion and knocked me from this survivalist version of the Matrix. I had secured one of those beloved aisle seats. Right above me, my carry-on lay tucked away in the storage bin. I had just put on my freshly polished glasses when a woman circa seventy years of age leaned down to me. A soft smile spread across her sun-worn cheeks and her eyes glimmered with the remnants of pixie dust. “Is anyone sitting there?” She pointed to the middle seat. “Nope! It’s free.” And that was the end of that. It only takes one soft-spoken gray-haired woman with knitting needles and white musk perfume climbing over your knees in order to nestle into the center seat. I can’t put a finger on what it was but an ethereal cadence beckoned me. I desired to rise above it all!

Well, anyhow, since that mysterious encounter I’ve concluded that due to my being a young woman with well-working joints and a stature on the smaller side of the bell curve it is my responsibility to sit in a middle seat of any given mode of transportation. Dare I say, it is more than a responsibility, but a privilege, an honor to save one fellow soul from their dreaded fear of a middle seat! (Though I might think twice about the back row middle).

And now I say to you: This holiday season let us all rise! Let us all give up the fight for those coveted seats. To hell with Darwin! And as we rid ourselves of this zombie paraphernalia… let’s also enjoy that Southwest has some of the most abnormally delightful flight attendants known to air-history.

Glad tidings.

Celery

Sh-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h-h. The mister hushed the nearby customers. He was just doing his job, ya know, wetting the baby bok choy and the watercress and the romaine lettuce. You’d think these customers would recognize that he was there. It’s not like he did his job haphazardly, he set his spray to a rhythm, enough of a rhythm that the celery expected it. But, the customers, the damned shoppers never did catch on. They’d just jump and sigh—disturbed by the getting wet, pissed at the spray.

One of those very shoppers made her usual route through the store. She browsed the wines to see if any good stuff was on sale. She moved toward the back of the store, letting the fermented goods catch the corner of her eye. But still moving on, she stuck to a tighter budget this week. She told herself that if she was going to have fermented food she would make it herself for a third of the price. Her mind hopped from recipe to recipe as her eyes pranced about the fruits. And then, at last, she closed-in on the wall of green. Spinach? Chard? Celery? Yes, celery. Her eyes locked with the light green stalks. Her hand reached in, feeling the chill of the environmentally/economically-thoughtless-electric-devouring, open refrigerator.

SH-H-H-H-H-H-H. The heaven’s floodgates shed their mist. The unsuspecting customer felt slightly lacerated by the involuntary lightning that shot about her bones. But, worse yet, she thought that perhaps someone had seen. Someone had seen her jump. Someone had seen her arm and face spat on by that devilish invention. She looked side to side—trying to see if there was anyone around. She looked down, yes, I am wearing pants. No, I haven’t peed myself. She tried to regain the recipe list in her mind. It was scrambled. No one stood around to laugh with or at her. And now, she was left with that shame stuck in her bones, thinking about what a sorry girl she is, how she should not have jumped, but she didn’t know what was coming and she didn’t like to be wet. She likes to be smart. She liked to make her own choices. She liked to be in control. And now, she was wet and cold, disgraced by the stupid vegetable mister. Nevertheless, she’d come back next week and do it again. She turned and started picking out the yams that suited her. The mister misted on, doing his job, living out the full potential of his existence only to aggravate distracted people.