Happiness Descending

colt3.FullSizeRender-3He wouldn’t give me the money. I had a gun on him and my calm must have told him I knew how to use it, but he didn’t care. “I’ve been feeling like it’s time to die lately, anyway,” he said. “So shoot me. You’ll be doing me a favor.”

I lowered the gun. I hadn’t planned on killing anyone other than possibly myself that day before I got the bright idea to find some illegal self-medication. I liked nothing more than the way, when I first got high, it felt as if God reached down and lay his hand on my head. Happiness descended through me, swimming in every cell.

The Colt revolver was twice, three times, as old as me. It was heavy. It might be worth something. An antique, once owned by my great-grandfather, a Pinkerton. I didn’t have any bullets for it, but still. I should have checked on eBay.

“I just want to be happy.”

“Happiness,” the bartender’s grunt sounded weary. “You want a drink?” He asked without moving.

“A hundred drinks won’t cover it.”

“Tell me about it,” he said.

That could have meant a couple of things. One: bartenders are paid to listen to sad stories, so he was just doing his job. Two: he understood how a hundred drinks wouldn’t lift the blackness. I bet on reason two.

“Call the cops,” I said.

“I already pushed the panic button,” he said. In the silence after his final words, I heard the sirens singing.

“Good,” I said.

The cop car skidded to a stop, someone kicked the door in. As I turned to the noise, I raised the gun toward the voices, thinking that one consolation in life is how you never stop learning, not until the last second, like when you know it’s the end, your ability to hear even the smallest sounds intensifies.

 

Love Problem

I was a criminal. I knew that. I knew the credit cards were stolen when I used them, but to me it was just business. And I was going about that business when she busted me. Buoyant with success, I left the upscale boutique thinking of the sweet looking salesgirl. The next time I saw her, (twenty or thirty minutes later, I don’t stop to check the time when I’m running for my life) she showed me her badge. FBI.

Damn.

Eventually we came to a mutual agreement: I would give up the specifics of my boss’s operation. I’d name names, testify under oath in a court of law. All this took time. I was not going into witness protection or anything, they just wanted me alive to testify, then I’d be free to relocate to a new place of my choosing. Meanwhile, she was my constant companion, at least during waking hours.

She brought my favorite foods and shared meals with me at the little table with two uncomfortable chairs that sat opposite the hotel room bed. We ran together every morning and lifted weights at her gym. We talked sometimes.

“You should have been an actor, the way you lie,” she said between bites of enchilada.

“You’re pretty good yourself,” I replied, trying not to preen at the compliment.

And it was a compliment. Some people lie for a living, and to make it, you have to be a damn good liar. You’ve got your actors and writers, who make up stories in the name of art. But undercover police like her lie and so do petty thieves like me. It almost goes without saying that politicians lie, even in their sleep.

She didn’t tell me much about herself, not at first, but little pieces came out: she trained at Quantico, her mother had cancer when she was a kid.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Thinking the mother had died, I put a hand on her shoulder, her skin damp from the sweaty summer day.

“You shouldn’t touch me,” she said. She didn’t move for a minute and neither did I, but finally she brushed my hand off her shoulder. “She’s been in remission for twenty years.”

“Good,” I said as I rolled the word “shouldn’t” around in my head. “Shouldn’t” is different than “Don’t.” While I contemplated that difference, she got up and left the room, her food half-eaten. I put everything into a trash bag and took it outside to a waste receptacle so the joint wouldn’t smell worse than usual. She was in her car, still keeping tabs. I waved. She didn’t return the gesture and her eyes were inscrutable behind sunglasses.

Back in my room, I watched shift change through a slit in the curtain. She left after dinner every night and another guy took her place. Ahead of me loomed another long night of trying to figure out when it had happened. When was the moment I’d fallen in love?

 

 

Writer at Work

When she died, he wrote her obituary. For once, he relished his job. For once, he did not chaff at his editor’s insistence on keeping things short: “Emily Sone, age 68, died Tuesday morning. No known surviving relations.” Those concise lines would allow plenty of space for the lavish ads the local funeral homes purchased, which, his boss always noted, paid their salaries.

He hadn’t included funeral arrangements, but he hadn’t reckoned with her website. Her editor and literary executor more than filled in his deliberate blank spaces. Once he and Emily Stone had taken the same creative writing class. She was a witty beauty always circled by admirers. He never had a chance and over the years his quiet devotion became shaded with bitterness.

He personally didn’t care for her silly sagas, space operas she called them, set among stars of distant planets. He could never see why anyone would read such rubbish, so he never bothered to buy a book or attend a reading. He had never watched an episode, though there were hundreds of them now, of the television show created from her novels.

Good thing she wrote under a different name, turning Stone to Wing in an effort, he supposed, to suggest that the space opera books had been her destiny.  Even his lump-brained editor would have caught his omissions had he used her pseudonym.