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.


Origin Story

I can’t remember a single happy goodbye in my life. There is no such thing, far as I can see. I don’t know why people say it when it is so obviously stupid and wrong. Why would you want to leave a concert or your mom or your dad or your best friend or anybody? Leaving school is good, but nobody says goodbye to a building. Act like that and soon you’ll have no friends to say goodbye to, because everyone will think you’re crazy and avoid you like you’re not in the band anymore.

I am crazy, but it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone. I have to admit, now I’m thinking about it, I’m always happy to leave my shrink’s office. There are, in fact, moments of exuberant goodbyes. Don’t tell anyone I have a shrink, either, okay? My parents are divorced and they thought I wasn’t coping well because of all the goodbyes involved so they make me come to therapy.

My therapist is an idiot. He just sits there in his chair with his notepad and pen and waits for me to talk, like I’m going to spill all the horrors in my head, as if they will roll from my tongue like a tapeworm he can pull out with his silence. When I get tired of looking at the box of tissues on the table between us, I tell him my theory about goodbyes not being good.

He totally doesn’t say his usual “and why do you believe that?” Instead, explains, with out of proportion enthusiasm, that the word originated from the old English phrase “God Be With You.” So I say “namaste” and bow my head. He doesn’t get the joke. He is not on his game today at all. Inside I’m laughing. My mom has been practicing yoga forever, so I know “namaste” means essentially the same thing as “god be with you” depending on your version of God.

I ruminate a bit on how it’s kind of cool that way back when they were changing the lexicon in a very radical way. We are not the first generation to LOL. My shrink explains in painful detail, “god” was turned into “good.” BWY (Be With You) was turned into “bye” and ‘bye is what I want to say to this supposed therapist who is sucking on a mint and not doing a damn thing to earn his pay. I already have teachers endlessly cramming useless facts into my head. He’s supposed to make me less angry. He’s not. They’ve got me on medication and that’s what has stolen my rage. Even the guys in the band notice. They say I’m losing my intensity, but they take it easy on me because a couple of them have divorced parents too.

Rage was the one thing about this new life of goodbyes that was mine and of course they took it from me the way they took everything else. What nobody knows, so let’s keep this just between us, is that I flush the pills down the toilet now. Nobody’s caught on. When my rage comes back, I will keep it inside like all the other things I don’t want people to see. Maybe I’ll write a song about it. I think someone ancient already did a poem. Raging against death, I think he was. I can use his lyrics because way back then there was no such thing as plagiarism.

I know what that dead poet guy means, raging against death. Our family died even though we are all still alive. Goodbye family. Goodbye Mom. Hello Dad. Goodbye Dad. Hello Mom. It can get pretty monotonous in this head without the rage, but it will live again and it will be furious. Before the meds, I liked to feel rage building and then I’d channel it through my guitar, but maybe now rage will have it’s own way. Everyone knows you silence rage at your own risk.


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.


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.