Once upon a time, there was a young couple that loved each other very much. He was handsome, caring, and worked hard at a job so that money was never an issue. She was beautiful, intelligent, and had a laugh so pure that even the birds in the trees would stop their songs to hear it. Their love was famous all through the town where they lived.

One bright morning, as the snows on the nearby mountaintop began to melt and the forest around the town became tinted with green, the young couple followed a path through the woods they had taken many times before. They brought a few sandwiches with them in a wicker basket, and picked the small berries that grew only in the winter, and which only they knew the location of. Some time later, they reached the grove where the sun always seemed to be directly overhead, but it was never so hot that they would have to cool down in the shadows. After they sat and talked and ate, he took her hand and they danced with their eyes closed to the sound of the other’s breath (for again, they were in love, so they always heard music and they always saw each other when they closed their eyes.) She threw her head back and laughed as he stopped dancing and pulled her in close so it felt as though the two heartbeats were one. The birds stopped singing and he said all what he could think, “I love you. Marry me.”

She said, “Yes. Of course, yes. Because all I fear in this world is not knowing you, not being a part of you, and having to face these cold, cold winter nights without you. Yes. Always yes. Forever yes.” When they returned to the town, the news made everyone very happy, and preparations were made for a magnificent wedding. He vowed to her that she would never want for anything ever again.

***

They were married in the summer, and a year to the day from their engagement in the forest, they welcomed a son into the world. Everyone in the town agreed that he was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen, with striking green eyes that only his parents recognized as being the same color as their secret winterberry bush. That summer, the husband’s wealth multiplied, and just as he had vowed, everything the family wanted, they had. They moved to a large house away from the village, just inside the woods, so they could raise their child in peace. They slept on a fine feather bed and the husband bought his wife beautiful red and gold high-heeled boots, made from the very best Spanish leather. They even had servants tend to the household duties; one to cook, one to clean, and one to care for the baby boy.

But as the summer began to fade, the husband became concerned for his love. No longer did she laugh, and no longer did they dance with their eyes closed to the sound of each other’s breath. When he rose one morning, he wondered if he had been awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of his wife crying next to him, or if it had just been a dream.

When the snows on the mountaintop began to seep down to the golden-red forest, the cook stopped the husband on his way out the door and warned him, “Your wife, sir. I’m worried for her. She wanders through the house all day whispering frantically about the snow on the peak! Yesterday, she scolded me for not cooking soup hot enough to melt it away! I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to her. She’s not well. I thought you should know.”

The husband became angry with the cook for saying such things about his wife, and threw him out of the house. Yet, the next month, when the snows covered the mountaintop, the cleaning servant came forward and said, “Sir, I mean no disrespect, but your wife isn’t well. While you are gone, she has been asking me if I can sweep up all the leaves around the house and put them back up on the trees. When I said I couldn’t, she went into a frenzy, screaming how she was fearful of the woods. Please, sir. I think you should get a doctor.”

Again, the husband became enraged, and threw this servant from the house. The next month, on the day when the last leaf fell, the husband met the servant who took care of his baby on the road to his house, walking in the opposite direction. When the husband asked where the servant was going, the servant replied, “Your wife threw me out, sir. She has been sitting on the porch all day, staring into the forest. I gave her blankets to stay warm, but she didn’t say anything. Finally, I brought your son to her. She didn’t look at him. She just closed her eyes and asked me if I could hear the music coming from the trees. I told her I didn’t, and she told me to put the baby back in his crib, and then to leave your house and never return. I think you should get her a doctor, sir. She is very, very sick.”

The husband ran the rest of the way home to find what the servant had said was true: there sat his wife, covered in blankets, shivering as she stared out into the woods. He urged her to come to bed with him and their baby, and she silently agreed. She changed out of her Spanish leather boots and the rest of her fine clothing and lay next to her son and husband. The next morning, the husband left the house, promising his wife that he would return soon with a doctor.

***

After the husband left on his fastest horse, the wife returned to the porch and watched as the bare branches cast shadows on one another and the wind opened and closed paths throughout the forest. She closed her eyes for a while. She saw blackness and wind. Then the music came to her like a face in a dream – nebulous, terrifying. She shook as the notes echoed around her, their meaning lost.

As the source drew closer, she heard the song more clearly. She stopped shivering and began to make out some words, “They call me Gypsy Davy oh, they call me The Gypsy Laddie. So you better hide your daughter from me, be she single or be she married.” It began to come into focus. This face had bright green eyes. Or were they black? Was that a banjo? A guitar? A fiddle? A drum? Could it all be coming from one man? She stood up, enchanted by what she heard. “Oh will you go with me, my pretty little miss, will you go with my honey oh? I’ll take you ‘cross the deep blue sea, and you’ll never want for money oh. No, you’ll never want for money oh.”

The song opened a path through the woods and let the noonday sun shine in. The wife pulled the blanket from her shoulders and sailed into the forest. She laughed, and the birds fell silent.

The husband raced to the village to find the doctor. As he rode down the winding road, he felt a strange tickling in his nostrils. Small stacks of leaves, evenly spaced, lined the path, smoldering. He thought it odd, but carried on, determined to help his sick love. As the small stacks became small piles, and those small piles into large piles, the tickling smoke turned into a thick haze. The horse panted and the husband’s eyes watered. He closed them, and only saw his wife. He had to go on. The horse became too frightened to continue, so the husband dismounted, grabbed the reins and led the animal through the fires.

He didn’t know what time it was when he reached the village; thick smoke and ash blocked out the sun. He was cold. He knocked on the doctor’s door, but no one answered. No one walked in the streets. All he could hear was the sound of burning leaves coming closer and closer. The wind came down from the mountain, fed the flames, and blew them towards the abandoned village, the smoke filling every space, from alley to drain, into the husband’s lungs which cried out in desperation. He felt a fire surrounding him and he fainted next to a drained fountain with sculpted cherubim. The leaves inside burned.

When he came to, the smoke was gone. The leaves were gone. His horse was gone. The sun was gone. The people were still gone. He stood up and followed the trail of charcoal back to his wife and child.

The trees near the house were untouched and the woods were silent. The husband breathed heavily when he climbed up the porch and past a pair of red and gold Spanish leather boots and coughed black soot as he rushed to find his son asleep on a fine feather bed. He sighed, and immediately muffled his cough so he wouldn’t disturb the slumber. He stepped outside into the cold, cold winter night and ran to where he knew his wife would be.

***

Once upon a time, there was a young couple that had loved each other very much, and they found each other again in the woods one cold, cold winter’s night.

There was no moon, and the night sky had closed its thousands of eyes.

“Come home, my dear. Come home. Our baby boy is keeping our bed warm. Come home.”

“Home? My baby boy?” She laughed in a way he had never heard before, dark pulpy masses gushing from her mouth. The juices seeped through her dress and dripped on her skin. Her bare feet tickled padded-down grass and she shivered, but not because of the cold. Her head fell to face where her husband’s voice had come from. She could not see him. “No. No, I am happy here in the grove. What care I for your fine feather bed when I have Gypsy Davy to keep me warm? Now leave. It makes me so sad to see you.”

“Please, my love. I want to dance like we used to. I miss hearing our music. Please come home.”

When she finished chewing, she retorted, “I don’t need your music. I don’t need to dance with you. Gypsy Davy plays a much better song. Can’t you hear it? It’s such a wonderful song. Just the best song I’ve ever heard. I can’t stop dancing to it. I like it so much more than your song.” She shivered again. “Can’t you hear it?”

He didn’t know. “I’m so sorry…” he sobbed.

“Don’t apologize. You did nothing wrong.”

“Are you cold?”

“No. The cold has passed. I don’t feel anything anymore.” She was chewing again.

“Let me hold you. Let me warm you. Let me embrace you, sing to you, save you on this cold, cold winter night.”

She didn’t respond.

“I’ll go mad without you!” He screamed, more to himself than to her. He felt naked. Drunk. Mad. Helpless. Childish. Terrified. Mad.

She didn’t respond.

The husband waited to see if perhaps he could find her dancing in the darkness and shadows so he could take her by the hand and hold her close and feel her heartbeat and they could be happy again but he couldn’t and when the sun began to rise he knew that she had left and he began his walk back home.

He heard his son crying when he got near the house. He watched the mountaintop as he rocked his boy to sleep, singing, “Last night she slept on a fine feather bed, her laugh so loud and merry oh. Tonight she rode to the wide world’s door by the side of a gypsy laddie, oh. By the side of the Gypsy Davy oh…”

Cut Down

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

Desperate for money, I mowed my neighbor’s lawn and tried focusing on the nice weather and the twenty-five dollars waiting for me inside. When I was about halfway done with the front, this old Portuguese man walked by with his dog. I was dumping the fresh, wet grass into the compost bag when he said, “You still have a lot to do, my friend!”

I was annoyed that he tried talking to me. I was doing my thing, he was doing his thing… why couldn’t we just leave it at that? I smiled while stuffing the grass down, trying not to sneeze, and said “Ah, don’t remind me.”

“You know, my son, he take care of lawn, but not no more.” That’s great. Please keep walking. “Now I has to take care of lawn. It’s a bitch.”

“Yeah, I know how that is,” I lied. This was the first time I’d touched a lawnmower in years.

“So I stop taking care of lawn. Why bother? I wait two months. Summer get hot. It get too hot for grass. I like that. Hot sun just burn away all the grass! Much easier. You just gotta wait.”

This was funny, I had to admit. I imagined him sitting shirtless in a lawn chair on his driveway watching the rest of his yard turn to asphalt as the sun burned his leathery skin around a huge goofy grin on his face. Scotts lawn care wouldn’t be calling him for an endorsement anytime soon. “That would be easier,” I said.

He adjusted his cap and the dog sniffed the curb and I fastened the bag back onto the mower. Maybe now he’d leave.

“It’s a good lawn, though,” he said.

“It’s not mine.”

“That’s okay. It’s still good. You do good job. Maybe I won’t let sun burn mine this year.” He smiled as he said it.

“The grass likes it best when it isn’t burned to a crisp,” I said.

He laughed and said, “You think it like what you do more?”

“Well someone has to cut it, right?” I was only talking to him now. All I had to do was rev the mower and he’d leave. “If I don’t cut it, it grows wild and you wouldn’t walk past here anymore, would you? It would be ugly.”

“It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yes.”

The dog pulled toward the telephone pole.

“Enjoy your work.”

“Enjoy your sun.”

“Good luck,” he said.

“Good luck,” I said. “Take care.”

So I made my twenty-five bucks from mowing the neighbor’s lawn and I’ll be back next month to mow it again because it’s grass and grass keeps on growing back… but it’s okay, because now I know that the last thing I want is to watch it all burn.

Crazy

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

So there’s this guy, right? And he’s absolutely insane. You’ve probably seen him. He walks around the city all the time. Wears this red knit cap, blue and purple windbreaker, black pants, floppy boots. He’s gotta dress warm, ‘cause he spends all his time outside, but he even dresses that way during the summer. Maybe in the summer he takes off the hat. I don’t know. I can’t remember. Old guy. He’s fuckin’ nuts. Just randomly starts screamin’ at shit. Sometimes he just shouts out the chorus from some old song he used to listen to or maybe something he heard pumpin’ from someone’s car at a red light. Sometimes he just puts out a high-pitch “WHOO!” like he’s gearin’ up to play in the Super Bowl or somethin’ and he don’t ever break stride or take his hands out of his pockets. I heard he used to be some kinda super genius who just snapped, you know? Kept on learnin’ and learnin’ ‘til he just couldn’t understand something or some shit like that and just snapped. Crazy shit, huh? Being all smart like that and just losin’ it? Walkin’ around every day shoutin’ and singin’ at all the shit that ain’t there? You know the craziest part? He’s fuckin’ happy. Always got a smile on his face. Man, I was just like you. I couldn’t understand it.

But that’s not what you want to hear about, is it? Nah, you want to hear about why I’m crazy, right? Have you guys started callin’ me crazy yet?

And the teacher’s going on talkin’ about how she’s sorry she couldn’t grade our tests because it’s been a long weekend for her going back and forth to the hospital or some other bullshit and I just stand up and tell her it’s bullshit, it’s all bullshit, you know? And then she starts yellin’ back at me to get out of her class with tears runnin’ over her baggy eyes and that she tries hard and her father is sick or some shit like that, when Kyle gets up to try and calm us down, but I can’t calm down because I finally fucking get it. I finally fucking understand it. So Kyle’s head hits the desk and I throw a chair over to where the teacher is because it was just in my way and I had to move and I can feel this fucked up feeling of knowing inside me and I hate it. So I run out the door and for a second and I can hear everyone behind me talkin’ to each other real loud and the teacher screamin’ and other people are lookin’ out from the windows in the doors into the hallway, but I’m just runnin’, man. I don’t care that I was never the fastest because I finally fucking understand it.

When I get outside onto the street, I just kinda go downhill because it’s Fall River, right? Everything in this goddamn city is downhill from everything else. So I get a couple of blocks away and I don’t know where I’m going, right? Home isn’t there. I’ve been walkin’ away from home for a long time. Nah, that ain’t right. It was there, but it was never really there. It just dissapeared, little bit by little bit. It walked away from me. And I’m not taking that bullshit no more now. So I start walkin’, but my blood’s still pumpin’ ‘cause I finally understand it. The bullshit’s bullshit and I get it all.

So that’s when I do it. I start screaming out a little bit. Just a little. And it feels good, so I do it more. I’ve never done it before then. No one ever does it, but they should because I swear to God man, it just… I don’t even know. I don’t even fuckin’ know. I just know it did what it did and it worked, you know what I mean? Nah, you don’t. You just scream into pillows, don’t you? You just scream to yourself a little bit every day, don’t you? I did that. I used to do that all the time. But this time, I’m screamin’ it loud, head up, eyes closed, arms stretchin’ out everywhere and I’m screamin’ out every goddamn thing that comes to mind. And people must’ve thought I was crazy or some shit, in their goddamned cars, listening to their fuckin’ music, but I’m not, man, I’m tellin’ you.

I get it all, and I know I’m not crazy.

But that’s where you found me, screaming and walking. And now here we are and you’ve got to try and understand what I’m thinkin’ but you can’t because you haven’t ever walked downhill while screamin’ at the top of your goddamned lungs because you’ve got to understand the bullshit first before you can do that. So fuck you.

And the old guy isn’t crazy, either. He gets it. I get it. You don’t. And you’re gonna tell me I’m wrong or some shit like that, but I’m not. I’m screaming and maybe someone else will hear me doin’ it and then we can understand this shit together, because man, I’m just getting started and there’s a whole lotta shit I still don’t understand.

Birthday

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

It was such a strange birthday that year.

I remember putting on the dress clothes my parents had bought me and which I had laid out the night before: khakis, white loafers, pink-striped button-down with a baby blue necktie and the blazer I had worn for graduation the year before. I stayed up late talking to some girl whose name I’ve chosen to forget, so I hadn’t gotten much sleep. Just an hour or two.

There was a line at the wake, all the way out the auditorium doors into the parking lot where Hell’s Angels were waving American flags and revving their engines. The old vets wearing the hats with insignias and pushing walkers probably couldn’t hear them. I remember the woman behind me sobbing. The man in front of me was talking loudly about thisandthat to the voice in his earpiece and a baby’s scream bounced off the concrete façade. It was hot; almost ninety-two, and I could feel the sun slowly burning away the skin on my nose and my closed eyelids. I could almost hear my mother telling me how I should have put on sunblock like she always told me to do.

I knelt down before the coffin and just kind of stared at the flag draped over it. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t even know why I showed up. But I just knelt there for a while, staring at the flag, then through the flag to the varnished wood, then through the wood to the ravaged body. Maybe my eyes were still closed. I can’t remember.

I felt like I was there for a while, because the woman behind me who had mostly collected herself by the time we made it inside the auditorium broke down again and just about threw me down. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I got up and shook the hands of the man’s mother, father, grandmother, sister, uncle, other uncle, other grandmother, and the almost-widow; the fiancé, holding the hand of the three-year-old son. It was his birthday, too. I guess it was strange for both of us.

I grabbed an empty seat in the back and listened to the politicians talk over the flag over the wood over the body. The man sitting to my right said something to the man sitting on his right and they both laughed. The sobbing woman sat to my left. A marine gave the almost-widow some medals. The uncle gave a funny eulogy. The other uncle gave a sad one. The father refused to go up at all and the almost-widow left at one point. I texted my parents saying don’t worry, I’m okay, I’ll be home soon. They said my best friend had showed up early and they were all wondering where I had gone. I said don’t worry, I’m okay, I’ll be home soon.

Some hours later, after I blew out twenty-three candles and opened up gift cards and packages with ugly, ill-fitting clothes, I watched my mother cut up the cake and put the thin slices on plastic plates with big scoops of French vanilla ice cream. I remember watching it melt. They watched me watch it melt.

And when my friends left dejected after I said no, I don’t feel like killing some brain cells tonight, I watched them walk to their cars from my bedroom window. I was lying down on the bed when my parents knocked on the door saying that I knew I could talk to them about anything. They love me. Happy birthday. My thigh buzzed and the girl said she doesn’t usually make offers like this, but since it’s my birthday…

I walked out to the woods that night wearing mostly nothing – exposed. Overcome by jealously, I leaned my head against a tree and stared past the bark and waited for a bullet to come and drill my brains into the spot where I was staring. When I knew it wasn’t coming, I waited for the world around me to explode; just swallow me up like an angry beast. But then the nothing. And then the nothing.

I knew there must be more to it, but there just wasn’t. I was like a father without a child, a husband without a wife, a soldier without a war.

It was such a strange birthday that year.

Graffiti

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Poems

As a young man I hid my spray cans and stencils

Inside a black canvas backpack under my bed

And sprinted between shadows

From tenements to train tracks

Corrupting and claiming walls

And I called the city mine.

I’d wake between the cracks of bricks and sidewalks

Stretch my skin across a concrete canvas

And preach in colors

Turning grey to gold

My portraits were promises

And the city was all mine.

 

I stood from building-tops and billboards

Painted prayers flowed along the alleys

And the stars were spotlights

Over derelicts and dumpsters

Turning with time

And the city died and rose again.

For Caroline

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Poems

“I don’t smoke,” she says

as she lifts back the bottle

and the golden liquor

burns and soothes.

 

And when she cries she smiles

And she doesn’t know why

Except that it feels like a note

Too low to sing.

 

Her laugh consumes

Angst for a time

Until the humor bleeds dry

And she closes her eyes again.

 

And so she burns burns

Burns, lying in an ashtray,

trying to sleep

Like the cigarette she’ll never smoke.

She Lost Her Words

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Poems

At the bottom of the purse

Beneath the compact and the cell phone

And with fingers fumbling and tongue tied

She watched helplessly as what she really wanted to say

Held itself hostage underneath the lipstick,

Cushioned by a half-used-up

Package of tissues.