The Stranger's journey has now come full circle.
Join me in the bright sunshine at When Words Go Free...

There are still stories to be told.
Read them at The Stranger Looks Back.


He woke up in a daze. His surroundings seemed both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He wasn't quite sure whether he was here or there, what was real and what was not. Until then, he had always been able to separate the two, even when there was some overlap.

Now, the bridge that he walked seemed more like a balance beam, on its way to becoming a tightrope. He didn't know if he was more afraid of falling off or staying on. And if he were to fall off, which side he was more afraid of falling into.

He had not expected this, not even a little. In fact, he hadn't been so thrown for a loop since he first started walking that bridge, so long ago. Despite appearances, he generally knew where he was, the impression of omnipresence entirely by design. It was not that he had any specific plan - he knew better than that - but he did have a general direction in mind.

He had very recently been reminded, quite serendipitously, that there was a time he was indeed looking for answers to questions that didn't need any. Then, there had been an answer that now seemed almost prophetic; considering the source, this did not surprise him at all. The apparent randomness of the reminder made him wonder if the universe was going out of its way to prove the point.

He knew that things would unfold as they should, and that the best he could do is enjoy the unfolding. As far as he had come in this respect, he was having trouble with it now. As much as wanted to just be wherever this was, at least some part of him wanted to believe that it would bring him somewhere else some day. But he knew that's not how it works.

As he considered these things, he realized that his confusion was just part of where he was, something to be experienced, not overcome. It would find its own way to where it should bring him; all he had to do was try to keep up while remaining true to himself. As much as this scared him, and as much as part of him still wanted answers and reassurances to magically appear, he accepted where he was and welcomed the next leg of his journey with open arms.

At that moment, he did know one thing for sure. The lines that he had so diligently drawn were now blurred beyond recognition, and for that, wherever his road led him, his worlds would never be the same again.

Old Friend, Revisited

I am starting to think that I may have had an affair.

I was separated from my wife at the time. She was a friend of a friend of my wife. At one point, she had been a friend of my wife, but they had a falling out. I don't know why.

We had become friends, in a casual sort of way. We just kind of clicked, as people, not as a man and a woman. At least not that we would acknowledge to each other. We had many common interests, a similar life view, whatever that is, and a sense of camaraderie.

A couple of months into my year-long separation, a singer was coming to town that we both liked. I bought tickets. I asked my wife if she would mind if I went with her. My wife didn't mind. I asked her if she wanted to go. She asked me if my wife would mind. I said she wouldn't. He didn't sing my favourite song of his because he never sings anything from his first album. Other than that, the show was magical.

Over the next several months, we went to two other shows together, also with my wife's "permission." They were also magical. For one of them, we took the subway. On the ride back to where I had parked my car, our bare arms brushed against each other for a second or two. It felt like nothing I had ever felt before, or since. That was the only time we ever actually touched during that time.

During this time, the time of my separation, we talked. A lot. A real lot. We would spend hours on the phone, so much that we both upped our long-distance plans, after those first devastating bills. We talked about anything and everything. We acknowledged our attraction to each other. We discussed life, music, politics, children, relationships. You name it, we talked about it. We fell asleep on the phone together at least once, maybe more.

Once, when I dropped her off after the last of those shows, she invited me in for coffee before my long drive home. We had coffee, we smoked cigarettes, and we talked. A lot. A real lot. At some point I said I should go. She stood at the top of the stairs as I walked down them, where I stopped at the door to outside, and turned towards her to say goodbye. Then we talked. A lot...

That whole time, that night, I wanted to walk up those stairs. I wanted our skin to touch again. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to kiss her. I didn't do any of those things. Some time after we noticed that the sun had come up, we said our goodbyes from our respective ends of the stairwell, and I opened the door to outside and left.

The Thin Blue Line

Sometimes he wondered if he would ever get there. With each step, he knew that he must be getting closer, but it always seemed just out of reach. It looked like he was getting closer, but it didn't feel like it, as though it were all an illusion. Maybe it was.

Each morning he would wake up thinking, "Today. It will be today." Each night he would go to bed thinking, "Tomorrow. It will be tomorrow." Each day the line got thinner, to the point of being almost invisible, but it was still there. It seemed like no matter what he did, not matter how hard he tried, it didn't make a difference. Like running on a treadmill, going as fast as he could without getting anywhere.

Then it occurred to him that maybe he was trying too hard, that he was too desperate. He had always believed that the universe in which he lived gave back what was put into it, but now he thought he might have misunderstood that at least a bit. That it wasn't simply a numbers game, a question of put more in, get more back.

He came to realize that in doing only for the promise of reward, he was denying himself that very reward. That the doing had no value, because he did not value it other than for what it could achieve. He understood now that he had been so focused on the destination that the journey had become meaningless.

His newfound understanding in hand, he let go of the "goal." He just put it out of his mind and went about his business, doing for the sake of doing, being for the enjoyment of being. He embarked upon the journey, and found that it was it's own reward.

Not long after this, it happened, seemingly without any effort on his part. While he wasn't even looking, he reached his original destination, and found that it was simply a step in the journey.

Vodka & Coke

It's her fault, that vodka and coke is my drink. I had always been a rum and coke kinda guy, Captain Morgan and all that, until I asked her what she was drinking. Vodka and coke? I never heard of that. Try it, she said. So I did. That's when I learned that vodka goes with just about anything, but not rum.

I might have gotten drunker that night than any other in my life. And why not? After all, it was an Irish wedding. My cousin's wedding. Her cousin's wedding. Our cousin's wedding. In case I might have forgotten, my grandmother's nurse was kind enough to remind me: "You know she's your cousin, right?"

I didn't much care. Or wouldn't have cared, had there been a reason not to. We danced. I don't dance, but we danced. We drank. We sat together on the bus back to Middleton. I think we may have fallen asleep. I don't remember how or why, but I didn't go back to the hotel. I went to her father's house. I think I might have prayed to the porcelain god - that would have been the rum and the vodka fighting it out.

We fell asleep on the sofa. I don't know why, but I'm sure it was a sofa, not a couch, even though I still don't know the difference. In any case we fell asleep on it, and woke up on it. All I remember of that is how peaceful it felt, how right, falling asleep like that, waking up to find our arms wrapped around each other, so close and yet so far.

There was nothing even remotely sexual, or even romantic, about any of it. It just felt good to be beside her. God she was beautiful. And so sad, it seemed. I knew she was married. I knew she wasn't happy. I knew that her husband, I think his name was John, was an asshole. That's what everybody said, anyways. I wondered why he wasn't there with her, at her cousin's wedding, at her father's house. She had said he had to work, but the looks on the faces of the others when she said that told me it wasn't so.

So what of it? I met a distant cousin, we seemed to hit it off in some sort of way, we had a really nice evening enjoying each other's company. We traded addresses and promised to keep in touch. And we did, for a short while. She wrote, I wrote back, she wrote back, I didn't. Her last letter scared me, so I put it off, meaning to write, but never did. I just didn't know how to deal with the awkwardness of it.

All these years later, I know there was something there, some unspoken connection between us. When two people meet and just take to each other, like that old cliché about how it feels like you've known each other forever, there is something there. At the very least, a friendship that could have been lasting and true. Maybe more, maybe not. I'll never know.

But hey, I saved myself from some awkwardness.

Mastery Of The World: Part I

They were as sorry a ragtag bunch as ever tried to rule the World. They seemed to know that they were doomed to failure from the start, but they didn't care. They were in it for the fun, and they had much of it. Mostly descended from Islanders, they answered the Alpha's query and set to properly assigning themselves rank and title. By general consensus, the Horseman became the leader, but there was some confusion as to who was second-in-command, and nobody seemed to care much.

Hopped up on amphetamines thanks to the Dealer, their plan of attack was distracted by the arrival of lunch. Not wanting to take over the World on an empty stomach, they ate and drank and forgot why they were there in the first place. The men among them sought after amorous diversion, some of the women among them became men so as to join in, and at least one of the men among them became woman for no apparent reason. The Hermaphrodite wasn't sure which way to turn, but did so several times anyways.

Eventually, they had it all sorted out and awoke from their slumber, only to find that their leader had left them for the dubious pleasure of feline company. By this time, the World had caught wind of their plans, or at least their intent; they were still a long way off from having any actual plans. The World thought to put an end to their enterprise, then decided otherwise, confident that they would hang themselves, given enough thread.

After a breakfast of haggis and frites, they noticed the remains of the veela they had ravished and devoured the night before, and wondered if that should be thought of as cannibalism. After a brief discussion they decided not, finished up the leftovers for lunch, and wondered what they would have for supper, during which discussion the Eggman was chastised for referring to the veela as french fries. The Cyclops pointed out that indeed, the lovely ladies had been grilled, not so much for taste as to avoid trans-fat.

The Cowboy wandered off, muttering something about having been invited to play golf with a nice but manly-looking Baroness in a plaid skirt, while the Princess inspired the others with her awesomeness. This sort of thing went on for what seemed like quite some time, and while weapons were designed and tested, no advance was made upon the World, and recruitment efforts failed miserably. A few others, among them the Jester, the Referee, the Venerable, the Queen, the Harpie, and the other Giraffe, dropped by out of curiosity, but none were impressed enough to join in.

In the end, they didn't so much give up as forget about the whole thing, and when a random pillock came by to hawk his wares, nobody was left to notice. The World smiled.

Zombie Breakfast

I looked at the pieces of the smashed camera on the sidewalk. As shocked as I was that I had done that, I was more afraid of what I might do next. I wondered how fast I would have to go to be able to drive off a pier into the river, like in the movies. I wondered if there was even a pier in the area where I could do that. So I got into my car and drove.

I didn't know where I was going until I got there. I didn't even know that I knew exactly where it was until I saw the sign. I pulled into the parking lot and walked to the main entrance. I was still wearing the camera strap. I told the lady at the front desk that I thought I was going crazy and might do something crazy, and could I stay here for now?

She asked for my health insurance card, which she put into the little machine with a form that I had to sign on the bottom. A few minutes later, I was sharing my angst with a nurse, who then brought me to my room, where I was to just try to relax and wait for a doctor to see me. I didn't wait very long, and after a short interview, the doctor instructed the nurse to give me two little green pills. I slept very well that night.

Not long after I awoke, I was ushered to breakfast in the dining hall. I was a bit taken aback by this - I had never been in a hospital where you didn't eat in your room, and I really wasn't in a mood to be around a lot of people. That turned out not to be a problem at all. The first sign was the way they shuffled to their seats without any indication that they were aware of the presence of others. The second was that their eyeballs didn't move.

The clincher was the green slop. When my bowl was put in front of me, I eyed it suspiciously, not quite sure for a minute if I was supposed to eat it or wait for someone to bring newspaper for a papier-mâché project. I looked around and saw the others methodically dipping their plastic spoons into the bowl and depositing the substance in their mouths. I dipped my own spoon and slowly brought it to my face. It had no smell at all; I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing, so I cautiously put the tip of the spoon to my mouth.

I had never known that tastelessness could taste so bad. I was rather hungry, so I tried my best to eat it, but two spoonfuls was all I could take. When I looked up to see that many of the others had finished their bowl and were lining up for seconds, as lifelessly as they had earlier walked in, that's when I knew for sure.

A little while after I got back to my room, a nurse came in to escort me to a room where I was to wait for a doctor. When he came in, I was surprised to see that it was the same doctor I had seen elsewhere several years earlier, when he had told me that he could give me something that would work much better after I had taken a bottle of Anacin. He didn't recognize me, and I didn't mention our earlier meeting.

He asked me how I was feeling, and why I had come there the previous evening, and I told him about the girl and my father's camera and my thoughts about driving into the river and my seemingly unintentional itinerary that brought me to the hospital. After we chatted a bit, he looked at his watch and asked me if I would rather sign myself in until I was better, or leave. I thought of my breakfast companions, and imagined seeing them again at lunch.

"I feel much better, doctor. I'd like to go home now."

Devil in a Green Dress

(Continued from Lady In Red)

Twenty minutes passed before I realized that she wasn't coming back, that she hadn't gone to the bathroom at all. Torn between the concert I had been looking forward to and the woman I thought I was in love with, I left. I was not at all surprised when I found her at the bar. She was not at all surprised to see me, as though she had left just to make sure I would follow.

It was a week or two later that the cop told me I should go home and forget about her. That I seemed like a bright young man who could do better. That she was nothing but trouble, had been for a while, and so was he. Her ex-boyfriend, that is. Or more accurately, her other boyfriend. When they finally found her hiding in a dresser drawer (no shit), he grabbed a steak knife and started cutting across his forearm. "Rodney," the cop said,"you're doing it wrong. You need to cut here, like this." To my dismay, Rodney dropped the knife.

Fool that I was back then, another couple of weeks later and we were staying up in the country while I drove into the city to work every day. It was at least a week and a half before I found out that another one of her admirers, a moron named Eric, had been sleeping in a shed and visiting her at the house while I was gone during the day. Bigger moron that I was, I gave him  money for the bus and told him to get lost, only to be genuinely surprised that he was still there the next day. This time, I bought the ticket myself and watched him get on the bus.

The great flood ended my daily commute, and with it our stay in the country. When we got back to the city, she went off on her merry way, and I didn't see her again until she showed up at my apartment with Eric and a guy named Vic, whose intent was to rob me, which he did. I remember asking as he drove me to the bank machine, with a bunch of my stuff in the trunk of the stolen car, if he was going to kill me. I don't remember his answer, but I do remember finding myself surprised at how calmly I had asked. Needless to say, he didn't kill me.

Despite his warnings, I did report the crime, and didn't hear from her for another couple of weeks, when she called to say how sorry she was about what had happened. I told her to come over and we would talk about it. When she arrived, my roommate said he had to go to the store, and called the police from a neighbour's, as planned. I have never seen such sad eyes as the ones she looked at me with when they put the handcuffs on her. She had not expected this betrayal.

Of course I felt bad about the whole thing, sure that she hadn't known that Vic was going to rob me. So when the judge at the bail hearing read the usual condition about not communicating with the victim, I asked if that were really necessary. I was posting her bail, after all. At trial, she said that she didn't know that Vic was going to rob me until he did, and then was too scared to do anything other than go along with it. My testimony did not disprove this, and she was given the benefit of reasonable doubt. I left immediately upon hearing the verdict - I had just enough time to run to a nearby store to buy a modest bottle of bubbly and get back to the courthouse to offer it to her and her mother on their way out of the building.

Another couple of weeks later and she stood me up on what was supposed to be a romantic weekend in the country for her birthday. So I went up alone and smoked and drank and smoked some more and spun some vinyl and screamed at my ancestors until I passed out. I woke up with a wicked hangover and a cannabis fog, but something was missing. That uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that had been so familiar to me was gone. I wasn't worried about where she might be, wasn't concerned about who she might be doing, didn't seem to care about her any more at all.

Several months later, she called me out of the blue, and we had that weekend. It wasn't quite romantic; I felt no emotion towards her beyond physical attraction, and there was enough of that on both our parts not to care about anything else. A gentleman never tells, but she was no lady, and I'm okay with saying that we went at it like rabbits for two days until we could barely walk, and then we went at it some more. I never saw her again after that, nor ever wanted to. That weekend alone would have made all the other crap worthwhile if the cat hadn't already done that.

The Gardener

He had never really gotten involved in the affairs of the town. Like Arthur Dent, he was the sort who minded his own business, and left others to mind theirs. In this equation, the town was part of "theirs." Until the town decided how his garden should be displayed. Then it became his business.

At first, he wasn't quite sure what was going on. He thought he might have made an error somewhere, maybe checked the wrong box on a form, and the whole thing was a misunderstanding. He headed out for the repair shops, and happened upon a crowd gathering at City Hall. It seemed that he had made no mistake; a new ordnance had been issued, and a number of other gardeners were in a similar situation.

The crowd demanded that the invisible overlords repeal the ordnance. They circulated petitions. They wrote letters of protest. They demanded answers. They threatened to leave and grow their gardens elsewhere. They ranted and raged. At first, the rent-a-cops that were generally the only visible sign of authority at City Hall didn't know exactly what was going on. They had known about the ordnance, but hadn't expected it to cause some of the problems it did. It became clear that the invisible overlords had made a few mistakes in the drafting of it.

The invisible overlords sent out a couple of emissaries to circulate among the crowd and gather information about these particular problems, something almost unheard of at the time. Eventually, they amended the ordnance to remove the severest of the new restrictions, but said nothing about the rest. His own immediate problems had been resolved, but by then he was already drawn into the fray.

While others left to tend to their own affairs, he stayed with the crowd to protest what he still thought was an injustice, even though it no longer affected him directly. He explained his continued involvement with the old maxim about them having first come for the communists and there eventually being no one left to speak up. He realized that rules concerning the display of gardens was a long way off from the situation that inspired Niemöller's words, but it was a matter of principle.

The most glaring of injustices having been dealt with and the emissaries having left, the rent-a-cops took a marked turn in their dealings with the crowd. Their initial sympathy disappeared, replaced with a hard-line justification of the ordnance. They spoke of limited resources, criticized greed among the gardeners, and made it clear that the ordnance was here to stay. They implied rather than stated that this was the final decision of the invisible overlords, who remained as silent as they were invisible. The rent-a-cops openly invited those who were still upset to uproot their gardens and replant them elsewhere, and many did.

His own fervour had subsided somewhat. Early on, he had left the crowd for a brief period to take a look around the exterior of the fortress that was City Hall. He had come across what appeared to be a back door, and rang the bell. Eventually someone answered, apparently having been awakened from a deep slumber. They knew nothing about the situation or the crowd that was protesting in front of the building; in fact, they knew very little about gardens beyond the fact of their existence.

Nevertheless, they expressed polite interest in his concerns, and promised to pass them on. After another long wait, someone else appeared at the door. This person seemed to be somewhat less somnolent, but almost equally ignorant about issues relating to the display of gardens. They asked him to write a summary that they could pass on to the invisible overlords,  which he promised to do.

He returned to the crowd and began by compiling a list of the various petitions and letters of protest - he thought that surely this would impress the invisible overlords with the gravity of the situation, as well as form the basis of his summary. Having completed this list, he found that he had become weary and could use a short break before writing the requested report.

He wandered into the repair district and helped a few gardeners with some unrelated problems. He strolled through the school district, where he popped into some classes to share some of what he had learned about gardening. He found that he quite enjoyed this, and began to forget all about the ordnance; by this time he had stopped screaming about it and had started to advise other gardeners on how to live with it.

One evening after making the rounds of several classes, he felt a bit tired and thought that a strong coffee would perk him up, and maybe he would get to that report that he was supposed to have written. He headed toward the café district, where he met up with a few other souls wandering around aimlessly. It was a quiet evening during which the coffee that was being offered for consumption was not particularly full-bodied or flavourful.

He began to wonder what he was doing there, and thought that others might be asking themselves the same question. He picked a spot at which he could present this query to passersby. To his surprise, people started to drop in to chat with him. Few actually answered his question, but the conversation was engaging enough for him to stay.

He started visiting many other gardens, and became inspired to grow a second one of his own, which he has found to be quite rejuvenating, even at his age. Sometimes he imagines the flowers in his new garden to represent other gardeners he has met.

He still puts in a hand at the repair shops and wanders into a classroom from time to time, and once in a while he walks past City Hall to see what the issue of the day is. The crowd protesting the ordnance is long gone, its participants having learned to live with what is.

He hasn't been to the back door of the fortress since his initial visit, but he always carries a little map reminding him of where to find it, just in case. And of course, he never did write that report.

Lady In Red

"You, come here," she said. What else could I do? I went. She grabbed me and kissed me. I kissed back. She told me to get in the cab. I did. On the way, her mother asked what I was doing there. I said, "She told me to get in." Her mother asked, "Do you always do what people tell you?" I answered, "When they look like her." I paid for the cab.

We slept on the floor. There may have been other people around - I was too drunk to notice. At some point I woke up to hear her coughing. She went to the bathroom and came back without her nylons on. When she lay back down, she pulled me on top of her. It was not spectacular, but it was nice. And quiet. If there were others around, they either didn't notice or pretended not to.

The next day, she told me about her boyfriend. We were in a bed then, she was naked, I was not. She wanted me to be. I didn't. I was afraid of her boyfriend showing up. This was before I knew she was telling people that I was her boyfriend. Apparently she had a few boyfriends.

Then there was the car chase. She had been at the bar, drunk and stoned, and left in a cab. Some girl that said she was her friend thought that we should follow her, so we did. In those days, I usually did what girls I didn't know told me to do. There should have been an accident. I still don't know how there wasn't. There was a car directly in front of us, then it was directly behind us. If I went around it, I didn't remember. Eventually, we lost the cab, and I drove the other girl back to the bar. Apparently she was a lesbian.

I bought tickets to a concert. We were to go together. Her grandmother was to buy her a dress for it. I couldn't stop thinking about how beautiful my lady in red would be, how we would kiss while he sang that song. I was in seventh heaven on my way to pick her up; it was going to be a magically romantic evening. I should have known better when I got there. The dress was green.
(Continued at Devil in a Green Dress)

The Prisoner

The prisoner was brought to the town square. The judge read the charges, rendered the verdict, announced the sentence, and retired for the night. The prisoner stared at the small crowd that had gathered. The crowd stared back. The assassin approached the pile of stones that had been left there for the occasion, picked one up, and hurled it towards the prisoner. It missed.

One of the townsfolk asked whether there should be some sort of appeal. The prisoner said none was needed. The assassin hurled another stone, and missed again. The prisoner whistled. The crowd got bored and left. The prisoner fell asleep. When he awoke, he was alone in the town square, so he left to join his friends at the bar.

And that was the end of that.

Old Man

You sonofabitch. Do you have any idea how many times I've said "I wish you could have met my father?" I've said it to friends, girlfriends, my wife, my girls - your granddaughters that you didn't bother to stick around for. To the others, who knew you only briefly, I've said, "I wish you could have got to know him better." What was so interesting in that bottle that it was more important than being Grampa Paul?

If you had been a dumb fat fuck, nobody would have missed you. People would have nodded their heads in mock sympathy and said, "He's in a better place now." But you were a bright fat fuck. You had ideas. You inspired people. Remember when you started the company softball team? We were proud to wear those t-shirts, no matter how badly we lost, and we always lost. We had fun, and that was all your fault.

Remember Lily and Fritz from up here? I run into Lily in the village sometimes. Yesterday she told me I walk like you. It's been 30 years since she last saw you, and she remembers how you walked. Who leaves that kind of impression on people? A few years ago, I saw Aunt Belle not long before she died. She had no idea who I was, but when I said "I'm Paul's son," she looked up and whispered "Paul?" with what was left of her feeble voice. I said, "No, I'm not Paul - I'm Paul's son," and she looked away. As far as anybody knows, your name was the last word she ever spoke.

So why'd you do it? What was so terrible about your world that you couldn't face it with all your wonderful wits about you? Why was it that every time you started to get somewhere, every time you began to achieve success in whatever you were doing, you dove back into that bottomless vat of vodka? What the hell were you so afraid of?

Now that I'm almost older than you ever were, it's a bit funny to me that I used to call you "old man;" it brings a smile when my girls call me that. Then a tear, knowing you would have had them call you the same thing. Saddest is that we will never know what you would have called them, only that it wouldn't have been their given names.

Not so funny is that my last words to you were "Call me back when you're sober." And you weren't even drunk that time. Of all the words I've ever said to anybody, those are the ones I wish I could take back. I'm sorry, old man. But much sorrier that you never called me back.

Strange Days

They met at the strangest of times,
When both were between here and there,
When each were just starting to climb,
Each one on their way to some where.

They met in that strangest of places,
Where their eyes did first catch a glance,
Where the masks that they wore as their faces
Made it safe to join up for a dance.

They danced to the strangest of tunes.
They danced through an afternoon fair.
They danced to the light of the moon.
They danced 'til it gave one a scare.

The season did turn to the next one,
The song then did come to its end,
The game at last all out of  fun,
The stranger no longer a friend.

As they pass now there's hardly a word,
With barely a glance to remind
Of the memories already blurred;
They're looking for new things to find.

They met at the strangest of times.
They met in that strangest of places.
When they danced they were each in their prime.
When they danced there were smiles on their faces.

Original Sin

"I don't consider myself a black person." As soon as she said it, I knew she was black. I didn't care. She was a girl, and she wanted to meet me. She could have been green with pink polka-dots. She was a girl, and she wanted to meet me. Besides, she was a full year and a bit older than me. And she was a girl, and she wanted to meet me.

I met her at the end of her street, across from the dep. I went up to her and asked, "Looking for someone?" She said, "No one but you." Or it might have been the other way around. Or that might just have been something we told people when they asked us how we met. I think we walked around a bit. I might have bought some soft drinks. If there was a parting kiss, it was not one I remember.

I remember our second date more clearly. We drove to the lookout, and everyone knows what that's for. I had very little experience French-kissing; I had never done it with anyone who knew how, and I sure as hell didn't. I must have learned quickly, because about 10 minutes in, she stopped suddenly, stared at me, and said the words that a 17-year-old boy least wants to hear from the girl whose tongue has been dancing with his: "I love you." I must have blacked out then, because the next thing I remember is we were snogging again, apparently having forgotten about something, but I wasn't quite sure what. All in all, it was a good second date.

As I was getting ready for our third date, I had two songs in my head, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad and Tonight's The Night. I have always been a fan of Marvin, and never much cared for Roderick, so naturally I went with the song that made me think I was going to get laid. She was a girl, and she wanted to meet me, again. This virgin child was ready for the secret to unfold.

We drove around looking for a place to park. I was to become a man in a 1972 yellow two-door Gran Torino with brown vinyl upsholstery. We settled on a quiet street with houses on one side and a field on the other. Just as we were going over what I had already learned, the porch lights went on at the house directly across from us, the front door opened, and a silhouetted figure emerged to peer intently in our direction. I was not to become a man on that street. Or any other, it seemed; we couldn't find one that was suitable.

We abandoned the Torino at the north end of the park that borders Chester Ave. We took the blanket, found a nice spot near the swings, and continued where we had left off. I must have remembered what I had learned, because about 10 minutes in, she stopped suddenly, stared at me, and said the words that a 17-year-old boy most wants to hear from the girl whose tongue has been dancing with his: "You wanna fuck?"

I was a bit unclear on the question, so I asked her to clarify: "Do you?"  I don't remember the exact words that followed, but we clarified the question. Twice. I must have learned quickly, because afterwards she asked me when my first time had been, and didn't believe me when I told her. All in all, it was a good third date.

The Girl With April In Her Eyes

The bleakness of the winter had passed, its last raging storm now a memory, the snow replaced by the sprouting blades of grass. Recently barren branches flourished with green buds. A newly planted tree blossomed in two directions, chirping birds flitting back and forth between the branches of the double trunk that was yearning to touch the sun.

The gardener was pleased. The winter had been a bleak one, the sun making only feeble efforts to break through the grey. Little snow had fallen, as though the constant clouds couldn't be bothered to wake up very often.  The more the gardener had wondered if the winter would ever end, the less he had cared.

The last storm had been a violent one, a welcome contrast to the unending bleakness. In its way, the struggle to survive it had given the gardener something to care about. A winter's store of unspent energy had unleashed itself without warning; faced with its fury, his complacency quickly drowned in a flood of adrenaline. At the point when he genuinely feared for his safety, the howling winds and blinding snow stopped as suddenly as they had begun.

Now, the gardener was enjoying the soft breeze, the melodic twittering of the hungry chicks, the warming rays of the vernal sun. The intermittent light rain was the finishing touch on perfection. From time to time, a raucous crow would happen along, and the chicks would scatter in confusion, returning to their perches after the scavenger departed. The occasional thunderstorm would give the garden a much-needing washing down.

Although at times it seemed as if it would, the spring did not last forever. The gardener did not mind very much when it was over, not nearly as much as he had once imagined he would. This particular spring had played out its role in the cycle of things, as he always knew it would, as it always does. While he would ever cherish the memory of it, it was time for another season, and he welcomed the dark clouds that had just appeared over the horizon.

For Crying Out Loud

I thought she was the most beautiful girl on The Main. She probably wasn't of course, but I thought she was. "Exquisite" might be a better word. She approached me as though she took it for granted that I had already decided to go with her. She was right.

The first time was business as usual. The second time I saw her was... different. We did things we weren't supposed to do, things that lovers do. Tender things. I don't know if she felt what I did, and I never asked. I told her afterwards that I couldn't see her like that anymore. She said simply, "I know," and it never came up again.

After that, we would hang out, grab a bite every so often, sometimes have a drink or two. I took her out for her birthday. Once,  she invited me over for breakfast. We talked, we laughed, she told me how she got there. It always killed me a little, what she did, but I knew enough to leave it alone.

We'd known each other about six months when I got home from a vacation to find my answering machine full. She was in the hospital. I didn't call, I didn't even unpack, I just went. She had been stabbed. She was barely conscious when they had found her. They told her she was lucky to be alive. She didn't look very lucky.

She had nowhere to go, so she stayed with me while she recovered. I took care of her, and she took care of me. We never touched each other, except when I dressed her wounds. It was a tiny apartment with only two beds and I had a part-time roommate, so when he was there we would have to double up. One night, she said I could sleep in her bed. I muttered something unintelligible, stayed where I was, and regretted it for a long time afterwards. It never came up again.

Her wounds healed. We both knew that she couldn't stay, that she had to leave the city to get away from where we had met. She went back to her home town, got a job in a department store, went back to school. We spoke regularly. When my father died, she was the first person I called. I wouldn't have been able to make the drive otherwise.

For years, we kept in touch, visited each other every few months. Over time, we drifted apart. She got a boyfriend, I got a girlfriend. The visits stopped, the calls were less frequent. The last time I ever spoke to her was when I told her that I was getting married. As I hung up the phone, I knew that it would be.

For crying out loud
You know I loved

Song on the Radio.

In the soundtrack of his life there, that song clearly represented that particular time.  Not only because of its lyrics, classically appropriate as they were (although he was never really sure if he should think of them as directed at him or from him), but of when it was played. It was played a lot, as it was at the top of the charts then, but it seemed to be played only at moments when it was particularly relevant.

Of course, there were a lot of those moments, but there were a lot of other moments as well, and it never came on the radio during those. And the radio was almost always on. Nor is it that he just didn't notice it; when that song played, he noticed it. And when that happened, it was one of those moments. It did freak him out a bit some times, although he knew it was merely strange coincidence.

When that time ended abruptly, or so it seemed to him, that song's time on the radio ended as suddenly as it had begun, as often happens with hit songs. To be sure, it was still played, but not nearly so often, and when it did, it was just as likely to be during one of those other moments. Eventually, he just didn't notice it anymore.

Old Friends

From the moment we became friends, we were old friends. We had known each other in passing, then, a random encounter, a chance to talk, and we were old friends.

We remained old friends after the time that ended that night, when we both stood talking for hours, each waiting for the moment neither would allow, just because it would have been wrong. That time ended that night  because we knew we could not resist again. Or would not. So we stayed away, but stayed old friends.

We spoke on the phone recently, for three hours, longer than we have spoken in total in the four years since that night. It didn't take a minute to know that we were still old friends, it didn't take a second. We already knew.

We spoke briefly about that time (but not about that night). Able to look at it from here, we could talk about then. Then, we had talked about music, kids, other of our many common interests. Now, we talked about then, and about what we couldn't talk about then. Not because it wouldn't be wrong now. Because it doesn't matter. That was then.

We joked about how we might have been soulmates. We agreed that it could have been perfect. I gave her insight into then and now. She gave me insight into here and there. We talked about how things fit together, and why they didn't. We both knew when it was time to go. We didn't make plans to speak again. We just know we will.

Death of a Stranger

The stranger stumbled out onto the street, his cheek still stinging from the well-earned slap. The evening had not gone quite as well as he had hoped. It would get worse.

He wandered the dark streets, stopping occasionally to collect another bruise. He passed it off to his unfamiliarity with the town and its customs, but the truth was that he just wasn't as clever as he thought himself. Or maybe he was, but cleverness was no match for stealth.

As he walked away from yet another unfortunate encounter, a passing figure on the street pressed a paper into his hand. He looked at it. "No," he said, "this must end here." He crumpled the note and let it drop to the ground as he walked towards the edge of town. He left the buildings behind him and entered a wooded park.

After a time, he arrived at a clearing. There was a crowd. Trumpets blared. Swords were brandished. In the distance, a herd of wild horses rode by. The stranger knew this would not end well for him. As the dagger was withdrawn from his side, he fell. The crowd laughed.

As he lay on the ground, through the laughter he heard a voice. He was about to say something when he realized he knew those words. As his heart was about to beat its last, he found them in the recesses of his mind. With his last breath, he gave the answer. The crowd fell silent. Life flowed back into him. He stood up and walked away from the crowd, back towards the centre of town.

At The End Of The Rainbow

I told her once, not long after we separated, what I saw, and she saw it too. We cried, together. Whether that was because we believed it or because we didn't remains unclear. We never mentioned it again.

I still see it, sometimes. That same picture, almost as clear as the first time I saw it. There we are, as we once believed we were meant to be, sitting together, smiling, surrounded by our...

I try not to think about it too often. It saddens me that we will not share the journey that we each must take to get there, even though I know it cannot be any other way. We travelled together further than we probably should have, long past the point where we were only holding each other back. I know that we have to go our separate ways. I don't have to like it, but I will learn to.

As I do, it will fade, what I saw. It has to, or it will stop me from seeing anything else. In time, I will forget all about it. The thought of it will seem absurd, and the picture will bury itself somewhere deeper than I will be able to reach. Before that happens, I will look at it one more time, and remember those words she said to me so long ago, and wonder...

And then I will forget, and continue on my journey.

Then and Now

It was strange to see, after all this time. To see that place that he know so well, looking like that. The place itself looked the same. Sure, some tables had been moved around, the barmaid was new to him, but it was the same place, wasn't it? He recognized a couple of faces, but they didn't seem the same. It was clear that then was not now. What he noticed more were the ones who weren't there. If your presence doesn't make an impact, your absence won't make a difference. It did.

He wondered if that was just because he know these faces, and he didn't know those. Had he been there at a different time, would he miss the faces he didn't know now? He tried to look for counterparts. You know, you walk in to a bar you haven't been to in 20 years, and you see that guy. He's not the same that guy, but he's still that guy. Same people, different faces, like the daughter on 'Til Death.

He looked for types. You know, which of those people was "me", which was "him", which was "her". Didn't work. He thought maybe "we're" not types. Maybe types only work for people you don't really know, like that guy. Try as he might, he couldn't identify with those people, couldn't see himself fitting in there. He couldn't help but thinking that it was no accident that he showed up there when he did. That any other time he wouldn't have stayed. That those people just didn't interest him.

So he left.


It was in her eyes, and it was unmistakable. As much as I tried to turn away, I could not. They drew me in, and it scared me. Because at that moment, I knew. I kept looking over at the others, wondering if they had noticed, hoping, so that they could put a stop to it. They hadn't. There was no stopping it. Not then. Not now.

But I had to try.

"Sorry," I said, "you're too late."

"Or too soon," she replied.

Into the looking glass

Alice wondered at the strange looking glass. She had seen it before, but had never paid it much attention. Busy with her classes, she had little time for recess. Then one day, tired of her studies, she decided to take a closer look. She leaned towards the looking glass, wanting only to catch a glimpse of the strange goings-on, when suddenly she found herself drawn right in.

She picked herself up off the floor to find herself in the type of place her parents had always told her to stay out of. A lady floated by, muttering about some cleaning she had to do. Alice blinked, and some people were considering things Alice thought quite impolite for social discourse. She blinked again, and they were gone. She drifted off...

When she awoke, she saw that she was not alone. She looked at the time, and told the stranger, "I think you should leave now." The stranger thought not, and some discussion ensued. As soon as Alice conceded, the stranger left and Alice fell back into her slumber. She awoke again some time later to find that the stranger had returned, and had brought some others. Alice quite enjoyed their company and when they left, she followed them out.

She found herself in somewhat of a maze, and feeling a bit lost, she began to wander. As she did so, she thought to herself, "I might just like this place." She had no idea.

This Old House

We moved here in the spring of '99. It was to be a new start, as though leaving the city would leave the city behind. We looked at more than two dozen house and bought the first one we saw. We hated it, but it was near there. As though that would somehow make it better. It didn't.

We did what we could to pretend to like it. Got rid of that old carpeting. Most of it, anyway. Helped the remaining vintage 70's faux-bricks join their already-fallen comrades. Replaced them with tiles that came from Italy, because the ones made here just wouldn't do. So said the tilestore lady. Finished the basement built for men with big trucks. Never understood why the moron who had renovated the place didn't add a few inches when he had the chance. After all, he drove a Civic.

Then there was the balcony. I had used that contractor before, there, and he had done good work at a fair price. We didn't want to take the time to shop around. Big mistake. Too long, too much, not quite right. We got so used to coming in through the garage we never stopped doing it. I lost the only key to the front door years before I noticed.

We did what we could to pretend to like it. After all, we would only be here for a few years, five at the most, before we would be there. Right.

Maybe it was the ghosts. The tall man with the little basement breathed his last that first summer, as though there was no escape from here in this life. The man before him spent his last heartbeat making a snow angel, shovel by his side.  Maybe there were others. Yeah, it must have been the ghosts. It couldn't be us. After all, we left all that behind, in the city.

We like to believe that we can change our lives by changing our circumstances, our surroundings, our activities. Because those things are easy. Changing our selves is not. Before we can change something, we have to accept it. Aye, there's the rub.

We came here to get there. It really was the only thing about this old house that we really did like. Had we gotten there, would it have made a difference? I think so. Not because simply being there would have somehow changed us. Because to get there we would have had to change our selves first. We didn't. Blame it on the ghosts, but which ones?

The Italian tiles are holding up as well as the lady said they would. The floating floor too. The basement is still too short, but it doesn't matter. Nobody stands up down there. And the balcony is the balcony. I tell the kids to go up and wait for me to open the door while I enter through the garage. I don't know why. Maybe it's the symbol of the failure of this place, of my failure, and I don't want to share that with anybody.

She left this old house, taking her self with her, looking for that change that will change her. She's starting to find it, now that she's looking in the right place. She doesn't blame me anymore for everything that went wrong. I wish she did. I'd rather be responsible for her failed dreams than mine.

I'm still here. I avoid going there like the plague. I do it only when I really have no choice, and even then sometimes not. It reminds me too much of what could have been, what isn't, and what will probably never be. When I do go, I look at that picture, the one of those ghosts, the good ones, the ones that gave me all the possibilities I've squandered, and I say "I'm sorry." Sorry I let their there fall apart the way it has. Sorrier for the failures that represents. Sorrier to myself.

I'm still here. Three words. Three words that represent my failure. I look at them again, read them again, and wonder if they might have some other meaning. Then I see.

I'm still here.

Stranger In a Strange Town

There is a strange town, just over yonder. It is at once both modern and ancient, bustling and deadly silent, common and quite unique, planned and completely random . It has no permanent residents, but what town really does? We are all travellers, our destination the same, the journey itself all that matters. We live as we dream.

Like most towns, this one is made up of a collection of neighbourhoods. The invisible overlords of this town planned these neighbourhoods when they built their first scale model of the town, envisioning that each would serve the population in a different way. There is an educational district, with schools ranging from kindergarten right up to grad school, where people learn how to do things. There is an industrial sector, full of repair shops where you can bring what's broken.

There is a legal district, where you can go when you have a problem getting what's rightfully yours. There is a construction zone, where you can get everything you need to build your house the way you want it. There is also a town hall, where you can scream into the wind about what upsets you, what pleases you, how you think things should be.

Then there is the café district, where people go just to hang out. This is where our journey begins. Almost.