Wrinkles

Over time the hair fell out and his memories spilled out from inside his eyes and formed wrinkles directly underneath them. White wires sprung from his chin and cheeks, enough to notice, but not enough to cover his straight lips; they only moved when his thoughts overcame him and became whispered words into the cool, spring air. His mind and his eyes wander during his short walks, towards the people walking now that the weather’s fair. Hand in hand lovers pass him, each couple moving faster than his slow patience neglected in his own youth. The lovers laugh about secrets and youth, the old man’s lips break and begin to move mechanically.

“It’s never all good. Can’t have it all. They’ll learn. They’ll figure it out.”

With hair, the old man knew the lover’s walk, knew their laughs, and the glances that shielded each other from death itself. He knew the warmth that came from making his lover laugh. Back then when he believed in a soul, hers and his intertwined and rose above the mundane sadness of everyday exhaustion. To the young man, his lover was a magician; a woman who turned the bored impatience of man into the profound and wonderful uncertainty it was. She created a passion in him that fueled hers; sometimes he was afraid to touch the life that glowed in her. She filled him when he was empty, poured out when he started boiling over. His young impatience became difficult for the young woman to overcome and although she asked for little, it became too much to give for the old man.

His wrinkled eyes looked down at the cracked asphalt and the few weeds that poked out where they could. Weeds’re fine too, they don’t mean no harm. Only doin’ what they know. He thought to himself. Bet she’d like that thought, too he thought.

“One day those kids’ll stop holding hands. It’ll be the hardest thing in the whole goddamn world. Make ’em hate love. Everything. I feel bad for ’em.” The air didn’t respond.

The young man, though so inflamed with the sometimes painful power of love, could not commit to his lover. He still didn’t quite understand his rejection to be with her; a puzzle whose pieces lied in his own calculated movements, in his possible but unpredictable future endeavors. He knew the way to success and knew the stakes. He knew what had to be done, who to be kind to, but was not aware that even love falls to the wayside. He loved who she was but had a particular life in mind, one he’s farther away from now than in his calculated youth. If she only knew, he thought, my life’s always been her’s

*

Past the lovers and the asphalt, he makes his way to a red light and patiently waits his turn to cross. The wind is shallow but occasionally lifts his head from his loose fitting jeans and once shined shoes forward with an unnoticed sadness present in most glances he gives.

When the door opens and the light and laughter pours in from the park across the street, Janet immediately knows it’s him. It’s always Frank. Before the door closes he’s sitting on his usual stool in near dimly lit darkness.

“Hey-ya, Frank.” Janet says, as she does every day.

“How are ya, Janet.” Frank responds, as he does every day.

She never asks for his drink order anymore, just plants a glass of whiskey in front of him and unknowingly receives one of the only subtle smiles and nods he gives throughout his day.

Together, drink and hand, the old man tries again to pour into himself and wash away the wrinkles, the memories, and the unlimited sadness that came from one wrong decision; his everything.

Strangled

Time rolls slow as freight trains through Garfield. Used to notice them, but the whole city’s been trapped by tracks for so long the whistles became silent. There’re signs everywhere warning people about them; they put up a fence down the tracks so people might not walk down them anymore, like I used to. They just put up some more signs. This time the kid didn’t see it coming; he had earplugs in and was trying to cross with his bike. The gates never came down. I think he was 11. Now there’s a little memorial leaning against a phone pole next to all the signs; some flowers and candles, a little framed picture.

I remember when the teacher walked in front of the train; it was a big deal in the city. He was flirty with the girls in high school and maybe took it a step or two too far; never got the trial, never found out. The day he was supposed to be arrested he took his final step. Police were searching near my house looking for missing parts. I never saw any. His corpse was given a parade around town, the girls were ignored. Before him it was a teenager. After him a man in his 30s. I guess we average ‘bout 1 a year.

Once it was a guy who got into an argument with his girlfriend and made a decision. Another time it was a grandmother who was hard of hearing, gates malfunctioned and didn’t come down; no warning. A long time ago it was a friend’s brother, choice.

Read an article once about the tracks, how the conductors call it “Suicide Alley”. They hold their breath while driving through the 2 mile steel noose, hoping it doesn’t tighten around them.

The whole town gets quiet when it happens. People whisper what they know to each other, afraid it’s true.

Not again.

 I heard. Oh, no.

I used to walk down the tracks to get home from school or just to walk; there were some old train cars near the baseball field where I’d go and be by myself when I was 15. I’d sit on top and watch them pass, or put some rocks on the tracks and watch them fly. Other days, with other people around, we’d put pennies on the track and search for them all flattened and hot once the trains left. Maybe a few times I thought what it’d be like to get hit by one but never thought to do it.

Wonder what it takes. Wonder what that little boy thought, if anything. The last thing you see is a bright light and steel. Last thing you hear’re howls from the silent whistle; it’s a helluva thing. Wonder how the conductors doing. Wonder if any cars were passing when it happened, or if anybody was nearby at all. Can’t imagine any of it. Just think of words and darkness and my own memories. But not that.

Every time I’m caught by these gates waiting for the train to pass, I can’t help but stare at that memorial. Picture in the frame looks faded from the car, can’t keep all that rain and snow out; too many seasons passed. People still come by, I don’t see them though. The flowers always look fresh. Candles are lit half the time. Gate rises, I go. Maybe tomorrow I’ll take a different way, cross the tracks at Van Winkle. Look at a different memorial. Caught by the same memories. Maybe I won’t catch the train. Maybe I won’t have to think.

A Sunday Smile

I’ve been down this trail before, I know its turns and snaps from twigs under my boot. Up a bit, on the left, there’s a long slab of rock that was cut in two; the other half thrown down the mountainside, splintering into small pieces, and falling as stone houses where souls dance from chimneys and back up to the heavens from which they came. Along the tree line, butterflies chase each other and land on one of the many small remnants of the rock wall scattered around, slowly lowering their wings and then taking off again into the woods.

“Maybe we can become butterflies.” She says out loud, to herself, watching them wrap around a nearby tree. Her brown eyes never leave them, she’s deep in her own mind and the profundity of the insects.

I say nothing, but her words pour into me and I can see them at play in her eyes. There hadn’t been mention of the afterlife all day, if that’s what she means, but I wonder if she’s right; maybe after all this we become as carefree as they are. Maybe time doesn’t matter and we can enjoy the spring cold for what it is, the wind and rain can come as they are. When I look to the butterflies, they’re perched on a rock and soon disappear from our view and into the sea of trees.

She’s stopped and silently looking forward and to the left, towards the rock wall and trees all around it. She’s chased her own thoughts deep into the forest, a feeling I know very well; I remain silent. I don’t want her to have to leave her thoughts for me so instead I join her in thought and look forward as she does.

After a few more moments of thought she looks at me and softly smiles.

“I love you.”

Her smile becomes mine and I respond, “I love you, too.”

She walks up to me and kisses my cheek. Together, we’re careful to speak just above whispers. This path has been walked down before, so many times, but today we haven’t encountered anybody else. We walk towards the sun, our shadows following careful steps over exposed roots in the trail. We come to a view of the town far below us and the lake it surrounds; small boats graze the top of water, they’re far from their docks and enjoying the peace.

“How far do you think we are?” I ask.

“A million miles away!”

“A million? Wow! We’ve been hiking a long time!”

I wonder if the people in those boats are as far away as we are. I think for a moment if there are people in those boats at all; maybe they’re somewhere up here with us.

Two butterflies return towards us, but I don’t know if they’re the same as before. They land close and I’m surprised by their acceptance of our presence. Smoke continues to climb out of chimneys far below us and the boats remain still.

“We’re already butterflies.” she finalizes.

“I think you’re right.”

The butterflies leave us again and we continue to walk down our path, hand in hand, farther than we’ve ever traveled up before.Image