The Ascension

The Ascension

He’d climbed this hill a hundred times. It’d been 60 years, though, but the hill was still the same steep sonofabitch in the foothills few people bothered to summit. Jarod climbed, step-by-step, his cane steadying his once proud legs over the path’s occasional scree. Now, just like then, the journey bothered his left knee, only now a needling pain ricocheted from the outside of his knee to his ankle and back. It made Jarod gasp each time and he would chuckle; the pain, the hill, the memories – they were not long for this world. His silver mane tussled by the wind, Jarod scooped his head up towards the sky despite the sharp pinch in his neck and shoulder; it’s not here yet. His sexagenarian pocket watch – a gift from an unforgotten paramour – confirmed it. There was still time.

Time for what he wasn’t sure. To tell his human life to go fuck itself in the face of an Earth-shattering asteroid? To sigh in resignation that, well, at least it’s finally over? (And not just for him, for everyone. They all deserved it.) Or maybe it was time to plead with someone – he didn’t know who exactly – to make any of the past 78 years make sense. Decision-making; the bane of this existence. And yet he’d decided to come here just like he said he would, like they both said they would. If they ever knew the world was going to end, they said they’d face it together. The symbolism aside, this was more about being true to the one decision Jarod had been able to make in his life, so long ago when he didn’t question the folly of his young body and mind.

A few more steps, a few more gasps. God, he hated this body. He’d always hated its flaws. He even hated how its brain made him think. He could never stop thinking. And he despised feelings; those were the worst. Feelings could turn a perfectly fine and sunny day into a worst-case scenario.

A monolithic stone cross, moss-crusted, at the hill’s crest looked down on the man. It threw an unflinching glare being less worse-for-wear than it’s aged visitor. 60 years and the stone cross was still here, watching over the town, more like a city now, below. Jarod placed a shaky hand on the base of the cross not only to steady himself, but to feel once again what had been lost in the haze of a fading memory.

“Hello, old friend,” Jarod creaked. “Still strong, proud, I see. Do you know what’s coming?” Jarod swiveled his hips and his left knee forgot to go along for the ride. He winced as he plopped his bones on the cement. My, that used to be a lot softer, the senior thought as he recalled the love made here.

“Do you know what’s coming?” he asked again. No reply from the stoic. “You probably don’t know where we’re going either.”

Jarod looked over the town he’d lived in six decades ago; so much progress since then. So many new buildings. The forest that was home to this hill had been encroached upon but not toppled, fortunately, and for a moment Jarod got lost in the symbolism before acid spit into the bottom of his throat. “Today is the last day of the rest of our lives,” he bowed his head.

“Trouble in paradise?” a scratchy voice came.

The old man, his hearing not what it used to be, never heard the crunch of gravel and stone approach him. Jarod looked up. A woman, her face scored by decades of experience. It was hard for Jarod to tell; maybe it was the voice, maybe it was the underlying structure of her face. Is it…? Who has that strength of conviction anymore? Jarod does, so it’s not like it’s impossible.

“Any more front row tickets available?” the woman asked.

Jarod patted the stone perch beside him. The woman stepped towards on less than confident legs and accompanied him. The old man had already turned his attention back to the sky but could tell the woman was smiling, happy almost. She radiated a vibe, something above and beyond the four dimensions Jarod was bound by.

“You’re not bitter?” Jarod asked as he clasped his hands over the butt of his cane.

“Bitter about what? I’ve lived a good life, a full life. Love, family, friends, children. Been around the world.” Her voice wasn’t light and as high pitched as it may have been in her youth, but it was sure, confident. She continued.

“Should I be bitter about this old body? It made it this far, far enough to go out in a ball of fire.” She laughed before stopping to cough. “Ahem, that’s a hell of a lot better than lying in a hospital bed pumped full of pain killers.”

Jarod turned his head to look at her. No, no, just wishful thinking, he thought. But that does sound like something Amelia would say.

“I don’t know,” Jarod began. “My body’s been in pain so long I don’t remember what it’s like not to be in pain. I’ve lived with it, though. More important things have been lost.”

“Let me guess,” the woman smiled at him and leaned in, “There was this girl…” The way she smiled with the right side of her lip higher than the left, it was so damned familiar.

Jarod leaned back; she’d invaded his space. He’d become too comfortable within his bubble. He never wanted the bubble. It’s one of those damned things humans put themselves in when they’ve been left alone for too long. But weren’t bubbles made to be burst? Many of his had been.

“You seem satisfied with the love you’ve had in your life. You sound like you’ve never lost love. But who wouldn’t spend a lifetime fawning over you?” Jarod finished leaning back in towards the woman. Screw the bubble. The possibility of rejection didn’t matter at this point.

The other half of this equation threw her head back. She slapped her thigh and hooted before collecting herself. Amelia used to do that.

“I’ve been through so many loves!’ she said. “I’ve lost loves and found loves a few times over. And each time it meant something, everything. It was beautiful every time. Did it ever hurt? Sure. But then it didn’t. That’s the beauty of it.”

Jarod squinted. He frowned. He shook his head. “There was never one that stood out, one that mattered more than all the others, one you didn’t quite recover from?” He scoffed. “I don’t see any beauty in that.”

The woman turned her body towards him and put her hands on his knees. “I never recovered from any of them, Jarod. But you press on, find new loves, and you love in different ways. But love and the pain that goes with it, that’s the point.”

“How do you know my name?” drifted out of the old man’s mouth. “Amel…”

“No, I’m not Amelia.” Jarod’s companion sat back straight and crossed her legs. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to get your hopes up. Say, do you want to tell me what else is on your mind?”

Confirmation enough. Amelia never asked him what was on his mind. She just knew. But this woman knows a few things herself.

“Could there be anything else but to be angry that the grief never ended?” Jarod carved out. “You’re so wise this would be a good time to clue me in.” Jarod stomped his cane on the ground.

“It’s just that I need to hear you say it,” she replied. “That other thing that bothers you. Like how you wished you’d never been in love. Like how you’ve always felt the things you feel you wish you never had to, because that’s not who you really are. You never wanted any of it, not once you felt it.”

How was she inside his head? No, it was deeper than that. She saw into his soul.

“What are you?” the senior man asked. “An angel, a demon, here to whisk me off to the afterlife? You’re more than reading my mind.”

“I am. We’re connected, of course. All of our kind are.” She turned to Jarod again. She took one of his hands in hers and pulled it into her lap. “It is me. I mean, I was Amelia. But then I remembered.”

“I don’t understand…” The words were spoken weakly. A lack of understanding usually is.

“None of us were supposed to remember until it was time. But you hit your head as a child and, let’s just say the human brain is so fragile,” the woman said.

Jarod shook his head and clenched his jaw. A dozen loudspeakers could be heard announcing something in the city below. The end must be nigh. Maybe the asteroid has already hit and his mind is grasping at straws. Then the scratch of the woman’s voice centered him.

“You’ve never really agreed with their morality, or what passes for it on this planet. You’ve never agreed with any of their politics. You’ve never understood their economics. You’ve cried over the way they treat each other. You’ve even cried over how they treat other living things. You’ve despaired as they ravaged the planet. All of your frustration, all of your anguish, all of your rage – you had no choice but to feel it because that’s what you signed up for. You’re not one of them. You never have been,” the person formerly known as Amelia explained.

Jarod’s eyes were circled with water. He knew it. He knew it.

“Why are we here?” the old man asked as a tear finally fell.

“We’re scientists. We were sent to experience life as humans. Apparently, we didn’t expect it to be this bad. At least we have all the data we need now.” The woman stood up as a word emanated from the metropolis below. Ten. And, as expected. Nine.

The woman extended her hand towards Jarod.

“Are we going home now?” Jarod almost choked as his hand reached out to meet hers. She smiled. Her eyes welled, too.

“Let’s go home,” she said.

Eight…seven…six…

Jarod, aided by the woman, stood up. He tossed his can aside. He sniffled then cast his eyes on the city below. “The asteroid. Is it us?”

The woman tossed her head and her hair flipped back with it. When her head came back she smiled before nodding towards some undefined place.

“Good,” Jarod said.

“Now, now,” the woman patted Jarod’s hand. “We’re scientists from another world. Don’t be so human.”

Two…one…

And then they were gone in a brilliant flash of gold light and red flames.

John J. Vinacci (c) All Rights Reserved September 2021

Dark Matters

Dark Matters

Ugh. Morning? Morning. Morning? Why does everything look so dull? Must be cloudy.

Am I outside? The sun’s cleared the horizon. I can see it though the tree’s branches. It’s not cloudy. Am I lying on my back? And what the hell am I doing outside?

I wasn’t feeling well. Did I pass out before I made it home? What happened? I was drinking with Robbie and Margo; knew I’d had too much. Left the bar, walked down Bond Street, started crossing the street, bright lights, screeching tires…oh, no! Did I get hit by a car? Someone hit me and I bounced into the park, then they left me to die! Asshole!

Anything broken? I don’t feel anything. That’s weird. I don’t feel anything; nothing. Like, nothing. I’m trying to bite the inside of my lip and I can’t even tell if I am. Wait; when did I stand up? It’s like I can’t tell what my body is doing.

There’s someone walking, in my peripheral. Can’t turn my head. Turn your head, dammit. Call for help. I don’t think I’m saying anything! Wait. Yes, I am. But I’m not saying ‘help.’ What am I even saying? ‘Gwarwhar’? I need to go to the hospital! Does this person even see me? Hey, you, help! Please, I need help!

Head’s turning! Looking towards them, look up! Looking up…they’re looking at me. What? They’re looking at me funny. God, no, I must be horribly disfigured! They’re walking away, no, running. Running! No, don’t run away! Help! I need help!

I’m running after them! Good, maybe I can convince them to take me to the hospital. Also good that my legs aren’t broken. Can’t feel them but they’re working. Arms are working, too, reaching out for the person. I just want them to look at me, see how badly I need help.

Why am I tackling them? Are they screaming? They’re screaming but it sounds far away, like on an old-timely telephone line. They’re throwing fists now. I don’t feel it. Stop punching me, I’m trying to tell you I need help! Help me!

Gwarwhar!

I lunge my head forward. Clack, clack! Am I trying to bite them? What the fuck? What the hell am I doing trying to bite them? Listen, I don’t want to bite you! Stop punching me! Help me! Me! Not you. You don’t need help from me, do you? You’ve got it all wrong.

I avoid a punch. Bite down on their arm. Good, maybe you’ll stop punching me then. But I’m biting them again, more deeply this time. I can taste it…I can taste it! Warm, salty, metallic – blood! What the hell?! My right eye goes cloudy with a red mist. Another bite! Stop! What the fuck am I doing?! I can’t stop! I can’t control this!

They’re still screaming, screaming, until I latch onto the side of their neck. Pressure, something hard. Bone. Oh my god I’m killing them. My eyes fly away from them, but really it’s my mouth tearing a piece of flesh off. Their eyes are dimming. I can see my upper lip move…I’m chewing on them! Oh god, what in the name of? Someone stop me! Why can’t I stop?!

Another bite. Another. I don’t want to be doing this! I’ve got no control, though. I’m eating this person! Why am I eating them? I want to cry but I can’t even do that.

My eyes shoot up. Some lady staring at me. That same look, that same look…run, lady! I’m getting up. I can’t stop! Run, lady. RUN! She’s older. She’s not going to be fast enough. I run her down like, like a car. I bowl her over. I’m gnashing, gnashing! She doesn’t scream as much. She must be in shock. Am I in shock? This can’t be real.

I’m dreaming. I’m screaming holy hell and thrashing about in here. I have to fight the sleep paralysis and wake up. This is the worst dream of all time. Fucking wake up!

My head is thrown back and over my shoulder. Is that the guy I took down a minute ago? Looks like I chewed his arm down to the bone. There’s a huge chunk of his neck missing. His eyes are filled with rage. He’s baring his teeth. He’s coming right at me. Fair’s fair, I guess.

He runs at me and lays into my shoulder, spinning me around. I stop spinning. He’s not after me. He takes down some guy on his phone that was behind me. Looks like a jogger. He’s tearing the shit out of that jogger with his teeth. There’s blood everywhere.

I turn around and the older woman is getting up. She’s got that same look in her eye, that rage. And she’s, she’s smelling the air. I tilt my head back like I’m smelling the air, too. We sense something but I can’t tell what.

Oh, it’s a police officer. He’s pointing his firearm at us. He doesn’t look like he knows what to do. I see a flash and my eyes rock like something went through my body. I didn’t feel anything, though. I start towards the officer. So does the older woman. The officer is on the run. The older woman is faster now, faster than before. He’s down. She’s on top of him. He’s fighting. I’m on top of him. Blood. Flesh. Death.

This is happening so fast. I need to concentrate on waking up! Wake up! I’m stuck. I’mstuckohgodwhyisthishappeingtome? Pleasewakethehellup! Ambulances? I hear sirens, faint, faraway. No, I see them, they’re close. Police. More officers. Lots of screaming. People are running everywhere now.

Me, the older woman, and the cop we just took down; we’re running. We’re running towards the police that just arrived. My head popped back and now my left eye is blacked out. I’m still closing in on them. We’re closing in on them. We’re taking bullets. It does nothing. We’re on them. We’re on them.

More blood. More flesh. Sinew. Bone. Organs. I can’t feel what my body is doing, can’t see well, can’t hear well, but I can taste. I don’t like the taste. I never wanted to know what this tastes like. But there’s no stopping. There’s no waking up. Are the others…are they trapped inside, too?

We’re off and running again, on the hunt. Me, the older woman, the joggers, the police; we can’t stop. Nothing can stop this. We want to stop, I know we do. We can’t. We fucking can’t.

Please, please, I just want to wake up. But I can’t wake up. This is real. This is happening. No one saw this was going to happen. Not this time.

This? This is a front row seat to the end of the fucking world. This time…this time we get to see what we’ve done.

John J. Vinacci (c) All Rights Reserved August 2021

Spartan Race Portland Sprint 2021

It’d been two years but it was Spartan Race time again! Why, I dunno. I guess I have a phobia about losing my physical ability as I age so I have to test myself. Plus, I was disappointed with my last race result even though it was comparatively good. Turns out I did in fact do better this time despite much different terrain (lots of hilly ups and downs). On the plus side, the weather was cool and overcast. It was still humid, though, but you only felt it in the brief instances when the sun came out. The venue was definitely more crowded than in Hawaii which I worried would crowd the course, but it didn’t.

I’ve rated the obstacles on a scale of 1-6 with 1 being easiest and 6 indicating a failure. Commentary follows the harder obstacles.

Start Line – 3.5 : The race immediately zipped downhill and did a number on my thighs before we’d even gotten a quarter of a mile.

Overwalls 4’ – 1

Rolling Mud – 2

6’ Wall – 2

Atlas Carry – 4 : The first ‘hard’ obstacle which I had no problem with last time. However, this time the ball was slick and harder to hold. In fact, it rolled out of my hands the second I finished and nearly crushed a fellow Spartan’s toes!

*I think it was after the Atlas Carry I saw some guy puking off to the side. I hoped he wasn’t foreshadowing the race for the rest of us. (My wife says that while I was racing some guy was stretchered out. That’s never good.)

Plate Drag – 4 : For some reason I felt weak on this obstacle today. Probably because I hadn’t ‘warmed up’ yet. Also, by this time in the race almost everyone I saw was walking the course already.

Bucket Carry – 3 : I was very happy to discover the bucket I practiced with at home was much heavier! The bucket carry gassed me last time and I wasn’t going to let that happen again. The preparation paid off.

Spear Throw – 1 : I failed this last time; this is probably the most failed obstacle for every racer. The second I let it go this time, I knew I’d nailed it.

Inverted Wall – 1

Vertical Cargo – 1

Rope Climb – 3 : Very slick rope this time but otherwise not too hard.

Monkey Bars – 3.5 : My left triceps were unhappy after I got through utilizing a different strategy today. I almost slipped off at one point, probably because I was overconfident since it was so easy last time.

Barbwire Crawl – 4.5 : The crawl this time was quite long; even people next to me were commenting on it and how much it was hurting their knees. I rolled when I had room, but yes, it was a knee-buster.

Helix – 2

Sandbag Carry – 5.5 : As I approached I could see 1) How steep the uphill was and 2) people struggling to pick up the sandbag to begin with. The slope was probably about 30% or so. The group of women next to me coaxed each other on saying, “Don’t look up. Just keep going.” Yeah, I made that mistake. Frankly, I almost threw the sandbag down and walked off the course while once again wondering why I was doing this. Funny thing is, it would have been easier and faster to skip this obstacle and do the penalty burpees.

Multirig/Rings – 3 : I was quite nervous as I approached and almost went right to the penalty burpee area without even trying the obstacle. Somehow I pulled it off, though. This buoyed my spirits.

Z-Wall – 4 : Hard because I couldn’t see the hand or footholds around the last corner. I hadn’t done this obstacle before so had no frame of reference for success or failure.

Dunk Wall – 1

Slip Wall – 1

Hercules Hoist – 5 : This sucked today because my feet, which I planned to use for leverage, couldn’t reach the top of the guardrail. So I laid on my back in the mud and dead lifted it. The rope was very slick, however, and I nearly lost it several times.

A-Frame Cargo – 1

After the A-Frame I could see the finish line. I ran like hell for only the second time in the race. I’m also happy to report that unlike last time, my wife was right there at the finish line today and that finding her did not become another obstacle.

A much better pace and placing than last time! Aroo!

Morning, Joe

Morning, Joe

Twenty-something Joe stepped out of his townhouse into the sun. Spokes of light bent their way around the few marshmallows in the sky and brushed the skin of his face. A faint breeze kissed his lips. A few townhouses down, a car alarm bleated; as typical a city morning as one gets. In the city, there’s always a car alarm going off. 

Joe and his neatly trimmed beard slipped under the cover of his knit beanie. It was still Spring after all and the sun wasn’t getting up so early that he was awake ahead of his morning coffee. In reality, Joe was never awake of his morning coffee, which is why he was outside this morning to begin with. The young man’s day never really started until that bitter black elixir slid down his throat. What is consciousness? Coffee, if you ask Joe.

The millennial took a step off his porch and stumbled as if he’d missed the step entirely. He grabbed the porch railing before slipping down the stairs entirely. Was it a lack of coffee? As his brain caught up to real time, Joe realized the earth had moved. Something had rapped against his eardrum but the nearby car alarm had drowned out the sound. Had there been an earthquake? A sudden volcano appearing downtown? Another thump followed by a blunt crash set off another nearby car’s alarm. Could this be the beginnings of an alien invasion? Joe would be ill equipped to deal with that before some black sunshine.

As Joe stepped onto the city sidewalk, he noticed a few other people looking around in confusion. An old woman across the street chided her chihuahua for barking up a storm, probably triggered by what Joe assumed to be explosions. Whatever was going on, Siri would probably know. Joe dug into his peacoat pocket to wrangle his phone. Another boom came, then another closer boom, and Joe’s phone tumbled out of his hand and into some dog shit someone neglected to police.  

He knelt down and debated grabbing his phone with his bare hands. He reached, then drew back, startled by the sound of a wave of city dwellers rounding the end of the block. They were running from something, their eyes intermittently thrown behind them to escape the inevitability that followed them. Joe was right in their path.

The phone wasn’t that important right now. He could always get a new one. What’s a grand on a phone even though you can barely pay the rent? A barely-affordable artisan coffee every morning dulls those kinds of blues. Joe stepped back onto the steps of his townhouse to avoid the rolling sea of fear.

“What’s going on?” Joe yelled to no one in particular as the mob raced by.

A disheveled man, not homeless, just uncaffeinated rang out, “They’re blowing up all the coffee shops!”

“What?” Joe shook his head. It sounded like one of those unimaginable things, like insurrectionists rioting in the U.S. Capitol.

“All the coffee shops are blowing up!” the broken man threw his hands in the air. “Probably terrorism! Argh!” he finished as he was swept away by the force of misery in company.

It took a few moments for the words to percolate. “Terrorism? Coffee shops? How…how will the economy function?” Joe asked himself rhetorically. After all, that was exactly the point. No coffee, no workee the popular meme goes. Nobody will want to work, even less than usual after the recent worldwide pandemic. Businesses will crash. More people will become homeless. Damn, only the stock market is safe; that keeps rising no matter how bad the news gets.

Joe looked in the direction he hadn’t heard any explosions. Maybe the shop on Galveston, he thought. Boom. Joe cursed himself for never asking his parents for a Keurig. But it’s just that making your own coffee takes so long and you have to make sure you have all thirteen ingredients. There was never much more in Joe’s kitchen besides a few cans of PBR, a bag of quinoa, and some organic veggies.

Another explosion, off in the distance. The thought of going out to the suburbs to find coffee had crossed Joe’s mind. Now he crossed it off his list. He backpeddled up the stairs. His soul protested the possibility of his routine grinding to a halt. How could he possibly press on?

Suicide was a solution, of course. Joe wasn’t trying to take such a sensitive issue lightly but it did seem a more reasonable option than living in a world without coffee. (He figured why would they stop with just the cafes? They’re probably burning all the coffee bean trees, too. Damn them, damn them to hell.) A world without coffee – the young man couldn’t help but think how wrong everyone at work was until he’d finished that first cup. Could he face coworkers that were wrong all day long?

Another throng of people rounded the corner, panicking like wild animals, totally not realizing they were using up whatever energy reserves they had. Your body can only remain in fight-or-flight mode so long before coffee is required to sustain the fight against horrible bosses. Of course they didn’t know what else to do, though, their brains weren’t really awake yet.

Neither was Joe’s. Surely something could be done about the situation. But what? The answer lie in caffeine but the caffeine was gone. No doubt someone was making a run on energy drinks right now and that might help in the short-term, at least until their adrenal glands died. However, it is a fact that energy drinks are not that ethereal, dark, bitter(sweet) liquid that is like a new lover in possession of that X-factor, that undistinguishable thing you would die for but cannot explain what it is. What to do then? What to do?

Joe’s neighbor, Tina – an Earl Grey swilling throwback to that second, embarrassing Woodstock – stepped out onto her landing next door. She pitched narrow eyes at the crowds running to-and-fro.

“What’s going on, Joe?”

He was about to explain when a forty-something man wearing a tweed jacket ran up Tina’s steps and put a pistol in her face. “You got coffee, lady?” he bellowed.

“Yes! Yes! I have a little bit..” Tina grimaced as she pointed through her door. The man shot her in the chest and stepped one foot inside her townhouse. He stopped and looked at Joe.

“You!” the murderer locked on. “You got any coffee in there?”

“No! No coffee in here!” Joe answered. Tina’s assailant shot Joe in the chest as well.

A lump formed in the young man’s throat, like the one you get when you’re in love, but not because of love. Peeling his hand off the gunshot wound, the hipster observed the crimson flow of his internal world. A cascade of life poured out of him.

Joe considered this. Coffee – so seemingly essential for life – pales in comparison to human blood. What is caffeine next to red and white blood cells, platelets, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, sugars, and of course, water? Sure, coffee can raise your blood pressure, but what if you’ve got no blood? It seemed to Joe that he never really valued what really made him tick. Why do people always ignore the fundamentals?

The question of suicide had been answered for him. He had spent his life a squirrel. The Universe provided the traffic.

Joe’s vision blackened like a dark roast. He crumpled to the ground in a heap with nothing to pick him up.

*Author’s Note – I admit I pun-ted the finale to this story. In my defense, this story was written completely caffeine-free.

Daniel’s Door

Daniel’s Door

The door was locked. Of course it was locked. Why wouldn’t it be locked? You need three keys to open it. The doorknob is a glass skull. And the door is engraved with strange symbols. When you come across the only door on the third story of your new home that is, of course, down the street from a cemetery, it’s going to be locked.

“Dad!” I yell down the stairwell. I don’t know if he can hear me; this house is really big. It’s bigger than any house we’ve lived in before. It looks like a small castle from the outside so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by a mysterious door.

“Dad! Did you know there’s a locked door up here on the third floor?” I look but don’t lean over the banister. It’s a little rickety. Dad’s going to fix that up real good. He’ll make it look great, then we’ll move again. “Dad!”

I see his head, just his head, tilt up from the bottom floor. (First the cemetery, then the door, now a disembodied head. This is only going to get worse, isn’t it?) Dad’s face is flushed red; he must be carrying something heavy into the house.

“Daniel! We’re a little busy down here. What is it?” he barks. He gets snippy when he’s busy and he forgets to eat something.

“There’s a door up here on the third floor. It’s got weird stuff written all over it and a glass skull for a doorknob. It’s locked. Do you have the keys?”

“What do you mean ‘keys’? I didn’t even know there was a door up there,” he says.

It’s a little strange that he doesn’t know about the door. He’s an architect with an eye for detail. That’s what mom says, anyway. He’s got, what did she call it? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? With dad being so particular about things, mom likes to amuse herself by messing with him, like when she leaves the cap off the toothpaste. It’s mostly amateur stuff, although I’d hate to see what she’s capable of when she puts her mind to it.

“I’ll take a look at it later,” dad’s voice floats away with his head.

I try to look under the door but the quarter inch or so doesn’t give me much to work with. It does seems bright in there, though, more than sunlight can account for. Looking out the nearest window I can see nothing but grey sky. So, it’s definitely not sunlight. Is it a portal to another dimension? Something catches my ear.

I press me ear against the door so hard I’m going to bruise my cheek. It’s worth it, I decide. It’s worth it because there’s definitely someone in there. Find the three rabbits, they’re saying over and over. I peel my ear off the door slowly. Should I bother mom and dad with this? I thumb my lips. No, they’re busy. I can handle this.

Normally, I’d be bored with our new house by now and I’d be out exploring the neighborhood for the rest of the day. Okay, two or three days, over which time mom and dad think I’ve run away. But I’ve been twelve years old for five months; you’d think they’d trust me to know what I’m doing by now. I don’t know how many times I’ve told them that explorers aren’t runaways. They’re simply curious people. The local police don’t seem to understand this either. I’ve never wanted to be a policeman. They just obey orders.

I trundle down the winding staircase. My feet slap the first floor and I whip my head around. Dad’s out at the moving truck and mom’s in the kitchen looking around. She’s either lost something or planning a joke on dad. Not my problem.

“Mom!” My voice startles her and she clutches her shirt. She turns towards me. Before she can ask I put it to her. “Have you seen any rabbits around here?”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Why on earth are you looking for a rabbit, honey?”

I put my hands out to stop her there. I dip my head. I don’t want to get snippy like dad. “Just, please, have you seen any rabbits?”

Mom looks out the back door into the vast, lush, but overgrown garden. “No, I haven’t seen any, but I’m sure there are some around, in a vegetable patch I imagine. This is a big piece of land.” Still staring out the door, she continues. “This one’s going to take a lot of work.” I don’t think she’s talking to me anymore, but then she returns her attention to me.

“Why don’t you go read a book instead? There’s a collection of classic fairy tales in the study just off the foyer,” she directs me. Is she kidding?

I burst out the back door, a butterfly trying to race a bullet. Time is of the essence. At least I think it is. Wait, what if I’m dealing with a ghost? What does time mean to the dead? Question for another day. Finding myself surrounded by shrubs, flower beds, and broken pots, my eyes scour the ground for a rabbit. Nothing here in the backyard. I’ll have to go further afield.

I walk along the edge of the property where there’s a craggy, makeshift rock wall. At the furthest corner of the property I come upon a collection of statues. A fish, a dog, an owl; it’s like a petrified zoo. Whoever lived here before was weird. Whoever’s in that room doesn’t have time for this, so I turn away. I turn away and catch a glimpse of a small stone rabbit. Could this be what the person in the room is talking about?

I pick the statuette up and turn it over and over searching for a key. Nothing, so naturally I smash it on the ground. It crumbles into small grey chunks and dust. After seeing that there’s no key inside of the statuette, I wonder if mom and dad will be upset that I’m breaking stuff. I don’t usually do things like this so it’ll give dad something new to yell at me about. A thought like that would usually make me sad, until I see something poking out of the ground nearby. Clearly not a rock or a stick I tug it out of the ground and shake the dirt off of it. It’s a skeleton key, as in, it’s made to look like it was made out of bones. It’s metal, of course, and caked with soot. Someone tried to destroy this key. Obviously they failed and tossed it away. Careless. This has to be what I’m looking for.

I have to find two more keys to open the door. It seems I’m not looking for actual rabbits so my eyes dart around the landscape, searching for another stone rabbit. A good mystery isn’t going to just give itself up so easily, though, so maybe I should be looking for something else that looks like a rabbit. I’ll have to hurry; the sky has gotten darker. It’s either getting late or it’s going to rain, hard.

The yard around the house is bigger than I thought. I’ve circled the perimeter three times now and I can’t come up with anything else. There is this one knotty tree with its roots all gnarled at the ground. Maybe I am looking for an actual rabbit. I look for a rabbit hole and it looks like there may be one. It’s not too big but then I don’t know how big the rabbits get out here. I stick my hand into the abyss which winds up being nothing more than a deep gouge in the earth. I have to admit I’m a little frustrated. I lean against the tree and toss my head back.

Ow! There’s a huge knot in the bark and it bites me. I spin around and give it a glare as if it should know better. Only – I tilt my head to the right – it looks kind of like a rabbit at this angle. There must be a key around here somewhere! I circle the tree, looking up, then down, then up. What’s that on that branch? A rabbit’s foot? And there’s a key chained to it. I’ll have to climb and go out on a limb for it, maybe even jump for it. Mom always calls me her little monkey. It shouldn’t be that hard.

About eight feet into the canopy I try to balance on the branch. It’s not strong enough and I hear an audible snap. I leap for the keychain, grabbing it with one hand while latching onto the branch with the other. I swing, a chime in the wind, and the branch breaks completely. I sail, first like a paper, then like a rock. Landing on my back knocks the wind out of me. I’m okay but I could have done without that happening. Why do action heroes in the movies always look like they don’t mind being nearly blown up? At least I have the key. I open my hand. It’s a regular key, a little rusty. One more to go.

I stand up and brush the debris off me. I don’t know where to look next or what I might be looking for. My face scrunches up to one side. I know, mom, I know; Your face will freeze like that if you keep making that face. Watermelon seeds sprouting in my stomach, getting cramps if I swam after eating, Santa…I don’t know if I can believe her anymore. No more than I believe what just skittered across my feet.

A white rabbit, or was it a bolt of lightning? It was moving fast and dodged into the shrubs a few yards away. I put one foot in front of the other and I’m there not nearly as quickly. Here little rabbit, I try to coo. I need your help. After rustling through some brush, it bolts again, back towards the house then makes a sharp turn to the right. It’s in and out of the groundcover. I’m never going to catch that thing! It’s like it’s late for a very important…hmm.

Why don’t you go read a book instead? There’s a collection of classic fairy tales in the study just off the foyer, I remember mom saying. Let’s see; a white rabbit, a collection of fairy tales, and now I’m the bolt of lightning. I’m in the house so quickly the thought of maybe being able to catch the rabbit after all gets left behind. I zig, I zag, and I’m in the study. I run a hand along the books lining the shelves. The sweet smell of mom’s dinner wafts in the room and it threatens to distract me. It’s foolish to undertake an adventure on an empty stomach – that’s what mom always says – but I don’t know if time is running out. Besides, mom’s concoctions might smell good but they can be inconsistent. My eyes and hands continue their search.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Found it! Can it really be this easy? (Not that I haven’t spent most of my day on this.) I pull the book so hard it slips out of my hands and thumps against the floor. A long gold key with its bow fashioned into a heart tumbles across the floor. I don’t question the key-maker’s motives. I’ve found the three keys!

I whip across the house back towards the staircase. I almost knock dad over, forcing him to drop the box he was carrying. Clishhh! Must’ve been the breakables. Mom tries to grab me by the arm with half her heart and fails. I’m the white rabbit now, too fast for her. I barely hear her say dinner’s ready. It’s like a something I heard once in the past.

My sneakers screech across the floor so I don’t slam into the door. “I’m coming,” I whisper loudly to whoever’s inside. With a shaky hand that can barely contain a childlike curiosity – but remember, I’m practically an adult now – I try the various lock and the rusted key is first to match the tumblers. The skeleton key is next, though I had to jiggle that one a bit. I break out the heart key; I’m so close! But the lock sticks and I’m turning, turning, turning. I back off and wring my hands because I don’t want the key to break. I force the lump in my throat down, put my fingers on the key, and turn gently. Clack! The seal is broken. The door creeks open an inch. What will I discover? I take frightening doorknob in my hand and push.

The room is flooded with the light of two rectangular lamps posted on a tripod, the kind dad uses when he’s working in a basement or attic. The voice? It’s coming from the window directly in front of me. I walk over to the sill where I find a plastic device the size of my hand. It has various buttons, almost like some kind of phone but not really. I think I’ve seen dad use this thing to remind himself of important stuff. But why is he whispering, Find the three rabbits? Are they…are they messing with me? I spent all day on this!

“Daniel, dinner’s ready. Come eat,” I hear my mom call from the depths. A freight train is running through my head.

I trudge down the stairs one-step-at-a-time. It’s not a death march; I’m taking my time trying to figure out what I’m going to say and what I’m going to do. It appears I am up against enemies with no conscience. I don’t know what to do about that.

At rock bottom, I put my hand on the banister and swing myself towards the kitchen. Mom and dad are sitting at the kitchen table. Some kind of slop is steaming up the place. I force my shoulders down and narrow my eyes.

“Whose. Idea. Was It?” I demand.

They look at each other, look at me, then at each other again. They simultaneously blame one another. Then dad tells her, “I told you it was a bad idea.” My mother’s head and shoulders slope.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she implores. “I just didn’t want you disappearing like you always do. Just once I wanted our first night in a new house to be the three of us having a nice family dinner.”

“Did you help her?” My clipped voice aims for dad.

“Well, yes, Daniel,” dad confesses. “But I only made the door and set things up. Your mother was the mastermind.”

“Actually, it’s quite funny,” mom smiles. “Your father wanted the door to look real. He really took his time with it.” She smiles and puts her hand on his. “It almost wasn’t ready in time.”

I walk towards the kitchen table, yank my chair out, plop myself down, and yank myself towards something that’s probably poisonous. What a waste of time. I’ve had friends who see a therapist and I never knew why. Now I get it. Now they’re going to get it. I draw a deep breath, a dragon about to breathe fire.

“The next time we move,” I begin, stabbing a piece of meat with my pitchfork, “I am so running away.”

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2020 John J Vinacci

The Cat Who Could Tell Time?

The Cat Who Could Tell Time?

IMG_4247As I lay at the foot of the warm, cozy bed, a familiar scenario has come to a head.

“Well, look at the time. I believe that’s the sign. Food in my bowl is not far behind.”

I will chew on this wire as I so often conspire, to wake daddy up – “Don’t sleep!” I interrupt.

I will paw daddy’s face ‘til his slumber’s erased. I’ll meow ‘til he gives in, sort of because I’m a prick.

“Fill ‘er up,” I demand, my bowl to its brim. “I am so hungry and this cat waits for no man.”

“Rise, rise!” Our fates are entwined. The clock has struck five, eating time I decide.

Ah, daddy stirs and looks at the wall. “It’s two in the morning, you little bastard,” he retorts.

“A two or a five. So I’m not good at reading signs. But since you’re awake, feed me. I’m hungry. Don’t let me die.” IMG_4248

“Alright,” he concedes. Alright, indeed. He’s not the dumbest of all humans, it’s the futility that he sees.

“Here you go, now leave me alone,” he gives me that line every day at this time. Oh, we’ll do this again in three hours at five.

“Thank you, daddy,” I fake loose a coo. I am cat. I am evil. When I want my foodies, he will say no but he always loses.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) May 2020 John J Vinacci

The Food Fighters

The Food Fighters

Jamaal pressed his little cherub cheeks against the plane of glass. A tray of donuts beckoned him inside their shop with their sugary, glazed veneers. The donuts’ multi-hued sprinkles fashioned themselves into a smile, prophesizing the promise of a good time. All Jamaal had to do was get his foot in the door.

His mother tugged on his hand. Jamaal held fast though, strengthened by youth and emboldened by temptation. Like his Marine Corp father, Jamaal had no intentions of leaving a man behind. He tugged back on his mother’s hand. “Mommy, mommy, mommy! Can I get a donut? We haven’t had any for so long!”

Jamaal’s mother knotted her cheek to one side and loosened her grip. The child had a point – it had been a long time, at least a week. And her son had not given her any problems over that time; shouldn’t good behavior be rewarded? She moved her chin with a curt upward tilt. Jamaal beamed and now lead his mother by the hand into the bakery.

The dizzying array of orbicular sweets threatened to overcome Jamaal’s decision-making tree. Chocolate, or chocolate and vanilla? Sprinkles or no sprinkles? Glazed or powdered? Jelly-filled maybe? The choice was no small task and being on the way to learn something at school, the child should probably hurry.

“Psst! Hey, kid,” a saccharine voice spoke from behind its hand. A donut with white glaze and multicolored sprinkles jumped on top of the display case. It pointed a thumb at itself. “Hey, kid, choose us.”

Jamaal was almost stunned into silence by a talking donut, but he was a child after all. “Wha? Who…who are you, mister?” he asked in a high pitch.

“I’m Dast, er, Danny Donut! You already know me and my family. We’re the best tasting things in this place! We look good, we smell good, we’re chewy before we melt in your mouth; take us with you and your senses will explode,” the donut waved with jazz hands.

Dasterdly Donut“Mom, can we buy a whole dozen?” Jamaal asked tugging on his mother’s shirt. The boy’s mother smiled at her son without her eyes, looked at the donut, then turned her attention to an employee and asked for a double espresso.

“She’s going to say yes, Danny,” Jamaal announced proudly. “She’ll give in. I always get what I want.”

“And I always get what I want,” the donut snickered under his breath. “That was too easy.”

Just as Jamaal was going to point out which donuts he wanted, a healthy orange sporting a fine Italian suit and Ray Ban’s rolled up onto the counter and pointed to Danny. “Stop right there!” the orange shouted. The loquacious donut cringed.

“Oh, no, it’s Agent Orange!” the confection squeaked.

“Wha? You’re a talking orange!” Jamaal proclaimed wide-eyed.

Agent Orange“Yes. Very observant, young man,” the orange replied in a cocksure tone. “I’m here to help you, son. You see, this donut doesn’t exactly have your best interests at heart. If anything, Dastardly Donut here intends to hurt you more than help you.” The fruit sounded like an old-timey newsreel, and just about as educational.

Why would the donut do such a thing? Jamaal couldn’t figure it out. “What is he talking about, Danny?”

“Don’t listen to him, kid,” the donut sneered. “He’s just mad because we’re more popular than he is.”

“I’m not going to lie to you, young man,” the orange started, “Donuts are very popular, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

Jamaal didn’t know what to believe at this point. “Gee, Mr. Orange…”

“Agent Orange,” the fruit corrected.

“Mr. Agent Orange, why does the donut want to hurt me?” the child wondered.

The orange rolled a bit closer to Jamaal, put one hand on the kid’s shoulder and removed his shades with the other so he could speak earnestly, eye-to-eye.

“Kid, one donut from time to time won’t hurt you much. But this donut here wants your mother to buy him and eleven of his closest friends. Problem is, too much sugar in your blood over a short period of time can be very damaging to your long term physical and mental health. Although a donut will make your brain feel really good for a little while, what that sugar rush is actually doing is addicting you to that feeling. Let me tell you something, kid, being addicted to anything isn’t good for you. Worst of all, a donut has almost no nutrients besides sugar. It’s all calories that will slow you down and make you hungrier, making you feel bad when there’s no donut in that mouth of yours. You’re sure not going to grow up big and strong like your dad if you eat donuts all the time. You do want to be like your father, right, kid?”

“You know about my dad?” Jamaal asked, incredulous.

The orange slipped his shades back on. “Agent Orange does his homework, son.”

The dastardly donut hastily shoved the orange out of the way, landing the fruit on its backside. “He’s fooling you, fool. He wants you to eat him instead.” A half dozen jelly donuts grabbed Agent Orange by the arms, restraining him.

“It’s true, I would rather you eat an orange,” the citrusy agent struggled. “Listen, kid, fruits like me are sweet but also have fiber to make you feel fuller longer. We also have lots of important vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and E, and calcium to make you healthier and stronger. I’m so strong see how it takes so many of them to hold me back?”

A sprinkle fell off the dastardly donut’s brow and bounced off the counter. “You are going to eat a donut,” the donut snarled. Jamaal stepped back.

“I’m afraid not, Dastardly Donut,” Agent Orange said. “It looks like the cavalry has arrived.”

A trumpet sounded from on high and everyone looked up (except Jamaal’s mother who was calmly sipping an espresso). Parachuting from…somewhere…two yellowish-green (or is it greenish-yellow) tropical fruits wearing bandoliers dropped onto the counter.

“Oh, no!” one of the jelly donuts shrieked. “Papaya Troopers! Run!” The jelly donuts turned the orange loose and spun on their edges.

“Not so fast,” one of the papaya’s furrowed its brow. The carica food took two small, almost round, smooth red fruits from its bandolier. It hurled one at the closest jelly donut, exploding the unhealthy snack across the counter.

“I guess he wasn’t ready for that jelly,” Agent Orange quipped of the mess. The orange fruit jabbed a thumb at Jamaal.

The armed papaya launched a cherry right at the child’s face which the boy instinctive caught in his mouth. There the bomb exploded, taking the young man’s flavor virginity.

“Wow, that tastes really good,” Jamaal noted.

“And it’s good for you,” the orange spoke. Meanwhile the donut that had almost fooled the child had rolled away but stopped itself at the threshold of the shop’s entrance.

“As ever wrapped up in yourself to notice me getting away, Agent Orange,” the dastardly donut swiped. Then he tucked his arms and legs in and rolled out the door and into a gutter.

“Shall we go after him, sir?” one of the papayas asked the agent.

“We’ll let him go for now,” the orange ordered. “I’m sure we’ll see him again. Right now, giving this boy an education about food is more important.” Agent Orange turned towards the child. “Kid, do you know what phytochemicals are? They’re special chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables and have been found to have many health benefits…”

Jamaal listened with rapt attention, if not to the information than to the talking food itself.

Jamaal’s mother, wanting nothing more than to pretend the entire situation wasn’t happening, was on the phone. “Yes, Dr. Wenner? I need a refill on my Clozapine prescription. It’s started again.”

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2020 John J Vinacci

I Watched It So You Don’t Have To: The Florida Project

I Watched It So You Don’t Have To: The Florida Project

This movie is clearly a psychological experiment – It’s a test to see how much of an award-winning movie (that, of course, doesn’t deserve any awards) you are willing to endure. This 2017 movie, a darling among critics – who by-the-way are critics because they couldn’t write or direct a good movie of their own – is an alleged slice-of-life dramedy, a window into the very real inequity that takes place in the shadow of a fairy tale (that being Disney World; wow, subtle metaphor there). Unfortunately, the movie winds up being less about inequity than the amoral exploits of the people in their particular circumstances.

The main character is 6-year old Moonee, played by Brooklyn Prince, who was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award for Best Young Performer when really, she’s being directed to be a brat the entire movie which can’t be much of a challenge for any child her age. Moonee and her friends proceed to basically be little s(beep)s the entire movie, never reined in by anyone much less Moonee’s mother who is so free of a moral compass you keep hoping for her to die of a drug overdose and just be done with it. And therein lies one of the movie’s biggest problems – no likable characters.

Willem Defoe’s turn as the hapless motel manager almost gets us there, but his heart is more bronze than gold, never really being of more consequence than running off a potential child molester. (Okay, I guess we should be thankful.) Every other character is of no consequence to the world; if they disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow, no one would care. None of the characters develop. There’s a hint of conflict halfway through the movie between Moonee’s mother and her best friend that is ultimately cast aside because the mother’s friend decides to move, perhaps in the best interest of her child though we can’t be sure. And so, any chance for any of the characters to grow is muted. I’m not saying a story has to give us at least one flawless character but as far as plots go, the audience needs someone to root for. The kids would presumably be those characters here, but they’re so damn annoying the entire time you want to see them caged.

Secondly, ‘as far as plots go,’ nothing really happens in this movie. There is no plot. The movie focuses heavily on the children’s screeching exploits which, as I just said, gets old really fast whether you have kids or not. Descriptions of the movie would have us believe the children are ‘finding magic’ in their circumstance when in fact they’re just being little beep-holes. While I understand they’re operating with zero parental supervision, this is not cause for sympathy. I can’t be sympathetic when said lack of supervision or guidance brings out the worst tendencies in children which, when you look into the future of these characters, is not going to be appealing. This is beaten into our heads over the movie’s two hour runtime.

What I will concede is that the movie is as well acted as any other movie and that it looks authentic. Well, great. Is that supposed to endear me to the characters, to their non-existent story? This movie doesn’t take us anywhere that matters and it’s not going to make anyone who sees this movie sit up and say, “We need to help these people!” The filmmakers would love us to feel this way but not actually do anything about it, hence, this is not actually art.

The Florida Project is the kind of movie that Hollywood liberals love for ‘opening our eyes’ to the raw underbelly of America, as if they keep forgetting it exists and so they are humbled by the reminder. They want audiences to be reminded as well, which also makes the movie the kind of movie that inclines left-leaning independents want to purchase guns and Confederate flags as a hedge against Hollywood’s pretentiousness. In other words, this is a movie in which you will only lose by watching it. For the sake of your own sanity, avoid this movie.

The Florida Project is currently streaming on Netflix. Don’t watch it.

The Funeral

The Funeral

I hate these goddamn things. If I never go to another funeral it’ll be too soon.

Chuck’s mother is crying. She’s always crying. Everything’s a fucking Hallmark moment with her. Or do I mean Lifetime Special? My thinking gets cloudy in these situations, situations where you need to find some words of consolation, but words escape you. So I put my hand on her shoulder but it doesn’t ease her hyperventilating. It’s no use. I slip my hand in my pocket and fumble around. I need a cigarette.

I’ve smoked for a long time but I don’t need a cigarette; it’s just something you do in these situations when you can’t think of anything to do or say. It’s a distraction. There’s something comforting in the habit. I don’t even have to look; I’ve done it so many times I can slide a cancer stick out of the package and bring it to my lips like I’m on autopilot. I can even bring fire, the lighter, to the tip of the cigarette based on muscle memory alone. I thumb for the chick chick of the lighter but there’s a stiff breeze. I’m puffing away but I ain’t getting anything. The wind is too much, fucking November. There’s nothing you can do about a change of seasons.

My wife, Becca, she’s giving me that look, that look that says, Wow, you really fucked up and at the same time is also looking through you because she just can’t deal. At least she’s not blubbering like Chuck’s mother. Nah, Becca will pull through this. We’re doing the wake at our place and we’ve got a lot of alcohol. While I worry about how much she drinks sometimes, you can’t discount alcohol’s medicinal effects given the circumstances. Who needs a doctor when Jack Daniels makes house calls? Humph. Where was that wisdom when I was at the bar with Chuck?

He insisted on driving us home, stupid fuck. I told him, No way, you’ve had too much to drink. I’ve only had a six-pack. ‘Only.’ He blew me off, tried to get into the driver’s seat and turn the ignition. But I’m a true friend and a responsible adult or some shit like that so I grabbed him by the arm and tore him out of the car. I tried to wrestle him down and keep him grounded but he thrashed like a bitch. Good thing he punches like a bitch, too. I’d gotten the keys, got in the car and revved her up; told him to get his bitch ass in. I guess he’d seen me in one too many brawls, though, and he’d learned to fight dirty. I turned my head towards the window to see where he’d gone off to when the motherfucker sniped me with a rock. Holy fuck; my head swelled up like a melon. He pushed me into the passenger seat and took the wheel.

I don’t know how long I reeled from that blindsiding. All I remember is hearing Led Zeppelin on the radio while trying to sit upright and putting my eyes on the road. Immediately I thought, What’s a fucking tree doing in the middle of the road? We weren’t in the middle of the road, of course. Chuck wrapped his classic red Pontiac ’65 right around that pine. Never gonna see that beauty again. Huh, I wonder if the casket is made out of pine. Nah, looks more like oak. I guess Chuck’s mother splurged, used all the money she’d been saving for the wedding he was never gonna have anyway. Sorry son-of-a-bitch, even blow-up dolls have turned him down.

I look at Chuck. He’s wearing a black suit. You kidding me? He’s never worn a suit in his life. I doubt it was his idea; his mother must’ve insisted. Why do people do that, try to make you look as good as possible right before they put you in the ground? They say nice things, act like you were Mother Theresa. You know what I want to say to Chuck? You should’ve let me drive, asshole. And he was an asshole. He was such an asshole he could make whatever bad time you were having even worse. In other words, he made me look good. You need friends like that.

Crap, rain’s starting to come down. Figures, the one time the weatherman gets it right. At least I ain’t getting wet.

Everyone is starting to take their seats under the canopy, waiting for the eulogy. What the fuck for? Someone just died. You’d think the living should be dancing and celebrating life, not engaging in some morose metaphor for death. Yeah, I get that we’re all sad someone passed away but fuck, we’re not the dead ones so don’t double down on that shit. I don’t know how many times I’ve told Becca, When I die, throw a big fucking party. Dance your asses off. Don’t be sad. Have a good fucking time. I try to take her hand. She won’t look at me now.

The pastor is trying to light our candles but that damn wind again. If he does get the fucking thing lit, I’m gonna go have a smoke. I’m going to stand up, walk away, and turn the cigarette in my hand to ash. Chuck would understand. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. That’s what he’d want his tombstone to say, not this Beloved Son shit they’ve got going on.

What would I want my tombstone to say? Here lies Jerry, died from not forwarding an email to ten people. Because what’s not a joke anymore? Even this pastor; this pastor’s a joke. He’s talking about what great friends we were, like he knew us at all, like he knows me. Sure, Chuck and I were best friends. Yes, I fucked up when I didn’t get the keys from him. At least I tried. I tried to do the right thing so give me a fucking break. I think that’s what the pastor’s saying. I don’t know. I’m really not paying attention to him anymore. I tune out the second people start talking shit about me.

I keep waiting for him to finish. This is Chuck’s funeral after all. Say something about Chuck. Who give a fuck if I’m married and got a ki…aw, fuck.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” Chuck asks me.

“Chuck,” I stand up, “Just when I think you can’t keep going on being the biggest asshole forever, you pull this shit.” A warm smile spreads across that pear-shaped head of his.

“Do you think we’re going to heaven now?” he says. With all the shit we’ve done how the fuck would I know? I don’t like our odds.

“We’re gonna try,” I reply, getting off his mother’s lap. “At least with you standing next to me, I got a shot of getting in.” Chuck’s smile turns upside down.

“You know what?” he chews, his tone a little salty. “If I’m such a big asshole, it’s because I learned from the best.”

I look down at the cigarette that isn’t even there. Going to heaven? Like I said, I don’t like our odds.

 

All Rights Reserved © April 2020 John J. Vinacci