A coffeehouse in amber light, dark wood
soaking in extrapolation, dampening
the drink orders that glide above the workday
din, faux-leather and tweed, smoke,
ink, photos on the walls and ideas
that linger and dodge the circling mobiles
hanging from the ceiling,
where we sit, alone, and look
that someone is falling in love
We sat in the backseat of my friend Sam’s car, Vanessa and I, outside the apartment of a girl whose face I could recognize and name I could tell you, that being the extent of my acquaintance with her. All of us were waiting, all of us being my friends Jason and Sam in the front seat, Forrest between the left-rear door and Vanessa in the middle. There was another car, and inside there was only one person whose name I could tell you, again, the extent of my acquaintance with them. The two cars were side by side, waiting for the girl, both cars with windows down so that arms could stretch between enclosures. The other car handed over a notebook filled with drawings and doodles by an artistically competent person, probably someone in the other car I didn’t know, of a friend of ours, a name I recognized with a face attached, even a personality and humorous anecdotes. The doodles were cartoons, exaggerated sketches of this particular friend killing himself and being sexually used in various ways, all of it so intricately focused with intent by the haikus and mock journal entries that sprung from the same melodramatic, over-emotive teen stereotype. He was like this, I was told, but I looked at Vanessa and we rolled eyes in a classically diminutive way, hoping it wouldn’t register with them how much we wanted to move, get going. We were impatient with hunger and the journal seemed harsh, a going away present as the mutual friend left to study in the UK. They told us he laughed, which must’ve been why he left it behind.
“Do they have food at the Amana Colonies?” I heard Vanessa’s stomach rumble so I put my hand to it, hoping to catch it again.
Sam looked back, at first perplexed by the question, “Heh, yeah, you can get food there.”
My notion of the Amana Colonies was different than Sam’s, his notion having the advantage of being based on empirical evidence. There were certain words that, living in the Midwest, elicited a Pavlovian, impulsive fear in me of any destination they were used to describe. “Historic” was one, “Handcrafted” another, both were used to describe, in some capacity, the Amana Colonies of Iowa. Middle-aged women fighting over who would pay for lunch and a piece of tan glassware, that’s what I saw. My friends invited us along, headed to the breweries and wineries that made the town distinctive, a potentially collegiate destination. I couldn’t drink, underage, and so was Vanessa, the only ones of the group.
The girl came out, apparently, and got in the other car, but I don’t remember her doing so or us finding the highway. Vanessa and I were listening to our bellies roar indistinguishably and letting our heads loll o
The kickstand of the bike came down in an inch-deep puddle on slippery ground, too slippery for my liking, but every repositioning within the parking spot met with the same result. Taking my helmet and gloves off made the rain feel different, just an enveloping, dull brand of cold and splotches on a visor at highway speeds, now pointed and direct on my hands, like it’d soaked them so long that the skin was brittle enough to break with quick, pinprick incisions. My father and my friend found their way to me, having not seen the same spot and parking together, farther away, now glad for it seeing the proud BMW packed to the gills standing, stranded, at the center of a small pond. The three of us stood there for a second, glancing over my bike’s positioning, holding out our hands and turning our eyes upward, sighing as we turned away. Each of us was wearing our impermeable, or semi-impermeable in my father’s case, rain suits, that let in as much rain as they did air, which is to say none, and our suits were shifting and sliding over a thick layer of sweat. We stood waiting to cross a street, adjusting our sleeves, wiggling our feet to recover some sense of feeling and combat the tributaries down our heels to the lakes at our toes. Stepping into the crosswalk the rain felt more severe and all-encompassing, the puddles and the noise from the car tires and the splashes making it more and more present and invasive. As we crossed we saw the sidewalk swarming with colored ponchos and umbrellas, everything from excited grins to deep, unending grimaces, pouting, unhappy children and adults alike, with one or two tiny girls with pastel rain boots leaping into puddles and squealing as their parents recoiled at their titanic splashing. There was a railing at the edge of the sidewalk that we approached, and looking over we saw Niagara Falls. My father spoke first, “Wow.” Then a pause. A sigh from my friend Dan and then another, longer pause. Then me, turning to my father and laughing, “Never had to pee so bad in my whole life.” The joke was planned from the moment that we’d decided to stop at Niagara, a moment that sprung up quickly in my imagination when three boys on motorcycles would look over the falls, awestruck, bound in place by just how much was being pulled downward. My father asked, not laughing, “Gotta pee?” “Ya know? All the water?” Then a pause. “But, yeah, kinda.” And he mustered a chuckle, saying,
I used to be called Maisie, or Margaret in the English way, daughter of highland rebel, Ewan of Cluny McPherson. But because of the failure of the Jacobite uprising many years ago, and the threat of loosing our land. I became Daniel Cluny McPherson, the name of my long dead twin brother. The English came to my brother, Duncan one day and told him if he could not pay the taxes now upon his lands, they would become forfeit and we would be evicted. They also told him the fastest way to pay was to join the army in the American colonies. Well, my brother had his wife and child and kind heart and would be no use in an army, my young nephew had not reached the age of two yet and thus was much too young. So I, at the age of fourteen, enlisted for my family.
Late one night in the spring of 1774 I took my brothers' dirk and cut my hair as short as I could. I then took his highland cap and a pair of breeches, a vest, and a light cotton shirt from a chest that belonged to Daniel. I thought it best to leave his kilt behind and instead took his hunting tartan sash and used it as a strap for my bag. Inside I put his dirk, a cloak and food enough for three days. The only possession I owned myself of any value was my Sgian Dubh, a smaller blade than the dirk, which went in its new place in my cap; usually the knife would have gone in the folds of my skirt, but the breeches were no hiding place for it.
I slip out the door into the cool Scottish night and take a long, deep breath of the highland air for what I hope will not be the last time. then off am I, down to the lowlands and the recruiting offices of the English redcoats.
It takes me about three days to make it down to the camps and I meet more and more travellers the closer I get. the first peddler I past, I was terrified my disguise wouldn't work; but he only tipped his hat and asked me if I wanted to buy a pair of his fine shoes. I looked down at my bare feet, which had been that way my whole life. I thanked him and said in as deep a voice as I could muster without it being too obvious "no thank you sir, I dinnae have money." and we went our separate ways. When I did make it to the camp, my mouth did open a bit in awe at the sight. never have I seen a English army with my own eyes, only in stories from my father and brother. This was nowhere near the full force but was at least five hundred men strong. walking stiffly through the first rows of tents I can feel wary eyes on me and my plaid sash. But I hold my head up proudly like the stubborn Scotsman I am and head up to the first table I see.
"Can I 'elp yew with somthin' boy?" said the sergeant at the table, glaring at my sash and my cap.
"Ah'm here tae enlist tae pay off my family's debt...sir." I say.
"Name?" He leans down over a piece of paper, uncaring.
"Daniel McPherson." I answer, and I get a glance then he scribbles on the paper.
"well, welcome too the winning side boy, you'll get to see the might of the British army in the colonies." he smiled and I bite my lip to keep from firing back at him. He looks
The familiar ring of the alarm clock startled him out of a sound sleep. Beside him, her equally familiar grumbles began, as she groped along the edge of the bedside table to find her phone and shut the ringing off. Cracking open his own eyelids, he looked over at her, at the curve of her shoulder as she turned onto her side and re-buried her face in her pillow.
He chuckled, more at her obvious reluctance to greet the morning with any of the respect it deserved than anything else. Kissing the exposed skin, he threw back his half of the blankets without uncovering her body and got up to make coffee.
Their kitchen was in a casual state of disarray from the evening's get-together the night before. They'd made dinner for a few guests, a not so transparent attempt on her part to set up his brother with one of her best friends. The dishes were piled in the sink, her edged china and his sterile pots and pans. Wine glasses from the over-indulgent were stacked on the counter, along with two empty wine bottles. Between the six of them, they'd had maybe a little too much to drink.
Plugging in their coffee pot, he selected her favorite hazelnut blend and began to boil the water. Once the coffee was percolating away, he meandered into the living room and began to tidy up, refolding the blankets and straightening couch cushions that had been left askew. They were charged up the ass for their electricity--which included heat, as she was so fond of pointing out. Usually this meant that when they had guests over they would pass out blankets and encourage couch sharing to minimize the length of time they had to crank up the thermostat to seventy.
If he had their way they'd find a new place, hopefully bigger and better, by the first of the year. The location and amenities mattered, but not as much as his choice of roommate. As long as he had her, he would be okay living anywhere--no matter how crappy the place was.
Settling for crappy didn't much appeal to him though. If they were going to take the next step in their relationship, he wanted to be able to prove that he could provide for her. Picking a place that would suit both of them was an easy way of doing just that.
Once the coffee had finished, he poured out a steaming cup, doctoring it just the way she liked with a little half and half, but no sugar. Then he went back to their bedroom and stood in the doorway, leaning his shoulder against the frame until she smelled her drink and inevitably woke up enough to get it.
This was one of his favorite parts of the morning. Seeing her stir, freeing both hands from beneath the blankets before she finally rolled onto her back and sat up. The simple repetition of the process always made him smile. "Morning," he said, when she propped herself up on her hands and looked at him.
"Morning, you." Tucking a long strand of reddish-gold hair behind one ear, she said, "You come bearing gifts."
"Two," she corrected him. "The coffee, and yourself."
He smiled at her, coming around to her side of the bed to set the coffee on the night table. The second he was seated on
and it's like a
laundry-list of acquaintances,
name-marked and chilled condiments;
squeeze-filled "hello!" embraces
or a clumsy slumberkiss.
impartial sandman relations and
impact to sway an axis;
care without condition,
unbiased opinions or
a scar-free appendage.
siblings. childhood friends.
a domesticated orca,
a drink void of caution,
a late night walk without keys in hand or
a beach in which to submerge my toes and
those scenarios premiering in dreamland;
a well-paid career [or
at least equal to that of a man's].
life without currencysocietyand
without the mundane, routine progression
of green, grey, gone;
singular sentiment, automated sleep,
parents capable of satiety and
a world lacking dishes and trash-taking.
winter white and frigid,
an early completion;
someone to wait on me
without an inevitable aberration.
the assuagement of afterlife, the
divine intervention of hands
the quiet murmur of ideals and desires within
the ear of some orphic entity
presumed to care.
a kiss clean of guilt,
solicitous reassurance, and
a sigh at the stars in the arms of a
it's like you:
something I can never have.
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i refuse to say
anything that matters
related to itself
amnesia traces motion:
how do you say
hello when the wind
like a distant friend
arboreal fingers reaching
the gusts of a body
passing into past
i deny to see
anything of meaning
absence fills up silence:
how do you see
the wind’s memories
when it only gives you
the creak of the seat
lulls memory to sleep
back and forth
the tranquil repetition
of an empty chair
a dying presence
i refuse to feel
anything of importance
the pain of knowing
you forgot something
i retold myself
with a new ending
an old beginning
in a few thoughts
i will remember
only the lost nuance
of a swaying chair
a rocking branch
fading in a photograph:
how do you say
see and feel
of the wind
now moves faste
This piece is a collaboration between myself and the XRIVO Writing Interns. Each of them were given the same introductory paragraphs and told to creatively interpret them. They could do whatever they wanted, whether it was to completely rewrite the paragraphs or simply continue with the story. Each of them have a different focus when it comes to writing - from poetry to journalism - and they interpreted the initial paragraphs with that skill-set in mind. The result is a rather fun collaboration of the different directions a single story can take when multiple perspectives are brought in.
Pretentious note: I didn't copy and paste—I typed every word.