Dark petrol, rainy night
Shell-shiny grey pavement spot-lit by a single ordinary street lamp
Billie Holiday singing, praying her deepest blues, in the background on repeat, repeat
Espresso waiting, cooling in the best china, hand-painted, slightly chipped mug
That was someone’s favourite long ago.
Trying today’s quadrille prompt on d‘Verse (44 word poem – self portrait).
You run your index finger up along the smartphone’s screen, focused on finding tweets to which you should reply. Social media demands only short bursts of attention from you. Thirty seconds of passive interaction seem possible this Sunday.
Then a photo, the photo, rises on the news feed. You’re startled, yet it still takes you a moment to realize the pale skin and grim countenance form a familiar face.
His red-rimmed eyes stare deadened from the police camera’s harshly lit capture. Are his eyes red because he wept? Were his tears released by regret, or fear, or anger?
You turn the phone off – leave it turned upside down on the kitchen table.
Later, you won’t remember the words you now search for in the morning newspaper’s pages. The headline’s inky black, funereal print leaves gravity on your hands. You clutch the paper. Tangible. Proof.
As you read, your stomach hollows except for the push pull of twisting knots. Your chest tightens until suddenly your body forces a gasp, a reminder to take in oxygen.
It will be many days before you don’t need reminders to breathe.
In memory, I trace every aspect of you.
I feel the warmth of your presence, the physical space you took in our bed; I know the rise and fall of your flannelled chest and hear the unconscious storytelling of your labored, syncopated breaths.
I see you walking beside me, head bent, thick hair tousled, shirt disheveled, left leg thrown in an awkward gait, your limp more pronounced from crashing fatigue.
And when I close my eyes, I dream your sweet countenance, melting pictures taken at twenty eight and forty six, eyes bright and dimmed, skin unlined and roped, mouth smiling and resigned.
More than twenty albums tipping sideways on the hallway shelf, yet none contain photos of you that only I saw, that only I can still see.
We chiseled out this space for refuge.
Time responded, inhaled, held its breath.
“Cover us, hold back the world,
Compel the crowd to leave.
We’ll complete ourselves with nuance,
Share secrets we’ve hidden deep,
On tiny vellum notes tucked inside our pockets.”
42 words in response to a writing prompt: have all your clocks stopped?
You find it a bore most days. Fifteen years in an indelible ink rut. You keep your head down and get on with it: tramp-stamping nineteen year olds, piercing the folds of chubby bodies, asking drunken longshoremen if they want it spelled M-o-m or M-u-m. You grind your teeth every time one of the morbidly tattooed requests another skull.
You’re thinking of that and you’re thinking of nothing as you clean the machines in the back, when the bell clangs purposefully against the shop’s front door. You step through the strings of beads to check out who’s come in.
You see him waiting by the poster of Janis Joplin. A waifish sort. Pale with red flushed cheeks. Black hair that makes him look paler. You’re about to tell him you don’t tat minors, when he reads your mind and produces photo identification. He wants a tattoo before he enlists. Not only has he got i.d. but he’s also got cash.
You walk him to the client room and ask him if he knows what he wants. He pauses, then pulls a piece of notepaper from his pocket. It’s folded into precise eighths and he takes his time revealing the image he’s drawn. At first you think he’s kidding. It’s hardly an appropriate brand for an army recruit. But he’s not kidding and he won’t be deterred, even after you tell him it will be three hours and six hundred bucks.
By the time you’ve finished, you’re perspiring and feeling light-headed. You pretend it’s from the ink fumes. You take his money and say goodbye. As he heads out the door, you silently thank him for lifting you up out of your rut today.
And then a cry catches in your throat, and you ask whoever’s listening that if that boy gets stuck in a rut in whatever land he’s bound for, the full-size angel wings now so delicately inscribed on his pale freckled back will lift him up and carry him home.