If it was my choice

April 5, 2012


Everyone seems so ambitious. I swear they’re all building arks. Some want to build a Ponderosa. While others are designing happiness. Like it was a NASA project. Some are purifying their souls. With the same bleach they used for their jeans. Some are trying to get on talk shows. Others submitting their stories to Penthouse. I find myself. Stuck in the moment. Listening to the planet shake. Rattle and roll around the sun. And every cycle brings me closer. To my ultimate fate. If it was my choice. We’d never change the date.

……………………………………………………….

A VOICE IN THE ROOM

Big Bob smiled as the widow Murphy pushed. Her walker. Slowly and painfully out of the shop. No thoughts about the government. Difficult to explain. You can’t complain about the President when your back aches. The old woman’s struggle made Big Bob happy. Not that he ordinarily sought pleasure. Through the misfortunes of others. The widow was different. A crank. She sucked the oxygen out of a room. Nothing could live. Through that much adversity.

Sometimes. She seemed beaten. One overlooked her resilience at one’s peril. A snarled tough minded bitch. Of the communication wars. She gave no quarter. Nor expected any.

Big Bob thought of all the times. The widow side saddled into his shop. When Tom had been there. How she had flirted with him. With Tom. Tom hated flirting. Thought of it as snubbing one’s nose at the Creator. For the few precious hours God had give us on earth. Tom did not appreciate fun. One must always be engaged in some project. In Tom’s world. Something with purpose. Like a shark. Always moving.

And in the background you could hear a radio.

Oh, the shark has pretty teeth dear.

And he shows em, pearly white.

To Big Bob coquetry was a harmless game.

When that shark bites with his teeth, dear.

Scarlet billows begin to spread.

It was a game. The old woman wearing red. And some younger man being black.  Pretending to woo her. Making the older woman feel younger. And the younger man feel generous.

Big Bob had no romantic interests in the old woman. But, still Tom had his suspicions. Some might called it jealousy. The widow was old enough to be Bob’s mother. She was on death’s doorstep. One slam of the door and she’d might shatter. Still Tom had been jealous.

Why was he so insecure? Bob wondered. So Bob flirted with the ladies. Wasn’t that what brought them back? A wink in the spring time. A joke in the fall. And they’d come back for that hammer. And those nails. Maybe some advice about their eaves. Troughs. The name of a handy man to fix that leaky tap. So how much harm was he doing. It was just business. But Tom complained. That Bob didn’t love him enough. If he had so much affection to spread around. To customers. To passersby. To the mailman. Or the kids on the block. If it was going out to someone else, it wasn’t going to Tom.

How much did Bob have to prove to someone? That Bob loved Tom. Are we always on trial? Is there no point where you can say that one has passed? That the relationship was on firm ground? And relax. Lay back in a hammock, drink daiquiris and enjoy love? Stare up at the mountains. Whistle for room service. Breath in the moment?

Bob and Tom had known each other since college. Tom had taken the Frosh Queen to the Homecoming Dance. Bob got drunk with the engineers. Both had joined the drama club. Became drinking buddies. Fell in love with different women. Together. Before they fell into each other’s closet. Came out together. Weathered those early years. Disowned by their families. Those wild parties. Arrested together in the steam rooms. Watched their friends flying. HIV. Making angels in their death sheets. So many silly poor souls on the rack. Of their lives. In the end, laughing in the dark, dieing amongst strangers. Buried hastily in pretty English gardens. And forgotten for decades. Before someone’s kid did. A family tree. And asked who cousin Edward was. And why had he gone away so young. Was he in the war? There were so many. Did he die from the plague? Nobody called it that. In short, your uncle died of a kiss.

Tom and Big Bog had survived all of it. Left stranded on an island with each other. The silly arrangements they made to furnish their apartment. Pretending to sing lullabies. Pretending to be asleep. Pretending that none of it had ever happened. Pretending that there had been no laughter. No tears. No friends who had contacted the… ills.

Was it an illness? Or God’s retribution? For their sins. Wasn’t that what God did? Burnt people at the stake. Used the thumb screws. Forced them to watch Fox News. But where were all those friends they had buried. Were they in heaven? Hell would have been  a release. The photo album was stuffed to the gills. With pics of goodbyes. All those hugs between children. In the corner of the room. On the floor. In the dark. With death in the other corner dragging his feet. And singing.

Seems kinda tough now to say “Goodbye” this way

But papa’s gonna get rough now

So that he can be sweet to you another day

Bye bye baby

Don’t cry baby

Shoo, shoo, shoo, baby

So why had Tom left? Why now? Did he wake up? From their happiness. And just couldn’t get back to sleep.

Big Bob scanned the ruins of the shop. The nails and screws. All the little packages of hope. Build and repair. Looking to the future with open eyes. All this hardware. Pieces of Bob’s dream. Pieces of Tom’s. Weren’t his fingerprints all over everything. Pieces of Tom in someone’s basement. Pieces in someone’s extension. The tree house in the backyard. The deck around the hot tub. Tom’s fingerprints all over the neighbourhood. Like sentimental snapshots in a book. Growing yellow at the fringes. Pieces of Tom blown away in the wind of commerce.

The door of the shop opened. Everest walked in.

“What does that bastard want?” Big Bob muttered. Lightly. Like butter on a toasted bagel. Don’t want that bagel to be sopping wet. Don’t want it to cut your lips. Gotta be spread just right. Don’t want anyone to hear him curse.

Bob had no use for the big man they called Everest. A giant of a man with a tiny heart. Someone who could never keep his nose to himself. And too big to be put into his place. Always chatting you up. Could never figure out what his game was. Where did he live? Married? Kids? Seemed to live in the plaza like a ghost.

Everest looked around the shop. His eyes were always dancing. Delighted in everything that was. Made you want to puke. He’d delight in that.

“Looks like you’re clearing out a lot of merchandise,” Everest said turning his attention back to Bob. “Too bad you didn’t have this kind of business before. When everything wasn’t on sale. You think that bastard G could cut you some slack. How many years you been here, Bob?”

“Years?”

“Must be fifteen years,” Everest replied. “Most folks can’t remember when you and Tom weren’t here. Why did you suddenly fall on hard times? The big box stores?”

Big Bob shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ve always tried to give you my business, small though it may be. I think I owe you. I think we all owe you. Bloody shame!”

“What do you want?” Big Bob cried.

A look of hurt crossed Everest’s face.

Big Bob dropped his eyes. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.”

Everest took a deep breath and looked around the shop.

“Now look Bob. I didn’t come in here to fight. I came in to buy a hammer.”

“We sold out,” Big Bob said. God, won’t he ever leave?

Everest stepped over to a barrel containing hammers. He picked one up and showed it to Big Bob.

“Those were sold this morning,” Big Bob explained. “Big hardware chain in the mall. I just haven’t gotten around to packaging them.”

Everest turned the hammer over and tested it in a swing. Than stepped over to the counter. He put it down.

“They won’t miss one hammer,” Everest said, reaching into his wallet and producing a ten dollar bill. He handed it to Big Bob. Big Bob took it grudgingly, then gave Everest his change.

“Could you put it in a bag,” Everest asked. “You walk around the plaza with a hammer in your hand and people get the wrong idea. I heard of a guy who bought his kid a plastic gun for a birthday present then walked into a bank. He ended up getting five years for armed robbery.”

Everest laughed. Big Bob did not. He put the hammer in a bag. Where does he come up with these stories? Does anyone believe any of them?

“Did you care about Tom at all?” Big Bob asked.

Everest’s mouth dropped. He smiled and shook his head.

“We were friends.”

“Just friends?”

“That was it. Look Bob, I liked Tom, but I don’t swing that way. And if I did, it was obvious to everyone that you two guys were a set. I respected that.” Everest hesitated a moment before speaking. “I know you and I have never gotten along Bob. Well, that’s what it is. I don’t know why Tom left. Maybe it’s none of my business. But if you don’t put Tom behind you, Bob, you might as well pull the sod over you now.”

Big Bob clenched his teeth. “Who do you think you are to give me advice?”

Everest shook his head. “Tom was a sad person, Bob. He had that false front. But behind it there was an overwhelming sadness. The tears of a clown. You should have made him happy. That’s everyone’s duty. That’s why we’re put down here on this lonely orb. What else is there?”

Big Bob dropped his head.

“You don’t think I tried.” Big Bob’s voice was shaking. “You’ve got no idea what it’s like to love someone and know that no matter how much love you give them, it doesn’t matter. Nothing you do matters.”

Everest put his hand on Bob’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Bob.” Everest picked up his bag and turned toward the door.

Big Bob watched Everest open the door. Leave.

“He hasn’t a clue.” Big Bob smiled sadly. “None of them have a clue.”

“And what is it they’re supposed to know?” a voice said.

Big Bob was startled. He looked around. The shop was empty.

“Who said that?”

There was no response.

3 Responses to “If it was my choice”

  1. columbibueno said

    Cool. Love.

  2. glenniebee said

    Very nice. I like your style.

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