Deadline


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I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, ancient spirits lurch.
I’ve had to make allowances.

All through the night unlit by moon or stars, I sensed movement all around, a rustling of hurrying things. As though the trees of the forest were on the move, striding and jostling without words, just the sounds… creak and flex of branches, and the whisper of air through leaves.

When I arrived at the designated place, they were already silently in place, and the air breathed with expectation.

I was just eager to find out what  all the excitement was about. What would make the forest walk?

I’ve told the story before, so will be brief.

It was some years from now. I was at a certain age.  The gathering was of people in my childhood home town, most long gone, but now just as I remembered them. They expected me, and gave a warm welcome.

You may wish to make something psychological of the imagery. Be my guest. I would be tempted, too. I don’t mind.

But in this case, something is different and I can’t shake the feeling. I choose to believe that this was simply a moment of grace. I was given a glimpse into the future, given to know in advance how long I have. And it seemed quite a generous figure.

The joke could be on me, of course, and Jung and Freud could have a field day with the plentiful neuroses they could find in the symbols.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

However, I’ve always worked better under deadline. No truer term could there be, but it is soothing, somehow. That’s part of who I am.

It may just be as simple as that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I must get back to the work.

A Small Death in the Afternoon


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From memory triggered back to life by this poem by Jim Harrison.

The newsroom’s police scanner squawked around 3:30 one afternoon and my editor sent me out with camera and notebook.

It was a cloudy day in early Spring, the roadside grass was fresh and green, the
baby wheat plants covered the fields on either side in a fuzzy carpet.

The scene was very ordinary-looking at first, and it confused me. This was my first fatal accident as a reporter and I didn’t know what to expect.

A sheriff’s department cruiser was off the road with lights flashing behind a family wagon, Continue reading “A Small Death in the Afternoon”

A Ghostling, in Training


Republished for Halloween. 

Ghost

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….

I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was skeptical, in a benign way.
Unmoved except by facts, I said.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it.
Continue reading “A Ghostling, in Training”

Borrowed Time


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“Why do we still do it?”

The two men had been talking for a few minutes already. It was the same every time. They’d covered what was in the paper, who’d died, and who would do everyone a favor if they did. And they always each nominated the other in the latter category, as men who are old friends will do.

They paused to let the waitress put their cups and a pot of coffee down. She somehow produced a small stainless cream pitcher and put it down without spilling anything. A basket of biscotti was already waiting for them. She left, knowing better than to interrupt.

They were at a table by the big window that wobbled if you shifted your weight wrong. They came on Mondays at 7:30 in the morning, rain or shine.

The man who had spoken about their days as starving writers poured another splash of cream into his coffee until the color was the way God intended. He picked up a spoon — made the same decade as the pitcher — and stirred the required three circles. The table, which had probably been in many  dives—and as many auctions—had been new — and in its first auction — in 1929. The years left their mark, but the table still stood where people gathered. Even if it had developed a slight wobble, just like the men.

The other man lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, as if to hurt himself, then pushed the smoke up toward the ceiling. It rolled over itself up there and hid in the dimness like old, sad memories. Another long draw and exhale, more memories. He finally looked down into his coffee, watched the steam, felt mildly curious about when the waitress had poured it. He took a quick sip, blew a little to cool it, then took a longer drink. He looked through the dust of the window and watched the sun try to warm the old brick building across the street.

Carved in a limestone block at the top of the building were the block letters “W. C. T. U” for Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an anti-alcohol organization from the late 1890’s and early parts of the 1900s. The size of the building indicated how important that group had been. The dilapidated face of the building told a story of changing times.

“I wish I knew.” One side of his mouth twitched in what once had once been an easy smile. He raised his eyes, caught those of his friend for a moment and looked back out the window. A gust kicked up and blew something past. A white paper sandwich bag.

“Maybe… I don’t know….He stopped.

“Maybe its because the world is so fucked up.”

“Maybe I’m the one who’s fucked, and I never got the memo. Maybe…. .”

He trailed off and took another sip.

“Maybe what?”

“I have this nagging fear that we are living on borrowed time. It never leaves me. All of us. Everything. I just have this feeling that if I get it right—some day, even just once, I write the perfect thing, something of absolute and final clarity that is a plea for forgiveness—then maybe God will give us one more chance. The hell of it is, I’m getting old. I just don’t know how much time I have, or what it will take.”

Neither spoke again. There really was nothing more to say. They looked through the hazy glass as the coffees grew cold.

 

I’ll Buy You A Beer


Hello sweet Miss,
That empty chair there…
Mind if I join you?
Maybe buy you a beer?

Now, before you say no…
I’ve haven’t a plan,
Besides soaking my troubles
‘Til they don’t seem so bad,
But it’s sadder just drinking
Without company.
Let’s hoist a few pints,
Get stupid and free.

Oh, I see…
You’re not talking,
You’re here to forget?
A man’s in the picture,
I’d be willing to bet.

I sure know the feeling,
The guts turned to goo,
So if it’s silence you need,
Well, I need that, too.

But your sad, sad beauty
It touches my soul.
There’s a smile to be found there,
Let’s make that our goal

Seems both of us crave
Something stronger than beer.
Maybe vodka? Or whiskey?
“Hey Barkeep! Two drinks over here.”

But look into my eyes–
It burns in your’s, too–
That we’re here in the City
And it hasn’t been kind.
We’ve come up against it,
Bruised in body and mind.

So only if you agree,
I’ve got no big plan–
Not looking for love,
Or to stand in for your man.
We’ll just share a drink–
In silence; we must.

Let’s keep out the cold,
And let the pain pass,
Good company, simple,
Just a lad and a lass.

©Hemmingplay 2014, revised 3/21/14

The Short, Happy Life of Your’s Truly


“We can rebuild him. We have the technology.”

“I don’t know. He’s really fucked himself up this time. No hands left. Face ripped half off. Third-degree burns everywhere. Pretty clumsy for someone in his line of work.  The Feds should be pleased, though. Looks like he caught himself.”

“Very funny. Look. We don’t have time to argue. Get prepped or get out. I have a four o’clock tee time.”

“Alright. Have it your own way. I’m in. But for the record, I think this is a bad idea. Let it go. ”

“Noted, you sanctimonious prick. I’m reserving the OR and getting the surgical team here. Call Bradley’s service and get her in here to handle anethesia. Oh, and you’d better notify the hospital’s lawyer. Tell her we’re going to patch this guy up again, have her call the ATF and FBI and let them know their bomber is back. Most of him, anyway.”

“Wait a second… what’s THAT?”

“What’s what?”

“THAT. Is it…. ?”

“Jesus Christ. The sonofabitch… Get OUT!”

I would have smiled, if I still had a functional face. I knew what it was, all right. And it was too late. A sheet of flame from the blast ended all three of us, but didn’t go beyond the exam room. All in all, I thought in a split second, a very professional job.

As the last of my consciousness winked out — funny how time slows down at times like this — I chuckled. How stupid of these doctors to think they could sleep with my wife and think I wouldn’t know. Both of them. MY wife!

Stupid.

©Hemmingplay 2014