The Last Exhale

It was inevitable that this sun-soaked path would grow shadowed and chilly.
I was lost.
In my gut I had been waiting for this moment, but still blinked in confusion as the sterile blue sky clouded over.

The breeze, which was happy and light just moments before, now slithered around my shoulders. Straining to listen for the approaching doom, my heart swelled and squeezed a bloody fist in my chest. My ears filled with the sound of a frenzied drum.

Stopping on the rutted path, I straddled a patch of grass, brown and dry, to try to regain composure. I focused on the thin line of grey clouds that formed a meniscus along the liquid expanse on the horizon, wanting nothing more than to pour the sky on the dead vegetation between my feet.

I continued on since there was no way to go but forward. Tip toeing along the path, the prickling sensation of total awareness tingled uncomfortably like a foot that had fallen asleep.

Relief flooded into my gut when I spotted the door at the foot of a tree. It never occurred to me to find the location a bit unusual.

But it was so small.

I would have to get down on my knees and squeeze through.

The door knob, only a tiny smooth pearl in my hand, turned easily enough as I greedily took in the gold light that threaded through the cracks at the hinges. I wanted desperately to be welcomed inside.

But I didn’t fit. I was too large, an expanse of flesh and thought that couldn’t fold.
I removed my coat,
my hat,
my mittens unraveling between the thumb and pointer finger.
I shed my sweater
and boots.

It was as if the door shrunk in size with every layer I discarded.

I peeled away my skin,
my bones,
my muscle.
I pushed away my day dreams
and tried to slide through the entrance without success.

I shed all of myself,
until I was an exhaled breath.

But when I tried to enter,

a breeze blew me away.

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The Squirrels Will Be to Blame

The next plague will be spread by the urban squirrels, fat and bloated, and holding court on dumpsters lining the alley ways. Their grey fur stretches over thick bellies despite the winter weather and naked tree limbs.

The resources here never run low.

I can hear them chattering and plotting while they thoughtfully gnaw at a chili Cheetos morsel, paws sticky and stained red from the powder.

They sit and wait. It is only a matter of time before the first one leaps from its throne of trash to scurry up our leg and infect us with a poisonous bite.

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And You Too, Will Be Eliminated

Estelle pulled her car to the shoulder and killed the engine.

Silence.

Trees rustled along the river’s edge and the sound of angry water grew louder as she walked toward the bridge, age spots of rust peeling from the metal beams.

Peering over the edge the water gushed below, muddy and tumbling from a week’s worth of downpours. Estelle gripped the railing, wringing the steel with her hands. The cold penetrated her thin gloves as she contemplated the height of her perch. A three-story drop perhaps…nothing dramatic.

She traced the forested banks that scratched an ‘S’ across the exposed fields, newly harvested and bristled with trimmed cornstalks, and settled her gaze on a smudge of black on the horizon. Someone must be burning leaves. Estelle was swept away for a moment in the nostalgia of high school football games.

Reaching into her pocket, she felt for the letter. She dug her fingertips into the pointed corners and rotated the folded piece of paper. Her task had been accomplished, but it would be a lonely celebration.

He had gotten what he deserved, Estelle reminded herself.

Deep breaths. Don’t cry.

Tomorrow the slate would be clean and she would drive back to her quiet apartment where her milk had long expired and her plants drooped in defeat. Her ability to be so calm, so cold, despite the circumstances surprised Estelle. No emotions had ever surfaced, until now.

Pulling the letter from her coat pocket, her heart leapt in an irregular flutter. She had been flawless in her execution. No gun or knife in this revenge. That would have been too messy, too easily traced back to the source.

Instead, she had employed her stiff, neat handwriting. One sentence bleeding into soft paper. A much more effective tactic without the mess.

Unfolding the letter she had stolen back from his home in the early hours of the morning, she made herself look at the words one more time before letting it drop.

If floated unceremoniously into the river, pausing for a moment on the surface before being swallowed by the current.

Gravel crunched under feet as she walked back to the car. A small funeral march. She was losing control.

The car pulled onto the road and crawled across the bridge. Estelle didn’t look at the river stretching away from her. Flipping the radio on she tried to quiet her thoughts, but it only made her inner monologue amplify as it competed for attention.

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The Chained Dog

From my apartment window I watch the clouds curdle into an ash-colored film across the western horizon. A storm is slowly, lazily, rolling into the city and I wonder if it will bring any relief to this heat.

The train ride home made me wonder the point of this city commute – faces void of emotion, eyes cast downward, sweaty flesh smashed into the train cars that carry us to and from commitments and obligations.

We might as well be on long, thick chains, running in an extended circumference around a yard worn brown from our pacing and piss.

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Giggles and ‘Tots and a Toast to Friday

I’m not talking two year olds, I’m talking golden nuggets of goodness, drenched in fake cheese with nacho flavoring.

I’m talking health code violations in finger licking and double dipping and bbq sauce hiding out in the corners of our smiling lips.

I’m talking about pints of beer that are over-priced and under-flavored and take too long to arrive at our wobbling table.

I’m talking about stiff giggles and conversation that quickly unwinds into belly laughs with the first clanking of our pint glasses.

I’m talking about a toast to Friday, a salute to the end of another work week and a circle of friends that make it all worthwhile.

Cheers.

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The Morning Commute

Squinting against the sun that ricocheted across the dark waters of Lake Michigan, I flipped my bike into seventh gear and maneuvered the potholes and cracks along the Path with an overconfident energy. The air was cold and pricked at my ears and cheeks as I tried to pedal faster despite the higher resistance. I wanted to sweat.

I leaned in deeply with my left shoulder, rounding the bend by the totem pole that seemed out of place among the cars and tennis courts and canvased sails in the harbor. The reds and browns of the Chicago skyline stretched into the blue sky and towered above me like soldiers at attention.

Fall was opening up, an egg fully cracked, and the golds were spilling out everywhere. Whipping across the sidewalks and stretches of grass, leaves twirled about in mini tornadoes, dancing the jig of the season. I thought of apple cider.

Passing an older man on his ten-speed, I strained to say a ‘good morning’ as I cruised by. The salutation halted in my throat as if it were a tiny child sprawled out rigidly against the sides of a slide, stuck at the top in fear of the quick decent. It made me sad to think that such a simple gesture of human connection would cause my heart to beat faster than my morning workout.

The path made a slight attempt at an incline and the lake shimmered along the eastern horizon. I realized how lucky I was to have this sort of morning commute. No talk radio, no crawl along the “express” way, no claustrophobic trains, just the cold wind startling my senses and the quiet “whoosh” of the air as I sped along toward the Loop.

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Knock Knock. Who’s There? Dead Bodies and Rock Band

An unusual craving for vodka settled in on my tongue until I finally succumbed and poured myself two shots worth. Olives bobbed among the ice while I rotated the drink in my hand.

Stinging, sterilizing my throat, the alcohol scratched its way down to warm my stomach. I let the saltiness of the olive juice linger until it staled; I took a second sip. I was trying to calm myself.

One floor below my apartment, a rhythmic pounding was shaking my wine glasses. Perhaps a picture was being hung, or a chair leg had become too loose and it was impatiently being knocked into place.

The racket didn’t really bother me, at first.

Ten minutes later I was slightly annoyed.

Maybe my neighbors were banging on their floor to quiet an equally noisy neighbor below them.

Or perhaps the man with a voice full of loose gravel and silt, who occasionally charged around his apartment thundering curses below my bedroom, had finally swung too hard this time. The lifeless body, which he was now realizing wasn’t ever going to come back around, needed too be hidden.

Pounding nails into boards that criss-crossed the barricaded door, where the body was gently wedged beside an artificial Christmas tree and extra blankets, was only a temporary solution. He knew that. But it felt good to exhaust himself, a meditation of sorts, to clear his mind and allow him to focus.

Or. Perhaps the family below me was just enthusiastically playing ‘Rock Band’ on their wii and the drummer had a heavy foot stomping the beat of an old Billy Idol song.

Cross-legged on my floor, sipping my drink, I decided either way a house in the country would be ideal.

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