“On Measuring Time”

Published by Every Day Fiction (November 2014).

On Measuring Time

The crisp November morning my grandpa died, I stumbled from my grandparents’ small house to Grandma’s car for a confused six a.m. ride to the hospital, my overweight grandfather already pale blue and slumped against his seat belt. In the backseat, holding the bulky car phone to my ear as Grandma drove, I spoke to the ambulance paramedics: “We just passed the fire station, can you meet us somewhere? Now we’re by a grocery store―Grandma, what should I say?”

Just over a month later, at bedtime on Christmas Eve, my grandma stood quietly before the cuckoo clock that had hung silent since our trip to the hospital. The pink enamel of her clipped nails shuddered against the hanging chains of the clock as she reached for the black iron weights, pulled her arms back, reached out again and paused. “Dale?”

“Yeah, Grandma?” I sat on my bed in the room behind her, watching her instead of reading in the same first-story bedroom where my mom grew up.

Grandma turned and stepped through the bedroom doorway, her hazel eyes half-lidded. “I need to ask you something.”

She sat down on the twin bed across from me. Her fine hands fell to her lap but never stopped moving―like small birds, just as they would settle, one atop the other, they would lift up and re-settle the same way, again and again.

I pulled one of my knees up onto the bed and looked at the woman who volunteered five days a week at a soup kitchen because she just didn’t know what to do with retirement; who I’d always hear cuss under her breath at church before smiling and shaking hands with people who talked to her like she was stupid; who had once whispered “Close your eyes” as she pulled a steak knife out of my forearm after I fell while carrying it. “What is it, Grandma?”

“I need you to set the cuckoo clock. For eight in the morning.”

I glanced over at the clock I had seen a thousand times, the one Grandpa had brought back from Switzerland after World War 2: the meticulously carved oak shaped into a house, the delicate plank where a wooden cuckoo flitted out on the hour, the dangling chains and the iron weights shaped like pine cones hanging from them. “But I don’t know how.”

“I can tell you. I’ll tell you how.” The corners of her mouth trembled.

I sat forward. “Can’t you do it?”

Her eyes shined glossy as she swallowed hard, turning to the clock, her head tilted up like one of the figures in the church’s stained glass windows. “Your grandpa used to do it. He used to pull the chains just before bed, last thing. And I do know how, but when I go to, it reminds me that his hands aren’t here to do it.” She sniffled as I thought of Grandpa being pulled from the car by the paramedics, his blue face, limp arms. Grandma pushed her lips into a weak smile. “It’s fine. It’s just been strange to go through days without it chiming.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, her lips still shaped like a smile. “Let’s get to bed now.”

We each stood and I kissed her cheek. She flipped the light switch off on her way out and went to lock the back door.

“Goodnight,” I said, my gaze on her from the soft darkness just beyond the open bedroom door. “See you in the morning.”

“Goodnight,” she said. “Merry Christmas.” She paused at the staircase―her face in light but heart falling under shadow―and her wet eyes flickered back to the cuckoo clock, the brittle wooden borders of the roof. Then she put a hand on the wobbly banister and walked slowly up the dark stairs.

A few minutes after Grandma creaked into the shadows of her bedroom, I rose from my bed and moved out into the hallway. In the heavy darkness before the cuckoo clock, I reached for the fine chains with shaking fingers―picturing all the times I had seen Grandpa raise and lower each wrought iron weight―and tugged gently, letting go of those that felt taut, pulling further those that gave way.

“Photos of My Mother Found in Her Attic”

Published in The Literati Quarterly (October 2015).

Photos of My Mother Found in Her Attic

Her and Dad laughing at their wedding—the one where her head is tipped back and her eyes are closed as they dance, her veil like a pale cloud around her; one taken after my first JV lacrosse game—which we lost—her face painted and eyes glittering despite my mope; her at the old kitchen table, fuming with her head in her hands, followed by a series of ten photos of her coming around—a surefire tactic of my dad’s when she was really, truly angry: “She never frowns in front of a photographer”—finally stifling laughter as she reaches to take the camera from Dad’s hands; one of her in high school, radiant in sepia tones, her skin brighter and tighter than I ever saw, her face prettier and younger than I ever thought she could have been; Halloween the year I turned 7 and my brother 10, a pumpkin and a ninja respectively, our cheeks pressed hard into hers as she holds me on one side and Jeremy on the other, already the worry of her sons growing up showing in her face; a stray Polaroid with burned edges showing what must be her at a costume party before Jeremy was born—dark eyeliner and a sneer on her lips, laughter and a gleam of alcohol in her blue-blue eyes, an arm around a woman I’ve never seen; in the hospital beside Grandpa’s prone figure, amid the machines and dull lighting, her elbows on her knees and hands clasped tight together before her mouth, her sister trying to fake a smile behind her; standing in the garden at our old house, Jeremy clutching her thigh and hiding behind her as she blocks sun from her eyes with one hand and rests the other on her swollen belly; onstage in her college years—before she married Dad and dropped out—dressed as some Shakespearean heroine: arms wide and feet firmly planted, face uplifted toward the light and caught in wild, confident expression of her lines; struggling to handle a tipping armful of wrapped gifts, sincere horror on her face as Jeremy and I—probably 4 and 7—look to be screaming with laughter in the foreground; curled around my toddler body as I fiercely clasp my teddy bear and shudder in feverish sleep; a black-and-white the size of a credit card, one corner creased and folded: she’s a child, five maybe, her hand outstretched in a joyful wave as Pepaw holds her on his hip and they smile and squint under a bright sun—suddenly I can feel the decades between that picture and my dad, my brother and I, can see the other side of countless decisions and opportunities and accidents, and it’s like the bottom drops out of my stomach as I picture some other guy proposing before Dad saw her in that play, or her slipping through the ice at that pond where she’d skate at night as a girl, or a single driver running a red light before she could realize what was happening—but in the young, smiling eyes before me glints some secret knowledge, some intuition, that I only now see to be true.

“On Knowing the Score”

Published in Steer Queer Vol. 1, Issue 3 (October 2014).

On Knowing the Score

I lean out my apartment window into the mild night air exhaling cigarette smoke, stretching to see past the magnolia in my front yard and up toward the glow of the baseball fields in the park, the direction Zach should be coming from, so I know if I still have a few minutes. He texted me about hanging out as I stepped out of the shower after work and flat out told me he wanted to try it with another guy—me, tonight. I obviously told him to rush right over.

Zach’s a friend of a friend, one of those men with auburn hair the same color as his eyes and a white-white smile, just charismatic enough to pull off being both a professional poker player and couch surfer, and after last time we saw each other I left sure he was interested—he’d squeezed my thigh and winked when our mutual friends left the table to get another round, then told me about how his ex just left him, a girl I actually met once who bragged to me about the size of his dick. I’d blushed and laughed along with him, then greeted my fresh drink from our friends like everything was normal. I know the game.

My phone chimes and I look at the screen: Text from Zach. I unlock my phone to “Hey sorry dude! Ran into peeps playin dodgeball in tha park and girl asked for my number – couldnt resist. Ill catch u soon”

I crush out my cigarette on the glass top of my desk and toss the phone on my bed, exhaling a plume of smoke as I march to the kitchen. That’s the problem with this—chasing after straight boys whose eyes linger too long—the ones impulsive enough to do it are also impulsive enough to suddenly not do it. I pull a beer from the fridge and twist the cap off with my teeth—a little extra click-and-wiggle from that one molar, but fuck it—and reach for the half-empty pack of Camels on the counter, imagine Zach tossing his hair under bright lights and flickering stars as he looks over at her—whoever she is—impulse leading to action, action to impulse.