second-hand goods

The pawnshop has been doing well for me lately. It's normally pretty quiet inside--plenty of time to read or do whatever. But sometimes someone comes in to sell something and sometimes they're willing to talk. Sometimes there's a story to be had, but sometimes they just tell me what's been going on, in the world, in their lives, wherever. I get most of my news from my patrons, or from people talking about it in other places.

And when someone brings in a book or something to pawn I'll read it then, or watch it if it's a movie or listen if it's music. It's a way to kill the time, to pick things up. It's often enough that I pretty much always have something to do in the evenings. It's nice for when I have a date and need something to do.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm not missing something by mostly relying on the pawn shop for my information and entertainment. But in many ways it lets me keep up with whatever is going on. I can be informed and chat about everything that I see or hear about. Nobody has any real idea that I'm scraping by on second-hand goods.


the same as being in

It's never clear why these nights happen, but some nights I know right away I'm not going to sleep. It's usually a night that fades into silence. Any initial companions I have retire for the evening, leaving me alone with my coffee and whatever I'm working on to try to keep me awake or otherwise occupied.

Last night, though, without any prompting, a friend of mine offered to stick around, since I was going to be awake anyway. It was nice to have someone there--early on we joked and talked a lot, but by morning it was silent. She read her book and I continued writing. Eventually it was late enough in the morning the trains had started running again, and we took one to the diner, and ordered coffee and tried to make conversation, but found ourselves too tired for it.

We finished eating. All the colors were morning-brilliant outside, all the greens and fresh browns of summer, and our little dark wood table was littered with spilled sugar and discarded napkins and empty glasses. "Staying up all night is starting to feel like it was the wrong decision," I said. It was seven. Hours to go before the day was over.

"Really? I had fun. I'm glad I did."

While I don't remember most of what we talked about now, I remember everything we didn't need to say.


not a saint

My biggest problem has always been that I care about my congregation. I don't mean that to say that I shouldn't. But they venerate me for doing what I feel that any man should do. I'm not a saint. I have my own problems.

Recently some of them threw a banquet in my honor. There were several speeches, many of them extemporaneous, about how I had sacrificed so much of my time and energy for these people, helping them with their problems, offering guidance or encouraging words, or sometimes just being there. In many ways I had become an icon. Several speakers described me as an inspiration. Then they asked me to say a few words, as I knew they would.

I told them how I'd never planned on becoming a member of the clergy. I did it to hide from my problems. I didn't plan on helping people or even think I was terribly good at it. I didn't feel a calling from God. Really I didn't have any plans, except to get away from where I'd been before--which was nothing so glamorous as it sounds. I'd made some mistakes and burned a lot of bridges.

Then people started coming to me with their problems and of course I tried to help. That's what it is to be human, isn't it? You help when you can. Sometimes the most important person in your life is the person who happens to be there. Of course I did what I could. I didn't really think I had a choice in the matter.

Their applause seemed so strange to me. I'm still not sure what I've done to deserve this.


happy to help

I couldn't count the number of times I've been on the verge of snapping the past week. Always when I'm trying to help, making suggestions. People working with me on the project aren't just tearing them down, they're attacking me for it. It's not even that they don't like my ideas anymore; they just don't like me. They're not even bothering to conceal their contempt. I am not appreciated and mostly they've made it clear. The manager is the only one who listens or seems to like my ideas, who appreciates the work I've put in.

So I've decided to get my revenge. At first I was planning something inelegant like sabotage--but I've had a far better idea now. I'm going to be aggressively helpful. I was holding off on submitting my opinion on topics in which I had no expertise, but they've issued a challenge. Now, every single mundane detail gets my thorough treatment, exploring every possibility, every possible tweak. They will be flooded in such an inexorable tide of my paperwork that their only choice will be to overwhelm themselves focusing on contemptuously destroying my ideas, or despair.


no regrets

I always say I have no regrets, and sometimes maybe I even believe it myself. Late at night, as we're talking about the lives we've led and she's pouring out the last of the wine and my throat is dry, she asks if I have any regrets. It's been a rough road. I've made mistakes. Do I regret it?

No, I say. I smile, though she's still watching the wine. Now the bottle's empty and she sets my glass on the coffee table in front of me and takes a sip of hers. But tonight I don't believe it. Tonight I remember everything--when I look back over my past, my childhood, it's all of the mistakes. All the times I did something I regretted right away, all the times I ran away or hid, all the things that never resolved, that I just hid from until it passed, lied about when questioned, and then pretended it was all okay. And maybe even then I believed it. But it's not the happy moments I remember. It's every mistake I've ever made, played out over and over again in my mind, in my writing.

I dream about it sometimes. They play out in front of me and I can never do otherwise. I'll have the same dream a dozen times in a night. It's always the same.

We talk more. The candle starts to flicker, and there's a moment where I know she expects me to kiss her. I instead lean forward to blow the candle out. I say it's getting late. I should probably head home. She asks, are you sure? She offers to let me stay at her place, and I know she doesn't mean the couch.

I'm sure, I say. Good night, I say. I tell her I had a good time. I tell her I'll remember tonight. I'm sure she assumed I meant it as a compliment.



The riots have been going on for a few days now. I'm trying to pay attention to the news but they don't seem to think it's that big of a deal. There's lots of shouting outside and they're breaking windows and firebombing cars down the street, and now even at night there's a sort of red glow from all the fires on the horizon. I haven't left my house much since it started, except once, to buy bread. I've been watching the crowds as they swarm the riot cops and throw them off their motorcycles. They set some of them on fire. The fire's gone now.

I just wanted everything to be all right. My sister called me and said that our brother had joined the rioters, last she saw he was chanting and shouting and throwing rocks at the police. She's afraid to leave her home now. I guess I might be, too, but I think I just want to watch. The world is on fire and what I'm really most afraid of is that it doesn't matter what I say or do. If I step out I'll just be part of the crowd, shouting and charging the police, and maybe we'll win or lose but it won't be me.

I told my sister that I'd try to get over there and make sure she's okay. I'm afraid I might not get there, that even if I do it won't matter. There's so much more going on right now than just me, and I'm not sure what to do with that.

low pressure system

She is crossing the street in front of her house, walking through the wind and rain with her umbrella. Her lover is following after, saying, "Wait," and, "Come back." He is pleading with her. She stops just by the curb and turns around. The wind catches her umbrella, opening it too far. She struggles with it, growing increasingly angry and frustrated, as he tries to apologize, too little, too late. "Fuck you," she says, and throws the umbrella at him, defeated. It will lie there in the street for the next several days.

Now she is on the train, and she is dripping wet and she is hoping that nobody notices that she has been crying. She isn't confident of this fact. She gets off earlier than she should and walks the rest of the way, because she is wet anyway and maybe she'll calm down by the time she gets in to work. She doesn't.

Now she is at the bar with her friends, and she is putting on a smile, and they don't know that she is angry and frustrated or notice the cracks in her smile or the dark look in her eyes. She is focused on getting drunk, and flirting with a boy she only invited so she could get back at her lover, but for the moment she is concerned that maybe she is laughing a little too loudly. While she is at the bar getting another round, he is calling her lover and telling him to come.

Now she is drunk and her lover has just arrived, and she kisses the boy she invited, though he pushes her away, confused and a little hurt. "You're drunk," he accuses, but the damage is done. Most of her friends leave before it can turn ugly; she steps outside in the growing storm with her lover and screams at him until her voice is hoarse. And he simply looks sad and apologizes again and leaves. She orders another round.

Now her best friend is helping her to the bathroom. She is vomiting and her friend is holding her hair back and trying to comfort her; she keeps insisting it's fine in a cracking voice. Neither of them are convinced.

Now they are sharing a cab back home, and she is leaning against the window with her eyes tightly shut against the spinning world, regretting everything. As they arrive and she tries to walk back home, she stumbles and falls into a puddle by the curb, a few feet away from her discarded umbrella. Her friend helps her to her feet and helps her inside, where she collapses on her bed with her clothes still on.



Somewhere along the road, we took a wrong turn. It was late and we were both tired--she was trying to sleep in the back--and the rain was pouring down and I couldn't see anything. Then everything looked wrong and the exit we were supposed to take just wasn't turning up, so I pulled off the road and parked. The rain started picking up, and, in the way that people sleeping in cars can do so very well, she woke up. "What's going on? Where are we?"

"I don't know."

"Well, fuck."

We were silent for a moment. I turned off the windshield wipers, so the only sound was the rain beating down--it was so heavy and seemed to just be getting worse, and now the lights were off I couldn't see anything. She crawled into the front seat and sat next to me. "Did we miss an exit or something?"

"I don't know." I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the seat back. "It's never going to stop raining."

The rain continued for a while. Our breath started to fog the windows. She shifted uneasily.

"What are we going to do?" I said. I felt like I had to talk over the rain, or she wouldn't hear me.

She shrugged. "Get some sleep. We won't be any more lost in the morning."

I nodded. It was an uneasy time to sleep, but we didn't really have a choice in the matter. By morning the rain had eased off to a steady drizzle, the windows were just as foggy, but there was a murky grey horizon where previously there was only the endless night.


running and hiding

My brother was a good man. He took care of me and my mother when my father left, first when I was too young, then when I was too unwilling. She tried to work, of course, but when my father left he took everything with him, but mostly her joy. She never understood why it happened, and I think she was always waiting for that day when he'd come home to do right by his family.

He never did.

I spent my teenage years shirking, ducking out of work, hiding from responsibility, denying everything. There wasn't anything I wanted to stand and face. When I was old enough, when my brother needed me there to help him, I fled. I wanted none of it. I'd learned something from my father's departure: the place you left is never where you want to be.

So my brother took care of our mother on his own, never once complaining. Once he found my number in Milwaukee and asked me if I'd please come home, that she missed me. I told him he must have had the wrong number and hung up. He never called again. Sometimes in my travels I thought maybe I saw my father, in a suit and tie and looking like he was doing well for himself. I never talked to him.

I tried to come home and the house was still there, but it was empty. It still had a lot of the furniture, but it was dusty and there were cobwebs and the windows were broken like it hadn't been used in years. I asked around town, and they didn't recognize me but they said that my mother had died a few years back, and my brother tried to find me but he couldn't, the old number didn't work anymore, so he did what he could to pay for a funeral, and had her buried at the old church cemetery, and joined the army and never came home.

They asked, do you want to see where they're buried? And I was crying but I said no, I just knew them from a while ago and hoped we could do lunch while I was in town. And I fled. It's all I know how to do.



I spent today hiding inside, afraid to face the world after this weekend.

Friday night was spent at a party, where I got just drunk enough to spend much of the end of the evening telling all my darkest secrets to a girl who, I've no doubt, awoke on Saturday with dim memories of a boy who had more problems than she was willing to deal with right now, even if he seemed very nice at the time.

I spent Saturday finishing up some of the research I had left from the week, in the company of a few of my colleagues, when I simply froze.

It was one of those moments where I was restless and frustrated and couldn't really do anything to vent, so I just sat there, completely unable to focus, and disengaged entirely. I was able to function more after going out to get some food, but I still felt very much like I'd disengaged, and was primarily just running in a very reactive way. Most of what happened after that, I only recall very dimly--perhaps someone knew something was wrong, but I was still functioning, even if on an instinctive level.

Sunday I was tense and withdrawn, avoiding social contact, but unable to entirely withdraw, so I lurked at the edge of conversations, snapping at those who tried to draw me in. I don't even entirely regret it, but it took a lot out of me. If I didn't think I was free to leave at any time it could have been so much worse--it's amazing the lies we tell ourselves.



Everything is perfect.

I don't mean that sarcastically. It was a perfectly beautiful afternoon, but the wind was blowing in a cloud cover, and a gust at just the right angle took one of the table umbrellas and knocked the whole table over. Even as we stood and watched I could feel a little sprinkle of rain hitting my face. Nobody else felt it. The temperature was dropping and she pulled her hand from mine to wrap her arms in her coat against the chill. My brother left for an appointment. We were left alone, she and I, watching the overturned table with the feeling that somehow it was completely unremarkable in its weirdness.

We walked home without talking, and the rain started falling and we'd sometimes brush up against each other but we were mostly huddled up against the wind and the rain. There was everything left to say, but we were saving it, savoring the moment before we had to say anything.

In the end there would be one moment that mattered--all our lives, all of time, just an overture to that one moment. Everything, from the beautiful cloudy days with the wind whipping the tables over and the rain soaking us to the bone, all of the times we spent avoiding each other's gaze, all of it perfectly building up to that one moment where we say all there is to be said.


the end

I was given the chance to stop the end from coming. It would be so simple. All I had to do was say the word. I could have saved us all. Just spend tonight working on it and the bombs won't fall. The thing is, I have this date tonight, and she's really cute, and it's only our second date and I didn't want to cancel.

Those of us that don't die in the war will probably die in the resulting fallout. It's the ones who don't fight that will last the longest, and a few survivalists will probably outlive us all, kings of the desolate wasteland. But the petty infighting and lawless society will kill off even the most resourceful of us, and the planet just won't sustain the resources for long.

I'm wearing my favorite t-shirt out tonight and we're going to the Friendly Toast for dinner and drinks. There's this scramble I've been meaning to try and they've actually got a pretty good beer selection. If it's still nice we'll probably walk home. It's beautiful in Cambridge at night. I just couldn't trade that in.



We remember things based on landmarks and milestones, on events that we'll always remember--significance. It's easy to look back and say where you were on your first kiss or when you graduated and usually even the rest of the night, even if it's a blur--you remember. You take it all in.

We never remember those moments beforehand--ten minutes or the night before. It's just that one moment that sticks with you--not the sandwich you hurriedly made on your way out the door before you ran into her at the bar, the hours you spent lounging on the couch reading posts on texts from last night. Not even the brilliant conversation over coffee late at night when you were so tired you were delirious, or the stupid argument you had that that made you want to go out in the first place. Weeks later that's all gone, and there's just that moment when you're walking her home and you stop in the street and everything's just--

But it's those moments before, the ones you forget, that make up most of our lives. They're so profoundly human we don't remember any of it. I'm tired of that. I want to know every single boring detail about your day. I'm tired of remembering things just for milestones. I want to know the story about why you can't eat falafel anymore.


artificial sweetener

By three am the table was scattered with the debris of our respective coffees: brown packets of raw sugar in front of me, pink packets of artificial sweeteners in front of her, and the little containers of half-and-half strewn about equally in front of us. Her plate still had a few scattered French fries; mine still bore a few home fries and some bits of egg that had escaped my fork.

We had been silent for a while now--the animated conversations from our meal had died into a sullen, brooding silence. At this point the only sounds were the occasional clinking of a spoon as we stirred our coffee. We didn't look at each other. There wasn't really anything left to say. She set her mug down with a click and absently ate one of her remaining French fries. It must have been cold by now.

The sun was coming up through the window. Her hands were shaking. I was feeling tense and jittery. I wasn't sure what we were waiting for. I chanced a glance at her, and the expression she gave me told me neither did she. But when the waiter came by with more coffee, she didn't try to stop her, and opened up another packet of artificial sweetener, poured it in her coffee, and stirred. Another little pink packet was added to the detritus of the evening.



I've been looking through old photographs, and some of the pictures I'm in are starting to bother me. It's not just that I can't place where they are, but I can't place the emotions--sometimes even the place isn't quite enough. It only happens when they catch me off guard. I'm never quite looking at the camera, and there's that look in my eyes like I'm afraid of something, that nervous smile like I didn't really believe that it would be all right in the end.

I knew a girl who looked like that in photos, but only when she knew it was happening. Off the camera, she was excitable, but she looked unafraid--like everything really would be okay, despite her constant misgivings about it.

What bothers me most is that it only happens to me when I don't know there's a camera. When I know there's a camera there I look so calm and composed and smug, but when I don't I'm so uneasy, so tense, so nervous. Photographs have that weird power about them, to capture a moment forever, that one instant--and I worry that maybe she's the one that really had it together, and I'm the one who's afraid of everything.


dark rituals

I know I could summon the devil at any time. He's appeared before, offered to give me power, wealth, whatever I ask for--all I have to do is sign my soul away, and it's mine. I've never really wanted any of that, though. I don't need money, and I'm not a domineering person. I just want to live my life, and I think he respects that in his own way. But I know how to bring him back, if I wanted.

It's been tough lately. My girlfriend left me, and I've alienated most of my friends while I was trying to deal with it. My family's not talking to me, even. I lost my job. I've just been sitting at home, trying to read some of the books I have sitting around, but I just can't focus on the pages. It's lonely. And I know the devil's so close. I could call him up if I wanted. He told me this would happen, even. Just a word and he's here. But he doesn't understand, I don't want revenge, I don't want him to force anyone to come back. Honestly, right now I just want a hug.