30 March, 2011

Doc Gimley's Contribution: Part 1

It was the 75th anniversary of the founding of San Grila, Illinois. The town had grown from one grain mill, two houses, a brothel, a church, and one narrow dirt road that was a mud pit in the Spring into a thriving town with a paved main drag, rows of businesses – a candy store, a dress maker and a haberdasher and two general stores among them – on each side of the street, five churches (one of them Catholic), and three taverns. The brothel was gone, but San Grila had its own postmaster. The grain mill was still there and very much in use, though some were afraid that it needed to be replaced and there was some talk of building a newer one ten miles away in New Eustacia; but since San Grila was more central to everyone and it was generally agreed upon that New Eustacia was nothing but a dirty river town, these rumors were more or less dismissed except by the most patriotic of townspeople.

And because the town had grown so much from such humble beginnings, and because everyone agreed that there was nothing but a bright future ahead for the bustling community, and because a new century was dawning, the San Grila 75th Anniversary Committee decided to make the celebration one that would always be remembered.

Which was why, three months before the town's anniversary celebration – May 21st, 1899 – Mrs. Ardena Guntersaun, whose husband Shirley was President of the local chapter of the RTPSA – the Right Thinking Patriotic Sons of America – went to one of San Grila's most prominent citizens to ask for his help in what she considered to be a high and holy task.

The citizen in question was Dr. Randolph Gimley. He was an optometrist by training, and the town's only doctor by default. People liked him because he was friendly, liked children, attended the Methodist Church regularly, and was a man of more or less clean habits. He made eye glasses for Old Man Wallace and helped the blacksmith's children through the measles. Doc Gimley was a man generally thought to be one of the smartest men in town, if not in the entire county. His library was full of books, ranging from Jules Verne to The Histories of Herodotus and from Spenser and Shakespeare to O.S. Fowler's Sexual Sciences, Taylor's Medical Jurisprudence, and Eberle's Practice. Doc Gimley was also known as a tinkerer and minor inventor of things; he invented a spring-based contraption that helped the mill wheel turn at a more steady pace and he improved the wagon axles on Lester Morris's milk wagon by making each axle turn able to turn independently. When he wasn't making eye-glasses or pulling teeth (he was also the local dentist) or checking to make sure that the residents washed their hands to avoid the spread of illness, Doc Gimley was tinkering. Rumor had it he was building a horseless carriage in the garage behind his house on Pumpkin Hill.

What we were wondering, Dr. Gimley,” Mrs. Guntersaun said, taking a seat in his observation room, “is whether you would take on a task to help us make the 75th anniversary special.”

Anything I can do, Mrs. Guntersaun,” the old man smiled. “Anything at all.”

Of course.” Mrs. Guntersaun felt herself blush; whenever she saw the doctor's bookshelf, she couldn't help but blush. So many references to … marital acts. But of course, she assured herself, he was a doctor, after all, and had to be knowledgeable of those things. Her eye had stopped on a title about midwifery when Doc Guntersaun interrupted her thoughts.

So what is this service I can do for San Grila?”

Oh! Yes.” Returning to her senses, and reminding herself to pray extra hard that night before bed, Ardena Guntersaun focused on the purpose of her visit. She puffed up and decided to be as direct as decorum would allow. “We, of the 75th Anniversary Founding Committee, would like for you to decide on a new name for our fair town.”

A new NAME?” The good doctor was a bit incredulous. “What's wrong with the one it has?”

Again, Mrs. Guntersaun blushed, but only because most men in town were neither incredulous nor prone to expressing it on the rare occasion they were. She also thought that maybe the doctor was kidding around with her – which he was prone to do. It was generally thought that it was time to give San Grila a real name. An American name.

Although no one spoke about it often, the naming of San Grila was one of the more distasteful secrets in the town's generally respectable history. The original settlement was made by a Spanish fur trader named Miguel Santiago. He traveled with one companion – a Manchurian named Zing. While they were camping there, a group of settlers came upon the two men, saying they intended to settle the region and farm. It was near a spur of the great river, but not too close, and the land was thought to be good for tilling. The settlers were Orthodox Lutherans and, not knowing what to make of the two men and having never seen anyone as odd as the pair either separate or together, asked if the place they were all now standing had a name. Zing said a word that no one understood and Santiago, explaining that Zing's English was lacking, said it as San Grila. The Lutherans, afraid of the Spaniard's hot blood and of the Manchurian's evil magic, named the settlement San Grila and blessed it as such as soon as they constructed the first structure – which was their church. And even though Santiago and Zing soon left, never to return, the name stuck until the modern day.

It's not that there's anything WRONG with it, of course,” Mrs. Guntersaun explained in a nervous chatter. “It's not wrong, so much as we on the committee recognize that we are living in a new era and that the century to come is going to be the American Century, and we believe – that is, the committee believes – that we need a name that reflects this new sense of optimism and freedom.”

Ah.” Doc Gimley smiled and said nothing. He turned to look out one of the large windows that faced Main Street. He was silent for several minutes.

Ardena Guntersaun hadn't expected this sort of reaction. People generally agreed to whatever she said almost immediately; and if they didn't... well generally they were unsavory to begin with. But if Doc Gimley didn't think changing the town's name was a good idea … especially since it had been HER idea to begin with... then what would she say to the committee? That evil Sally Forth was just LOOKING for a reason to make her look bad. “If you don't have time...”

No, no, don't be silly,” the doctor turned back to face her and smiled. She felt relief wash over her. “Tell the committee I'd be happy to help out in any way that I can. And if I can, in anyway, make a small suggestion that is taken seriously... then of course, I'm pleased to.”

Good, good. Thank you SO MUCH Doctor!” She stood to leave. “I won't take up any more of your valuable time...”

Not at all, Mrs. Guntersaun,” Doc Gimley smiled. “No need to rush off. Tell me: you seem a bit stressed. Have you been having that old problem again? You know that tension isn't healthy Mrs. Guntersaun.” He nodded over to the examination table. “I don't have any appointments this morning. If you want, I can close the blinds and make sure that you're in good shape. After all, we can't have the chairwoman of the 75th Anniversary Committee falling ill, can we?”

Oh!” The matron felt herself blush, thinking about Doc Gimley's remedy for her tension. She wasn't sure how she felt about Chinese cures, but the massage – that was what the doctor called it, a massage, from the French – surely did take the tension out of her. She looked at the doctor's strong hands and long fingers... but shook her head. “No, thank you doctor, I am doing quite well... so much to do. But if I start to feel poor, I'll come and see you.” She left quickly and rushed down the stairs and onto the street with a pace she hadn't had since before she married Shirley.

You be sure and do that Mrs. Guntersaun,” Doc Gimley called after her. He was still smiling.

[Scratch]: Palm Poem #6

Palm Poem #6

Some days I give into the darkness. Some days I reflect what I hate the most. Some days I fail to live up to my own expectations. (They are higher than yours for me.) Some days I think about using more !!!!!!!! Some days I am afraid of my exuberance. Some days my skin is too thin. Some days other people's feeling are too loud. Some days I wonder if people feel anything at all. Some days I think I never feel enough. 

Someday none of it will matter.

Someday I may figure it all out. If I am lucky.

28 March, 2011

Oompa: Part, The 2nd

 There was nothing at the bottom – at least, nothing that Stanley could see. He was exhausted and he could feel his bad knee swelling up: if felt the size of a softball. Shakir had to stop fifteen times on the way down the steep wall, and nearly fell half a dozen times. And each time he nearly fell, Shakir steadied himself using his trusted guide – nearly causing both of them to tumble to their deaths.

“Well, Oompa,” J. Paddington Shakir panted, looking around the valley. “What do you think?”

“What do I think?” Stanley squinted and looked around just in case he missed something; he hadn't. There was some scrub brush along the edge and rocky sand at the bottom that was cut by a muddy creek bed that hadn't seen a fish or a frog or even a dragonfly in months. The brush that seemed to line the bottom like a ring of hair had nothing on them that looked at all edible – and Shakir had burned through most of the water and the rest of the food on the previous day. “I think I'll be lucky if I don't break my neck walking out of here.”

Shakir laughed – and shook his head. “One of these days you'll learn to trust me, Oompa.”

Stanley shook his head and let himself sit on the sharp, uncomfortable ground. How did he get here? He'd lost his watch some time during the short crossing from the city to the sparse desert they were now in the middle of. He had no idea where they were; and he was pretty damn sure that J. Paddington Shakir didn't know either. He thought of the two dozen times he could've gotten away from his erstwhile “master” in the previous couple of days. I should've just pushed him, Stanley thought. When we were standing at the top of the gorge, I should've just pushed him. He would have fallen and broken his neck and no one would have missed him.

“We ought to find shelter, Oompa,” Shakir said. Stanley knew what that meant; it meant that HE needed to find them shelter. But there was nothing, not even a tall tree to stand under and get out of the hot late afternoon sun. In the three days that Stanley had let himself be led on by Mr. J. Paddington Shakir, he had not really been able to figure out anything about the man who would, in all likelihood, lead Stanley to his death. He gave no indication of who he was or where he was from or what he was looking for; it was as if the man simply thought that Stanley knew exactly where they were heading. If he had been thinking straight, Stanley told himself that he would have led the poor fool back to civilization and deserted him. That was what he SHOULD HAVE done; but he also told himself there was no point in trying to rethink his past mistakes with this man. What mattered, Stanley told himself, was that at some point in the future, when the opportunity presented itself, he would desert this sun-stroked idiot and make his way – somehow – back to his cheating wife, his safe air-conditioned cubicle, and the collection of internet porn that kept him satisfied while his wife fucked Fuji the sumo-wrestler.

“We ought to find shelter, Oompa.” When he repeated himself, it meant that Shakir was getting annoyed at his guide.

“Well I don't see anything,” Stanley said, “that we could use. “No trees. No overhangs. Nothing. You've found us a really good spot to die.”

Shakir shook his head. “You must have faith, pygmy. The Lord will provide. He even provides for pagan pygmies like you.”

“I'm a Lutheran,” Stanley said.

“We don't have time to exchange philosophies,” Shakir said. “We need to find shelter.”


“It's going to rain soon,” Shakir said. “And if we don't do something, the rain will flood this hole and we will drown.”

“If it was going to rain,” Stanley asked through gritted teeth, “then WHY did we come down here?”

Shakir shook his head and smiled. “You must have faith.”

“You must be kidding.”

“No,” Shakir said. “I am not.”

24 March, 2011

Oompa, Part 1

J. Paddington Shakir stood on the precipice and looked down, steadying himself on the head of the pygmy midget who had been his guide since the day before yesterday. He thought the pygmy told him his name was Oompa – but that wasn't his name. That was just the name that J. Paddington Shakir had wanted to be his name ever since he left home in search of adventure. He'd always thought that when he went off into the jungle to seek his fame, his fortune, and the love of a beautiful blonde nymphomaniac with large breasts and big blue eyes, that he would have a pygmy guide named Oompa who was absolutely dedicated to him and would – if need be – die for him.

The pygmy's name was Stanley, and no matter how many times he said this to Shakir, he always called the pygmy Oompa. Stanley was not a jungle guide, but an accountant that Shakir had accosted on the street and insisted be his guide. Also, Stanley was not a pygmy; he was just a very short man among men who are generally not tall to being with. At first, Stanley thought he would amuse the dumbass, who he was sure had to be high or one of those western men who travel to the far east in search of young boys. But that had been 10 days ago and Stanley was sure he'd lost his job – which was very lucrative, certainly more than the $2 a day J. Paddington Shakir was paying him and insisting those were the going rates for jungle guides in that part of the world – and he was sure that his wife didn't even notice he was missing since she was having an affair with the sumo-wrestler who lived downstairs and stank like rotten cheese.

Oompa – that is to say, Stanley – absolutely hated J. Paddington Shakir, even more than he hated the sumo-wrestler who had given his wife herpes.

This is the place, Oompa,” Shakir said using a grand tone. His tone was always grand, even when he told his guide to start a fire or announced that he was going to take a shit.

You sure?”

Shakir looked down, laughed, and patted his guide on head – which Stanley detested. “Have no fear,” he said – again, grandly – “your crude superstitions hold no sway in this modern world.”

Are we going down into the canyon or are we going to stay here?” Stanley sounded impatient. His bad knee had been bothering him, which he knew meant rain. He didn't especially want to trek down into the canyon. First of all, it looked really unpleasant; and for another, he knew that Shakir would make his “guide” go first.

J. Paddington Shakir laughed again and (again) patted Stanley on the head. “You're a silly little pygmy, Oompa,” he said. “Of course we're going down there.”

Sometimes She Breaks

Sometimes she breaks and all the world
breaks with her – though the world will
gimp along a bit better, it will not do so
with the same determination she has
even on the days when it rains
and the bed is more comfortable
than the glare of eyes she must face
on any given day after she walks
out the door and before she comes
again to the same sacred space.

Sometimes she breaks and she breaks
alone; the untidy sum of all our fears
bearing down on her back,
some 21st Century Atlas with the world
bearing down and breaking her down –
except for her resolve, which people
who do not know better mistake
for blind optimism or naivete. But
what they do not know – and I think
what she does not know either –
is that she silently takes on
their fears and makes them her own.

Sometimes she breaks and when she cries
I am at a loss because I have long since
forgotten how to cry – and there is nothing
I can say, and even my arms
are not strong enough to hold her
and the world of worries she bears
on her back without regret
or the slightest hint
that she will ever learn to simply
let it all fall in pieces to the ground.

20 March, 2011

Meditation on the Vernal Shift

Thunder and rain renounce the winter and tell me it is Spring
announcing itself like an overdue guest. Thunder and rain
tell me somewhere someone will plant – I will not because
my thumb is purple not green and I have too much sympathy
for weeds and other devils anyway. Thunder rolls, a divine train
in the sky. Carrying what? Nobody knows and nobody dares
ask or attempts to sneak a peak at the conductor's manifest.
Rain falling, bouncing off the roof and back into the sky
or onto the ground; the rain is everywhere, the rain is nowhere
like words are my everything and my nothing and are everywhere
and nowhere. They fall and bounce like large drops replete
with memories of the eons lost and wandering amongst the clouds
like long forgotten deities. The muck and the glory of 406 years – no
of a thousand or a million or several millions – is encased
in each tear drop and they bounce off the roof and and they
fall on the ground and are boiled back into the sky and are rained down
again until the dirt will be sated with our bones
and our memories and our sins and it will all run 
in the streams and rivers and back to the sea, and over
and over and over. Thunder and rain renounce the winter
announcing Spring, the thunder train's manifest destiny echoing in and out
and out into space, creating that cosmic reverb no one ever talked about
on Star Trek. Thunder and rain tell me
it is spring and reminds me of the bass beat of house music
back when I liked house music, back when it was a meditation
to sit in the shadows and watch the hysterical loneliness played out
on dance floors – until the air so thick with sadness and desperation,
the old women imagining themselves young and digging into
fresh meat while the cops burst in checking ID's so they can grope
the fresh young girls in search of an arrestable offense
turned my blood to Kentucky Bourbon. The fights in the parking lot
are the same fights we have had for 406 – no a thousand –
no a million – years and they do not end because the memory of eons
is buried in our bone marrow and what is reaped is what is sown, whether
your thumb is purple or green or if you have no thumbs at all – 
anyway you go, it's all opposable anyway. 
Thunder and rain renounce the winter and tell me
(please tell me) it is Spring while the wind and the hail shake the house,
make the lights flicker and the storm windows rattle
like an old man's cancerous cough. I am upstairs and I wonder:
would it bother me if the house and I were blown away,
pushed onto the thunder train tracks with a divine engine bearing down
full speed, unable to slow down, for the manifest is full
and must be delivered on time? Thunder and rain renounces the winter,
calls out our names using a language we have forgotten, using words,
we have never bothered to learn, let alone be fluent in. Thunder and rain
renounce the winter, tell me it is Spring and remind me
that in all I find manifest when I open my eyes each day,
I will know – still – that there is something I am missing.

15 March, 2011

[Scratch]: Waiting Room

Waiting Room

I'm sure there's a story behind the barcalounger in the waiting room. Once upon a time, it was surely a statement of some kind, or a response to repeated offhand criticisms. Something like "Gee Mel, for as long as you make me wait everytime I gotta come here to get the rig looked at, you oughta at least have comfortable chairs." Everyone chuckles. The joke comes up again. And again. Then finally, sick of the joke... or maybe somebody brought it up on a particularly bad day ... Mel says "To hell with it! You wanna be comfy? You think we take too long? Well here's a nice soft chair for you to take a nap in. You want a bedtime story too? A blankie? How about your Mama's tit to help you sleep?"

Bet that solved the problem.

Or maybe it's something else entirely.

14 March, 2011

You could drive yourself crazy looking for a reason

The world is wobbling on its axis and ice caps are
melting and we're punching holes in the ozone
so we can have cars that will give us Facebook updates
and satellite radio and heated seats to keep our flabby
asses warm. Once, I heard the atom described as mostly
empty space that holds the power of the universe. We
are made of atoms. I am made of atoms. This desk
is made of atoms. This computer, my coffee mug, the coffee in it,
my scotch glass – all made of atoms vibrating so fast that they,
that we all give off the illusion of being solid. Once
I wrote a poem in ink that disappeared as I wrote it
and it was the best poem I have ever written. That I can
no longer read it, takes none of this away from me –
though I wish I could remember just one line. The lines
were made of ink strokes that were made of atoms,
and I knew the poem was good because it had no choice
but to vibrate differently. The bombs we make are made
of atoms, too, and we think they are destroying things –
houses, families, men, women, children, tanks, guns, soldiers
– when in fact it simply shocks them, makes them vibrate
different –the illusion of death and of destruction. Which
is to say, one could say that the only difference between
an effective bomb and an effective poem is the carnage
left behind – or the illusion of carnage. The world is
wobbling on its axis and the ice caps are melting and we
are punching holes in the ozone so that coal companies
can exploit workers in the mines and be able to breathe
the filtered air found in executive office buildings
and vacation retreats in Dubai. I love Beethoven, I think
because there's something in the vibration of his compositions
that matches the vibrations of my soul. I dislike Handel
for the exact same reason. Earthquakes in New Zealand
and Japan on the news in between updates on coked out
megalomaniacs, political sex scandals, and Reality TV.
The world is wobbling on it's axis and the religiholics
scream that the end of the world is near... not realizing
our end was in the beginning, and that all of this
has happened before. (And it will happen again.)
We lost our sense memory – an altered vibration, nothing
more – in the same way we now lose emails in spam filters.

The only difference is we notice the emails are missing.  

09 March, 2011

EXCERPT from News Boy: A Fabricated Memoir [Meet Jarvis Boone]

The job only had three requirements: a driver's license, the ability to read, and a strong back.

I figured that two out of three wasn't bad and reminded myself that the trick to heavy lifting is to bend at the knees.

Killing time a Waffle House off the turnpike – one of the few places that would let me get away with sitting and drinking the same cup of coffee for several hours at a time – I found the job listing in the classifieds section of one of the free weekly advertising papers from the news stand machines in front of the library. Someone had left behind at the table. None of the jobs were circled and it didn't look like any of the pages were missing; I guess they didn't find what they were looking for amongst the listings for day labor, temporary light industrial work, and advertisements trying to sell the financial freedom of truck driving.

To be honest, I was in no position to be particular. I was living in a friend's laundry room and I hadn't paid rent in more than three months. Paul was only charging me $80 a month; it was a pity price, and really I was there to supplement his preference for expensive beer. He'd had people living in his backroom ever since he moved into the small house on the back of Linn Street. It was one of those streets that, if you didn't know it was already there, you probably wouldn't find it. And Blighton, Ohio, is not that big of a town. It bragged 35 varieties of churches (one Catholic), a brand new high school that was still not quite paid for, and a geographical proximity to the birthplace of a United States President. There were no bars in town, or in the entire township, since it had been dry since ten years before Prohibition and the Baptists made sure it stayed that way.

Blighton was my hometown. Once I graduated high school, the first thing I did was get the fuck out, swearing that I would never return; but of course, whenever you qualify any statement with “never” you exponentially increase the chances that you will return. I hated it. How could I not hate it? The default position, right? When life kicks you in the balls one too many times, that's the thing you do. Go home. My family didn't live there anymore. Mom sold the house two years after the old man died and moved into a Condo closer to civilization, where she was five minutes from a mega-grocery store and closer to the church she switched to in order to get away from being Blighton's new Poor Grieving Widow. Blighton is That Kind of Town. The Kind that Never Forgets. The Kind That Never Lets You Forget. The day after I showed up back in town I ran into twenty people I went to high school with. Half of them recognized me. I'd been gone for six years – a hard six. College a failure, marriage a failure. I was living in my car and in the downtown Cincinnati library until I was arrested for vagrancy and booted. Bunch of unsympathetic bastards. There is no mercy – or damned little of it. Plenty of judgment. The arresting officer, who was a rookie probably not much older than me, kept giving me these disgusted looks. They put me in the drunk tank for good measure, even though I wasn't really drunk. The judge asked why I didn't have a job; I told her I'd be happy to take hers if she was offering.

Once it became clear that I didn't have any money for bail or fines – and because it was my first offense – the judge let me go. I couldn't afford to get my car out of the impound lot, and pretty much everything I owned – what little I owned, was in the trunk. They know how to take everything and somehow make you feel like it's your fault.

The decision to go back to Blighton was mostly strategic. I needed to get out of the city for a while, and I figured that newbie cop would be looking for me in all my regular hangouts. I was standing outside the downtown courthouse, trying to figure out exactly how I was going to get somewhere safe, when I ran into Paul. He was downtown that day fighting a ticket. He lost, but that didn't matter so much. The act of fighting the speeding ticket was more important to him than the outcome. He had even bragged to me that he acted as his own attorney. I told him the situation, and he offered to rent his laundry room to me – as long as I got a job soon. Fine by me, I said. It beat calling my mom and trying to explain the situation to her.

Paul didn't exactly get on me finding work, but he did occasionally highlight his growing concern in various ways. Sometimes he would complain about the fridge being empty or the coffee being almost gone. Once he bitched about the hot water being gone, so I started showering after he did. Sometimes I scrounged the couch cushions for change so I could go buy a cup of coffee – though that meant walking almost a mile.

And then Paul's phone rang. I didn't even know he had phone. It was my mom.

“Jarvis, how long have you been living there?”

“How did you KNOW I was living here?”

“I ran into Steven Caldwell's mom; she said she saw you walking down Main Street.”


“So how long have you been living there?”

“Not long.”

“Why is your car in the impound lot downtown?”

“How'd you know about that?”

“They sent a letter. Apparently you still use me as your home address.”

Fuck.”Oh. Sorry.”

“Why is your car in the impound lot?”

“Haven't been able to get it out.”

“Aren't you working?”

“It's difficult at the moment; they have my only means of transportation.”

“How long have you been back?”

“Not long.”

“And you didn't feel the need to call your mother?”

“I only call when I have important updates.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a few seconds. She was getting upset. Shit. No surprise there. I was the son that made her cry. My younger brother was in college in Illinois and quickly becoming an academic start. My older sister was married and living in Florida. My older brother was also married and living across the river in a new money section of Northern Kentucky. Everyone was settled. Except me. She offered to drive out to Blighton and take me downtown to get my car out. I wanted to say no; but if they sent a letter, chances were they would auction it or scrap it otherwise. And I wasn't earning money sleeping on the cot in Paul's laundry room to get it out. I agreed and suffered the hour and forty minute drive downtown. She kept prodding for information, but I gave her very little. If she had known everything she thought she wanted to know, she would have been horrified on top of being worried. I let her strong arm me into going to her place for dinner, but only with the stipulation that she not call my brother or invite the family... I was trying to keep my exposure to a minimum. I let her cook me liver and onions – I was the only other person in the family besides her who liked it – and slept in her guest bed that night. The following morning we went out to breakfast (she paid, gave me $200 and made me promise to call. She also cornered me into coming over for dinner with my brother Ed and his family. I promised, but I didn't tell her when. Then I drove back to Blighton, where Paul was ecstatic that I had my car because it meant I might actually have a job.

I didn't even ask her how she'd gotten Paul's number.

So I paid him a little rent money, which lightened his mood for a few weeks, and I spent my days trying to figure something out. At least I had my clothes and books again.

08 March, 2011

[Scratch]: Palm Poem # 6

Palm Poem # 6

The line is drawn for you.

Your only real freedom

Is deciding what to do

When they ask

Which side you're from

And which side

You want to be on.

07 March, 2011

Sketch of One of the Dream People

Jarvis woke up most mornings with a dull, relentless headache. Aspirin didn't help. Coffee didn't help. At first, he thought he was starting to have an adverse reaction to cheaper cigarettes and switched to a more expensive brand. But the only impact that had was on his already stretched bank account. Then he gave up smoking, thinking that would help. Then he tried drinking until the headaches went away; but he just ended up passing out. And instead of sleeping through the night, he would wake up in the middle of the night, feeling as if he couldn't breathe.

He never remembered dropping off to sleep; but he knew that he always did. He slept hard and deep and nothing disturbed him until the headache woke him exactly seven minutes before his alarm. On weekends when he didn't set the alarm, he still woke up at the same time.

Various doctors had told him various things over the years to explain the headaches. He'd had all kinds of scans, taken all kinds of marvelous drugs. Jarvis had been to so many doctors trying to get the right combination of pain killers and tranquilizers that they started to believe he was a junkie. He was once referred to a shrink who, after seven sessions at $950 for a fifty minute session (only half was covered by his company insurance plan) told him he was repressing rage about the death of his father. He stopped going to the shrink after that and tried the remainder of the drugs he had; but the drugs worked like booze. He'd nod off for a while but end up waking up with the sensation that he was choking.

This morning was like every other morning except that Jarvis had a moment. It was less than a moment. Brief. Shorter than a half a breathe. He knew he was about to wake up and his eyes opened. The headache was gone. The dull thud that had haunted him since he was ten years old had disappeared. It was glorious and reminded him of life before the headaches. It reminded him that once upon a time, he loved being out in the sun; that his tan was so dark from playing outside all day in the summer that the neighbor kids used to laugh and call him the village nigger. He'd even gotten into a fight over it once with Tommy Delaney and won.. and it had been a glorious win. That had been before the headaches.

And he remembered something else. An image, or a sensation. Snow covered hills. Riding on a large wooden cart being dragged by two large oxen. He was sitting next to someone that he had known, but no one he recognized from his everyday life. But in the dream, the person was someone he knew and trusted. He knew the man had a scar over his left eye even though he could not see his face in the dark.

Jarvis wanted to hold onto the memory as long as he could. He rarely remembered his dreams, but when he did, it came in brief flashes. They were always different and always the same. Sometimes he would revisit places he'd dreamed about before. He always knew the landmarks and never got lost and was never scared or worried. He was trying to remember if he had ever seen the ox driver's face when the image was shattered by the onslaught of another headache. He covered his ears with his pillow and let the alarm go off for a full five minutes before he ripped it from the plug and threw it across the room, smashing the body length mirror that hung on the back of his bedroom door.