In this Note: No One

You and doubt awaken together, 7 a.m. sharp, rise and shine.

It sinks into your bones. You shiver and tell yourself it’s the cold.

Let it clench your guts into a hard, tangled knot. Stare at your coffee cup and wonder why it affects you so.

Forgive, Forget

Every word brought them to this, their first timid lies grown unruly with time.  So easy to see what’s right in front of them, a fresh wound to poke. So easy to forget what they buried under the passing days and weeks and months, stacking the seasons high atop one another. Keep the monsters locked in the basement. Never let the sun shine in. Cobwebs dangle from the rafters. Forgive. Forget.

Paint a new history. Gloss over the rough, the flawed, the frayed. Camouflage for a weathered soul. Presents under the tree, fancy wrapping for hollowed out organs. Throw white sheets over the mirrors, the furniture. Flip the picture frames face down. History declares the world in every hue save the one it really is. Forgive.  Forget  Shut the voices beneath the cellar doors; stack the seasons high upon them, higher still. Make a tower that no one will ever climb. Lace it with barbed wire… just in case. Shift focus from the future to the past to this fifteen dollar bottle of wine. Touch your cigarette to violet-stained lips. Whatever jargon helps you sleep at night. Send the spiders crawling along the walls; hear the city whisper in the shuffle of their legs. Forgive. Forget.

Slip the keys into the storm drain, let the oil-black water carry them to some other when. No glances over the shoulder. Be glad when the trinkets are lost, when explanations are no longer in order. Look hard to the horizons to see which bridges aren’t in flames. They stretch hopeless across the chasm. Debris in the river like broken ribs and teeth. Show no disappointment. Welcome home. Forgive. Forget.

31 Endings


She’d tried to tell him she was pregnant, but he never answered the phone.


There’s a high school party in the suburbs. He invites the two girls
over, and they sleep on the living room floor. One girl passes out,
the other just pretends to. He asks her if there’s room for two under
the blanket, and she says yes. They do it right there on the carpet,
not ten feet from where the other girl is snoring.


She’s hard, a mannish walk and too much mascara. She snaps her gum
when she chews, and her mouth is always open. She doesn’t smile. She
only has sex with the lights out or the blinds drawn. The third time
they fuck, she asks him if he’s done yet.


The blond worked at a franchise restaurant, the kind with the striped
polo uniforms and the pins on everything, the walls covered in framed
photos of dead celebrities. She left her boyfriend for a coworker, and
the two ran off to Vegas. He drank a lot and lost money at the track,
she served cocktails in a too short skirt. They split up and she moved
in with her parents.


This guy and this girl cheated on their respective partners. His
fiancé suspected, checked his phone records, then kicked him out. Told
his friends, sold his clothes, burned his shit. He couch-surfed for
two months before moving back home. His lover expected him to stick
around now that he was single. She cried when he left. Him? He
couldn’t have cared less.


The woman’s daughter was sleeping, so he turned on some music and they
did it on the bed, on top of the sheets. There was something about the
skin on her stomach that made him want to run to the bathroom and
vomit. The next morning he took her to breakfast, and they never saw
each other again.


They’d met at a shitty bar on Polk Street — Hemlock, the name of both
the bar and the alley that ran alongside the building. He hated
everyone. She came onto him like call girl; he ignored her all night.
She bought a round of shots, then another. She bought shots until he
couldn’t talk, then half-dragged him to a waiting cab, took him home
and fucked him. He woke up the next morning and didn’t even know her


He dumped her on the phone after a brief interstate romance, all made
possible through the miracle of social networking sites. “It’s the
distance,” he said, but we knew he was a coward.


Years before he’d dated her younger sister, been inside her more times
and more ways than he could count. Now, the older sister grinds
against his pelvis, swears at him, calls him motherfucker and bastard
as she climaxes. Life is weird, he thinks, and listens to the trains
pass in the night.


She dressed and acted like a school girl. He didn’t know whether she
was putting on an act or was a recipient of a partial lobotomy. She
giggled when they had sex. She’d keep him up till dawn, then demand to
be taken home.


The last girl he’d dated had committed suicide. It had turned him off
to the opposite sex, if only for a month. This new girl was engaging
and lively, and when she smiled his words tangled in his mouth like
the legs of a drunken marching band. On their third date, she told him
she was nineteen. He was ten years older. He fucked her until he found
someone his own age, sent her packing. She forgave him for this.


“My ex is the former Lightweight Ultimate Fighting Champion.”


He thought the girl was a spiky-haired New York DJ. She thought that
he had the passion of an artist. It turned out they were both wrong —
she wasn’t a DJ, and he was a robot.


He felt himself stiffen. She took his hand in hers and pulled him to
the bedroom, nudged him down on the bed, and dropped her dress around
her ankles, slipped out of her panties. His girlfriend called while
they had sex, but he didn’t answer the phone.


They’d known each other for years, traveled in the same social
circles. He’d had too much to drink, and his friends dumped him in her
bed. The door was shut and the blankets hung over the windows. She
crawled into bed and they clawed and bit and raked in the dark. None
of their friends suspected.


They’d dated for about a month before he said he’d met someone else,
someone his own age. He was hard on her, but she forgave him and they
remained friends, staying in touch even after she moved away. She sent
him a birthday card. The robot on the card face said, “I know you’ve
got a heart in there somewhere.” The next time they saw one another,
they ended up in bed, her face down against the pillow, back arched to
the sky, bodies pressed slick and wet against one another. The sky was
lightening when he said that maybe they’d made a mistake, that they
should rethink, re-evaluate. Last night’s mascara running down her
face, she began to dress, pulled jeans up tight on milk white legs. “I
knew you’d do this again!” she screamed. “Just! Fucking! Knew it!” He
drove her home as the sun came up. The car hadn’t even come to a stop
and she was on her way out. He called her name, reached for her, and
she slammed the door in his face. She forgave him this too.


She hung out at the bar a lot, this dingy hole on the East Side. They
had this Christmas party where she met a guy who’d just been dumped by
his girlfriend just a few hours before. They got drunk and ended up in
a hot tub, then she took him home. She said her body was a temple,
that he was receiving a sacred gift. He rolled his eyes and tried not
to laugh, then fucked her anyway.


“I’m in love with you,” she said. She waited for him to say something,
but he didn’t, not five minutes later, not ten. She waited three
months for him to respond, and then she deleted his phone number.


She’d been rejected by him twice before, but maybe this time would be
different, maybe he figured out what he wanted. Who he wanted. She was
going to fly up from Orlando and stay for a few days, maybe give the
relationship its first real chance. Two weeks before the trip, he
called to say that he’d met someone new, and that maybe she shouldn’t
come up after all. She called him an ungrateful bastard and told him
to lose her number. She never forgave him for that. Not ever.


This girl checked her voice mail and got a rambling breakup message.
She went to the guy’s apartment and he wouldn’t even talk to her. She
shouted in his face, but he just stood there like a prop.


He leans over the rail as she runs down the stairs. “I love you,” he
says. She looks up at him but says nothing, and a moment later is


She called in the morning, her voice timid on the line. Where had she
been? “I think you already know,” she said. He threw things in his
empty apartment. Shards of glass across the bed, smears from a bloody
hand. He didn’t even remember it. He slept in the bed, glass and all.
He walked to the porch the next morning, and the debris glittered in
his skin.


He’d made her shower. Said that he could still smell the other guy on
her. Wouldn’t touch her, made her feel like a whore. He checked on her
after twenty minutes had passed, and found her standing in the shower
spray. She was crying. She traced her finger against the window, three
words and a heart cut into the mist. “I love you,” it said.


She’ll be all packed up by the time he comes back with breakfast.
He’ll let the grocery bags slip from his hands and they’ll hit the
ground, spilling produce upon the dirty hardwood floor. Two days
after, her parents will come by to pick up her stuff. It will turn out
that they’d known for weeks. Everyone will have known, all save him.
He’ll feel like the butt of a joke. He’ll feel like an asshole.


This couple gets engaged, pick out a ring at a flea market after weeks
of looking, this sliver of silver with diamonds barely visible to the
naked eye. She loves that ring, rolls it along her finger with her
thumb. She does that when she’s nervous, and she’s nervous a lot. They
never get married, even though she’d meant it when she’d asked him,
and he’d meant it when he’d said yes.


He cheated on her with the ghost of an ex-lover.


She left him and became a missionary, he said, but this is only
half-true. It’s nice when people laugh at his jokes, though, because
he doesn’t laugh much anymore.


They stumble to his apartment through the slush. He can’t get it up,
he’s so drunk. The next morning, she stares out the window as he fucks
her from behind, hips slamming against her ass in rhythm with his
pounding hangover. He finishes up and gets her a towel for the mess.
Five minutes later she’s out the door.


She dug her fingers into his neck when she came, then pushed herself
off him so quickly that the condom nearly tugged loose. Not that it
mattered — he hadn’t finished. She put her clothes on and headed back
to her apartment, grabbed her bags, and left for Europe. He told his
friend about it, who replied, “At least you got it up.”


He wrote her, bought a ticket to see her in the Sunshine State, all to
make amends for past transgressions. Her father called him and told
him not to bother, not to call. Threatened legal action, plus a good
old fashioned ass kicking. He understood, but still wished she’d have
said it to his face. That one last chance.

On Guitars

1997. Late Saturday morning at Tohcha Music, one of Cleveland’s only remaining independently owned music stores. The last five years have seen the rise of Sam Ash and Guitar Center, both of them “big box” music stores, that, what they lack in customer service, knowledge, and experience, they make up for in the volume of guitars, drums, keyboards, and recording gear in their showrooms. Right now, Rick Tohcha is in his office, sorting through a mountain of invoices while simultaneously barking into the phone, an ever-present coffee mug planted on the desk. Rumor has it that there’s more than java in there, but I’m not going to be the one to call out the boss as a closet alcoholic. Sure, the thin wad of twenties he pays me under the table hardly seems worth it at the end of the week, but it’s all I’ve got. At the end of every conversation, he slams the receiver down hard enough to shake the windows of his office and send the paper towers trembling.

Next to me, Patrick is restringing a vintage ’59 Les Paul. He holds the string against the fretboard with his left hand, and with his right pulls the slack tight, stretching the silver wire back and forth. He’s tall, thin, and stoop-shouldered, perpetually beleaguered. Last month he started working out, and not a day’s gone by since that he hasn’t flexed his arms and made some comment about being sore.

“Man, my guns are burning!” he says, setting the Les Paul down and spreading his arms out to his side. I roll my eyes. It’s too early for this. It’s always too early for this. The phone slams down again in the office, followed by a muffled “Idiot! Jerk!” We look at the door, then back at each other.

“So… how was this morning?” I ask.

“With Rick?” Patrick snorts, massaging his biceps one at a time. “A disaster, as usual. The fucking guy slept in his office again last night. He showed up at the front door in his boxers and a tank top, brushing his teeth. I just stood there, shaking my head. ‘C’mon, man, put on some pants!  Get your rug on!’”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Five minutes till we open and the guy’s not even dressed.  He reeks of alcohol, man, and—”

I throw my hand up, cutting him off.  “Wait, did you say rug?”

Patrick shoots me a look, a quick, bird-like motion, an eyebrow raised somewhere just below his hairline. It hovers like a swimmer on a high-dive. “You don’t know?” He glances at the office to make sure the boss is still inside, but drops the volume of his voice just the same. “Captain Tohcha over there wears a fucking toupee.  How did you not know that?”

“A bad haircut? I dunno — I just work here, man.”


The windshield is a mosaic in the downpour. Headlights as shooting stars, red and white smears against the dark. Stained glass living. Her heart barely wants me when I am whole, less still when I am in pieces. I’ve learned what it is to subtract something from nothing. Fractions and percentages of zero. Reserves spent, nothing left to give. Heartfelt apologies for the hectic pace of life. Soldier on. Stoic. Marvel at our capacity to eat nothing yet live. Subsist on silence, nurtured in the void. No time like the present, save that for which we say we will do tomorrow. Always tomorrow. Deadlines never met, stories left untold, pushed aside into the traffic of the day. I choke on the unsaid. Words tumble from my lips, they hang lifeless in the air.