It comes to me in darkness,
for that is how I have thought of it,
a solitary figure
searching me out
with eyes hidden by great tinted goggles,
a head supported by nothing more than a curved S of bone,
a fused spine
that resembles the graceful lines of a seahorse.
All flesh has burned away.
The jawbone is missing.
The upper teeth gnaw at me
but cannot consume.
There is no stomach,
no digestive tract.
The exposed brain has turned to stone,
hardened by the elements
and centuries of compulsive thought.
It has come through the hellfire of my guilt-ridden…
My feet rest on solid ground. I look up at a slice of cold, pure blue sky. It is suffocating here. I must escape, break free. I unfurl my feathered wings and flap, flap, flap.
The wings thump against the air, thump, thump, thump. I pour all of my energy into the flapping and all of my spirit into the desire for flight.
With incredible effort, the miracle happens; I break free from gravity’s grip. I catch a thermal and soar high into the clean, sweet air. Everything below becomes miniature and insignificant. I view entire cities at a glance.
The boundless sky suits my vagabond nature. …
The holiday season is in full swing, and many people are already dealing with disappointment after celebrating Thanksgiving in the absence of family and friends. Christmas and New Year’s will be no different. Has the pandemic ruined the holidays?
Disappointment over unmet expectations for the holidays is not limited to the pandemic. I know; it used to happen to me every year. The holiday season represented my salvation. Three long weekends within five weeks promised time to do those things that fulfilled me: write, read, and watch my favorite movies and lots of football.
Anticipation of Thanksgiving began the week after Labor Day. I put my life on hold, waiting for that glorious time off when I could live it to the fullest. The holidays arrived, but the time disappeared. I’m a husband and father. With vacation came more demands on my time. I ended up with precious little of it to myself and always felt under pressure to help others realize their expectations for the holidays. I never settled into my planned activities. Without fail, someone would interrupt me just as I began. My high expectations for the holidays ended in frustration and disappointment. …
Multi-colored lights flashed in Jesse’s rearview mirror, releasing a rush of adrenalin. A quick check of the speedometer verified he wasn’t speeding. The squawk of a digital siren snapped him out of denial and caused him to pull to the side of the road.
The patrol car parked behind him. Jesse had been through this routine dozens of times, but not in the last thirty-one years, not since he quit drinking. Getting stopped by the cops still made him sweat.
It would take a while for them to run his plates. Could that be it, the out-of-state plates? Out-of-state plates were enough to get you pulled over in some jurisdictions. …
Most people lose their employee health benefits as the result of a layoff. I walked away from mine and at the worst time — my wife was six months pregnant.
Young, inexperienced, and impatient, I didn’t enjoy the life insurance sales job that provided the health benefits, because I felt I wasn’t any good at it. My regional manager accompanied me on sales presentations then critiqued them afterward. I did everything wrong on every presentation. At least, that’s what I heard.
It’s tough to continue to show up at the office when you think you are a failure. Each day on the job confirmed my belief as I fell farther behind on my sales quota. My employer expected me to work nights and weekends. …
Looking back, I can plainly see where my finances went wrong in my early adulthood. In those years, if I could make a mistake, I did. Every decision I made seemed to get me deeper in debt. In fact, the biggest financial mistake of my life occurred during that time: I started a business with no capital.
With only a year and a half of direct sales experience, I acted on an impulse to get rich quick. I quit a good sales job and went into business for myself selling home exercise equipment. This happened from one day to the next. Young and impatient, I was sure I could make a success of the venture. The gentleman from whom I purchased the demo unit had explained how the product practically sold itself. All I had to do was get appointments. …
The text message arrived near the end of tax law class offering Starr a one-on-one, all-night gig starting at 8pm. She accepted, then texted her friend, Billy, to ask him to take notes during her 10am class the next day.
Starr normally passed on last-minute appointments even though they paid a premium. Scheduling in advance gave her an opportunity to plan around her law school classes. She took this one because she would earn double her normal compensation. Tuition for the next semester would be due soon. Starr needed the money.
The Uber driver left her on the veranda of a rambling Spanish-style mansion built high on the side of a mountain. A man dressed in blue scrubs whom she guessed to be in his late thirties opened the door. …
It did not take me long to get into financial trouble once I got out of college. Within less than two years, I was juggling payments and falling behind on my debts. That’s when I came up with a brilliant idea: a bill consolidation loan.
Actually, it wasn’t my idea at all. A statement stuffer from a consumer finance company suggested it. What a deal. They would bundle all of my consumer debt into one loan. I’d make one payment, and it would be considerably lower than the combination of payments I was currently making. …
Eric sat at the kitchen table drinking beer from a bottle and munching pork cracklings while he reviewed the news feed on his laptop computer. In the adjoining family room, his wife visited with her mother over the phone. He couldn’t see her, but he heard her defensive responses. Her mother critiqued everything she did.
Soon the conversation would end, and Monica would join him at the table to vent. Eric wanted to be supportive, but this had been going on for eighteen years with no resolution. …
I got busy early one Saturday morning: I pooper-scooped, mowed the yard, and tended to a shelf in the bathroom my wife had wanted fixed for months. With my work out of the way, I had earned an afternoon to myself to watch a college football game on television.
Over lunch, my wife informed me she hadn’t finished the washing and ironing, and she needed to buy groceries. She wouldn’t have time to take our daughter to dance class. She asked me to do it. …