Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Ashes to Ashes

Dear Alice,
If you are reading this letter,
then I am already gone.
Until the day of my death,
this letter will sit
in a safety deposit box
with my will and the title to my car
and a $15 savings bond
my grandmother gave me
for my ninth birthday,
which I never cashed in.
I am writing you this letter
to express to you
what a good friend you’ve been
all these years
and how much I appreciate
that you have always been there
in good times and bad.
You are a wonderful listener
and always made me laugh,
and you are the keeper of all my secrets,
except one.
Now, Alice, after my death,
I am going to tell you my final secret.
The problem is,
I don’t think you’re going
to like it very much.

You were vacationing
in the Bahamas with Mark.
Remember him?
It was a good thing
you didn’t marry him.
Anyway, I was housesitting,
and I collected your mail
and fed your dog
and watered your plants,
but while you were away,
there was a bit of an accident.
I’ve always been terrified of spiders,
as you well know,
and you were always giving me fake spiders
and sending me pictures of spiders as “jokes,”
and it always really pissed me off,
but that’s not the secret.
I saw a spider in your home,
a really big black one,
with whisker-thin long legs,
climbing the wall just next to your mantel,
above the faux fireplace,
and with shaking hands,
I aimed at it with one of your slippers,
and it jumped, Alice—
it actually jumped,
jumped about two feet to the right,
and I could not spend another minute
in a house with a jumping spider.
Do you know how far that is,
for such a little thing to jump?
It would be like me leaping
from one side to the Grand Canyon
to the other.
So I paused, wanted to give it
a false sense of security,
and attacked again,
except my aim was not true,
and I wound up sliding a bit
on your hardwood floor,
and I knocked over the urn
containing your father’s ashes.
They exploded in an enormous gray cloud
that choked my lungs and made my eyes sting
and slowly drifted to the floor.
I swept up what I could,
and put it back into the urn,
but you know,
you never really sweep up everything.
And I didn’t think it was likely,
that you often looked inside the urn,
but I was paranoid that what I had collected
didn’t look like enough.
So just in case,
I ran out to your patio
and filled the urn with some ashes
from your charcoal grill.
And I always felt such shame,
but I could never tell you.
I liked your father a lot too!
But I don’t think you ever really noticed,
Or if you did, you never said anything,
and thank goodness the urn didn’t break, right?
And really, what is the point
of keeping a person’s ashes, anyway?
There isn't really anything to do with them.
They just sit there,
and I’m sure your father is always with you
in spirit,
whether you possess his cremains
or some soot from a Weber grill.

So now that I’ve told you,
I hope that you’re not too angry.
I want to try to make it up to you.
So, here’s that $15 savings bond,
enclosed in this letter.
Last time I checked,
it was worth about $13.48.
I’m also going to leave you
that necklace that you borrowed
and never gave back.
And I’m leaving you my ashes,
for you to remember me by.

Love always,


Under the Larch

Did you know…
John Dillinger never died
in that grimy alley
next to the Biograph Theater
in Lincoln Park?
No, he never died at all, actually,
even though he is pretty old now,
115 years old, to be exact.
But you would never know it.
He still looks just as
youthful and dapper
as he did when he was robbing banks
and using fake soap guns
to escape from Crown Point prisons.
He wears well-fitting suits, of course,
and a fedora looks natural on him.
Dark hair slicked back,
a mustache over his sly grin,
he asked me out on a date!
Who could say no?
I’ve always liked the bad boys.
A slight wrench in my plans,
my best dress is a bright red one,
and I thought that might not
make the best impression.
We met at a dimly lit bar,
and he ordered bourbon on the rocks,
while I nervously sipped a screwdriver
through the little black stirring straws.
“So where have you been all this time?” I asked,
and he only offered “Northern Wisconsin” as a reply.
I thought it might be impolite to discuss
his felonies and misdemeanors,
so I asked him if he was surprised
how much the city has changed.
“There used to be a bakery,” he began
with a faraway look in his eyes.
“If a dame had a sweet tooth,
that’s where I would take her…
they had Victoria sandwiches, opera cakes,
Viennese whirls, sticky toffee puddings…
But what I really loved were the gooseberry pies…
Christ, those were good gooseberry pies.”
“Huh,” I replied,
not sure what to do with that information.
“Did you know?” he said,
“Everyone thinks of me as a master criminal,
but what I really wanted
was to be a master baker.”
“Well, it’s never too late to pursue your dreams,”
I pointed out,
“especially when you seem to be doing so well
at your age.”
“You wanna know my secret?” he asked with a wink.
“Your secret to baking gooseberry pies?”
“No,” he replied, “my secret to eternal life.”
“Yes, please,” I said, “But I have to pee first.”
When I returned, he began his tale
as the overhead lights dimmed,
and the only illumination was
a tiny LED tea light in the middle of our table.
“There was a millionaire out here in Lincoln Park,
rich as Solomon and old as Methuselah,
and me and my boys decided to…borrow
a few things from his house, right?
So we stopped by his place to pay him a visit,
and Big Shorty gave the old man
a little bump on the head,
nothing serious, see,
and we took a look around the place.
I got a bit hungry and decided to make a sandwich,
and inside the icebox,
the old man had the biggest ruby I ever seen.
Pretty strange, but he was very old,
Probably lost his marbles a bit.
I took that ruby for myself,
thought maybe I’d give it to some broad
I wanted to impress.
Turns out, that ruby gives the person who owns it
eternal youth and life,
How about that?”
“Wow,” I replied.
Before I could marvel further,
he continued,
“Thing is, I’m kinda sick of eternal youth and life.
I hate the music and the clothes and the Twitter now.
I’m not interested in robbing banks,
Everything is digital and computerized now.
Am I supposed to run out with some kind of ATM receipt?”
“Well,” I interrupted, intending to inform him
that he could actually rob a bank of cash even now,
but he went on.
“My time is over, kid,
and I want to pass on my secret to someone else.
So if you’re interested in eternal youth and life,”
and now he started drawing a rough map on
a cocktail napkin,
“You just need to go to the larch tree
next to the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame
in Hayward, Wisconsin.
There’s a huge muskie there,
you can’t miss it.
Anyway, dig under this larch tree
on the north side.
If you take the ruby from me,
my power will be gone,
and I’ll quietly pass away.
I’d really appreciate it, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, I guess, okay,” I replied.
Then we went to see a movie.
Some kind of complicated heist movie,
but John didn’t like it.
Said it was too loud,
and he didn’t like all the cursing.

Summer 2018

Last summer was a blur, half-watched TV and naps,
waiting for the increased dose of Lexapro to kick in.
Michigan in June, monsoon season, I guess.
Ankle-deep in water every time I stepped outside.
Late-night walks with my dogs in July,
cooling breeze across my face as we ran away from skunks.
My friend’s birthday in August, sat on the patio til dusk.
Homemade birthday cake and twinkling white lights.
Someone always has to start talking about home improvement.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Death of Denis, Part One

My sister, dearest Ava, took me to brunch.
“It’s my treat,” she announced,
“why don’t you get a mimosa?”
I could smell the fear on her
and see it plainly in her light green eyes.
“Hey, what is it?” I asked.
She took my hand.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” she said.
My heart pounded rapidly in my chest,
and I could barely swallow.
What could be wrong? I wondered.
Is she sick? Is Mom or Dad sick?
Is the wedding off?
“Well, I had a consultation with Denis,”
she began, her eyes fixed on her hands.
And I started to suspect where this
conversation was going.

I’m sure that I don’t have to introduce
you to Denis, if you’re a woman
who’s been married or plans to be married
or has been involved in a wedding
in the past ten years.
He needs no last name.
He is the most celebrated wedding coordinator
in the world, the wedding planner to the stars,
or to the very, very wealthy,
which my family happened to be
(although I don’t like to brag).
He is known for creating avant-garde
extravaganzas of wedding ceremonies and receptions.
They are visions, not events, he likes to say,
and if you want a Denis wedding,
you will obey him in all matters.
He has no interest in your personal preferences,
your hobbies, your favorite colors,
or whether your grandmother requires
a wheelchair ramp.  You are there to play
the starring role in his latest vision,
and you will be richly rewarded
if you comply,
the star of Instagram
and featured in Vogue.
You will march with your father
(or the male father figure Denis approves)
towards an altar set in a lush tropical garden
as peacocks stroll by
and zebras nibble on the grass.
Or perhaps you’ll ride towards your groom
on a cotton-candy pink, bejeweled stallion,
as fragrant heirloom rose petals rain down from above,
flown in that morning from Japan,
or maybe your dress will be some awkward
triangle-shaped thing, in stark blacks and whites,
and you can barely move,
and your face will be painted a pale white
with your lips red as blood,
but it will photograph magnificently
and will be forever remembered
and forever unique
because Denis never has the same vision twice.
A person can’t simply hire Denis,
a bride must be accepted by Denis,
must inspire Denis,
and if you fail to inspire him at any time
up to the ceremony,
well, the whole thing is off
and good luck to you.

“What did Denis say?” I asked with clenched teeth.
“Well, it’s about the bridesmaids…
specifically the maid of honor…
specifically you.”
“What about me?” I asked.
“Denis says that you don’t…fit his vision,
not that you’re not attractive, but…
I think he really wants everyone
in the wedding party to be super-thin,
and he’s on me all the time about losing weight,
and I fought for you, Shirl, I really did!
I told him that this conversation was a non-starter
and that you will be my maid of honor, end of story.”
“Good,” I replied, pleased and surprised
that she had stuck up for me in this way,
which, despite her affection all these years,
she never did in school, when Craig Unger
called me “Hoss” in the hallways
and Jacob Weiss shoved me into the nearest locker.
“Well,” she continued,
“Denis said, if you were still going to be in the wedding,
he’d fire me as a client, and…I’m sorry, Shirl,
but we’re just too far along to do that…
it would be a complete disaster,
and I’m so sorry…I hope you can forgive me.”
“Of course,” I assured her, squeezing her hand.
“We’re sisters! Nothing will come between us.”
“Whatever you have to do is fine with me.”
She smiled, teary-eyed, so greatly relieved,
and ordered a crème brulee French toast.
I sipped my mimosa
and knew that I was going to have to
shoot that Denis down.