Drop #164: Snub

wedding cakeI see Johnny Malloy’s brother, Charlie, at the fish and chips shop and go up to him.

‘Hey there, Charlie, how you going?’

‘Fine. Fine.’

‘And how’s married life treating Johnny then?’

‘Good, I guess.’

‘Say, I think it was quite rude of him not to invite me to his wedding.’

‘Oh?’

‘Yeah, given we’ve known each other almost ten years.’

‘He must have had a good reason.’

‘I mean, seriously. I think that was quite a low blow not inviting the captain of his inter-pub football team, as if we weren’t really mates after all. Not inviting the man who introduced him to the girl whose friend got him that part-time job at the ice cream stall.’

‘Oh.’

‘To not even extend me an invitation. To leave a good buddy and fellow old Daltonian hanging that way. To be honest, I’m a bit hurt.’

‘Oh. Sorry to hear it.’

‘Well, how was it then anyway?’

‘What’s that?’

‘The wedding–his wedding. How was it?’

‘Oh, nice from what I heard. He didn’t invite me either.’

By E.M. Vireo

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Drop 155: Kids

park scene‘Have any kids?’

‘Kids?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Sure do.’ She’s in her forties but smiles the way pretty girls smile at handsome dogs unexpectedly passing them on the sidewalk. ‘Just the one. She’s three.’

‘Nice,’ I say. ‘I have two. A girl and a boy. Six and nine.’

‘Great.’

‘Yeah. The boy, Scotty, is getting so old already. We adopted him when he was barely one.’

‘Adopted! You don’t say. That’s wonderful!’

‘Yeah. He’s naughty, clumsy, greedy, messy and kind of chubby but we love him to pieces.’

‘Know what? Our Mandy is adopted too.’

‘Really! Wow, what are the chances?’

‘Yup. Saw her on a trip to Puerto Rico and just fell in love with her. Started the paperwork right then and there. Got her all her shots and documentation and made arrangements to get her back over here to live with us for good.’

‘That’s so great, so special!’

‘She was timid at first but she’s really coming into her own. She’s a real sweetheart, but by God is she food obsessed!’

‘It’s to be expected though, isn’t it? Our girl, Bella, is too. She’ll do anything for a piece of cheese. But isn’t it just so satisfying to watch them grow?’

‘Absolutely.’

‘Got a picture?’

‘I sure do.’ She whips out her phone. ‘Here. That’s my Mandy. Cutest little monster in the world!’

I take the phone and look, tilting my head. ‘Say, that’s a dog.’

‘Sure is.’

‘You’re showing me a picture of your dog?’

‘I sure am. She’s a border collie mix.’

‘Well, I’ll be damned. Here, look at my two babies.’ I pull up a pic.

She licks her lips while she looks. ‘You’re kidding me!’

‘Yeah, Scotty is obviously a Scotty, and Bella is some kind of terrier mix.’

‘Oh they’re gorgeous.’

‘So is Mandy. We should organize a play date.’

‘Definitely!’

By EM Vireo

Drop #133: Office Party

‘Why you not drinking? You pregnant or something?’

‘Pregnant? God no. Just still hungover.’

‘Oh.’

‘Never want to see a bottle of vodka again. Never in my life—oh, and thanks, by the way.’

‘For what?’

‘For implying I’m fat. Sure, I’ve been hitting the cupcakes a bit hard, but pregnant?’

‘I didn’t mean … ’

‘God, imagine that though, being pregnant at our age, at our salary, with our men. Both Derrick and George are sweethearts but shit, they couldn’t raise a barn door with an army of Amish on meth. Parent! Oh man. I’d rather lose a foot at this point—no kidding. God, the practicalities alone. The time. The money and responsibility. They say it costs half a mil just to get them to 18. Where’d we scrape up that kind of dough with our mortgage and our debt? You got debt right?’ She swigged from her Diet Pepsi, looking up.

‘Some.’

‘See. Who doesn’t? And besides: I know it’s over-argued but I just don’t trust this world with its overpopulation and imminent pandemics. It scares the crap out me. And I’m just me. If I die: there it is, but imagine processing all that Ebola and Fukushima and fracking and shit with other lives dependent on your dumb ass—real human lives. I’d be a mess, 24/7.’

‘Come on. It’s not that bad.’

‘And that’s not even taking the white man’s lot into consideration. The inevitable shift in things. Just you wait till the Chinese get it together and the Indians adapt to keep pace. How you going to get anywhere in fifteen years as a Jones or a Smith?’

‘Tsk! Where d’you get this stuff?’

‘Online. Sometimes CNN or other tabloid news. I’m a voracious reader. But seriously, this is the last white generation that can con a worthwhile dream from the world, and now you add a kid to that ruckus? An utterly dependent being you must shelter and guide into the future—that future! Imagine the competition for schools, for universities—Christ! Even for pre-school. The wait lists, the prices! It’s going to be all Chang and Singh and Volkov. No,’–she shakes her head–‘you’d be toast unless you married into Sanchez or Ras el Hanout.’

‘Come on. That’s a blend of spices!’

‘Yes! And one you couldn’t compete with. Exactly what will your bundle of joy do in 22 years when he can’t find work and can’t handle the bills, and his parents are sick and poor but still alive? Maybe cancered up but on miracle meds, or maybe one has died to leave the other broken, never having been alone, with only a son left in the world as support and shield against a dark and ugly loneliness. The guilt we’d latch around them. We’d be liabilities—gross, festering nuisances. I have no pension, George only scraps, and he had that small heart attack last year. Our cholesterol’s through the roof and everything else has pretty much already begun to quietly break down. Imagine having an 19 yr old at 62! Ha! Pregnant. What a mad question.’

‘Yes.’

‘Anyway.’ She shrugs. ‘What’s new with you?’

‘We just got the news. We’re pregnant. We’re ecstatic.’

 By EM Vireo

Drop #115: Plans

nightfall‘You want some dessert?’

‘No thanks.’

‘Waffles? Ice-cream? Before they take it all away.’

‘Thanks, Mom, but I think I’ll pass.’

The lunch buffet is winding down. A short woman in a neat white uniform wheels a trolley around, clearing the large, half-empty platters of food.

Honestly, David, you never want anything. And I suppose you don’t want to come on the museum tour with us this afternoon either?’

‘Yeah. No.’

‘Really? Cause tonight you’re on your own. Your dad and I have the gala dinner, and cocktail party afterwards.’

‘I know, Mom. You guys have a good time.’

‘Well, at least go and out and have some fun tonight too. You could see the night show at the zoo, or go to Aquaworld. It’s open till ten.’

There is a loud clatter, and his mother turns to see what has fallen, and who has dropped it before continuing: ‘You might still get tickets for that circus down the street, or see that motorbike movie on the iMac screen.’

‘IMAX, Ma.’ David laughs.

‘You could see if that girl across the hall is in, and take her. She’s a little chubby, but she seems nice.’

‘I think I’ll just stay in tonight, Mom, thanks. Maybe watch a movie or read my book.’

‘You want me to talk to Jerry? His kids are a little younger, but I’m sure they’ll play—they’ll hang out with you if I ask.’

A man walks briskly by with a mop and bucket.

‘Really, Mom, that won’t be necessary. I think I’ll just go to the gym, or have a swim, watch a movie in my room and go sleep. Maybe I’ll order in.’

‘For goodness sake, David. You’re sixteen. It’s not natural to sit in your room all night. You’re on holiday. You should be out meeting people, meeting girls. You’re so tall and slim and handsome; you should take advantage. I saw a flyer for a young person’s social in one of the auditorium’s downstairs with a Hawaiian band and punch. That sounds fun, doesn’t it?’

‘I appreciate it, but I’m exhausted from cramming for exams last week.’

‘OK. Up to you. You want some money, in case you change your mind?’ She digs in her handbag.

‘I have money, Ma.’

‘Here’s 40 anyway.’ She puts two crumpled bills on the cream tablecloth.

‘Thanks.’ He straightens the messy bills, neatly folds them, and gives them back, ‘but I have enough money to do whatever I like with, you know.’

‘I imagine you do.’ She puts the cash back in her purse. ‘Both your aunts have been spoiling you rotten for years. Those birthday cards get thicker and thicker every time and I can’t remember you ever using any of the money, not even from your Bar Mitzvah, years ago. It must be adding up.’

‘So why are you trying to give me forty dollars.’ David smiled affectionately.

‘Cause I’m your mother, and you’re my Bunny Bear.’

‘Can’t argue with that,’ David says, putting his hand on hers.

‘So why don’t you spend some of it, or are you going to be like that Warren Buffet, and just keep hoarding it?’

‘I’ll spend it, Mom. Don’t worry. I’ll do something special with it.’

‘I do worry, David. You never want to do anything. You’re not interested in anything. Make some plans. Do something. Take a risk. Take charge. You won’t be young forever.’

‘I’ll keep that in mind.’ He squeezes her hand. It feels boney.

‘Eh,’ she says, ‘you just don’t know what you like yet.’

‘You’re probably right.’

‘It will come.’

David’s mother drinks a coffee and steals two profiteroles off the clearing trolley as it heads past them for the kitchen. With a full mouth, she tells her son that the event that will go on till after midnight, and he’ll probably be sleeping when she and his father get back, so it’s best if they catch up in the morning. He has his own room, which is convenient, even though his mother doesn’t understand why they put him on a separate floor entirely when she’d specifically asked for adjoining rooms. David assures her he’ll be fine, but that he won’t wait up, and suggests they meet at the pool for a late breakfast, say at 10.30 the next morning.

‘Perfect,’ she says, getting up.

‘But I’ll check in before you guys leave for the dinner anyway. What time are will that be, exactly, by the way?’

‘Seven sharp.’

‘Good. I’ll make sure to be around.’

‘You’re a sweet boy. Now, I have to hurry. Your father is probably waiting.’

 

David walks her to her room. She kisses him on the forehead and he leaves. He makes a quick stop at his  to put on some slacks, a clean T, some proper shoes, and fetch his sunglasses. He takes the lift to the lobby, walks left out the main door, and carries on for ten blocks till he sees the Royal Blue. The bar on the second floor is deserted.

‘You Fred?’ he asks the barkeep, a short man with ginger hair gone gray, and a mouth that slants downwards.

‘Who’s asking?’

‘You can call me Mr. Leon–you him or not?

‘Yeah, I’m Fred.’

‘Heard you can set things up.’

‘Depends.’

David gently places a crisp 50 on the bar.

‘What you looking for?’

‘You can start me with a Saphire Martini, twist. You do know how to make a decent one, I’m sure.’

‘How old are you, kid?’

‘Old enough.’ David floats another fifty onto the copper bar top.

‘Whatever you say, Mr. Leon.’ Fred starts making the drink. ‘I guess the drink won’t be all, though’ he smirks.

‘You’re a good guesser, Fred, but I need precision from you, you hear? Not speculations, but results.’

David waits till he’s tasted the drink before carrying on. ‘I want three girls, for four hours. One blonde, but pale Swedish blonde, not tanned California blonde. None of those wide toothy smiles please. The second must be black with short hair, or an Afro. No braids; no extensions. The third, a natural red-head with freckles, and I mean they must be everywhere, not just on her face. The girls should all be thin, with real breasts, and bald below. Nothing older than 26 or younger than 20, please. Seriously, I’ll be able to tell.’

David takes a gulp of his Martini. ‘Good; he says, ‘that takes care of the talent.’

‘Not cheap, what you’re asking for, Mr. Leon.’

‘The better things in life seldom are, my good man. Take this twenty-dollar drink, for instance. Not cheap, but worth it. Moving on. I’ll need champagne. I don’t want to get it where I’m staying. Four bottles will do. It doesn’t have to be high end—I can’t tell the difference between the 200 and 40 dollar stuff–but it has to be champagne. No cava. No prosecco, and for God’s sake, none of that Australian sparkling bullshit. Everything well chilled, of course.’

‘Of course.’

‘Please. Temperature is key. Then I’ll need two grams of good coke, and another of MDMA. Both pure. I mean, like a Swiss mountain stream. Here, I can tell the difference. Go the extra mile and do me good.’

‘Expensive menu. Not to be a drag, Mr. Leon, but do you have the cash for all this?’

‘It would be preposterous,’ David pulls a tight roll from his pocket and stands it on the bar, ‘if I didn’t.’ He wriggles off the elastic, removes the outer C-note, and gives it to Fred. Below is another. ‘It’s no false roll, Fred.’

‘Oh, I can tell, Mr. Leon. I can tell. So, what else can I do you for? Another drink, on me, while we chat?’

‘No, thanks. But I will need some threads. I had to pack light, and I’ll need to rent a suit. No time to buy anything for the permanent collection, I’m afraid.. These are my sizes.’ David hands Fred a small white card. ‘I’ll need a slate gray suit, two button, center vent, peaked lapel, tapered leg. Clean. No stripes or patterns. I’ll need two shirts, one gray, one blood red, and I could do with a better pair of shoes. Something Italian, leather, black, sleek. Everything immaculately pressed and shined. I don’t want to see a spot or a wrinkle.’

‘How about a tie, Mr. Leon?’

‘I brought my own. I have my own socks and underwear too, in case you were wondering.’ David looks at his watch. ‘I’d love to stay and chat all day, Fred, but I think we need to wrap this up. Anyway, that’s the lot as far as items go. You got it all?’

‘I got it.’

‘No need to recap?’

‘No.’

‘Good.’ David finishes his Martini. ‘This is the thing, Fred; I want this done right. I want it like I want it, if you understand.’

‘Of course, Mr. Leon.’

‘This is how it’s going to happen: on this paper are my hotel details.’ He hands it to Fred. ‘I want the clothes at my door at 8pm, no later but certainly no sooner. I want the drugs in the jacket’s inside pocket. I want the champagne at 9 and the girls at 9.30. I’ll pay them directly, and leave you to handle the rest. I will leave you with this.’ David peels several notes off the roll. ‘I know how much this is, and how much recreational items cost. I know I can trust you.’

‘Oh, you can., Mr. Leon.’

David peels a couple more notes off the top and puts them in Fred’s shirt pocket. ‘This is for you. There will be a greater reward for you tomorrow, if it all comes off.’ He stands up.

‘Oh, it will.’ Fred extends a hand. ‘Pleasure doing business, Mr. Leon.’

‘You know what, Fred? So far, I can honestly say the same.’

‘You have great night, Mr. Leon.’

‘Oh, I intend to.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop#112: Over Hot Chocolate

chiaroscuroJake is visiting his folks for the weekend. He hasn’t seen them in three months. Having gotten up to fetch a glass of water at 2 am, he finds his father, 73, in the kitchen, sitting over a mug of hot chocolate.

‘Couldn’t sleep?’

‘Nah.’

‘Make you a cup?’ Dad asks all smile and brow.

‘Sure.’

They sit with their steaming mugs for two minutes in silence till Jake says, without looking at his father: ‘Why have we never talked about anything interesting?’

‘What’s that?’

‘One day you’ll be dead, or I’ll be dead, and the line of communication between us, between these two people on this planet will be cut forever, and we will never be able to share anything interesting again.’ Jake keeps his eyes down. ‘But you know what? It won’t be very different from now, cause we never discuss anything interesting anyway.’

His dad asks what exactly he wants to discuss.

‘I don’t know. Anything. Like whether you ever slept with other women while you were with mom, and if not, why, and did you want to? Like whether you still love her. Like whether you are into prostitutes, black chicks, friends’ wives, obese women.’

‘Obese women! No!’

‘Oh, forget the fat women, Dad! I’m just saying, I’m 39 and I’ve never known anything about you- nothing interesting. What’s your drug of choice?—I know mom’s is booze, but what about you? Did you ever smoke weed, take acid, cocaine, morphine? Did you ever kill someone, beat someone up, suck someone’s cock?’

‘Heavens, no!’

‘Do you fear God? Or something else? I have no idea what you fear, what you regret, if you are happy with your accomplishments, your children, your imprint on life.’

Dad shrugs and says he is happy enough, and Jake repeats that isn’t what he’s after.

‘I want the shit, the details, the vicious truths that taint the blood.’

‘Have you been drinking, son?’

‘No. No more than usual. Come on, Dad. Give me something!’

‘I wouldn’t know what to say.’

‘And you’ve never asked me any of this stuff. Why?’

‘It never struck me to ask you if you’re into obese women or if you’ve beaten somebody up.’

‘Oh, let that go, now, will you? I want to hear something real cause all this holiday crap is one big act. One badly acted scene. Give me something, old man, for Christ’s sake! I can take it! Did you resent me when I was a child? I know I must have annoyed you, I remember you were often in a bad mood. Did you hate Roy Smith for taking your job? Did you ever fantasize about hurting him?’

‘Why on earth?’

‘Did you ever contemplate suicide?’

‘No. Never. There’s nothing to tell, Jake. My life has always been what it is, what you and everyone else has seen. I’ve loved my children and my wife and never strayed from her. I never was one for drugs. Your mom likes her wine but she handles it fine. My job was never a great reward but that’s most of the world, now isn’t it?’

‘Fuck, man. Can’t you even give me one measly thing?’

‘Well,’ his dad says, pausing to validate his intent.

‘Yes?’

‘There is one thing.’

‘Good.’

‘In fact, it is a terrible thing. A thing so heinous I have never mentioned it to anyone, not even myself, since I did it. I think I forced myself to shut it out. But this feeling in my throat, full of guilt and regret, doesn’t lie. I know very well what I did, even if I haven’t looked it in the eye for 56 years.’

‘What did you do, Dad?’

‘This won’t do anymore,’ his father says, sliding his mug away with the back of his hand. His green eyes seem three shades darker, creeping towards an opaque black. ‘This calls for the single malt I hid. If I’m going to tell this tale, I’ll need the devil holding my hand, and you will too.’ He gets up and walks swiftly to the cupboard by the fridge. Jake hasn’t seen him as spry in years. His shoulders are broad and upright, his arms carved up by sinew and explicit vein. ‘Here we go,’ he smiles another man’s smile, and pours two large straight drinks. ‘To the telling of tales. To vicious truths that taint the blood.’ Those veins seem to throb with the delivery. He drinks the drink down and fills it up again. ‘I hope you are ready.’

Jake mumbles that he is.

‘Then let us summon old ghosts,’ father stands and states in a voice like falling timber, ‘and tear this night in twain.’

Jake gulps as his towering father begins lashing the air with words: ‘I was seventeen when Guthro Gore bought the old Parsons ranch down the road. I seen him the very first night, sitting on the stoop, drinking yellow moonshine and biting the heads off field mice, his gray teeth perfect little guillotines. I was drawn to everything overtly sinister about the man. I was destined to have him fill me with ill will…’

 

*Writer’s note: Sometimes, I just write myself into a corner I have no intention of getting out of. This is obviously one of those times.

Drop #100: Coffee

cappuccinoBrunch. Eggs Benedict as usual. Jay had met his sponsor here every Saturday for a year. Good-looking family at the table next door. They reminded him of his own family growing up: upper middle class, with a teenage boy and younger girl, both well-behaved and neatly dressed. Jay would have been around the boy’s age circa 1990, with a similar height and build.

‘You want a cup of coffee, son?’ the father asked his son after ordering a cappuccino for him and a mimosa for his wife. ‘You’re not a child anymore. Might be time to try the stuff.’

‘Ok.’

When it came, the boy added milk and sugar and took a sip. Jay watched discretely, thinking about all that had transpired in his life since his first cup of coffee over twenty years ago: a failed marriage and a son of his own he hardly saw; hundreds of parties and a string of stale affairs; thousands of drinks and cigarettes and substances consumed; possessions acquired and sold and broken. A perpetual feeling of loss, warmed through on resentment. A life already lived, its opportunities nonchalantly squandered, its potential running on empty.

All since his first cup of coffee.

And sitting with his eggs on an old-fashioned chair, Jay acknowledged sadly, that he’d still had a chance back then, and for a second, had a bizarre notion that if he had never had that first coffee, things might have been different, that he might have lived the life of another. But of course, it hadn’t been the coffee’s fault; he owned the blame entirely.

‘What do you think?’ the father asked his son, good-naturedly.

‘I don’t like it,’ the boy answered, making a face, and Jay remembered disliking his first cup too.

‘Fair enough.’

‘I don’t get it, dad. It’s so bitter. It tastes awful.’

‘Ha! See if you feel that way in five years.’

Jay cut into his eggs, allowing the golden yolk to ooze onto his plate. ‘Waiter,’ he said solemnly, cup raised. ‘I need a refill.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #67: Delivery

The doctor, a stern looking man, manipulates the head through her distended vagina.

What an ugly scene, he thinks. Why is he here? Why does he keep doing this?

She gasps and grunts. She is a large, repugnant woman made uglier by the strain she’s under. Her hair, long and black, sticks in clumps to her sweaty, blotchy forehead. Everything is bloated in some or other way, her eyes bulging out like those of a frog, her lips plump around a nasty old mouth of graying teeth.

She screams through another all too personal shove, spreading vile fluids all around as the baby comes out further, its wrinkled little body a hideous shade of plum. It is a most unpleasant sound, but of course, he’s heard such screams before, and of course, he’s no stranger to the stink around the place, either.

Her face is now reliably grotesque as she tries to get the monster out. And here it comes: a mangled bundle with a scrunched up mug, beans for ears, pricks for nostrils, and an unsightly mop of slimy black hair, just like mom. Fat bastard too. Should weigh in at almost ten pounds, the chunky little fuck. He was prepared for something gross, but wow! What a revolting number!

And of course, it also shrieks, like a pig getting slaughtered–no sound more annoying than that, surely. If only it were the last time he’d have to hear it. And now, troll expelled, mom is laughing, out of joy, it seems, but that sounds just as atrocious. Too much emotion here, mixing with the stench of sweat and blood and afterbirth. A horrible assault on the senses.

The turgid lump is in its mother’s arms now, gurgling and crying. Together, they’d break any mirror.

‘You have a beautiful baby boy, Mr. Haines,’ the doctor tells him with a smile. ‘You can hold him now, if you want.’

‘Yes, come hold him, honey,’ she says, the emotion making an impossibly ghastly creature of her.

Reaching the bed he must endure a kiss from that disgusting mouth. And now, he must hold the wretched thing: his second son.

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #63: Communication

My brother, Sal, texted me that Nadine’s good friend, Helen, who we all knew, had died. Nadine is my father’s sister and a bit older. Her husband, Hubert, had passed a few years back. Anyway, I sent her condolences by email, then was copied on the email my dad sent her. In it, along with the nice words and well wishes, he expressed disappointment that he had only heard of it through Sal, and wasn’t informed first, directly.

Later, I Skyped with my mom, telling her the news. She hadn’t heard – not through my brother or father, or Nadine (who she saw regularly) herself. Mom was upset that nobody had told her till I did. I don’t know if she resented her husband or son more. She sent an email and e-card to Nadine and copied me, my father and my brother on both. In the email, she expressed deep condolences and stated she was surprised to only find out now, or she would have written sooner.

I also received a bcc of the email Sal had sent Nadine to offer his condolences. He had copied my father and mother directly, so I don’t why I had to be blind copied. I texted him to ask why, and he answered on Yahoo Messenger, saying he didn’t mean anything by it.

It was only after all this that I thought maybe it would have been better if we had all called Nadine directly on her cell instead of sending emails, but it was too late.

Mom texted saying dinner was ready so I closed my laptop, grabbed my phone, and went to the living room. Sal came in from the patio where he’d been smoking a cigarette and playing games on his iPad, and Dad came down from the bedroom.

‘Did you text Nadine?’

‘No,’ Mom said. ‘She’ll be upset. Maybe you should run next door and get her in person.’

‘Good idea,’ I said, switching on the TV. ‘Go ahead and dish up. I’ll be right back.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #31: Insurance

The dog needs feeding again, but then, that’s how it goes with dogs. I should call her by name, Yuki, out of respect. She’s got me through some tough days. She’s a Japanese breed, a Shiba Inu, and a lovely, fox-like little thing. She never barks, and never complains, even when I don’t feed her enough. Yuki is almost 12: still younger than I am, even in dog years. She also needs far fewer pills. I hide hers in her food, then take my evening dose: a colorful handful.

My back hurt terribly again this morning and it hasn’t gone away like it sometimes does by lunchtime; in fact, it has spread into my right shoulder as it also sometimes does. I can still get things done, but not without discomfort. The cough has become a nuisance too and now there’s this pain in the ear, which might have something to do with the cracked molar. All these things are connected, as the Chinese say.

I buzz her in and she’s up in a jiffy. ‘It’s cold in here,’ she says, throwing her jacket on the old, dilapidated grey chair. Yuki comes round to see who’s there, then patters off, uninterested.

‘Problem with the heating,’ I say. ‘Should be fixed in a couple of days.’

‘Lucky it’s not winter proper yet.’

‘Yeah. Lucky. Cup of tea?’

‘Sure.’ She follows me to the kitchen where I put on the kettle. ‘Speaking of tea,’ she says, ‘Had some with my sister yesterday.’

‘Ellen?’

‘I only have one, don’t I?’

‘That’s right.’ I smile. ‘How is she?’ I cough.

‘OK. The husband’s job seems to be going well.’

‘It always has, hasn’t it?’

‘Yeah, but now he’s making even more money. Bob is getting rich.’

‘Good for him. So, you stopped by their place?’

‘Yes—you  know: you should really try and connect again.’

‘Id love to,’ I say, ‘but I don’t think she’d want to. She didn’t happen to mention me, did she?’

I can tell she is thinking of lying but says: ‘No. The whole thing is so silly, don’t you think?’

‘Many sad and serious things are.’

‘I really don’t see how you were to blame.’

‘Neither do I, but things like to be complicated. Anyway, did you have a nice time?’

‘As nice as possible when the TV’s always on so loud. We had cake with the tea, of course. Three kinds on ugly new china. They’re always eating cake. I’m not kidding, they have some kind of dessert after every meal, and with coffee or tea in the afternoon too—oh, and get this, Bob said I looked tired. What kind of a comment is that? He probably meant old. I don’t look old do I?’

‘You look just perfect.’

I pour the tea and we sit in the kitchen with our cups. ‘Sorry, I have no cake,’ I say.

‘I’m glad.’ She makes a face. The one she’s made since she was a child.

I smile again, cough again.

‘How have you been?’ she asks, cradling the cup below her chin and then blowing on it. Little ripples wobble into circles.

‘Oh, I’m OK. They canceled my medical though.’

‘Just like that?’

‘Just like that. Said they can’t give it to consultants anymore. Kind of leaves me in a jam.’

‘I’m sure it does.’

We sit silently for a few seconds before I speak again: ‘Maybe I could go on yours.’

‘Mine?’

‘Your insurance. As a family member.’

‘Oh.’

‘Maybe we could work it out.’

‘Maybe,’ she says, ‘but I’d have to pay an extra like 300 a month, and my job wouldn’t cover it.’

‘That’s a lot.’

‘Yeah.’

‘We could have some type of arrangement though, where I make up some of the difference—I can’t afford all of it—but probably two-thirds.’

‘You know: I’m pretty sure my job wouldn’t go for that. Too much paper work. Too much procedure.’

‘I see.’

‘Can’t you get on Medicare or something?’

‘I was never a full-time employee so I’d have to pay an exorbitant sum to get on it now.’

‘What about Medicaid?’

‘Yes, there’s that, but hardly any of my doctors take it. Besides, you have to prove you have zero assets, and I’m still listed on your mother’s property in Brooklyn.’

‘Oh.’

‘Don’t worry about it, though.’

‘Sorry, dad. I just can’t afford it.’

‘That’s OK,’ I say, scratching Yuki, who has come for a cuddle, under her chin. ‘I already have another solution.’

‘Good. What’s that?’

‘I’m just not going to get sick.’

By E.M. Vireo

Drop #20: Back Home

I’m back home for the holidays. As we drive around picking up cranberry sauce and sausage and pie from the respective places that do them best, my parents point out houses of friends and colleagues, and acquaintances who had an affair go public, lost a son in a car crash, or suffered some or other misfortune. They also point out the places of people I once knew, only some of which I remember by name, even fewer by face.

My parents are enthusiastic, filling in back stories and adding little descriptions, but their accounts have little value. They could be showing me any place, and anyone could be inside; I wouldn’t know any better or ever recognize the driveways, hedges, gates or brown and beige walls again. Even if these places, and the people inside them are real, here, the truth is nothing but a hollow haze.

On the highway, they turn the radio so loud – they do the same with TV and stereo in the house – and I long aggressively for the soft sadness of my own music, in my own apartment, even though this last month alone there was so bleak.

I never enjoy visiting but this time it’s even tougher. They’re always trying to make me happy with things I don’t want when I’d be so much happier without the constant burden of false appreciation. They take me to a three star restaurant even though I have never enjoyed meals in fancy places. I think it has something to do with tone, or expectation.

At home, the food they proudly serve is also not what I eat anymore: ham and eggs for breakfast; burgers, hotdogs and sloppy joes for lunch; chicken or steak with potatoes for dinner. No salad; no fruit. And they’ve gone out of their way to get the things I used to like: chocolate milk, brands of chips and cookies, ice cream. As if I was still 15. As if nothing had happened to me since. Nothing that changes one.

Every time we eat I think of the wild rice salad Eric and I came up with and ate variations of so often. I think about our marinated eggplant too. And then I think about how my parents never even met him.

Three days before I’m set to leave they invite over some friends with a daughter I knew when I was twelve, and met again three times since. They’re trying to set me up as they do every time I’m back home. She’s pretty – she always was – but I’m not interested, and the whole thing is really something I could do without.

I take a train and a bus back to Philly: where I live, and he still lives. Again, time to think. I always suspected you only get one true love in a lifetime whether long or short, requited or not, but now I have no doubt about it. I also know, without any doubt, that I have just lost mine.

By E.M. Vireo