Overwhelming Beauty

 

Fuck. I can barely look at you.

You are so far beyond perfect, you overwhelm me.

I can only steel glimpses, then quickly look away.

You really do hurt my soul, with your perfect beauty.

It’s agony.

I can’t even put into words how you make me feel.

I want to bite you, I want to consume you, I want to freeze you in time.

I want everyone in the world to experience the eyegasm I am feeling.

But to my dismay, some look at you with indifference.

I am baffled.

How can they deny your magnificent glory?

They are lucky, in a way.

It actually hurts me to look at you.

 

 

I wrote this while trying to look a vase of pink peonies. But I could barely look at them. 

 

 

 

Meandering On You

 

I want to crawl up your body

Like a vine

Wrapping around columns of perfect proportion

Attaching to muscular curves

As I slowly make my way up

To nestle in your beard

 

I’d walk around like I own the place

Grabbing fistfuls of hair

Both bristly and soft

As I make my way to your bottom lip

My diving platform

Into the soft bristle-beard-forest

Landing on my back, bouncing, and rolling about

Contently basking in your beard

 

Eventually, I’d crawl into your ear

To deliver an inaudible message

At decibels too low to be heard

But clearly understood

“I am here, everything is okay, you are perfect”

And I’d feel you relax

 

I’d make myself so tiny, that I could crawl into your eye

And sit on the edge of your lower lid

And dangle my legs off the ledge

So I can witness everything that you see

Including the gaze of a beautiful woman

 

She stares at you

and her pupils shoot tangible rods straight into your eyes

I could walk across that bridge

It is stronger than steel

 

It embarrasses me to witness such intimacy

But you are unaware of my existence

When you two connect

No one else exists

Besides,

The woman is me

Just Say Hello

Loneliness hung on her shoulders like a heavy shawl, neither burdensome nor comforting, but a constant reminder of her decision to leave. Lillian walked home along the tree-lined street and observed homes lit from within, families on display like life-sized dioramas. Many of the scenes were people on couches, their faces changing color with the reflection of television screens. But one scene gave her pause; a family of five standing in the living room. She realized they were playing instruments as the music floated through an open window and dusted her with diffused camaraderie. Lillian experienced a longing and tried to shake it off as she walked home, but the feeling clung to her.

”Home”, a one-bedroom apartment above the garages behind a stately home suited her well.  The stylish apartment seemed perfect for an individual with high standards and a small budget, a place to enjoy her newfound freedom and relish in tranquil solitude. Most days. But tonight Lillian craved something else, some type of disarray. She wished to see evidence that another person shared her life, such as a pair of socks on the floor, dishes in sink, or even a lifted toilet seat would suffice. Instead, everything would be exactly as she had left it that morning, including the light she had the foresight to leave on for herself.

Arriving home, Lillian could not fling off the loneliness the way one could shrug off a shawl. She didn’t get to hang it on a hook behind the door. The feeling enveloped her as she turned on more lights throughout the house and opened windows. Air conditioning wasn’t necessary in the old apartment, due to the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean. She couldn’t see the ocean from her place, such a view would be costly, but the ocean breeze generously wafted through her open windows keeping the place cool in the summer. The crank windows and bench seat had been two features that assured she would sign the lease as soon as it had been offered, but she didn’t find herself sitting there as often as she anticipated.

Instead, her habit to escape loneliness often led her straight to the computer screen immediately after work. She might video call her only son who lived in a college dorm, or play a game of online scrabble with a few witty friends. There were many forms of social media at her finger tips, but they all required looking into a small screen, a screen that had begun to feel like a window into a distant world.  Tonight she chose to keep the virtual window closed and enjoy the view of reality instead.

On this evening the window seat looked inviting, and Lillian wanted to step deeper into her loneliness, the way a child will step into dark water to prove they are not afraid. “See, I’m doing it. And I’m not running from it either.” Each confirming dip into the vast lonely water gave her renewed strength afterwards, and each immersion confirmed the feeling would only be temporary. She would not drown in loneliness.

As she told her son during a recent video call, “I’m not afraid to be alone. I’d rather be lonely because I am alone, rather than feel unimportant.”

Her son hated to hear her talk that way, stating if she really felt that unhappy, she should have left years ago instead of waiting for him to go to college. What he didn’t understand was that his presence had made it bearable. After he moved out of the house, the silence in the home had become deafening. Her husband did not put up a big resistance to her leaving, almost as if he considered her a wayward teenager instead of a forty-five year old woman. It seemed he expected her to get her little outburst out of her system and come back with a renewed attitude and the same can-do gumption that he applied to everything except the marriage. Even when he received the papers letting her know the seriousness of the matter, he shook his head at her childishness. He continued to criticize and chastise her decisions that would somehow affect his future. “Book stores are doomed, you’ve said so yourself. I predict you’ll go out of business in one year,” or, “Why would you want to live in that neighborhood? You need to get a better car. Renting an apartment, Lillian? Really?” But the decisions were her own; where to live, where to work, what to do, what to drive, what to think.

Lillian poured herself a glass of water and sat down by the open window. No ocean in sight, but plenty of sky, treetops, and the lovely garden below gave her plenty to take in while she sat with her thoughts. The smell of jasmine mingled with the sea air and drifted up to evoke an olfactory memory without words or images. The memory included a dog’s jangling collar, but then Lillian realized she actually heard a dog. Baron, the border collie companion of Henry, the elderly gentleman landlord from the front house, let out a bark. Lillian stuck her head out of the window to say hello, but it wasn’t Henry in the yard with Baron. Instead, a bearded man threw what looked like a big knotted rope that the dog retrieved after each toss. The man shouted and encouraged Baron with accolades of “Good dog” and “atta-boy” as Lillian sat mesmerized by her unexpected and unaware companionship. The pair seemed tireless and Lillian thought about how Baron wasn’t accustomed to this amount of attention, when the man seemingly reading her thoughts said, “Okay boy, that’s enough for now. Let’s go inside.”

A panic rose up in Lillian that they were leaving too soon, and she stood without thinking and tossed the contents of her glass out the window. “What the – “  she heard from below. Her heart raced as she stood in place, stunned by her own actions. Had she really just thrown water on that man? The sides of her mouth curled up in a devilish grin, but quickly downturned at the pounding sound of someone running up the stairs. Oh, crap. Lillian stood frozen. Should she hide? Rap, rap, rap, he banged on the door, “I know you’re in there. Open the door.” After a brief pause, he added, “You’re not in trouble, I just want to talk to you.”

Lillian stood motionless, eyes locked on the door. What the hell did I just do? Rap, rap, rap. “You better answer. I’m going to tell your mom and Henry if you don’t!”

Lillian laughed, tell my mom? The man seemed decidedly less intimidating at that moment, and clearly a friend of Henry’s. More important was the ludicrous fact that he just threatened to tell her mom. That thought brought a new smile to her face, for she hadn’t heard such a threat in many decades. But her mom, even in her advanced Alzheimer’s state, would not appreciate hearing that her daughter had been throwing water at a stranger. Rap, rap, rap – sounded on the door again and Lillian decided she’d better face the music and attempt to explain her inexplicable actions.

“I’m sorry,” she blurted out as the she simultaneously flung the door open. “I really don’t know what got into me. That was just a spontaneous, absurd, and . . . I don’t even know. I have no explanation.”

The man’s expression morphed from stern to bewildered. He stretched his neck in attempt to see if someone else were actually to blame. He looked back to her face and shook his head slightly. “You’re not what I expected. I thought I’d be yelling at a kid. A boy. Not a woman.”

“I know. Totally juvenile move. I don’t know what came over me, I just flung my water out the window,” Lillian shrugged and held her hands out.

“It was just water?”

“Of course.”

“At first I thought someone spit on me.”

“What? Ew, sorry, no. Just water.”

The man continued to stare, perplexed, and then stretched his neck again to see behind her.

“I’m not harboring any fugitives, really. It was me. Completely out of character, but me, nonetheless.”

He looked back to her eyes, seemingly satisfied, nodded and said, “The place looks great.” Registering the confusion on her face, he explained, “I used to live here. I’m Henry’s nephew. This was my home for a while, but it never looked this good when I lived here.”

“You lived here?”

“Yeah. Two years.”

“And you’re a writer?”

“What? No, I mean sort of. But no, no. Why would you ask that? Did Henry say something?”

“There’s a book I found in the bathroom drawer. That Stephen King book on writing. Is that yours?”

“Yeah, well . . . I read everything by Stephen King, but I don’t fancy myself a writer.”

“Oh.” Lillian paused, unsure what to say next but relieved the focus had shifted off away from the water tossing incident. “Do you want it back?”

The man studied her now, blatantly sizing her up and coming to the obvious conclusion that she is older than him. Lillian felt a fresh wave of embarrassment over her water tossing and worried that he might think she meant to flirt with him, but she hadn’t known of his handsomeness when she watched him in the dark.

“I guess so,” he said, “I mean, I didn’t even miss it. I kind of gave up on writing.”

“Oh? That’s a shame.”

“Why would you say that? I might suck for all you know.”

“True, but I just love reading and . . . here. I’ll go get it.”

Lillian went to retrieve the book, thinking she better end or prolong the conversation, but unsure how to do either. But the man took the lead upon her return, “You like to read?”

“Yes, yes I do. I own the book store on Broadway.”

“Oh you bought ‘The Dusty Jacket?’ You’re the new owner that turned it into a new book store?”

“I did.”

“Man, I used to love that place. What’d you do with all the used books?”

“I rented storage space after I took stock of the inventory. I sell those books online now. I wanted to change the retail environment to attract impulse buyers. You know, tourists headed to the beach with a shiny new bestseller in their tote bags. Browsers. So the store is for new books, but more than half of my business is used books, but not the cheap ones. First editions, collectors, you know . . . “ Lillian became conscious that she might be over explaining, unsure about the cocky grin on his face.

“And do your customers know you are the kind of lady that would throw water on a stranger for no reason?”

“No, no, I think they would be quite surprised by that fact. I’m still a little stunned myself.”

He maintained his grin and held out his hand. “Jason. Now we’re not strangers anymore. Hell, we’ve already had a water fight, although decidedly one-sided. Next time I’ll be prepared. Plus we’ve practically co-habitated, if you disregard the limiting factors of time and space. We’ve drank from the same faucet, showered in the same bathroom, even pissed in the same toilet.”

Lillian laughed, unsure how to answer, but his demeanor was so easygoing and playful that it put her at ease. She figured the age difference made it safe to flirt back without worry of intentions, so all in good fun she answered, “Yeah, we’re practically kinfolk.” His beard might have led her to use the country word.

“Kissin’ cousins’,” he joined in with a little twang and a wink. He became decidedly more charming by the second.

“Ah, cousins. That explains why I felt compelled to throw water on you.”

“Oh yeah? Well next time I’ll be ready. I’m going to stock pile water balloons and declare an all-out war.”

Lillian laughed at the thought. Having a water balloon fight with a handsome young man would be the kind of thing to give her ex-husband a heart attack. “I’m in. It will be a full-on war.”

“Will you wear a white t-shirt?”

Lillian frowned, thinking what a flirt. A likable flirt, but still. She decided to play innocent. “You can wear a white t-shirt if you want. I’ll be in a swimsuit.”

He now had a hand on his chest and excitement in his eyes, “This is going to be fun.”

She handed him the book which he took as a sign to say goodbye. “Thanks. I might give this another look. Or I might just stop by the bookstore to get his new book.”

Lillian smiled and said, “It was nice to meet you, Jason.”

“You too, Lillian.” He turned to walk down the stairs. “Goodnight,” he said half way down the steps, and she watched him for a moment before closing the door.

That was weird, she said aloud to the empty room, weird but fun. She felt proud of herself for being willing to step into her loneliness and felt that fate had rewarded her with a friendly exchange with a handsome stranger. Such a charmer. She shook her head thinking he must flirt with every woman he meets, but it had been fun nonetheless and she had felt attractive regardless of the age difference. Her loneliness had temporarily dissipated, and she wore a grin, but then something occurred to her. She hadn’t remembered telling Jason her name, but he used it when he said goodbye.

 

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Laney’s Story

I catch a glimpse of Miles walking towards the car in the rear view mirror and my breath catches. For a moment it had been his dad’s image in the mirror. Perhaps it’s the way he carries the load of snacks in his arms while holding a bag of beef jerky between his teeth. Or it’s the way they both walk. It could be the sun in my eyes. Or a perhaps it is simply time to have the talk.

I promised I’d tell Miles when he turned eighteen, but that birthday passed over four months ago. Of course I didn’t want to disrupt his studies during the tail end of his senior year, then there was graduation and all the festivities, and now this much awaited road trip. Always an excuse to postpone the conversation, although I’m not sure why I am scared. I guess there is the possibility it will disrupt things, the nice flow we’ve settled into.

“Want anything?” Miles asks good-naturedly as he takes his seat in the passenger side in his own car. His own car. My son is a man now, although he looks like a gangly teenager, he drove us for three hours straight, until I offered to take over.

I shake my head ‘no’ as I ease back on to the highway. I don’t believe this conversation will ruin the trip for Miles, but it might ruin it for me. That is, not telling him is becoming an issue. I look over at my son and decide to leap. “Miles, I want to talk to you about your dad.”

“Go ahead,” He says, ripping into a bag of chips. “What about him?”

“Well,” I hesitate and look over at him. “I want to talk to you about his death.”

“Actually Mom, you don’t have to. Grandpa already told me.”

“What?” My heart  thuds against my sternum. I didn’t think my dad knew.

“Yeah. That was on his list of things to talk to me about before he died. Number one, actually.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Grandpa told you your dad was gay?”

“What?” Miles squeals and I look over in time to see a chip fall out of his mouth. He is coughing, so I wait.

“Oh . . . So I guess he didn’t tell you.”

Miles continues coughing and waves his hands in the air.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“That’s not what he told me!” Miles squeaks out, then goes back to his coughing fit.

This isn’t going as smooth as I hoped. In fact, I am considering puling over and giving Miles the Heimlich maneuver, but then he takes a big swig of Mountain Dew and mutters, “Grandpa said that his death wasn’t an accident,” he coughs again. “He said he was really depressed and that he made it look like an accident by not leaving a note or anything, but then he drove off a cliff.” The tears in his eyes must be from choking.

“Yes, that is true. He did plan that accident. But Grandpa didn’t tell you why he was depressed?”

“Well, no. No. He didn’t say why. Why was he?” Miles squeals in a voice an octave too high.

“He wasn’t just depressed, he was gay. Your father was dying. He had AIDS.”

Miles shakes his head in disbelief, and continues to cough.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I mean I’m choking  to death, but I’m okay. Mom, how could that be?” I glance over long enough to see his face is still distorted with horror. “Do you have AIDS? Do I?”

“No, no, Miles. Neither of us have it. Your dad and I had . . . a different kind of relationship by that time.”

I look over again and see that the confused look on his face. “Okay, okay, let me explain.” I take a deep breath, put my hand at ten and two on the steering wheel and begin the story of what it is like loving a gay man.

 

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The Edge of Loneliness

We sleep on the edges of a giant bed
I’ve memorized the landscape
each freckle on your back
every blemish on the ceiling

We sit at a table
in close proximity
but worlds apart
minds adrift

The vast space between us
feels insurmountable
I try to cross the chasm
there is no bridge

I love you some days
but the space between those days
is growing wider
it is me who is drifting away

Reel me back in
it is not so difficult
but kindness does not come easy
and coldness breaks my heart

I am looking over the edge
considering the unknown
over the deep freeze
on your side of the bed

 

By Donna Beck – 2014

 

Frogs

I thank God for my dead babies. Now I do. Seemed cruel at the time, and I couldn’t see the point of going through all that, but now I’m thankful the last three babies didn’t make it.

I couldn’ta left him with more than one kid. It was hard enough to leave him with one, but if there were two, I’d still be there, I know I would. Still livin’ with a man that hates me, but won’t admit it.

I can’t tell you the day he started hatin’ me, anymore than I can tell you the day I stopped lovin’ him. Didn’t happen like that. Someone told me you can boil a live frog if you put it in lukewarm water and turn up the heat real slow. The frog don’t have the sense to jump out.

My heat got turned up real slow. Over years. Plus when you become a momma, you don’t just think for yourself anymore. The rules changed. It became okay to tell me to shut up. I’d never marry a man who would tell me to shut up, but I guess I’d stay married to one.

I should probably mention that he never actually hit me. That’s important. He didn’t want to be a man who hits his wife, plus he knew I’d leave if he did. So he never hit me, he just meant to scare me, is what he says now. He did a damn good job, somedays.

But a man’s voice can do a different kind of damage. So can his eyes. Funny thing about the eyes, they can say so much. I love you. I want to kill you. Or I won’t even look at you.  For days on end.  A whole lot can be said without ever speakin’.

His eyes reminded me of Clint Eastwood in the old westerns, cept’ there was nothing handsome about someone lookin’ at ya’ like they want to kill you. At first I would look in those eyes and wonder where my husband went. Could I reach him if I spoke in a sweet voice? Could I get past the anger and find my husband who loves me? Was he still in there behind those crazy eyes?

Eventually I learned not to reason with crazy. If he got to that point, if he crossed that line, there was nothin’ to do cept’ try and weather the storm. I’d  agree with every bit of nonsense that came out of his mouth, or I stayed quiet. I became someone I didn’t recognize, passive and dishonest. But if I tried to talk sense, he’d take it as arguing and he’d stand on his toes with gestures of a streetfighter, asking me if I wanted to fight. All I ever wanted to do was not fight.

Later he might apologize, or still be mad, or forget about it, claiming whatever he said when he was mad didn’t really count. I never felt like it was resolved properly and came to expect it would happen again, just didn’t know when.  Drinking didn’t seem to be much of a factor. He’d never over indulge, or go and bar drink or anything like that. There were spurts of days of drinking a tall beer, and spurts of days with no drinking at all.

Occasionally he would go on a marijuana holiday. I always loved that at first, since he’d become real nice. My shoulders would relax during those times and I could breathe easy knowing I wouldn’t see crazy eyes. Plus he would be sweetly reasonable. Once I even convinced him we should get a kitten, but the weed holiday ended and he remembered he hated cats and the cat had to go. The weed vacations were only great at first anyway, since eventually he’d turn slothy and grumpy. Then there was the time he accidently lit the garage on fire. I left something at home and we had to turn back and saw the smoke coming from under the door. He was quick to get the fire out right before the firemen arrived and right before the gas can in the garage ignited. It was a close call. The plastic gas can melted a bit, but all our belongings in the apartment above were safe.

The fights started coming closer and closer together, and in between the not looking at me or touching me got worse, and the days I felt like I loved him got further and further apart.  I started thinking about leaving and he must of sensed it. It made him crazier.

His behavior those last few months is something I don’t like to talk about, it sure embarrasses me. I was damn near a boiled frog. I’m grateful now, thankful he couldn’t just be nice. Just like the dead babies that hurt so bad at the time that I now thank God for. I’m thankful he couldn’t be a decent human being when he needed to be.

I don’t need to rehearse the misdeeds to remember.  I still see him on a daily basis, since we are sharing our son. He has tried to convince me he is a new man, but now I can see the turbulence under the calm surface.

Besides, he can act as nice and polite as anyone, but nothing in me wants to hug him, touch him, or go back to that iceberg bed. I can breathe now. I can think of other things. I no longer feel my heart racing. Not for fear or for love. He can look at me with longing or contempt. Doesn’t matter. The frog is dead, but I survived. I learned that the frog isn’t really me, just my marriage. I did have the sense to escape, but the frog got boiled and there ain’t no way to unboil a frog.

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Felina Ponders

Felina’s thoughts were interruped by a splash of water on her foot.

“I have been trying to catch your attention,” the fish said. “I have been shouting your name and finally had to splash you to get you to notice me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Felina answered, removing the buds from her ears. “I couldn’t hear you.”

“Obviously. What are you listening to?”

“Myself. My own voice.”

“You’ve recorded some music?”

“Oh no,” Felina laughed. “I am not listening to music. These are ear plugs, not headphones. I wanted it quiet so I could hear my own voice.”

The fish swam in a circle, pondering what she said. “In this pond, it is always quiet. I don’t need ear plugs.”

“Well that is why I came out here. To get away from the people and noise and hear myself clearly.”

“And instead you are listening to a fish. I’ve interrupted your solitude and if I apologized, it would be insincere. I get very lonely in this pond and am happy for a brief exchange, even if it is unwanted.”

Felina was quiet for a moment and the fish was sad, thinking the conversation was over, but then Felina lifted her head.

“Thank you,” she said. “I have now heard what I was meant to hear. The real reason I came out here was unknown to me until just now.”

The fish remained uncharacteristically quiet, hoping Felina would explain. He got his wish.

“I came out here to get away from people and experience solitude. You can not leave the pond an have the exact opposite problem. My legs can move me from company to solitude, while you have to wait until companionship comes to you. It must get very lonely.”

“It does,” admitted the fish. “Will you promise to come back and visit me regularly?”

“No. You are a fish and I am a girl. You must accept the limitatiions of our frienship, or you will always want more than I can give. Besides, fish of your type are meant to be solitary. You are clearly not a schooling type of fish.”

“Yes, you are right. I am a very evolved fish. I might just crawl out of this pond and kiss you.”

Felina threw her head back and giggled, then looked at the fish in his one eye she could see. “What makes you think I want to be kissed by a fish?”

“I don’t know. I am just a crazy talking fish with big ideas.”

“A dreamer with time for imagining the fantastic.”

“And you are a strange girl who seeks solitude and ends up talking to a fish.”

Reminded of her quest for quiet, Felina stood and said goodbye.

“See you later?” The fish asked, and Felina just shrugged and waved.

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Sensitive Bliss

After I reached my destination, I but sat in my car to keep listening to the song.  And the next thing I knew, I was crying. No, it wasn’t one of Gwen Stefani’s God-awful break up songs. It wasn’t a heart break song at all. There weren’t any vocals, and I was not experiencing a flux of hormones. I felt moved by the sound of bows being pulled across strings, and my eyes flooded over.

Why does it slightly embarrass me to admit this? If someone says my writing made them cry, it is the highest compliment I can receive.  I have really touched them and they became invested in my characters.

I embrace my sensitivity as part of being fully conscious and alive. If you have never been moved to tears by music, art, or writing, then you have something to look forward to. And I am immensely grateful to the musicians that moved me so. (Do you want to know who it was this time?)

 

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