(Author’s note: Sometimes you get a dry spell. The last couple of weeks has been that. I get tired from work, and I just don’t get inspiration. However, a new project I’m working on has allowed me a little more freedom to gain said inspiration, and allow me to write more often. Here’s the start of what I hope to be back to weekly posting, if not multiple postings during the week.)
by Miles H. Rost
To some, I’m just a part of the skyline.
They don’t always notice me, because I’ve been here for so long. They’re used to my presence here in the harbor.
Even the wider world has seen me, and look upon me as an emblem of how my people are supposed to be.
But there are some in the country who look at me with evil eyes. They don’t see me for what I was made for. They don’t see what I represent.
They see me as an obstacle, something to tear down.
(Author’s note: Took last week off due to the fires in Oregon. Back today. Enjoy!”)
Dance Hall Days
by Miles H. Rost
A staple of New York youth. A way for the kids of the neighborhood to have fun and forge long lasting friendships.
When us kids needed to hash out things, we didn’t take to our fists. We took to the sticks. Whoever ended up scoring the most, or when our moms called us in after the sun went down, they would carry the day.
Once we moved to the west coast, there was no more stickball. You moved up to the sandlots. The skills learned translated well for the batting, but the running killed us.
(Author’s note: I am attempting to get back into posting every week. It’s been tough, however. My job is demanding. Starting in December, however, it should be a lot easier as I switch my Wednesday fitness to Tuesday. So enjoy!)
(Author’s note: I have started a new job. This means I have to adjust schedules. This also means that my writing may be later. But please, make sure that you stop by. I hope to eventually get onto a later shift, but that may be months down the road. Until then, you’ll have to work with me. Enjoy today’s work!)
Sheila looked up from her journal and blinked. She didn’t register the words at first. They smacked her in the face, but it took many seconds for her to let the words absorb into her mind.
She looked at Martin, her good friend and former co-worker at her company. The expression on his spectacle-clad face was more serious than any time she had seen him. He was there with determination, his blue-grey eyes boring into hers with an intensity that she had never seen in the year and a half they worked with each other.
“You’re…interested in me.”
Martin put a hand through his hair, and took in a deep breath.
“I’m interested because you have made me interested. You have displayed different properties about yourself, different characteristics that appeal to me. Your faith in Christ, and your way with working with children intrigues me. The different aspects of who you are fascinates me.”
He’s trying too hard, she thought.
“I am interested in you because I know a lot, but I don’t know enough. But I also feel like there’s a chance that if we explored this, that we may find out that we’re a lot more alike in ways. And I would like to take that chance to explore this.”
Sheila looked up through her glasses, her face not betraying the fact that she was as nervous about this as Martin likely was.
“In short, you want to go out on a date so we can get to know each other more.”
“Yes. I’d like to go out on a date with you.”
Martin sat back in his chair, and blinked. He said nothing, but blinked, as though her simple one word answer was the longest book in the world. He finally drew a breath and smiled.
It was Sheila’s turn to be shocked. Thank you? What?!
“Sheila, I’ve been nervous about asking you out for nearly a year now. I have been spending so much time in trying to find the right words to ask you out, to see if you’re interested.”
“And me saying no is something great for you?”
“Because you were willing to say something.”
“What do you mean?”
“You didn’t string me along for weeks.”
Sheila blinked, and slowly nodded.
“You also gave me a firm answer. This allows me to move on, and to keep you as a good friend. Something I have only a few of. No promises that need to be kept, too.”
“Well,” she replied, taking in a breath, “I guess I should say ‘you’re welcome’. But I still don’t understand why.”
“You gave me an answer. You didn’t string me along. That means a lot more to me than anything.”
Martin smiled, as he stood.
“Sheila, I’m happy. I like being friends with you. This helps by getting any romantic interests out of the way.”
Sheila looked up at him, as he was gathering his jacket and hat.
“I hate this.”
“That you put everything out there, and all I could say is ‘No.’.”
“It’s what I wanted and needed to hear, though. Don’t hate what is true. It is freeing.”
Martin smiled, as he put on his hat.
“I mean, I am going to hurt a little bit, because I was in hope about everything. But that you told me the truth, and I can accept it while still thinking of you as a real good friend.”
Sheila raised her eyebrows.
“That tells me you’re worth more as a friend.”
He gave her a smirk, bowed, and walked down the stairs of the cafe.
Sheila was alone, the sounds of “proto-jazz” bleating across the speakers. She sat, thinking about the simple words that she said, and how they impacted her life, as well as the life of her friend.
She looked down at her journal, and write in some new words on the bottom.
“One word can change the course of a human’s history.”
(Author’s note: Helping friends out with their issues here in Korea. Seems to me like I was sent back to Korea for precisely this moment. Future writings are coming, that are non-fictioneers. Here we go with today’s, though!)
Pia Nagala was incredible. No one who looked upon her would have doubted it.
Among the world of the urban man, she would have been called “on fleek”, or looking very fine. The air about her was captivating, and she held your gaze constantly. For any man, she would be considered as close to perfect as one could get.
The guy on her arm, however, would be another story.
Charles Trainor would not be considered “on fleek”. He was a good looking man, but unremarkable compared to Pia. A lot of people wondered why they ended up together, first in a touch-and-go relationship, then much more steady. Some even warned Charles to be careful, that he wouldn’t rush too far and be too focused.
“So, what do you plan to do now?”
The question from Darryl, one of Charles’s good friends, was pointed. It cut home quickly, without much of a fuss, and Charles shrinked down in his chair at it.
“Plan to do about what?” he responded.
“About Pia. You two have been dating for a while, and now there is full on, undisputed evidence that she’s been involved in some really nasty behaviors.”
“Yeah, but you’re the one who gave me that evidence.”
Darryl’s olive green eyes narrowed as he looked at Charles. He was correct, it was his investigation of Pia that brought up the evidence of her dalliances with tarot readers and illicit sex acts in places that Charles would never go to. He looked over at the manila envelope, sitting lazily on an end table, the contents of the package spilling out onto the floor.
The color photos that were visible had showed the chestnut haired woman with a blissful look on her face as she was leaving a tarot parlor. Another photo, laying on the floor and facing towards the ceiling, had the oblivious woman walking towards a warehouse door. She was wearing skintight clothing that showed off her endowments, uncharacteristic of the normally demure young lady commonly found on Charles’s arm.
“Pictures don’t lie, Chuck. She’s been playing you this whole time.”
“But, how can it be that she would do this? I mean, she was the one who helped get me straight with my father. She was the one who helped me get in touch with guys who were able to keep me accountable about my binge drinking. Heck, she was able to help me find you!”
Darryl’s face grew a slight bit more red, more from embarrassment than anger. Again, a true statement, as Pia introduced Darryl and Charles at a dinner party a few months back. They had become very close, due to their higher age and their similar tastes in music and food.
“C’mon, Chuck, you know me. You know my record, and you know that I wouldn’t lie about Pia.”
Charles ran his hands up his face and through his straight, thick black hair. The expression on his face was like a man who was about to crack up. His neck muscles tensed as the factoid bounced through his head like a small bouncy ball.
He sighed, his shoulders slumping down in defeat.
“You’re right. You wouldn’t lie about her.”
“I don’t like saying things like that, man. I know she was something very special and she made you feel really good.”
“You’re right. She did. But, I know that she has other…”
He stopped for a moment, shaking his head as he thought about the depravity of it all.
“Seriously? That warehouse was a sex club?”
“Yeah. The PI that went in there came back and showed me the video that was in there. I had to tell him to turn it off after the first minute…”
“Yeah, yeah. No need to recount those details.”
“So, as I asked, what now?”
“I am not sure what exactly to do about it.”
Charles looked around the beautiful living room that was part of his new place. He gazed at the crystal light that hung over the living room table, remarking in his mind about how beautiful it made the rest of the living room.
The new place was possible because of her help. A fact that Charles knew could be a big problem if things blew up.
“It might just be good to get it into the open and just break it off with her cleanly,” Darryl said, taking a sip of his dark Colombian roast coffee.
“But, that could mean trouble. Remember, she’s pretty influential among my friends.”
“Duh! I know that! Remember that most of them are my friends, too!”
As Charles started to stand, the screech of tires emanated into the house. Darryl looked at Charles for the briefest of moments, locking eyes with him, before he bolted from the chair to the pictures. As Darryl furiously scrambled to put all the evidence back into the envelope, Charles paced back and forth.
The slam of the car door lightly reverberated into the house. The wrinkles around Charles’s eyes became more pronounced with each second’s passing.
Charles’s heart panicked and quickened as he heard the keys slide into the door to the garage.
The door opened, and Pia walked in. As she closed the door, her green A-line skirt twirled around her, barely showing her knees. She turned around, her fuzzy white sweater covering her torso and arms, holding a bag of groceries.
She smiled as she looked at Charles.
“Charlie! You’re here! Can you help me with these groceries?”
Charles’s face froze in a look of petrified shock. He could not move, could not blink, could not do anything. When Pia looked him in the face, her infectious smile lessened.
“Charlie, are you okay?”
Charles blinked, then smiled bashfully.
“I’m sorry, Pia. I had some bad news come to me today that caused me some issues. I was just talking with Darryl about it when you came in.”
He walked over to her, picked up the bag from her hands, and started to unpack them. Pia just smiled and bit her lip as she walked back to the garage. After a few minutes, and putting the bags away, she put her hands around his waist. She pressed herself into his back.
“So, dear, what was the bad news?”
“Oh, you remember that job I applied for? The one at the newspaper?”
“Yeah, you were happy about that one.”
“I didn’t get it. They called me just before you got here, and told me that I had excellent references and information.”
“And other people were more what they were looking for, right?”
Pia turned Charles around with her hands and gazed into his caramel brown eyes. Her own deep, dark eyes showed sincerity.
“Don’t worry. God’s on your side, and you will get that job. He provides.”
“I know he does, Pia. I just hope that something comes soon. It’s really gonna be hard to deal with if I can’t find something here to provide for my living expenses.”
“He’s already come through for you before, right?”
“Yeah, he has. I just really wish there weren’t so many other issues to deal with.”
She laid her head against his chest, as Darryl carefully walked into the kitchen.
“Hey there, Pia.”
“Heya, Darryl. How’s everything been?”
“Eh, not much to say. Rita is doing alright, but she’s mostly home for now.”
Pia looked into his eyes, giving a solemn nod.
“I gotta run, Charlie,” he said, taking one last look at his friend. A friend who was locked in an embrace with a temptress.
He looked at Pia, sweet and innocent Pia, as the images of her in revealing clothing flashed past his eyes. His face became stony, and he quickly walked out of the kitchen. Neither Pia nor Charles did anything until the door slammed.
Pia was the first to break the silence.
“Is it just me, or did it seem like he had something wrong with him?” she asked, as she turned towards the stove.
“Nah. I think he’s just been under stress with the children at school.”
“I thought he liked his job.”
“They take a lot out of him and today was his first real day off.”
“That would explain it. So, what do you want for dinner?”
Charles was about to say something when she turned around and looked at him, with the usual and beautiful smile she always gave him. He worked his hardest not to show anything but an emotion of gratitude.
“Oh, whatever you wish. I am more interested in just resting than watching you cook tonight.”
“Aww,” she pouted, making herself look more enticing than before, “I was hoping you’d help me.”
Charles nervously laughed, looking everywhere for a way out.
“That news really took me hard. I think I’m just going to go into the living room and lie down.”
“Okay!” she beamed, “I’ll let you know when dinner is ready.”
As Charles left the room, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“I really don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up…”
I had a long recovery after being beaten up and subsequently healed. Morgan, our leader, had taken the time to look at my sword and the armor that was carried off of me after I arrived back at the camp. He relayed a message to Brian, a message that would inspire a lot of worry and challenge. This was all in the space of a few days before the big Gathering that we were going to be attending.
“Hey!” Brian said to me, as I slowly started jogging around the camp, “We just got done with your assessment of your equipment.”
“What did you find?” I asked back, not looking at anything but the path in front of me.
“I don’t know what happened, but your equipment hasn’t been maintained very well. Has it not been given the proper upkeep?”
I just shrugged as I continued to jog. Brian put a hand on my shoulder, giving me the indication to stop.
“You don’t have to worry if you say yes.”
I stopped, and turned to face him at underneath a large oak tree. He continued to speak, as I looked at him.
“We get people in our camps all the time with equipment that’s falling apart. They try to take in battle, and they get thoroughly knocked around because of this. You, my brother, are not the only one who has to deal with severely corroded gear.”
I looked up at Brian and just couldn’t take it much more. I sat down at the base of the tree and the tears started flowing from my eyes.
“I’ve had that equipment for 18 years,” I cried out, “I’ve not had to use it much except in the last few months, when I joined with your crew.”
“That’s okay, brother. We’re not here to condemn you. As I said, everyone’s got corrosion on their armor. The difference is, are you going to work to repair your equipment, or will you be working to get new equipment. If you’re needing new equipment, do not be surprised that you will be able to get it. We walk by faith, and not by sight.”
After I told him that I would talk to him a little bit later, I just sat at the bottom of that tree and cried my eyes out. All of that frustration from being knocked around, and all of the pain of knowing I could not battle because I was exposed without armor, it flowed out like a raging river.
As I had dinner at the camp, Morgan sat down next to me. He looked out over the camp, over his army of warriors, then looked at me.
“You know, what’s happened to you is going to make you a stronger man. To fight heartily, it takes strong leadership,” he said, with a stern yet comforting edge to his voice, “With leadership and the coverage of our camp, you’ll be able to do a lot more. But you gotta listen, and you need to get in with our Father.”
I started in on the training the following morning. I spent all day trying to swing my dirty and pitted long sword, to spend time developing the skill. It kept slipping out of my hand after a while. I was so rusty, I couldn’t even understand how I could have withstood all of those Legion those weeks back.
I felt frustrated with each day of practice, each day where I kept losing my sword and losing all of my focus. The week was just incredibly hard, with attack after attack on my own confidence. I could feel many parts of it falling like a crumbling brick wall.
After one of my day long practice sessions, I sat in my tent silently. How could I get myself ready for the upcoming Gathering when I was so lost about everything. I heard a scratch at my tent, and looked up to see Brian poke his head in.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Come on in. I’m really having a tough time today, to be honest. I just can’t seem to do my work, well or otherwise. I’m just concerned about a few things.”
He took a seat next to me, folded his legs, and put his hands under his bearded chin..
“So, tell me about it.”
“I feel like all this stuff with my equipment has just eroded me down. I mean, how am I to do the fighting against the enemies like I’m supposed to do if I still have all this corrosion on my work?”
“Well, soldier, you need to just remember that our assessment of your equipment just gives us an idea of what needs to be repaired. And we have a session of repair for you to experience coming soon.”
“Session of repair?”
“Yeah. See, we have an attachment with what we use for offense and defense. It’s a part of us, and just because it gets tarnished or corroded, it doesn’t mean it’s unfixable. In fact, if things get done right, it could be made as good as new.”
“Will this happen before the Gathering?”
“I’m not totally sure, but I have a feeling it will be done soon. In the meantime, I think you need to get some sleep. You need to rest as much as you can.”
I looked over at him, and gave a small sigh.
“Do you think the corrosion was affecting some of my other skills, as well?”
“I think lately, no. You were pretty good at the river battle. You just need to be mindful of where it starts, and how to take care of it before it gets too bad.”
I nodded, and I prepared my face for bed.
“Brian, thank you for being a great friend.”
“Don’t sweat it. I’m also your sergeant, so I have to make sure my people are well taken care of.”
The gathering of people would happen in two days. I needed to get my heart ready.
The smell of the apartment was enough to choke the life out of a thousand hardened terrorists.
I got to this position due to my friendship with Ryan. Ryan could be considered one of my better friends from college. He’s someone who is dependable, friendly, and usually on time with just about everything. He was even at events, on the nose, as they started. The folks at the atomic laboratory could set their clocks to him, and they’d be quite accurate.
At least, that was the case until just about 3 weeks ago. That was when things went pear-shaped.
All through college, Ryan was dating a seemingly nice, yet quite meek girl named Clarissa. They came from opposing high schools in the same town, but started dating just as they ended high school. For the full four years of university, they were together. He had a bit of independence, especially with “safe” friends like me. It seemed that by the way things were going, they would be married after college.
6 months ago, Clarissa changed dramatically. The meek girl we all knew suddenly became vocal, brash, and pretty darn mean. She was also quite controlling, it appeared.
About that time was when Ryan stopped hanging out with us. Sure, he’d be able to sneak away and be able to join me at a coffee shop somewhere on campus, or he’d give an excuse about having me in class, and somehow I was in that responsible circle of friends.
3 weeks ago, the day after we all graduated, I was there when Ryan was given the shove-off. Clarissa dumped him, flat out, and proceeded to kiss her new girlfriend out in the open. As Ryan slowly turned and walked out, I rushed after him to be a friend and help him out. He told me “Thank you”, and proceeded to get into a taxi.
Now it’s 3 weeks later, and I am visiting his apartment. No one saw him, work’s been wondering where he is, and even his mom is worried. So I told her I’d go over and check up on him. As I opened the apartment door, I was hit with the overpowering stench of dirty dishes and overflowing trash.
The room was dark, all of the curtains closed. It was hard to walk around the place without seeing, so I decided to open up the living room window. The sight that greeted me upon illumination was incredibly ghastly. Pizza boxes strewn all over, half-eaten bowls of mac and cheese that had mold and other things growing on it laid haphazardly in various places. Banana peels lay rotting on the carpet, one or two even ground in a bit like they were walked on.
Through all of this, I could hear one sound coming from what I assumed was the bedroom. It was the sound of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” song.
Tiptoeing around the trash, and after opening a window to let the stench out and the pleasant fall air in, I made my way to the bedroom door. I knocked once and asked if he was there. No answer. I knocked a second time, and said that I was coming in. No answer. So, I opened the door and looked inside.
I’ve seen messes of undeniable putridness. However, looking into my good friend’s room, I was knocked over by just how bad things got. For a man who was known to be quite clean, this was a level of messy that not even my sister could have achieved.
Clothes, pizza boxes and old pizza crusts, and pudding containers were strewn about the room. The windows were sealed with plastic and duct tape, and the smell of the room was atrocious. I turned on the light, and I saw Ryan, lying in his bed. His eyes were open, and his head was lolling side to side as if he was on drugs. I couldn’t think of much to say.
“Hey, Ryan. We’ve been a bit worried about you. You alright?”
“Do you think I’m alright?” he said, his voice raspy and dry.
“Nope, not at all.”
“Listen to the song. That’s how I feel.”
“Dude, I know the song. That was my theme for a long time. Now you’ve taken it on. I get that. Want to talk about it?”
I walked in, navigating around the land mines of trash that were liable to explode. I felt the edge of the bed to see if there was any trash, and feeling a safe spot, I sat down.
Ryan told me about how crushed he was by Clarissa’s explanation. She said that for the 3 months before us outsiders noticed the change, she was starting to show her true colors. And started having sex with her new friend from the women’s center. He told us about how she controlled nearly everything about life, and how she sent her “allies from the center” to spy on our conversations when we met. As he spilled his guts, the pain and hardship he felt finally came forth and he was periodically wracked with sobs. I offered him my shoulder, so he could help.
“I’ve been listening to this song for 3 weeks. I need to go my own way on things now.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m swearing off women for a while. Clarissa’s given me a bad taste, and all the stuff she was preaching this past year is really leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Hell, I used to support their ideas at one time, until I realized that their ideas aren’t compatible with my way of life.”
“It’s a good idea. You’ve been badly hurt. What you need to have is time to process with the rest of us guys, and then slowly develop good friendships with women who aren’t going to pull a 180 on you like that.”
Ryan slowly moved, brushing aside the bedsheets and blankets.
“I guess I am going to need to clean up this place. Think you could help me out a bit?”
“Am I not your brother, Ryan? That’s what friends do. I’ll help clean up the trash, you just take a shower and get yourself cleaned up that way.”
Ryan just smiled, a smile that I hadn’t seen for nearly a year.
“After that, we’ll get the vacuuming and steam cleaning done on this place. Then, you and me, we’re gonna go out to the river landing and shoot some cans.”
As the final strains of “Solitary Man” played across the speakers, I turned off his iPod. It was time for some new music for a new life. Putting a crust of pizza into a trash bag, I realized that sometimes, just sometimes, a man needs only one friend at one time to help bring him out of an unresolved situation.