Shallow Breath

9:57 pm: A chill runs down my spine, I shiver and cross my arms to keep the coldness out.

2:37 am: My phone buzzes. Her picture popped up on my screen. I slide my thumb across my phone to answer. Her voice raspy. I could tell she was crying just before she pushed the call button on my name.

8:55 am: My last snooze goes off. I groggily open my eyes and stare up at the ceiling, wondering why I have to be an adult at age twenty-three. Light slivers its way across my room while the birds croak out their songs.

7:24 pm: I pull into the parking lot of her apartment complex. I have her code memorized and let myself into the building. Her door is unlocked. She sits on her couch. Cross legged. Her back to the door. “Hey….you okay? You haven’t responded to any of my texts.” The apartment is silent except the low buzzing of the of the next door neighbor’s music.

2:38 am: “Heyyy…what’s going on?” I say in a hushed, mellow voice.
“I hate life. I fricking hate it.”
“Well, I mean life isn’t always the easiest to love.” I know it has something to do with him.
“We just had a huge fight. I think we’re gonna break up.”
“Okay. Start from the beginning.”
3:09 pm: I finally get on my break. I put a dollar in the vending machine and push B4 for the Cheetoh’s. A quarter falls down. I read my text.

3:13 am: “I know it’s so cliché to say, but the right guy will come around when the time is right. You’re so young. But honestly breakups suck.” My phone buzzes in my ear from a notification.

12:46 pm: My phone buzzes with one new text. Her name pops up in green.

11:01 am: I punch in at work with a cup of coffee in my hand, black. It steams fresh, the smell lingers up to my nose. “Good morning, all” I say cheerfully fake and sit down in my seat, ready as one can ever be to take on the day.

3:26 pm: I step out for a cigarette, and reply to her text. She doesn’t respond. A car honks its horn in the distance.

3:41 am: I scroll through Facebook. Reading the random posts of my friends. His name pops up from a picture he is tagged in by one of his friends. It’s him along with some kids I don’t recognize. His hand on one of his buddies shoulders, and his teeth, white with care, are brimming wide with a hint of fakeness. I tap on his name to go to his page, and press the delete button.

7:26 pm: I touch her bare shoulder, which is covered in a yellow spaghetti strap tank top. Her skin is cold. Her breath short and barely there. Pills are scattered on the table in many colors. I grab her and look her in her glazed eyes. I dial 911.

3:18 am: “Okay…you’re right. It just hurts ya know?”
“Yes. I do know. Remember when I went through my breakup not too long ago?”
“Yeah.”
“I was a mess, right? But I’m still here. It’s going to take a while for those pieces to get glued back together. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you keep gluing. But don’t stop because someone gets in your way. If they want to help, great. But don’t let your guard down just because they look like they wanna help. Some people haven’t worked hard a day in their life, and have no idea how to apply that glue. Next thing you know, and you’re in a sticky mess. Glue all over. And your pieces aren’t getting fixed right.”
“Your glue analogy is weird.”
“I know….you sound tired.”
“Psh, I guess I should get some rest. It’s going to be a long day at work tomorrow.”
“Same. But I’m glad you called. I wouldn’t miss a call from you for the world. You’re important to me. Remember that.”
“Thanks…well, goodnight.”

10:03 pm: She took her last shallow breath at 9:57 pm.

Unkept Promise

You look at me. I stare back at you. Your hair is long and stringy from lack of care.  Your blue eyes that were once bright and filled with joy, now stare at me filled with a lifeless dread. Our eyes interlock, and for a brief moment a smile flickers across your face. I force myself to smile back.

I didn’t want to be here. I can’t stand sitting here staring at you. Staring through a thick piece of plastic that grants me the ability to avoid your touch. You pick up the telephone that is now a faded black. I pick up mine. I have no idea what to say after thirteen years of silence.

“Hello, Pookie.” I cringe, and let out a sigh.
“Hi,” I mumble.
“H-h-how have you been?” I shrug my shoulders. What am I supposed to say, that everything’s peachy? “How is Kitty?” I hate that nickname.
“She’s…good.” I dare not say how she overworks herself with three jobs, or how her head, once full of Hershey brown curls, is now streaked with gray and always pulled back in a tight bun. Her skin is beginning to shrivel after years of keeping everything bottled in.

You were my best friend since I could remember; you gave me my nickname after we watched a puppet show with a dancing lion on PBS. You were the only one who cared about me. You always told me when I was a kid that if I would pray to God about anything, He would always answer. You’d whisper to me every night that God loved me to the moon and back, but that your love for me stretched past Pluto. Then you’d kiss me on my forehead, and whisper “Goodnight, Pookie.”

I shudder and push this thought of betrayal out of my mind.

“So…um…what grade are you in?”
“I’m in college…I’m failing math.”
You smirk, “Math was my worse subject.”  I roll my eyes. I’m nothing like you—nothing.

When I was seven you lifted me up onto our old gray mare’s back, and told me that if I would eat all my fruits and vegetables that I would grow to be as big as the horse.  I felt invincible sitting up there. Nothing could ever hurt me—as long as I had you to hold my hand.

“What are you doing after you graduate?” Your question pulls me back into reality.
“Um…” I shrug, “Graduate school.” Or move 2,000 miles away, “I’m thinking about Madison.” A lie.
“Madison’s a good school.” You say, proudly grinning.

In that split second I wish I could go back in time and whisper in your ear to stay. But nonetheless I can’t go back. I can’t erase all of your mistakes.

As if reading my mind, your smile dwindles and regret fills your eyes like a bag of dirt. “I’m sorry, Pookie. I never…I…I meant to come back.”

The world pauses for a brief moment as if holding its breath. We’re back on the farm; your cold, damp hand is clasped around mine. We’re running from him—the man with a shadow face. His breath is soaked in whiskey and bitterness. “Run. Don’t. Look. Back.” You tug on my arm through the cow pen and up the hill molded of red clay dirt.
“But. Kitty.” I puff
“No time, Pookie. She…will manage.” We come to The Oak, and you help me up the old pieces of wood steps nailed into the bark and into our secret fort.
“Stay here. Lay down. Be quiet. Don’t come down for nobody. I’ll come back.” but you never came back.
Kitty found me the next day with a man wearing dark blue and a shiny badge pressed on the left side of his chest. The man with a shadow face was gone forever, and you were nowhere to be found. I kept my promise—you never kept yours.

It was years later, and people still stared at me. They still whispered about me, but I never allowed them to know that I still hoped and prayed that you would come back. It was nine years later, shortly after I turned 18, that I found a press release from that day when you left me—“Teenager Shot Intoxicated Father Awaiting Trial.” Bitterness churned my stomach, and I walked away, deciding to forget about you, like an old plastic bottle in an alleyway.

I’m overcome with a cloud of forgiveness, and let out a sigh of relief.
“I know. I forgive you because you’re brother.” You smile, and slide your hand onto the plastic barrier. I put mine over yours. The years that were speckled with silence is now replaced with a white canvas ready for the new memories to be splattered on. So what would we paint in two years when you finally get your freedom?

The Orange Flowers

The white moon glowed bright tonight; its pale face glaring down through a cloudless sky. I feet make a shush sound as I tiptoe my way across the dew layered lawn, and I spread my quilted blanket out. The air is drenched in chilly fingers, but I refuse to let myself feel anything but numb, and clench my teeth tight as I stare up at the black space above. The stars wink back at me.

The first time we planted flowers I was five years old. I had begged you for weeks to buy me the orange flowers because orange was my favorite color. Every time we went to the store I pointed at the orange flowers that were purposely placed near the store-entrance to entice kids like me who loved flowers, and you’d shake your head and say, “No, Little Chicken. Not today.” And I’d pout my lips and cross my arms for the next five minutes and stomp my feet as we continued on, until we would go down a random aisle and I’d see some other orange thing that peaked me interest. The final day I asked, we went through our usual routine, but then at the end we went back to the front of the store and you told me to pick my favorite one. So I picked the biggest ones I could find. They costed $4.72. 

We went home, and you took me to where you kept the gardening tools and shovels. “Little Chicken, there’s more to flowers than what you see,” and you handed me a garden claw and trowel, and you grabbed a shovel. We carried these tools to an area in front of the house that was secluded off with a brick line, and was overrun with grass and weeds. You began digging in the mess, and that’s when you taught me two important lessons: the first was about God, the second was that nothing get’s done without hard work.

“We have to first get rid of these weeds because if we don’t, then we can’t plant these beautiful flowers. We can’t just pull out enough where the flowers will go, because then the weeds would choke out the flowers and the flowers will die.” You continued to dig up massive globs of dirt held together by the roots of the weeds. 

“You have to shake the dirt out. To do this you need to grab a hold of the base of the weeds and start shaking slowly, as more dirt falls out then you can start shaking harder to get more out.” You say this as you show me how to do it. 

“Why can’t you just shake really hard at first?” I question. You smirk, as if you’d knew I’d ask that. “Well Little Chicken, because if you shake too hard at first, then the weeds break off and you’re just left with a massive ball of dirt and roots and then it’s really hard to get the roots out. Now you try.” And I grab one of the globs you dug up and shake it like you showed me. 

“We shake the dirt out because that’s the good stuff we want to use for our flowers. We get rid of the weeds because that’s obviously the bad stuff. Sometimes God does this to us. We all have weeds in our lives, nobody is weed-free. And those weeds take root in our lives. When we’re ready to allow flowers to take root in our lives instead of weeds we allow God to start digging at us, and to start pulling those globs of weeds out of our lives. At first, He is gently shaking them out a little at a time and then He will shake us more vigorously, until at last the weeds come out and all that remains is the foundation that we need for a beautiful flower to blossom out of.”

We continued on, you digging and stopping every once in awhile to help me shake the dirt out of the weeds. After three hours, we finally finished weeding and planting and watering the flowers. It’s one of the few memories I’ve cherished as I grew up, because although you could have done something in an hour, you chose to spend three hours on it to teach me a valuable lesson, one of the many you taught me throughout the years. 

I can’t help but think of those flowers now as I look up at what He created, and wonder what lesson was I supposed to learn after you took your own life. Too many questions and not enough answers ring inside my head, but the stars don’t provide any answers.

“You got my attention, if that’s what You want,” I say between chattering teeth. A breeze brushes my face that has a sweet aroma of flowers. Tears of shame and anger glide down the side of my face, I’m full of frustration because I know you’ll never come back.

“You never taught me how to be strong from a death, and that’s not fair.” I say in hushed voice.

The orange flowers grew back the following year, but years later they eventually died because I stopped tending them as I grew older. You never yelled at me, nor told me it was my fault, but I knew that deep down inside it pained you to see the mass of weeds overtake the arrangement that we worked so hard on. Eventually, you went through and planted Daisies and orange Tulips; they still grow there. 

It suddenly hits me, the day you took your life was your final lesson for me: life is too short to waste. Life is too short to live in the shadows. And even though you never fully allowed God to remove some of the weeds in your life, it’s important for me to live life to the fullest. Sometimes God speaks to us in mysterious ways, and even though I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, I know what I have to do while I’m here on Earth     plant flowers.

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

“It’s so stupid,” She takes a long drag on her cigarette. Her brows are furrowed in frustration, yet her eyes are layered with tears ready to course their way across her ageless face. “I don’t understand how I could be so blind. How could I not see this coming?” She looks at me.

I look into her eyes,”Because love is blinding.”
“But were we even in love?”
“Maybe not a deep love, but in one form, I think you did love him.”
“Well I hate love,” she looks down letting her cigarette drop, her foot squishing the last red ash out on the chilly cement. Tears started flowing down her cheeks and her body began shaking, “The worse part is that he called me a dog.”
I take a brief moment before continuing on, “Well, then be a dog.”
She looks at me, confusion written on her face, “What?”
I hesitate, “Be a dog…be loyal to everyone, love unconditionally, and get excited about going outside. Forgive and forget. Wake up each morning with joy in your heart, and chase the ball every once-in-awhile…it’s the little things in life.”
She stops shaking. I wipe her tears away and let my arms embrace her.
“It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to suck for awhile. I know you though, you’ve overcome a lot. You attempted suicide and survived that. A boy who breaks your heart is not worth the shedding of tears. That just means you are still giving him the time he doesn’t deserve.”
“I know.”

She and I sit in silence for awhile. Her phone buzzes, and she looks at it. It shows she has a new message. I look at mine to check the time. 2:08 a.m.

“It’s from him. He says, ‘I was wrong, I’m sorry. Can we talk?'”
“Ignore it. Nothing good happens after midnight. He’s probably drunk or just wants you for the night. If he meant it, he would have just messaged you in the morning.”
She shuts off her phone, and slides it into her pocket.
“I do need to get going. I need to be up early.”
“Okay, but promise me you won’t respond. He probably doesn’t mean it, and he doesn’t deserve someone like you.”
She lets out a deep sigh, “Don’t worry. I won’t. I promise,” she gives me a large smile.

With that, she turns and walks away, leaving me behind with the campfire that had died down to a glowing ember.
I know she lied to me, just now, but I don’t want to run after her. I’d say something I’d regret or I’d end up causing a ripple in our friendship. After all, nothing good happens after midnight.

Dog Home (part 3)

Days spread into weeks, and my mother would often sit or lay talking to Sam. Passing the time talking about their past and reminiscing on happier times. When they were taken out to run in the fenced in area in the back they’d run off together playfully biting at one another’s necks. Then when they were done they’d stretch out in the grass admiring the new smells in the air and the clashing of squirrels running in the nearby woods. One day, Sam asked my mother how she came to call the streets her home.

“It all started with my mother,” she started. “My mom, she was what humans called a purebred. She had a lineage as far as the eye could see is what she always told me. Then one day, she got out and took off for a few days. When she came back, the humans didn’t know she was carrying four extras with her.

“Well fast forward, the humans were disgusted with ‘mutts’ as they called me and my brother and sisters. They tried selling us, my sisters Mitzy and Hiccup were found a home. My brother Chubby and I were put in a brown box that smelt like…like rotten food. The humans took us somewhere, I remember the drive was bumpy and long. I don’t know where we were left at, but I remember it being cold. We both huddled together in a corner of the box. Scary things kept making noises…”

“C’mon doggies!” The lady with the brown hair, who my mother came to know as Rachel, called out.
“Well…we best be getting back inside.” Sam’s joints cracked as he got up. They both jogged towards Rachel. She put a collar on Sam and then me and led them inside to their boxed imprisonments.

As soon as the metal cage door closed them in, they waited patiently for her to take her other two dogs out and let them enjoy their momentary freedom.

“So, tell me the rest of your story,” Sam whimpered.

“Well…there were so many scary noises we started whining. Eventually we did fall asleep, and awoke the next morning to birds singing. We huddled for awhile, and then I clambered my way out of the box. Chubby stayed behind because he was afraid. I told him I wasn’t going to stay here and that we needed to find food. He cried some more and stayed inside. I left in search of food. There were trees everywhere, but in the middle of them was an old road ridden with cracks. I followed it down for awhile, it seemed like forever.

 

“My paws were starting to hurt, but then I saw a house. And in front of that house was a porch and on that porch was a bowl of some sort of food. I ate at it hungrily and then felt ashamed that Chubby wasn’t there. So I ran all the way back to the box that smelled like rotten food, and barked at Chubby to come and get some food. He struggled to get out, but did manage to get out. We walked back down to the house and showed him the bowl. He happily scarfed the rest of it down. We decided to go under the porch where it seemed safe, and there we nested. We heard a voice, singing and humming to some sort of music that faintly floated in the air. ‘Oh my, the cats were hungry today,’ she said in a surprised voice. We continued to stay under the porch. Every morning that lady poured food into the bowl, and every morning when we were sure it was safe we would hustle to the food dish and eat it all.

 

“Then one day, the human lady caught us. She put out some food and when we stepped on the porch and started eating the food she rushed out the door letting it slam. ‘Now I know why the food was always gone. You git dogs! Scram! This ain’t for you!’ she chased us off. We yipped all the way into the woods down the street. After awhile we did go back to sleep under the porch, and the next day she put more food out. We waited a long time before making our way to the food bowl. When I went down to eat, I noticed it smelt funny. There was a liquid mixed with the food. I didn’t want to eat it, and told Chubby we shouldn’t eat it. But he chose to anyways.” Mother looked down at this moment; a deep sorrow filled her stomach. Sam sensed what was about to come.

 

“It wasn’t good food was it?”

Mother looked at him, “No. Whatever that liquid was, it killed Chubby. He died that night, as I lay huddled next to him. He moaned from agony and I could only comfort him by nudging him, until at last when morning came his body was cold and stiff. That’s when I decided to move away. I didn’t like leaving him there, but I had no choice.”

 

Sam sat in silence, taking it all in.

 

“What about you, Sam? Where did you come from?”
Sam pricked his ears forward, “I was born a stray, wandering the streets. I was adopted once, and for a year I was loved unconditionally, but then the humans were always gone and constantly fighting with each other, so they gave me up. I went to a place similar to this one, and I was adopted again by a man who lived by himself. A small child, named David, would visit every once-in-awhile and refer to him as ‘Grandpa’ and I was happy with him for years. I’d sit at his feet while he sat and read book after book after book. Sometimes he wrote stories about me.  Then all of a sudden he couldn’t keep me, and gave me to someone else, who was not a nice man. He hit me a lot, and would hardly feed me. He kept me tied up outside, and my chain never offered me freedom. Then all of a sudden I’m being taken away and now I’m here. Talking to you.”

 

As if on cue, Rachel was bringing back the other two dogs back causing a great ruckus between the other dogs that were going to be lead outside. After Rachel managed to get her next two dogs out, she came back with some food for Sam and my mother.

 

“Here you go Lizzy girl. I put some extra love in there for you.” My mother looked down at her food where a wet substance lay on top of her food. The first time any human gave her extravagant food without a secret death wish.

 

She scarfed it down happily.

Painting Perspective

The first time I heard the voice, I was standing in a field with my back to the sun as sweat dribbled down my face. I had eight subjects within my given sight; two of which pricked my interest. The first was a palomino colored gelding with a coat so golden he looked like a vanilla Oreo and his long, thick cream colored mane flowed nearly down to the top of his leg, while his tail touched the ground. His rump was covered in dapples, and his face had a blaze that started out between his nostrils, and drove in a thin line all the way to between his big brown eyes. His back left foot was covered in a white sock that looked so perfectly lined like he stuck his foot in a bucket of white paint.

The other was a beautiful bay mare with a reddened brown coat and a jet black mane and tail. Her tail was not nearly as long as the gelding’s, but it was long enough to flap at the flies that landed on her. She had a small white patch near her left nostril, and her legs were covered in black—the normalcy with any bay horse. She was rather large, standing at no less than 16 hands high and she was a stocky build—quite the opposite with the gelding.

These two had stuck out to me because though the small herd kept in close proximity of one another, these two still kept to themselves at a distance, which made me wonder why. As the mare would graze so to would the gelding, but when one of them would stop, so would the other. Sometimes when the gelding would let out a snort and start prancing, the mare would do a little hop or two and then stop as if to say, “Wait, why are we doing this?” It was fun to watch them interact with one another.

As the sun continued to beat down on me, turning my already darkened skin to another darker shade, I continued to splatter some life into the horses that would otherwise lay motionless upon my canvas.

Then I heard the voice say “Go.” I stopped, and turned slowly around expecting to see some farmer with a gun pointing at my head mad that I ignored the yellow sign with big bold words stating “Warning: no trespassing,” but to my relief nothing but a rustle of the grass and the whistling of children voices in the distance was there. “I’m imagining things,” and I turned back around to continue my work.

“Go, my child,” this time it sounded like the voice of my mother; she had passed away six years prior from cancer speckled lungs.
“What do you mean?” I questioned the wind as it tussled my hair into my face. A few seconds pass, but it feels like minutes.
“Go. Your time is now.”
“I’ll go, but in a few minutes.” I say as I silently question myself and my sanity.
“The window can only be opened so far.”
“But…I’m not…I’m not ready.”
“Go. You are.”

I look down at my painting, it was only halfway finished. My gelding was mostly done, and my mare only had her head started. I was a little shaken knowing my mare would never be able to shake her mane, and that the gelding’s tail will never be able to slap at flies that land on him, but I knew I had to go. As I started getting everything put back in my bag, the gelding was looking at me, while the mare was slowly approaching me as if she had just noticed that I was intruding on her territory. The gelding snorted and pawed at the ground, not sure on how to cope with the mare approaching the stranger. She edged closer to me, and blew out a large snort as she sniffed my outstretched hand. Then she pressed her nuzzle into my hand, and allowed me to scratch her white patch and slide my hand from her forelock down. After a few strokes, she nudged my hand away, as if to say “You better get going.”

“Thank you.” And with that, I turned around and left, and not once did I look back.

Dog Home (part 2)

It seemed like it was only a short while later, and mother was startled awake by humans opening her box thing and sticking a wire around her neck again. She let out a yelp as she struggled to get away.

“No use in fighting little lady,” the man with blonde hair and dark eyes hissed. A lady beside him with brown hair pulled back in a pony tail was their watching the man pull on my mother. Once getting my mother out, the lady turned around towards a large building that looked new. The man followed handling my mother as she pulled every way she could.

Inside, the smell of dogs, cats, and urine circled around my mother’s nose. Fear had completely taken over her body. The man dragged mother through a door, and the overwhelming smell and sound of dogs and cats swiveled in the air creating a nauseating effect. Mother was overtaken with the desire to run and lunged back giving a big yank on the man’s arm. He was caught off guard, but nontheless managed to hold onto her.

“Her spot is over here,” a woman’s voice boomed. The man agitated by my mother’s fight pulled furiously and mother went flying forward a bit, and then was shoved through an open wire door. Off came the wire around her neck and snap went the door. She huddled in the corner not sure what to do. She could see another dog through the door across from her that was sitting by the door looking up at the man. His eyes full of sorrow as if he didn’t expect the man to look at him, which the man barely glanced in the dog’s direction. He slicked his hand over his thinning blonde hair that had messed up with the commotion of my mother.

The lady with the brown pony tail spoke in her booming voice, “Thanks, Ryan. I’m glad you were able to find her.”
“No problem,” he grumbled and dragged his feet back through the doors.
The lady turned to mother, “Hello little one? Let’s get you some food.”

And she walked away at a brisk pace, and returned within a few minutes with two bowls. One filled with water and one filled with a warm substance. The lady walked away, and mother barely tasted the food as she scarfed it down. She lapped at the water that tasted much better than the water that collected in puddles on the streets and sidewalks.

“Hello, what do they call you?” mother looked up at the dog across from her. She wasn’t expecting him to talk to her.
“I don’t know…my mother always called me Paws when I was little. Do you think that’s what the humans will call me?”“I do not think so. They call me Sam. I am a black lab. What are you?”
“I think I am a hound of some sort. My mother said she was a beagle and could be traced back to hunting dogs in Ingleland or someplace.”
“Why how many summers have passed in your time?” Sam tilted his head.
“I think a few. Maybe five.” She struggled to remember that far back, everything between the day she was left out to the last few months were only memorable in bits and pieces, “What about you,” she asks curiously.
“Too many to count. I’ve been here since winter.”
“How long will you be here?”
Sam looked down, a deep sorrow glazed over his eyes, “I’m not sure. I haven’t seen many dogs here as long as me. My friend Harry who was in your spot was taken out a couple weeks ago. There is Lacy on the other side of you there she just got here a month ago I think,” mother then realized that the solid metal wall was stopping her from seeing the dog next to her, it felt cold to her nose.
“See a human never came to make Harry theirs so the girl who brought you food took him away and never brought Harry back. I think they send dogs and the cats to another place to live. I don’t know.”

Suddenly my mother was filled with a fear, what if she gets sent to another place to be, she was already afraid of possibly losing Sam, a dog who has been nicer towards her in the last few minutes than any dog since she called the streets her home.

“Well, my bones hurt and I’m tired. I want to sleep a little bit,” Sam stretched himself to a laying position and let out a little squeak as he yawned.

My mother overcome with exhaustion herself, slunk to the back corner of her cage, circled around in the spot, and curled into a little ball. She let out a big sigh before closing her eyes and drifting off to a world of woods, rabbits, and the sun shining through the leaves.