The Teacher

This child of mine, just five but somehow wise, tells me he’ll be fine. He knows numbers and letters. Right and wrong. Manners. When to fight and when to run. All things I taught him and hope he learned well.

He turns, flashes a gap-toothed smile and waves at me as he walks into school. Happy to meet his new teacher.

 

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Friends or Something

Marco looked around the table at his friends. Beautiful and interesting people with radiant smiles. Ten years before, those same smiles would all have glinted with tiny metal plates held in place with a jumble of wires, commissioned at great expense by proud parents. But today, the smiles were perfect. And tomorrow they’d be viewed enviously by other beautiful and interesting people using state-of-the-art electronic devices on a variety of social media sites – but only the edgiest ones.

The friends were equipped with the latest clothing and gear. Expensive sunglasses, wireless earbuds, and cell phones were tossed casually on the table. Or maybe not so casually – there was certainly a consideration to maximizing visibility in the placement, at least at a subconscious level. The group often debated the pros and cons of various brands, but it was as much about having the best and latest than about functionality. Often the things were only used briefly and discarded when something newer and better came out. But, until then, the people who mattered would immediately recognize someone else who mattered.

The five friends were having dinner at a new place on New Year’s Eve. The place had been open only a few weeks and hadn’t been discovered by tourists and gourmand wannabes. It wasn’t really a restaurant in the traditional sense, or a bar either. It didn’t even have a name yet. Maybe it never would. It didn’t advertise or have a sign. You just had to know about it, as Marco and his friends did.

The music was a mix of hip-hop, indie and retro, carefully chosen by a computer app somewhere. Marco found it a little loud, truth be told, and a little heavy on the bass. But he didn’t mind having to yell over it, and his slight headache was worth it if the app had determined it was right. It wouldn’t do to question what the latest app had determined.

The cocktails were sensational, but the best ones weren’t printed on the menu. You just had to know about them, and let the mixologist know you knew. The brands of spirits served weren’t mainstream. They were mostly imported from somewhere special where people knew how to do things right. Of course, a few locally crafted spirits and beers were available too, but only the newest ones that hadn’t yet caught on with the general public.

Tonight, as often happened, the conversation turned to travel. All the friends had been to many interesting and exotic places. Each story was a subtle one-up to the last. Each successive sunset described got better and better. The nightlife crazier. The waterfalls wetter. The mountains taller. The local produce more organic. The conversation got more animated as the mixologist worked his magic. Marco realized that, at this moment, his life and the lives of his crew must seem nearly perfect to anyone who looked. That made Marco happy. And things would only get better in the coming year – Marco was sure of it.

Emily got up and headed to the ladies’ room, alone. Emily always headed to the ladies’ room alone shortly after eating. She would come back looking refreshed and fantastic, with a breath mint and a smile. Marco couldn’t help but appreciate her long legs and tiny waist. While Emily said she didn’t care for people looking at her like she was an object, she usually seemed dressed to attract attention. Marco had a thing for Emily, but she didn’t reciprocate.

Daniel also appreciated Emily on her way out, and he noticed Marco appreciating her as well. Daniel and Emily had once been a couple. He’d ended it when she’d started to act too possessive after their visit to the clinic. Like she expected him more out of him after that. Like he should be there for her in ways he wasn’t prepared for. But still, even though Daniel really didn’t want Emily back, he didn’t like the way Marco was looking at her. And, while Emily and Daniel continued to hang out when the group got together, there was still tension between them. Although they were both sure no one else in the group noticed.

Katie caught Marco’s eye when he looked away from Emily. Her smile had disappeared, and her mouth was a harsh horizontal like. Katie was a staunch feminist and reacted swiftly and harshly to any statement or action she judged to be sexist or politically incorrect, intended or otherwise.   She abhorred objectification of women and all forms of racial or gender stereotyping, and was diligent about confronting them, especially when exhibited by Anglo males. In her experience Anglo males, like Marco, all thought alike and were the source of most of the world’s inequities throughout history. It made Katie angry. Katie was angry a lot.

TJ was scrolling through various posts on his phone. There were several from another group having a similar evening across town. It somehow looked more fun than the one he was at. Maybe he should head over in that direction – he really didn’t want to miss out on anything, and he was having trouble sitting still. Sometimes the medications TJ took for ADD and depression didn’t mix well with each other or with cocktails. It was shaping up to be a rocky night.

And TJ couldn’t take much more of the negative energy between Emily and Daniel. Or maybe the negative energy was coming from Katie and Marco? Or Daniel and Marco? But TJ was pretty sure it wasn’t coming from Emily and Katie – there was no energy at all there. He’d never known the two women to interact at all outside the group, although they smiled, hugged, said all the right things, and acted like best friends inside it.

Marco looked around the table at his closest friends. Beautiful and interesting people with radiant smiles trained into them from a young age and perfected through countless selfies taken with expensive cell phones. Smiles that meant nothing but would be viewed enviously by other beautiful and interesting people using state-of-the-art electronic devices on a variety of social media sites on New Year’s Day.

It was going to be a great evening!

 

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In the Light of Day

Gwen was afraid to open her eyes. She said a quick prayer, to a God she may or may not have believed in, that the boy would be gone. The pale, skinny, carrot-haired boy with glasses she’d allowed to come home with her after way too many shots at the Rooster last night.

What had he even been doing there? He’d certainly stood out, and not in a favorable way, among the group of muscular, handsome guys he’d come in with. Someone’s brother or cousin or nerdy friend from high school who’d never outgrown his awkwardness, she guessed.

And what had possessed her to bring him home? She was smart and fit and pretty. Was she such a loser that she’d settle for the least attractive guy in the place? Was she that lonely or horny or desperate? Or maybe she had a drinking problem – she needed to give that some thought.

Gwen sighed and opened her eyes. Her worst fears were realized – there was a body lying next to her on the bed. The sheet over the body rose and fell rhythmically. Gwen slipped out of bed carefully and tiptoed to the hall bathroom rather using than the one right next to her bed to avoid waking the body up.

Gwen stayed in the bathroom a long time, until long after she heard him using the other bathroom – the sound of a steady urine stream followed by a flush and then water running. When Gwen finally left her bathroom sanctum, she found the boy in her kitchen. There was coffee on and he was making pancakes. He turned when Gwen walked into the room.

Contrary to how things usually worked, where someone you’d thought was attractive in a dimly lit place when you were under the influence turned out to be decidedly less so in the light of day, the boy wasn’t as pale or nerdy as Gwen remembered. He looked more lean and wiry than skinny. His hair was more auburn than carrot. His glasses were gone – replaced by contact lenses maybe? – and Gwen could see clear green eyes framed with surprisingly dark lashes she hadn’t noticed before.

Breakfast was nice. The boy was nice. Smart and funny. Polite. He knew a lot about music and was studying physical therapy. And, once she’d had some coffee and her head cleared, Gwen remembered he’d been a good, competent lover and she’d enjoyed it, despite her total lack of physical attraction at the time. By the time Gwen walked him out, she felt disappointed he didn’t mention getting together again.

As the boy walked to the bus stop he wondered what had possessed him to go home with Gwen last night. Was he such a loser that he’d settle for the most superficial girl in the place? Was he that lonely or horny or desperate? Or maybe he had a drinking problem – he needed to give that some thought.

 

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Play Music For Me

“Play music for me, when I’m old,” Dottie said to Stan. “Like when I’m in a nursing home, in a vegetative state.”

Dottie was sipping coffee in a chaise lounge on the back porch, still in her nightgown. Stan sat at the patio table nearby, deeply engrossed in some project on his computer. Dottie only talked to him when Stan was deeply engrossed in something. He could sit for hours in the same room with her, doing nothing, and she wouldn’t speak a word. But as soon as he started to concentrate on something else, she felt the need to talk. It was usually about something highly speculative, like what would happen 30 years from now when she was in a nursing home.

“What kind of music?” Stan asked with half his brain. He tried to keep the other half on his project, so he didn’t lose his train of thought. But, somewhere deep inside, he knew that wouldn’t happen. Dottie would demand his full attention before long. She wouldn’t stand to be ignored, even by half his brain, especially at the expense of one of his many projects.

“You know the kinds I like. Anything but hip-hop, I guess.” Dottie sipped her coffee. “Or opera,” she added.

“Okay,” Stan said.

“I suppose music could be different by then, from what it is now. Maybe there will be some new genres I’d like. I’ll start a running playlist.”

“Okay,” Stan said. “You make it, I’ll play it.”

“And play me some audio books,” she added. “I’m listening to a good one now when I’m out on my walks. It’s about a couple who has a child they don’t know about.”

“How does that work,” Stan asked, putting his writing project aside. He was hoping Dottie might stop talking as soon as she saw she’d successfully diverted his attention from everything else and had his full attention. Sometimes that worked. “Seems like they would’ve noticed the big belly and the painful delivery and all. The woman anyway,” Stan noted. Dottie looked at Stan like he was an idiot.

“They thought their baby died, of course. But it hadn’t – there was a nurse who couldn’t have children of her own and…..oh never mind.” At first, Stan thought maybe Dottie’s talking had run its course. But no such luck. The word “baby” was too much for her.

“Speaking of babies, the Flores’ daughter is pregnant again,” Dottie said wistfully. Neither of their own daughters had seen fit to offer up a grandchild, and it was rapidly becoming unlikely. Emily and her husband, Ben, were in their late thirties with no plans for a family. Ben suffered from some condition or other unclear to Dottie, mumps or something as a teenager, that meant they couldn’t have children together. There were plenty of other options, but Emily and Ben didn’t seem to be interested in considering them.

Although younger than Emily, Jamie and her partner, Marina, weren’t interested in children either. Their relationship was so volatile Dottie thought it might be just as well, although she couldn’t help but be disappointed. Maybe if they split up and Jamie started again with someone else? Well, it really wasn’t fair or healthy to think about things like that.

It seemed sad to think both their immediate family lines, hers and Stan’s, would be ending. Dottie had been an only child. Neither of Stan’s sisters had any surviving children – one was a nun, and the other had experienced a series of heartbreaking miscarriages in her younger days. Eventually, the sister’s halfwit husband ended up leaving her for a teenaged prostitute he’d knocked up, or believed he had, anyway. Dottie wondered how you could ever be sure in that situation whether the baby was yours, short of DNA testing, which the halfwit husband refused to ask for.

Well, you had to play the hand you were dealt, Stan always said. Or he’d said it once or twice, anyway. Dottie would have only Emily and Jamie at her deathbed. And Stan, maybe. Both her parents had died years ago, and there were only a few cousins with whom she’d never been close. No one else.

Dottie worried. Would any of them remember to play music for her? Or audiobooks? Or to take her ashes to Alaska like she’d always asked? Or to keep her feet covered when the AC blew too cold? She loved them all, Emily and Jamie and Stan, but Dottie didn’t have much faith they’d be as attentive as she’d like. When she was in a vegetative state. In a nursing home.

Dottie looked over at Stan. His back was to her, but obviously she’d lost his attention again. Stan had an annoying habit of pulling out various projects to work on whenever he sensed Dottie was feeling conversant. And he was slouching again.

“Stanley, I said Ray and Tina’s daughter is pregnant again,” Dottie repeated. She expected him to understand the pique in her tone and turn around – Dottie only called him “Stanley” when she was annoyed. Stan still didn’t answer.

At the emergency room, they said it had been a massive stroke. The doctors did everything they could, but Stan hadn’t responded well. After a week, they moved him out of intensive care and into a long-term care facility. He’d stabilized, but appeared to have minimal cognitive function. The prospects for any meaningful recovery weren’t good.

Dottie sat alone with Stan in the nursing home most mornings and held his hand. Sometimes Emily, Jamie or one of Stan’s sisters visited, but mostly it was just Dottie. Today, she’d been listening to an audiobook to occupy her mind, and maybe Stan’s, while she sat. As Dottie gathered her things to leave, she turned on the music playlist she’d added to Stan’s phone, and arranged his blanket to make sure it didn’t slip off his feet after she’d left, so his feet wouldn’t be cold when the AC blew.

 

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