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Road Kill

“Daddy, there’s a bird in the road,” my son says from the passenger seat.

It’s a special treat for him to ride in the front. At six years of age he’s normally relegated to the back. But today the back seat is full. Full of boxes, clothes, tools, books and other things. A shoe slips off the top of the pile and hits me on the head as I drive. I grab it over my shoulder and pitch it further back in the car.

These are my worldly possessions. All I still own in the world. My son’s mother has decided things will be better if I take these worldly possessions, and myself, to a new home. Away from her. Away from my son. I disagree things will be better, but have agreed to leave anyway, if only to shelter this small, sensitive boy from further distress.

My son is right. His keen young eyes have seen it long before I did. There’s a bird in the road up ahead, feasting on the carcass of some unlucky animal that lost its battle with a rubber tire.

“Don’t run over it, Daddy.”

“I won’t,” I say. “It’ll fly away before we get to it.”

I slow the car slightly, and the bird does indeed fly away. But I fail to notice a second bird a short distance from the first. The second bird doesn’t fly away. There is a small thumping noise and the second bird meets the same fate as the unlucky animal it had been enjoying for dinner a few seconds before.

My son misses nothing. A slow, fat tear trails down his cheek.

“Will the birdie’s family be sad when he doesn’t come home anymore?” he asks in a tiny voice.

My heart breaks.

 

PC: Lily lvnatikk on Unsplash

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Forever

Lucinda said, “I Do”, for the eighth time. Not literally but figuratively – the wording might’ve been slightly different some of the times, but they all meant the same thing. Lucinda was committed to this man forever! Even the bland, concrete block walls and flickering fluorescent lighting in the basement room at City Hall where she said the words couldn’t dampen her mood.

Lucinda thought back to the first time she’d said them. She’d felt so beautiful and grown up walking down the aisle, toward the man she wanted to be with forever. Lucinda had been barely eighteen but, even then, knew what she wanted – a life with someone who’d take her away from the miserable, abusive atmosphere she’d grown up in. They’d create a new world all their own. Too bad the groom had changed so much after the wedding. He’d become an entirely different man. Although, he hadn’t even been a man, really, when they’d married – just a boy only one year older than Lucinda. She could see that, now, even though she hated to admit her father had been right.

It was after he DID become a man, or should have, when the trouble started. The yelling and hitting and breaking things. It’d been hard for Lucinda to control her rage toward him, even though she’d known it was wrong – he’d just been so damn submissive about everything. Leaving her was the only thing he’d ever done that showed any backbone at all. But, Lucinda HAD loved him and had truly meant the “I Do” part when she said it.

And she’d meant it the other times, too. Or most of them, anyway. There WAS that one drunken interlude in Vegas. Lucinda wasn’t sure it should even be counted. Number 5 – a nice man, but with a huge drinking problem, as it happened.   Maybe if they hadn’t rushed things she’d have figured that out before it was too late. But, “Live and Learn”, Lucinda always said.

Number 6 may have been a bit shaky, too. More of a lark than a marriage, really. She’d been caught up in the euphoria of being desired by a much younger man. Anyone would’ve been. Lucinda hadn’t wanted the feeling to end. Who could blame her?

Come to think of it, Number 3 maybe wasn’t such a good decision, either. Whatever had possessed Lucinda to commit her life to someone who was 45 years old, and had never been married, even once? Who still lived in his mother’s basement playing video games most of the day? Those were red flags, right there, now that Lucinda understood them.

But, all her other marriages had been rock-solid, at least at the start. It wasn’t Lucinda’s fault Number 2 cheated on her all those times. When he’d left his previous wife after starting to date Lucinda, he’d promised his philandering days were over forever. No, it definitely hadn’t been Lucinda’s fault it had ended.

And Number 4 had CERTAINLY been true love. When you married someone who was in prison, you REALLY had to mean it! The thing was after they’d married, and he’d been paroled, it hadn’t been the same for either of them. Lucinda didn’t believe any of those things her daughter had told her he’d tried to do to her, at the time. Now she wasn’t so sure, but who could’ve predicted any of that?

Lucinda had been all in on Number 7.   All in. Totally committed. Although, after they’d gotten married she’d discovered he wasn’t a romantic like she was. Was it any wonder Lucinda was attracted when Jorge came along, with his poetry and art and music? Those things were the very ESSENCE of everlasting devotion! Jorge and Lucinda were kindred spirits, and that would never be possible with Number 7. She’d felt bad about it, but he’d be better off with someone else. Luckily, the divorce had come through quickly.

Lucinda looked up at Jorge – now husband Number 8. What a wonderful man! He’d only been in this country for a few weeks when they’d met, but he’d proposed to her almost immediately. Now THAT was love! The real thing. In a few months, they’d be celebrating their marriage with a romantic honeymoon trip. As soon as Jorge got his undocumented immigration status worked out. And everything on that score would be a lot easier, now they were married.

But Lucinda wasn’t in any rush. They had all the time in the world. Because marriage was forever, right?

PC: derek thomson, on unsplash

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A Suit Too Large

Yosip was happy today, as he walked briskly down the main shopping street. People glanced discretely at Yosip. It would be impolite to stare openly, but it was hard not to look. A pale, skinny man wearing a suit at least two sizes too large for him on a hot day in August. Why dress so warmly on such a hot day? And if the occasion was so important as to require a suit, why wear one that clearly didn’t fit?

Yosip was oblivious to the attention. Yosip was happy today for the first time in many years. So happy that his heart felt like it might explode. Yosip was getting married today to Marija. He had loved Marija for a very long time. And today they would be married.

Life, and love, hadn’t been kind to Yosip and Marija. At first, there’d been the disapproval of Marija’s father, which had kept them apart in their early days. Then, Yosip’s military service had taken him abroad for long periods of time. And then, the illness of Marija’s mother had required Marija to attend to her full time for several years.

Yosip and Marija kept in touch through all these things and saw each other whenever they could. They had talked about running away so they could marry and be together all the time, abandoning their other obligations and letting those things work themselves out as they might. But they were both people to whom family and country still meant something. They knew their marriage would be tainted if they didn’t honor those things.

So, they had waited. And waited. And, one day, Yosip had felt a lump under his arm. He’d seen his doctor. And then more doctors. The news wasn’t good. There were terrible things going on in Yosip’s body. Things that the doctors would try to fix, but probably couldn’t.

Yosip’s treatments took a terrible toll. Yosip had been a big man. Not fat, but big. Big shoulders, big chest, big arms, big neck. But soon Yosip wasn’t big any more.

And Yosip had been a handsome man. His skin had been clear and bright with rosiness. Now it was pale and yellow. His forehead was marred by angry blemishes. His flesh sagged. Yosip wasn’t handsome any more.

But Yosip still had Marija, and Marija looked after Yosip as best she could. She made arrangements for her mother’s care, so she could accompany Yosip to his doctor visits. She fed Yosip and bathed him when he was too weak to help himself. She held Yosip’s hand when the pain got bad.

The latest news from the doctor was even worse than before. They’d tried everything they could and the terrible things in Yosip’s body were still going on. Yosip would have to live with the pain for the months or weeks he had left. There was no hope for anything different. Yosip shared the news with Marija in the waiting room. Marija cried a little, but she’d expected this news.

Yosip and Marija talked on the way home. They remembered the things that had kept them apart in the past. Things that had been important, and that they had honored. They considered the future. A future together that might be short but could still be happy. Yosip and Marija decided to get married.

This morning, Yosip awoke with a light heart and prepared to marry his love, Marija. He couldn’t eat anything, but he made himself a cup of tea. He shaved and showered. Yosip went to his closet and pulled out his best suit. It was an expensive suit, and at one time had fit Yosip perfectly. Now it was much too large. Yosip had considered buying a new one that would fit better for his wedding day. But it seemed silly to invest in something that would only be worn once. And somehow wearing the old suit seemed a fitting goodbye gesture to his old life. His old life separated from Marija. Yosip would burn this suit after his wedding.

Yosip was happy as he walked briskly down the main shopping street in his suit two sizes too large. Yosip loved Marija. Yosip had loved Marija for a very long time. And today they would be married.

Photo Credit: Craig Whitehead

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A Waiter in Prague

James got off the tram at the stop near his apartment in Vinohrady. He walked slowly toward home, enjoying the pleasant summer day in Prague. It was hot, but not too hot, and the humidity was low. A pleasant day indeed.

People passed James in both directions along the way. He studied the faces of people walking toward him, careful to avert his eyes at the exact moment in time that separated polite curiosity from overt rudeness.

However, James found the people overtaking him from behind of much more interest. They mostly seemed to be groups of young people, chattering away in Czech or English or another of the many languages widely spoken in Central Europe. James liked the split second when he could glance at people’s faces as they passed – a split second to judge them homely or beautiful, to notice their complexion, makeup, jewelry, piercings or any number of traits that make a person. He also liked being able to study their backs openly for as long as he wanted after they walked by him, without them noticing.

James approached a restaurant located halfway between his apartment and the tram. The restaurant was a good one and he’d eaten there frequently during the several weeks he’d lived in the neighborhood. Each time he’d been served by the same waiter. A straight-faced man perhaps in his late 20’s, with skinny legs and a slightly receding hairline. A polite and efficient waiter, but clearly not interested in developing any special rapport with James, although James was a regular customer. Any attempts James made at friendliness were ignored, or maybe just misunderstood.

It seemed strange to James, this Czech sense of reserve, unlike anything he’d experienced in other countries where he’d lived or visited. James had been told not to take it personally. That was just how the Czechs were. But it seemed hard to James at times, being a naturally friendly and outgoing person.

James also walked directly past this same restaurant going to and from his tram stop several times each day. That same waiter was often outside, serving the 5 or 6 tables placed on the sidewalk against the building’s shady side. James would smile and wave if the waiter appeared to look toward his general direction. However, the man was always unresponsive and continued with his work without acknowledging James at all.

Today the restaurant was busy. All the outside tables were occupied. James could see the waiter serving the tables by himself in his calm quiet manner. The waiter had just delivered four pints of lager to a table of businessmen and was headed back to the kitchen as James drew near. As usual, James tried to catch his eye and smiled.

Today, on this pleasant summer day in Prague, the waiter smiled back.

 

PC: Clifford Yeo on Unsplash

 

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