Wayne H.W. Wolfson is a Northern California based author. In 1998 one of his pieces was nominated for The Pushcart Prize. A prose piece was named finalist in The 2000 William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition.
His works have appeared in many national literary journals, including, Happy, Lynxe Eye, Anthology Magazine, Barefoot Grass Journal, Wired Arts From Wired Hearts, Trains And Rain, The Lucid Stone, Illya's Honey, Caveat Lector, Eureka Literary Magazine, Poetry Hotel and Seed house Magazine
He has completed two novels and several short story and prose collections.
His personal website is Wayne Wolfson
Another Shot At Midnight
The Bad Circus
Lemon Moon Caprice
Trouble Travels In A Straight Line
July Fourth With Crazy Legs Miller
Crazy Legs Miller
Another Shot At Midnight
Age, like a veil of mourning, eventually drops before everbodyís eyes. Changing the way the world will look. Once altered, forever changed.
He closes his eyes and tries to think of all the familiar things, so near, surrounding him.
Crooked stacks of comic books, broken crayons, toy soldiers, plastic mouths drawn tensely shut, machine gunner, grenade throwers frozen in the eternal struggle.
Its no use. He knows, can feel something nameless, even now coming for him. Like a shadow with no brother in the world of day, crawling across the floor towards him. The blanket is pulled over his head, totally covered now except for his nose, maybe heíll be safe. He tries to lie totally still, totally covered, in hopes of confusing it with his camouflage. He would feel the sweat dripping down his face, stinging his tightly shut eyes. It would pretend to leave, standing in the bushes right outside the bedroom window of the little ranch house in which his family was trapped. Lucky number eight.
He lies totally still. It grows bored with waiting and from the bush begins to quietly call his name:
Hogeyís blood would turn to ice water. Heíd feel its face pressed up against the window. Suddenly heíd jump up out of bed and be running down the hall to the den where his parents watched television.
"Are you going to practice now Hogey?"
Iíd pull the case out from under the bed.
Usually practicing meant that Iíd pull out the trumpet and grease the valves or maybe use my hat to fan the end of it, playing a few short bursts of horse like neighs.
Sheíd leave so that I could concentrate. Then Iíd put the horn away and go to Faustís for drinks.
A complicated way to go about things, I know, but if I simply said that I was going out for drinks sheíd want to come.
I was a good musician, but if I practiced.....Well the pressure of being great at anything scared me. Besides, she was happy as long as there wasnít any dust on the case.
I dusted off the caseís cover and slid the trumpet back under the bed. Once in a while Iíd bring my horn with me. Not as much any more because I had been in danger of starting to believe my own lies.
Even as a child I felt that I was meant for something special. It took me years of doing nothing to know what. I got my horn in a card game, love, we had all been cheating at.
I carried it around for luck. When I finally realized what I wanted to do, where my destiny lay, I thought my troubles were over. Iíd put on my tie and head to an audition.
I would lay in bed during the early hours, maybe a drink to calm me, closing my eyes, I could imagine it. First a gig at the club, then a tour of Europe and finally an album. Cup empty, eyes shut, I could see it all.
After a while you started to recognize the other faces at the auditions, becoming friends with everyone who played a different instrument. It didnít matter though. Even when you got a gig nothing happened, really. A little money, free drinks, then a week later back to drinking cherry brandy at 11:00 am in the menís room as you waited to be called upon to play for an audience of chair topped tables.
Europe got smaller and smaller, a beautiful picture looked at through the wrong end of a telescope. Here I am, broken hearts and half filled cups, a thousand songs later. If I could have anything now, it would simply be someone to blame.
The city? The city, I wish I could shut my eyes tight and through an act of sheer will, make it a tangible thing. A body all throbbing, tough parking, neon. Just so I could whip it out and piss on her. The thing of it is though, the next day Iíd still show up with flowers. Iíd lay them at her feet among all the other bouquets. Died, dead and now forgotten.
For a change of pace I decided to spruce up a little before going out. Shave, shower, maybe even a tie. I turn the water on and pour myself what I swear will be my last drink of the night. Breaking promises allows you to make new ones. Will I be gone before she comes back or was she working tonight? Itís almost become like a game.
I had been in the shower too long, in a fog the mirror now began to cry, refusing to tell me any of its secrets. The hot water, her kiss, had gotten to me. I feel excited, as Iím drying off I pull the horn back out and being careful not to let my wet hair drip on it, play a few blasts. Viking. Instead of putting it back under the bed I let it lay on the pillow. This is, after all a party.
I put on the best of my three ties, leave the light over the stove on for her and head out.
Everything is screaming. Ambulances, cars, cats and women. I keep walking. I hope later on someone will play my horn, allowing me to find my way home.
I think of how I had looked in the mirror, and it breaks my heart to be all dressed up with nowhere to go, but to only wander around downtown.
More shouting.This time the shouting makes me stop. Two bums fight over a grocery bag, half full of empty beer cans. Theyíre both sort of leaning forward. Trying to keep one eye on the bag and one eye on each other. It takes too long and neither of them has been able to connect. Getting bored I start to walk away.
Iím there. A bar where the gods go to cry. Moving on only after every drop has been drained. The place was busy. I sit at the piano. It leans to the left and lets me know who is boss.
"Play something pretty."
Iím two drinks into the night and my fingers are aching. A woman stands behind me smoking a cigarette. When I slow down my playing I can feel her breath on my back.
"Play me something pretty.."
My fingers ache.
"All I can give you is the bawdy bleeding of my heart."
She stays, standing there for a few more songs. The modern world cheapens us, there is no choice. Little girls leaning over lamps and whispering about me, remind and warn. The streets are dark with shame. I canít take it anymore. The music dies down to a trickle then stops. I donít expect to be handed any money, but a few drinks would be nice. From his piano bench in a Hamburg bordello, Brahms smiles down on me. A whiskey sour, save fruit for last.
People are all around me, talking, hoping that every breath, every word, will expel the loneliness that brought them here. The countess now slides up to me and whispers in my ear:
"Come...youíre so kind....did you bring your crystal ball?..."
I still look back with pride on the night I went crazy on pure grain alcohol and amphetamines. Going from bar to bar reading peopleís palms for five bucks a shot as Joel looked on.
The countess handed me a drink and slipped five bucks in my pocket. I took a sip.
"Remind me to stop at a lucky number."
I donít know, the countess wasnít bad looking. She was one of those women, alone, too beautiful to not be crazy. And beautiful women driven crazy from being alone. We stood at the bar, turning towards each other. She began to slowly grind her hips against mine. Her eyes seemed huge.
"I donít know what I can tell you...the night seeks its own amusements...right now for instance, it watches you. Lying on your bed, knees pulled up to your chin. Your thinking of me, biting your lower lip..."
From the back of her throat the countess moans. She leans foward and kisses me. She taste like vodka and dashed hopes no longer even remembered.
She heads to the mens room, where there is one stall left with a door. An old man walks down the street, stopping now and then to retie the red cape draped over his shoulders or shake his fist at the street lights.
"This too will be conquered..." He says over and over and then spits.
Soon enough the night will end. I donít want to have to cross the room, go out into the cold. Quickly looking around I head into the menís room, jamming a folded up packet of matches under the door to lock it.
The countess jumps into my arms, covering my neck with kisses. I unzip my fly and sit on the toilet. Slowly the countess lowers herself onto me.
"The worst part of the war was that no one danced anymore..."
She comes four times before I finally go off. As Iím washing up she lights a cigarette.
"Donít say Ďsee you laterí say ĎIíll remember youí because itís closer to the truth.."
Karineís shift was over. The last ten minutes of it spent in anxious silence. Where was Hogey? He was supposed to pick her up, walk home with her, talking like he used to. Karine was superstitious, if she didnít look at the door he would come walking through it any minute. She sat at the counter sipping coffee. Everytime the door opened her heart stopped. There were no hands on her shoulders, just the cold touch of air. After waiting twenty minutes she got up.
"See you tomorrow Karine"
She stepped outside and to her shame looked up and down the street a few times for him. A couple walked by kissing, stopping only to giggle or embrace. Karine felt a hundred years old. She was tired. She had planned on using her tip money to buy a few little cutlets to make Sunday night. She heard giggling and watched as the couple disappeared down the street. Her fingertips brushed the bills in her pocket. She ached, feet and heart. She hailed a cab hoping Hogey was home to see her pull up.
His spells.........For as long as he could remember Delano had a sinking feeling. Like there was a huge party somewhere and everyone was at it. Everyone but him. His heart would rise up, his throat closing around it. Making it hard to breath, hard to think. Many times he had tried to describe this feeling, but the only one who understood was his brother.
Benvenuto also suffered from these spells, but this bond became useless when he died in a bar fight over Lupe, the blind woman who played guitar there on Wednesday nights.
After he had been buried, Delano sent Lupe a letter. In his best penmanship he told Lupe how much his brother had loved her. She never answered any of his letters.
The spells would come. Delano would walk the streets, searching, always searching for the party. There seemed to be a lot of people about. His spirits once again sank as he looked into their eyes, one after another and found that they too were lonely and uninvited.
Driving the cab wasnít that bad. Plenty of people to talk to. Some of the stories would make him laugh. Sometimes, later on heíd replay them in his mind. Over and over again, until they wore out, like a favorite recording.
There were other things too. It had been raining out, which was odd since it was right before that cold snap. Delano didnít measure his shift in hours, but in how many more people he wished to talk to.
When he didnít have a fare, Delano would practice what he imagined to be a movie star smile in his little rear view mirror.
He put one on now as he pulled up to the two women flagging him down. They were perfectly mismatched, the one in the black coat being a good two and a half heads taller than her friend in the denim jacket. They were both soaking wet and it wasnít until later that Delano supposed she couldíve been crying.
They needed to go to the hotel near the airport. Instinct told Delano not to start talking yet. Hopefully they had noticed the smile as they got into the cab.
"Forget about him...I told you......"
The woman in the wet denim jacket momentarily bit her knuckle.
Delano steered the car onto the highway.
"Life can be like one of those old songs they play on the radio, you know the kind you only hear late at night.."
"Yeah..the sadder the better."
Delano was still silent. The two women moved closer together and seemed to settle back in the seat. The taller of the two was also the more beautiful. As Delano gazed into the mirror he saw the taller womanís eyes were shut, head back against the seat. Her friend was gently nuzzling her neck with her lips. The heat had fogged up the windows. Her eyes were also shut.
Now the taller womanís hand crept down the pants of her friend. The black sleeve of her jacket making the whiteness of her hand stand out all the more. Her pale hand, a burrowing animal, of which only the very top side was visible as it slowly rose and sank. They both had their eyes shut and seemed to be breathing in sync. Beautiful movement, like a watch. As a boy when he was good, Delanoís grandfather had let him hold his pocket watch as he told him stories.
Soon Delano became aware of another sound. A wet sound, someone with heavy boots walking through a muddy field. A cat lapping at a bowl of cream.
They were almost there. The taller one licked her lips and eyes still shut, tilted her head closer to her friend. Delano continued to watch. The shorter girlís mouth opened and closed in a series of delicate snaps as the lashes on her still shut eyes fluttered.
Inside the car was now silent and the two women sat, leaning up against one another, wet heads touching.
Pulling up to the hotel the fare was $31.50. The tall woman handed him two twenties and they both disappeared through the hotel doors.
It was an hour before Delano got another fare. A waitress just getting off work, who didnít feel much like talking.
"You Spanish? You look Spanish.."
He did the smile. He squinted at the street signs. It didnít matter, sky streaked memories. It didnít matter.
Karine. Iím not holy, but Iím righteous. At the time we met man was still a strange new animal to her. Every totem of my want, underwear left on the floor, mute razor on the sink, made her secretly smile.
In the beginning she was ready for me to leave at any minute. To protect herself she wore a cool indifference, it glimmered in the candlelight as the waiter sat us at the little corner table.
I was too smart, I gave myself whatever I wanted and was always able to explain it away. She drew strength from me, learned from me. And I always told myself that no matter whatever else I may do, when I became famous Iíd bring her with me. Everything balances out. Righteousness.
I open the door quietly. Now that itís drying and turning hard I realize the countess had made a mess. Karine isnít home yet. I turn on the shower. I squirt some shampoo onto my underwear and put it in the tub, standing on them, now and then stepping back to let the water hit them.
The water no longer feels as warm, I whistle a tune and finally growing bored get out of the tub. As I wring out my underwear I hear the front door open. It was a tattle tale speaking in creak. I hang my underwear on the nail above the heater, putting my wet towel over it.
Karine is sitting at the kitchen table doing a crossword puzzle. There is vomit in the sink.
"The sink is backed up, I was waiting for you to get done in there so I could get the plunger."
I walk over to her. As if asleep, she offers me her cheek, which I lightly kiss.
"How was work?"
I have gotten some water on her and she scowls.
We make some tea and watch a documentary on fire ants, me falling asleep during one of the long stretches of commercials.
I was still asleep, dreaming of big breakfasts and warmth. The front door slamming shut woke me up. It startled me, pounding heart. My eyes open. The breakfasts, the warmth quickly disappear. I pull the blankets up to my chin. No good. I get up and turn on the shower, turn on the percolator. The repetition of certain acts is a comfort. Sometimes our only truths are achieved through repetition.
There is a note on the table. My hair is wet, the towel is dirty, but at least the coffee is hot.
"Hogey, we need to talk. Please be home tonight....Karine"
I close my eyes and tried to do some quick calculations in my head. How long had it been? Was it already time again for my "Why donít you cut down on drinking and really pursue your dream like you used to" speech? Nah, it was too soon. What else could it be? When was the last time I had "coffee" with her sister? Ah hell, sometimes you just donít know.
Our neighbor reads the newspaper. As quietly as possible I open the front door. To my immediate right is a little green square. Plastic made to look like grass, a white worded "welcome" stitched onto it. The paper was still there. I stretched out my arm quickly grabbing it and throwing it onto the table. Maybe when I was done Iíd refold it and put it back.
I shave and shower. There is one egg left in the fridge. As the skillet heats up I crack it. Landing with a hiss I notice that I have broken the yoke. Romans and their sheep entrails, a sign if youíre superstitious or jumpy.
I sit down to read the paper. The funny pages are always in the same section as the obituaries. Getting bored, I head out. Half filled cup grown cold, my tombstone.
Iíve very little money and a whole day to kill. If Karine hadnít left that note I couldíve stayed in bed. Killed it slowly, by hand. The note ruined it. I headed to Coletteís. Colette. Fading signs of what she had been and a manís own loneliness being the only appeal left in her.
Weíd talk or fuck, which sometimes led to a fight. Colette, an unneeded piece hammered into the puzzle anyways, out of boredom.
I had never been sure how she managed to survive. A better man wouldíve at least asked. She was a whore, her heart, my soul, we both were.
Initially things had been perfect. Weíd fuck, maybe talk, maybe eat cold take out. I shouldíve seen it coming. The longer we were together the more she wanted. It was easy enough to say "I love you" and cross my fingers, but she wanted me to think of her. Wanted to know that I was thinking of her.
The whole thing was a mess. With Karine, even when I had tried I had failed miserably. So how could this stand a fighting chance? Itís why I truly didnít bother. Even her tears, the punchline to a joke, given too early, where losing their impact on me.
I shouldíve walked away, but I never knew how. So now candles were lit and we are tumbling over each other. Now and then Iíd open my eyes to see her face, on the most primal level, smiling at me. Her feet are in the small of my back, arms around my neck. She is pushing up towards me. Trying in the only way left to leave her mark on me. To claim her territory in a way that canít be washed off or forgotten with a change of clothes.
Iíd love to be able to make everyone happy, myself included. Maybe if I could just make my life a bunch of moments, linked, starting with this one. I open my eyes, moving my lips towards hers until her face becomes a blur. I push in as deep as I can. Her tongue slowly slides over mine. From the back of her throat a low moan. I give her the only thing I can honestly give her. A chill running up my spine, starting from where her heels are digging in. She yells, from her mouth into mine. Both our bodies go slack and we just lay there.
She puts her head on my chest. The air smells of our love. It floats there, above the bed, almost like a third person. Lazily I caress her cheek. At times like this I feel that I could buy into any dream and I realize that I should leave.
"Iíve got to go."
At first her face is totally blank. I use the calm before the storm to get dressed. Then it comes down.
The heat from my body hadnít even fled the blankets. They were blue. She sat there weeping. Not even letting me see. Legs crossed, head bent down, crumbling Buddha covered by the flag of a defeated army. Deep blue. She cried and I still wasnít allowed to see.
Now itís raining, the city seen through a million dirty gems. I took the cowards way home, through half a bottle.
Coletteís apartment receded back into blurred memory. In my relaxed state of penance I didnít mind the rain.
"That is all...that is all.That is all...."
I said to myself.
I stopped walking to scratch poems in the slate of the cemetery walls. The lower tracks were lonely, so everyone avoided them. I knew their destiny by heart. With but one song left in me, I followed it, alone too.
I got home. Karine wasnít there. I peeled off my shirt, putting on a faded tee shirt. I hadnít been doing anything wrong, yet I still jumped when Karine walked in.
Her eyes swept over the room like a crazy bird trapped. Flying from one corner to another, trying to see why I had jumped.
She cleared her throat:
"Are you home now?"
"Yes, Iím here arenít I?"
She began taking her uniform off. Dumping her tip change into the brandy sifter on the dresser. I was tired. Edgy, a little hungry.
"Flip us some eggs."
"We need to talk..."
She started to cook, but she banged the pans often enough to let me know that she didnít want to.
We sat down at the table. It was an old wooden door with a bunch of mismatched legs nailed on to it. Some wise ass had added little wheels to the bottom of each leg.
The kitchen floor warped at a slant. Since I never sat with my back to a door the table constantly was creeping towards Karine. We sat. Eating. No matter what I could always eat.
A favorite game since childhood was to try and eat around the yolk, not breaking it, until it was all that was left. My toast was ready. A yellow eye whose stare is finally broken by my fork.
It didnít seem real. I finished eating and turned on the percolator. I never realized how much I had been secretly dreaming of escape. My heart started pounding, my cup fell.
"Are you sure?"
At this point instinct took over. I couldnít afford to get all crazy. Then sheíd keep it.....just for spite. I stood behind her, rubbing her shoulders. It saddened me, at first touch she flinched as if expecting that Iíd hit her.
She began to relax. With a gentle touch not seen in years I pushed her hair back and caressed her cheek. The back of my hand on her cheek in a slow...delicious stroke. Her eyes were closed. I could see the rhythm of her pulse in the neck.
Eyes closed, she turned her head towards my hand. She bit into my finger like it was a treat.
I turned on the tap and put it under cold water. It blushed a flaming crimson, angered by this betrayal I hadnít foreseen.
"Whether I keep it or not we are going to need money. You have to start bringing some into this house....and it breaks my heart......I donít care how....but do it..."
I stood there.
"You know what...Iím too tired from work to go out and I donít want to give you the pleasure of seeing me cry......go out."
I pulled the bottle out from under the sink. I poured some on my finger then stuck it in my mouth. As the door shut I could hear her sobs start.
Addiction is nothing more than a daily ritual that may not be necessary. Life is made up of daily rituals and totems. My grandfatherís pocket watch and a few whiskey sours. Faustís. I had been in a daze on the train ride over. Now my mind was occupied with how to come up with money. If she kept it, if she didnít, she would still be missing some work.
I tried to think in terms of getting money without work. Nothing was coming, thatís OK it had yet to become more than a one drink plan.
I sat at the bar. Closing my eyes, I thought of Karine. Home alone, weeping, beautiful in her pain, and tried to feel bad. If only I could at least capture that.
Holding court at a corner booth was big Dan. If I made eye contact too early Iíd have to go over. Big Dan bought all his friendships with small loans. For the life of me I couldnít remember how much I was into him for. He sat there, two empty glasses and a big sandwich. As his hands squeezed down on the sandwich its sides bled dressing. Big Dan wiped his hands on the knees of his pants. I got up, waved and left.
When I got home Karine was asleep. Worn out from a long day, her nylons swam around the sink, barely able to move. I brushed my teeth in the kitchen. My finger still throbbed. Karine had had some of my bottle.
As I went to lay down I noticed her tears had painted the pillow. I closed my eyes on the day.
I woke up, all the previous day seemed like a bad dream. The tight drawn lines around Karineís mouth told me otherwise.
At least she seemed calmer. I made coffee. For an hour a world of one word sentences. Then she left for work. I knew I had to do something. A short walk down to the clubs to find out who was auditioning. I took my horn out from under the bed, I kissed the case, then just to be safe I opened the case and kissed the horn.
I left the window open a little to air the place out. Avoiding all the cracks in the sidewalk and black cats, I was off.
A slow light traps a school bus in its stare. Its full of Chinese children. Every now and then one of them pokes their head out the window only to quickly disappear again. I smile. This greatly excites them. I see one of them pointing towards me as others nod. From every window a head now grows. They all begin to sing a song. I donít know what the words mean. I wave my arms at them like a conductor and they all begin to clap.
I get closer to the clubs. Passing the diner I see a young man flipping eggs. That, that would solve all my problems. Normal job. Iíve always had trouble dealing with the idea that my soul was only worth minimum wage. I kept walking.
There wasnít much being offered. Alís was auditioning tomorrow. Well that was something, at least Karine could have hope for a day.
There was nothing left to do. It was too early to spend what little money I had. I would wait until I was good and hungry, maybe late afternoon. It was nice out, Iíd go to the park to kill a few hours. A nap if I could find a bench.
I wished that I had had two pieces of bread. One for the pigeons....
Big Dan was sitting on a bench pulling fistfuls of greasy noodles out of a Chinese take out container with his hands. I nodded and sat next to him.
A bird walked by looking at us from out of the corner of its eye. I shrugged my shoulders. I sat there trying to be casual. The smell of Big Danís lunch made my stomach ache and with every mouthful he panted like a dog.
Not to spend it, but for the confidence it would bring, I wanted to borrow twenty bucks from big Dan.
We sat there and I let him tell the story about when he had been in the military, which I had heard a million times before.
When anyone borrowed money from big Dan, he always leaned closer, whispering:
Now he didnít want to hear: "For groceries" or anything of that nature. No big Dan wanted to hear something scandalous. Half of his pleasure from lending money for something taboo was that it made him feel like a co-conspirator.
For me it was opium. This always made big Dan lick his chops. He even once went as far as getting me a little glass pipe. I gave it to a friend who told me it burst the minute the flame got near it.
Big Dan leaned forward.
"Well, I need about twenty-five....I need to swing the tiger again...bad."
Big Dan gave me a knowing look. Flicking a piece of fried vegetable off his finger he reached into his pocket. Big Dan made the same speech he made to anyone he was lending money to...
"And I can collect on this debt in full in a week if I chose to do so...."
I just nodded and tried to look drug anxious.
Big Dan gave me the money, flecks of grease from his fingers marring the presidents.
I wait another twenty minutes then leave. Big Dan kicking the empty container under the bench as I walk away. I stop at a diner and order the cheapest thing on the menu. An anemic B.L.T. Iím still hungry and feeling a little depressed. Nothing to do now but head home and wait. Wait for everything.
No I didnít make it up. Out of an entire city full of people I was the only one whose soul was still awake enough to notice these things, thats all.
There was a metallic moan. It rose up behind me. Iron scraping iron in a slow building cry of protest over progress, that ended in a sickening thud.
For everyone inside time mustíve stopped, while others scurried past. Heading home, out for drinks, out for smokes, to find love or god, what ever was easiest.
I looked. The driver was slumped over in his seat. The windshield a sky speckled with long bolts of lightening, now smeared with blood and grease.
Like a mouth with nothing to say the side door quickly opens, closes, then opens again. The kerchiefed head of an old black woman appears. Quickly she looks to the left then to the right before hopping down the steps, muttering curses to herself as she disappears around a corner. There are a few Didja-see-thats then Iím gone too.
Karine got home, mumbled something about being tired and headed into the bathroom. Locking the door she turned on the water for a hot bath.
I had nothing to do. I was bored, but I knew if I went out I could miss my audition tomorrow. I took out the horn and started to polish it. I always kept it pretty clean, so it didnít take long.
Karine was in there a long time. Maybe she drowned. I wanted to knock and hear her ask me: "What?," but that would break the spell. Right now my whole life could be changing in just two feet of water.
Karine dead. I could love her again and it would be pure. Everything would be gone, disappointments, accusations. All that would remain is the memory of our love, pure and untouchable.
I closed my eyes. The bathroom door opened. Karine looked a little pale, a little sad. Just the way I always pick them, ha ha ha ha ha ah.
She looked at me, sitting on the bed. Doing nothing.
"You going out?"
"Nah, Iíve got an audition tomorrow."
From behind the masks we wore around each other she mightíve smiled.
"Did you eat?"
My stomach sneered at the memory of the sandwich.
She made some spaghetti adding eggs and onions to it. The sky skipped a beat. I went to bed thinking of everything I ever wanted.
I got to the audition on time. I had on my sad little green striped tie and a jacket. I was playing by the rules. Shaved and greased, ready for the kill.
They were still auditioning pianists. I sat in the back for a few minutes, until catching up with me, boredom found his way into the club. I went to the mens room.
Bobby, a crazy drummer I had worked with a few times, was there with a couple of bassists. They were passing around a joint and a small bottle of schnapps.
We talked about everyone we knew in common. Now dead and working. From years of doing this my timing was perfect. I was flying right as it was time to go on.
As I played the last few notes I realized I didnít know what would make me sadder. Getting the job or not.
Everyone had played. We were all told that the bandís roster would be posted in an hour. A few of us headed across the street to Caitlinís for drinks.
I like drinking with Bobby. He doesnít say much and thatís fine by me. Trotsky sits a few stools down from us. He orders a double vodka.
"You want ice in that?"
Rubbing the back of his neck he gives the bartender a hurt puppy dog look.
"O.K....O.K......sorry I forgot."
Itís time for us to go back. As I go to read the sheet I realize Iím already down to eighteen dollars. I quickly scan the sheet. On the very bottom there I am. We start in two days.
I went home and told Karine. She seemed pleased. A little proud but she couldnít give me that because who knows what I would do.
The two days flew by. Karine was working extra shifts. Alís was now trying to draw in the tourists. The band all had to wear a uniform. There was a fifty dollar deposit that came out of our first check.
A scratchy gold jacket and a fat black tie years out of fashion, black pants, white shirts that didnít seem to fit anyone right. Right away we lost the bassist.
"I canít play in this god damn jacket, I canít move my arms..."
They hired this kid I had never seen before.
Karine actually was showing some enthusiasm. She wanted to come to see me play my first night.
"No.the drinks are too expensive at Alís.I donít want you to see me there...another monkey dancing for the organ grinder..."
I got there on time. I cringed at riding on the train in the uniform. The first night was O.K. Any job is bearable when it is new.
Karine mustíve been pleased because she didnít bug me too much.
I was only three days into it when the whole thing began to bug me. I should be making music, music to last. If only I now had the free time. Who was I kidding? I had had all the time in the world. Sometimes taking the train home Iíd talk to my horn just to keep awake. The last train of the night.The only people on it were drunks and dreamers. So it didnít matter.
"If I were to give you exactly what you wanted would you recognize it?"
I was too busy and too miserable to ask Karine what she was thinking of doing. Every night as I put my jacket on, knotted my tie a bitter taste filled my mouth. I didnít know how much more I could take.
When I first started playing clubs, as I played thatís all I was thinking about. That moment, playing. Like when Iím fucking. The moment is all.
Now I try, eyes closed, fingers pressing the valve keys, to calculate how much my check will be for. I thought of Karine. I should do a little something for her. A few more seconds and the bassist will take his solo. Why canít they lower these lights, its so hot Iím melting. The pianist at least gets to sit.
After our first year together flowers always make Karine suspicious. Iíll get her a little of that brandy she likes. I do a few final calculations. Yes. The day was a bottle that I will soon bring to you.
I used to walk through this park. Everyday a young Japanese girl sat on a little mat selling calligraphy drawings. One time I had tea with her grandmother and her. Her grandmother pointed her finger at me.
"Drink all your tea and Iíll tell you a secret."
My tea was gone, three cups later she was ready.
"You must make something happen...everyday...something.."
Then she smiled. I now knew what she meant. I was in limbo, hell. What day was it? How long had I been at Alís? Truth be told, probably not that long, I just had a low work tolerance. I put on my tie and jacket and was off.
I couldnít take it. Something in my heart bit me. Everything that night mocked me. The sadder I became, the more my horn sounded like a drunken bumble bee. Causing people to smile, nod their heads and tap their feet.
I got home. All was dark and quiet. Karine had cooked something with onions. As I lay down I wanted sleep to over take me, a temporary death.
Karine was already there. She hadnít been hassling me, I suppose she had her own problems.
It was no use I couldnít sleep. My eyes stayed tightly shut out of fear of opening them only to see nothing but the same blackness.
I had left the curtain open. As the sun rose it woke me up. I had a sourceless sense of hope. The weight of deep sleep ironed out all the worry lines on Karineís face. She was beautiful.
If only we could catch a break. Get away. As I shaved, a plan began to form in my head. It was that hopeful feeling nagging at me.
I would sell my horn, pawn shop blues. If nothing happened, this feeling was wrong, I would buy it back.
The sun, the feeling. Something good was going to happen, it had to. And I would need money for when it did.
I shaved and showered, putting on a clean shirt and tie, wanting to whistle, but deciding not to wake Karine up with it.
Horn in hand I was off. It was still early. Except for a couple of kids bent over a corner case looking at a bunch of snaggle toothed knives, the shop was empty.
I knew the shop owner, which meant that he wouldnít feel guilty about screwing me.
Ray was a thin nervous man with a bad cough. A gray hound once sleek, now sick. Soiled over coat and dead dreams. Ray had never moved further than four blocks from where he was born.
Picking up the horn he squinted. Turning it over end upon end. He already knew what he was going to give me for it, but he liked to make a show.....
I took the money and walked around a while enjoying the security. I was anxious. The day was dying down and nothing had come my way yet. I looked up at the sky.
"I want to escape, not fate, but the city."
I decided to reward myself for sacrificing my horn. I headed to Faustís.
No one is there except the countess. She sits at a little round wobbly table in the corner. Ice dying in an empty glass before her, she motions me over.
I sit down. She starts buying me drinks. Slowly the place starts to fill up. Big Dan comes in. His two cousins from out of town are with him, and I guess he felt the need to show off.
As they approach me I decided to buy him a drink. It would distract him and be cheaper than paying him what I owed him. He comes over and I buy him his drink. His cousins just stand there. He throws the drink down and puts his empty glass on the table. They go to leave, but right before they do he turns around.
"Got my money?"
I was taken by surprise. When he took the drink I thought I was in the clear. I decided to stall.
"Uhh, I donít know how much I owe you. Its written down at home..."
Big Dan whips out a little note pad, the kind detectives and bookies use. One fat finger goes down a list of names. I will be left with ten dollars and not even my horn.
Thereís no way I can fight all three of them. I hand big Dan over his money. Suddenly he is sweet as pie.
"So Iíll maybe see you tomorrow?"
I turn my head away from him. There is a moment of silence, then they leave.
The countess orders another bottle of wine. She is down tonight too. Itís the anniversary of her youthís death.
I wish she was drinking something else, instead of wine, but I join her anyways.
Iíve had three glasses. The countess, smoking cigarette after cigarette is silent. She takes a blue pill out of her pocket. With a knife that says "Amsterdam" on its handle she cuts it in half.
She puts each half in a napkin and folds them. Then she pounds each with her fist. Unfolding the napkins to reveal a blue powder.
She dumps one napkin full into each of our cups. Two drinks later I canít take the silence any more.
No, not wine. Give me something nocturnal, something that smells of thickly settled smoke and women. Let me wrap my lips around night while thereís still a little left.
I stagger away from the table. No longer able to understand anything said to me by the people I stagger past, I go outside.
I go outside and hail a taxi. Without waiting too long one pulls up. I slump into the back seat. The driver turns around and extends his hand towards me.
"Hi, Iím Delano..."
Without moving I feebly shake his hand. He turns back around and asks me:
I give him the address of my childhood home.
How did I remember it? I shut my eyes. Briefly I wonder if I have enough to get there and how will I get back? Then all goes black.
My head is going back and forth and Iím cold. The cab has stopped and the driver is shaking me. I give him all the money in my pocket and stand there as the cab pulls away.
Iím at the end of the street from where I had once lived. Unevenly I begin to walk.
After a time I come to the house. I stand in front of it. Using one extended finger I count the windows to locate my old bedroom.
There I stand and watch for a while. An urge to look into the window washes over me. I try to ignore it and start to walk away. Halfway down the street it becomes too strong.
I turn around and head back to the house. I stand in front of it, again fighting the urge.
I find myself quietly walking up to the window.
I look in. At first itís too dark and I donít see anything. My eyes adjust. Thereís a little boy all wrapped up in blankets. So pure, so much potential. The bushes catch at my shirt. I call to him....
He lies, motionless. Iím quiet for a few minutes. I begin to call again.
Still. Motionless. Suddenly he jumps out of bed and runs down the hall, out of sight.
Call me by any name. For I havenít been home in years.
The Bad Circus
I go to a cafe. While my coffee grows cold I like to sit and watch the pretty people walk by. After sitting there for several hours all the faces blurred and blended together. Beautiful dreams never remembered.
It was getting late. I look up from my drink, the sky was empty except for a few lost birds, and soon they too will be gone. A certain amount of heartache must come with night fall. Every tick of the clock was speckled in blood.
She will be by soon to get me. Then we can go home. I will start dinner as she washes up. She mostly just ate candy bars, so she appreciated my cooking. After we had been together awhile she promised to just use her hands or mouth, even though the money wouldnít be as good. It was a sacrifice made in the name of love.
She came in, her lipstick having been rubbed off for the last time today some ten minutes ago. I left a few dollars on the table and held the door open for her.
As we walked down the street she admitted that she was lonely. Me slipping into her soul.
The dishes were soaking in the sink. I was going to go to sleep, maybe write a little. I thought of the girl with the envelope and brown buckle shoes I had seen in the cafe.
Her head bent in a kiss. Her eye lashes on my cheek, a butterfly. It stayed, she slowly leaned back. I wondered if she ever thought about work.
Her belly hung down, reminding me of a face frowning. I had to kiss it, over and over, even though it made her uneasy. In the end she stopped complaining. She knew it meant something although she wasnít sure what.
She fell asleep on the couch. The flickering candles darkened her sockets, causing even her closed eyes to stare at me.
Tomorrow I have to go to my grandfatherís house to see if thereís anything that I want. I will go because I always try to be good. I lie to myself, one final joke that will go on for years. For this, the last prisoner.
As I lay down I try to remember him. All I can picture are his hands. Deeply calloused and pulled tight across the bone.
He was going to be a painter. The world surrounded him, wrapping him tightly in daily worries of time and money.
I used to spend my summers with him. I decided to take the train and walk from the station to his house. I must visit every place of death, every place time has passed.
Towards dawn she crawls into bed.
As I go to leave all I get is a tight lipped kiss. She said that in the middle of the night I woke up and didnít know where I was. It had frightened her. I donít know, I donít remember.
It may just be her way of reminding me that the price for my art was coming. A strange city, friends and family forgotten, I wander around scratching my neck as I argue with the street vendors over nothing.
Writing is a brutal act. Like giving birth or going to war. A brutal act.
All the stories have become orphans. I no longer care about them.
Having been in deep thought, the train ride hadnít seemed that bad. The house looked the same. I walk around back. Just after the porch a rusted chicken wire fence blocked off the sea grass. From under the flower pot I grabbed the spare key.
The house seemed empty. I was cleaning out the basement. I found a box of the green bottles he use to put his peach leaf wine in. It seemed important to clean the dust off them before bringing them out to the trash.
I noticed the garbage man took each bottle out of the box, first holding it up to the light, then slowly turning it in his hands before throwing it with a crash against the back wall of the truck.
There was an hour until the next train. I stopped at a liquor store to get a fifth to drink on my walk back.
I took a pull from the bottle. The shiver it sent down the back of my neck reminded me of youth, wild and hunted.
I get home at the same time as her.
Little murders, a few hours at a time. Lying on the couch, eyes shut. In the kitchen she stirs the pot of water that the potatoes go in. The spoon does three quick taps on the rim as I roll over.
Iím not sure how long I had been asleep. I walk over to the window and look out. The streets are all lit up with murderous intent, in bright flashing neon.
Lemon Moon Caprice
Wayne H.W Wolfson
Every artist must suffer for his art. Given a little more time Jesus would have become a painter. Bad bread and bill worries.
All the towns people came. The scent of excitement, one that I find very similar to blood, filled the air. The anticipation hiding for these newcomers the underlying smell of piss. Its easy to not notice these things or at least pretend not to, when youíve just paid to be entertained.
The sun was going down. Everyone rushed home to put on their Sunday best. Better to be noticed by their neighbors as they sat under the canvas. The fish monger has closed his stall early. The lace maker dismissed her girls shortly after tea time. No one wanted to miss a thing.
Several rows of kiosks surrounded the area in front of the big tent. They formed a series of little streets. No matter where you looked there were treats for sale. Some deep fried, others with rouged cheeks and coy smiles. A midget with a jesterís hat, broken bells bouncing against his cheeks, begins to light the torches outside the tentís main entrance. People begin to file in, a steady stream of need.
A horse scrapes its hooves against the ground letting out a series of snorts with each kick. Furthest away from the big tent is the red wagon. Three men, farmers, brothers, all quickly bounce down its little steps. Fastening belts and buttoning shirts they kid with each other as they head back to the crowd.
Inside, Liba leans back into the cushions she uses as a bed. The brothers had thought that the price she had given was for all three of them and not, as she meant it, per-person. They had been upset, talking in a little half circle, heads close together. Liba didnít like her wagon being so far from the others. If there was trouble, no one would hear it. The circus had an image to uphold. People had to be able to pretend that they came for the jugglers and knife throwers. Putting Libaís wagon close to the main tent, as it had once been, would be too honest. All she could do was wait and see what the brothers would decide to do.
The biggest kept looking up from their huddle, his eyes sliding down her entire body, head to toe, then crawling back up to come to rest on her eyes.
They all began to take off their belts, pants and coarse shirts. A pile of coins was left next to the empty bird cage. Liba shut her eyes. She murmured the words, mindlessly, that she knew men wanted to hear. When she opened her eyes a different brother, the last, was climbing off her. Wordlessly, they left.
Liba would have an hour to herself. Everyone would now be heading into the big tent. To see Wenzel, Wenzel the great. He was the most famous clown in all of Europe. He had done request performances for half the crowns in the empire.
There was something about his act that made her uneasy. It reminded her that she could no longer imagine any kind of future for herself. She had forgotten what she was looking for. Besides, in an hour or so there would be more people coming to see her. She lit a candle and lay back among her pillows.
Out come the gypsies with their tambourines and strange stringed instruments. The best part of their act is the end. The dancers speed up. The tent is full of smoke. The gypsies stamp their feet, the dust rises up to join it. The music speeds up.
The dancers, the music, go faster and faster until there is one motion, one movement everything is caught up in. Silk scarves, blood red, unfurl from the dancers necks. They too are caught up in this, the one motion. They extend further and further until they stick straight out. Whirling columns of silk stretching to their limit and for the briefest of moments giving them colorful wings. There is a quick triple beat. Some people grab their throats, others their chests, some just squeeze hands, then in a final flash of red they disappear.
By the time the audience can bring their hands together to clap theyíre gone: some uncork bottles with their teeth, others-to the edge of the field to build a fire to cook supper on.
The ring master comes out. A lifetime of spotlights has given him two narrow slits for eyes. His hands are clasped behind his back and leaning far forward he walks in a little half circle until the crowd notices him. He stops and straightens up. Forefinger and thumb twirl the ends of his mustache.
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. WHAT I NOW HUMBLY OFFER YOU HAS BEEN ENJOYED BY THE CROWNED HEADS OF EUROPE! THE GREATEST ENTERTAINER IN THE WORLD...HERE TONIGHT, FOR YOUR PLEASURE. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN...WENZEL THE GREAT!!"
The lights would all go out. When they snapped back on there would be a ladder in the very center of the spot light. Wenzel would be sitting at its very bottom, with his back to it. He wore a simple black robe. Once there had been bells and other ornaments but after the show, crowds would tear them off and Wenzel got sick of sewing new ones on. There was none of the usual facial designs all clowns seemed to have. Wenzelís face was totally white except for under his left eye, a small black tear; and above his right eye, a small black crescent. His hair was cropped short, further enhancing the starkness of his white greasepainted face.
There is no record of his voice. He never uttered a word during his act and those who worked with him canít seem to recall its qualities.
He started each act at the bottom of the ladder, in a trance like state. The crowd would all lean forward. Then heíd snap out of it, wordlessly performing a story. The spotlight would glide a few feet forward, coming to rest in front of the ladder where Wenzel had sat. The story ended with Wenzel climbing the ladder half way trying to get to the moon, represented by the spotlight. As he got half way up the ladder heíd look at the crowd through the rungs, look at the moon a few feet in front of him. Shake his head then it was over.
The crowd would roar. Without saying a word, Wenzel would go back to his little wagon, which was painted black. As his fame spread, the ringmaster kept waiting for the day Wenzel would ask for higher wages. It never came. Nor did Wenzel seem to take interest in anything going on around him.
Some of the movements in his act seemed almost impossible for a real person to do, yet while the other performers practiced their routines Wenzel could be found in his wagon with the curtains drawn.
Everyone talked about him and all kinds of rumors flew. It was only a matter of time before Liba became obsessed. Some nights sheíd creep out of her wagon after everyone had gone to sleep and just stand behind his, listening. She couldnít have told you exactly what she was listening for, but she also couldnít help it. After two years of doing this Liba was rewarded.
One night she heard movement in his wagon. Closing her eyes and cupping her ear, she leaned closer to the wagon. "Talia, Talia," he moaned in his sleep. Then all was still and silent. For some nights after this Liba went back expecting something. Yet there was nothing else.
Liba sat on her little steps mending a shirt. Wenzel suddenly appeared in front of her. His hands did a series of quick circles over her head and a bottle appeared. He offered her a drink. Not taking her eyes off of his for a moment she took two deep pulls. Wenzel did the same. He waved his hands again and the bottle disappeared.
"You can ask me one question about anything."
She wanted to ask where his powers came from so that maybe she too, could possess them. The memory of that night outside his wagon had been like an itch she couldnít scratch. Without thinking of what else she could have, Liba blurted out "Who is Talia?"
"Talia is why I do...all this. She is on the moon and someday I will join my beloved there. Itís all for her..."
And then in a series of back flips, he disappeared. Liba didnít tell anyone about the incident. Since then, she couldnít be remotely near Wenzel without being overcome by a sense of unease.
Time went on. Wenzelís fame grew. He performed his act, the same as always, not changing a single thing. The royal family commanded another performance. The ring master spent the prospective money in advance, on repairs and upgrades. Flyers were printed up and handed out weeks in advance. After the success of the royal performance he could retire a rich man. Wenzelís name was emblazoned across every flyer.
The day of the performance came. Special seats were brought in for the royal family to sit on. There was a tremendous turnout, the tentís sides straining under the crowds numbers. All the acts were shortened to leave enough room for Wenzelís. The royal family was seated.
Everyone was on their best behavior so Liba had no work. She stood unnoticed in the wings waiting to see Wenzelís act. The ring master comes out and announces him. The lights go out. When they snap back on, he and the ladder are in place. He sits totally still, entranced. The entire tent is silent. A minute goes by. Liba can scarcely breath. Another minute. Wenzel is still entranced. All is quiet. More time goes by. Wenzel is still at the bottom of the ladder in a trance.
Ten minutes have gone by. The crowd canít bear it any longer. Suddenly the spell is broken. Someone coughs, then someone else murmurs something to a neighbor. The whole crowd is now a shifting, coughing mass. Still Wenzel sits, his eyes glazed over. The royal family get up to leave!
In a panic the ring master has all the lights come on. He snaps his fingers and some dancing bears are led out to calliope music. A strong man lifts Wenzel up and carries him to his wagon.
That night the ring master and two of his bigger stake pitchers go to Wenzelís wagon. Heís lying exactly as the strong man had left him. Flat on his back, eyes wide open.
"You. Youíve ruined everything, you freak. I promise you...youíll never work again. Get out now. Youíre fired."
The two stake pitchers nervously grip their mallets. For a moment nothing. Then Wenzel gets up and wordlessly begins to walk away. There is a moment of confusion.
The ring master looks around the wagon. He shouts after Wenzel, "Wait. Wait a minute. Take your god damn stuff." Wenzel keeps walking. The ring master shrugs his shoulders. He figures Wenzelís upset and will, in a few hours, cool off and come back for his stuff. He heads back to his own wagon.
Wenzel just wants to disappear. Without his act he may never reach Talia and this breaks his heart.
Years slide by. Seven of them. Wenzel tries a series of humble jobs. Fish cleaner, brick layer and a handful of similar trades. No matter what he does, even without saying a word, staring at the ground, there is something about him that makes people uneasy.
One day Wenzel stood by the side of the road. He had just been fired from another job. A woman happened by. She stopped and looked at Wenzel. "Would you like an apple?" Wenzel, with down cast eyes accepted. She told him her name was Mina. She worked for a circus that was passing through. She didnít mean to offend but she was sure she could get him some type of job. Nothing fancy of course...
Wenzel had to admit what he always knew. The only people that wouldnít feel uneasy around him were circus people. Knife thrower, fat lady, dog faced boy.
He wasnít Wenzel, he was just another worker. That was O.K. by Wenzel. He would gladly do the lowliest jobs: shoveling horse shit, staking tents. The ring master sensed no fight in this stranger and immediately hired him. He was given a shovel and pointed in the direction of the animal wagons.
Day after day, Wenzel did his job without complaining. He was just glad to be accepted. Soon he began to be appreciated by the ring master. One day when he finished his shoveling the ring master sent for him. He sat in a little chair hands clasped, head down.
"Youíre doing a great job, and donít think I havenít noticed. Uh - I canít give you more money, but -uh I would like to give you a better job. Iím sure youíd like that. Ha ha - er well. Iím going to make you assistant to Bopo the clown, O.K. Heís over in the whoresí wagon. Why donít you go over and introduce yourself. Uh, have a roll on me, just tell the girls."
Wenzel stood up and they shook hands. He walked over to the whoresí wagon. As he approached he noticed that every few seconds the back end would dip down towards the ground.
He walked up the little steps. A woman with long dark hair opened the door. Her voice was thick with wine. "Ah, good. Címon in." The wagon was small. The back was curtained off by a thin blue tapestry, which swayed with the breeze created by the movement on the other side. It was dark except for a low burning candle that had been left to die in a cup. The woman who had opened the door turned to him. "I have to go, but sheíll take care of you," and with a smile she was gone.
A woman got up from the floor. She wore a veil. All Wenzel could see of her face was her eyes. She kept staring at Wenzel as if searching for something. She took her clothes off. She had a protruding stomach which had a scar running across its length, almost forming a happy face. Naked she lay back on the floor. Wenzel leaned over and puked.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. "I know ...Wenzel." She took the veil off. It was Liba.
Syphilis had eaten away her nose. "Iím dying . Itís not that bad really. Iím not in pain." Her other hand found the back of Wenzelís head. She gently caressed it, slowly pulling him closer. "Ha ha. Look at the both of us together again in hell. Ha ha." With vicious strength she pulled him down. He no longer fought her. Easily he slid into her. He shut his eyes, squeezing his lids tight, he could almost see the moon.
Liba dug her feet into the small of his back. Her eyes were also shut. It felt very good, like she was slowly sinking. When she was a little girl her sister would take her swimming at a nearby lake. Liba would get on her back. Holding her breath would allow her to float, almost on the waterís surface. Her sister would have a contest with her: who could float the longest. Liba usually won. When it was time to get out of the water, sheíd exhale and momentarily sink. Now, this, thatís what this felt like. The sinking part.
A few men had actually made her cum, but this was different. It was sinking, slowly. Liba was scared to open her eyes and break the spell. She still seemed to be going down. Not as slow now. She could feel the water rushing to fill the space above her, the space that moments ago she had occupied. She was still sinking. Too much.
She went to open her eyes but couldnít. Her limbs were pinned. She couldnít feel anything but the water she knew was there. It rushed to fill every empty space. Every pore, every inch of her being. She finally let go, her body began to tingle, then vibrate slightly. There was now nowhere the water wasnít. She let out a tremendous scream.
Her eyes opened. Wenzel was getting up. Juice slowly dripped down Libaís thighs. The tapestry parted and Liba quickly fastened her veil. She didnít say anything to Wenzel. Bopo emerged from the back room.
He was a fat man with thick veins sticking out on his nose and beads of sweat on his forehead. He hitched up his pants and looked at Wenzel. "Ah, you must be my new assistant. Címon. Letís get going."
They went back to his wagon. From under his bed he brought out a bottle. They had a few drinks. Bopo began giggling. "You, my friend, must be hung like a god damn donkey the way you had that whore yelling."
Bopo liked to drink and Wenzelís main job was to put his makeup on before the show, since Bopo would be too hung over to do it himself. After his act Bopoís back would act up and Wenzel would have to have several drinks with him.
One morning Wenzel woke up late. He rushed to Bopoís wagon. No matter what he tried, he couldnít get Bopo up. He just lay there snoring. Wednesdays there was a matinee show. Bopo was on in ten minutes.
Wenzel didnít do it for himself. Bopo had been kind to him and he didnít want to see him fired. So without realizing what he was doing, Wenzel applied the greasepaint. He did the same pattern he had always worn. It was like no time had gone by at all since he had been "Wenzel the Great."
The ring master barked an introduction and Wenzel burst forth into the center ring. After all these years, no one had forgotten. Wenzel couldnít do his usual act since there was no ladder. A variation was improvised, the crowd roared its approval as the ring master tried to calculate how much more than Bopo heíd have to pay Wenzel.
Towards the end of Wenzelís act, Bopo finally came to. He waited a minute or two for his assistant to appear. Finally he applies his own paint for the first time in many years. He sucks the dead end out of a bottle and heads to the big top. As Bopo got closer he could hear the crowdís wild applause. Good. Theyíre already excited. I wonít have to work as hard...
Bopo stood in the wings, tapping his foot and waiting to be announced. Boredom made him peer center stage to see what magic was being worked on the crowd. Wenzel was just finishing up. Bopoís mouth dropped open. The crowd would never again accept him. He was sure of that. He was never that good to begin with, and now he was old...
He turned and headed back to his wagon. The show ended and Wenzel headed to Bopoís wagon. The ring master ran after him and quickly fell into step. "Youíre a legend... Just the shot in the arm the show has needed...Who ever wouldíve guessed it... I mean if I had known... a living legend."
They got to Bopoís wagon. Wenzel knocked. No answer. The door wasnít locked. Quietly, Wenzel opened it.
Hanging from the ceiling was a thick rope, from which dangled Bopo.
The ring master shouted something but time slowing down distorted it into a deep booming slur. Wenzelís hands fell limply to his sides. He began to walk. In all the confusion there was no one to notice or stop him.
He walked for days, not eating, not sleeping. His shoes slowly fell apart until at last he was barefoot.
Midnight, at the edge of a small town, Wenzel came to a river. He stopped, and bending down splashed some water on his face. Finally washing off his greasepaint. It floated away, a murky white shroud slowly tumbling away with the current.
An arched bridge, with metal railings, connected the two sides of the river. Wenzel began to cross. When he got to the middle of the bridge, he stopped. Wenzel looked down into the river and noticed that tonight was a full moon.
He jumped. The silhouette of the railing looks exactly like the rungs of a ladder. And perhaps Wenzel finally made it to the moon.
Trouble Travels In A Straight Line
Wayne H.W Wolfson
She held up a black kerchief and spit the wine I brought her through it. A certain sacrifice. With whiskey and wine there would always be a certain amount of magic. She dropped the kerchief and came closer. The gentle threat of violence in a kiss.
We had stopped being good for each other a thousand bottles ago. Where love ended and hate began, two linked together forever. And now Iíve sent myself there.
I had my art and she had her memories. Her childhood, the flesh of the fruit that held tightly the bitter pit. I had become so soul sick no one else would have me. She complained that she didnít either, calling me her beautiful shadow.
As she slept I started a portrait. I began with the eyes, but it should have been the lips. An honesty thatís feared.
When I was a bartender I would introduce myself as a painter. Even from behind the bar. I must have seemed like everyone else, putting in my shifts, dream dangling from the end of a stick. Now all I do is paint and despite all the work and pain itís assumed that Iím just living off her.
I click off the light. I have all the time in the world, for now.
Sheís already asleep. I stroke her back and talk to her:
I like laying with you. Itís like a cool drink of water, drank in the dark.
The night, a stifled sob that ends in empty beer bottles and torn up love notes. You have to look carefully to see anything besides the trash.
Thereís a sound, early in the morning, before anyone is awake. A sound of the buildings, belliesí full, scraping together.
People banging out pans in the bakery below wake me up. She is already at work With cupped hands I splash water on my face and head downstairs for a coffee.
The bakery is empty, the ovens just beginning to heat it up. The girl behind the counter smiles at me. I like women to look sad or tired. I smile back. She gets my coffee.
"Do you know any magic tricks?"
Crazy Legs Miller
by Wayne H.W. Wolfson
Slowly my eyes crawled the length of her, burning with each step. She had a chartreuse (praying) mantis tattooed on her shoulder. I had to have her, my agent of fate.
We tried to hold dawn at bay using vodka. I drank until the wind sounded like her voice, hurricane weather.
I sang, screamed and cried. Waking up in the surf, salt burning my eyes, bottle broken, itís bones being turned to smooth gems.
I stood by the sea. No one was around, so I gave her all my secrets, hoping to trick her into taking them with the tide. As soon as I was rid of one another reappeared. Brought back to me in white foam crowned crashes.
By the time I sobered up she had moved away and someone had backed their car into the street light we used to meet under.
July Fourth With Crazy Legs Miller
We used empty wine bottles to shoot fireworks at the sea. Our noses burning with sulfur as dull red bouquets sink beneath the waves.
She leans against the rusted red newspaper coffin waving goodbye to the train. With the right music, it could be a scene out of a movie.
Part of her knows itís for the last time. There are no more holidays to be had. No. Not now, not until December, and who knows where we will be.
Its not a matter of what we want, thereís a goodbye on every corner.
A cold cup of coffee on the sink and the tinkling of the piano make me remember. My self-imposed exile. after awhile everything else drops away leaving only exile and a pen to fill it with.
It took all the energy he had to sit at the table displaying bored indifference. Four years later, what I had always taken for intellect or strength was just medication. I left him at the table and headed up on deck.
A group of teenage girls huddled under the stairs, giggling between coughs as they sneak their first smoke.
Alone, I go to the very front of the boat. I was used to the city. Trains of light blinking at me, concrete roughly caressing everything. Now nature had gained more strength with itís rarity and itís surprise.
There were no lights except the moon. There was so much open ocean, after awhile my eyes loose focus and it seems as if it goes on forever.
The wind snatched a scrap of paper from my pocket. The start of a story. The wind blew so hard that it drown out every sound except my own heart beat. After awhile this sensation became familiar, leaving total silence.
My eyes water until I have to close them. A little piece of me is now in all the places I have been. More a habit than a ghost, more a shadow than a dream.
Copyright 2000 by Wayne Wolfson
All rights reserved.