The Eyes of My Elders

The eyes of my elders

Defiant and Bold

 

The eyes of my elders

hold secrets untold

 

The eyes of my elders

saw wonders and pain

 

The eyes of my elders

see spring in the rain

 

The eyes of my elders

have knowledge of stars

 

The eyes of my elders

are healing my scars

 

The eyes of my elders

saw friends to their graves

 

The eyes of my elders

sailed harrowing waves

 

The eyes of my elders

know babies by heart

 

The eyes of my elders

keep music and art

 

The eyes of my elders

the stories they tell

 

The eyes of my elders

are tolling the knell

 

The eyes of my elders

spread love all around

 

The eyes of my elders

now look at the ground

 

The eyes of my elders

are closing to sleep

 

The eyes of my elders

are now mine to keep

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Dead (3)

Too early to go home, too late to go back to the office.

I’d put something maudlin on the stereo, and grieve with an expensive bottle of single malt; the picture of that in my head was too pathetic, even for me.

I went to the Full Moon Saloon instead; it was everything it promised.

My favorite barmaid, Sandy, was there; she didn’t like the term though. She preferred bartender, because she had her reasons, which oddly enough, were pretty valid.

“Hey, Kent.”

“Hey Sandy.”

“I heard.”

“Who hasn’t?”

She leaned forward, searching my face, all compassion. “What can I get you?”

“The usual, stronger than usual.”

She gave a little smile, but there was concern as she pulled back. “You sure you want to…?”

I sighed. “Sandy, I’ve been second guessing myself since I heard about Valentine. I just had a young cop get in my face and second guess me too. I consider this place a refuge, and a haven, which may be the same thing, but I don’t care right now, and I’d like to think I know my own mind, at least here.

“So yeah, I’m sure.”

“Hey,” she said, leaning back over. “This place is a refuge for you?”

“Yeah.”

She smiled. “Does that make me your refugee?”

I groaned, smiling in spite of the fact my heart felt like a sledgehammer hit it.

“Really? Is that the best you got?”

“Ha! I got a million more like ‘em.”

“That’s why you’re here.”

She stroked my cheek, then gave it a little slap.

“Fuck you, big man.” She went down the bar to make my drink.

“When I watch you walk away, anything’s possible.”

She looked over her shoulder, then it registered, and her mouth dropped.

I started laughing, then she joined in.

We actually did have a thing once, but she wasn’t going to walk the path I chose, and truth be told, I didn’t want her to do it either; she had an innate sweetness, despite the jadedness of the surroundings she worked in.

The place was a dive, but it was ‘our dive.’

She came back with the drink, and poured a shot for herself.

“To Valentine,” she said. We dribbled some of our drinks on the bar; she let it run down a bit, and the scent wafted up like sinful incense.

“So what happens now?”

“Word’s getting around; by tomorrow there’ll be a manhunt.”

“You in it?”

I sighed.
“No, Kent. C’mon. Those jackals that do this stuff for real are great at it, way better than guys like you.”

“I’m motivated.”

“By what? Were you…?”

“No. She was like a daughter to me. Sort of.”

 You didn’t admire your daughter’s legs. or let her roam the world in short, tight dresses killing people for obscene amounts of cash.

“You, and other guys like you. C’mon, Kent! She’s played the role on stage a million times to guys like you.”

“You keep saying that, Sandy. What do you mean by that?”

“Careworn, world-weary. Guys like you, carrying weight you no longer need to carry, having problems that should have gone away by middle age. Guys like you, trapped by money and no way to get out ‘cept through the morgue.”

She put her hand across my folded forearms.

“It was never going to be enough, Kent. Don’t you see that? You’ve got blood on your hands, your conscience, and no one to inherit anything good, because nothing good came out of it.”

She dug her nails in a bit.

“All you have to show, for all you’ve done, for all the years you’ve been supposedly cleaning up the streets and changing things for others, and profiting from it, is an onset of cirrhosis, and a dead young girl with her guts steaming in the rain.”

Her words felt like someone jammed a double-barrel to my head and pulled both triggers.

I felt myself convulse, and she took her hand away.

There was such a rush of mixed emotions, I wound up acting on none of them: I wanted to slap her, I wanted to throw the glass as hard as I could and watch it shatter, the way Valentine shattered when the bomb went off. I wanted to shoot something or someone, I wanted to scream, and I wanted to die.

I was out of tears, but my face must’ve gone rumply like I was going to cry again.

“Sorry, Kent. I care about you; I don’t want you to do this.”

“You’re really saying you don’t know if I can.”

She turned that over, took a sip of her drink, then focused back on me.

“Yeah, at the core of it, that’s what I’m saying. Let the hounds loose, and they’ll find him. Swoop in then, and take him away and butcher him all night when they do, but don’t join the chase.

“Please, Kent. Don’t do it.”

I took a sip of the malt.

“You had me at ‘butcher’….”

“Kent?”

I took another sip.

“Ahhh, dammit, Sandy…”

She beamed, leaned over, kissed me quick.

“That’s my man…”

We had another round, and I caught a cab home, and watched the rain run down the window, and the red neon lights colored it, and it was Valentine’s blood again, running down the window, down the gutters, down the drain, down to wherever the damned souls go, crying for peace.

 

*****************

 

When I got in, I booked a mid morning flight to Valentine’s hometown.

I hung up, feeling a bit guilty, remembering everything Sandy said, but there was one thing more important than anything else that stood out.

“Sorry, love.

“You really did have me at ‘butcher.’ ”

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Dead (2)

When I stopped bawling, there was work to do.

It should’ve frightened me that I wanted to be the one to do it, and if I’d known the depravity my own heart would reveal, I would’ve put a bullet in my head that instant.

But Valentine always said I was a hardhead.

It was raining. There was a white sheet over a red blob, and the sheet was soaked through.

“You sure about this, sir?” the cop said, standing just outside the crime tape.

I wasn’t, and he took my hesitation as an answer.

He waved over the ME. I knew him: Larson Hughes, smartest in the business.

Hughes looked up, saw me, put something away in a case, and walked over, peeling off a bloody latex glove.

“Kent.” He nodded.

“Larson. What happened.”

“Explosive of some type.”

“Thrown at her?”

“No. Found traces of it in a briefcase she was carrying.”

My heart sank.

“What color was it?”

“The case?”

“No, Larson, her blood. Yes, the fucking case.”

“Silver. Why?”

“Cuz he gave it to her,” the cop said. “There were money fragments all over the place.”

“Larson, shut this kid up.”
“You opened the door, Kent.”

“I didn’t give her that case. I paid her two days ago, and she disappeared. That’s how we worked. That’s how we always worked: I paid her, and she went away while the cops scrambled their eggs and came up with nothing.”

The cop’s jaw hardened.

“Walk away, Gilliam.” Larson advised.

Gilliam took a moment to let me feel the weight of his wrath, and walked off.

“Don’t be stupid, Kent. You’re gonna need them at some point.”

“This ain’t that point.”

Larson sucked in a breath.

“You’ve been at this awhile, so I’m gonna let it go, because I know you know better. Don’t be an asshole on this. Everyone knows what this girl did, they just can’t prove it.

“Either she met somebody better, or the whole thing was a tragic accident, and there’s nothing that’s ever gonna get proven either way.

“You know that too. Don’t’cha.”

I nodded. “You know what I have to do then, ‘don’t cha.’ ”

“If I catch you Kent, you know what I have to do.”

I nodded again.

“Too bad, Kent. Sweet kid, when she didn’t have a gun.”

“Somebody unsweetened her a long time ago, Larson. I need to find out who, and why?”

“Does it matter? Chick assassins are as commonplace now as—“

The look on my face stopped whatever he was going to say next.

He looked away, lit a cigarette. “Head back. Get outta here. I’ll see to it she’s taken care of.”

“Thanks, Larson.”

He waved and turned away.

I stood there a moment longer, looking at the white sheet soaked red, the blood and rain mingling in rivulets that sluiced down the drain in the gutter.

“Ah, Valentine.”

I understood Larson’s point; he’d known her too, before I did, in a different life, when she was a teenager. A lot had happened, and he tried to mentor her, but she wanted something more than the straight and narrow, and my other friend provided that, for awhile.

She would’ve moved on from me too, in time. Perhaps she already had someone else lined up. She never really worked for anyone; she was freelance, and handled her own affairs.

Her rep in the underground markets was impeccable. I’d been lucky to get her.

Most of my problems were gone, but not all, and none of them were good enough to get her like this.

I had to work up a list of her enemies, and her competition; there was room for overlap there, but true pros always left it at competition, and never made it personal.

Valentine had been one of those.

There was the matter of an estate, if she had one, and I decided to start there.

Someone made a ton of money if he was able to take her out, and I decided to find out whom that might be.

A niggling feeling told me I was getting into deep waters: Valentine was international: passports, money, tech, anonymous drops, first class hotels and flights. She knew the ropes, made the loopholes, and walked wires that would make other assassins quit.

She was the best, and someone had taken that away.

I wouldn’t be the only one hunting whoever it was that thought they could replace her.

They were off to a good start, but Valentine was well-liked.

Whoever you are, you better have killer legs and a sunny personality. Being a crack shot might aid your cause too. Explosives were over-reach, cowardly even; just put it down, and slink away like a vole.

She was the only one I knew her age who would get my jazz references.

The last thing I’d said to her was the opening line from a jazz standard, and she knew what to say.

That alone was cause enough to marry her, in my book.

“I’ll find them, Valentine. And when I do, they’re gonna wish I blew them up.”

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Dead (1)

As always, she delivered. There was never a trace, never a mess.

Honestly, I don’t know how she did it, and I never cared to ask.
She came referred to me by someone she used to work for; they parted on bad terms, and she shot him in the knee, but even then, he admired her work.

“Best I ever saw.”

“Rate?”

He told me. It was up there, but workable.
”All right.”

 

*****************

 

She came in looking like new pearls; guess that made me the swine.

Short red dress, body like a tight spring, killer legs, not too made up, soft perfume, the whole nine, then nine more.

Now I realized why he kept her after she shot him; she was the kind of woman who could do that to a man and be forgiven instantly. Hell, I forgave her, then and there, and she never even took her gun out.

She crossed the killer legs, let me look my fill and travel my way up; when I finally got to her eyes, they were amused, and she was smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

“Do I pass…inspection?”

“With flying colors.”

She uncrossed the legs and leaned forward, eyes no longer amused, and told me her terms.

“I work alone. No cops, no tails. If I get wind of anyone, anyone, I’m giving you a refund, but I’m coming after you.”

I sat back, steepled my fingers, intrigued.

“You shouldn’t tip your hand so early.”

“I don’t care; I need to get to Mexico.”

“Why Mexico?”

She looked at me as I’d just fallen on my head and changed color.

“Why not Mexico?”

I shrugged. “Why not?”

I told her the job, and gave her a down payment, the rest to be paid upon completion.

“So, just to be clear, I work for you now?”

I held out my hand: “You can always give it back.”

We locked eyes for a few moments, before she brightened, smiled, and winked, all flirtatious play, like a shark bumping a hole in your sea cage.

“See you later, boss” she said, and left.

She did it in two days. No trace.

I paid her double.

 

*************

She went on to do a few more jobs.

I liked her sass; you didn’t see girls with sass anymore; in my day, I might’ve held her for a bit, but she’d have burned me like acid.

I’d have melted away a happy man…

“My money?”

“Right there, Valentine.”

I pointed to the briefcase.

“Yes, they’re not marked, blah blah,” I said waving a dismissive hand.

“I trust you, Kent.”

“You should. How long we been together now?”

She smiled. “A gentleman remembers her birthday, never her age.”

“Ha, listen to you. You’re still in diapers, and you didn’t make that up.”

“I read, peasant.”

I laughed.

“Anything else for me,” she said.

“Might be, Valentine. Gimme a day or so.”

“You’re the only one that calls me ‘Valentine,’ Kent. Everyone else says ‘V’ or ‘Val’.

I got up, stretched, yawned, then said to her, “I ain’t everyone else. I like the way your name sounds. I like you, and I’d love to…well, if you’d let me, but that gets…”

“Expensive?” she teased.

I cleared my throat, then answered her.“Costly.”

She laughed then. “Charmer.”

She picked up the briefcase.

“Til next time, lover man.”

“If you’re ever feeling lonely…”

“I’ll call you.” She turned and blew me a kiss. “Promise.”

I never saw her again.

When they found what was left of her, I bawled like a kid.

Within

Beyond Panic

Within the world

we wandered

and walked without

a care

Within our hearts

we reached

and opened them

so they were bare

Within ourselves

we wondered

at what the other

sought

Of that bare heart

within us

we offered without

thought

And so within our love

without the world

we left behind

Without a backward glance

we closed the door and

drew the blind

And deep within each other

we put our trust and fears

and then discovered real love

is not without its tears

And so without you

now I live within my memories

The tears within my eyes will stay

I’ll live without love, please.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.  2015

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I Carried Poem

I carried Poem within my hands

So soft and warm and trusting

I dropped it through a sewer grate

And now it’s wet and rusting

I carried Poem within my hands

And felt its small heart beating

A cold wind blew and though I tried

Death would allow no cheating

A Poem cannot be carried long

Its life is in the sharing

Of love and life and lyric song

And everybody caring

So if you ever carry Poem

Know that it must surely die

If you don’t make your heart its home

And write it down to let it fly.

Back Where I Started, but It’s All New

Blogging 101: Assignment 1  Introduce Yourself

I started writing late in life, after some things had happened, after some losses and victories, after some pain, after some memories were made. It’s been an interesting journey, and this is not where I saw myself in my younger days.

There are a lot of us who can probably say that, but it’s what you do with it when you realize it that matters.

That being said, I’m glad I’m here. I’ve learned some things about me on the way, things that I liked about myself, things I achieved that I didn’t think I was capable of, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds for me.

There have, of course, been setbacks, but I’m not the type to sit down and accept defeat. I guess I got that from my father, and watching him do his projects. He never took a short cut when it got difficult, and a shortcut was available. And the one time he was tempted to do it I was so surprised that he even told me he was thinking about it, he changed his mind, and we did it the right way.

But I knew then that he was slowing down…

So the characters and lands and stories are here; the young and old are here; the lovers and the warriors are here, the men and women, the children, the dragons, the demons, the magic (both dark and light) are all clamoring to get out while they can, and since I don’t believe in holding onto things or people against their will, I’m going to free as many as I can in the time that remains.

My goal, quite simply, is to write full time for the rest of my life, and leave a body of work that helps, entertains, provokes thought, and establishes across our man-made boundaries of insignificant trivialities (race, class, religion, etc) a common bond.

I want  my readers to be, in a word, immersed in the worlds of my imagination, and to come out better for the time they invested there.

It’s a lofty goal, but why aim low?

***********************

The Muse came into my office, looking like new pearls.

Guess that made me the swine.

She moved in close, her hands over my shoulders. I stood up, not wanting her to trap me. I had other things to do…she closed the distance again, standing a little away from me, but close enough to be distracting.

That perfume…like a new book at sunrise.

“But Alfred, don’t you understand” she said, her hand cool and soft on my cheek “it’s difficult to find an agent?”

I took her hand away, walked back across the office behind my desk, took out a pack of Luckies and a lighter.

“Yeah, I do. So let me ask you, doll,” I lit the cigarette, squinting at her curvy beauty through the unfurling, infernal smoke. … “When was it easy?”

 

A Fireside Chat with Frederick Douglass

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fireside Chat.”

A good, hard question for this Daily Post. I thought of several writers who I would love to hear life stories from: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Kahlil Gibran, Octavia Butler, or from the world of music, Chick Corea, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, or from the art world Georgia O’Keefe, (what’s with the flowers, girl?) She did a piece called Music that I saw a reproduction of in a museum gift shop, fell in love with, didn’t buy at the time, and haven’t been able to find since.  But after the impulsiveness of the choices I initially made, I decided to go in a different direction.

I would want to talk to Frederick Douglass, not just read his books. I would like to see the expressions of his face  when he reminisced about being a slave, getting his freedom, and being sold back.

I would want to hear his voice, the strength of it waxing eloquent as he wielded words of desiring freedom like a flaming sword, cutting through the hypocrisy of the crowds he addressed, the nation he lived in, holding up the mirror to a white slave owner, his reflection Douglass’ own face, for them to see the vileness of what they’d done.

In his straightened back would be the defiance of refusing to bend under the whip, to stand firmly on the ground for those who were hung from trees, in his quiet passion the balm that would heal the burning bodies of castrated black men, the violated black women, who dared for a moment to be human again.

I would look on the scars of his beatings, and feel my spine chill with the danger as he took his books to secret places to practice reading by moonlight and lantern under threat of death, but willing to die.

In his eyes would be the sound of the spirituals ringing over the fields, the sound of chains, the sound of violins and dancing, the tears of the pregnant slave women walking at night to drop their half-breed progeny into rivers and off hilltops, or bury them silently in the woods, or suckle them in silent, tearful suffering.

From him, I would feel the will to survive the Middle Passage, the pride of fierce anger, of refusing to let go of the old ways, of holding on to the memories of ancestral tribes and customs and language, slowly eroding like promontory  rocks, or crushed and driven out like crushed and broken shells at high tide.

And as the fire died, and sleep grew heavy on my eyes, and his visage began to fade in the paling light of the rising sun, I would then have a reason, and find the strength, to go on, and on, and on…

You Might Not Like It

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Re-springing Your Step.”

I’d typed the last words to my first novel.

It was done, and I sat, in a state of amazement that after all these years of good intentions, false starts, and distractions, the effort had finally paid off, and it was finished.

It felt good; in fact, it felt great.

“Send it to us,” some of my friends said. “What’s it about?”

“It’s a fantasy novel,” I said. “You might not like it.”

“Naw, man. Go ahead and send it to my email, I’ll check it out. So proud of you, dude!”

And so I sent it out to my friends, eager to hear their response.

One week. Two weeks. A follow up email from me. “Hey guys, it’s been a cupla weeks. How ya likin it?”

Crickets.

Another two weeks, another email. More crickets.

“I’ll read it,” a young man I worked with said. “Not sure you’d like it,” I said. “It’s a fantasy novel.”

“Well, I’ll be honest, Alfred. I’m not much of a reader, but if you send it to me, I’ll read it and tell you what I think.”

Why not?

He gave me his email, and I sent it.

He kept me apprised of his progress, what he liked, what he wasn’t sure about, what was I thinking when I wrote this. It was good so far, he was enjoying it. He could see the descriptions in his mind. He was reading it in the email app on his phone during downtime and lunch. He read it on the weekends.

And then he told me something that sent me to the moon and around it several times:

“I finished it, and I’m looking forward to the second part.”

In that moment, if no one else ever read it, I considered myself a writer.

I got an admitted, self -confessed non-reader to finish my first novel, and he remains, to this day, the first of two who have the unpublished manuscript in their possession.

It was more validation to me than if all my friends had read it and offered their thoughts and opinions.

I was (emotionally) high for a week. I shared it on my fb status, I called my best friend, (a published author, whose book actually contains a line I gave him, but he didn’t pay me. Some friend, huh?) I told my sister.

They congratulated me, they understood what I meant, but they didn’t, well, couldn’t feel the elation that came with hearing those words.

A non-reader who doesn’t read fantasy enjoyed my work, told me to let him know when it was out so he could order it, and was looking forward to reading the second part. And he will order it, because he’s kept his word to me all along.

If that doesn’t put a re-spring in your step, I don’t know what would.

A Chosen Successor

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Pleased to Meet You.”

Scrooge had just checked in on the Cratchit family, and all was well.

Mrs. Cratchit had taken up sewing, and Scrooge had funded the shop with his new generosity. In return, having no one to cook meals, Mrs. Cratchit did so, and dropped the meals off, always hot and fresh, smelling delicious, to his door within an hour of his arriving home, or sometimes, he would stop by and take the meal with the family, sometimes even leading the grace.

Tiny Tim, no longer quite so tiny, had grown into a fine and studious boy, much like his father, and Scrooge saw more of Bob in him as the years passed.

But two years after the spirits visited, Scrooge began to notice his health was not as sound as it had been, though he kept active with brisk walks, and social with activities, and even volunteered to help out in the very kitchens he’d once reviled, he did so less frequently, despite his zeal.

Against his will, the idea of a successor began to pull at his coattails like a beggar child’s hand.

He spoke to Mrs. Cratchit about Tim.

“He is more into the sciences than anything, Mr. Scrooge. Always puttering about in his room upstairs with his scopes n’ such. I’m afraid he’d not be one for taking over for Bob; all the others have made their plans, and will soon be leaving.

“But I can put up a sign in the shop, if you’d like, and you can hire out an ad in the paper, and see what happens then.”

“Yes,” said Scrooge, his mind distracted, “I suppose I must.”

******************

By spring, Ebenezer was relying more on his cane to balance him than he would have cared to admit. Upon arriving at the office, he looked up at the old weathered sign:

Scrooge & Marley

He looked at the sign now, remembering that fateful night, and the sound of the heavy chains. Not a day went by he didn’t thank his old friend, and not a day went by that he didn’t remember Bob Cratchit, who shortly after that Christmas, had been run over by an arrogant carriage driver.

Scrooge saw to it he lost his livelihood, and all but carried the man to the border of London himself to throw him over it.

He sighed. “I’ll be seeing the both of you, soon enough, I s’pose.”

Putting the key in the lock, he found it already open.

Cautiously, he cracked the door open, and peered in.

The fireplace was lit, the carpets beaten, the floors swept, and a well dressed young man in a long coat was puttering about Marley’s desk.

He looked up as he heard the door close, and saw the stern visage of the old man in front of him.

Scrooge raised his cane, the only defense he would have against so vigorous a young man, in the prime of his youth, strength, and health.

The young man smiled. “Ah, you must be Mr. Scrooge.”

“I am. And you are an intruder. How did you get in?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. I thought Mrs. Cratchit told you. I answered your ad in the papers. I sent you a letter…”

“I did not receive it.” Scrooge grew hesitant, the cane lowered slightly. “Mrs. Cratchit, you say?”

“Yes, the lovely old woman with the sewing shop. Dandy dresses. I might pick one up-”

“Young man!” Scrooge snapped. “I am not here to discuss the delicates of your lady friends. This is my office, and you don’t belong in it, to the best of my knowledge, so I will ask once again, and finally: who are you?”

The young man, brought up short, bowed his head in acquiescence, and stepped forward smartly, extending his hand.

“Phillip, sir. My name is Phillip Pirrip, at your service.”

Scrooge did not reach out, but Phillip, not put off, took Scrooge’s right in his own and shook it, smiling.

“My friends, for the sake of simplicity, call me Pip. Pleased to meet you.”