The Fringe Grabber

The place reeked of hard luck, bad people, and sob stories.

I was in that place, trying to gather up the scraps of what was left of my soul.

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

   There was nowhere for me to be, and no one to care if I got there.

   I was sitting on the sidewalk watching the news van unpack some gear.

   The reporter was a walking mannequin of bleached blonde and silicone, pretty in the plastic way such people were.

   I heard her say, “These homeless people are on the fringe of society,” as the cameraman boldly took a shot of me on my urban perch.

   At least now I knew where I was in relation to the rest of the world.

   On the fringe.  In my mind it was a wet, flapping, fringe growing more slippery the tighter I tried to hold on with a hand full of frostbite, arthritis, and gods-knew-what-else.

   I wanted to make her beg.

   Beg for what?

   Her life? Not a killer.

   For me to stop? Not a rapist.

   To make her cum? Not a billionaire.

   Maybe food. Yeah. Beg for scraps in a trash-strewn alley scented with alcoholic urine, and take some half-eaten pastry at the top of the trash for dessert.

                           

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

The Homeless: brought out for the holidays like decorations, and tucked neatly away again after New Year’s.

But I digress. That was long ago, but she was that pretty, that annoying, and the phrase just stuck with me: “…fringe of society.”

I was still holding on to that fringe, but I didn’t know why.

Below me was nothing but blackness, full of peace and quiet.

Poe used another phrase that stuck with me: ‘…surcease from sorrow.’

All I had to do was let go, but I was no quitter, either.

You don’t qualify.

  The apartment was rented.

  I don’t have any money, bro.

  Get outta here, perv.

  Fuck off, monster.

  And the ubiquitous Get a job.

The funny thing is, part of the reason I didn’t give up was pride.

What would it take to actually kill me? I’ve certainly become strong.

  Surcease of sorrow/ the sun will come out tomorrow. Not a good mashup, but it’s what I held onto for now.

“Kevin Gilliam?”

Ah, at last, summoned before the throne of Her Majesty Civil Servant, the Millionth.

But this voice was different; it didn’t have that world weary tone, and it was actually pleasant.

I rose like Leviathan out of the mud.

The young Lady of the Pleasant Voice favored me with a smile.

Ah, she’s new, and yet believes in what she’s doing. Be kind, and don’t shatter her dreams of making a difference.

   “Good morning, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Good morning.”

“Follow me, please?”

I followed.

We walked through a Land of Cubicles, strewn with soulless drones vainly trying to stem the tide of hopeless refuse, to reach down and boost up the fringe grabbers like me.

They probably all started out like this young lady here, full of determination and hope, with a noble sense of purpose.

Tilting at windmills…

“Sit down, please, Mr. Gilliam.”

“Alright,” I sat.

She settled herself in, tapping the folder full of papers on the desk to straighten out the edges, put it down, and extended her hand across the desk.

“I’m Tina. Nice to meet you.”

I was so surprised I gave her my name too though she already knew it.

She laughed, but I sensed it was at the moment, not me.

“Sorry.” I found myself smiling.

“Don’t be. Nice to meet you, Kevin.

I found myself beginning to relax as we released hands.

“What happened to Althea?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, but she got sick and had to resign. She didn’t know how long she was going to need, or …if she was coming back.”

I was sad, but not really surprised. Althea hadn’t been the same in a long time, and I knew what I was looking at after awhile.

“Sooo, they gave me her case file, and you’re in it.” She turned to her computer and fired it up, then went back into the folder.

As it booted, I said “She’d been talking about retiring for awhile anyway. I hope she’s okay.”

Tina gave me a small smile. She had a nice one.

“Last I heard, she was fighting it all the way.”

“Good for her. So you’re gonna help me now?”

“I’m going to do my best.” The computer blipped and the dark monitor lit up, an electronic Cyclops with a blind eye full of wisdom it didn’t understand.

“Alrighty, let’s see…”

She tapped some keys, read a bit, tapped some more.

I slouched in the chair and looked down at my hands.

Tina was young, vibrant, and beautiful; I didn’t want to be a creep like I’d been with the reporter.

I was going to miss Althea; she made me laugh in spite of my circumstances. She never found me anything, but I always left feeling better for a little while.

“—were a professor?”

I looked up. “What?”

“You were a professor.”

“Yes. You had my file…”

“No sir, well, yes, but I got your file so I could get your name; I didn’t get the chance to read it yet. I didn’t see this information.”

“Oh.”

We fell into a silence as she read through what I taught, and what happened.

The silence held a mild tension, stretching into awkward, when she seemed to make a decision; she turned her chair facing me.

“I may have something for you.”

I stopped fidgeting. “I’m listening.”

“I’m still in school, taking night classes, and I need help.”

I sat up straight and rolled my chair back a bit, hoping this wasn’t going to take a bad turn.

“Help with what?”

“My research and term papers.”

“How is that going to help me?”

“I’d pay you, Mr. Gilliam.”

“What do you mean, Tina…?” My stomach sank.

She laughed and shook her head at my expression.

“With money, Mr. Gilliam. I’d pay you to help me with my papers.”

My face heated. “Oh! Oh, well, I… Tina, I don’t have a bank account anymore.”

“I can help you with that too. Mr. Gilliam, I’d even refer you to my friends, if this works out.”

She gave another small, somewhat embarrassed laugh and rolled her eyes.

“We all need help. I don’t know if you want to teach anymore, but if you’re willing, will you do it?”

“Won’t you get in trouble?”

She sat back, smiling. “I handle the paperwork. If I can’t, I’ll call Althea to find out who can. I won’t do anything to jeopardize you or me. We can set it up as a tutoring service. You’d be self-employed, Mr. Gilliam.”

Her chair came toward me again, her eyes hopeful, her voice quiet.

“What do you say?”

Things got blurry, and at first I wasn’t sure why…
“Mr. Gilliam? Oh!  Mr. Gilliam?” Smiling, she handed me a tissue. “Mr. Gilliam, please don’t cry.”

In my mind I wrapped the wet fringe around my fingers. It was a start.

Surcease from sorrow…

 

Plunder

Into my life you came,

bold against the rising sun,

your wind-tossed locks alluring,

your bright, bold eyes searing.

 

And I opened my chest to give you the contents

of its heart, and at first you treasured them.

The glorious days of sailing with you

were warm and secure, with clear skies and

wide horizons.

 

But in time, you craved not the warmth of my heart,

preferring the cold hardness of gems and coins.

Not the stable strength of my arms,

but the fickle roll of riches.

 

Turning yourself to seawater,

you slipped from my grasp

and left me no choice, set me adrift

with no anchor, no oar.

 

Under the stars my heart withered.

The sun-kissed days grew dank with brine,

and the raucous racket of overbold gulls

pursued my foundering lifeboat.

 

I dreamed that in a reef of nascent coral

I put the seawater to my lips as if to kiss you

once more,

but therein lied a fatal thirst,

and under a high tide moon,

I spilled it and left it behind.

 

What remains ahead is unknown, uncharted,

yet with a sense of direction and purpose,

of longing fulfilled, a calling realized.

As the gull calls fade, the windsong rises.

 

And I know that in the distance,

a paradise awaits my arrival.

I shield my eyes from the sunlight

dappling the dancing waves,

and sail on to fate’s warm hearth,

alone

but finally

free.

Silent Thunder

I heard it call

so clearly.

Nearly went deaf

from the

rumbling roar

of its

cloud shattering fury.

I walked the beach

alone

that rainy day

and watched the heavens

darken.

Harken to the 

thunder’s commands.

Lightning pulled its

pale lavender tresses down

and kissed the ocean’s face

in heated passion.

Crashing, the waves

sent their foamy fingers

to shackle anchors

to my ankles

and pull me inside

and down

to drown

in fluid beauty.

Drawn to the edge, I wandered.

Challenging.

Foolish.

And the thunder saw me

and ceased its call,

cut its command.

I waited, dreading what I wanted

until

the panoramic parting

of the clouds

let through a patch

of wan sun.

The thunderous voice

began to soften,

and finally, mercifully

went silent.

The Days Were Few and Happy

The struggle to breathe

grows harder and laborious,

and soon, not worth the effort.

 

The heartbeat softens to a

padded thudding

of arrhythmic improvisation

 

The light, both sun and lamp alike,

grows dim

 

And the features

of your faces

so familiar

are now only

sketches in sepia

drawn by rheum,

inked in cataract,

and blindness creeps with

a serpent’s crafty slowness

to seize small sight

in its unrelenting

coils of darkness

 

But the memories

of grand carnivals,

of dire hurricanes,

laughter, tears

prizes, penalties

trials, victories

unity, dysfunction

safety , strife

 

holiday dinners

and birthday songs

 

pride and humility

for good or ill

all said and done

except the last

goodbye

and  giving the last remnants

of my love

 

The days were few and happy,

and the honor of growing

beside you

made it all

worthwhile.

 

 

I Dream a Summer Love

I dream a

Summer love

of passion,

heat and light.

 

I dream a

Summer love

of rain-kissed kisses,

your lips

unfolding like

flower petals,

yielding,

fragrant,

and soft.

 

I dream a

Summer love

of water and sand,

of ebb and flow,

and give and take,

and swollen tsunamis

of helpless,

trembling release

 

I dream a

Summer love

of consuming sun

and comforting moon.

 

I dream a

Summer love

of gentle breezes,

caressing

gentle, caressing

hands

 

I dream a

Summer love

as loud as the

call and response

of thunder and lightning

 

I dream a

Summer love

as whirling

as the undulating dance

of sea and sky

 

I dream a

Summer love

of starry eyes

that look into

the confines

of

my soul

and see the

infinite.

In the Black

And these, my hopes,

now come to stillness,

spent in small and looping

hopeless, frothing eddies,

broken on stones

upon this lifeless shore.

 

The angels weep on me.

Their sobs are thunder.

They snap their saddened sodden wings

to the rhythm of

my racing, raging heart

and sear the sky

with lightning.

 

And out there, my dreams…

There! Floating on the rising tide,

are sailing far and fast,

eluding me forever

with full-wind sails,

but a

cracking mast….

They do not know.

Let them drown adrift,

as my sorrow

in my cups.

 

For now, though despairing in black,

beneath black clouds,

by black water, in black mood,

I yet await

the shining sun,

and

the turning tide.

 

 

 

Dead Affections

I come again by the light of a sickle, sickly moon

to an old, cracked and mossy stone. In front of it, a

tarnished vase of long-decayed flowers, liquified

with rot and mold

Cold mist covers me like a tattered prayer shawl,

and the wolves stand still and watch from the pines.

I go down to one knee, and brush the lichen off the letters,

now almost level with the stone.

I sigh, searching my heart for the kernel of it once again,

hoping against hope, knowing it is no longer there,

and just not willing to concede.

Its leaving was painful, and it almost

severed my fingers

as I tried to keep it close.

The pain was so great, I could only beg in silence.

The thought of the looming, yawning chasm

of its absence paralyzed me, and my trembling fingers, unable to

take any more,

released it.

On my first visit here, the memories were like the flowers:

fresh, vibrant, full of color, fragrant with life.

But just as the flowers would make no new petals,

we would make no new memories,

and in time, these I cherished turned to sepia,

now tinged an ashy gray.

You made me feel life was worth living.

You lied.

And yet, still, the letters of your name

can be seen,

and I whisper it to the

black, eternal sky.

“Love.”