The Infinite Aftermath

Standing here with you

we watch the past fade

like the ocean

on the stern of a ship.

The ripples we created

long smoothed over

to glassy stillness,

and whether blood.

sweat, or tears bob

in its wake,

they have all been sipped

or burned away.

 

What carrion of enmity

remains

has long been picked clean.

What remains of affection

sways in the darkness

in the cold current.

And together

we slip apart

into the

infinite aftermath

of

used to be,

and

might have been.

What Can I Give You?

What can I give you?

“A strong, solid love,

imperfectly pure

as it flows

from above.”

What can I give you?

“A still, patient soul,

devoted emotions,

attention that’s whole.”

What can I give you?

“A smile and a hug,

and tea sweet with honey

when I have a bug.”

“What can I give you?”

Your honesty, trust,

the key to your heart.

I will not let it rust.

“What can I give you?”

Your best, and your hand.

And be there at times that

you won’t understand.

“What can I give you?”

The path where we walk

together

in silence that doesn’t need talk.

What can I give you?

To be as before.

Just stand here beside me.

We need nothing more.

 

 

Words of Love, Unspoken

Words of love, unspoken, are heard as screams.

Words of love, unspoken, are as violent as any fist.

Words of love, unspoken, bring shadows of despair.

Words of love, unspoken, are hungry, cold children crying in the dark.

Words of love, unspoken, are midnight torches quenched in rain.

Words of love, unspoken, are songbirds with broken wings.

Words of love, unspoken, are hands letting go.

Words of love, unspoken, die

and take

love

with them.

Why Do You Love Me?

“Why do you love me?”

Why should I not?

“How much do you love me?”

I love you a lot.

“What is it you love, then?”

Your smile and your eyes,

your musical laughter,

your soft, tender sighs.

Your hair in the moonlight,

Your eyes when they shine

with tears of rejoicing

when I say you’re mine.

Your lips when they kiss me,

your hands when they touch,

your arms when they hold me

too long and too much.

Now tell me you love me.

“You know that I do.”

I want you to say it.

“Yes, I love you too.”

How much do you love me?

“As wide as the sky,

as deep as the ocean,

as loud as a cry,

as hot as the desert,

as pure as the snow.

My darling, I love you.

You know that.

You know.”

 

 

 

Desert Thorns

The evening air dried the day’s sweat on their skin, pushing it past the surface and into their bones. The slavers didn’t care if they succumbed. Only the strongest were fit to serve; the rest they left to the scouring sand.

Finding themselves too thinly dressed for the cooling weather, two young women hugged themselves for modesty and warmth.

The cleric’s cruel eyes noticed, gleaming in lustful anticipation.

They noticed him too.

Hakina, the bolder of the two, dared to narrow her eyes in haughty defiance.

With a sneer disguised as a smile, the cleric sauntered his way over to where they sat in their own filth, chained to each other and a heavy steel pole, his nose wrinkling at the stench.

He turned to the bent-back whose duty it was to shadow him and obey his every command, no matter how abusive, disgusting, or self-abasing.

“Clean this one and bring her to my tent at the edge of the camp.”

“Nameless hears and obeys, Cleric Hameen.”

“Nameless pleases. Now go.”

The bent-back shuffled off as his master turned his attention back on Hakina.

She wanted to keep quiet but her hatred wouldn’t allow it.

“One such as you seeks to break me?”

He slapped her down, kicking some of foul sand toward her eyes.

“Little bitch, I will shatter you before this night is done.”

“You call me ‘bitch,’ but it’s you who shall howl, pretender!” Her eyes burned and stung as she wiped at them, trying to gain her footing .

He punched her, slamming her down again.

Her mouth was bleeding.

He pulled her hair to tilt her head, wiped her lips hard with a rough hand, smearing the blood on her cheeks as she sought to dislodge herself.

For her defiance, he pressed her cheeks in hard on both sides until she drooled and cried out from the pain. Her hands came up to throttle him, but the clinking of the chain checked her.

The movement and its intent wasn’t lost on him, and he sneered again.

“We shall see.” His quiet voice belied the storm in his eyes as he shoved her away and walked off, leaving her gasping for air and rubbing her jaw.

Her fellow captive went to help her up, but Hakina slapped her hand away.

“Do you seek to have us die before sunrise?” Isani asked.

“I seek to have us free by moonrise, if you’ll help me. The fate of women is ever the same in these places.”

Hakina gained her feet without assistance, looking up at the evening sky as she wiped the tears the cleric forced out of her with the back of her dirty sleeve.

As for Isani, this was the third time she was captured, and she vowed it would be the last. They’d taken her mother and sister too, slaughtering her father as he knelt, crying and pleading for the lives of his family at the expense of his own.

They granted his wish and took their time enjoying it, but set no one free.

She’d managed to escape through playing the ‘broken woman,’ and endured their sick games as they used her. When they were confident she understood her place, she quietly killed them. Blades, poison, acid on their groins after they were gagged. Whatever lay nearby.

The camp guards never questioned her when she left the camps crying, her face puffy and her clothing torn. They sneered, making their own lewd remarks and rubbing themselves as she passed, offering their own crude versions of comforting her.

By the time they discovered their dead, she was long gone.

She sighed, looking after the retreating form of the impious, impure cleric.

“Done, if you manage to include me in the tryst.”

Hakina looked her over, a mirthless smile on her lips.

“I think I can manage that.”

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…

 

Red Jade: No Warrior’s Path

Still wanting to fight, Sora begged Chimatsu to continue.

Seeing her determination, and going against his better judgment for the sake of her father, he agreed.

The winter months flew by in a haze of pain, adrenalin, and feelings of inadequacy.

His litany of her wrongs seemed endless:

You’re fighting in anger.

You hesitate.

Your defense is lacking.

You’ve been captured.

You’ve been killed.

One day he did not come out to train her.

She practiced her forms alone, considering it a test of some kind, looking at the door to his swaybacked house, but it didn’t open.

The next day she practiced her weaponry, knowing he was watching, but nothing happened to make him open the door.

The next day she practiced longer, but he still stayed inside.

Enough of this!

She went to confront him as the day was ending.

She raised her fists to pound the door, only to find it was already open a crack.

A little thrill of fear made her peer inside, thinking she might find him dead.

He was sitting in front of a large, warm fire, drinking tea and eating a bowl of rice and some savory fish.

Her mouth watered and her stomach growled.

He knew she was there, but didn’t acknowledge her; he offered no food nor a seat by the fire.

“What’s going on, sensei?”

He set his bowl and cup down on a tray, then leaned back and steepled his fingers under his chin as he gazed into the fire but spoke to her.

“It’s simple enough; I can no longer teach you.”

“But I’ve been practicing!”

He shook his head. “To no foreseeable end. You lack skill, Sora, not heart. But in an actual battle, you’d be among the first to fall.

He sighed. “I’ve already written to your father. I will take no more of his money, and waste no more of my time, or yours.”

“So you’re saying…”

“What I’ve said before: the life of a warrior is not for you.”

“So what am I to do?”

“Rest, heal, spend the night, and in the morning, return to your father’s house.”

“I meant about my fighting.” She moved in front of him, blocking the fire’s warmth.

His eyes seemed to look through her as if she wasn’t there at all; her world was shrinking, and he wouldn’t even look at her.

“What am I to do about my fighting?” she asked again, her voice hitching.

He surmised that she needed to hear him say it, and as much as he didn’t want to, her refusal to leave forced it out of him.

He looked at her then, his eyes sad and somber, the firelight dancing in their depths; to her he looked like an ancient god in transition.

“Fight no longer. Marry, and raise children, a son perhaps; one who can take the road you seek.

“Your skills are adequate, but they need to be superior, and for that, you have not the skill.”

Her fists clenched, she began to pace. “You’re wrong! You’re wrong about this! About me!”

Again he shook his head, the fiery eyes tracking her.

“No, I am not wrong. Here is what I am: too old, and too slow to help you improve.

“The truth is, Sora, I’ve enjoyed your company, but as a student of the killing arts, you will be the only student I have failed.”

That made her stop, her face betraying shock, and she spluttered and swallowed whatever she’d been about to say in protest.

He rose, shifting his weight like a log in the fire, poured her a cup of tea and shambled over to give it to her while he gave her advice.

“Abandon this road, and live a longer, happier life as a civilian. The warrior’s path is not for everyone to walk.”

She took the proffered cup because she needed something to focus on to keep from screaming, and because she didn’t know what else to do.

All this time, he’d not said a kind word, or did a kind deed, but now that he was done with her he was almost gentle, and even a little sad.

It made no sense.

He returned to his chair, and indicated with a small sweeping gesture toward the pot that she could help herself to some food.

She looked at him, but his eyes were closed now and she couldn’t tell if he was sleeping.

Emotions fought within her, but there was too much and nothing more to say.

The bowl steamed in the cooling evening air as she sat on the steps, watching the shadows lengthen on the ground.

Swarms of gnats and small butterflies played around high stalks of flowers in the persimmon rays, and the birds began their evensongs.

She concentrated on the beauty of the scene in front of her, and felt the rhythm of her heart slowing.

Eating without tasting, she finally finished everything and left the bowl and cup on the steps.

On her way back to the cottage she began to turn Chimatsu’s words over in her mind.

Inside, looking around at the sparse furnishings there came a realization that as harsh and uncomfortable as it had been, she’d endured it, and that was something.

If nothing else he’d released a side of her she didn’t know she possessed.

He said the warrior’s path wasn’t for her, but maybe it just wasn’t a straight one. The truth was, she loved the feel of the weapons, loved the hum and swish as she sliced the air to chunks and the straw men to ribbons.

It thrilled her.

And yet, for all her joy, Chimatsu had basically shown her that even at the end of his fighting days, over before Sora was born, he could still beat her; he would brook no excuses as to his reputation.

“Your opponent doesn’t care who you are.” Splat!

Still, his name struck fear into hearts of enemies and allies alike; he’d went through both with equal alacrity and aplomb. In his time it was considered an honor to fight beside him, and a death sentence to fight against him.

He told her she would never be worthy of being considered either, and in the cold, empty embrace of this strange place in a strange land, alone where no one could see, she allowed herself to cry.