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The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part five)

If you’re just joining us, you may want to start with part one to put this post in context. Those of you who have read up to this point, what do you think so far? If it needs more volcanoes erupting or anything, let me know!

***

part five

She kept her eyes cast down on her hands for a few seconds, fiddling in her lap. I thought she might just ignore the question and try to change the subject. Instead she looked up at my face with an embarrassed expression.

“That was my boyfriend, Karl. And he was mad because I just told him I was pregnant.”

I pulled the car over to the curb and stared into her face.

“Jesus! I’m taking you to the hospital. There is no way you or I can tell how much harm he might have done to the baby. That should have been the first thing you told me, not…”

“I’m not pregnant. I just told him that to see what he would do. Obviously, I didn’t expect that.”

I regained control of my breath, which had somehow gotten caught in my throat at her initial revelation. I pulled the car back out into the street.

“Well, it seems like that was a pretty bad idea.”

We drove in silence the rest of the way home. I led her up the stairs into my apartment. I sat her on a chair in the dining area while I went to fetch my first aid kit from the bathroom. She took out the hydrogen peroxide solution, some cotton swabs and a Band-Aid.

“Do you have a mirror?”

The only mirror in my apartment was the one attached to the wall in my bathroom, so instead I brought her a butcher’s knife from my kitchen. It had a shiny enough surface that she could fix up her brow if I held it in front of her face.

“Isn’t this funny? Using a knife to help fix a cut?” I asked as lightheartedly as I could muster.

“I’ll let you know once this hydrogen peroxide stops stinging.”

She finished cleaning the gash and covered it up with the Band-Aid. She inspected her handiwork in the knife’s reflective surface before nodding her approval, then seemed to get lost in thought. I put the knife and the first aid kit back in their respective spots, then returned to the dining area and sat in a chair diagonally opposite from…

“I never got your name.”

She snapped back to the present. “I’m sorry, yes. My name is Max.” She noticed my poorly-concealed quizzical look. “It’s short for Maxine. I just find the full thing a bit dated. What about you?”

“No, I think Maxine is a fine name.” She scowled slightly. “Oh, you’re asking my name. Johnson. Johnson Jones. Feel free to call me whatever combination or abbreviation thereof that you can imagine.”

“So I’m a girl with a boy’s name and your first name is a surname?”

“Aren’t we quite the pair?”

She seemed to be warming up to the conversation. Now that I got a chance to look at her properly, I realized that she was probably even younger than I had guessed in the car. Her eyes gave it away; they were still filled with such hope and wonder that I was sure that I was sure life hadn’t yet had a chance to chew her up and spit her back out.

“So, what’s your story, Max? Are you just a regular heart-breaker? Or some special kind?”

She half-snorted. “A heart-breaker, huh? That’s a good one! The only heart I seem to be good at breaking is my own.” She stood up and walked into the kitchen. After a few cupboards had banged open and shut, I heard the tap sputter into life and run for a second, then Max walked back in with a glass of water.

“What about you?” she asked. “What is it that you do for a living, that you live in such a shitty apartment?”

“Matter of fact, I’m unemployed.” She gave a knowing nod, as if this was all in line with her assumptions. It irked me, so I continued. “But only as of yesterday. Before that I made quite a tidy salary as a web developer for Home Depot. This ‘shitty apartment’ is what I like to call frugal. More than sufficient for my needs.”

“Yeah, I guess you don’t bring a lot of women here,” she chuckled. “I suppose I should be flattered.”

I knew I should give her a little leeway, considering her earlier ordeal. But she was rubbing me the wrong way — particularly considering I’d gone out on a limb to help her. I shot back:

“Don’t be. I wouldn’t want to end up being the next Karl: lied to in a parking lot. Why did you tell him you were pregnant when you really aren’t? I won’t condone his reaction, but I would hardly say it was unprovoked.”

She looked stung for a moment, then righteous indignation flooded her face. She looked as if she was going to either respond with something equally insensitive or bite my head off. Instead her manner changed again to something almost apologetic.

“I’m just unlucky in love. I’ve been burned before; I wanted to make sure that what I had with Karl was real. I know it was stupid, but I wanted him to tell me he loved me even after something as ground shaking as an unplanned pregnancy. Instead he…”

I nodded. We sat in an embarrassed silence. I really shouldn’t have lost my cool. After a little while, I was the one to extend the olive branch.

“I think you dodged a bullet with that guy, frankly. But maybe in the future, you just need to trust that your boyfriend means it if he says he loves you. Without trust, your relationship isn’t going to go very far.” I thought of the night before, and chuckled. “Don’t prove that self-fulfilling prophet son of a bitch right.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Just a crazy thing I heard from a guy yesterday. He said that when we set our selves up to fail, we’re playing right into the hands of this guy who calls himself the self-fulfilling prophet.” She stared at me skeptically. “Funnily enough, I was so upset last night over losing my job—and maybe I’d had a few beers—but I was just about ready to hop in my car and go to confront that bastard.”

Her face broke out with mirth. “And just where did you think you would find this guy? He doesn’t seem like your everyday Atlanta kind of prophet.”

“I don’t know. New Orleans? Doesn’t that sound like some voodoo shit?”

I laughed, but she didn’t join in. Instead her eyes opened wide. She turned to face me full on, and a smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“So you don’t have a job, right?”

I stiffened. I wasn’t sure I liked where this was going. “Right.”

“And you must have a ton of cash saved up, since you live in this… exceedingly adequate apartment. Am I right?”

“Right.”

The smile was now consuming the entirety of her face.

“Let’s do it. Let’s go to New Orleans and see if we can find this guy. I think I’d like to have a word with him myself!”

end of part five

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Hello, world

This is another piece from the creative writing class I took in college. I was attempting a crossover to my actual major: computer science. For those unfamiliar with programming, I hope the ‘code’ sections don’t throw you off. For those with an intimate knowledge of programming, I hope you’re not put off by the poetic license I took in places. By the way, I had to do some funky formatting to get the ‘code’ to appear more or less how I wanted it. If it looks funny on your mobile device, try reading it on a proper computer screen. Sorry for any inconvenience!

***

His keyboard is positioned equidistant from the sides of his desk, corners aligned precisely. His monitor has gone to sleep after being neglected for more than three minutes, but small LEDs flash on the tower to show that the machine is still thinking. Nobody in the room. No books out of place on the shelves. No note on the white board. Where is Jake?

On my first day of learning to program, the professor taught us a popular rite of passage: the ‘Hello world’ program. In the python programming language, it looks like this:

def helloWorld():
.   .   print ‘Hello, world’

Just two lines of code – when you run it, the words “Hello, world” appear on the screen. It means nothing. But it is the beginning of everything.

“Now add a comment so that other programmers will know what your code does.”

I thought for a second, and then typed:

#demonstrates computer’s self-awareness

“Well, what do you mean ‘Jake’s gone’? Give him another call! Not answering his phone? Son of a bitch thinks he can do whatever he wants. Find him!”

Red face. Bulbous nose. Small, circular-rimmed classes. Professor Stegard. Stick a cigar in his mouth and you’ve got yourself the newspaper editor from every 1950’s journalism movie. I look around subconsciously for the fast-talking lady journalist trying to prove her gender’s equality with as much moxie (and as many impractical outfits) as she can manage.

“You hear me, Roger?”

“Yes professor.”

Everything looks to be in order in the desk drawers.  Jake’s backpack sits on the floor where he dropped it, the usual notebooks inside. His mouse is the only thing out of place on top of the desk. I push it back towards the center of the mouse pad, where Jake normally keeps it, and the screen flicks to life. He has a text editor open that says just one thing:

Roger: Read the comments in my code. -Jake

/**
* @author jake swenson
* This code provides a novel method of framing human-computer interactions.
* I assure you, you’ll never have seen anything like it. Keep it safe.
*/

public class Main {
.    // initialize a static Person object with your name
.   private final static Person JAKE_SWENSON = new Person();

.  /**
.   * Be sure that you are interfacing with the computer when you run
.   * this program. Sticking a finger in the USB port seems to do the trick.
.   */
.   public static void main()
.   {
.   .   //test1(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   .   //test2(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   .   //test3(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   .   finalTest(JAKE_SWENSON);
.   }

.  /**
  * I can’t even begin to describe to you how astounding it is to enter
.   * a computer! It wasn’t really like the Matrix or Tron, because I
.   * didn’t have a physical body. I more just existed as a line of data
.   * zipping along the wires. You know that feeling when you’re drifting
.   * off to sleep and you imagine yourself falling and jolt awake? Well
  * I feel like my whole life I’ve been dreaming and this is the jolt
  * that I needed to wake me up.
.   */
.   public Person test1(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   .   subject.runProgram(“helloWorld”);
.   .   wait(30);
.   .   return(subject);
.   }

.  /**
.   * This time I decided to test out a graphical simulation while I was
.   * inside the computer. I made a very basic clone of the Super Mario
.   * environment and loaded myself inside. Flat white clouds pasted onto
.   * a sky blue background, with a line of bricks for me to walk on. I
.   * was happy to have a corporeal form, but the pixelation threw me off
.   * a bit and I couldn’t feel any sensations. I must try to do
.   * something about that.
.   */
.   public Person test2(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   .   subject.runSimulation(“superMario.wrl”);
.   .   wait(120);
.   .   return(subject);
  }

.  /**
.   * I found a 3D model of a beach online and tried it out with my
.   * program. I felt the hot sun on my skin, the sand between my toes,
  * the water lapping at my ankles… did you know I’d never been to a
.   * beach before this? I stayed for 10 minutes this time. I think I’m
.   * really onto something with this! This could make us something big,
.   * Roger!
.   */
  public Person test3(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   .   subject.runSimulation(“sunnyBeach.wrl”);
.   .   wait(600);
.   .   return(subject);
.   }

.  /**
.   * I spoke with Professor Stegard and he laughed in my face. Called me
.   * crazy. Said I had to finish the work I’d promised him before he’d
.   * even consider listening to any ideas I came up with. I’ve had it.
.   * I’m going in and I don’t want to come back. Will my image remain
.   * when the program stops running or will I disappear? I’m willing to
.   * take that risk. Please Roger, don’t let this be a waste. Study
.   * what I’ve done. Make it count for something. If I don’t see you
.   * again, thanks for being a great friend. Good luck finishing your
.   * PhD!
  */
.   public void finalTest(Person subject){
.   .   subject.upload();
.   }

}

An empty room. An empty chair. An empty spot in my heart. I search Jake’s computer for any files that look unusual – any indication that he’s still inside – but find nothing. I’m about ready to give up searching and return to my own workstation, when an idea enters my head. On a whim, I open the command line and type two words:

>> Hello, world

I hit ‘enter’, and wait.  Nothing happens. As I move to shut the window, letters that I didn’t type start appearing in the command line of their own volition.

>> Hello, Roger

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part four)

This story is getting drawn out much more than I’d planned. But I’m having fun writing  it, so I hope some of you are having fun reading it. If you’re just joining the action, you might want to begin with part one. I appreciate all of you who read this and welcome all feedback (especially negative) with open arms!

***

part four

My eyes opened drearily and allowed the light that was coming through the window of my room to pour into my muddled brain. “Find your truth…” The truth was that I was hungry and thirsty, and I dreadfully wanted a shower.

I rolled out of bed reluctantly and saw my jacket lying on the floor by the bed. Sheepishly, as if anybody watching might think I’d lost my mind, I lifted it enough to slip my hand into the pockets to feel if my troubles were still stored in there, weighing down the jacket. I didn’t feel anything, except maybe a bit foolish. Of course my troubles were still tucked away safely in my own mind.

I showered, had a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice, then left to pick up my car. I had momentarily considered dressing in a suit, just so that I could pretend that yesterday had never happened, but in the end I went with a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian shirt that I’d bought for a themed party a few years back. The most casual of casual wear: rather than ignoring my problems, I would pretend that they didn’t bother me instead.

Mitch wasn’t on the sidewalk where I had seen him the previous day. I was a little disappointed, because I had wanted to ask him a few questions about what he’d said to me right before I’d left. “No matter what happens in these next few days…” What did he think would happen? Did he think I’d try to kill myself? Of course not. As evidenced by my Hawaiian shirt and jeans, I was entirely unaffected by the happenings of the previous day. He’d just seen me at a low point is all.

I added a little extra bounce to my step as I kept walking in order to reinforce this appearance of nonchalance. Soon, I’d bounced myself all the way to the parking lot where I’d left my car, directly across the street from the bar. Seeing the bar again reminded me of that absurd notion that this guy calling himself the self-fulfilling prophet was somehow limiting my potential in life. I tried to laugh at the idea but there was just a little piece of me asking: what if it were true? I’d certainly have a much better excuse for never quite achieving my goals than just ‘I’m addicted to failure’. But it was, nevertheless, a silly idea, and I shook it from my head. I could think about it later as I browsed the online job listings and tried to pull my life back together with minimal scar tissue.

I pulled out my car keys and, rather than using the button on the key itself, went to unlock the door manually — just to see how hard the key test was while sober. I missed the key hole by about a thumb’s-width in my first attempt, then slowed down considerably and got it in successfully. So maybe the key test wasn’t such a good measure of sobriety after all. Maybe I’m just clumsy.

I got in the car, buckled my seat belt and put the key in the ignition. As I turned it, I felt a thud and heard a crash from the passenger’s side rear door. Now, if this was engine trouble, it was coming from a very unexpected part of the car. I looked over straight into the bloodied face of some woman whose head was squished up against my window. I guess I was too distracted playing with my keys to notice that there was anyone else in the parking lot.

I pulled the key out of the ignition and jumped out of my car. My first thought was to help the woman peel herself off of my window, but as I came round the front of the car I was distracted by the cause of the woman’s current discomfort. That is to say, the rather burly gentleman with his hands tangled in her hair, pressing her against the side of my car.

“You bitch!” he screamed. “How could you fucking do this to me? How hard is it to swallow a fucking pill?”

It didn’t seem like a rape or a mugging. Still, he seemed quite angry. Though getting involved in other people’s business was about the furthest thing from my mind (my own business was quite enough for me to be involved with just now, thank you very much), the fact that this was happening right in front of me—on my car—made me feel I should intervene.

I ran over to the jumble of flailing limbs and said in my most commanding voice: “Let her go!”

The man looked at me in surprise for a second, then scowled. “Buddy, seriously, get the fuck out of here. You don’t know what’s going on, and it really doesn’t concern you.” He reapplied himself to the task of smearing the woman’s face against my car’s window.

“Uh, actually, this does concern me. It concerns me a great deal.” He ignored me, twisted the woman’s arm behind her back and started walking her away from my car. “Listen, ‘pal’, you just let go of that woman, OK? Don’t make me use my pepper spray!”

I didn’t actually have pepper spray, but the line was enough to get the man to glance in my direction once more. I brought back my arm and then unleashed with the most solid punch I could muster. It hit the man squarely in the jaw and, since he didn’t have time to brace for it, caused him to stumble back and lose his grip on the woman.

“What the fuck did you just do?” asked the man, though I suspect he had some idea, since he now started thundering towards me with murder in his eyes.

I’d like to say I stood my ground and took him down in a fight, but I’m not a strong man (that’s what I get for spending most of my waking life in front of a keyboard). Instead, I booked it for the driver’s side door of my car, jumped in and locked the door before the man could catch me. I reached across and unlocked the passenger’s side door and screamed to the woman: “Get in! Now!”

She had regained her senses enough to see that jumping in the car with a complete stranger was infinitely preferable to staying in the parking lot with the other guy, so she hopped in, slammed the door shut and even thought to lock it. Mr. Muscles was tugging on my door handle trying to get it open, so far with no success. Rather than waiting to see how long that would last, I slipped my keys into the ignition, got the engine going and backed out of the parking lot as quickly as possible.

“Take her!” bellowed the man as I switched into drive and started away from the fight scene. “She’s your problem now!”

Once I’d driven a couple of blocks, and put a bit of distance between myself at the rather confusing kerfuffle that I’d just left, I started breathing normally once more. I looked over at the woman slumped miserably in the seat next to me. She was really quite young, maybe just out of college. I didn’t notice much else about her, because my eyes were magnetically drawn to the deep-looking gash in her forehead, which was probably the source of most of the blood that was now smeared on the rear quarter of my car. I cleared my throat.

“Would you like to go to a hospital?” She didn’t seem to take notice of my question. I supposed she was probably in shock after that ugly encounter. “Because your eyebrow is bleeding pretty badly. You might do well to have somebody look at it.”

She stirred slightly. She lifted her hand to the sun visor on her side of the car and pulled it down to get a look in the mirror. Slowly, gingerly, she touched her forehead.

“Do you have a first aid kit at your place?”

“Well, yes, but you really don’t want to be going there. I’m going to take you to a hospital. A doctor will fix you up much better than I would be able to.”

She looked at me. “Please, could  you just take me to your place? I really don’t want to have to deal with a bunch of check-in forms and waiting rooms right now. I can clean this up myself, if i can just get my hands on a first aid kit.”

Well, she’d asked nicely. I didn’t see much harm. My job search might be a little disrupted, but I knew my heart wouldn’t be in it today anyway. “Sure,” I said. “But first, could you tell me one thing?”

She looked like she knew what was coming and turned her head away, looking down at her lap. But she nodded her head enough that I decided to ask the question anyway.

“Who was that guy, and why was he just beating the shit out of you?”

end of part four

(to part five)

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part three)

Here’s the second half of the scene from yesterday. I you haven’t read the story from the beginning, you should start with part one. Thanks for reading!

***

part three

When he’d finished the song, he held onto the last note a little longer than normal, then cut off with a sharp nod of his head. He grinned at me. Even though he hadn’t hit all of the notes, I had to give him credit for the performance.

“What’s your name, my man?” he asked me. “I’m Mitch. Mich Green from New Orlean’!”

I smiled. “Johnson. Johnson Jones. From Denver, Colorado.”

“J. J., huh? Wait a minute — ‘J. J.’ and ‘Johnson’. Like that old jazz ‘bone player, J. J. Johnson! You play any jazz, yourself?”

“No sir… uh, Mitch. Matter of fact, I played a little trumpet when I was a kid, but I quit before I ever really got good.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet it was a real little trumpet if you was just a kid!” He laughed. “Now hold on a second, though. You said your name is Jones? From Denver? And you named after that old trombone player? I bet you Rick Jones’s kid!”

It took a second for his unexpected conclusion to process in my brain. Then I answered, with genuine surprise: “Yeah, I am. How did you know my father?”

“Well now, I wouldn’t say I knew him. More I knew of him.”

“I never knew he really made that much of an impact in the jazz world, to be honest.” I pondered this for a second. Had my dad really been so well known in the prime of his jazz life that this street performer in Atlanta had heard of him, and still remembered his name all these decades after he had settled into his life of mediocrity and teaching?

As if reading my mind, Mitch elaborated: “I used to play up in Denver for a while myself, back in the day. I saw your daddy on several occasions, wailing out solos. Sooth, that cat could blow!”

So not quite the national sensation I had imagined a moment earlier, but still. The name had stuck with this guy, as the years and the miles brought him further and further from the old Denver jazz scene.

“Why do you keep saying ‘sooth’?” I asked him. “Isn’t that more of a Shakespeare thing than a jazz thing?”

“I say ‘sooth’ because it means ‘truth’! That’s what I’m out here spreading to the people who come by: the truth. You see all these other guys always asking for money and expecting to get something for nothing. Sure, maybe they’ve got some cute story about how they need money to buy their psych meds; or how they ain’t eaten in three days, and if you knew how they felt you’d give them the money no questions asked; or how the homeless shelter charges a cover fee and they’re only five bucks short. All these little lies, little fictions. Yet they try to sell it as the truth. I’m here blowing on my horn and bringing to people the real truth of music. And I never ask nobody for money; my case is here just in case anybody is feeling especially appreciative.”

Throughout this diatribe, he’d gotten increasingly more impassioned. But now that he’d reached the end, he’d calmed down significantly. He raised his hands resignedly. “And that’s the best thing anybody can search for in this world. The truth. Yet it’s so hard to come by the real deal. That’s why I play my music; I ain’t pretending nothing, just spreading the joy.”

I felt compelled to fill the silence that followed this statement. “Well, thank you. Your song meant a lot to me just now. I suppose I’m searching for a few truths of my own right now. Like what I’m going to do now that I lost my job.” I mean to say something else to turn the topic away from this particular subject that had wormed its way to the surface out of my own mouth, but I couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say.

After over a minute of standing there silently, Mitch broke the quiet. “That’s going to take some searching all right. But that’s not the truth you’re really after. You just remember that. No matter what happens in these next few days, you just keep on looking for what that real truth is that you’re after. Find your truth.”

I turned this over in my mind for a second, and was just about to ask him to clarify, when I heard a string of notes come pouring out of the end of his trumpet. A group of people had just rounded to corner at the other end of the block, and he was hoping to earn some more cash. Or spread his truth, whatever that meant.

I nodded my head to him to thank him for the distraction, dropped a second dollar bill in his case and continued walking home. As I crossed the street at the end of the block, I felt a breeze ruffling my hair.

“Now just you wait a minute, Mr. Washington,” I heard behind me. “I’m an entertainer…”

I got home and fell face first on my bed. I hadn’t had dinner yet, but I wasn’t really hungry. As I drifted into a deep and troubled sleep, the jazz man’s words echoed through my brain.

“Find your truth.”

end of part three

(to part four)

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part two)

This second part was a bit of a long time coming, but I’ve now got a plan for where this story is going. I meant for this segment to go a bit longer, but decided to break it up for readability. Expect more in the very near future. If you haven’t done so yet, you may want to start by reading part one. Thanks!

***

part two

I strode over to my car as purposefully as I could manage with the few drinks under my belt and performed the key test. That’s the test that I use to determine whether I’m sober enough to drive or not. Basically, if I can get the key into the keyhole in the first try without missing and jamming it on the outside of the lock, then I’m OK to drive. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever got one of those cars that doesn’t come with the keyholes anymore, and instead just has a keypad on the outside of the car. I suppose it would become more of a memory test at that point.

The key missed its slot by about a needle’s-width. Not too far off, but I really shouldn’t drive. I didn’t actually need to either, because I was only about a half-hour’s walk from my apartment. I just had the car with me because I’d come straight to the bar from work. Screw it, I thought. I’ll come back for it in the morning. Besides, I could use the walk.

It wasn’t dark yet dark, and the Atlanta sun soon brought beads of sweat up on my brow. I stopped walking and removed my suit jacket. It’s not like I needed it right now anyway, being freshly unemployed. I slung it over my shoulder in a way that I hoped would make me look carefree and started moving again. But I knew I wasn’t really fooling anyone. The knowledge that the last six years of my life had just been nullified in one afternoon was a considerable weight on my mind, and it felt like the brunt of that weight had somehow been transferred into the pockets of the jacket. I panicked and let it slip off of my fingers, plummeting to the ground behind me with a thud. I stood there looking at it for a second then picked it up, dusted it off and draped it over my arm.

In order to get my mind off of the day’s tragedies, I thought of my biggest inspiration: my dad. Rick Jones had been a jazz trombonist in the Glenn Miller Orchestra in his youth, but by the time I got to the scene he was a washed-up trombone instructor giving weekly lessons at a few of the colleges around Denver, where I grew up. He may never have reached any real level of notoriety in the jazz world, but the one thing I couldn’t help but notice about him was that he was always happy when he played his horn. What would he have thought of me right now?

I had been happy too, when I first learned computer programming. Back in college, before it was a nine-to-five job, I even spent a lot of my free time elaborating on the exercises that we did in class and creating games that I forced my friends to play with me. Even for those first few months out in the corporate world, I was doing what I loved, and I enjoyed it. But then I got under someone’s thumb, and he crushed the enjoyment right out of me. My up-until-very-recently boss. What a dickhead.

My dad never let that happen to him. Though he’d been gone now for a couple of years, I still had very vivid memories of him up on stage in the jazz clubs with his buddies, making the music they’d all loved. He’d convinced me to start playing the trumpet when I was ten years old, but I’d given it up during a rebellious stage in my mid-teens. I think his dream was that someday he and I would play together on one of those stages: him on the bone, and me on the trumpet…

The trumpet. I snapped out of my reverie and noticed there was a man at the end of the block blowing into a trumpet next to an open case. He wore a pork pie hat, like the jazz men of old, along with a dark set of shades and a grizzled goatee. Always one to support the arts, I separated a dollar from my wallet and dropped it into his case when I got close enough. I stopped walking and looked on as he played a string of notes from a tune that I didn’t recognize, until a slight breeze picked up and upset the dollar that I’d put in his case.

“Now just you wait a minute, Mr. Washington,” he said, addressing the piece of paper. “I’m an entertainer, not an Olympic runner. Don’t you be running off on me!” His voice was exactly what I’d expect from a 1950s jazz man: gravelly and smoky, with a whole lot of soul. He weighted down the dollar with a little bottle of valve oil that was in the case, then looked up at me: “Sooth! You know, when I get these fellows home I need to teach them not to fly. You know how I do that?”

I shook my head. Normally I might have excused myself at this point, but I had nowhere to be.

“I sit ’em all on a chair, then turn on a fan. The ones that try to fly away, I take ’em and spend ’em. That shows the other little Georges what not to do!” He grinned. “So what would you like me to play for you?”

Being the son of a jazz musician, there were a dozen songs that sprung to my head. But instead, I deferred to his judgement: “What is your favorite song to play?”

“You know, one of the best jazz players I never had the privilege to meet was Duke Ellington. Another great one, a bit later, was Stevie Wonder. Of course, he and I never saw each other neither.” He smiled a little bit and let his joke sink in. “But here’s a song that Stevie wrote as a tribute to Duke: it’s called Sir Duke.”

And he launched into the tune that I knew very well, having heard my father play it a hundred times with his group.

end of part two

(to part three)

With You in Spirit

My sweet, darling—how giddy I am to finally write your name—Kevin,

Though I have haunted the halls of this house far longer than you’ve been in this world, you are the first man in all these years who has found a way to take up residence in both my home and my heart. I can feel you coursing through my veins with every imagined beat of my pulse, like the blood that used to spread warmth and life through my body, before it was spread in a pool on the tiles in the upstairs bathroom of this very building.

How I long to be with you in the way your wife, Susan, is with you once or twice a week. I’ve felt you inside me (just this morning, you walked right through me on your way downstairs – didn’t you feel that little shiver?), but I’ve never had the honor of your undivided attention as you work your magic on my nether parts for two full minutes, in the way you do with Susan. She doesn’t deserve a man like you. I’ve tried to drop you subtle hints as such: the walls bleeding behind her when only you are looking; the shadows outside your window at night, shaking their heads disapprovingly and pointing at your, let’s face it, rather homely wife. But so far you haven’t taken steps to follow my advice.

In fact, recently I feel my attempts to reach you have been misinterpreted as childish attempts to scare you out of my home. This couldn’t be further from the truth, my dear Kevin! When you feel me sitting on the foot of your bed in the night, I am merely there to see to it that you have a peaceful sleep. When you hear the floorboards creak behind you while you’re all alone in the house I see the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. But all I want to do is follow you around and spend time with you. I’ve noticed that recently, you’ve been crying a lot and making inquiries with realtors about moving away from me. If only you could understand what I’m saying, I could convince you to stay and live out the rest of your days under my loving, watchful eyes.

That’s why I am writing this confession of my love to you on the kitchen wall in the blood your wife left in a nice little puddle on the counter top, after she somehow slipped while washing a carving knife. I’m sure once you return from the hospital, she’ll be stitched up, good as new. I don’t think any of the fingers were entirely severed.

Your wife just does not appreciate you the way I do. When she tells you to clean the gutters on the weekend, she does not understand that you work hard during the week and need that time on the weekend to rest indoors with me. When she tells you you can’t keep living a haunted house that wants you dead (and let me reassure you that I do not want you dead), she needs to learn to shut her goddamn mouth and take your word as law.

When I was alive, I was a fantastic wife to my husband, God rest his soul. I cooked his meals, mended his clothes and listened to every word he told me without ever running my mouth off at him, regardless of how ill-informed some of his opinions were. Please do not be put off by the fact that I killed both him and myself when it all became too much one night and he broke the bathroom mirror in a fit of rage. When I stabbed him in the chest with a shard of glass, it was a crime of passion — and should passion ever really be considered a crime? I wouldn’t ever lose my temper with you. I never want you to die; I hope to watch you grow old, as I never got to experience that part of life.

Well, the puddle of Susan’s blood is starting to run dry. I almost wish she’d cut herself deeper so that I could finish emptying out all that I have been longing to say for so long… But we must make do with what is at hand, I suppose. I’ll leave you with one parting thought. If that bitch wife of yours ever calls you a fat fuck again, it won’t be her hand that gets cut. Shall we just say that you will be receiving a much longer letter if that circumstance ever arises?

Take care of yourself, my dear — and know that I will be watching you too.

Forever with you in spirit,

Your Margaret

The Self-fulfilling Prophet (Part one)

I fell asleep while writing this last night. With a more wakeful mind, I’m not really sure where this is going, but I’m excited to find out. Enjoy!

***

part one

“I will never amount anything. Everything I have ever done is meaningless. Why should I try anymore when I know I’m going to fail?

“I. Give. Up.”

Or something like that. That’s the general sentiment of the self-pitying soliloquy I whispered into my beer that night at the bar. I downed what was left of it, shoved the glass off to the side and plonked my head on the bar.

“Hey buddy, ya mind?” the bartender reproached me. “If yer thinkin’ of passin’ out, I’m gonna have to ask ya to take it elsewhere.”

I didn’t raise my head as I replied in a monotone: “Not me. I’m great. Keep ’em coming barkeep. And do you have anything with a euthanasia chaser?”

“What you sayin’ about Asian kids?”

I sighed. “Nothing. Just… nothing. But if you’ve got any rat poison in the back, I’d appreciate a bit of that in my next drink.”

Now he understood. “Oh, hey man, I wasn’t tryna cause nuthin’. I just don’t want no passed out drunks in this here reputable ah-stablishment is all.” He gestured vaguely around the dank and lifeless bar.

I lifted my head slowly, and looked him in the eyes; held it for a second; then dropped my gaze down to my hands, which were laced together in my lap.

“It’s not you. I just… It’s just so frustrating to go into work every day and work my ass off so that someone else can get credit for it, and then I get to inherit the extra work they pull in with their new title and corner office.” I was getting fired up now. “And then I try to do something about it, like—I don’t know—apply somewhere else; my boss catches wind of it and he fires me! Right there in front of everyone.”

“Jesus man, that’s rough. Lemme get ya another drink. But this one’s on me.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate it.” I attempted a smile. “I’m sorry to bring all this negativity into the bar. I’ve just… have you ever reached a point where you thought that things were fucked up so badly that you’d never get your life back on course again? Not that I want to get back on that course. But just any course? Like, say my dream was to one day become a doctor: I could go back to college, take the MCAT and maybe even get accepted into a good school. But I just don’t think I could go beyond there. I’m a small fish living in a big pond, and the only thing I’m good for is being the bigger fish’s bitch, until I get swallowed whole by a shark.”

The bartender smiled grimly and plonked the next beer in front of me. “Well now, I don’t want to cheapen yer pain or nuthin’, but it sounds to me like yer only hurtin’ yerself with that kind of talk. I see it all the time workin’ in this bar. Folks come in feelin’ all sorry for themselves and turn to drinkin’ the pain away rather than tryna do somethin’ about it.”

“Sounds like good business,” I said with as little sarcasm as I could manage.

He glared slightly, then raised his eyebrows and conceded: “Well, that it is. But ya know what it becomes? A self-filling prophecy.” He nodded his head as if to ensure that his point was hammered home.

“A self-fulfilling prophecy?” I corrected.

“That’s right. Ya see, somewhere there’s this guy who calls himself the self-fulfilling prophet, and he doesn’t think nobody is capable of doin’ nothin’. And if ya give up, all ya do is prove him right.” He left me to ponder this as he went to tend to a new customer who had just taken a place down at the other end of the bar.

Looking at this new guy, I saw in him the same dead eyes and inner turmoil that I glimpsed in myself in the mirror every morning. He probably hated his job, and his life, and himself. Just like I did. And, if the bartender’s unique take on ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ was to be believed, we both had this asshole, the self-fulfilling prophet to thank for it.

Where was the justice? Why should I have to work so hard just get to fired when there were people all over in positions of power who hardly had to do a damn thing and were rich? I don’t know what exactly did it, but I was suddenly overcome by the outrage of the situation. I chugged the rest of my beer in two gulps, slammed the glass down on the bar along with a twenty dollar bill, and then strode out the door of the place into the street.

“Come back again,” I heard from the bartender as the door swung shut. Fuck no, I thought. I’m leaving this place. I don’t have a job and there’s nobody who would really give a damn whether I was here, or in some other town, or rotting in prison somewhere on the other side of the planet.

And you really have to understand the kind of mindset I was in by this point to get why I thought this next thing made sense. I thought: I’m going to go find that sonofabitch self-fulfilling prophet, and I’m going to kick his ass…

end of part one

(to part two)