Letters

Issue 3

By Jyll Thomas

“Hey pretty lady, can you spare some change for a veteran?” the man sat next to the entrance of Starbucks and leaned against a large dung-colored backpack. He rattled a collection of coins in a Styrofoam cup.

“Get a job,” the blonde woman breezed past him into the store. Her pearl necklace gleamed like baby teeth around her sinewy neck. She ordered a grande latte with six Splendas, foam, no cream, 120 degrees. She grabbed some napkins at the cream and sugar bar and noticed a poem tacked onto the corkboard above the serving area.

 

Even on a rainy day,

The warmth of kindness

Keeps the clouds away.

 

And this. This type of banality pisses me off more than anything. Probably written by some green tea drinker. She ripped the poem off the wall and on the back she wrote:

 

I don’t mean to be crass

Or break your heart like Cupid,

Stick a pen up your ass,

Your poems are stupid.

 

She stabbed her response back on the bulletin board.

“Bitch, I got a job. I am on call 24 hours a day, right here,” the homeless man shouted at her as she walked to her car.

“Yeah, you just keep saving the world,” she retorted.

“That’s right. I’m a goddamned super hero. I got powers you know nothing about.”

The next time Clara went to Starbucks, the same dark-haired man was perched near the door swirling an assortment of coins in a dirty cup.

“Hey pretty lady, can you spare some change for a blind man?” he asked shaking the random change flung at him by other patrons.

“I thought you were a veteran. And you weren’t blind the last time I was here,” she said.

“Like they say, it’s hard out here. You never know what you going to lose or recover.”

She noticed his green gray eyes were a bright contrast to his caramel-colored skin.

“See there, I gave you that smile, now slide me some cash for a cup of coffee.”

Clara walked into the store, ordered her drink and bought a black coffee for the man outside. If she gave him money, he’d probably spend it on drugs. She checked the corkboard to see if there was a new poem.

 

Love and compassion

Never go out of fashion.

Empty your wallet, free your mind

Abundant blessings you will find.

 

Clara rolled her eyes and wondered, what does this mean? This is just sentimental bullshit. Everybody needs money to live and be happy.  Besides, she committed a charitable act by buying the dirty guy outside a coffee. She turned the slip of paper over and wrote:

 

I wish I could believe the words you write

are the best things to do.

Even the blind man can see the light,

Your poem sucks, so fuck you.

Clara posted this on the board and stomped through the door. She handed the homeless man the cup of coffee. She thought perhaps it was the nicest thing anyone had done for him in a long while. The man took a sip and spit it on the sidewalk, hot liquid splashed all over her Jimmy Choo heels.

“Do you think you’re doing me a favor giving me this rot gut? Black coffee, not even cream or sugar? Didn’t even ask me how I take it, you just felt real big giving the bum a small coffee. Gimme a goddam pumpkin spiced latte next time,” he threw the cup at her as she ran to her car.

“Even when I try to do something good, it’s not appreciated,” Clara sat crying in her Mercedes. “I’m never coming back here, first the insipid poetry and then harassed by a vagrant. Someone should call the cops on that piece of human garbage!” And yet, he was the only person she talked to all day.

When she returned, the same man was perched on his backpack near the door swirling a few coins in a dirty cup.

“Hey pretty lady, can you spare a some change so I can get to the doctor?”

“Is he going to help you get your sight back?” Clara asked.

“I don’t know, sometimes we all have trouble seeing what’s in front of us.”

She considered this bit of sidewalk philosophy and asked him his name.

“I am known as Celino. What do your friends call you?”  A gold-covered tooth flashed in the crook of his smile.

Was this guy a gypsy? For a homeless man, he was kind of hot with his dark hair loosely curled close to his collar, honey skin and light eyes. The name, was it Italian?

“My name is Clara. I don’t have any friends. I just moved here from Tampa, and I work all the time,” she answered.

“Sounds depressing,” Celino said.

“Unfortunately, everybody can’t lead the glamorous life,” she replied.

Celino shrugged his shoulders.

“Dream big, and don’t forget my pumpkin spice latte- grande.”

She picked up their drink orders and checked the bulletin board. She wondered if the baristas took any notice of her poetic interchange but they seemed engrossed in their own conversations. Clara felt a pang of envy. She missed talking with her girlfriends about nothing and everything. Maybe she should quit the accounting firm and get a job at Starbucks.

Today’s poem was illustrated with a delicate border of vines and flowers. She wondered what he looked like and imagined he had long hair and kind eyes.

When you feel sad and alone

Reach your hand out to a friend

Use a pencil or a phone,

Broken ties can always mend.

 

Clara turned the poem over and wrote:

I thought your words were pretty lies

Now my heart is broken wide.

This life continues although it does not please us,

I must ask the question, do you look like Jesus?

 

Clara walked outside and handed Celino his latte. He rewarded her kindness with a quick glimpse of his shiny tooth.

“So, I’ll see you tomorrow,” she asked.

“Yeah, unless I’m not here then try not to miss me too much. I know you will because you’re totally in love with me. I’m irresistible.”

“You are something else,” she admitted.

Celino watched her walk to her car, the motion of her hips accentuated by her high heels.

As Clara sat in traffic on the way to work, she pondered what kind of life Celino led. How did he spend his days? He seemed somewhat normal, why he was homeless? Maybe it was because he was the only person she spoke to every day but there was something intriguing about him. If he took a shower, put on some clothes that matched and weren’t ripped, she could bring him to the company Christmas party.

She heard the whispers behind her back at work. They called her “ice princess”. Her extreme shyness and social anxiety made it nearly impossible for her to communicate. Every word that came out of her mouth seemed inappropriate or offensive no matter how hard she tried. Yet with Celino, she had no fear. At least he called her a bitch to her face.

But what about the poet? Clara imagined showing up at the Georgian Terrace dressed in a tight black dress, her pearl necklace reflecting the light of the chandeliers. The poet would hold her hand and whisper sweet words to make her laugh. They wouldn’t hide in a corner as she did at most social events. Clara wouldn’t even care if he wore a long robe and flowing pants. She smiled as she pulled into the parking deck and thought this might be the first party she would enjoy attending.

The next morning at Starbucks, Celino sat propped against the building with his head down. He saw a pair of slender legs standing in front of him punctuated by expensive shoes.  “Hey pretty lady, can you spare some change?”

“Celino, it’s Clara. Do you want a pumpkin spice latte or something to eat?”

He heard her gasp as he lifted his head and revealed his left eye swollen shut by an angry purple-and-red bruise.

“Oh my God, who did this to you?”

“Well, the prick that rolled me didn’t exactly introduce himself before taking my valuables,” he said with heavy sarcasm.

“You still have your backpack,” she said nodding at the canvas sack.

“Yeah, lucky me. Make yourself useful and get me an iced coffee with lots of cream,” he said. A black hole occupied the space where his gold tooth once shined in the early morning light.

She checked the bulletin board for the latest reply. On a torn, crinkled piece of pink paper the poet wrote:

Don’t make me out to be a saint,

Neither much of a man.

If the sight of me don’t make you faint,

Then take my hand.

 

What did that mean? Was the poet a woman, and did that mean Clara was a lesbian? She had fallen in love with the words without knowing the writer. She took the scrap down and wrote on the back:

Give me one chance

With you I have no fear.

Join me in a dance,

Tomorrow I’ll meet you here.

 

Clara’s head was spinning as she handed Celino his iced coffee. He pressed the cold drink against his busted eye. The pain reminded him of his father, fists flying screaming, “faggot”. The only difference this time was he had lost his treasures. He could feel colors colliding, voices turned from whispers to shrieks; his skin itched where he could not scratch. Clara daydreamed of going to the Christmas party with her perfect date.

The next morning, the air was crisp with the first cold day in Atlanta. Clara wore a white dress instead of her usual black business suit. Her head felt a little fuzzy from the Valium she took to stay calm when she met the poet. What if she said something stupid or the poet didn’t like her? This was worse than Tinder dating which she stopped after meeting a man who whistled every time he said a word with the letter S in it.

When Clara arrived at Starbucks she didn’t notice the naked man standing beside the door.

“Hey pretty lady, you got some change?” he screamed.

Clara gasped as she spotted Celino’s clothes strewn about the ground covering his backpack. “What are you doing?”

“Ma’am, stay back. We’ve called the police. I think he forgot to take his meds,” one of the employees held her back with his arm.

“I told you they were stolen, motherfucker,” Celino shouted. He went on a tirade about the government and getting arrested for eating pussy.

Clara had never seen anything like this. Sirens blared as the police rushed to Starbucks, she had to bring him back to reality before they arrived. She pushed the employee away from her and grabbed Celino by the shoulders.

“Look at me, it’s Clara. Everything’s OK. Why don’t you put some pants on and I’ll buy a pumpkin spice latte for you?”

“Fuck your latte,” Celino wrapped a wiry, muscular arm around her throat. “That shit has preservatives, are you trying to kill me?”

At first glance, Clara failed to notice that Celino was naked. And he held a makeshift knife, which was now pressed against her throat. A young policeman pulled up and jumped out of his car. He advanced slowly and assessed the situation.

“Officer, about time you got here, this woman is trying to murder me,” Celino said.

“Sir, I understand. Put down the knife, let her go and we’ll sort this out,” the cop reassured while approaching with the caution of a cat.

“No, you don’t understand. This bitch has been trying to poison me for weeks, she is a dangerous woman.” Celino pushed the knife into her skin. A thin line of blood dripped onto Clara’s pearl necklace and stained the collar of her white dress.

The cop took a step forward and upholstered his gun. “Sir, you need to put down the weapon and let the girl go, now.”

Celino stared with his strange colored eyes; everything lost focus except the gun. “You’re right, officer. This is how it’s got to go down.”

He pushed Clara into the cop and snatched his firearm. Celino pointed the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The policeman shoved Clara against the wall, next to Celino’s backpack. He checked Celino’s pulse and radioed for an ambulance. Helluva first day on the job.

Clara sat in shock in the same place Celino perched and charmed change from customers. She looked over and saw a familiar piece of pink paper sticking out of his backpack. She felt guilty but she looked inside and saw all the poems from the corkboard. His satchel was filled with poetry and drawings. A portrait on a piece of cardboard bore an uncanny likeness of Clara. Her face was encircled by words like: hope, blessed, love, faith as if he drew a ring of protection around her.

“Yeah,” Clara thought. “He did kind of look like Jesus.”

Blind in Love

Fiction., Issue 1

By Cory D. Byrom

I fell in love with Ben the second time I saw him. He was a tour guide for Classic New York, one of those double-decker bus tours that takes you all over Manhattan, pointing out locations both historically and culturally notable. I thought it was a quirky job to have in this day and age, but Ben was wonderful at it. He welcomed every guest as they climbed onto the bus, asking my parents where they were visiting from and insisting that what a coincidence he had an aunt who lived in Marietta, Georgia, too! When I stepped up as they moved to their seats, he shook my hand and looked so deeply into my eyes that my ears started ringing. Had I been alone, or with friends, I would’ve sat right by him and made it my mission to have his number before the tour ended. But some things you just don’t do with your parents around, and for me, flirting is one of them, no matter how hot the tour-bus guide is.

The tour itself was fine, about what you’d expect. Ben pointed out all of the major monuments and delivered tidbits of trivia for the tourists to chew on as the bus lumbered through traffic. He pointed out the Egg Building at the Empire State Plaza. He showed us streets corners and storefronts seen in Taxi Driver, The Godfather, Big, and When Harry Met Sally. All the great tourist stuff.

As the tour ended and we departed, I had a sudden urge to press my phone number into his palm, but I didn’t have a pen or anything to write my number on, and before I had time to consider my options, my parents and I were standing on the street, my father wondering if we should take a cab back to Tom’s Restaurant to sit in a booth where Seinfeld ate. He was disappointed when I told him they only used the exterior.

The smart thing to do would’ve been to forget about Ben, but of course that’s not what I did. Instead, a week later I called Classic New York.

“I went on one of your tours just the other day, and I tell you, our guide, Ben I think his name was? Boy, he was really great. There was one bit of info he mentioned about the Chrysler Building that I found so interesting at the time, and danged if I can remember what it was now. I was wondering if I could get his contact info so I could pick his brain a little.” They told me that if I stopped by their office I could get a pamphlet that featured the information from the tour, and that they couldn’t give out the guides’ personal info anyway. Of course they couldn’t. So I went ahead and bought a ticket for another tour.

And it was during this second time ascending the stairs, shaking Ben’s hand, and having him once again look not at me but into me, that I fell in love with him. I told him I’d taken the tour a week earlier with my parents. “No shit?” I liked that he cursed on the job. “Who’s with you this time?”

“Oh, no one,” I admitted, feeling a little silly and obvious. “It’s just me this time.”

I pulled myself together and turned on the charm, flirting casually at first, then sneaking in more personal conversation during the down times of the tour. And I came prepared, with my number already written on a card. When I tried to give it to him towards the end of the tour, he said, “Thank you, but I’m really not interested in that sort of thing right now.”

I feigned offense and asked what “that sort of thing” was and what kind of guy did he take me for anyway.

He smiled. “You’re sweet, but trust me. It’s too complicated. I just can’t.”

I told him I understood but maybe we could grab coffee, very low-commitment, and we could each explain ourselves and then decide once and for all which of us was in fact the most complicated. It was a very playful pitch. By now the tour was ending and people were shuffling to their feet. He took the card, wrote his number on the back, and handed it back to me.

“Take my number instead. It’s easier for me,” he said. I worried that he was brushing me off with a fake number, but when I called the next day, he answered and we agreed to meet for coffee. He told me where to find him. Low-commitment. I was already in love.

I did find him. He was sitting at a table, coffee already in front of him, looking around sheepishly as if he wasn’t sure who to expect. He seemed to barely notice me approaching, but once I re-introduced myself, he was all nervous charm. As we got to know each other, it turned out that he was right about that complicated thing. He was more complicated than I could’ve imagined.

Ben explained that he suffered from prosopagnosia, more commonly known as face blindness. He could sit and study my face all day long (and believe me, I would’ve let him) and still not be able to recognize me if I walked up to him on the street. Picking someone out of a crowd was impossible. You know the phrase “He couldn’t see the forest for the trees?” Well, Ben couldn’t see the trees for the forest. People were one big forest to him. Simply put, he couldn’t recognize a person, regardless of how well he knew them.

“So, you see, having a relationship is just too complicated for me. I’m not ready for it right now,” he said, and I thought I could sense disappointment in his voice, like maybe he wanted to give it a try anyway. But maybe not.

“Who said anything about a relationship,” I said. “We’re just playing.”

“Just playing,” he echoed. Later that evening he kissed me for the first time. Even later still I gave him a blowjob in the back of a cab. It definitely had the structure of “just playing.”

We tried to come up with creative ways to make it easier for him to recognize me. I wore the same pair of blue Adidas every time we met. I offered to get a unique haircut, but there are only so many options for guys, and I couldn’t pull off suddenly going punk just so he could recognize me by my mohawk. I told him maybe I could get a tattoo in a recognizable location, but he pointed out that that wasn’t exactly a move someone “just playing” would do, and anyway, he thought tattoos were kind of trashy. So mostly we stuck to identifying clothing, like the blue Adidas.

Our just playing continued for a couple of weeks. It was a whirlwind of public makeouts, semi-public blowjobs, and late night hook-ups. It was during the third week that I finally saw him completely undressed and discovered the 3 tattoos on his chest and back. “I thought you said tattoos were trashy,” I said. He hesitated before explaining that he thought it was crazy that I would’ve offered to get a tattoo for him when we were supposed to be “just playing”. It freaked him out a little, so he’d added the trashy part to make sure I didn’t go too far. I think we both knew I’d already gone way too far.

“Are we still just playing?” I asked him. A smirk faded into a look of slight annoyance and he said, “I am,” and it stung.

Things started falling apart after that. I was finding it harder to hide my real feelings, and he was getting more and more selfish and careless in his treatment of what I perceived to be our relationship. There were times when he seemed disappointed to see me once I made it clear that it was, in fact, me. He finally told me he was tired of just playing with me. I was tired of just playing too, but we didn’t mean it in the same way. He told me I should stop calling him. He told me I could stop wearing my blue Adidas. I left them in his apartment and walked home barefoot.

It’s been two months since I fell in love with Ben. I don’t know how many times I’ve taken the Classic New York bus tour. I don’t shake his hand when I get on the bus, and I avoid eye contact. Before I went back to the tour, I got a new haircut. I grew out a goatee, too, and sometimes I even wear fake glasses. I know it doesn’t matter, because he won’t recognize me anyway- he can’t recognize me- but as long as it’s a game of dress-up, it’s easier to convince myself that I’m “just playing.”

Starlight Peppermint

Fiction., Issue 1

By Grant Jerkins

I remember the first time I saw you. I was in my car—drive-thru banking—to get a check cashed. And even though I was on the far outside lane, you looked across all five traffic aisles and made eye contact with me. Yes, the security camera captured my image, and I’m sure it was on a monitor right there next to you, but you crossed time and space, to meet my eyes with yours. And when my money arrived through the pneumatic tube, I found you’d slipped a piece of candy into the envelope.

Starlight peppermint.

I wondered if you did that on purpose. If you were sending me a message.

I remember, too, later that August, it was hot and humid. The air conditioner in my car didn’t work—and I’ll never forget this—I was making a withdrawal. You greeted me by name. And when the clear plastic canister came through the tube, I grabbed it and held it in my lap while I twisted open the top. It was the oddest sensation. Icy vapor from inside the air-conditioned bank, flowed out of the canister and pooled into my lap. I lifted the container to my face, and the cold dry air spilled from it, brushing my lips and nose. I could smell you. Your perfume. It was like standing next to you. It was like you sent the essence of yourself through time and space, just to get to me. I was so affected that I couldn’t even speak. I replaced the canister and sped away. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings.

Driving home, I wondered if you did that on purpose. If you sent that little bit of you, to me, on purpose.

Two days later, I was back with a deposit. I drove around the bank first, scouting it out, so I would know which lane was yours. This time I had a plan. I was so nervous, I couldn’t bring myself to speak or look at you. I wanted to appear distracted, so I turned up the radio and snapped my fingers and bobbed my head and waited for you to send me the receipt for my deposit. And when the transport canister slid down the tube and landed, I grabbed it and drove off. I kept the canister and drove away.

I had your air. Your perfumed essence, trapped in the plastic cylinder. Like a genie in a bottle. I had you.

I figured this must be a common-enough occurrence in drive-thru banking. People accidentally taking the tube container. I even searched online for the words bank drove off with canister, and there were over twelve million results. It happens all the time. Most likely by distracted people listening to the radio.

That night, I put you in my bed. The canister you. I laid you in the clean sheets while I took a shower. I wanted to be fresh. And then I fixed us two glasses of wine, to reduce anxiety, so we could be ourselves with each other.

I opened you. Consumed you. It was heaven. I know you felt it too.

The next day, I went inside the bank, and I asked for you by name—for Laurie. Because of course I’ve seen your gold-plastic name tag. The inside-teller (Roberta) told me you were busy and that she would be happy to help me, but I stood off to the side and waited for you. When you finally came out and saw me, you had this funny look on your face, almost like you didn’t recognize me. I smiled at you—sheepish, embarrassed, guilty. And I held up the canister. I said I was sorry. Understanding broke across your face, and you grinned and cocked your head to the side and asked me if I did it on purpose. Ha-ha. Then you laughed some more and said don’t worry, it happens all the time. It felt like you were reading my mind. Like you were sending me a message. Then I watched you open the canister. It was just a reflex on your part. Like maybe you were a little bit nervous and didn’t know what to do with your hands. I watched your fingers slip inside, and I thought about the residue from last night that was in there, coating the circular walls, and how my essence was on your fingers now, and how later, you might put your fingers to your lips and part of me would be inside of you.

In a rushing breath, I told you how good of a job you were doing at the bank, and how courteous and professional you always were to me, and how you made me feel like my business was truly appreciated, and that I wanted to tell your manager what an asset you are to the bank, but I was late for an appointment and if you would just give me your business card, I could call the manager later and tell him exactly who I was complimenting.

So you gave me your card.

Laurie Ciresi.
Customer Service Specialist.

Ciresi is not a common name. Not common at all. You were easy to track down. But you knew that would be the case, didn’t you?

Many nights, I watch from the stand of weeping willows behind your house. Sometimes with binoculars, and sometimes I just go right up and look in. You should really cut those hedges. They are a security risk. Or get your husband to do it. I don’t think he’s right for you. You two almost never sleep together. That says a lot.

Now that the weather is getting crisp, sometimes you open your windows to let in the evening air. When I get up close, I can smell your essence seeping out. It reminds me of how we first met, at your work, and how you sent me the air you breathe through the pneumatic tube. How I wondered if you did that on purpose. Ha-ha. It makes me smile now. How I brought the canister home, and then brought it back to you with a little bit of me left inside. Molecules of me. And now here I am, waiting for you, out under the stars. Starlight, remember? I wonder how many billions of years our atoms have swirled around the universe, only to arrive here, tonight, to be at this moment, bathed in starlight.

Time and space converge like the cards of a shuffled deck, and here we are.

What happens next?

I notice that you forgot to close your bedroom window all the way tonight. I can’t help but wonder if you did that on purpose.

If you are sending me a message.

I surely do wonder.