This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

A portly man sits in a gilded chair atop a dais. His hands are folded over his long red tie which cascades down his belly like a bloody waterfall. One hand lifts to cover a yawn, then descends below its partner to scratch a deep red, neglected rash on the underside of his belly, the part that hides the zipper of his navy blue suit pants. He makes a mental note to to ask his assistant to make an appointment with his doctor only to toss it away to make room for the delicious cut of beef and the pungent cigar his favorite lobbyist had given him. He longed to be free of this drudgery and enjoy them with him. And his family, of course.

He clears his throat and looks around and straightens his back. A thumping, beating sound, the type of sound you feel more than hear, vibrates through his ribcage. He coughs on the loosened tar. A draft tickles his fine hairs and sends a chill down his spine. He leans to his side and asks his aide to close the window. The sound deadens as a quieter, almost timid one finds its way back to his ear.

A hunched and sweaty man read breathlessly from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to the chamber of bored and aggravated senators as the glassy stare of the portly man bore into him. Between every word the chants from outside would rattle the windows, rattle his chest. The horrible sound of glass shattering. The image of his daughter’s mangled body on the hospital bed, only 26. He trips over the next word and his legs are about to give. He reads on even though his daughters matted hair and the tubes from her mouth bleed into every silent space.

The windows continue to rattle. His mind wanders out of the chamber, past his daughter’s dreary hospital room, through the rattling old windows to the mass of protesters outside beating their voices against the capital building’s walls like would-be trumpets at Jericho. He was with them, no, more than that he was them. He stood there holding a heavy poster-board in one hand and his daughter in the other, he chanted with them for the powers that be to do the right thing.

So long ago.

Long before he became a senator. Before the complications and attacks on his integrity. Before the piles of gifts, ignored, and the expensive dinners, politely enjoyed. Before the car crash, before the promised check. Before he stood up from his seat, book in hand, to stand up for the wrong thing. Before long it became too much.

“Alright, alright,” the portly man booms from his dais, waving his hand dismissively in the way a father would dismiss a child from an arduous punishment. The hunched and defeated father slumps into his chair mid-sentence as the other continues. “That’s enough, senator, that’s enough. We’ll table this issue for another time. And really, I never expected this from you who seemed to like the idea of ‘free’ healthcare.”

“It isn’t free if the taxpayers have alre-“

“Now, I said that’s enough.” He repeats in the same fatherly tone. “You made your point quite clear that you didn’t want the vote to go through today, and I think we’d all like to go home to our families.”

“Of course.”

As they descend the steps of the capital building to the deafening singular voice of the protestors chanting “do your job” the portly man adjusts his suit and lifts his head high. He wraps his heavy arm around the slouched shoulders of the tired and worried father slipping a check into his coat pocket and whispering, “you did the right thing.”

Swiftly Go the Days

The Sun hangs low in the sky
On my early morning drive.
She rises just below the visor
Directly in my eyes.
Our eyes
Just one in a river of cars
Barreling toward the morning Sun

What does the sun do all day?
Does it get to go out and play?
Does she watch the children play ball,
Or the first time they walk or crawl?

I may never know,
Because I only ever see her
Shining directly in my eyes
Just under my visor
On my late evening drive
When the Sun hangs low in the sky.

A Houseplant is Dying, Tell it Why it Needs to Live. (prompt #2, of 642 things to write about.)

Earlier today I noticed my ficus, Fifi, was still droopy, so I watered her. It was all I could do. It must have been about a week since she began to wilt. I’ve done everything I could think of. I moved her to a spot with more light but that only made her shed more. I began watering her twice a day, up from once. I even bought some really nice plant food and poured the whole bag into her pot. I am at a total loss for what to do as I sit next to her stroking her few remaining leaves, blowing carbon dioxide I made from my lungs onto her leaves in breathy “I love you”s and “please, don’t leave me”s.

Tricia and I bought Fifi on a whim from a booth at the local farmers market on sunny Sunday when we first leased this apartment. I thought it was a silly purchase but it made her happy. “It’ll bring the place some life, Nate.” She told me as she handed me the pot to carry to the car. “You’ll see, we’ll take care of it together. It’ll be like having a kid that doesn’t shit all over itself. We’ll call her Fifi.”

“Her? How do you know it’s not a boy?” I asked as I adjusted the pot in my hands so as not to drop it and a large chunk of soil tipped out down the front of my white t-shirt. I laughed and so did she.

I guess to her it was more than a plant it was a symbol of our love, our life together. Over the next few years we kept the plant in the same spot, a few feet from the small window in our shared bedroom. She would water it everyday before she went to work, caress it’s leaves and whisper something before turning to me caressing my hair, whispering, “I love you,” and kissing me goodbye.

The plant grew and shed leaves all around it’s base. I’d pick them up before she came home, begrudgingly. “‘It’ll be like having a kid that doesn’t shit all over itself,’” I’d say in a mocking her. Every so often during her morning ritual I’d poke fun at her for loving the plant more than me. She’d raise her eyebrow, put her hands on her hips and affect a mock indignant tone then she’d give me a little more than a kiss.

It was beautiful, and happy, and light, and it was some of the best times I ever had. Then seemingly out of the blue Tricia became tired. She would still wake up water the plant whisper to it and kiss me but it was more like soap actor going through the motions than my beautiful, passionate Tricia.

As time wore on she would stay in bed more often, slowly neglecting her morning ritual more and more. She said it was nothing and she’d be better the next day. She’d say the same thing the next day and the next and the next until I finally forced her to the doctors. He said it was cancer. He said it was much too late to do anything about it, it had already spread to most of her organs. It was a matter of days he told me. All they could do was to make her comfortable.

She was admitted to the hospital. I made them let me bring Fifi into the room with her. Everyday I would go to her. I’d water the plant, stroke it, and breathe, “I love you,” onto it’s leaves. Then I’d cross the room and sit in the chair next to her bed. I would hold her hand, stroke her lank, greasy hair, and whisper “I love you, please don’t leave me,” in her ear. I would do this every day, every day until she mustered her last bit of energy and rattled, “I love you, Nate, I’m sorry. Please, take care of Fifi for me.”

No More Clowning Around

Richard sat in the mirror meticulously applying his make up. He painted the white foundation in long smooth strokes making sure to flatten any clumps along the way until it covered his entire facade. He then made a caricature of a smile in red and blue around his mouth. Finally he pinched the big red ball so the slit on the side opened up. He stared into it for a second before he placed it around his nose. He looked himself in the eyes and smiled; no longer Richard, he exhaled and said to himself, “Hello, Boppo,” and squeezed his big red nose twice making a honking sound with his mouth each time.

Sarah sat in the kitchen repeatedly tapping her thumbs together between her folded hands. She stared at the space between their dirty refrigerator full of half checked to-do lists and invitations to children’s birthday parties, and the semi-doorless, paint chipped cabinet that surrounded it. She then got up and paced the wobbly kitchen table they’d picked up from a craigslist curbside ad. Finally she stopped at her framed bachelors degree. She traced the lettering through the glass before she thoughtlessly turned her head to his clown school diploma framed in cartwheeling clowns attached at the limbs, dressed in all manner of brightly-colored, tasteless outfits. She sat herself back down and frowned; no longer able to cope, she exhaled and said, “What’s taking him so long?” her rage built each time she heard him honk from the bathroom.

He walked in with a goofy grin plastered across his face. She wanted to smack it off.

“You look like an idiot.”

“That’s kind of the point isn’t it?”

“Funny,” she said laying her slender arms on the table.

“Exactly,” he said not looking at her as he opened the fridge.

He bent over at the waist looking into the fridge. His vibrant rainbow covered, egregiously large ass seemed framed by the light emanating around it.

“You know it’s better to bend at the knees.”

“Yes, Mother,” he said removing the peanut butter and jelly and placing it on the counter.

“Won’t they have food there?”

“I’m hungry now.” He said turning to her, biting his sandwich with his lips peeled back.

“You just going to leave that there then?”

“You seem aggravated, Sis. Can we skip the passive aggressiveness and jump to the yelling? I’m kind of on a time crunch.”

She stood from her chair with such force it toppled over backward, he started. This made him look more surprised than his perfectly painted eyebrows intended.

“Fuck you, Dick.”

“Go on.” He nodded causing his pastel blue/green afro to bob.

“Our house is turning to shit; Nothing ever gets done around here except your stupid make-up. ”

“Okay, valid point, but you know I’m gone all day-“

“Don’t you dare say it.” She said stepping toward him.

“-Clowning around. I wasn’t going to until you said something.” He explained, “what I was going to say was: I’m gone all day working two jobs so we can keep the house, what are you doing? Maybe if you spent less time on the computer and more time checking off all these fucking to do lists you keep making then maybe the house would be in better shape.” He punctuated this by shoving the rest of the sandwich in his mouth.

“I’m talking to professors and applying for internships trying to better myself. Plus, dad never taught me how to be handy, you’re the big brother isn’t that your job.”

Swallowing, “My job… my job? Just because I’m a guy means I’m supposed to be handy? You went to college what’s your stupid degree worth if you don’t even know how to use a screw driver.”

“Oh, my degree is stupid.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh I’m sorry I forgot you went to clown college let me explain it to you. Your. Degree. Is. A. Joke.”

“Fitting, I mean, I am a clown. At least mine wasn’t a $500,000 joke. Who’s hiring physicists right now? No one? Oh weird, at least I knew going into it my degree was going to be a joke.”

She began flailing her arms in a rage. “You know that’s not how it works, you have to get your- why am I even explaining this to you?”

“Just because I’m a clown doesn’t mean I’m a fool.” His oversized shoe squeaked as he stepped forward in anger. “If I didn’t have to pay all of the bills, buy all the food and pay your fucking student loans I could be a clown full time, I’d never have to take off my costume. I could be living my dream.”

“God forbid you can’t live your stupid dream of being a clown. What about my dream, huh?”

“Your dream? How is going to school indefinitely a dream?”

“It’s not indefinite, I can’t be a professor with only a bachelors degree. I need at a masters and that’s if I just want to teach at a community college,” she shutters. “I need you to support me in this you’re all I have.”

“I do support you, that’s what I’m saying. I need you to support me to, and maybe help out around the house some when you have nothing better to do.”

“How am I supposed to support you if all you want to do is clown around?” She yelled with the fury only years of rumination could build.

“How are we supposed to both live our dreams if we can’t even support each other. Everything we’ve ever done has been one sided always you, you, you. I’m sick of it, I have to go.” He turned to leave and his oversized trousers clipped the jar of jelly shattering it on the floor. “Ah, shit. I got shit on my fucking… fuck”

“You’re just going to leave that there, huh?”

He’d already left the room, faintly he heard, “always fucking cleaning up after you.”

“Eat a dick, Sarah.” He yelled.

“Eat a bullet, Dick.” She yelled back.

He slammed the door causing a shudder to go throughout the old house. Sarah’s college diploma shook off the wall and shattered in front of her as she bent down to pick up the jelly covered, broken glass.

A clearly audible scream emanated from the house as Richard opened the door of his ’98 Honda Civic. He didn’t look back as the suspension creaked under him as he got in and drove off to the party.

Parked out front of the gaudy mcmansion which vomited rainbow colored streamers and the laughter of children Richard downed 2 tiny bottles of Makers Mark he’d bought on the way. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror and said, “Hey kids… No that’s not right,” this time in a higher register, “Hey, kids!” He cleared his throat and belched then said in the same pitch, “Hey, kids! It’s me Boppo, ready to have some fun?” Then affecting a ridiculous expression he laboriously climbed out of his tiny sedan, dropping his emptied bottles into the pristine gutter as he stood.

Sophie, adorned in jewels and a flowing, crisp-white sundress, greeted him at the door. “You must be Boppo,” she said curtly ushering him through the door, “follow me, the kids are in the back.” They passed through the wide open french doors decked with streamers and a banner exclaiming, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY PRESTON!” It opened to a sunwashed patio brimming with Tommy Bahama decorated adults and GAP adorned children. The patio led to a vibrant green lawn where a petting zoo and a bounce house had been set up. “You can set up there in the corner by the pool.”

“So where’s Preston?”

“He’s right over there. Preston!” she called.

A small toe-headed child turned to look. A plastic, silver spoon dropped from his mouth as his eyes widened fearfully. He began crying and ran into the house.

Sophie turned to Boppo in disgust, as if he’d drop-kicked her precious Preston. He shrugged.

“Why don’t you just get set up I’ll have my brother bring the other kids over.” She huffed then turned and briskly walked into the house.

No sooner than he’d dropped his duffel bag and started unpacking did children gather wide-eyed around him.

“Hey, Kids! It’s me Boppo!” He said, exuberantly opening his arms to them. “Who wants a balloon animal. I can make worms, snakes, and armless lizards.” He began pumping air into a balloon but let it go early, purposefully hitting himself in the face. This garnered a big laugh from the kids who were now dropping rabbits from the petting zoo and bouncing head-first from the bounce house to gather around him. There was even a chuckle from the crowd of adults keeping an acceptable distance.

As he pratfell and bounced through his routine the sweet sound of children’s laughter washed over him. Normally, this would assuage the stress of whatever happened outside of the costume, but it failed to wash away the sickening feeling the mornings argument had stuck in him. Beneficially, however, it forced him to try harder to find better ways of making a fool of himself.

Unfortunately the end of his act had come and it neither expunged his sister’s terrible scream from replaying in his head nor had it pulled Preston out of his childish fear.

“Where is the birthday boy I haven’t seen him all day!”

“He’s inside crying,” one boy gleefully explained.

“That’s too bad maybe a song will cheer him up, now sing loudly so he can hear,” Boppo began to sing:

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

“If you’re happy and you know it, and you really wanna show it, clap your hands.”

“No Preston?” He said as he exaggerated a searching affectation with his feet planted widely below him and his hand shading his eyes from the sun. The memory of how Sarah had cried for hours even after the clown had left his own 7th birthday pressed itself to the fore of his mind. A fresh wave of guilt washed over him remembering how his fondness for the clown had prevented him from knowing, let alone comforting, his sister’s distress. All this while the mornings argument played again and again in his head.

“One more time kids!

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

“If you’re happy and you know it, tell me how,” Richard unconsciously let slip.

“If you’re happy and you know it, I want you to show me.

“Tell me how.”

A few surprised looks specked the faces of the adult crowd, and another toe-headed boy matter-of-factly said, “That’s not how the song goes.”

Shit, Thought Richard. “Yell out why you’re happy kids, maybe that will cheer Preston up,” Boppo recovered. “How about you little boy? Yeah in the red striped polo.” He said pointing.

“I’m happy because I have a mommy and daddy who love me.”

A pair of adults wrapped their arms around each other’s waist, an invisible hand squeezed Richard’s heart.

“Uh, what about you little girl?” Boppo mechanically pointed to a golden haired girl in a pink dress.

“I’m happy because I love my brother and he loves me,” she said hugging the boy next to her.

“That’s great.” Bop mustered as Preston and his mother emerged from the house wiping tears from his cheeks. With renewed energy Boppo exclaimed, “we did it kids there he is: the man of the hour. What makes you happy, Preston.”

Preston sniffled, then with pride said, “I’m happy and I know it, ‘cause mommy said I can tell you to leave.”

“Oh.” Richard’s frown was strong enough to pull even Boppo’s painted-on smile down with it. He looked at the mother whose hands draped the little boys shoulders in a gesture comfort and transferred will. She met his pitiful gaze with a mother’s immutable pride.

“Why don’t you gather your things and meet me inside,” then turning to her child she said, “go play with your friends the scary clown is leaving now.”

Richard reluctantly gathered his things and met Sophie in the house.

“Kids, am I right?” He said jokingly.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, nothing. Listen, I’m sorry Preston was so scared, I had no way of knowing.”

“I didn’t expect you to.” She said maliciously as she snatched her wallet off a shelf. She wrote a check and handed it to him.

He stared at it for a second before saying, “what is this?”

“A check.” Her expression might as well have said, “idiot.”

“This isn’t even half of what I quoted you over the phone.”

“Well you made my kid cry, he didn’t even see your act.”

“Do you think what I do is some kind of joke?” He said waving the check held in his comically large gloves.

She stared at him blankly, “what’re you complaining about? You’re lucky I even paid you.”

“Do you think I’m some kind of fool?” His jester’s staff fell from his unzipped bag as he gesticulated.

“I’m the one who should be mad. You traumatized my Preston, who knows if he’ll ever recover? You’re lucky my husband isn’t here.”

Picking his staff from the floor and waved it furiously in the air, “fine, whatever, bitch, tell your husband I said ‘hi’ when he gets home from whatever’s more important than his kid’s own birthday.” He said slamming the front door behind him.

At the end of the driveway he put a cigarette between his lips. While searching for his lighter a man called out from behind him, “Boppo, Boppo. Hey you heading out?”

Richard quickly removed the cigarette and hid it in his palm as he turned to see a man in a silky, collared shirt with palm trees framing his protruding beer-gut and a kid attached to his arm walking briskly toward him. “Yeah, Boppo’s job is done here, off to make the next group of kids smile and laugh.”

The child stood silently in his vibrant blue polo and khakis as his dad explained, “My boy really loved your act, can I get your card his birthday is coming up in a couple weeks.”

“Of course,” he reached into the pocket of his duffel bag searched around affected a surprised look. “Oh no, it looks like I’m all out of cards,” he exaggerated his dismay, then looked down at the child, “what’s that behind your ear?”

The child looked around in surprise and frantically brushed his ears, “What, I don’t know.”

“Here let me get that for you.” He reached behind the child’s ear and presented his business card to the wide-eyed and elated child. “Give that to your dad so I can come to your party.”

The child held the card in both hands as if it was the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory.

His father said to Boppo, “thanks, man you were great,” then to his kid, “didn’t you have something you wanted to say to the clown, Jimmy.”

Jimmy raised his eyes just above the card and said almost in a whisper, “I wanna be just like you someday.”

His father laughed and said, “Kids say the darnedest things don’t they,” as he patted Boppo on the shoulder.

Boppo affected a laugh and said, “yeah, yeah they do.”

They waved goodbye as he crossed the street and got in his tiny sun-damaged sedan. He lit his cigarette, stalled then drove off.

He looked at himself in the rearview mirror, Boppo stared back. He talked as the cigarette bobbed between his lips, “Is this what you wanted? Is this what you dreamed it would be?”

“Shut up, Boppo. Don’t you start in on me now.”

“What did she pay us, let me see the check.”

Richard removed the check from his pocket.

“Ooph, ouch. What a bitcharooniedoonie,” Boppo observed.

“Yeah life probably just isn’t going her way and she has to take it out on whoever will let her get away with it.”

“You’re right about that, man.”

Richard took a long drag of his cigarette, “fuck.”

“Yeah that was brutal. What were you thinking when you let that ‘tell me how’ shit slip. That was a just us thing.”

“I don’t know, man. I guess that fight with Sarah was really getting to me. That was some good thinking asking the kids what makes them happy. Even though they kind of hit me where it hurts you really saved the act.”

“Yeah what the fuck was Sarah’s problem this morning?”

“She’s probably not happy with how her life turned out either. Ever since our parents died she’s been pulling further and further away from me. I just need to talk to her about it.”

“Yeah because that worked so well all the other times.”

“I mean a real conversation, no bullshitting around the bush.”

“Do you really think you can do that?”

“Yeah, well I’m pretty sure I can. I mean it’s like I’ve been hiding behind this mask from everyone, especially her, and all it really does is make everything worse.” Richard said to the mirror as he rounded the corner to his street and flicked his cigarette out the window.

He parked the car in the driveway and said, “whelp, I guess it’s showtime, Richard.”

He entered the house. The only sound was the door latching behind him as he made his way to the kitchen. When he passed through the doorway he noticed the jelly had been cleaned but there was a broken frame still on the ground. He looked up at the wall and notice his diploma had been taken from his frame and replaced with Sarah’s. Infuriated he stormed into the living room. No sign. Then he raged into the den. Not even a tumbleweed. Finally, with his temper boiling off his make-up he busted through Sarah’s door to find her crying.

“Get out!” she screamed.

Richards anger immediately disappeared and was replaced with overwhelming concern. “What’s wrong?”

“I said get out of here.”

“Sarah, come on I’m your big brother tell me what’s wrong?” He said removing the big red ball from his nose.

“Just shut up. You wouldn’t understand, everything goes your way. Just get out of here you fucking clown.”

“I just-“

“This isn’t a joke, get out!”

Defeated Richard left to his room. When inside he pulled out a half emptied bottle of Makers Mark and spit cleaned his tumbler with a dirty shirt from the hamper. He set them on his desk, sat down and began drinking. After the second glass he poured a third and left it as he got up to rummage through his closet. He parted the hanging t-shirts and clown pants, and tossed aside several props until he found an ornate box. He took it back to the desk and placed it between the bottle and the glass. He sipped his whiskey as he opened it. Reaching inside he pulled out a multicolored ribbon and continued to pull until all the colors of the rainbow presented themselves about 8 times. Finally reaching the last of the colors he pulled out an ornately carved pistol. “Goodbye, Boppo,” he said as he held the gun to his temple. He pulled the trigger.

BLAM, read the tiny flag.