Thepopestolemyshoes’s Weblog

Mischief and Mayhem. This Blog is still a work in progress.

Story from Three Perspectives June 15, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — thepopestolemyshoes @ 8:03 pm

Photographer

A flurry of sand blew past Mark, as he lowered his camera. He never could get used to the new digital ones the Times had issued. He was always waiting for that distinctive click of the shutter. It made him feel like, without it, the photo wasn’t quite done. Mark sighed, as he looked over at his subjects. Two tired soldiers leaning against a Humvee wheel. They looked so exhausted, worn about the edges. They weren’t exactly resting like someone in the world would. They were tense and alert, eyes continually assessing their surroundings. Yet, you could see a strange resignation in those eyes. Anyone could tell they anticipated an attack or ambush and were at a weary peace with it. Mark hoped he captured that look.

Mark had come to cover the war with all sorts of expectations. Over the long months, each of them was buried under the reality of this place. The soldiers Mark covered had told him, “Welcome to the suck,” when he arrived. He hadn’t understood it then, just had written it off to military bravado. Now he caught himself using it on cherry reporters when they came in country. The standard cliché was, that war changed you. Mark felt that it was the world that had changed, or that he could now see it with eyes brutally uncovered. Nothing was the same, and he wondered if he would recognize anything when he could make himself go home.

Soldiers in Photo

Sergeant Presas handed the canteen back to Specialist Beach. Whenever someone went looking for one of them, they would find the other close at hand. They were the only two remaining members of a ten medic detachment to this infantry unit. They had the replacements to bring them up to full strength, but they didn’t know any of the new guys. They didn’t trust them yet. Both men used to be famous for their sense of humor. The reprimands they received from the company were legendary. Neither of them laughed much now.

Presas had come to Iraq a visionary; he had believed that they were liberators. He had read everything he could on the Iraqi people, their history, their culture; he could even speak a little Farsi. It definitely helped him with the locals. They trusted him more than the other soldiers here. But, the loss of friends and constant mortar and RPG attacks had slowly burned away his crusader’s spirit. He wasn’t quite sure he believed in anything anymore.

Presas lied in his letters back home. He told his friends and family about all the great things he was doing here. The palaces they slept in and the happy villagers that they helped. People back home didn’t want to know the truth; they wanted a nice clean war that they could feel all warm and fuzzy about. Some units got to do the hearts and minds bit. Presas had been in one of them at the start. He had cursed the inaction, wanting to get into the fray with the rest of the army. He had never felt the full weight of the phrase, be careful what you wish for. Now, he would like to meet the man who came up with that saying and kick him in the teeth.

Beach grunted and nudged Presas in the shoulder. The unit was gathering up around the command tent. Presas knocked back the rest of his canteen and stood up. Beach walked with him to the tent, a solid presence by Presas’ side. Together they reached the milling medics and began barking platoon assignments. Presas wondered which ones would be hit this time.

Bystander Watching the Photo

Captain MacEntee watched Mark roaming through the encampment. This reporter was better than most. He had been with the unit for six months now. Most ditched out to the safety of the sane world after the first month. It was one thing for the talking heads to discuss the war over their nonfat lattes; it was quite another to be hip deep in the suck. Mac liked the young reporter; Mark was almost considered one of the boys by the rest of the unit as well.

The Captain looked over at the pair leaning against the Humvee tire, as Mark snapped their photo. Presas and Beach- those two used to be the biggest pain in Mac’s ass. He had often prayed that the two of them would be separated and sent to curse some other commander. Now, he just prayed they’d pull one of their old pranks. Mac chuckled, as he remembered the time they were caught stealing a potted palm tree from the Post General’s porch. Presas had tried to pass both of them off as a landscaping detail.

They were mere shadows of the former pranksters. Morale was low across the entire unit and Mac tried unsuccessfully to avoid the party line, “You’re doing great things for your country! I know it’s hard to see, but everything you do here helps the big picture.” Mac hated to spout that crap to his men. He usually shot straight with them, gave them the blunt facts. His men respected him for it. They recognized his frustration with resorting to the canned platitudes and didn’t hold it against him. He was thankful for that.

All the men had been hit hard this deployment. They were nine months into their rotation with another nine to go. Mac wondered how many of his original company he would have left by then, or if he would be around to go home with them. He had to separate Presas and Beach. They were his best docs, he assigned them to separate platoons. He knew if he lost one the other would just detach or lose his mind. There was just so much shit one could heap on a guy. Mac made a mental note to rotate them both to Kuwait for some R&R.

First Sergeant Archer came up beside him and nodded to the two reclining medics. “Don’t worry about those two, sir, they’re survivors.”

Mac nodded, “That they are, Top.” The two men stood silently beside each other, as they surveyed their troops. Over half of the company was cherry replacements. They huddled besides the veterans watching them in nervous awe. You could always tell the new ones by how much crap they tried to carry on patrol. Mac smirked, as he watched a burly infantry Sergeant go through his squad’s packs and sorting the worthless from the necessary.

Mac looked over at Archer and nodded, “Let’s form em up, Top. Time to earn our pay.” Archer grunted an assent and moved off through the troops, kicking them to their feet and shouting them into formation. Mac saw Presas and Beach slide upright and do the same to the medics. He appreciated how well his veterans ran his company. Sighing, he slid his Kevlar onto his head and strode toward his vehicle. It was gonna be another scorcher of a day.

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Choice Exerpt

Filed under: Uncategorized — thepopestolemyshoes @ 7:59 pm

Choice

Water crashed against the pylons of the bridge below, the sound barely reached the pedestrians walking through the light winter’s snow. Daniel was leaning against the railing, staring down into the river. His eyes were unfocused, lost in thought, as he opened and closed the small velvet box in his hands. His black wool overcoat snapped in the wind. He didn’t feel its harsh bite; he just stood there lost in his own thoughts.

“I was afraid I would find you out here,” Mark said as he settled in beside Daniel. “You plan on jumping?”

Daniel sighed as he clicked the box closed. “It would be easier in a lot of ways if I did.”

Mark looked over at the box in Daniel’s hand. “Did she know you were going to ask?”

Daniel slipped the box into his coat pocket and adjusted his scarf tighter around his neck. “If she did, she was crueler than I would have ever imagined.”

Mark slid a comforting hand onto his brother’s shoulder. “We tried to tell you that she wasn’t good for you, Danny. She never deserved you.”

Daniel shrugged his shoulders, “Mark, I really don’t want to have an, “I told you so,” conversation. What’s next? Forget about her? There are plenty of other women out there? Could we just skip that part?”

 

More than I could

Filed under: Fiction — thepopestolemyshoes @ 7:26 pm
Tags: ,

Here is a sample of my writing.

More than I could

A gust of wind tore the door out of her chilled hands. It was mid-November, and the rains had begun their seasonal torrent. Jessica shook her umbrella and looked about the darkened interior of the pub. Cheap neon lights reflected off the rosewood of the long bar, stretching out along the narrow building. Between the bathrooms, playing out some quiet indie love song, settled an ancient jukebox. This place was old wood and shadows, a fitting companion to the weather outside. As her eyes adjusted, she caught sight of him.

He was nursing a drink, his usual gin and tonic. It was one of the quirks that she loved about him. He had started drinking them the second year of their relationship. He thought it was the drink of a distinguished man. She recognized it then as an attempt of a boy to find himself as a man. Jessica had often teased him that they tasted like Christmas trees.

Jonah looked over at the door and caught sight of her. His hopelessly unruly brown hair was slipping down into his eyes as it always had. The corners of his mouth turned up into his trademark grin when he recognized her. Jessica both loved and hated that grin. On one hand, it could make her melt in the most delicious fashion. On the other, it had the uncanny ability to keep Jonah out of trouble. He could say the most outrageous things and just flash that smile toward anyone, and his remarks went from scathing sarcasm to mischievous teasing. He had always been incorrigible and she sincerely doubted that anything had changed over the years.

Jonah waved her over and leaned in to say something to the bartender as she made her way over to him.

“Hey, there, Trouble,” Jonah, said as he shifted back into his stool to take her in, his hazel eyes were twinkling with his usual barely-restrained sense of humor.

“Hey, yourself, Jonah.” Jessica slid her white knit scarf from around her neck and slid into the stool beside him.

“I ordered you a drink, if that’s all right. Still fond of those extremely dirty martinis?” He asked, looking her over as if to drink her all in at once. It had been seven years since they had last seen each other. Jonah noted how she was still just as beautiful as she had been then. She had aged, that was undeniable. She was dressed in effortless elegance. She wore a long black skirt, with a gray silken blouse, black leather boots, and a knee length red coat. All accented with her white scarf. Jonah wondered at the difference a few years had wrought upon her.

Gone was the innocent look that had originally drawn him. There were lines about her mouth and eyes, faint, but there nonetheless. Her dark hair was long and drawn up into a ponytail. He had always loved her hair like that. He was a little surprised to see her wearing thin dark framed glasses. She had used to feel self-conscious about wearing them. Jonah loved her in them. They accentuated her blue eyes wonderfully.

“You look amazing. You’re in clear violation of the ex-girlfriend rule, you know.” He sipped his drink as his eyes twinkled at her over the rim.

“Ex-girlfriend rule? I don’t think I know that one,” Jessica laughed as she nodded to the bar tender dropping off her drink.

“Well, it’s quite explicit. Thou must have twenty kids, be married to some loser from high school, and weigh two hundred pounds. Thou definitely must not be still attractive.”

“So sorry to disappoint,” Jessica said with a small laugh. “I see you’re still unable to be serious about anything.”

“I tried out serious for a year or so, it didn’t take,” He replied shifting in his stool. “Shall we move to a booth?”

“Sounds like an idea.” Jessica gathered up her drink and scarf. Shifting off the stool she followed him to a small booth and draped her coat and purse over the seat as they sat down opposite of each other. As he settled, he tossed his suit jacket and heavy black overcoat to the side. She took a moment to look him over. He had changed, there were shadows in his eyes and he looked worn about the edges. There was softness about the middle now, a slightly rounded rather than the previous chiseled. His family had always run easily to fat and Jonah had always been self conscious about it. She decided not to mention it to him.

It was strange to see him in a suit. It fit him well, a light tan color with a blue dress shirt. She smiled as she noticed he had rolled up his sleeves to his forearms. He might be dressed well but he still wore things in a manner that screamed an almost feline indifference. Still, she couldn’t help but picture him in his old attire of t-shirts, jeans, and those ratty sandals he refused to replace.

Once she was settled in herself, she took a sip of her martini and leaned back into the cushioned seat. “You were the last person I expected to hear from today, Jonah. Where have you been?”

“I joined the Peace Corps,” he replied with a grin. “ I was in Burma teaching villagers how to play poker.”

` “What! Seriously?” she laughed, as she leaned in, resting her elbows on the table and stirring her drink.

“Nah, kidding, here and there, actually. I sold my car and condo and just left one day. I couldn’t take Norman anymore.”

“You just left? To where?” she asked, arching her eyebrow. Jonah had always been impulsive, but this was a stretch, even for him.

“Nowhere at first. I hitchhiked out of Oklahoma and went up to New York. From there I went to Europe and just wandered for awhile.”

“Just wandered? Where you high? What about school?” Jessica searched his eyes, wanting more. He still drove her crazy with his answers. Jonah was almost serially cryptic at times. It wasn’t one of his more endearing qualities. She had often fantasized about strangling him when he got on one of his mysterious bends.

“No, lost maybe. I was sitting on the porch one day and just had a sense that I had no idea who I was. There was nothing keeping me in Norman, you were gone, Tim and Brody were hatching yet another scheme to perfect society, I think it was a commune this time. I just had an emptiness inside so I left.” Jonah leaned in and fished out an ice cube from his drink. He just sat there for a moment watching a drop of condensation drip slowly into his glass as he gathered himself.

Jessica wasn’t sure how to take him like this. He was still the Jonah she remembered, but there was an air about him she wasn’t able to lock down.

She took a good look behind the bar and noticed several neon shamrocks against the glass. She laughed, it was typical of Jonah, left to his own devices he always managed to find every Irish pub in a city inside of a week. “So you just wandered for seven years? Joined a monastery or two?”

He dropped the ice back into his drink and settled back, sliding his arm out along the seat. “Nah, the money ran out after the third year and the monks threw me out when they figured out I thought the vow of celibacy was more of a guideline. I ended up working on a fishing boat out of Majorca for a while. Then I had to fly back to the states for my father’s funeral.”

“I heard about your dad, Jonah. I’m very sorry.” She reached across the table to take his hand in hers. She had wanted to call his family when she had heard about his Dad’s heart attack, but she thought it would have been awkward. She had loved his dad; he had been so loud, full of life, and an unabashed flirt. He was yet another great thing about the time she had spent with Jonah.

“Thanks… it was hard to see him like that. I know they’re supposed to look at rest or something, but he looked like a wax copy of my dad. I think I just didn’t want to admit that he was really gone.” he shrugged and showed her a lazy grin. “I went back to school after that, and now I’m a corporate headhunter.”

“Oh? What’s that?”

Jonah laughed, “Basically, I am like a talent scout for businesses. My clients tell me what kind of people they need and I beg, borrow, and kidnap them from other business and universities. That or I snatch a few talented people from here and there, and ransom them off to the highest bidder.”

Jessica smirked, “So you’re a pirate?”

“Yar!” Jonah growled at her with a leer.

Jessica rolled her eyes, as she tossed a napkin at him. “So how do you like it? Seems a far cry from the crazy schemes you used to cook up.”

Jonah grimaced, “True, but I had to grow up at least a little sooner or later. It’s not bad. I feel guilty, sometimes, about how much I make. I’m good at it, but it doesn’t take much. I mostly just go out and schmooze both clients and talent. It’s really nothing more than a lot of dinners and bar meets, occasionally there’s research and projections. I worry that eventually, someone is going to figure out I am really only getting paid to hang out with people. After they do, they’ll put an end to it.” He chuckled and shrugged.

Jessica studied him. It was very strange to see him successful at something. Jonah had been like an elemental force. He drew people to him in a chaotic swirl. He’d tell outrageous jokes, have everyone damn near suffocating from laughing, and duck out suddenly. Bewildering everyone about him. Once he had called her at three in the morning, declared that he had decided that he needed a midget personal assistant, then promptly hung up before she could answer.

He would start a thousand projects, ranging from photo coffee table books, to small restaurants, get bored about halfway through and immediately embark onto something new. She had often felt like she was hanging onto a whirlwind. But, he had been exciting, and a wonderful partner. He remembered the smallest details of her desires and had delighted in making her speechlessly happy. She had never been so romanced before or since.

But, beyond all this, there was a darker side of Jonah. He would sink into black depressions, rare, but all the more bleak for the contrast against his usually happy personae. He was annoyingly forgetful. The fact that he honestly couldn’t help it, and it wasn’t that he didn’t care, alleviated it a little. But, after you’ve had to tell him half a dozen times what you were doing the next day. Or, you had to turn off the oven he had left on, yet again. It was enough to drive anyone to frustration.

What made it even more maddening, were his little surprises. She could mention wanting the slightest thing in passing. Or admire something in a shop for a little longer than others and a short while later he would present it to her. How he could remember some things that seemed so trivial, and be totally oblivious to so many others, had driven her absolutely crazy.

“So, did you end up finding yourself out there?” She asked, sliding her hand out of his to sip her drink.

“Part of me, I think, the rest is still in progress. But enough about me, what about you?” His eyes slid to her wedding ring. “Anyone I know?”

“No, I met Casey about six years ago. We’ve been married for five now. You’d like him, I think. He has a similar sense of humor.”

“Doubt it.” he grimaced. “Are you happy?”

Jessica gave him a puzzled look at the first comment and shrugged his response off. “Most of the time, money is a little scarce, but he’s good to me, he’s stable. We have two children. They’re little terrors the both of them. We call them Kid Vicious and the Princess. They’re a handful, but they’re worth it. How long are you in town? You should come and meet them all. You were always great with kids.”

“Thank you, Jess, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Jonah sighed and tossed back the remains of his drink.

Jessica slumped back and looked at him. “Why are you being so cold, Jonah?”

“I’m sorry, Jess, I’m glad that you’re happy, honestly. I just think it would be awkward. You know, old flame visiting. Bound to make Casey a little uncomfortable.”

Jessica shook her head. “No, he would be fine with it. We trust each other.”

Jonah smiled weakly at her, “That’s good, like he ever stood a chance with your stubborn streak anyhow. I won’t be in town long anyway. I’m just meeting with some prospective clients, and then jetting out. I ran into your dad back home and he told me you were here in Seattle. I almost didn’t call.”

Jessica set down her drink and looked at him. “What are you looking for here, Jonah? You disappeared for so long and just show up and call me? What do you want from me?”

Jonah sighed and stirred the ice in his glass. “I don’t know, closure maybe?”

“Closure? What do you mean? You ended us back then, not me.” Jess leaned in letting the force of each of her words hit him.

“I know, Jess. It doesn’t make sense. I sometimes think there is something wrong with me. I get in these whirlwind romances with some truly amazing women. Then one day, out of the blue, it just clicks off. I’m empty, almost hollow. Usually, when that happens I just move on. But with you it was different. A month or so after I ended it I realized I had made a mistake, but it was too late. You had moved up here and I couldn’t get a hold of you. Your dad wouldn’t tell me where you went…he was pretty angry with me.” Jonah grimaced at the memory.

Jessica nodded, “I was pretty upset then. I don’t think I went a day without crying, and my dad never could handle tears well. You just provided a focus for his frustration. He really liked you.”

Jonah smiled, “Yeah, he was easy to get along with. It was nice to talk with him again.” He sighed and sipped his drink. “ I think the real reason I left, was that I had to find out who I was without you. I had some crazy idea that if I could just find myself, I could be worthy of chasing you down and doing everything I could to get you back. But it just didn’t work out that way. Every place I went was just as hollow as I felt inside. So I just kept moving trying to either lose or find myself. I’m still not sure which, probably both.”

Jessica looked at him over her drink taking in this confession with mixed emotions. Their break up had been hard. She had loved him completely, and had been devastated when he had ended it. She still looked at her life sometimes and was almost surprised that it was with Casey she built it and not Jonah.

Jonah signaled the bartender for another round and slid his empty drink to the side. “I guess I just felt like, that with you being gone, I had missed out on something that could have been amazing in my life. What was worse, was that I had ended it and not you. So I had just thrown it away….”

“Jonah… I am happy with my life. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I admit, that I am sometimes surprised when I look around at what I have and you aren’t in it. But I am happy.” Her eyes locked to his as she spoke, trying to communicate both loss of a life she wanted and the joy with the one she had found after.

Jonah just looked at her for a while, then nodded. “I think…I think that’s what I needed to hear. I’m glad that you sorted your life out. It looks like you have a good one here. I am more than a little envious of it. I think I just needed to see it to move completely on.” He sighed and gave her a slight nod. “It was good to see you Jess. I should be going.” He stood and looked down at her while he tossed some money for the bar bill on the table. “Thank you for meeting me.”

Jess looked up at him trying to push down the crush of emotion the conversation had inflicted upon her. She grabbed his arm as he turned to walk away.

“Jonah, why did you break up with me back then?” She asked her hand a vice upon his coat.

“I think, whether I want to admit it or not. I just knew that there was someone who could love you more than I could.”

His coat slipped through her fingers, the buttons on the sleeve scraping her fingers, as he walked down the darkened aisle and out into the rain. Jessica watched him slip his collar up as he stood there beneath the awning. Part of her willed him to look back to her, part of her didn’t. She saw his shoulders shift with a sigh and then he disappeared into the rain.