Sylvester (Volume 9)

When I arrived at Harvest Time that day at one thirty I was surprised to find Boss Jorge standing in front of the entrance holding his arms open.  “Your ma was a wonderful lady,” he boomed as he grabbed my shoulders and held me at arms length.  I could tell by his expression that he was squeezing me as hard as he could, and he was very weak.

He was trying to pull me in closer, so I opened my arms and hugged him back.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he spoke with compassion.

I hugged him tight, which I assume he took to mean I was trying to stifle a sob, but actually meant that I was suppressing a giggle.  I’d heard Boss Jorge say these exact words in the exact same tone of voice at many times in the past, but now they were slower, and it was funny.  It was the type of funny you can’t admit to anyone, but he sounded like Mr. Rodgers now.

I worked hard to successfully stifle my laughter, because I didn’t want to laugh at the way Boss Jorge spoke.  Boss Jorge had a minor stroke only eighteen months previous, after which he’d been back to work in just four weeks.  I told him it was too soon to come back, but he said he would “die on his feet.”  In the time since I heard him say this, I had often thought that his vertical death was immediately imminent.

Though he’d been a whirling dervish of a man in his younger days, he was 68 years old now, and he seemed to be melting.  The skin over his eyebrows appeared loose and his jowls were so long they looked like mud flaps.  His signature black curls had been growing lighter since 1995, and now they were white, which made him appear far gentler.  Guadeloupe had even remarked that he was “handsomer” now.

Guadeloupe and I agreed that he no longer looked like a computer or a communist overlord, now he looked like a very old tree; specifically a Weeping Willow.  We’d chuckled to each other when things were slow that the pockmarks and crags that decorated his checks looked like bird’s nests.  There was a boil on the tip of his nose that had grown so large and jagged we called it Widow’s Peak.

For all the nicknames and private jokes we shared amongst each other, all those well acquainted with Boss Jorge held him in the highest esteem.  Many of his employees loved him, I’m sure, I know I did.

So Boss Jorge, placing his hand on my shoulder, ushered me into the store as smoothly as he could manage.  Harvest Time was mostly empty, which was normal for a Tuesday afternoon, and Guadeloupe was the only cashier working.  I stood at her side as she checked out her last few customers, and she gave me a doleful look, grimacing and shaking her head slowly.  This indicated that she’d heard of my mothers death, but didn’t really feel like offering any condolences out loud, which I appreciated.

Boss Jorge’s meaty yet soft hands directed me to my office in the back of the store.  “We need to talk,” he said, “this might not be the correct time, but we have business.”

This was a phrase I’d heard Jorge say many times before, and based on the inflection he used, I could usually tell what we would talk about.  If he said the word “Talk” short and sharp, it meant I was about to be reprimanded; if he emphasized “We,” it meant I would have to fire someone; and if he pronounced “Business” more loudly than any of the other words, it meant I was getting an “Atta Boy,” and maybe even a raise.  This time, however, I couldn’t tell.

“I am going back to Mexico,” Boss Jorge said, glancing at the floor underneath drooping eyelids.  “I don’t want to, but the doctors—“

As his speech cut out, he landed heavily in the armchair before my computer, emitting an audible “Oof” as he did so.  Automatically, or rather instinctively, I bent over, clutching at his shoulder as he landed with a type of thud that shook the chair.  I said “Whoa,” as if he would somehow fall through his seat to the ground.

He took his right hand and placed it over mine, so that my knuckles could feel the thin rough skin of his palms. He cackled bitterly.  “The doctors tell me I need to stay home and drink tea on a porch swing all day, and you know,” he looked up into my eyes, before sputtering into hacking coughs and covering his mouth with a handkerchief.  He looked at the ground, and his voice softened as he clearly felt defeated.  “I am retiring this year and going back home to spend time with my family, and I want to put you in charge.”

He was staring at me as he told me this news, so I smiled, acting as excited as I could.  “In charge of the store?”

“In charge of everything,” he said, glancing at the floor.  “My son don’t care.”

Jorge brought his wrist down on to the table slowly, letting his hands lay on their palms, limp.  Boss Jorge’s son, Eduardo, had been someone I’d liked the few times I’d met him.  There was once at what I think was probably a new year’s eve party we were introduced.  Eduardo had gone to a good college and was by all accounts a well-liked and productive member of society, but he did not have the passion for retail that his father did.  We talked about “The grind,” as we called it; that is, dealing with the daily ins and outs of dealing with even a small retail conglomerate, and he said it made him feel like he was dead.  This was heartbreaking for Boss Jorge.

“Your son,” I said the only thing that I could think of to say, because it was exactly the same as what he’d just said, “Don’t care?”

I could hear the air whistle out of his nose as he exhaled, and I could hear it trail off into silence.  The whistle sounded like a strong breeze zipping through abandoned railroad ties in a wasteland.  “No, my son, my son don’t care.”

“Well that can’t be all bad,” I began, automatically, because it was the kind of thing I’d thought a father would want to hear.  It was an insensitive thing to say, I realized then because Boss Jorge reacted with rage.  I’d seen his rages countless times in the past, and when he was younger it seemed like anything could make it bubble in him, but this was different.

He stood up, looking me straight in the eyes, and punched the top of his desk as hard as he could.  “He is supposed to have pride in us, what our family has created.”  He raised his fist and slammed it knuckles first, onto the surface of his desk.  The pain must have been tremendous, because when he next looked up at me his eyes were full of mist.

I didn’t know what to do.  Thank god, at that exact moment, my cell phone rang.  At times, I’d considered downloading various joke ringtones, like the opening lines of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played in belches, and at that moment I was very glad I’d never done that.

I pulled the phone out of my pocket and stepped outside the office, holding one finger up to indicate I’d only be a moment.  As I did, I could hear Boss Jorge land heavily on his chair as both his palms slapped the top of his desk at the same time.

“What happened, are you okay?”  The moment I heard Sonia’s voice crack through the phone an inappropriate smile broke over my face.

I suddenly was wracked by guilt, realizing how quickly and without warning I’d left Sonia’s house, I thought about what I could say to gloss over my actions.  I searched my mind, trying to think of some explanation, before realizing the perfect response had already been dropped into my lap.  “My mom is dead.”

Sonia responded at first with what felt to me like a long lingering silence.  The longer the silence became the more comfortable I was with it.  The quiet stretched for what seemed like minutes, and I languished in it, happy for the respite.  “I’m, uh, sorry,” she said first, before realizing what may have been a faux pas and restating her assertion.  “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, but I’m fine.”  I responded, automatically.  I didn’t know if I really was fine, but it seemed like the right thing to say so I said it.  “What’d you want?”

She seemed taken aback at first,  “Uh, I’m—uh, and, um, I’m—” she sputtered and coughed while she tried to arrive at her first word.  When it finally came, her words flew easily.  “I just wanted to tell you that I really liked our time together, and if you still wanted to you could come over tonight and we could work on my material before my show at Gallery Cabaret tonight, that’s all. But I understand, you probably have other things to do, tonight.”

“No I don’t actually, and I’d love to come.”  This sentiment spilled out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about it.  When I did think about, I realized why it had.  “After I wrap up here and call some people I need to call, I’ll be at your place, and we can write some comedy.”

As soon as I finished speaking, Sonia’s thunderous laugh burst through the phone.  I’d heard it many times since I’d been getting to know her, and I wasn’t getting tired of it.  “Write some comedy, sounds like a good euphemism for sex.”

I guffawed, doubling over with laughter that shook me from the spine.  Embarrassed, I peered up at Guadeloupe and the customer she was serving, peering at me with one eyebrow raised higher than its partner.  “Yeah,” I spoke softly, embarrassed now, “I’ll see you soon.”

In a voice more tender than I’d heard from her before, Sonia said, “Looking forward to it,” and hung up.  Walking back to my office, ready to tell Boss Jorge, as quickly as I could manage, that I had to go home and deal with funeral arrangements.  I felt like I was floating.

As soon as I opened the door Boss Jorge asked me what the call was about.  “Nothing really, or nothing—“ I suddenly realized that my most pressing concern was to get out of the door, so I changed tactics.  “It’s just family stuff, so you think I could go home?”

Boss Jorge looked disappointed, though resigned to the fact I was dealing with the death of my mother.  “Oh okay, yes,” he said, watching the ground.

I felt for Boss Jorge, as it seemed like the aspirations he had for the the future were likely crumbling to dust, but I had my own hopes.  If I’d had the presence of mind to consider it, I’d have realized that he was trying to hand me the reigns of his business empire, but my mind was elsewhere.  “We will discuss it soon, but—“ it seemed cold, then, even to me, but I could not deny the strength of my own desire.  “I have to go and figure out funeral arrangements.”

“Yes, yes, we will talk,” I could hear his bones creak and his tendons stretch as he collapsed back onto the seat.  “Sorry for your loss.”

His shoulders and arms were held in a posture indicating he intended to hug me again, but I turned from him and left the office, saying “Thanks for your concern.”  I didn’t know and hadn’t considered whether I was being rude or not, as I figured that any slight I gave would be quickly forgiven.

 

I arrived at Sonia’s house roughly twenty-five minutes after I left Harvest time, having stopped at Walgreens for a small bottle of brandy.  It had already been kind of a heavy period of drinking for me, so I figured it was as good a time as any to give myself over to the Beast.  The Beast, a term I’d used at times for my mother’s alcoholism, was now an umbrella term for many different things.

The Beast was compulsion itself, and it had me.

I knew I should’ve been calling my aunts and uncles, and cousins and their kids, but the Beast told me it could wait.  I didn’t feel like I needed their tones of voice right now, angry at me for “enabling” my mother, as they’d been before and I assumed they would be again.  I could just imagine what they’d say when they find out my mother died of alcohol poisoning, which is what I assumed to be the case.  Their half-heartedly hidden smiles would make me gag every second, like they know they could’ve saved her if it wasn’t for me.

I trotted chirpily up the front steps to Sonia’s door.  I knocked on the wood with a smile, but my offer of brandy ran into a block of concrete.  “What, you think I’m a drunk?”

Her voice was flat and her finger outstretched toward the bottle I’d brought.  Her eyes told me she was not kidding, so I thought fast.  “No this is for me, you think there’s enough for you, too?”  I smiled, trying to create a funny moment.

Her expression, which had been a grim scowl, softened into spongecake.  I felt an instant wave of relief as she stepped forward and hugged me.  “I’m sorry for your loss,” she spoke softly, pressing herself into me.

I could tell from the way her eyes had been downcast that she wasn’t so open to joking as she had been the night before, so I tried to speak seriously.  I held her shoulders at arms length.  “She’d been on her way out for a long time, good a time as any, I guess,” I said, attempting to quickly indicate that I wasn’t really all that sad.

This statement may seem cold to some, I know, to say that your mother’s death didn’t really bum you out much, but I think it’s a good goal to strive for.  Ideally, after you die, those whom you loved when alive will remember you fondly for just a moment, everyday when they wake up, and then forget you.

I think it’s a good goal to strive for, not being a burden on the hearts of those you leave behind.  After I’m dead, I don’t want the work of being someone else’s baggage.

“Yeah I guess,” she said, picking up an empty glass off of her front room table.  “I didn’t really know my mom, so, I guess it was really—“

“Yeah I know, I guess I didn’t really know mine either, towards the end.”  I said, realizing how drunk I was, I thought that I might be getting away from myself.  I poured another glass of cheap brandy.  “She was so drunk all the time,” my head dropped as I whimpered faintly, “I didn’t even know her those last years.”

I dropped my head, bringing my chin to meet my chest.  I walked out of her kitchen and took my shoes off before laying down on the couch resting head face first on the couch cushion.

I realized something the moment my face hit the couch.  I was mourning my mother, who died decades ago, not the drunk who died in my house that morning.  I wept, but not for my mother, the alcoholic co-dependent, why did it have to be my responsibility to see her well?

I cried, sobbing tears like I hadn’t in years.  This sobbing lasted only seconds, as I collected myself “—but you said you didn’t really know your mom?  Why was she real distant?”

“She died when I was eight.”

I laughed.  It was an automatic reaction at first, but  when I saw her lips start to curve into a grin, we both laughed without shame.  “My father died when I was two!”

That was when, for the first time, Sonia asked me a question about my life.  “How’d he die?”

I grinned as I chirped back right away, “I don’t know!”

We screamed with joy into each others faces, just laughing.  We have reflected on this time, each remarking to the other about how odd it was.  Eventually the laughter died down and the room was filled with a pause.  “My mom killed herself.”

After Sonia revealed this piece of information, the room was silent.  “So, we both have dead parents.”

Sonia looked back at me curiously, “Yup.”

“Maybe we can write some jokes about dead parents.”

I listened as she made ticking noises with her tongue against her teeth.  Eventually she answered calmly and confidently.  “Yeah okay.”

Sylvester (Volume 9)

Sylvester (volume 7)

As I lay beside Sonia and covered her with my bare arm, for the first time in my life I had a dream in which I could fly.

I sailed above sand dunes in a desert, skimming just over their crests.  I whistled through the air at increasing speed, and had the sense that I needed to hurry, and feared that for some reason I would be late.  I didn’t know what my deadline was, but I sensed my time was almost up.

I hurried as best I could, and as my speed increased I began to feel that I would make my deadline, whatever it was.  There was a single great sand dune ahead of me, bigger than all the others, but as I approached its pinnacle, the ability to fly suddenly left me.  I plummeted down toward the sand, and at the moment I hit the ground, I started awake with a loud cough.

“You’re up?”  Sonia quested from the kitchen, where she sat at the small table eating a plate of eggs and toast.  “You slept for a while, you were tired, huh?”

I sat up and yawned, raising my hands as high as I could behind my back.  I swung my legs over the side of the bed and felt cold linoleum under my bare feet.  My eyes shot open and my spine straightened.  I trotted into the kitchen and took the seat opposite Sonia.  “I guess, what time is it?”

“Two,” Sonia said, crunching into her toast.  “Hungry?”

I said “Yeah” as I grinned, anticipating a tasty breakfast.

Sonia likewise smiled, pointing towards the stovetop at the laid-out components of a growing breakfast.  “There’s the eggs, bread, the toaster, and here’s the butter,” she indicated to a small dish at the center of the table.  “You know what to do, I’m already eating.”  She sat up in her seat with an impish grin on her lips, pointing at things with her fork.

I silently made my way to the stove top, cracked a couple eggs, and dropped their insides in a pan.  “Did you sleep?” I asked, over my shoulder.  I wanted it to seem as though what was happening was completely normal to me, and no big deal.

“Yeah,” she answered simply.  I breathed a grateful sigh of relief.  She’s playing it cool too, I thought.

I flipped my eggs with the spatula to my left and turned to the right, watching Sonia through the edge of my vision.  “Good,” I said, raising my two eggs over hard out of the pan with the spatula.  I placed my plate of eggs onto the table and joined it with a piece of toast, onto which I began to spread butter.  “So what’s up for you today?”

As I started to ask the question I could tell by the wrinkles in her nose that it was annoying to Sonia.  “I don’t know, what do you care?”  Her left eyebrow elevated slightly, indicating what could have been incredulity, but was more likely bitterness.

“I don’t know. . .” after this first phrase I let a pause hang in the air.  I thought about what I should say, and then I remembered our conversation from the night before.  “I care because I guess because I like you, whaddya want me to say?”

Sonia stepped towards the sink and began to slap her palms down on the counter to the side off it, laughing uproariously.  “Oh yeah,” she leaned over the sink and turned her head around to look in my eyes.  She smiled softly, as if grinning on her own in a private moment, and then lightened the mood with a joke. “Did we ever find a dick in the sky last night?”  As she said the word “dick” the teeth in her grin shined like the whites in her eyes and warmed my heart.

“No,” I said, returning her smile with my own as I did, “We can’t see stars in the city.”

“Right, of course,” said Sonia, taking the seat at the table opposite me.  We both ate our meals slowly, inspecting each other’s faces, staring into each other’s eyes.  “I bet if we could we would find dicks all over the place, though.”

I returned her comment with barely a pause, as if I were reciting written dialogue.  “I imagine cavemen did.”  I slowly took a bite of my toast.  “They probably saw whatever they dreamt about in the night sky.”  As I spoke I thought about the way that, in the past, before even literature, human imagination had to be ignited by perceived patterns in the stars.

“The stars were their TV, I guess,” Sonia chuckled to herself.  I couldn’t remember ever meeting anyone who chuckled as much as she did.  “I bet there’s lots of swastika’s up there too.”

I cackled furiously, and as we continued to discuss constellations, each of us burst into laughter over and over again.  We imagined seeing written messages in the stars like “WASH ME” or “FOR A GOOD TIME CALL—“ as well as comic tableaus that told stories of people falling on their faces.  Our discussion went on and on, accompanied by rising and falling waves of laughter, until I finally looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was 4:03.

“It’s four already,” I said, smiling wide and flashing Sonia the most tender eyes I could.  “We’ve been talking for hours.”

Sonia, who’d just been sitting on the front room’s couch, yawned and stretched out onto her back.  “Yeah,” she said, allowing her voice to fade away as she stared at the ceiling.

“Yeah,” I parroted, thinking about all the things we could do together.  I imagined us as a private-eye team in the twenties; some cuckoo dame could come to us saying that she thinks her husband is cheating on her, but we would find something far more nefarious.  Or maybe we could be lovers and artists in 19th century France, discussing the signals god sends us through the clouds.  I could feel myself falling in love, for real, and then being in love.

I’d fallen in love in the past, or anyway I’d felt that great pain plenty, but I called it love only because of the cliche that “love hurts.”  This was the type of love I’d grown accustomed to, the unrequited variety.  This type of love is very sad, powerfully disruptive, and completely selfish.

I call this type of love selfish because when love is unrequited the loved figure ceases to be her own being, in my mind, and becomes my personal object of desire.  This both strips her of her own identity, and means that she can only become a symbol of pain in my life.  But now it seemed that I might actually get to “be” in love for a time, and I was excited to find out what that would be like.

As I sat on Sonia’s front room couch looking out the window, I daydreamed, allowing my conscious mind to flit around wherever it wanted.  “Have you heard back from your mom?”

Hearing Sonia’s question was like stepping on a bear trap, and I was instantly curled in pain.  Oh no, my inner monologue screeched, I forgot.  “No, I should probably head back home.”  I said coolly, as if everything were going splendidly and to plan, but inside I was a nasty cyclone.

You idiot, I cursed at myself silently through clenched teeth.  While trying to seem calm and in-control, I clutched at my right thigh as hard as I could, feeling the shape of the bone in my thigh.  She could be dead by now you useless, fucking loser.

“I’m in a show at Gallery Cabaret tomorrow,” Sonia chirped brightly, unaware of the emotional iron lung I was in.  “It’s a stupid kinda show, basically an open mic really, but you could come, the show’s at eight.”

“Eight o’clock, tomorrow?”  I spoke, thinking that I might not make it, because my mom might be dead.  “I dunno, might be working’ late at the store, Tuesday’s our inventory day.”

“Oh okay,” she said, chirpy as ever and showing me a smile.  Her cute, lovely eyes made me wonder why I’d lied to her.  Tuesday wasn’t our inventory day, and I didn’t understand why I’d claimed it was.  I said something nonspecific about hanging out later that day and got out of there.  I had one concern: I’d been away from my normal life for too long, and I needed to see about it.

Before I could look back on my own mind and guess why I’d become such a liar, I slipped my shoes on and hustled out the door.  I stalked onto the sidewalk in a big hurry to get home.  As I sensed a matt of flop sweat on my forehead I imagined that I probably looked disheveled, desperate and lashing out at the world with passion.

I half-grinned as I hurried along in my khaki’s, huffing and puffing in rhythm with the sound the legs of my pants made rubbing together.  ShvooBAH.  My fat little stub legs made this sound as they crushed into each other with a crazy rhythm.  It wasn’t more than maybe ten paces of this hurrying bullshit that my inner thighs felt like they would burn off.  But just as the pain seemed a bit too much, like my pants would literally catch on fire, I found the strength to go on.  I knew, as I saw Welles Park, which was about the midpoint between Sonia and I, I for the first time felt that maybe I would actually make it.

 

The pain was great and liberating.  My legs burnt and I breathed smoke.  I had collapsed onto one of the benches outside an organized middle school soccer game at Welles Park.  As I sat there panting and coughing, watching little kids run and run, my head dropped, planting my eyes on the sidewalk beneath me.  I closed my eyes, folding my hands between my knees.  I grimaced, bearing my teeth and emitting a painful groan; what was I thinking?

As had happened frequently during my life so far and was likely to continue happening for the foreseeable future, I raged at myself without understanding why I’d done what I’d done.  It was the right thing to do, I decided, to leave Sonia’s home for my own, as it may have been, but I shamed myself for doing it in such a sudden and unexplained fashion.

I considered going back, ringing her doorbell and waiting just outside for the door to open.  With the door open, I’d have been free to shower Sonia with kisses to my hearts’ content, but I realized in the middle of this thought that it would have been a terrible idea.  I calmed myself down, assured as I was  that Sonia really did like me.  I regretted leaving her as abruptly as I had, but I felt we’d really made a real connection, and that our connection could last for the foreseeable future.

I stood up from the bench and trotted home, the tension melting off my cheeks.

As I walked out of the park, my pace slowed greatly and I inspected every pile of leaves I came across, wandering over expanses of grass in lazy loops.  I retrieved my phone from my pocket and called my mom once again, expecting her to answer and place an order.  It was at that point around 4:30, and I knew that it was around this time on most days that my mother is overcome by a need to buy some liquor.

I rolled my eyes as I heard the start of the first ring, expecting my mom to pick it up after only a couple rings.  When she did not, and the answering machine picked up, I left a pointless message.  “Hey mom, how’s it going?”  I don’t know why I asked questions like this one frequently in voicemail messages, but I always have.  “Yeah anyway, so I had a great night last night and I hope you did too.  I’ll be home in just a few minutes, see you then.”

Theree was no real reason to leave such a message, when I could have just hung up.  I was suddenly gripped once more by the tremendous fear that I might discover my mother’s corpse.  As I turned onto my street, and stared down the long row of houses to the end of the block, my pace quickened again.

I thought about finding my mother dead on the floor, in front of the TV, with a line of drool trailing from the edge of her mouth.  Along with my fear that my mother could be dead when I arrived home came the sad realization that perhaps she’d be better off.  She’d been hurtling downwards into despair for as long as I cared to remember.  My biological father’s death, which occurred when I was only two years old, effected her more greatly, I think, than she ever let on.  Maybe if I found her dead, I realized, I could believe that she is once again with her love.

Of course, I don’t really believe that.  I believe after you die you will probably spend most of your time underground, and that’s about it.  If my mom died while I was out, I realized, then I wouldn’t get to tell her about Sonia, and that would mean that my mother died believing that I was lonely; and without anyone.  This fear more than anything, terrified me.  I’d been excited to tell her about Sonia the next time she was sober, but she could have died while I was out.

This possibility gripped my spine and pulled me forward, causing me to sprint down the final half-block, coming to a rest before my front steps.  As I slowed to a halt, my shoulders fell forward and I placed my hands on my knees.  Doubled over, I gasped for air as quickly as I could, believing that more air would stifle the pain in my legs.  I rarely run, because when I run my legs burn like the devil.

I moved slowly up my front steps and put my key in the lock.  I began to feel very powerful and conflicting emotions about what I might find inside.  I feared the grief that would overtake me when I saw that my mother was dead.  Though through my fear of the great sadness I would feel upon discovering my mothers’ death, I also anticipated great relief.  I thought a calming might overtake me, and it might be awesome.

This thought, that my mom’s death would be great, added a sharp layer of guilt onto my mess of emotions.  This type of guilt is very familiar to co-dependents like me, it is the guilt of not making sure your addict has enough of their preferred drug.  I didn’t need to worry, though, because when I opened the door and walked in, I saw my mother snoring, passed out on the couch.

As I’d long claimed to suspect, though actually I knew, my mother had several small bottles of vodka hidden around the house.  “Hidden” isn’t the right word.  I’d just say they were placed around my house, and while I was out my mother’ed downed a few.

She lay, passed out on the couch in the front room of my house, and I sighed theatrically, as if there was someone to complain to.  She snored loudly as I slowly approached to guide her into her bed, but before I did I noticed Scrabble was out and set up.  My mother had even put two words on the board, opposite each other; one for me and one for her.  I smiled, because this was the same shit she always pulled when we played Scrabble.

It was a joke we shared.  She’d set up a game of Scrabble for us, and she would place our first words.  Her first word would just be a random jumble she made on the spot, and my first word would always be something unbelievably good like “ZOMBIFY” or “PACKWAX.”  She would then say that these two words were completely random, and this meant that I began the game leading by one hundred and fifty points.

I never once bought it, though, and I would shake my finger at her.  I imagine I was probably really cute when I was five years old, sneering at my mother and scolding her.  “No cheating,” I would say, demanding that we draw again.  We would draw again, and she would absolutely destroy me.  I never was able to beat her, and I never will, because I don’t count it as a win unless neither player passes out before the end of the game.

My left hand rose to cover my mouth as I began to cry, softly and only a little before I was able to jam it back down my throat again.  Another wave of tremendous guilt overtook me, as I remembered leaving a message saying that I’d be home soon, and even suggesting a game of Scrabble “like old times.”  I thought this indicated that she was also excited about Scrabble, and that I’d driven her to drink by not coming back when I said I would.

I imagined her on the couch, setting up Scrabble, sitting and waiting.  Who knows how long she waited, but she waited.  I resented her to my core, for creating the circumstances that led me to feel tremendous guilt that I’d not made it home in time to play Scrabble with my mom.  She’d have been drunk anyway, I told myself, lifting my mother from the couch and guiding her into her bed.

She was very heavy, like me, and I wasn’t in great shape especially after the walk.  I regretted carrying her all this way, because I could have dragged her or just left her on the couch.  Grunting and straining, I put her over my shoulder and dumped her on her bed, collapsing next to her sideways over the mattress.  I realized then that I would love a sandwich, so I was off to make one.

Heading to the kitchen, I was excited by the possibilities.  Open-faced grilled cheese with bacon on top!

Sylvester (volume 7)

Sylvester (Volume 3)

3.

I thought a lot about the moment when Sonia told me not to apologize.  It was assertively kind, forcefully soft, and incredibly sexy.  I thought about the way her nose had flared as she said “Stop it,” and the way her cheeks had been kinda flushed like she was excited too.

There was a dusk to her face, I guess I would say.  It was exotic smokiness.  Maybe one of her parents was an Arab, or an Ashkenazi Jew, or maybe even South American.  Her eyes were slightly almond shaped and her casual bob hairstyle was thrown apart, wavy and black.  Her eyes were a hazy brown and I could not help but notice the collar of her shirt was a bit undone, displaying a more-than healthy shock of cleavage.

In my life, I’ve found few things as provocative as cleavage.  Sonia’s cleavage was what I might’ve called “hot,” like two pillowy-soft pound cakes with a matt finish  As I followed her to her house, which she’d assured me was just a few blocks away, I thought about what was happening in an excitedly detached way.

An attractive woman who appeared to be in her late thirties was leading me to her dwelling, where the two of us would “party.”   First of all, this was absolutely unprecedented, and I needed to acclimate to this new social landscape immediately.  I wondered what the word “party” had meant, and every possibility excited me.

Had she meant to imply that we would have sex?  I had had sex before, a couple of times in college and a few times since, but it had been a very long time.  It had been so long I didn’t even think about it anymore, or anyway that’s what I told myself.  Sexual desire is such an unconscious thing that I have no way of knowing whether I thought about sex all the time or hardly at all.  The psychologists say all the time, and they’re probably right.

So I wondered, if I were called upon to perform, would I rise to the challenge?  The possibility that I would not be able perform sexually scared me enough that I decided I would not have sex that night, even if it were offered.

I would refuse sex once, however, if sex was offered a second time, I would give it a shot.  Imagining Sonia offering me sex not once but twice made a slow smile tickle across my lips.  It felt possible.

“You’re not gettin’ any,” Sonia said, making me slightly disappointed, and far more comfortable.  Her eyes beamed up at me, and noticed the growing grin on my lips.  “Of course, anything’s possible.”  She smiled wide, opening her mouth as wide as it would go as she guffawed.

I looked away from her and stared straight forward, thinking that I should say something.  I didn’t say anything for what felt like a long time, or anyway long enough that I thought Sonia might feel embarrassed.  “Uh, um, uh—“ searching for words and considering the possibilities rendered me mute, like a mumbling idiot.

“Relax, there’s no pressure.”  As Sonia said these heavenly words she grinned sweetly and leaned her shoulder against mine, nestling the crook of my elbow against her palm and fingers.  “We’re just gonna hang out, and maybe you’ll meet my roommates.”

Roommates?  I figured that I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.  As I considered what this woman in her late thirties would be doing living with multiple people she called her roommates, I realized that I had one of my own.  Oh shit, mom!  “As soon as we get to your place, I gotta make a call real quick, if that’s okay.”

“Yeah that’s fine,” as Sonia paused before asking her next question, I realized what it was likely to be, and instantly dreaded it.  “Who ya gonna call?”

I knew I had to think fast, so I glanced at the catalog of references in my mind for a way to deflect the question without answering it.  I didn’t want to tell her so soon that I lived with my mother.  Luckily, I saw my best option instantly.  “GhostBUSTERS!

Sonia laughed for a while in a way that appeared genuine.  I figured it probably was, either in a genuine or an ironic way, real laughter.  As her laughter began to die down, she wiped her mouth with her forearm and chortled slightly, before returning to her question.  “No, seriously, who ya gonna call?  Your wife?”

“I don’t have a wife,” I responded instantly.  I considered briefly lying to her, saying that I should call my ex-wife to ask about our son or something, anything to avoid admitting to her that I still lived with my mother.  Thinking about it, though, I realized that Sonia’s situation seemed odd enough that I wouldn’t expect her to judge.  “I live with my mother, and she might get worried about me.”

I watched Sonia nervously out of the sides of my eyes, anticipating spirited chuckling or something, but I couldn’t detect any affect at all in her expression.  She just said “Okay,” but I wasn’t quite satisfied with that, and had to clarify Sonia’s understanding of the situation.

“She lives with me, I mean, I mean I look after her, I guess.”

Sonia shot back almost immediately.  “It’s cool, there’s no judgements.”  We walked up the few steps to her front door she remarked flippantly, as if it meant nothing, “I have a ten-year-old son.”

I was taken aback by this information.  I stood behind her, stunned and still, as she unlocked her front door.  “Don’t worry,” she said glancing back at me with a devious grin, “The kids don’t usually bite, just don’t make any sudden moves.”  She cackled as she slid her key into the lock and turned it.

 

When I was walking up the stairs behind Sonia and she was looking back at me laughing, my heart started beating a little faster.  I mean it must have, because I was breathing much harder.  I focused, believing that this moment could become monumental to me in the future, either for good or ill.

This could be the moment I met her, the woman who could change my life.  As Sonia unlocked and opened her front door I thought about everything she had told me about her life.  There wasn’t really much to consider, I began to realize  She told me she had roommates, and that she had a ten year-old son.  Was her son being playfully referred to as a “roommate?”

Thinking of it, I wondered whether this decision I was making was a huge mistake.  Could I be walking into my own linoleum-sided mausoleum, acting like a new father or older-brother role model for some rugrat miscreants?  I thought that Sonia might be a harried single mother angling for domestic support, and if this were the case, It probably wouldn’t be all bad.

I could pal around with a little kid, I bet it would be fun.  And if a youngster came to look up to me, or rely on me for emotional support, it could conceivably be emotionally transformative.

But as soon as I entered Sonia’s front door, a puff of smoke floated into view above the couch opposite the TV.  On the couch were two young adults, whom I guessed were college students, and I could smell that they were smoking weed.

I detected the odor of marijuana as I followed Sonia into the house and it took me back to my college days.  I’d smoked a fair amount of what the adults used to call “dope,” but it had never really been my thing.  Seeing the smoke, she said, casually, “Oh goddamnit, guys, already?”

The one on the left giggled a bit, “Already.”  They simultaneously erupted into cackles of a kind I remembered from discussions of John Cale and The National Lampoon.

“These are my roommates,” Sonia said, walking past me into the house and opening a side door.  “Jacob and Jason, I call them the J’s.”

Jacob and Jason erupted into giggles when Sonia called them the J’s, which I suppose had been her plan, because as they giggled she tried to whisk me up to her room as fast as she could.  It wasn’t fast enough, as after us I heard her young “roommates hoot and holler, with one of them yelling “you go girl” at the top of his lungs.

Sonia was beat red, and she almost seemed as though she was having a breakdown.  I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but the effect that this set-upon, untamed world seemed to be having on her was very alluring.  I imagined her as I saw her, all wide eyes and gasping, clutching at shining moist collar, her lips open slightly pushing the air out softly but as hard as she could.

“Kids, ya know?”  She said as she closed the door and turned into her front entrance way.  Sonia’s apartment seemed full and fully-appointed.  The couch and the chairs around the dining room table seemed lived in, as though they were often moved and sat upon.

I was waiting for her to tell me who the young adults smoking weed downstairs were, but she was just concerned with entertaining.  “Take a seat, I’ll get us a couple drinks, vodka-tonics good?”

“—Oh, uh, okay, thanks.”

Sonia turned and confidently stalked into the kitchen, allowing the door to swing closed behind her.  I sat on the couch, and having seen the cable remote on the coffee table adjacent, I reached for it.

It was a familiar remote to the one I had at home, so I turned the TV on and leaned back, staring into it.  I heard the familiar opening tones of The People’s Court’s theme song burst from the television’s speakers.  This reminded me that my mother was waiting for the cereal I’d said I would get a while ago, as well as any surprise liquor she might have assumed I would get for her.

This concern was was swept aside the moment Sonia burst back into the room holding two tall glasses of clear liquid, each filled with ice and holding a lime wedge on its rim.  “Here is yours and here is mine,” she said before sipping from her glass and holding my glass out for me.  “So, I saw you in the bar last night, why didn’t you just come over, I wanted you to.”

I sipped my drink and was caught by her eyes again.  She wanted me too?  I never would have guessed that.  I reminded myself to keep steady, and not to show her how exciting all this was to me.  “Oh well, I don’t know, I guess I was tired, musta been drunk.”

“Nah,” Sonia began, chuckling as she did.  “you weren’t drunk, you just left.  Sorry I insulted you.”

That Sonia remembered the insult she’d paid me and felt some regret meant a great deal to me, but I could never let her know.  Immediately, I said “It’s all right,” bringing the matter to a close, and allowing me space to change the topic of conversation.  “So what’s with those kids downstairs?”

She hung her head and sighed in an agonized fashion.  “Just some kids from DePaul renting the downstairs.”  She said this, and without any emotive aspect to her speech, she took another long sip.  “They rented it out during school for the last two years, then they graduated, now they just live here.”

“Oh,” I said, taking a deep pull from what I was beginning to realize was a very strong gin & tonic.  “So, um, what else do you do?”

Sonia seemed vaguely offended.  “What, what kind of question is that?”

“I don’t know, one of the normal-type questions ya ask people, I guess.”  I thought that my answer seemed satisfactory, and that she would understand, but Sonia seemed to be railing against social convention itself.

“Normal questions, I’m so sick of normal questions.”

I thought that maybe she was sick of questions about herself and her life because she didn’t like the answers she would give.  I could understand, having himself been familiar with this type of dark dissatisfaction.  “Alright then, how ‘bout you ask a question.”

“When did you lose your virginity?”

“What!?”  I was surprised to the point of jolting my head back like I was dodging something.  The question seemed to come at me like a blow, but considering that Sonia seemed to be playing a different game from the one I thought myself familiar with.  I knew than that I had simply to let go, and a wide grin broke across my lips.  “Leela Heathcoat, freshman year of college.”

Sonia rocked back in her seat, rolling with laughter.  She slapped her thigh as she spoke, “Okay, now ask me a question.”

I dropped into my own mind, considering what my question would be.  For a moment I considered asking something general like “What is your favorite color?”  Then I considered briefly making a Monty Pyrhon reference, “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”  In the end I came up with a question I’d been dying to know the answer to.  “Why did you bring me here?”

She smirked shyly.  “I don’t know, I’ve been noticing you around, and I saw you at Harvest Time and . . .”  She trailed off as she lowered her chin to her chest as she beamed up at me with Kilowatt eyes.  “I kind of wanted to have sex with you, I guess.”

Sylvester (Volume 3)

Sylvester (Volume 1)

Prologue

People call me Sil, I guess because I’m a pretty friendly person, like the type of guy people give a nickname to.  People tend to smile at me most of the time.  True, they may just be smiling in response to my smile, because I smile a lot, but what’s the difference?  Who cares where it started, we’re both smiling now, and that’s cool.

I get a lot of joy out of my life, and one of the biggest pieces of it comes from making people smile and commune with me.  That sounds pretentious, or it might, but I just mean I that I like to hang out with people, like watch TV, and simply enjoy their presence.

All through school, though solitary much of the time, I was never a lonely kid.  I always had lots of buddies and even now there are many people who I have nicknames for, which has to be some sort of friendship barometer.  In high school all my good friends had nicknames.  There was Nooty, Crunch, Dummy, Crocket, and me.  I was known by several nicknames myself: Professor, Cardinal, Backwards, MC, and any combination of these names (the most popular of which were MC Backwards and Professor Cardinal).

The thing about this though, is that nicknames can be artificial.  You give someone a nickname so that every time you greet them you do it with a kind of friendship marker, and because without this the two of you could drift apart without knowing it.  Sometimes, though, people who give each other nicknames drift apart just the same.  Next thing you know, people you consider friends and who you refer to as if they are friends are actually sick of you.

I tell myself that if people were sick of me I’d know, because I think I know people pretty good.  But knowing people well as I think I do doesn’t actually fill me with confidence that they are being honest with me.  I feel like the more I become familiar with people the less I understand about them.

My whole life it’s seemed like I’m a born sucker, I’ve just always been so accommodating.  I can never refuse anyone anything, or at least that’s how it seems sometimes.  Anytime someone’s asked me to close my eyes I’ve closed them right away, so what does that tell you?  The correct answer to the direction “close your eyes” should probably end with a question mark, but I just do it.  I don’t wanna say I’m like a pushover, but maybe I am, I guess that’ll be your call.

But anyway, I bet even if people who know me saw me stomping fast toward them with a knife in my hand and a violent sneer, they’d just be confused.  They’d probably knit their eyebrows and tilt their head to the side.  “Hey Sil, what’s with the knife?”

Not that I would do that or have ever done that, I mean stab someone I know or intend to stab someone I know, because I haven’t and I can’t think of a reason I would.  I can’t think of a reason I might march at a person with a knife even if they’d wronged me, because it’s just not like me.  If for some reason I was hurrying towards someone who knew me wielding a blade, they would probably think I was just really eager to return the knife I’d borrowed from them, even if they couldn’t remember lending it to me.  Point is, I’m a pacifist and a gentle soul.

Though I could probably attempt some reasoned underpinning of my pacifism, the truth is that I’m just not made for violence.  I guess I’m a big fan of violence in movies, TV shows, comic books, regular books, and cool stories people tell me on the subway, but I’ve never welcomed bloodshed into my real life.

Other people don’t really have a choice, and that’s their bad luck.  If you grew up with a father that hit you and a mother that didn’t care, that sucks and I guess I wouldn’t blame you as hard for any violent tendencies you might have, but I still wouldn’t like it if you were a violent person.

But I’m also sure that peaceful people like me are driven to kill all the time, and I sometimes wonder what some enemy of mine would need to do for me to make an attempt on their life.  I bet even if someone killed my mom, whom I love completely, I’d just call the cops.  I probably wouldn’t even strike them.  I’m a teddy bear and everyone knows it.

I say that everyone knows it because I’m a pretty known quantity in my neighborhood; I work at the grocery store.  It’s a small grocery store and the margins aren’t that big, but we’ve got a steady flow of regular business.  I call it “my store” because I pretty much run the ship at Harvest Time, the grocery store at the end of my block.

I started working at Harvest Time when I was a fifteen-year-old little stock boy, and I guess I’ve always liked it.  All the people from the neighborhood come in just for eggs or milk, and they see me and smile.  “Hey!  Sil, what’s new?”  and I tell them about new choice cuts of beef we got or we got a new batch of honey crisps or something and they’re like “great, gimme a bag of the apples and a half pound a’ meat” and I wrap it up for them, it’s nice.  It’s a nice thing to be able to give people what they ask for when they ask for it, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Anyway, now I manage the place and all the regulars know me by name, even if they think it’s Silvio, because it’s really Sylvester, but that’s fine.  Sil’s good enough for me.  I loved The Sopranos when it was on and Silvio was one of my favorite characters next to Tony and Dr. Melfi.

And nothing would happen if I made a big stink like “Hey, just so you know, it’s Sylvester, not Silvio.”  I bet they’d go “Okay Sil,” and then just go on with the nickname, so I’m fine with it.  Everybody calls me Sil and they know I’m the friendly guy down at the market, and that seems good enough for me.  I think just to be known as the nice guy, the guy who most everyone pretty much likes, that’s a good life to live.

I live in Chicago, in Lincoln Square on the north side, and it’s a friendly neighborhood full of lots of dogs and babies, which I enjoy.  I like when I see a cute new puppy or a baby in a stroller and they look at me at the same time I look at them and they smile.  Well, dogs don’t really smile I guess because their jaws aren’t made like that, but their eyes kind of brighten and they make a little sound that I associate with happiness, so I call it smiling and who’s gonna stop me?

Anyway it’s pretty peaceful most of the time in my neighborhood, people shuffling from one thing to the other, so quiet it’s like they’re not touching the ground, everybody going about their day.  One thing kind of makes me a little sad now and again, well not sad exactly, but kinda.  I’m 35 years old, and I know it shouldn’t effect me like it did when I was young, but girls like to look at the ground rather than at me, it seems.

I’m fat, that’s the first thing, and my face isn’t great either.  I have a kind of a snub nose and my forehead’s pretty greasy; it always looks like I’m sweaty.  I’ve heard lots of times from people trying to cheer me up tell me that I’ve got a nice smile and my hair is soft, but that doesn’t seem to help me with the ladies.

It makes me frustrated, being so objectionable to women just because of my face and my gut, and sometimes it makes me wish someone would just grab them by the shoulders and talk to them in a way they would listen to.  But I don’t even know what that would be.  “Maybe that this guy, Sil, he has qualities you can’t see, and qualities that they might not even know to look for, but you’d like ‘em if ya just—“ and that’s where I lose them even in my imagination.

I don’t know what I’d tell women about myself.  “I’m Sil and I work at the grocery store on Lawrence.  If you’ve ever been there you’ve probably seen me, and I’ve got good news, I’m on the market in more ways than one.”

They’d probably say “Yeah I know you are, or could have guessed you are, and you’re a very nice man, but I actually have a husband.”  And they’d say that even if they were really single, because that’s what girls do.  It’s a fascinating ethical dilemma, come to think of it.   How do you let someone off gently, if you’re not attracted to them?

Logically, the most direct method is the way to go, simple and honest like ripping off a band-aid.  But the temptation to lie must be so great, a line running in your head saying “he’s a really nice guy but I’m not attracted to him, I gotta say something encouraging.”  So they lie in some situations, and I think their lies are perfectly reasoned and just.  I’ve read philosophers who talk about lying like it’s always bad, and logically I see their point, but I don’t think they talk about the world as it really is.

I mean, what do you do in that situation?  I mean what do you tell a guy who you’re not attracted to when he asks you out, I mean if he’s a nice guy and you don’t wanna hurt his feelings?  You tell him you’re already attached, thinking he’ll snap his fingers and lower his head in frustration, saying “ah, nuts, not again.”

I’d just become really fed up with it.  Disappointment, shame, helplessness, I was just so tired of it.  So I say alright, I get it now.  I’ll just stop trying, and I do, pretty much all the time, which works well for me.

But this system doesn’t really work a hundred percent of the time, because despite learning the same lesson over and over again, I will at some point try to ask someone out.  It always goes the same, I see a twinkle in some girl’s eye and I blow it way out of proportion, and then next thing I know I’m getting’ turned down for a date again.  Maybe one of these days the clouds will part and she’ll be standing in front of me, but I’m not holding my breath and I don’t need to, because I’ll be fine either way.

And if reading this you’re making certain assumptions about me, I’ll tell you that yes, you’re correct, I do live with my mother.  Though as she says and I sometimes believe, “I don’t live with her, she lives with me,” semantics don’t really mean much.  I jumped at the chance to have her live with me, and apart from my four years at Cornell College (a tiny liberal-arts school in Iowa), I’ve always lived with her.  I can say that she needs a place to stay and I’m the perfect person to supply it, which is ostensibly the reason I proffer her room and board, but if I were speaking to you face to face my timid voice and darting eyes would tell you that this is not the case.  The truth is that I love her wholly, and wouldn’t have her live anywhere else.

This is not to say that there aren’t things about her that aggravate me or that we never conflict, because there are and we do, but never in a really major way.  A typical conflict between us would arise if I forgot to set the timer to tape Price is Right in the morning, which never happens anymore.  Her name is Alexandra Mull, and from the floral dresses she wears everyday like a circus wears a tent to the way she is absolutely always ready to whip me up a fresh grilled cheese, it seems like she was made to be a mother.

Of course I would say that, being her son, and her’s is the picture next to the word “mother” in my mind.  She’s my mom, and she can never be anything else to me.  I guess that could seem like a pretty stifling existence, to some.  For the rest of your life you have nothing else to do but simply be a mother, it sounds kind of depressing when I lay it out like that.  But it’s not depressing, or it doesn’t seem to be, as I see many people in my day-to-day life who seem to be infinitely exploding with the joy of motherhood.

What if they’re not though?  I mean really, what if they’re just so sick of crying and dealing with leakages and a little monster that it makes them bitter?  I’ve seen news stories and episodes of midday talk shows about women who hate their babies or drown their babies in rivers, so I guess there’s always outliers, but by and large I think most mothers are pretty loving.

Anyway my mother is extremely loving and loves me a lot, and I live with her, and she lives with me, so that’ll probably give you an indication of my romantic prospects, which are few and far between.

But anyway this is just a little introduction to me, laying out for you who I am and what I do.  I’ve also kind of done a little preparation for the story I’m about to tell, I also might have just done some foreshadowing, but you’ll have to find that out.

Sylvester (Volume 1)