Turkey House Publishing

short stories, vignettes, and other shenanigans

Our next-door neighbors died six months apart last year, and their daughter inherited their house. A few months ago, the daughter sold the house to some investors, who have renovated the house and thrown a For Sale sign in the front yard. Now our street is occupied by the cars of hopeful buyers creeping along and asking—Is this the one? Oh, there it is, with the sign!—and when they realize they've passed it, they pull into my driveway and shine their headlights through my curtains and blinds, and then they turn around for another look at the house.

The mature thing would be to internalize the offenses and accept the temporary inconveniences, so that's what I do. But that doesn't mean I don't daydream otherwise.

I imagine a young couple parking along the curb and getting out to gaze at the front of the house while waiting for the realtor to arrive for their tour. I imagine the wife with her hand rubbing her pregnant belly as she remembers the pictures from the online listing and envisions their family growing within this starter home. The husband will be frustrated, on the verge of defeat, praying to the universe and all the gods and anyone else who may be able to help that this house is the house, the one that will make his wife happy and stop her ordering him to every corner of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex in search of the four walls worth twenty percent down and thirty years of sweat and curses and weekends lost on unfinished projects.

And I imagine our encounter will begin with me walking out to check my mailbox. I'll walk inexplicably hunched even though I'm in my mid thirties and in decent physical shape—and then I'll turn to head back toward my home and I'll see them and they'll wave and I'll return the gesture to be neighborly and they'll sigh collective relief that their first interaction with a potential neighbor has gone well.

“It seems peaceful and quiet around here,” the wife will say, a warm smile on her face.

“Oh, it is,” I'll say, my usually deep voice now a high-pitched screechy whisper. “Especially this house here.” I make eye contact with the wife. “Of course, it's easy to be quiet when ain't nobody lived in it for over ten years.”

“Why has it been vacant for so long?” the husband will ask.

“Haunted,” I'll answer. A feral cat will cry out from the back yard. The couple will look at each other. “Old man who lived here went crazy,” I'll say, “and he killed his wife with a paperclip and a baking sheet.”

“How did he manage that?” the wife will ask as she holds herself and slides her hands up and down between her elbows and her shoulders, as if a chill has blown in despite the summer heat.

“Honey,” I'll tell her,“you're better off not knowing.” We'll stand there in silence as their discomfort grows. “Sometimes at night, you can still hear the wife calling out to her husband, 'Can you at least use cooking spray, Jimmy?'”

I'll clear my throat and spit a huge disgusting loogie into the street. “That house sat there untouched for years until some know-it-all from Austin decided to pretty it up for a profit.” I'll chuckle, and they won't ask me to continue, but I'll know deep down they want me to. “But now, after a series of unexplained setbacks, they're selling the house at a loss.” I'll take a long look at the house. “A bit peculiar, don't you think?”

“Yeah,” the husband will say more to himself than to either of us.

“Maybe we should skip this house,” the wife will say. “I'm pretty sure the master closet was too small in the pictures.”

The husband will agree and they'll say it was nice talking to me and I'll wish them luck on their search and I'll cackle as I hobble back to the house. And later that night, when I'm watering the front yard, I'll drag my water hose into the yard of the haunted house next door and hook it up to the spigot and marvel at the quiet of the neighborhood.

#vignettes

“Oh my God!” Lindsey called out from the kitchen. She must be on the phone again, Ben thought. Lindsey's job necessitated numerous phone calls throughout the day, but the number of calls had increased now that she and her colleagues were working from home. Ben's colleagues preferred to communicate via the company's internal messaging service, but he happened to be a on a video conference during Lindsey's exclamation and so he apologized for his wife's volume and raised his voice to be heard over her despite the closed door between them.

When most offices temporarily closed their doors, Ben started working in the spare bedroom he and Lindsey had previously turned into a home office furnished with a desk and an office chair and a bookshelf and a loveseat. The office, once a creative space in which Ben wrote short stories and novels he never finished, had become a place of productivity after he set up his computer monitor and hooked up his laptop and keyboard and mouse. On the wall facing his monitor screen he had installed a dry erase board and scribbled a few work-related notes. He quickly stopped using the board, but its presence made him feel more professional all the same. Lindsey had made a work station out of the kitchen table. Every time Ben stepped out of his office to go to the bathroom or to get a snack or a drink, he felt obligated to acknowledge his wife in some way—to say hi or wave or wink at her—even though she was the only person he had seen for weeks, rolling into months, and these days he was seeing more of her than he had at any other point in their lives. Their situation was not ideal, but it was good enough to allow them to work and survive the stay-at-home orders issued during the pandemic.

Ben's conference call had wrapped up around lunch time, so he set work aside and walked into the kitchen. “Hey babe,” Lindsey said as she unplugged her laptop from the wall plug and then walked into the living room and set it on the couch. “Long time no see. How're things at the office?”

“Just great,” Ben sighed as he plopped into a chair at the kitchen table. “The new guy doesn't have his part of the project done yet, so the rest of us will have to step up to pick up his slack.”

Lindsey pouted and gave her sympathy and then told Ben that she was making sandwiches for lunch. As Lindsey was rummaging through the fridge, Ben walked over to the cabinet in the corner where they kept their alcohol and he pulled out the Scotch. “Boozing isn't going to fix your work problems,” Lindsey said as Ben was pouring himself a drink.

“No,” Ben said and then took a sip. “But it will make me care just a little less.”


By mid afternoon Ben was lost in a spreadsheet. The numbers didn't add up or tell the story he wanted to tell, no matter how long he stared at the computer and no matter what formulas he entered. He looked at his watch. “It's about that time,” he said as he slid his chair to the window in the corner and looked out. He pushed aside the curtain and closed his eyes and smiled as he basked in the sunlight of the afternoon sun. He imagined his veins and blood vessels and capillaries dilating and his circulation increasing as he soaked up the rays. Early in the pandemic, Ben and Lindsey went for regular walks until they heard the pleas to “Stay home! Just stay at home!” so much that they became a mantra, the only blueprint for absolute safety.

From the window in their office on the second floor, Ben had a good view of the alleyway behind their apartment. Before the pandemic, he had never appreciated the window for its people-watching opportunities, but that was also before he became so desperate for interaction with anyone other than his wife.

Ben perked up and smiled when he saw the homeless man straggling down the alley. “Jimmy crack corn!” the homeless man yelled before taking a sip from a can wrapped in a paper bag. “How the hell do he crack corn?” the man asked himself aloud. “And why the hell do I care?” The man gasped and held his belly as if to support himself while he laughed at his own joke. The man straggled and stumbled further down the alley until he came to a dumpster. The man looked one way down the alley and then the other and mumbled as he began fiddling with his pants. In a few seconds he had his pants unbuttoned and unzipped and pulled down and he squatted by the dumpster.

Ben observed from the safety of his office window as the man grunted and defecated. He knew that the sight was disgusting, but the possibility was something that he anticipated on a daily basis and he took a strange comfort in the thought that he wasn't the only one.


The homeless man appeared in the alley only for a few more days. Ben wondered as to the man's fate, but he had no way of knowing. The window in the office had now become little more than an opportunity for afternoon sunlight since no one else routinely ventured down the alley. Though Ben enjoyed basking in the sunlight in his office, his mood rarely lightened and his melancholy remained. He missed observing the homeless man and felt as if something had been taken from him. In the afternoons, he would constantly glance out his window, disappointed when the homeless man did not appear.

He kept his loss to himself and did not dare tell Lindsey. One day Lindsey walked into the office to find Ben sitting in his office chair, staring out toward the alley. He did not turn toward the door or acknowledge her entrance. He did not respond when she placed her hand on his shoulder. Lindsey stood behind Ben and looked out the window and toward the alley. “This will all be over soon,” she said. “This pandemic can't last forever.” Ben's head began to move, a weak nod. He wasn't sure he believed her, but it was nice to try.

One day Ben noticed an old lady in an apartment on the other side of the alley. She had opened her window and was spreading bird seed on the ledge outside her window. He thought nothing of it until the next day when he noticed a few pigeons resting on the ledge of the old lady's apartment window. They were picking and feasting on the seeds left for them. Ben felt something move inside him, as if his heart were warming and expanding. He never imagined that the sight of birds could stir something inside him.

Ben strolled his chair over to his desk and he woke up his computer and began searching for bird seed. He found a quality and a quantity that satisfied him and he ordered it. The bird seed would be delivered in five days, which Ben would spend observing with envy the window across the alleyway. From time to time he would slide his chair over to his desk and then he would research the birds he saw on the old lady's ledge. He identified cardinals and blue jays and mockingbirds and bluebirds and the list kept growing. As he observed, he imagined all those birds on his own window ledge and his smile expanded.

The bird seed Ben had ordered came in five days as expected. Ben ripped into the box as soon as he stepped into the apartment. He stood in the doorway holding the bag and observing it. “This must be something good,” Lindsey said as she entered the living room. “I've never seen you so excited about receiving a package.” Ben smiled as he read the copywriting promising that the bag in his hand contained only the highest quality seed that birds were guaranteed to enjoy. He imagined the birds on his ledge, picking at the seed and chirping thank yous to him and looking into the window to see their generous feeder. And though birds are incapable of facial expression, he imagined he would be able to see their smiles, like a dog's contented pant.

Lindsey asked Ben what he planned to do with the bird seed and he told her he wanted to put it on the window ledge and she smiled at him. “The pandemic has made you appreciate nature and the outdoors, huh?”

Ben nodded.

“The sun's starting to set. You might want to wait until tomorrow morning to put that out.” Ben frowned, but he knew she was right.

The next morning Ben sat in his office, drinking coffee and watching the sun creep into the sky. When the sun's rays had begun to warm the earth, he opened his window and sprinkled some of the bird seed on the window ledge. He shut the window and sat back in his chair and continued sipping from his mug while he waited. Early that morning he had no visitors. Word hasn't gotten out that there's food here, he told himself. He checked in from time to time once he started working.

Not too long before lunch, Ben heard some chirps outside his window. He slid in his chair and rocketed toward the window and scared away whatever birds were feeding on his ledge. He pouted as they fled but then smiled as he realized that laying the seed had worked.

At lunch, as he and Lindsey munched on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Ben told his wife how the birds had feasted on the bird seed. Lindsey reached across the table and placed her hand on his. “I'm glad you've found something to look forward to during this time,” she said as she smiled at him. “Me too,” Ben said and he smiled back.

After lunch, Ben opened the window in his office and put more bird seed on the ledge. Whenever he checked in for the rest of the day, he made sure not to make too much noise or bring attention to himself. “You don't even know the pandemic is going on,” he said as he observed some birds pecking at his latest offering. “You're living your lives as if nothing has changed.”

Once he was done with work for the day, Ben poured himself a glass of whisky and sat on the loveseat and observed the birds outside his window. Lindsey joined him with a glass of wine when she had wrapped up her own work.

“I never thought you would be a bird watcher,” Lindsey said and chuckled.

“I never thought we would be in a pandemic,” Ben answered.


After a few days the birds had gotten used to Ben's presence and no longer flew away whenever he approached the window. He thought back to the squirrels from his days at university, as he would startle whenever a squirrel had approached and he would see the animal just out of the corner of his eye. The animals' lack of boundaries had frustrated him back then, but now he didn't mind.

Sometimes Ben sat near the window, drinking his coffee and talking to the birds. Updating them with details about his day, asking them to reciprocate.

“Oh really?” Ben might say, “A cat almost got you yesterday, Mr. Pigeon. You have to be more careful.” Whenever the birds would twitch their heads he imagined that they were nodding in agreement or acknowledging him, whichever was appropriate for the situation.

When the second bag of bird seed was delivered, Lindsey joked that they would have to start budgeting for bird expenses. Ben nodded. “If we're tight on money,” Ben said, “you can stop buying makeup.”

Lindsey stared at him, saying nothing.

“It's not like we're going anywhere anytime soon. No one else is going to see you.”

Lindsey crossed her arms. “You could have said I don't need the makeup because I'm beautiful enough without it.”

Ben closed his eyes and scrunched up his face as he realized his blunder. “That's what I meant,” he said.

“Nuh uh. Too late.”

Ben retreated to his office with the bird seed.

A few days later Ben was sitting at his desk, absorbed in his work, when he heard something bang against the window in his office and his heart began racing. “What the hell was that?” Lindsey yelled out from the kitchen.

“A bird,” Ben said when Lindsey entered the office. “A bird must have flown into the window.”

“Do you think it died from the impact?”

“I don't know,” Ben answered. “I don't know.”

That night at dinner, Lindsey prefaced a conversation by saying she had talked to her mother earlier that day. Ben rolled his eyes and then put his face down, focusing on his food to minimize any showing of frustration as Lindsey continued talking.

“So anyway,” Lindsey said, “I was talking to Mom earlier today and I told her about the bird flying into the window. She told me she has noticed more birds flying into her windows lately.”

“She has noticed,” Ben airquoted noticed, “because she has been home more during the pandemic. Birds are probably flying into windows at the same rate as before. The only difference is that she is concerned now because she is aware that birds are flying into windows. Birds were probably flying into her windows before the pandemic, when she spent her days barhopping and daydrinking herself into oblivion.”

Lindsey's mouth fell open. “Why are you getting so defensive?”

“I'm sorry. You're right. I shouldn't have said that.”


The next few days were largely the same as the few before, which were largely the same as the few before, a trend now months in the making. Ben was sitting on the loveseat in his office, reviewing a presentation for work, when another bird flew into the office window. He jolted and looked to the window, to the source of the disturbance. Though the thud that accompanied these bird suicides still made Ben's heart jump, he now quickly recovered from the frights.

A few seconds later the office door opened. Lindsey looked Ben square in the eye. “We have to do something about those birds.” Ben said nothing and only returned her stare. Lindsey shut the door and stomped her way back to her workstation in the kitchen.

At lunch Lindsey told Ben that she had talked to her sister earlier in the morning. Ben did not try to hide the rolling of his eyes this time, nor did he try to contain his sigh.

“She told me about this film we could put on the windows to prevent the birds from flying into the window.”

“This pandemic has gotten so bad,” Ben said, “that now you're taking advice from your sister?”

Lindsey's silverware clanked as it hit the table. “What the hell?”

“Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't she dating her therapist? I mean, that doesn't sound like someone whose advice I would trust.”

“Just because she's dating her therapist doesn't mean she doesn't know how to save the birds.”

“Oh,” Ben mocked. “I forgot it's all about the birds.”

Lindsey raised an eyebrow. “Of course it's about the birds. What else would it be about?”

Ben leaned back in his chair and scoffed. “Like you're not going to put a film on the window and then take a picture and put it on Instagram and say something stupid like hashtag save the birds.”

“Where is this all coming from?” Lindsey shrieked. “Why are you being such a jerk about this?”

Ben took a deep breath and collected himself. “Look,” he said, “we're in the middle of a pandemic. We don't go to our offices. We don't go to restaurants or bars or coffee shops anymore. We rarely go out at all. We're spending nearly every second of our lives inside this apartment.” He paused and took a sip of water. “That window,” he pointed toward the office, “is my one escape. My one little pleasure during all of this. And now you,” Ben now pointed at Lindsey, “and your mother and your sister want to take it from me.”

“That's not true, baby. We just want to save the birds.”

Ben rested his elbows on the table and held his head in his hands. “You want me to be miserable,” he said. “All three of you—you all want me to be miserable.”

“That's not true,” Lindsey repeated.

After dinner Lindsey told Ben that she was going to step out for a bit. Ben asked where she was going.

“Just for a walk,” Lindsey said. “I think we need some space.”

“You can stay home. I'll go out.”

“No, it's fine. Really. I want to get out. I could use the exercise.”

“Okay,” Ben said. “Be careful.”

“I will.”

Ben had fallen asleep by the time Lindsey came home and so he didn't hear her return. He got out of bed sometime after midnight and walked into the living room and saw Lindsey sleeping on the couch. He considered waking her up and asking her to come to bed and apologizing, but he wasn't ready to have that conversation just yet, so he returned to bed and, knowing that Lindsey was safe at home, he slept until sometime after the sun had risen. He tiptoed his way to the kitchen and made a full pot of coffee. He hoped that the aroma would awaken Lindsey, but she didn't stir and so he let her be. He poured a cup of coffee and grabbed a book and headed to the office.

Ben knew something was wrong as soon as he entered the doorway of the office. The office was dimmer than he expected. A second later he had identified the problem as he looked at the window and saw a film over it. “What the hell,” he whispered to himself.

What

the

HELL!

Ben threw the book against a wall of the office and turned to face Lindsey, who had startled and was sitting upright on the couch.

“Where the hell did you get that?” Ben was pointing at the film on the window.

“I got it from my sister.”

“Oh so that's why you insisted on going for a walk, huh? So much for needing the exercise.”

“It's not like you would have let me go if I had told you the truth. You're going crazy over this bird business. I'm worried about you.”

“I don't understand why you care so much,” Ben closed his eyes briefly while he took a deep breath. “It's my space.”

“But the birds are flying into the window and dying.”

“What about me, Lindsay? I'm dying.”

Lindsey tilted her head to the side and glared at him. “You are not dying, Ben.”

“No, but you and your sister and your mother—you three witches—make me feel like it sometimes.”

Lindsey sprang from the couch and toward the front door. “I have to get out of here.”

“Go and conspire against me some more,” Ben yelled at her as she slammed the door shut.

Still breathing heavily from the confrontation, Ben walked into the office and sat on the loveseat. He scowled as he looked at the film-covered window.

After he finished his coffee, Ben walked over to the window and examined the damage. He found a corner of the film near the top of the window and was able to pull it up so as to have enough film to grab and begin removing it. Because the film had been applied so recently, the adhesive hadn't had a chance to bake onto the window, so he had little trouble removing the film. The removal did leave some adhesive on the window, so he found some rubbing alcohol and some paper towels and removed the bits left behind. Finally he applied some window cleaner and smiled at his squeaky clean window.

As the sun's rays once again filled the office, he thought This is how my morning was supposed to look.

With a mug of fresh coffee, Ben laid across the loveseat and opened the novel he had previously thrown against the wall in anger. After a few thousand words, his eyes got heavy and he soon found himself in a light sleep, the book lying open on his chest. He woke when he heard a bang against the window and his eyes shot open and he sprang up and looked out the window and saw a scatter of feathers briefly floating in the sky before they began sinking toward the ground. He smiled.

#stories

Looks like I messed up good this time. I mean, I messed up plenty before, that ain't nothing new. But this time I messed up good. Abby and I just had a nasty fight and she walked out and went to her mama’s house. I don't know when she'll be back. Or if she'll be back for that matter. She said plenty she oughtn't said. And it all started over a damn plunger.

I went into town to get some beer—the supply was low—and Abby asked me to get a plunger while I was out. We somehow lost our plunger. Who loses a plunger? It should never be more than two feet from the toilet, within arm's reach when you're popping a squat. That's just common sense. But I guess that tells you the kinda people we are—the kind of people who lose a plunger.

Well, I drove into town and went to the Quickie Mart instead of the general store because the general store doesn’t sell beer. Old man Curtis owns the general store, says selling booze and liquor ain't Christianlike. But they drank wine in the Bible. Hell, Jesus himself turned water into wine. Would he say that wasn't Christianlike? Only a fool would say Jesus wasn't Christianlike. But old man Curtis, he act like he ain't heard a word of it and he carried on without the booze and he wonders why people pass his store on their way to the Quickie Mart. But people at the Quickie Mart don't judge you when you walk in and grab a six pack. They're Christianlike like that.

Anyway, I got my beer at the Quickie Mart and so I turned around and drove home, beer in hand. Mission accomplished. Or so I thought. The beer wasn't even in the fridge when Abby started with the accusations: “You forgot the plunger, didn’t you?” It was obvious when I walked in and didn't tell her I had got the plunger. A plunger ain't a casual purchase. That's something you buy twice, maybe three times your whole life. Of course I had forgot it. But she didn’t have to be all judgmental about it.

“Will you get off my back, Abby?” I shot back. Her eyes went cold. Abby started saying I didn’t listen to anything she said. All I wanted was my beer. Her mama was right about me. Blah blah blah. She blabbered on and on.

“I’m going to my mama’s,” she said when she walked out of the bedroom with a bag in her hand.

“Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you,” I said and I toasted my beer can at her and then took a long sip.

“You’re just like your daddy.” That was the last thing she said before slamming the front door and running down the steps and speeding off in the Bronco. Those words would float in the trailer house long after she had left for her mama's house.

I laughed and reclined back in my chair. I had my beer and I had my favorite seat in the house. Despite the storm at home, things was all right. I grabbed the clicker and turned on the TV and flipped through the channels, but none of them was coming in. Every single one was static. All it would take was to was get up and walk over the TV and move around the rabbit ears on the antenna until a good signal came in, but that was too much effort for me in that moment, so I pushed the power button on the clicker and turned the TV off.

And with no picture or sounds coming from the TV, Abby came through clear like she was still in the trailer.

”You’re just like your daddy”.

“I ain't nothing like him,” I told her in my head. “I ain't nothing like him and you know it.”

The more I drank, the louder she got in my head. And the deeper her words cut. She knew just how to cut me. And worst yet, she knew she knew it.

The beer was and the need to cut back was strong. I couldn’t call her mama’s house to speak my mind because her mama would screen my calls. She didn't want Abby talking to me in the best of times, and she'd make sure to get between us now. Abby couldn't get cell phone reception there. Even if she could, she probably would have turned her phone off just so I couldn't get in touch with her. Like she did that time she went and stayed with her sister outside Dallas.

I could have written her a mean letter, but that would have taken too much work. Besides, letter-writing ain't for men like me.

After a while the need for revenge left me and made way for longing for what we had before I went into town and came back with the beer and forgot the damn plunger. I didn't like to see Abby angry, especially not angry at me. Instead I wanted to see her happy again.

Abby loved music. And she loved her vinyl records. She said the records reminded her of the good times in her childhood, before her parents got divorced. Her favorite memories of them together involved music. Lazy weekend days with the house full of music. Her dad would walk over to her mom and hold out his hand and she'd reach out hers and he'd pull her up and they'd dance and smile at each other. After a song or two just the two of them, they'd reach out to Abby and she'd dance with them. Abby cried the first time she told me about them all dancing together and I couldn't help thinking that her dad sounded like something might be off with him.

Her favorite album she owned was Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, the one Abby said they all listened to during the happiest times. When she listened to the album, she remembered her parents dancing and waving their arms like hippie children and laughing together. I never understood what was so great about the album. The cover showed a bunch of goofballs feeding a goat. Anyone ever owned a goat knows they don't make great pets. Abby told me that the album was so beautiful because it had all these different instruments and sounds layered together in harmony. I thought the album didn't have enough guitar in it. Where were the solos?

Abby’s mama never played any albums after she and Abby’s daddy divorced. And when Abby moved in with me, she took Pet Sounds from her mama's collection and her mama never even noticed. But she wouldn't have given it to Abby if she asked for it so Abby didn't bother.

The trailer we rented was small, but Abby had insisted that we buy some stereo speakers and a turntable. I made a fuss, but she made it clear I didn't have no say in the matter. And so we got the speakers and the turntable and we often had our own lazy weekends listening to records and drinking beer. I gotta admit, I did enjoy myself in those moments sometimes.

I got myself out of the recliner and walked to the stereo. In the base of the cabinet was a storage compartment. Pet Sounds was the first record in her collection, so it was easy to find. I pulled the album sleeve out and walked into the kitchen and I sat at the table, looking at that album cover with the goofballs feeding the goat, wishing Abby would come home already and put the record on the turntable.


That stay at her mama’s house was the longest. It was fine when I had work to keep me busy. But if there was a second of downtime, I was thinking about her and driving myself crazy.

Without Abby at home I had no one to talk to. So I got drunk and talked to myself. And then I'd start talking to my daddy and I'd cuss him real good and then I'd cry and tell him I didn't mean it. I think it was after the third night of this that I took a chance and wrote her a letter. I thought I'd just sit down with pen and scribble something on the paper and be done in five minutes, maybe less. But I hadn't written a letter since Mrs. Thomas gave me an F in second grade because I couldn't learn cursive.

I sat there stumped, looking at the blank page. My pen floated over the paper but wouldn't write nothing down. The words sounded pretty in my head, but getting them to paper was harder than I thought it would be. It was killing me. I was about to give up when it came to me: What would one of them goofballs feeding that goat on the cover of Pet Sounds say if he had gone into town to get some beer and forgot to get a plunger? How would he patch things up with his old lady? What was the words he would have used? I started to get up and put on that record so that I could listen to the words and maybe copy some of them straight from the songs. Or maybe just get some inspiration.

But then it happened. It finally happened. The pen touched the paper and words was being written. But it wasn't me doing the writing. It was one of them boys on the record cover. But he was writing as me. It was like I was possessed. That's what it was, a possession. But not a demonic possession. No, sir. But a good possession, whatever you call that. An angelic possession, kind of like them angelic harmonies on the record Abby was always going on and on about.

The pen was moving and ink was flowing and words was filling the page. The words was coming so easily, I thought about starting over and writing in cursive, but I stuck to writing in all caps.

The writing flowed. I kept it simple. I told her I knew I messed up. And I was sorry. Truly. And the trailer was so empty without her and there was a chill in my heart even though it was July. And it didn't feel right when she wasn't sitting beside me, in the middle of the bench seat of my Chevrolet. And you can't don't wanna think how lonely the booth seat at Charlie's would have felt on Catfish Friday.

The letter was pure poetry. I wanted to send it the night I wrote it, but I couldn't find any stamps and I wasn't even sure where to get them, so I had to ask Earl at work the next day and he told me I could go to the Quickie Mart and get me some stamps when I was picking up my beer after my shift. Earl's efficient like that. No wonder he got promoted foreman over me.

So on Friday, after cashing my check, I went to the Quickie Mart and bought some stamps. The next morning, I walked to the mailbox near the entrance of the trailer park and put the letter in the mail slot of the big mail receptacle and walked back to the trailer and settled into the folding yard chair under the shade tree and I drank my beer and waited for the mailman to come. When he finally showed up, I watched from afar as he opened the big mail receptacle and took all the mail and loaded it up in the truck and then drove off to get my letter on its way.

I tossed and turned in bed the next few nights. At work one day, Earl asked me if I was all right and I told him I was right as rain and he asked if I meant acid rain because I looked like hell. I told him I still looked better than him and he shrugged and said that ain't saying much and then we got on with our day.

One day when I got home, I opened the door to the trailer and Abby sprang from the couch and wrapped her arms around me and kissed me. I almost cried while we was kissing. Abby put her head on my chest and I put my hand on her head and squeezed her further into me.

“Thank you for the letter,” Abby said and she blushed. “And, to think, they say romance is dead.” We laughed and then we went to the couch and just held each other. It was the first time I understood what people meant when they talked about living in the moment because it was the first moment of my life I could remember wanting to keep on going forever. There was nothing else: Just me and Abby and the trailer we call home. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if I had my girl on one hand and a cold beer in the other.

Abby and I talked and we buried the hatchet. And we both said we'd do better going forward. I'd listen better and she'd get a hold of that temper. That fiery, fiery temper. We hugged each other and squeezed each other and we kissed and then we went to the bedroom and we made love. Things was copacetic again.

After a short stint through Hell, I had found Heaven. And I swore I would never do anything again to mess it up.

We went back into the living room and I joked that I had worked up an appetite and I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich. I asked her if she wanted one and she said sure. I had my head in the refrigerator, looking for the cheese slices when Abby said something about playing some music. I told her that sounded great. Why would I argue? I was smiling so big my mouth hurt. It was good to have her back home.

I was moving aside the ketchup bottle when I heard her humming “Wouldn't It Be Nice”, the opening track to that Pet Sounds album, and I couldn't help thinking, it already is nice, baby. It is. It really is.

I watched as Abby walked over to the turntable and leaned down to the storage compartment and grabbed the album. We both heard a clinking sound as she pulled out the album sleeve for Pet Sounds. She looked at me confused and I'm sure I gave her the same look back. Her hand slipped into the sleeve and that was when it all came rushing back to me. I remembered sitting at the kitchen table with Abby's favorite album. Her insult kept echoing in my head. She had cut me good. And I was looking to cut back. I remembered slipping my hand into the sleeve and pulling the record out and placing it on the table. I thought about throwing it against the wall. Or banging it against the table. Hell, I even thought about smashing the record with the damn plunger, if I could have found it. Instead I took a long sip of my beer and then I set the can down and I placed one hand on top of the middle of the record and the fingertips from my other hand underneath one end of the record and I pushed down and pulled up in opposite directions. The first pop, the first snap, felt good. It felt real good. I rearranged my hands and continued breaking the record in more places, my smile growing with each pop. I sipped my beer and looked down at the pieces and admired my work. I took my time placing the pieces back in the sleeve, as most like a whole record as I could. I walked the record back to the stereo, with a hand on each side of the sleeve, pressing together to keep the record together. I put the sleeve back in its place and made sure to rest the other records firmly against it so that the pieces wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the sleeve. And then I sat back with my beer at the kitchen table and I imagined Abby's reaction when she found what I had done. But I didn't imagine that she would find the album broken after we had just made up.

Abby pulled out a piece of vinyl and held it for a second or two before dropping it on the floor. She held the record in both hands, looking at the cover art of The Beach Boys feeding that stupid goat. She sniffled. Her whole body began to shake. Her eyes closed and she let out a squeal that reminded me of a kettle building steam.

“I’m—” I started but then I stopped. There weren't no point. I messed up good this time. Better than I ever had before.

#stories

The news called the winter storm historic. Texas hadn't seen anything like it in over thirty years. Power plants were forced offline, and millions of Texans were subject to rolling blackouts.

My wife and I were looking out our living room bay window, out at the snow-covered everything of the outside world.

“Do you know about the Waffle House Index?” I asked. My wife shook her head. “If you ever want to know how bad a storm is, see if your local Waffle House has shut down. If it has, you know things are bad.”

“Is that legit?”

“Governments keep an eye on it.”

“You're telling me that leaders determine states of emergency based on whether or not a Waffle House shuts down?”

I nodded.

“Do you think our Waffle House is open?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“I haven't seen any Amazon deliveries the last few days,” she said.

“Damn,” I said. “This storm really is historic.”

#vignettes

“Oil Prices Slip on Surprise Inventory Build”—that's what the headline says.

I don't know how this stuff works, and I don't care to know. I prefer to imagine someone who recently finished counting one by one the millions of barrels in reserve. This guy has had only eight hours of sleep over the last three days. And those few hours were had on the floor underneath his desk. He's gone three days without seeing his family. Three days without shaving. Three days without a shower. Thank goodness he keeps a spare toothbrush and spray-on deodorant in the top drawer of his desk.

But this man—this analyst—he's smiling as he reviews his report. Here it is, he tells himself, all my hard work. This is why I get paid the big bucks. All those hours, all that time spent accounting for every single barrel of oil in the whole wide world—all that work is here on the few pages that comprise this report.

Before the analyst can hit Send on his email, there's a knock on his door. The door creaks open to reveal Jeff, the top-of-his-class Ivy League intern.

“Excuse me, sir,” Jeff says. Jeff is looking at the floor, avoiding eye contact.

The analyst sighs and lifts his hands from his keyboard and mouse. He crosses his arms as he plops against the back of his chair. “What is it, Jeff?”

“Well,” Jeff says and then takes a deep breath, “there's some surprise inventory.”

The analyst's eyebrow raises. “Surprise inventory? Oil doesn't just magically appear, you know. It doesn't grow on trees.”

“Most of it's drilled in the desert,” Jeff says.

So he has been paying attention.

“We forgot that we stashed some barrels in New Jersey,” Jeff says.

“New Jersey? Why would we do that?”

“I didn't know where else to put them.”

The analyst sighs. “It can't be that much, right?”

“It's not a little.”

“How much are we talking?”

“I don't know, sir. You'll need to count them.”

The analyst stares at Jeff.

“The boss says you should cancel your dinner plans with your family,” Jeff tells the analyst. “Actually, you should clear your calendar for the next couple days.”

The analyst sighs again and looks to the ceiling.

“I'll book you a flight for New Jersey,” Jeff says. The analyst nods and leans forward and plops his elbows on the table and rests his head in his hands.

“Are you o—”

“Just book the flight,” the analyst barks at Jeff.

Yes, sir,” Jeff says and turns to leave.

“Not New Jersey,” Jeff hears as he's stepping into the hallway. “Not New Jersey again.”

#vignettes

We live near DFW airport, and in the spring, we frequent a bike trail that runs parallel to an airport landing path. In the early days of the pandemic, we might have sat for half an hour at a bench along the trail and have seen only a couple planes approach and descend for landing.

But last night...

Last night I counted nine such planes in less than ten minutes. I don't know if the sight was inspiring or concerning or a mixture of both and yet so much more. But, in one way or the other, it was exciting.

#vignettes

“1979” by Smashing Pumpkins always makes me nostalgic for moments that never happened. The song is playing while I'm on my phone and looking at a picture my wife took of our daughter and sent to me earlier in the day. Our daughter's hands, pressed against her cheeks, are covered in paint after an afternoon arts and crafts project.

As I admire the picture, I wish I could send it to my mother, with whom my daughter shares a name. I don't know if my daughter looks like my mother—I've always been bad at recognizing that sort of thing—but in that moment, I like to think I can see my mother in her.

And I like to think my mother would love the picture, just as I'm sure she would love to know my daughter is named after her. And also in that moment, I can't help feeling as if my mother is still with me. And I also feel as I'm taking care of the woman who once took care of me.

#vignettes

The engine turns. The car cranks up. The dash lights turn on and flash a time or two and then go blank. Except the tire pressure light. You stare at the orange light with the obnoxious exclamation point inside that strange curvy figure. The light wasn't on yesterday. You know because you check every single time you start the car. The temperature has dropped almost thirty degrees since your last drive. Maybe that explains the light's appearance. But you're cutting it close. You'll be late for work if you take the time to air up your tires now. You don't have time to resolve this inconvenience.

The tires need to warm up. That'll fix the problem. A few miles on the tires will make the light go away.

You put the gear shift in D and you're off. You creep through the neighborhood and approach a stop sign and you come to a complete stop. You look both ways. No one around. You look at the dashboard lights. The tire pressure light is still on. Of course it is. The tires haven't had a chance to warm up. You resume driving and turn onto the main road.

The road is bumpy. The car rides low, so you can't help feeling every rumble, every texture vibrating on the back of your legs and your rear end so near the ground. You turn the radio off even though your favorite song is playing. You can't afford to sing along today. You need to be tapped in, undistracted, fully aware. Your tire pressure is low. This could get ugly.

You approach the highway. You're cautious. No point in being reckless. You settle on a speed that feels right—about 10 miles under the limit—during the morning rush. No tailgating today. No unnecessary risks. Your tire pressure is low.

You look at the dash again. The tire pressure light is still on. Why didn't you fill your tires? Stupid. Oh well, what's done is done.

Your grip on the steering wheel tightens. It vibrates with every change in the road. It's because the tire pressure is low, you whisper.

Another car—a sportier model—closes in on you and rides your rear end. You hear a light thud. Have you hit something? Has your tire popped? The driver behind you flashes his headlights.

I'm in the slow lane for a reason, you yell into the rearview.

The sporty car swerves into the left lane and passes you—the driver is gesturing for you to roll down your window.

You ignore him. You approach your exit, so you take it and continue toward the office. You find comfort as you pass through a school zone.

You get to work and pull into a parking spot. You sigh. Relief.

In the breakroom, in the line for the coffee pot, your co-workers share their morning commute horror stories.

Sharon tells that she was sitting still on the highway for nearly 30 minutes. Bill complains about taking the toll road. Deborah, who always shares too much, reveals that her irritable bowel syndrome gave her reason for concern during her last mile and a half.

You tell them your commute was fine. They stare at you. You take your coffee and head to your desk and start your day.

You spend the first hour and a half of the workday browsing the internet and researching how long you can drive with low tire pressure. Though the specifics vary, every site tells you the same thing: not long.

Of course they have to make it sound bad. They just want to sell tires. You decide to forget about the low tire and get about your day.

At lunch, you and some co-workers stand in the lobby of the office and decide who's driving.

Nathan's car is running on E. Phyllis has a couple of car seats in the back and she doesn't want to bother with taking them out. They look to you, waiting for your excuse.

The tire pressure light is on. You mumble this, wanting to move on. The three of you resign to walk somewhere for lunch. As you walk, Nathan tells you about his cousin's friend from church. Her car flipped when her tire blew out because the tire pressure was low.

The light had been on for only a couple of days, Nathan says. Her car flipped when she was going over an overpass. It flipped over the railing and crashed onto the street below. The roof of her car caved in. Her family didn't recognize her after the accident.

Is that true?

Nathan accuses you of calling his cousin a liar. She goes to church twice on Sundays.

Phyllis says the restaurant has amazing chicken fried steak as you approach. Nathan grumbles that it was dry the last time he tried it.

When you return from lunch, you try to verify Nathan's story. You stalk him on social media in an attempt to identify his cousin. You can't find Nathan's saintly relative. Your trail runs cold. You can never trust anything Nathan says.

Before you know it, it's quitting time. You decide that now—at this very time on this very day—might be a good time to stay late and catch up on some loose ends you've been neglecting. You hear a ding on your computer. A new email from IT. Emergency maintenance will be performed in a few minutes. The internet and the internal network will be down until tomorrow morning.

This is why you can never get ahead. You shut down your computer.

Sitting in your car, you stare at the tire pressure light. You had hoped it would go away now that the temperature had risen throughout the day. But there it is. You curse.

You consider driving to a gas station with one of those air fill-up hoses, but all the gas stations will be busy at evening rush hour, and you don't have any change, so you'll have to go through the trouble of going to an ATM and breaking a twenty-dollar bill. You do not have time for this.

Shortly after you've departed, you hit a bump. The car feels off. The tires are affecting the ride.

You hit traffic. Relief. Everyone in the left lane is negotiating their way into the right lanes. Accident up ahead. Flames. You creep past the scene. There's a car—the same model as yours—flipped over. Burning. You try to get a good look at the car's tires. Are they melted? Are they the same tires as yours? You can't make sense of the scene. The driver behind you honks and you refocus on the road ahead of you.

As you continue home, the image—the burning car, the smoke, the chaos of it all—replays on an infinite loop in your head.

When you get home, you grab a drink. The day has been especially stressful. After a few sips, you realize you should fill up your tires. But you're tired. The sun is already setting. And the cold is especially bitter now. You don't have time for.

You'll take care of it tomorrow.

#stories

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