A Story About Companionship
He carried the violin that once belonged to his belated wife. It wasn’t for sentimental reasons, or perhaps it was, but not at first. You see, the violin gave off a distinct odor. And it was this odor that led the two—man and violin—into a lifelong companionship. Henry immediately recognized the scent of the violin as the same scent of his own body—his skin, his glands.
He was clearing a storage space when he first made the discovery. And from that point on Henry began to watch his television programs with the violin propped in the seat next to him. Eventually he began to speak to the violin, first it was just a greeting upon returning home or a goodbye before departing. But eventually, the conversation flowed fluidly—as conversation does between old friends. And eventually, Henry and the violin never left each other.
At the park or on the subway, their communication took the form of a private joke. Henry might chuckle at the violin, or nod his head toward the instrument when he saw a particularly attractive woman. And presumably, the violin returned the gesture.
Occasionally a stranger would ask Henry about the violin. And Henry would tell them of the violin with apparent admiration. And then he would open the case and insist the stranger take a sniff at the violin to see that he and the violin did, in fact, smell like brothers. And often the stranger would, but not out of genuine interest, but for fear of offending this old man.
Henry wasn’t an idiot though, he saw the feigned interest and redoubled his efforts—not in an attempt to convince them, but as a punishment for their inauthenticity. This would serve as a source of humor for Henry and the violin after they had returned home as they sat over the dinner table. Then after dinner they would pour several glasses of wine and Henry would take up the violin and bow, and Henry and the violin would play the worst fucking noise the neighbors had ever heard.
A Story About Love
Henry was a snitch from age 17 until his final year when they had him whacked. They tied him to a cinder block and threw him into the sea.
At first they didn’t have a lot to say to one another—the cinder block sat in the silt while Henry half-floated like a flag at a closed theme park. It seemed an odd punishment to enforce—to condemn one to spend an eternity with a stranger. This is what Henry thought. But the cinder block felt it doubly, after all the cinder block had committed no offense.
They blamed each other and they waited. Until eventually Henry broke the silence—saying, “Occasionally, pockets of warmth drift by and it feels like the seasons are changing.” To this the cinder block said nothing. And the sea grass waved and it remained dark. And time passed as it does under water in sluggish undulations, forward and backward. Until the cinderblock responded, “Seasons are a gift wherever you are and only with the passing of years can one fully appreciate them.
Only through lifetimes and generations will a people begin to worship the seasons as they were meant to be worshiped.”
Henry found this to be incredibly wise. And so they became close friends and conversed at great lengths. And through conversation, they discovered that Henry and the cinder block were from the same town. And it turned out that Henry’s grandfather worked at the same factory where the cinder block was born. And by their calculations this made them brothers.
Then one day, they saw the bioluminescent lantern fish. And for the first time, Henry and the cinder block saw the others, the cinder blocks and half-floating bodies that surrounded them—like a dance hall. Then the light turned toward them, and Henry and the cinderblock looked at one another and knew that they were in love. So they danced in the spotlight, until the fish turned and again they were the only ones and they held each other and they waited.
A Story About Reconnecting
Henry’s father drilled for natural gas in northern Canada. His mother and father had divorced when he was 8 and he spent the majority of those years knowing his father only through letters. And the letters were few. His father explained to him that the postal service was not reliable—large portions of his letters were about the postal service and the lack of women. Henry realized then the importance of those two things—a reliable postal delivery service and readily available women.
It was on Henry’s 16th birthday that they had arranged a visit in the northern-most sections of Canada. It was Henry’s first time flying. The plane was unlike others he had seen on TV. It was small, a row of two seats on one side and a single seat on the other. The stewardess had large breasts. Henry thought maybe he could introduce her to his father. She smelled of flowers.
When the plane landed his father met him in a jeep. His father didn’t speak much. They rode mostly in silence.
At the cabin there was a wood stove, bunk beds, a dresser, and a small refrigerator. He told Henry he’d be gone the next few days. He said Henry should unpack and that the bottom dresser drawer was free. While unpacking Henry found a packet of ducksauce in his suitcase. He set it on top of the dresser and went to bed. Henry’s father was already snoring loudly.
When Henry woke his father was gone and there was a note pinned to the door. He signed it “love Dad.”
Henry tried to talk with people on the CB radio for two days. The time passed quickly enough. On the third night, he heard the jeep pull into the driveway and sat up in bed. The door opened adn the light came on. Henry’s father stumbled over to the dresser to undress. He may have been drunk. When Henry’s father saw the ducksauce he said, “Ducksauce? This is a goddamned delicacy for them eskimos—you better hide it, boy.” And then he went to sleep.
A Story About Alcoholism
Functioning was a title of distinction. Henry was a functioning alcoholic, the same way that a certain group of kids were part of the gifted program. The first word “functioning” made the second word “alcoholic” okay. In fact it turned the title into something prestigious. Henry despite all odds rose up and functioned. He functioned like clockwork. He functioned like a well executed controlled burn.
It was hot. Henry lied on the blow-up sun raft in his in-ground pool. An aerial view would have looked like this—a rectangle in a circle of blue surrounded by sea of green. This home was the home where he was raised.
And still the scent of magazines and white bar soap drifted throughout the house. Henry stepped bare footed through the carpeted hallway. Dripping onto the linoleum, Henry poured himself another scotch and soda. From his kitchen window, he watched a car pulling into the driveway across the street. Henry’s high school sweet heart exited the car and walked into the house still occupied by her ailing mother and a rotation of home attendants. It had been 20 some years since he’d last saw her.
The next morning Henry woke at 6 a.m. and saw the car was still there. He decided he’d post himself next to the pool in a lawn chair where he couldwatch through the fence. With him he brought a pitcher of whiskey sour, a paperback novel, and a plate of deviled eggs. But nothing happened. He decided he would make an appearance at noon, as though it were the most regular thing—as if by pure chance, he’d happened to call while she was home.
Henry phoned the deli for a platter of meat and cheese. He showered and dressed. The doorbell woke him from where he drowsed in the living room recliner. While paying the delivery boy, Henry noticed the driveway across the street was empty. So he walked across the street and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Henry let himself in. He set the meat tray on the counter and called out “hello.” There was no response. Henry walked toward the mother’s room and found the elderly woman asleep in bed. He sat in the chair. He’d wait.
It wasn’t long before she returned and gently shook Henry’s shoulder. “Are you the nurse?” She said. “No” Henry said, “I’m just a friend.” And for a moment, they held each other’s gaze like the stem of a wine glass. Clumsily like uninitiated lovers. Like playground swings at dawn.
On his way out Henry took a wad of meat and cheese from the plate and stuffed it in his mouth. Tomorrow he would have indigestion. Henry functioned like clockwork.
A Story About Empathy
His commute was marked with a departure and then an arrival. He’d repeat this the following day, and then the following day. And sometimes it rained. He thought his life was a foreign film where nothing happened and the fact that nothing happened gave it significance. He liked when the train passed a stop and he could see people through the steel i-beams waiting.
He recalled a host of similar images—for instance, the sun behind stalks of winter wheat on a hillock where he used to play as child. When he told a stranger this, she touched his shoulder. Henry thought, there is room for oceans between us. A small boy dropped a sand-castle bucket and it rolled across the train floor. Then the boy began to cry. For a moment, Henry consider crying as well. But soon the feeling passed.
Henry made his way up the stairs. He dropped two tablets of antacid into the water glass on his nightstand and fell asleep. In the morning, he felt renewed. He made his toast and coffee.
He dressed and then went to retrieve his wallet from the slacks which hung on the bedpost. But instead of finding his wallet, he found two pads of sand filled his front pockets. With this he couldn’t have been more pleased. So he returned to the coffee pot to have a second cup.
His commute was marked with a departure and an arrival. It was always that way for as long as he could remember.