To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

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A war has been raging for decades. It’s a war we don’t hear about on the news. Like religion and politics, it isn’t discussed in civilized company. This war is not fought with guns and bombs, it’s fought with pens. It is the horrible, ghastly war between . . . rhymers and non-rhymers. The iambic pentameter crowd versus the free verse crowd. No prisoners are taken and no mercy is shown by either side.

All kidding aside, I like them both, but only if both are ultimately understandable. “Ultimately” meaning after two readings. If the poem is so abstract that only the writer gets it, the writer failed, not the reader.

The free verse army says rhyming poetry is childish and unsophisticated, largely as a result of syrupy poems in Hallmark greeting cards. And let’s face it, they usually are. It’s hard to rhyme well (without sounding like a nursery rhyme) and tell a good story that accesses emotion.

The rhyming crowd argues that it takes as much or more talent to write a meaningful, emotionally impactful poem that also rhymes and has meter, structure and rhythm than it does to write one that has none of that. To them, criticizing rhyming poetry is like saying Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost and even Shakespeare (who wrote a heck of a lot of sonnets) were a bunch of nincompoops.

Here’s a good example of a rhyming, emotionally moving poem. The story behind it is almost as good as the poem itself.

A friend of mine found it at the bottom of an old box in his parents’ garage. He asked his dad about it. He said the author was a man named Vernon Watson, who performed in theaters around London in the 1930’s and 40’s. He would sing, dance, tell stories and recite poems. A little bit of everything. The audience would start out laughing and end up crying, or vice-versa. He performed under the name Nosmo King, and thought up that name one night while looking at a “No Smoking” sign in one of the theaters. Here it is. I dare you not to get choked up.

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Providence

Have you ever been broke? Just broke to the wide?
With what you stand up in and nothing beside?
Living on scraps the best part of the week
When you can get them, and with nowhere to sleep?

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I’ve been like that on a cold winter’s night
When the streets were deserted and nothing in sight
But a slow-moving bobby whose job is to see
That the public’s protected from fellows like me.
Who get put inside to answer in court
Why they’re wandering around without means of support.

It always strikes me as a queer sort of joke –
To pick on a man just because he is broke.
Do they think he enjoys wandering around in the rain,
Soaked to the skin with a dull, aching pain
Through his stomach, forgetting his last decent meal
And just praying for the time when he’s too numb to feel.
Life isn’t worth much when you get to that state –
Of just waiting to die and nowhere to wait.

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I remember the time, it’s a long while ago,
When I stood on a bridge with the river below.
The last food I’d had was two days before
And I never expected I’d need anymore.
That night was the worst that ever I’d known,
With a dirty, wet fog that chilled to the bone.
I set my teeth hard and I set down my heel
On the rail that my hands were too perished to feel
When a sniveling pup came out of the fog
And whimpered at me, just a scrap of a dog.
Bedraggled and dirty, like me, just a wreck,
With  a sad, little face on his poor, scraggy neck.

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A few seconds more and I would have died
But he licked my hand and I just sat down and cried.
I wrapped up the poor little chap in my coat
And carried him off with a lump in my throat.
I took him along to the one place I knew
Where they’d give him a bed and a biscuit or two.

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They didn’t seem keen on taking him in
But the sergeant-in-charge gave a bit of a grin
When I told him, “The dog could do with a meal.”
He said, “I’ll fix him up, but how do you feel?”
It may be perhaps that the sergeant had seen
the state I was in, I wasn’t too clean.
The hunger and cold that I’d suffered all day
Exhausted my limits and I fainted away.

Well, they fed me and slept me gave me two bob.
The following day, they found me a job.
I’ve worked ever since and I’ve put a bit by.
I’m comfortable now and I don’t want to die.
I’ve a nice, little house in a quiet, little street
With a decent-sized garden that’s always kept neat.
I’ve worked there a lot when I’ve had time to spare
And I’m so proud of one little corner that’s there,
With the pick of my flowers ‘round a little old stone,
That stands in a corner, all on its own.
It bears an inscription, not very grand.
The letters are crooked, but you’ll understand –
That I wasn’t too steady, I couldn’t quite see,
At the time that I carved it, quite recently.

These are the words I carved on the stone –
“Here lies my friend when I was alone.
Hopeless and friendless, just lost in a fog,
God saved my life with the help of a dog.”

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~ Vernon Watson AKA Nosmo King, 1930

 

11. Homeless

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The photo of the dog’s tombstone was actually made by a friend of mine as a prop for a filmed version of this poem we made. (I played the homeless man.) The words on the stone are a little different because I wrote it from memory and didn’t have this – – –

A YouTube video uploaded by someone who had one of Vernon’s old 78’s. (For you youngsters, 78’s were vinyl LP’s that pre-dated 33’s and 45’s.) His diction and delivery is very heightened and melodramatic, as was the style of the time. His voice reminds me of Boris Karloff’s quite a bit. Oddly, the version I have also has a few more lines than Nosmo’s recorded version. Enjoy!

End of the Road (love poem)

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I once walked through a forest,
deep and cool and wild,
filled with awe and wonder
as if I were just a child.

I once stood on a mountain.
Ancient winds flew through my hair.
It seemed the world around me
had become a silent prayer.

But despite the roads I traveled
and all the ground I gained,
this empty place, this darkness
in my spirit, still remained.

I’ve walked a thousand lonely miles
and crossed stormy oceans blue
searching for a feeling
that I’ve found right here with you.

And I could tell a thousand stories
of what the earth, to me, has shown
but all the beauty of this world
falls far short of your own.

For there is no greater wonder
nor peace that I have found
than holding you in darkness
with your heart the only sound.

Your laughter heals my deepest sorrow
and your eyes, so kind and warm,
have become this torn ships refuge
from a bitter, raging storm.

Mark Who? (Versatile Blogger Award)

Blogger award

I’m so new to blogging, I didn’t even know blogger awards existed, so it was a surprise and an honor when I received a message from Kathrin S. at https://mycupofenglishtea.wordpress.com letting me know she had nominated me. Thanks, Kathrin!

I started this blog a few years ago but didn’t really commit to it until recently. Now that I’m in the habit of writing every day, I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a great outlet and healthy to get stuff out of our systems regularly, whether venting or celebrating.

One of the requirements for winning this award is talk about myself, which is not usually my favorite thing to do, but here goes –

  1. I’m Mark Rickerby. I’ve been married for ten years and have two daughters, 3 and 6 years old, who remind me constantly to stop writing about life and actually live. I’m pretty sure I learn more from them than they do from me. My life began when they were born. All the things that mattered to me so much before they came along don’t matter anymore. The desire to make them proud of me brings out my best and pushes me beyond the point where I stopped before.
  2. When my first daughter was born, my wife overheard me singing little songs to her to make her laugh, stop crying, fall asleep, etc., and said, “That’s kinda catchy. You should record it.” I think she meant I should record it into a sound file on my phone, but I wanted to do it right so I found a phenomenal composer with a recording studio (Rick Balentine) and a rollicking collaboration ensued. The next thing I knew, I had 15 songs in the bag that seemed to come to me whole, and a CD called Great Big World. Rick arranged backup singers and musicians. It felt like I had hijacked somebody else’s life. I found out in a new way (other than writing) what people meant by “divine inspiration.” But then if my first child didn’t inspire me, what would? Here it is –
  3. I’ve had stories published in 17 Chicken Soup for the Soul books and in magazines like Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, Nostalgia and Whole Life Times, but it took me forever to trust myself as a writer. Paralysis by analysis and very little trust. I felt like I needed to read every book about writing before I could attempt anything serious. But as Dan Millman wrote, I finally accepted that we don’t need to know everything about the ocean in order to swim in it. I’m trusting the process, seeing where the path takes me, and enjoying life more than ever before.
  4. I spent a lot of time in my twenties traveling the world, to both seek adventure, of course, but also to figure out who I was, as cliche as that sounds. I must have been a young soul because I had no idea for a long time. So, I rode a camel and did a bunch of other distracting things until time and circumstances forced me to stop playing around, confront myself and do the friggin’ work already.14
  5. My parents were born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I helped my father finish his memoir titled The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth. Here it is –

    He died in December of 2014 after five years with Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia. I’m still wrecked by it.

  6. I’m very happy during the day, but struggle with insomnia. My mind becomes a bad neighborhood at night sometimes, especially since and because of how my dad passed away. As if that weren’t enough, all the love letters he wrote to my mother when they were young were stolen by burglars shortly after he died. I have some dark thoughts about finding them and punishing them worse than the courts did, but I won’t because I don’t like the idea of my daughters seeing me in an orange prison jumpsuit.
  7. My main escape from the sadness and anger caused by the above events are writing and singing. If I didn’t have those outlets (and my wife and daughters), I would most certainly be insane right now.
  8. My favorite book is Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Every sentence is a poem. The movie is pretty good, too.670f82f771e1d30f28b1517fedf9bba2
  9. I’m the co-creator and head writer of a western TV show called Big Sky that I and the rest of the team are in the process of pitching to studios right now. I’ve been obsessed with it for years. I feel like I live there and the characters are all close friends of mine. We’re getting a lot of interest and weighing our options. I hope to make an announcement that the show has been picked up soon.15822609_10154224026862215_7309990749250450755_n
  10. I’m ridiculously nostalgic and, as a result, a little neurotic. Freud defined “neurotic” as “wanting the world and others to be as we are rather than as they are.” I have this persistent image in my mind of how the world should be and how people should treat each other, collected and stored deep in my psyche from old movies and TV shows set in places and times when people still had some expectations of each other. (The Andy Griffith Show chief among them.) I battle with it constantly because I know the world is full of people who refuse to accept things the way they are, and they are miserable to the degree that they don’t. It’s not only one of the main reasons for unhappiness, it’s the cause of war. The most extreme current example would be ISIS running around beheading everyone who doesn’t pray, think, dress and live exactly as they do. I just want to be friends with everyone and to see more kindness in the world, so disappointment is inevitable, especially on L.A. freeways.
  11. I revel in and love nature like a baby being cuddled by his mama. There’s nothing I love more than waking in a forest and feeling different consciousnesses greeting the day, especially flowers opening and turning toward the sun. How the heck do they know how to do that? I don’t care how science explains it, that’s thinking.
  12. One of the writings I’m most proud of is a poem called How We Survive that has traveled all over the internet in the twenty years since I wrote it. Every now and then, I Google it to see where it went, like checking to see what a child or old friend has been up to. It’s about the grieving process. I wrote it after my brother died. It has helped a lot of people struggling with grief feel a little better. What better thing can I do as a writer than that?
  13. I started having trouble with faith after losing my brother and only sibling to a drug overdose twenty years ago, but I persist in seeking God everywhere, like in the owl’s eye complete with light reflection on the wing of a butterfly so it can scare off predators. In fact, despite my questions and doubts, 7 of the 17 stories I’ve written for Chicken Soup for the Soul are spiritual. Strange things keep happening to me, as if God is saying, “I’m right here!”
  14. I’m just adding this one so I won’t end on #13. I’m not very superstitious, but why take chances? 🙂

I hope I didn’t get too maudlin there, but then, life is always a grab bag of ups and downs, isn’t it? The trick is to not let the downs make us forget the ups. Thanks for reading.

I’m required to post the rules of the award, too. Here they are –

Rules (for the people below that I nominated)

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to 15 bloggers for this award and inform them.
  • Share seven (or more) facts about yourself.
  • Put the logo of Versatile Blogger in your post and display the rules also.

Nominations – In case anyone whose blog I’m following is wondering why I didn’t nominate them, it’s probably because you have a lot of followers already, or at least more than 300. I chose these people below because a) I like the way they write for some reason, and b) their blogs are new and in need of readers like mine.

  1. Marvin Leo
  2. Westerngurl
  3. Michael Goodman
  4. Manuscript Notes
  5. Epiphany 2.0
  6. Angie – Freckled Foolery
  7. Lakeland Walking Tales
  8. The Caffeine Chaser (Justin Groep)
  9. Oregon Dogs
  10. Love Letters to Rock and Roll

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 15 – Harassed in Hawaii, Part 2 – Attack of the Crab Monsters!!!

computer-God

Welcome to episode 15 of Messin’ with Mark, God’s Sitcom. If you are unfamiliar with this show, basically God plays pranks on me for heaven’s amusement. This has been going on my entire life. It’s the only explanation for the ridiculous stuff that happens to me.

This particular event took place only a few days after the story I posted last week when my then best friend Matt and I were walking across a low, narrow bridge covered with frogs when work trucks began to pass, squashing them and splattering frog parts and/or juice all over us.

As with most of these stories, they are funny now, but not so funny at the time. So sit back, pour yourself a hot toddy, and prepare yourself for a tale so unbelievable, it can only be called . . . 

ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS!

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Oh, wait a minute, somebody else already used that one.

Anyway, Matt and I had gone to the island of Maui with my parents. We were eighteen so, of course, our thoughts revolved mostly around girls, surfing, tanning, music, girls, beach volleyball, girls, bodybuilding, and girls.

I came home early from the beach one night and was watching an episode of All in the Ohana on the TV, Hawaii’s answer to All in the Family, when Matt came in and said, “I met a girl. She’s coming over. Get out.” After grumbling a bit, I grabbed a blanket and a bottle of wine and went to the beach. 

It was almost dark by the time I got there so I found a nice spot with soft sand, spread out my towel next to a fallen log, and sipped at the wine until I fell asleep. I awoke several hours later in searing pain. Something was pinching my thigh. I sat up but it was so dark, I couldn’t see a thing. As my eyes adjusted, I saw what appeared to be giant rocks distributed in the sand all around me, which was odd because when I arrived there were no rocks anywhere. I stood up and, to my horror, all the rocks stood up, too. They were not rocks. They were crabs. GIANT crabs. And they were getting ready to eat me. The pinch on the thigh was just a test to see if I was good and thoroughly dead.

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They must have been very disappointed when they found out I was alive. One would think that would be enough for them to say, “Oh, well. So much for that. Let’s get home, guys.” But no. My being alive didn’t seem to discourage them at all. They stood their ground as if to say, “No problem. We can wait.”

“But I’m only eighteen,” I told them. “You’ll be waiting a long time.” They looked at each other then took a step toward me as if to say, in their silent, clickity, crab-like way, “That’s not a problem, either. We’ll just hurry the process along a bit.” 

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It was at this point that I decided to demonstrate who was boss to these lowly crustaceans, for I was a human being, damn it, and they would have respect for me or else! I took a big step toward them, kind of like stepping over the line drawn in the sand by a schoolyard bully. But not only did they not retreat into the ocean, they all took another step toward me, in complete unison like a very ugly army.

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This was quite disconcerting for a city boy from Los Angeles. I was a surfer but apparently, California crabs are both tiny and ‘fraidy cats compared to their Hawaiian counterparts. I looked behind me for an escape route but there were dozens of them there, too. I recalled what a karate teacher had told me once – “If you ever get into a fight with more than one guy, always hit the big guy first.” The biggest crab was not hard to spot. He was front and center, obviously the Admiral leading his soldiers to the chow hall, and I was the chow. 

Determined to die a lion and not a lamb, I looked for a weapon and saw a big rock wedged under the log I had been lying next to. I picked it up and unceremoniously dropped it on the Admiral. There was a sickening combo squish/crunch sound and all ten of his legs shot straight out in every direction.

“That was easy!” I thought. If I only had a few hundred more big rocks and they would all stand still, I could finish off the entire platoon.

I was sure this would discourage his army. No luck. They just got more angry and started chasing me around the beach. Apparently, one of them had said, “Hey! He killed Admiral Snappy Claws! Get him!”

Remember that scene in Rocky when Rocky Balboa chases the chicken around? It was kind of like that, except I was the chicken. 

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I finally leapt over them in an athletic display that would have landed me a spot on the Olympic Track-and-Field team if anyone was there to see it. In my memory, those crabs chased me to the edge of the highway, clicking their claws in anger and yelling, “We’ll get you next time, haole boy!” 

Shaken and pale, I returned to the room and knocked the door. Matt yelled, “Come in!” I entered and saw him watching TV alone. The tryst he was hoping for hadn’t panned out, which was just as well for me, because I needed to tell someone about the harrowing experience I had just endured. He didn’t believe a word of it. Then I remembered I had proof of the giant monster crabs – Admiral Snappy Claws stuck under that big ol’ rock!

We went back to the beach and there he was, all alone. His loyal army had deserted him. Maybe they were glad he was dead. Maybe he was a total bastard and they were all fed up with his abuse. Maybe they were just pretending to be mad when I squashed him in case he survived and had them all drawn and quartered for mutiny. In any case, there he lay, his career of eating tourists finally at an end. 

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A year after I returned home from that trip, I got a mysterious post card in the mail. Here it is – 

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Needless to say, I was very impressed with his English skills. One also had to wonder how he mailed that postcard. Did he wait in line at the post office? If so, how did he get through the door? Anyway, as always, I’m sure watching me get chased all over that beach by killer crabs gave God, Jesus and their heavenly host of angels big laughs on that widescreen in heaven.

Years passed and I thought I was over it until a few weeks ago when I broke into a cold sweat while watching Moana with my daughters, thanks to this character –

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Not funny, Disney. And, as always, well played, God. Well played.

One-Word Photo Essays

A friend sent me these photos today in an email. Some of them laid me out emotionally (especially honor, hope and loneliness) and others made me laugh (especially curiosity and relating.)

A photo definitely is worth a thousand words. Do you think the photos below capture the words above them? 

ACCOMPLISHMENT

accomplishment

ADVENTURE

adventure

AWE

awe

BEAUTY

beauty

CARING

caring

COMPANIONSHIP

companionship

CONFUSION

confusion

CONTEMPLATION

contemplation

CONTENTMENT

contentment

CURIOSITY

curiosity

DETERMINATION

determination

EXCITEMENT

unnamed

FRIENDSHIP

friendship

HEROISM

heroism

HONOR

honor

HOPE

hope

LONELINESS

loneliness

LOVE

love

PERSEVERANCE

perseverance

RELATING

relating

SECURITY

excitement

TENACITY

tenacity

WHIMSY

whimsy

Gratitude (poem)

A segment of this poem appeared in the books Chicken Soup to Inspire the Body and Soul, and Chicken Soup for the Soul – Older and Wiser. I hope you enjoy it!

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Poets, it seems, are often too dismal
as if life and all in it were truly abysmal.
I too often strive to soothe worries with rhyme,
dwelling on sorrows and the passage of time.
When there’s so much to celebrate, to chance and explore!
Seems very ungrateful to wish there was more.

Say I wrote all my troubles, one by one, in a row.
How much further the list of my blessings would go!
Just look at this glorious Eden we live in.
Can you think of one thing we haven’t been given?
Miraculous! Perfect! Not one thing is wrong.
Still, men find every reason to not get along.
We have moonlight and sunsets and rainbows and flowers.
Deep, starry nights and bright, happy sun showers.
Wondrous creatures, every kind, shape and size.
Birds singing to greet us each day when we rise.
Such wonder and mystery without and within.
Well, I’m too full of love to hold it all in.
My heart feels as though it may split at the seams.
It can barely contain all my plans, hopes and dreams.
I’m completely astonished, awakened and free.
I’m everything that life should be!

I climb up a mountain to breathe in the air
and leave behind with each step one more useless care.
The sun ripples like laughter across the wide sea.
I smile at a flower and it smiles back at me.
The wind lifts a scent from the meadow below
and reminds me of the first girl I kissed, long ago.
I kneel in the clover, feel my spirit expand.
A bright butterfly stops to rest on my hand.
The clouds, ever present, yet no two the same
give lively imaginations a game.
“Look! A sailboat! A rabbit! An angel! A swan!.”
And it’s the best kind of game because no one’s ever wrong.

Everyone should have a special place like my hill
just to rest and let the mind roam free where it will.
Far away from the traffic, the noise and the dust
in the crystal clear sunshine of a world they can trust.
Life’s easy to master when we strive not to worry
and snatch up the whip from the cruel hand of hurry.
When we stop struggling to accumulate more than we need
for the god with the insatiable appetite – greed.
You can’t take it with you. That old line is true.
And you know, when it’s all said and done, we won’t want to.
For when our old, mortal husks fall away and are buried,
all we’ll need is the goodness and love that they carried.
So relax into life, breathe deep and let go.
Attain what you need but don’t sell your soul.
For it’s a treasure far beyond the mere baubles of men
and once lost, much harder to earn back again.

Just a few thoughts from my heart to yours
hoping that one or maybe two will endure
to make some dreary day a little bit brighter
and the load that you carry, perhaps, a bit lighter.
Though the author claims no special wisdom or power
to lecture from atop some ivory tower.
I’m just one more soul, no different from you,
whose made all the mistakes and a few new ones, too.
But somehow survived all those nights without end,
my tired, tattered spirit refusing to mend,
wondering what so much pain could be for,
the spiritual carnage of a personal war.
For it’s in punishing ourselves that we can be most unkind
and the most torn, fearful battles take place in the mind.
But the hardest climb leads to the best, brightest view
so this is my humble message to you
like a bottle set adrift on some far, lonesome shore
from my small, solitary island to yours . . .

Though we may never meet, we are friends through this poem.
In this way, we can never be truly alone.
For though we’re apart in time, place and name,
we are joined in the same, sanctified mortal game.
We may differ in doctrine, language and race
but in the most sacred ways, we have perfect grace.
We both dream and love. We both bleed and cry.
And as sure as we’re living, we someday must die.
So now, while the grapes are plump on the vine,
take time to laugh and savor the wine.
Turn your heart to the beauty that’s in and around you.
Walk gently, with love, and the same will surround you.
You’ll surely see further the farther you go.
And remember – it’s pain which helps us to grow.
For with all of its sadness, its heartache and strife,
with all of its sorrow, it’s a wonderful life.
Yes, with all of its sorrow, it’s a wonderful life.

 

Alive (short story)

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942

She had never been unfaithful to Edward before, but there was something special about Jack that made her feel alive again. 

It started simply and unexpectedly. She was shopping downtown and he used some corny pick-up line on her. A classic beauty, she was accustomed to such attention from men and usually dismissed it, but she couldn’t resist him. It was as if they had known each other forever. They arranged to meet at a diner in Jack’s neighborhood, a notoriously rough area that Edward avoided. They would come to call it their “rendezvous point,” speaking in code as if they were government agents on a secret mission. She had told Jack that she was married, but not that her husband was Edward Magnuson, one of the richest men in the state.

She met Edward while working at a department store. He was almost three times her age so she never thought of him romantically, but he fell in love with her and convinced her to see him socially. She enjoyed his intellect and old-fashioned charm. Because she had always been poor, she also enjoyed the high-society world he introduced her to. However, she quickly learned that no amount of material wealth could soothe an empty heart. His mansion had become a prison for her; the proverbial golden cage.

Ten long years of marriage passed before Jack arrived. He was a mechanic; dirt poor compared to Edward, but adventurous and untamed, impulsive and passionate, everything Edward wasn’t. They would meet at the diner, spend hours riding through the countryside on his motorcycle, and make love on the beach, in fields of high grass, or wherever the impulse took them. She found the freedom she was so hungry for on Jack’s motorcycle and in his arms. In both ways, he pushed the limits.

It had been two years since they met. Edward worked incessantly so he never had a clue until one evening when he came home looking uncharacteristically sullen. He sat in the study, drinking his usual scotch and water, staring at the fireplace. Finally, he called her in and asked her to sit down. With its high ceiling, dark cherry wood paneling, and big game trophies staring from the walls, the room had always intimidated her. He assessed her coldly with a look she had never seen before.

“Abigail, I’ve been made aware of something very . . . troubling.”
“Really?” she asked, her heart racing.
“A friend from the club told me he saw you with someone, and that you were kissing him.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she replied, too quickly.
“There’s no point in denying it. He made sure it was you.”
A terrible moment passed. He watched sternly as tears welled in her eyes.
“I’m willing to forgive you,” he said, “but only if you end it with him, tonight.”
She sat quietly, trapped.
“Well?” he demanded.
She heard herself say, “I can’t. I love him.”
He sighed and said, “Pack your things and get out.”

He stood up and walked away as if a meeting had just adjourned. He didn’t become so wealthy by being overly emotional. She telephoned Jack in tears.

“It’s me,” she said. “He knows.”
“Don’t worry, doll. Meet me at the rendezvous point. You can move in with me. It’ll be terrific. You’ll see.”
It would be hard adjusting to his small apartment, but she was no stranger to a humble life. She packed quickly and drove to the diner. A heavy rain started to fall. It was almost closing time so the diner was empty.
“Jack should have been here by now,” she thought.

She sat at their usual table and ordered a cup of coffee from Joe, the owner. Half an hour passed. He was usually early, anxious to see her. She was growing more worried by the minute. Another fifteen minutes later, she heard sirens speeding by on the road, not unusual on a rainy night, but then realized with a start why Jack might be late. She ran to her car and drove toward the lights. When she reached the accident scene, she rolled down her window to talk to a policeman who was directing traffic.
“What happened, officer?” she asked.
“Hit ‘n run. Move along, please, ma’am.”

Her heart pounding with dread, she passed a body covered with a white, blood-soaked sheet and, nearby, a crushed motorcycle she recognized as Jack’s. She felt the impulse to vomit. She knew immediately that Edward was behind this accident somehow. She should have known he wouldn’t take this rejection lying down.

Later that night, not knowing where else to go, she returned to their table at the diner, desperate to feel close to Jack somehow. At dawn, Joe entered, turned the sign on the door to the side that read “open,” and walked into the kitchen. Two city workers followed after him. Of all the empty tables, they sat down at hers. She looked at them incredulously.
“Excuse me. This is my table,” she said.
“Did you hear about that accident last night?” one man asked the other.
“Yeah. Poor slob,” he replied.
Aggravated, she said, “Are you both deaf?”
Growing angrier at being ignored, she stood up. Joe came to the table.
“Joe! Thank God,” she said. “Would you please ask these men . . .”
“What can I bring ya, fellas?” Joe asked.
“What?” she yelled, “What’s wrong with all of you?”
“Any apple turnovers today?”
“Yep! Heatin’ ‘em up right now.”
She yelled even louder, “You’re all crazy!” 
Again, none of them looked her way. With a series of jolts, she began to remember the events of the night before . . . seeing the accident, Jack’s crumpled body under the white sheet, driving into the mountains through lashing rain, struggling to see through her tears; the cliff’s edge, beckoning; the feeling of floating on the wind as the car plummeted; and finally, nothing. Blackness. Oblivion.

She screamed in horror as the men continued talking, then fell back into her chair and wept uncontrollably. 

Eighty years have passed, but she sits there still, waiting. Waiting for Jack to come back and make her feel alive again.

 

– Mark Rickerby

Art credit – Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942