Friday, April 28, 2017

Blink, a poem


We exist for a moment
and then we don’t.
A million galaxies

spin for a moment more
and then they don’t.
Look up and wonder

if God might blink
and all would be gone.
Who would ever know?

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Edge, a poem


I've been laid on the forge of life
and hammered into something you
could never understand. No knife
has such an edge, so sharp, so true.

Take care, should you hold me too near,
that such a blade finds not your heart;
I would not shed a single tear
when all that holds me here might part

upon that razor. To divide
is not to conquer but make way
between these things I might decide,
to draw thin lines upon the day.

Some other hand must drive the wedge;
these cuts mark only what might be,
as we seek balance on this edge.
If neither of us is set free

what anvil and what hammer ring?
’Tis but the forge where I have lain,
’tis but a tune the gods might sing
as all the fires that formed me wane.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

Could I be any more obscure?

Character Growth

Character growth may not be essential to good story telling, but it is certainly an important theme. Without it, a plot may seem somewhat pointless. Why should our protagonist do these things if she or he ends up the same?

Well, maybe just to provide us with some excitement and entertainment. Or maybe to provide a vehicle to make points about something else entirely (politics, philosophy, you name it). Not that there is anything wrong with totally escapist writing, however.

Now in my soon-to-be-released fantasy novel, THE CROCODILE’S SON, our central character, Qala the Pirate Queen (retired), has very little, if any, personal growth. Those around her, the secondary characters, do. This is a valid way to go, and happens with some frequency in a series, where the main protagonist is already well-realized. Tarzan did not ‘grow’ after the first couple novels but he went on to have twenty-some further adventures in book form, with varied characters who changed in some way (and, of course, Burroughs also used his novels to drop in more than a few observations on humanity).

We all do grow. Time changes us in some way or another. If nothing else, we become more knowledgeable. People come and go in our lives, births, deaths, arrivals, departures. We love and cease to love. It can be subtle but every character should reflect this fact.

That is how they become real.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Of Orcs

One sees a fair number of fantasy novels (and RPGs) using Orcs as characters. I would never employ that word nor that ‘race’ in my work. Why? Because, one, it belongs to the ‘world’ of Tolkien and, two, the word was essentially invented by him and is not traditional.

But it does derive from a Latin word for a sort of demonic creature. From that word, via French, comes the name ‘ogre.’ In other words, orc equals ogre. So ogre is my choice, not that I have used it much. In fact, there is only one appearance in any of my stories so far, in ‘The Song of the Sword,’ my first book of ‘Donzalo’s Destiny.’

There a lone individual takes part in the attack on Sir Paren’s keep, along with a group of kobolds and trolls who are aiding the human outlaw band. I describe him as an over-sized kobold, which is pretty much where ogres fit into my scheme of fairy-folk.

And what are kobolds, you might ask? Another name for goblins, essentially (the words are related, linguistically). I have used kobold instead of goblin to avoid certain connotations of the g-word. Note that Tolkien originally used ‘goblin’ to name the beings he later called orcs.

One may, of course, use whatever words one wishes, however one wishes. That is your choice. I do want to keep my stuff reasonably consistent with tradition and, therefor, never have and never will write an orc into any of my tales. But expect ogres and kobolds and trolls and dragons and plenty more.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Writing Space

Just for the halibut, a snap of my usual working space for writing. Also for song writing, as evidenced by the speakers and all. So of course I wrote the last novel propped in bed with a laptop.

I do like having the wide screen so I can keep my notes and manuscript open side by side. And the mechanical keyboard is nice too. I do all my graphics work on that set up, as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Crocodile Map

Here's a version (somewhat low-rez) of the map that  goes in the front of my soon-to-be-released adventure fantasy, THE CROCODILE'S SON:

This is pretty much the same map used in THE EYES OF THE WIND, adapted to the new tale which takes place shortly after. Created essentially for use in the book and therefor kept simple and in B&W, I used Corel Draw (my graphics program of choice) to lay it out. I'll be uploading all the finalized (I hope!) files to the printer and distributor shortly, to have everything out and available by the official release date of June 3.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bouncers, a story

warning: contains a smidgen of sexual content

a Branford Perry story by Stephen Brooke ©2017 

The bouncers were buddies of mine. We all worked out at the same gym, Larry's place out by the airport. Yeah, the one with no AC.

Larry sometimes bounced at The Gold Nugget, when he wasn't wrestling for some minor league promotion in Fort Meyers or Clewiston or Lauderdale. I never played that club but knew guys who did, guys in country cover bands, which is okay, I guess, but not my thing.

Neither was going to bars, for that matter, unless I had a gig. I'm not much of a drinker, even less of a dancer, and as a conversationalist — well, forget it. If it was a matter of meeting the ladies, I did a much better job of it from on stage. Not that ‘better’ means much.

There were girls eying us right now. Women, maybe I should say. No one underage allowed in this venue but there might be some out in the parking lot. Blow jobs and blow for those who wanted it.

I left the pursuit of any female fans — and we did have our groupies — to my band-mates. I had a girlfriend at the time and took that seriously. Who? Oh, I was with Christine then, Larry’s ex.

Let’s not get into that. Has nothing to do with this story and this wasn’t The Gold Nugget. Other side of town, the east side. Yeah, over near the industrial park. You could see the lights from it if you stepped outside, shining over tenement roofs.
We launched into “Margaritaville.” We all hated the song. Ted, especially.

Ted was a pretty good singer. Too good, maybe, for what we were doing. Good-looking guy, too, a surfer who appeared younger than he was, long sun-bleached hair, fit and tan. But Ted had demons. We all knew that.

Me more than the others, maybe. I had known Ted since I was a little kid, when he would hang with my older sister. I had seen some of what he kept bottled up, even then.

It was a good night at The Pelican, a good crowd for a Wednesday. And, yes, there were women eying us but most were with boyfriends. That didn’t keep us from eying them now and again. After all, the bouncers were my friends.

“Check the skank up front,” mumbled Kyle, our latest lead guitarist, as the search for that lost shaker of salt ended. “I think she’s got designs on you, Bran-man. Mmm, sexy.”

Kyle was annoying. Come to think of it, maybe lead guitarists are in general.

“All women are sexy,” chimed in Ted, backing off from his mike, “but some are more sexier than others.” He finger-picked the opening chords of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and the rest of us followed him into the song.

As best we could. No one ever accused Ted Carrol of being a great rhythm guitarist. Nor could he sing harmony if his life depended on it, so I held up that end of things while holding down the bass line. It was our band, really, mine and Ted’s; the other guys came and went.

We played The Pelican on Wednesdays and Fridays, and maybe Saturdays if the club didn’t book some touring band. I guess we were sort of the house band, but we would take other gigs now and again. The name? At that point we were using “Synthetic Men,” which came from an Edgar Rice Burroughs book.

Yeah, lame, I know. Anyway, we didn’t get to play ‘our’ stuff at The Pelican. It was all soft rock and crossover country and that sort of thing. That’s show-biz.

The air had cooled outside by our second break. One more set before we could load up, head out, grab some sleep before the day jobs, those of us who had them. We would hang in the alley behind the club, usually, where the tamarinds hung over the weathered privacy fence. I had picked up the seed pods from those trees there, fallen onto the faded-black pavement, taken them home to plant.

Nick and Kyle lit up as soon as we were out the door. “Are we gonna have a practice this weekend?” asked the guitarist. “I have some ideas for new songs.” Kyle was just a kid, and too enthusiastic.

“I won’t be in town,” Ted informed us. “I’m heading over to the east coast to do some glassing work.”

That was enough for Kyle and the drummer. They drifted toward the parking lot, smoking and talking about something or another that wouldn’t interest me. I looked at my bud Ted. It wasn’t the first time he took off for four or five days to work for some surfboard company or another on the other side of Florida, sometimes glassing, sometimes shaping. Ted preferred the latter but did meticulous glass work.

“Are you thinking of moving back?” I asked him.

“Maybe. But, you know, I don’t want to leave my folks.”

“Yeah.” I did know. That was pretty much why Ted stayed in this town. “How’s your dad?”

He shrugged. “Has his ups and downs.”

I could only nod. Ted didn’t want to talk about it and that was pretty much normal for him. I needed to stretch my legs so I followed Nick and Kyle down the alley toward the parking lot.

There would be people hanging in the parking lot. It was discouraged, of course, and now and again someone would come out and tell them they couldn’t loiter there. Maybe they’d move on, some of them, go hang somewhere else a while, but they’d be back. Unless they got rowdy it wasn’t a big deal.

I could see Kyle leaning against the hood of someone’s truck, chatting up a couple girls. Too young to come in, probably. Nick had disappeared.

Over to my right was the neon-lit entry to The Pelican, orange and green flashing. Ernie was on the door. Squat, black, and about twice as wide in the shoulders as a normal man, Ernie Pitts was a perennial runner-up in ‘seniors’ bodybuilding competitions. He was one of those guys I knew from Larry’s gym.

He was also one of those guys that made me recognize I would never compete myself. I didn’t have the genetics and I didn’t have the desire. I gave him a wave and wandered back up the alley.

I hadn’t seen Short Stuff in a while. She was one of those youngsters who sometimes hung outside the club. I didn’t know her real name but she was definitely short. A bit chubby in a way that can be cute at that age, blond, from someplace up north. Ohio, was it?

She had told me she was eighteen, not that I believed her. Too young. I ignored her flirting.

After all, she was maybe half my age. Or half Ted’s anyway. Ted was the oldest guy in the band, though no one would have guessed it. He wouldn’t hit on her. That wasn’t his style at all. Ted mostly stood and looked at the sky during our breaks. I never saw him start a conversation.

Short Stuff — I’d step outside and there she would be, waiting. For me? Probably not; just for any guy who’d come out and put his arm around her shoulders, listen to her stories.

The usual shit — abusive stepfather — living with a friend — could she have a smoke? Maybe I could bring her out a beer?

Why don’t I ever try anything with her? She wouldn’t mind.

No, Short Stuff, I’d say, not me. You find a job yet? Don’t make such a face, girl, it wouldn’t kill you – better than giving blow jobs in someones backseat.

Yeah, I knew what she was up to. And yeah, there were tears when I put it that bluntly. It didn’t matter, did it? I couldn’t feel responsible for every kid I ran into. I slipped inside, the first of us. Not much to do before our last set except make sure Ted had his set list, so he didn’t get lost. I fell into a plastic chair in the hallway.

Ron came in and leaned back against the wall, balancing on one muscular leg. Ronny Rotten he was when he wrestled; there isn’t a lot of originality on the minor league circuits. I didn’t think I had ever heard his actual surname.

“Hey, Bran,” he said, and nothing more for nearly a minute. “Ya still doing that sub thing?”

“Sometimes. I think this year will be it for me.” I turned my eyes up to his broad, deeply-tanned face, adding, “I’m never planning to be a full-time teacher.” I had tried that and it was not for me.

He nodded slowly. “I hear Larry is thinking of going back to teaching.” I had heard that too.

“Has to pay his alimony somehow,” I said.


The rest of the band drifted in, Ted last in line. He’d probably waited for the other guys and followed them. My friend seemed distracted, even more than usual. Was he thinking of changes too? Maybe we were all restless.

Or maybe it was just that time of year, spring coming. Even in southern Florida, the change of the seasons makes itself felt. People would be leaving, heading north. Some already had.

Ron accompanied us to the edge of the stage and took up his post off to the left. Our left. It was barely a stage at all, really, low enough we could step up onto it, but the speakers were up high and filled the room well. The sound was what mattered here; we didn’t delude ourselves that the band mattered to much of anyone. Well, maybe Kyle did but he would learn.

If he lasted. “Good evening, folks, we’re The Synthetic Men,” announced Ted and launched directly into the first number. “I Hear You Knocking” that would have been. We were ragged; we really did need to practice more.

Kyle leaned in and whispered, “Nick can’t swing.” I nodded in agreement. Nick scowled at me. At both of us, I guess. I just shrugged, and we headed into the next number. He wasn’t the best drummer but he showed up and that counted for a lot. Maybe that was true of all of us.

By midnight, the crowd was thinning out. Expected on a Wednesday or I guess it was Thursday by then. Half an hour more and we could load up. Aside from Nick’s drums, there wasn’t much to that.

We all pretty much agreed he brought too much kit with him. I guess it was part of being a rock star for him; Nick reveled in that sort of thing. Right now, he was mugging for a table of older women up close to the stage. Knowing Nick, he would be fantasizing about going home with one or all of them. Or at least as far as the parking lot.

Even Ted was getting annoyed by his showboating. I could tell just by the way he was hitting the strings harder on his tele. Passive-aggressive had a poster boy in Ted Carrol.

Hell, we’d be out of here in a few minutes. No sense in letting it get to me. The ‘girls’ were giving Ron the eye now, where he stood, impassive, arms folded, over by the exit. Whisper in each others ears all you want, ladies; it won’t make Ron the bouncer any less gay.

We churned through the last of the set, mostly repeats from our first of the evening. The crowd had turned over by now or wouldn’t care anyway. There wasn’t a lot of energy left in the room. “This will be the last for us, folks,” announced Ted. I had tried to break him of that ‘folks’ thing but he persisted. “We’re The Synthetic Men and we want to thank you being here at The Pelican this evening.”

He struck a D chord. “Dream, dream, dream,” Ted sang, with me on harmony. We had sung that song together so many times over the years and Ted still sometimes threw me off with some improvisational phrasing. We got through it okay tonight, but we didn’t sound much like the Everly Brothers. There was a smattering of applause.

“Your groupies deserted you, man,” Kyle informed our drummer. “Okay to unplug?” We pretty much had to run our own sound, which meant that I was the one who went over and muted the channels on the mixer. I gave him a nod.

The kid unplugged his Casino and slipped it into its case, and then conscientiously wound up the cable in proper over-under fashion. Which I had taught him. Ted had taught me when I was even younger than Kyle. Aside from our instruments and cables and a few pedals and floor boxes, we didn’t have much. I put my own P-bass away in its bag.

Nick had gone to gab with a couple girls at the edge of the stage. If I started breaking down his drum set he would be sure to hurry over. But he wouldn’t be happy about it.

Oh, wait, Ted was talking to the owner about something. I should most definitely be a part of that conversation. “Hey, Bran,” he said as I walked up, “Estelle needs someone to run sound on Saturday night and, um, I’ll be out of town, you know.” He glanced at the woman and back at me. “Interested?”

Of course she had wanted Ted. Older women doted on him. I don’t know why. Maybe the combination of boyish looks and shyness. “I could handle it if you need me, Mrs. Patterson,” I said.

She nodded. “We’ll talk on Friday.” Estelle turned back to Ted, smiling. “Thanks.”
“Let’s get out of here,” I said to him, as she walked away. Kyle and Nick were breaking down the drum kit now, mostly Nick while Kyle watched.

“You could just leave it here for the karaoke crowd,” suggested Ted. “They’d have lots of fun with it.”

If I had said that, I suspect Nick would have given me a dirty look. Instead, he only chuckled and went on with his job. “Let’s get our stuff out of here,” I told Kyle. We carried our cases and bags down the hallway to the rear entry. Ted was crouched beside Nick, assisting the drummer, wordlessly.

“Do you think we’re gonna keep at this?” Kyle blurted, before we headed back to the stage. “You and Ted, I mean. You’re the band.”

I could only shrug. “It’s a good gig.” Or did he mean something more, something beyond playing two or three nights a week at The Pelican? “All bands break up someday,” I added.

“Yeah.” He was silent for a few seconds, staring at the worn maroon carpeting. “I don’t think I’m gonna be staying in Genoa.”

“Maybe none of us will,” I admitted.

We helped get the drums into their cases and took them down the hallway to sit with the rest of our gear, while Ted backed the van up. His van, an ancient forest-green Econoline. I don’t think it was the original color.

“Need any help, guys?” asked Ron.

“We’re good,” I told him. “You have any rasslin’ gigs coming up?”

“Aah, the promoter wants me to work security some nights but he won’t give me any matches.” I nodded in sympathy. Ron was not much of a success, too stiff to be a good jobber, not enough personality to be marketable.

“Hey,” I asked, “do you remember that little blond girl who hung around here? Short Stuff, we called her.”

“Yeah, I do,” Ron replied. “I heard she moved back to Ohio. Ain’t that right, Joel?” he asked a skinny guy in a server’s vest who had just joined us.

“Short Stuff? Yeah, she’s gone. A friend drove down and picked her up.” Joel went on by us with a bag of trash for the dumpster.

Nick turned to us, all his gear squared away in Ted’s vehicle. “Too bad,” he laughed. “She was a good little fuck. Gave me some memorable breaks out here!” Nick leered at me. “You coulda had her anytime, y’know. The girl liked you.”

“Enough, man.”

“Aah, screw you, Bran. You gonna make —”

It had been enough. This, the whole night. My left shot out, just one jab, and Nick was sitting on the pavement, blood flowing from his nose.

Ron stepped between us, afraid I would do more damage maybe, but I wasn’t mad anymore. That had gone out of me with that one punch. Hell, Nick didn’t deserve it — no more than anyone else.

The drummer sat there holding his nose and looking up at me. “My big mouth,” he mumbled. “Is it broken?”

“Doesn’t look it,” Ron told him. Kyle and Ted just stood there, kind of uncertain about what had happened.

“Sorry ’bout the nose, dude,” I sighed. You should have known better. I should have known better.

Joel had ducked inside and returned with a handful of paper towels. “Here,” he said to the now-standing Nick, thrusting them into his hands. “It might be best if you didn’t come in to clean up,” he continued, taking a look over his shoulder. “Maybe Mrs. Patterson shouldn’t know about this.”

“I’m not saying anything,” stated Ron.

“Okay,” agreed Nick. “Let’s get going.” We all piled into the Ford and said nothing much as we headed out. Kyle’s place was close and we dropped him — and his guitar — first, at a little concrete block house in one of the shabbier neighborhoods. I never asked but I think he lived with one or another of his parents.

Nick shared an apartment further south. We pulled into the dark parking lot; fortunately his place was on the ground floor so we didn’t need to carry his kit up any stairs.

I turned to him and asked, “See you Friday?”

“Yeah, sure.” He gave me a lopsided smile. “To make up for this —” He gestured toward his nose. “You need to carry in my stuff while I wash up.”

“Good enough,” agreed Ted, speaking before I could. “You look pretty awful.” There was a fair amount of dried blood on Nick’s face and teeshirt.

“Don’t do this again, okay?” Ted whispered as we took the drum set inside. “Not that I blame you. You liked that girl, didn’t you?”

“Not so much,” I admitted.

“Hmm, yeah.” Ted and I had been friends long enough to understand each other. Perhaps better than we understood ourselves. “Just, um, regrets, huh?”

“That’s about it.”

I lived furthest out, across the bay, over near the airport. We turned east, Ted driving through the night, and I thought about that little girl. Yeah, regrets. Too many regrets,too many shoulds and shouldn’ts. And Short Stuff? I never knew what became of her.

Sometimes I still wonder.
Note: This story would be set in the mid-1980s. Yeah, I know some you probably weren’t even born yet.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Pleiades, a poem


Behind the seven sister stars (yes, one
is hidden), lie Orion’s huntsman dreams
of conquest, capture, lust. His ardor gleams;
across the arc of night the heavens run
pursuing and escaping ere the sun
mounts singing forth the day with arrowed beams.
Again he fails before Apollo’s schemes,
all by the shafts of Artemis undone.

Now he who was once lover of fair Dawn
before her gold and rose approach must fade.
The endless chase but for a day is stayed
for night’s eternal wheel turns slowly on,
and each of seven sisters ever flees
Orion, hunter of the Pleiades.

Stephen Brooke ©2017

yep, a sonnet in sort of the Italian style 

Addendum, 4/26: Not surprisingly, this has seen a rewrite since I posted it. Much of the stuff I post here does. In this case, I noted a certain redundancy there in the second part and had to change out some words (which also added meaning).

Thursday, April 06, 2017

What Is Coming

I am currently onto a new round of edits on THE CROCODILE’S SON, after setting it aside for a few days so I might come at it fresh. At this point it is more proofreading than editing and I am working with a formatted manuscript for the print edition. No sense in working up the ebook version until I go through it again and am satisfied. Last of all, I will generate a PDF for the printer and go through that (again, after setting it aside a short while) for the final proofreading. The ebook I can then generate from my fully corrected original manuscript, primarily adding heading styles.

Then, send them off, get a proof copy of the print book in my hands to approve, and all should be ready for the official June 3 release date.

What else is in the works? I should be — or intended to be — back to the mainstream-bordering-on-chick-lit novel I started before I felt the urge to churn out CROCODILE. I shall get to it but who can say when? Instead, I have been writing short stories — contemporary mainstream short stories. They don’t come as easy for me as the novels and I labor over them far more. The ones I have been working on draw from ideas I had sketched out some time back. Maybe I’ll even have enough related tales for a collection one of these days.

It is likely I shall tackle the next fantasy novel shortly; whether before or after the mainstream effort, I can not say. It would be the second installment of my Mora trilogy, following GOD OF RAIN. Efforts — not very strenuous ones — are also being made toward another poetry collection, probably not out until late this year or in 2018. It will, incidentally, be titled VOYAGES.

None of this includes any endeavors in other areas, of course. Music and so on calls for my attention from time to time. I might even listen. Also, I do hope to publish more authors this year — not just myself, even if I do write a lot! Eggshell Boats, the ‘literary’ imprint of Arachis Press, is launching and I would like to put out some poetry collections. One of these days I hope to call for manuscripts.

So, back to work, both the editing and the new novel-in-progress and, yes, those stories. The novel, by the way, will probably be titled ASANAS. I originally thought to publish it under a pen name but if it’s good enough to put out, it’s good enough to put my name on it. Folks will just have to expect a lot of different genres from me!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017


I might posit that, in an infinite multiverse, the gods (yes, all of them) not only could exist but must exist — at least in potential. As with Schrodinger’s famous cat, they both live and do not live for those in our universe until someone actually observes them. This is the basic premise underlying much of my fantasy writing.

It is also a concept used by Roger Zelazny in his ‘Amber’ novels. He questions whether those other universes preexist or are created by the powerful god-like Amberites as they move among them. I admit to the influence, as well as that of Michael Moorcock and undoubtedly others. One thing both Moorcock and Zelazny do, however, is place those realities they created between the poles of ‘order’ and of ‘chaos.’ That is a concept that certainly arises from the whole Indo-European polytheistic tradition — the gods came to create order from the chaos.

That is not a concept I buy into, neither as a author nor as an individual. Nor do I go for the ‘good versus evil’ of the Abrahamic religions. Not that chaos and order, good and evil, do not exist, but they reflect a deeper duality, that of being and nonexistence. One and zero, if you will. I have mentioned this elsewhere, in writing of my personal beliefs, of equating ‘God’ with infinite being. That lies behind my stories, undoubtedly, but I don’t delve into it (not yet, anyway!).

So, the characters in my fantasy novels* do exist in those other realities and some have the ability to cross their boundaries, to varying degrees. Gods, demons, wizards, etc. — all their ‘magic’ is based more or less on these abilities. A god might traverse worlds at will; a powerful human (or other sentient creature) might be able to ‘reach’ into those worlds to find objects or to communicate from afar. It’s almost a scientific explanation, though I take care not to explain it too thoroughly. Leave that sort of thing to the sci-fi people! It just needs to be reasonably plausible without a lot of details.

My upcoming novel, THE CROCODILE’S SON (coming June 3 from Arachis Press!) takes me further afield than my previous books, actually spending time in the world of a family of gods. These are loosely based on Melanesian models — in an infiverse, of course, there would be infinite variations on any pantheon, so I am allowed to shape the characters as I wish. But I must be consistent within any world I do create.

That is why all of the fantasy novels so far are set in the same world, although at various times, with only brief forays into other realities. This is not to say I have not written fantasy stuff that does not fit that world — short stories only, however. One might argue that they, too, exist somewhere in that infinite multiverse, if one likes to argue.

But there is nothing to argue about. They are just stories, after all!

*It might be posited that all fictional characters ‘exist’ in other universes. Are authors, then, creators or are they discovering those worlds? :)

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

June in July, a story


a Branford Perry story

by Stephen Brooke ©2017

I've seen drunken rednecks aplenty. They can't compare with June’s family.

I know Yankees aren’t all like that. Well, honestly, I’ve not seen enough drunken northerners to say. I only know that those Michiganders were, if not rowdier than your typical good ol’ boys, far less gracious.

No, no, I’m not putting down folks of the Yankee persuasion, you understand, but I've seen enough to suspect that there is a different attitude up north. Shoot, just look at how the tourists drive when they come down here!

I loved June. That’s a fact. So, I figured I had to at least tolerate her people for a few days of family reunion and Fourth of July barbecue. Love’s like that, y’know?

Almost from the day I met June Schiller, she talked about her family — her father, especially. Looking down on the whole affair, from a perch a few years higher, I can see that was a pretty darn clear danger signal. But I hadn’t had any experience with a Daddy’s girl back then. I was kind of dumb, I reckon.

But love’s like that, y’know? Yeah, I said that already.

I’m okay with my siblings but nothing like that. We dispersed in all directions and didn’t look back. As for gathering us for a reunion — well, good luck with that.

It was a Sunday afternoon — I usually spent Sundays at June’s place, over near Gainesville — when she called me to the computer. “This is the tee-shirt I designed for the reunion,” she told me. June, by the way, was a graphic designer. I liked that about her. I like creative people.

I like to think that I’m creative but let’s not get into that.
I looked over her shoulder at the screen and the rainbow logo she had created. “You have the colors in the wrong order,” I offered. “Remember ‘Roy G. Biv.’”

“Who’s that?”

“It stands for red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet. I learned about Roy by watching Sesame Street.”

“Oh. Okay.” Was that a bit of pique in her voice? Maybe I should have just said it looked nice and offered no more. Maybe some of my friends would have called it ‘man-splaining.’ I’m full of useless information, anyway.

She never changed it, of course, and all the tee-shirts ended up with incorrect rainbows. I suppose no one but me ever minded nor even noticed. My tee still hangs in the back of my closet, a small white ghost to haunt me, if I choose to look at it now and again. I don’t wear it.

It wasn’t just a celebration of the Fourth, you see, or a family reunion. It was also June’s birthday and that of her father, both clustered around Independence Day. That’s pretty much my favorite time of the year, the heat of the summer, the days of swimming in the clear, cool springs that well up around Florida, the afternoons of thunderstorm, bringing fresh, electric air to the evenings.

It may also have been the happiest time in my life. I was thoroughly in love, in a way I had never been before, and spent as many of those summer nights as possible with my June. I would have moved in – the hell with my responsibilities – if she had been willing. Oh, all those warning signs were there; they had been from the start. I avoided looking at them.

The sassafras grew along June’s fence line, standing as slender sentinels of her pasture. Inside those fences were the big live oaks, old survivors amid the grass, jungle gyms for her goats. It was the dead wood that had fallen from them we gathered on more than one Saturday, for the bonfire she envisioned.

It was her vision, after all, though I supported it as I could. The canopy from my art shows was at her disposal for an outdoor family dinner, laid out on the folding tables we brought home in my truck from a garage sale one Saturday. And her extended family ate and drank and talked and it was all stuff I didn’t much care about, nor even understand some of the time. We spoke a different language and I’m not just talking about my southern accent.

Still, I’ll always have pleasant enough memories of sitting around the huge bonfire, the one for which I spent those weeks dragging dead wood from her pastures, with the family, playing guitar and watching that bunch of pyromaniacs shoot off fireworks. Taking them all to Ginny Springs so they could tube down the river. Listening to stories of people I didn’t know.

There are those who tell me I don’t know how to have a good time. They could be right.

Did I see it as wasted time? Did I resent it? It is possible, but there was too much else in my head to sort that out, right then. It’s possible June sensed it too. Maybe she could tell I didn’t much like her folks.

I mostly just sat at the outside of her family’s circle at the bonfire, listened some, drank a little. I’m not one to overdo that, nor did I share the joint that eventually made its way around. “I shouldn’t. I could lose my job,” said one cousin, or whatever he was, before taking a toke and passing it along. No, I didn’t fit here; it was only because of June I let myself be bored this way, attempted to be friendly — or at least pretended to be.

But then, love’s like that, as I said.

There were fireworks one or another had brought, or maybe more than one. It was just as illegal, whoever was responsible. Or irresponsible. They didn’t seem to care. Ragged drunken cheers rose with each sky rocket launched into the July night.

A rocket flashes and fades, a fire burns down to embers. Scattered plastic chairs, their plainness turned to ruddy chiaroscuro by the dying bonfire, threw dark paths upon her lawn, her fresh-mown fragrant lawn, beneath summer’s stars. Couple by lingering couple, our guests hugged and farewelled and welcomed me to the family before flipping on headlights and driving out of my life.

In the silent emptiness of then, I held June to me, both of us too exhausted, both a little too full of Sam Adams — her brother had brought a keg — to make love that July night. I think that is when we, too, began to say goodbye.

“Thanks, Bran, for all you’ve done,” she whispered. And I wondered whether it was worth it. I still do. Then, I also was headed home, into the darkness, toward the responsibilities of my life.

I can see from here that was the high point of my relationship with June. Yeah, it too some time for it to fizzle out and maybe I’ll get into that one of these days — into that whole downhill slope. Or maybe it’s better just to leave it all at this point.

Despite the time that has passed, despite everything, I find myself misting up a bit when I think about those days. Nostalgia? I suppose. Love? Maybe a part of me still loves her. I think a part of me always will. Nothing wrong with that. It would be far worse if she became just a memory that no longer meant anything.

Love really is like that, y’know?

Something I've dabbled at for some time and finally sat down and finished...maybe

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Real, a poem


Love is no more than a word;
I can not hold it in my arms
as I might hold you.

Nor can faith be peeled like an orange,
broken into sections, the juice
seeping sticky through my fingers.

I have tried to live in the towers
we construct. There is no
solid footing at their top.

There is no shelter within their walls.
Love is no more than a word;
You and I, we are real.

Stephen Brooke ©2017