Burnt coffee

Finished a midnight shift,

Serving my species by helping to save strangers’, maybe stranger, lives.

Sitting at the tire and oil change shoppe,

Sipping burnt coffee,

The styrofoam cup covered with black sugar sludge…

Listening to one man bragging,

His son having completed Navy Seal Team 7 training,

The father, a firefighter, keeping up, tandem skydiving nearby.

What does the coffee grower know of this?

Or the person picking coffee beans?

The coffee processing plant workers have an opinion, surely?

Do I?

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Ten minutes

Ten minutes at the end of a meal break,

Ten minutes alone at work,

Ten minutes surrounded by virtual friends,

Nine minutes to recognise my depression,

Eight minutes to ask why I don’t cry anymore,

Seven minutes to know why I laugh and smile,

Six minutes to listen to cicadas,

Six minutes to let go of the past,

Six minutes to breathe at last,

Five minutes to pace the carpark,

Five minutes to think of the future,

Five minutes to remember moments like this,

Four minutes to walk back inside,

Four minutes to plan out the rest of the work shift,

Three minutes to notice hums in the building, like a living being,

Three minutes to badge back in,

Three minutes to enter the break room, smell old meals,

Two minutes to look at newspaper adverts,

Two minutes to approach the time clock,

One minute to contemplate delayed decisions,

One minute to relax and post this poem.

Zero minutes, poem done!

Rocket’s Red Glare

On the eve of the 4th of July, when families gather for fireworks displays, when piles of flavoured shaved ice become snowcones, where am I?

Standing in line for a sugar high in front of a community college math, science and CIS building, waiting for the US Space & Rocket Center to host a fireworks celebration of a new nation’s independence.

On a planet, what is national independence?

Don’t we breathe the same air?

Dual use

As an inventor, I risk giving/selling my inventions to those who find unintended uses for my creative work.

Take, for instance, my machine for prechewing gum, softening squares into delicious gooey masses, retaining and releasing flavour for immediate enjoyment. 

An undisclosed government bought that invention and bombarded rebel insurgents with masses of sticky substances, rendering the rebels and their weapons/transportation useless.

Or my latest invention, the shower that takes a 3D scan of your body and soaps/washes every part of your body precisely.

An Internet startup bought that invention and intends to blend it into their new clothes washer/dryer system whivh promises to revolutionise the home clothes cleaning industry.

Anachronistically creative, no anonymity allowed

Lee entered the small, narrow pub, a three-man band playing rockabilly blues on a stage at the back of the former offices of an old downtown lumberyard.

At first, he couldn’t see anyone familiar.

Then, as his eyes adjusted to the dim light, seated at a long table across from the barkeep’s station stood his family financial advisor, Evanc, and a group of her friends.

“Lee!  What are you doing here?”  Evanc waved Lee over.

Lee looked around.  He didn’t know his advisor was going to be there, expecting someone else familiar.  As he walked over to join the group, which was arranging itself for a selfie, Lee noticed Nats was holding a camera to snap a shot, too.

As they posed, Lee also framed an off-angle photo to capture the wild outfits of the three amigas.

Lee kept looking around and didn’t find the friend who invited him.

“So what do you think of our outfits?”

Lee looked at Evanc and her two friends.  They wore brown outfits with a dark flame emblem on their chests.

“Pretty cool.”

Evanc gave the thumbs-up and punched Lee in the shoulder.  “You’re all right, Lee.”

One of Evanc’s friends leaned toward Lee, holding her hand on his chest to steady herself, yelling into his deaf ear. “We’re Ravagers.”

Lee couldn’t hear a word she said. “What’s your name again? I couldn’t hear you.”

The woman, who stood short of Lee’s shoulders, stood up on her toes and pressed her mouth against his ear.  “I’m Neffie.  We’re Ravagers.  You know, from Guardians of the Galaxy.”  She pushed back to look up at his face.

Lee nodded.  He had wanted to party with some friends at the Yuri’s Night gathering earlier in the evening but the activity that kept him humble and honest — his job — required that he work a weekend shift to fill in for several absent employees.

Neffie leaned in again.  “You’re cute.  I’m drunk.”

“Uh-huh.”  Lee had never grown used to looking nice, handsome, or cute to men and women.  He still carried in his thoughts the image of his ten-year old self, chubby, nerdy and usually picked last for pickup sports games in the playground.  Although he had grown into a good-looking man by his mid-teens, the ten-year old image was most prominent.

Neffie slapped Lee on the arm to get his attention.  “Oh, you. I bet you think I’m drunk.”

Lee shook the momentary glazed look off his face as Neffie grabbed his hand and slipped her fingers between his.  He looked over Neffie’s head to see Guin had entered the room, along with one of her students, Matym.

Guin glanced at Lee, barely sharing eye contact.

Their years of knowing each other had given them the familiarity of eye conversation.  Her glance said, in a friendly, familiar, slightly standoffish way, “I recognise your presence and I just want you to know you don’t own me, you don’t have the right to think you know me and I’ll speak to you when I want to.”  They also let each other know they were in a little bit of nonspecific pain that may or may not be between them and may or may not be resolved anytime soon.

Neffie pushed on Lee’s chest.  “What’s your name?”

“Lee.”

“I promise you, Lee, I won’t remember your name at the end of the night.  Right up front, I’m not going to pretend.”

Lee nodded, looking into Neffie’s eyes.  Black eyeliner accented with iridescent glitter made her brown eyes stand out.  The black and silver feather boa weaved into her hair, black with blond highlights, added to her slightly exotic look.

Out of the corner of his eye, Lee noticed Matym looking at him.  They shared a smile.

“Excuse me, Neffie, I’ve got to catch up on an unfinished story with a friend of Evanc.”  He unclasped Neffie’s hand and helped her sit down.

Neffie looked up and smiled at him the whole time.  “You really are cute.  Evanc says you’re only into guys.”

It was Lee’s turn to lean into Neffie’s ear.  “Not really.  I don’t discriminate.”

Neffie’s eyes widened.  “Oh, dear.  Don’t go away!”

Lee walked around the table, taking in the group dynamic.  Evanc was chatting with Nats; another of Evanc’s friends was shoulder to shoulder with a young man, deep in conversation; Guin was laughing at a story Matym was telling; and Neffie was following Lee with her eyes.

The band switched to a blues song.  Lee stooped down to hear the end of Matym’s story and held his hand out to dance with her.

Matym was still relatively new at West Coast Swing.  They swayed to the blues song for eight beats to get the feel for the tempo and then combined a few West Coast Swing dance steps with a blues swagger.  Lee had danced with Matym many times over the last few months and was impressed with her progress.  Like many new dancers, she was not yet used to owning her dance moves, waiting for Lee to lead her, but Lee clearly saw the influence of Guin on Matym’s foot pivots.

They laughed when they bumped into each other, Matym turning on her special smile as she spun into Lee’s arms.  “Sorry about that.”

“No problem.  You’re fine.”

As the song ended, Lee dipped Matym for the first time and then walked her back to the table.

Nats stood up, proudly putting his hands on his hips for everyone to notice his manly kilt, English racing cap and hairy legs.  “A round of beer and drinks on me!”

The barkeep took their orders, the members of the group taking turns to go to the loo, playing musical chairs.

Eventually, Lee and Guin sat across from each other, having slowly broken down over the course of thirty minutes a few barriers they had placed between them over the last few months — a look here, a laugh there, an agreement with a conversational statement, a head shake then a quick stare at each other when they disagreed, making sure they were on the same page.

They lived their friendship as they loved to live life, through the eyes and body language of dancers.

Guin tossed her hair back, a move that she knew told Lee she wanted to dance.  He nodded at her ever so subtly.

They met in the space between barstools and tables that served as a dance floor.

They gripped hands, not looking in each other’s eyes, as they normally did when they hadn’t danced together in a long time.

Nats, anticipating Guin’s usual ownership of a large space on the dance floor, cleared a few tables.

The band began a new song, a hard driving Southern rock tune they had premiered a month ago at a local biker bar.

Guin looked up from the floor and into Lee’s eyes.  They held their look for just a fraction of a second longer than normal, almost breaking into a smile.  They instantaneously knew this song was written for them.

Guin pursed her lips and struck a pose.

Lee pulled back, putting a little bit of pressure on their grip, feeling Guin’s resistance as she raised her free arm in the air and spun past him, every footstep a work of art in itself.

For some couples on the dance floor, the guy always leads.  For others, the woman always leads.  For experienced dancers, it was not leader and follower but a partnership, an unwritten agreement of trust and physical focus, erasing all elements of the universe not associated with the space between them but pulling the whole universe into their dance at the same time.

It was in that space on the makeshift dance floor that Lee and Guin didn’t own or owe each other but they were fully committed to something greater than themselves, where all the barriers finally fell away and they could be everyone and everything they wanted to be.

As they danced, they lost the need to look in each other’s eyes to check the status of their relationship, looking for the simple joy of seeing unqualified happiness in each other’s eyes.

As they danced, they experimented with a new language they had written together over the years, creating a whole new subculture in a matter of seconds.

They were free.

Then the song ended and they walked back to the table.

Nats clapped.  “Well done.”  His band of ten years, specialising in Irish and pirate music, had broken up a few weeks ago so he was free in his own way, able to sit and drink with his friends rather than perform on stage weekend after weekend.

Guin pulled her hair back to cool off her neck.

Lee finished off the last half-pint of his beer.

They looked at each other again, Guin turning her head slightly and squinting through her glasses, her eyes asking if they were more than dance nerd friends.

Lee nodded, affirming their status.

He glanced at Evanc, the tie that still bound him to his old life.  He had to figure out how to tell his financial advisor that his old life was going away, that a major life event was happening so he could go on with his new life, ending the legal agreement he had made 30 years before and felt honour bound to uphold until it was over.

Being true to himself tried Lee’s patience but he knew who he was, even when in times past he had wanted to end his life rather than cut the subcultural connections he’d been taught to hold sacred, despite disagreeing with their sacredness.

Lee was on the right path.

Guin looked away from Lee, letting him know that no matter who they were together, she needed no man.

Lee agreed.  It was their independence that they cherished as much as their dependence on a dance high.  He reached for Neffie’s hand and led her to the dance floor, pulling her in close for a fast blues song, showing off to the rest of the group, sending Neffie and him into their own closed zone of understanding, ending with an elated dip to the floor.

As they returned to the table, Matym looked into Lee’s eyes.  “I bet you wish they played the extended version of that song.”  She winked.

Lee smiled.

At nearly one o’ clock in the morning, the night was still young.

Despite what would happen the rest of the evening, including long sessions when the whole group danced in a circle, their body movement freely flowing, or walking away from each other in the carpark at the end of the night, Lee was certain he was making the right longterm choices.

Spare, oh, the Sparrow!

Neil sat outside the Korean takeaway, eating beef bulgogi and kimchi, his table companions discussing an upcoming court case.

“So the way I understand it, Neil, the architecture firm you work for applied for a variance and didn’t get it?”

“Yep. In a nutshell.”

“And you believe you have evidence there was collusion to prevent the architectural firm from finishing the project?”

“That makes two nutshells. One more can you can set up an illegal shell game on the square! Haha!”

The lawyer readjusted his bowtie. “We are prosecuting the director of the city department of engineering next week. Any evidence you can give us would be helpful.”

“Well, I’ll do what I can. I was delivering pizza one evening after dance class a couple of years ago and noticed it was an unusually large order for that time of night. It seemed to happen once every three months…”

The lawyer’s paralegal assistant interrupted. “Sounds like a company celebrating quarterly results, perhaps, or late night work on a project. Not that unusual.”

“Yeah, I know. But I haven’t got to the good part. Every one of those deliveries included a pizza warmer box that was cold to the touch.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

Neil laughed. “Don’t you get it? No pizza inside. Something funny in that, don’t you think?”

The lawyer scribbled a few notes on a legal pad.

“Do you deliver uncooked pizzas?”

“No.”

“Did you look inside the boxes?”

“I have to. I take the pizzas out when I get to the delivery address so the customer can verify the order.”

“And what was inside the ‘cold’ boxes?”

“Electronic equipment hidden inside a cardboard pizza container. The first box I I delivered I couldn’t tell you what it was. But the second time this happened, I took a photo. A friend said it was a tracking device with a datalogger and he showed me how to hack it, not knowing where I’d seen it and…”

“Neil, before you go on, we need to know if you believe you would be willing to repeat what you’re going to say under oath in a court of law?”

“What do you mean? I’m just giving you evidence.”

“Neil, in a nutshell, as you say, we can’t use evidence that was illegally obtained.”

“What if I said the electronic equipment accidentally transmitted data to my phone as I was transporting pizza. Is that what you mean?”

“If it happened as you said, and you did not tamper with the equipment, we might be able to examine your evidence.”

“It was really happenchance. I always check the pizzas before I deliver them. My friend told me that the dataloggers act as their own Internet hubs, gateways or something like that. I turned on WiFi on my phone as I was doublechecking the pizzas and it linked to the dataloggers when I opened the box they were in.”

“Neil, that sounds legal enough for us to work with. Now, does it have anything to do with the collusion you mentioned?”

“Of course. It’s the data in the logger I’m talking about! Hahaha!”

The lawyer nodded. “What was in the data?”

“Looks like secret plans with a large construction firm outside the country operating here under a bunch of different local business names to completely rebuild the city according to its terms.  It details new information every three months about what the city leaders are supposed to do next, including the denial of permits and variances for companies not associated with Ursa Major.”

The lawyer looked up from his pad the same time the paralegal looked up from a mobile phone.

“What did you say the name of the organisation was?”

“Ursa Major.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t Canus Major?”

“Yep. Got it right here on my cell phone.”

“Is that the only copy? On your phone?”

“Of course not. It’s up on the cloud, too. I backup everything.”

The lawyer leaned over and conferred with the paralegal.

“Neil, you’ve been a great help. I’ve got to go back to my office for another meeting. Bring your phone by later this afternoon…”

“I can’t. I have dance lessons and classes planned out the rest of the day.”

“Tomorrow morning, then?”

“Sure. What time?”

“Let’s say 7:30. And bring your nutshells.”

Neil laughed. “Ooh, good one! See you in the morning.”

They shook hands and parted.