How Much a Dollar Cost Redux
How much a dollar really cost?
The question is detrimental, paralyzing my thoughts
Analyzing my memories
Rows of elm trees, muffling my nightmares
Of character failure, of childish selfishness
When my mother pointed out the dirty man
Rifling through the garbage for food
If I was going to gripe and moan
About the sandwich that she had made for me
Then surely I could give it to him
But something inside me was repulsed
At the very idea of sharing an element of my existence
With some stranger who couldn’t even properly wash his hands
I forced myself to eat the last half
And I’ve never eaten salami since
He’s staring at me in disbelief
My temper’s building
I can’t make eye contact
Meeting his gaze is opening the door
Announcing I have a sense of empathy
I absolutely can give you bus fare
You don’t need to mail it back to me
Don’t take this the wrong way
But I’m terrified that acknowledging you
Will expose something in myself
We’ll both see that I’m just as unaccomplished
I just keep getting second chances
Guilt tripping and feeling resentment
I never met a transient who demanded attention
One time I gave one five dollars to get him away from me
I just wanted to eat my lunch
Which I suddenly couldn’t afford
Thanks to my panicky generosity
The city council wants to force them out
A trail of tears out of the city
Into the suburbs
But for now
I’ve grown accustomed to your faces
As natural as the shedding Bradford pears
That drop their petals by the homeless shelter
The air thick with the smell
Of rotten meat.
Sonata in Ash
I’ve had enough ammonia for tonight, thank you. A lovely bouquet, redolent of the cat urine that I can never eliminate from our carpet. I plead with him, crying, screaming in a language he can’t understand, and he blinks at me. Supposedly, it’s a sign of affection. I blink back, drowning and silent.
I moved back home to reconnect to my past, and before my boxes were unpacked, it started dying. My piano teacher’s service was in the Catholic church downtown, between a library and a post office. My hands are small, fumbling, and have difficulty spreading over the octaves. But any beauty that I can coax out of them is courtesy of that tiny Polish woman they’re laying to rest. I want to force my way to the front, and show her that while I may have forgotten her, I never forgot Beethoven’s Pathetique.
My right hand shakes, stretching across the keys, holding a coffee, inserting a needle. I look sick, pleading with the pharmacist, knowing her limitations, not caring. In the year to follow, she’ll regard me as a loyal and polite customer, but the shadows of that desperate junkie remain etched on the walls of her brain, like lovers vaporized in the fallout. There’s ash in the sky again, falling alongside the snow, sharps and flats. The sky is crying, and I don’t understand its language. I look up and blink, lying all over again.
Letter to Thomas
They sanded down the bowl, and replaced the stem, grey and rough from your teeth. I can’t begin to imagine how many times you ground them in frustration, in annoyance at the life that had bloomed around you. How cheated did you feel when your number came up, when all your classmates went straight into the medical school you’d had your eyes on for years? Did you know that two generations later, the eldest of your youngest would feel that same tension?
Not that you’d see one minute of it. You were dead and gone before the first year of rejection letters. Pipe smoke hurts my eyes, but by the fourth year of rejection letters, my concern for my lungs was beginning to wane. Lunch breaks became smoke breaks, chances to self-medicate myself out of self-loathing. When I clocked back in, there was maybe an hour where I didn’t fantasize about hanging myself from the beams in the warehouse.
What did you do in Japan? Who did you kill? When you put a man out of his misery, could you feel his soul take root inside of yourself? I’ve heard stories ranging from a flipped jeep, to putting a bullet between a prisoner’s shoulders, explanations, or excuses, for your ghosts. “You don’t know what I’ve done.” I want to understand your sins. Wrath? Neglect? Cruelty? In another time, another place, my aunt is crying at the dinner table. God, you hate that fucking noise.
Alcohol is for the weak, you think, filling the bowl with loose-leaf tobacco, bourbon-flavored. A glance to your right, and you’ll see the boat. That boat will disappear when Hugo hits, tearing the roof off of your house, destroying your floors. When the storm dies down, the boat is gone, except for a piece of debris in the reeds beyond the dock. You can almost recognize it at low tide. It will stay there through the death of your wife, through your own death, through the day my mother’s childhood home is bulldozed to the ground. She couldn’t stand to see it, and neither could I. It wouldn’t be until she was similarly gone that I would dare to look at the site again. The new house is under construction. The trees stay the same.
About the author:
Matthew O'Leary is a writer living in Columbia, South Carolina. He has had work featured in Birds Piled Loosely and Fiction Crowd. He doesn't drink nearly as much as one might guess. More information about Matthew can be found here.