An Epilogue

By David Karp

The road that went over the two big hills was foggy at night: something that it always seemed to be, even when she had driven up the same road hundreds of times just two years ago. The streetlights with the pink tints reflected off the fog, giving a sensation of being lost even to someone who had driven around the area before.

Before, it had looked magical to her, a perfect segway to an evening with the love of her life.

Tonight, it looked like an aftermath. An epilogue.

Every other house seemed to have some sign of life in it, whether it was a few lights on in the window, a tv that could be seen on through the glass, or an open garage door. And then some looked empty; vacant. Passing the time.

She drove through the fog and shadows and ghosts, making her way just over the second hill. At the very top, you could see the big lake at the bottom, reflecting the moonlight. The surrounding trees danced every so slightly in the light, spring wind that whispered through the little country neighborhood. 

As she looked out at the lake, she thought about the little bar on the water that they would always go to. The first time she met him there, she had gotten lost. She missed the turn and continued down the road which, to her panic, turned into pure woods and a small thin dirt road, encased in the darkness of the night. It took her a few tries to do a K turn once she realized that something was wrong. She eventually had turned herself around, and retracing her path, she ended up finding a small road that snaked its way steeply down a hill and onto the water, with the bar right next to it.

It was a small tavern with a red roof that seemed to only be one room. The bar took up most of it, with wooden chairs surrounding it so patrons could have their fill from the wells.

They ended up staying there for about three hours talking, laughing, singing: enjoying the simple fact of being alive.

At the end of the night, after last call, they were the last to leave.

She had kissed him in the parking lot, under the summer moon.

God, it had been their first kiss. It led to so many more.

Many moons ago.

She snapped out of it, back in the car within the fog, and continued down the hill. His street was about halfway down this particular slope. It took her some thinking to remember if it was the first right or the second, after a roundabout.

It was the second. How could she forget?

She turned onto Lorelei Street and watched the houses on her left. One with a tarp over the roof. Probably needed work. The second with all the lights on; two friends talking in the doorway, laughing.The third was dark. No cars in the driveway, no lights on, and the yard empty.

And then came his house.

The white picket fence was still there, the one that made her think of “Somewhere That’s Green” from the movie Little Shop of Horrors, where Audrey, one of the main characters, pictures herself in the perfect suburban life, with a green yard that has been freshly cut, surrounded by a white picket fence. Living with the love of her life; a cliche happiness.

She chuckled at the thought of it. She chuckled because, somewhere buried in her static loneliness that the journey with him left her in, she could almost admit to herself that she had the same aspirations as Audrey did in the movie at one point in their time together.

How cliche, she thought.

She pulled over to the right and put the car in park, across the street from his house. Yes, the fence was still there. And the firepit. And the green grass. But now, there was a different scattered mess of lawn chairs. She could see one with a beer still in the cup holder built into the arm of the blue chair.

Further on, she looked over to the single floor white house itself. The front door was still blue, but was missing a reef. He had one for every season.

There was a tan pickup truck and a blue BMW in the driveway. No Black Subaru Forester, the car he was so in love with.

They spent so much time in the van, driving through mountain roads, getting lost whenever they could because, well…they could. They loved the thrill of the travel, the seductive possibilities of the unknown. They used to drive for hours on end, especially at night as if the nighttime would last forever.

On one such journey, they were about a half hour in on a mountainous road (there was no way she could remember the name of the road itself) when, all of a sudden, the streetlights just disappeared. They could sense their adrenaline going up, and after a short, dark, incline, the light of the moon overtook them, and they found the road making its way through a wide, open field. The mountains, black lumps in the moonlight, towered over the field like titans. It was beautiful and green and it was as if, besides the road, no one had yet to discover it. And the moon just shined down from the sky like a lantern in the night, guiding them in all its beauty.

They looked at the time. Five A.M. That was normal for them. They decided to pull over into a little alcove in the field near a lone tree which stood like a watchtower to this new world around them. The sun was going to be up soon, and they decided to park with the back of the van towards the east, put the back seats down, and crawl in together to cuddle and watch the eventual sunrise.

She felt so comfortable in his arms as they watched the moon and the stars slowly but surely travel through the sky above them. Everything was so clear; so perfect.

Alas, they ended up falling asleep about twenty minutes into it, and woke up five hours later, with the sun already up but the field just as empty. They laughed in their awakening state, and shared a small but passionate kiss before getting back into the front.

Such a beautiful memory, still lingering inside her whether she wanted to admit it or not. 

But she didn’t think that he lived here anymore. It had only been two years, but once he was out of her life, he was out for good. No contact from him, no clue of where his life would take him. Not even the comfort of speculation. 

It was what it was.

She wasn’t necessarily planning on getting out of the car, but some dark urge made her. A possession of memory. A curiosity even she knew could never lead anywhere. Nevertheless, she was just so curious. 

She shut her door gently and looked out at the house. The fog was too encasing the house, making it look dreamlike yet gloomy and uninterested in the world around it. The same pine trees were towering on either side of it, poking their bushy heads out of the fog here and there. 

Now what?, she thought. She wasn’t even sure who lived there anymore. There was nothing to see really. Nothing but memories.

She spent so much time in that house. They had cooked there, slept there, made love there; had hundreds of movie nights there, had so many talks and dreams and revelations.

She slowly crossed the street and approached the door on the fence that was just off center on the left. No security lights came on, and as she looked a little more in the window, she could see that the kitchen light was on, but it looked empty and lonely.

From what she could see, not much had changed in the kitchen but a slew of new shelving. Could have been his for all she knew, but she had that gut feeling that he wasn’t there anymore.

She couldn’t explain it exactly, but she could swear that, whenever he was around, she could feel his energy. Even when she least expected it, she felt something in the air. Maybe that intuition changed since the breakup, but she could remember the feeling very vividly. It was like feeling high or drunk. It was like stepping into a daydream, and a rush would hit her bloodstream every time she saw him. It was more than bliss. It was magic.

Magic that had now vanished without any sort of explanation. They were in that very kitchen the last time they ever saw each other. She could tell that something was up; he was acting different as they ate dinner together. It was almost like fear. He was worried she was going to leave him. It came out of nowhere….

…Talk about a magician…

…and it came hard. And she knew her heart so, so well. She would never do a thing like that to him. Her heart didn’t work that way. And it was funny, because there were times she would feel that way about him too. In those younger times (not greatly, but two years can teach you a lot of things), she listened, with a more personal heart, to the criticisms that came into her life from the outside world. 

Never pretty enough. Never cool enough. Never normal enough. Always less than.

But he reassured her, and she tried to listen. She did as best she could.

Does this whole thing mean she was right to have those thoughts, after all is said and done, standing here at the gates of her past?

The white picket fence of her past…

She came back from her thoughts. She knew she was a stronger person now, despite her occasional dark nights of anxiety, such as tonight.

She forgave herself since then.

She walked past the fence and to the front of the driveway. 

She could see the window at the end of the driveway that was his room. Looking a little harder, she could see white curtains hanging there. His were red, and she remembers how they used to fall down every few weeks. He really could never figure out how to put them up properly. She gave it a go a few times, and they would stay up longer than when he did it, but they always seemed to find a way onto the bed in the middle of the night, sometimes startling them away.

Awake. As if she ever slept. As if she ever let herself drift away peacefully in his arms.

As she focused closely onto the window, she realized that it may have been her one regret about the time they had together. She wished she told him how hard it was to sleep there sometimes. Not because of the temperature of the room or that the bed was uncomfortable. It was the fact that it was a new bed. Not of her own. In a room not of her own.

Pathetic as she thought it was of herself, at the age of twenty five, it was honestly the first time she ever slept next to someone she loved. Before they met, her dating life became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She hated her body, her mind and her life so much; her depression had taken her over for so long, that she never gave anyone a chance in fear that they would leave without a trace. Find something better.

For years, the words she described herself were dark and ugly. The thoughts; the voice telling her she wanted love but wasn’t going to be good enough for it…not deserving. She was too weird.

It was those thoughts that took her over back then sometimes.

She had loved and been loved before, but they always ended unfairly. There was always a catch. There was always sadness. It’s how she learned to hate herself back then. But with him, she felt like the underdog. 

But sometimes, even that kept her awake in his bed at night.

Sometimes, she would watch him sleep, lost in the feeling of how lucky she was to be next to him. How new this kind of love was in her life, like a foreigner who has moved to a new home in another country. He always slept so peacefully, even when the TV blasted or the construction near his house started before the sun rose.

Sometimes, she would lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking of all the things in her head she wanted to tell him; wish she could tell him. He wasn’t very fond of talking about emotions, which was a red flag she knew she should have seen early on and confronted truthfully instead of making up excuses to not.

Sometimes, she was afraid he would leave in the middle of the night. Leave like everyone seemed to do in her story, without warning or reason. She had not, at the time, disconnected the act of everyone leaving from her undeserved guilt. So she would stand guard, like a dog, hoping it wouldn’t happen again, though unfortunately for her always having the feeling of expecting it.

God, those were times. God, how she wishes she was wrong, at least to some extent.

God, that was so long ago.

And as long ago as it was, there is a small part of her that wishes she could turn over in his bed again and watch him sleep so peacefully, holding her hand on the best of nights until the sun broke the sky.

So long ago…

There was no sign of life now. No sign or whispers or scenes from her past. Only the shell. Only the name of the chapter in her story. The setting remained, but it wasn’t hers anymore and it could never be again.

But that was the consequence of playing a losing hand. That’s what happens when you lose the bet. You pay the price, whatever the price may be.

And that was that.

There was nothing more to see, but she was glad she could see it one last time. That was the whole reason she was here. She could feel the epilogue coming to an end. She was ready to start a new book; a new life. New bets, new memories, new ways to cope with the demons inside her. 

Two years may have passed on this earth since she last saw him, but she noticed the demons were a little more quiet as time went on.

And for the first time in a long time, with her memories there right in front of her, she smiled. Hopeful.

There was nothing more to see. She finally found the nerve to see the house again, and only once more. This was the funeral for her past. This was it.

And as she walked back to her car and opened the door, ready to drive down that road one last time, she turned once more to the house and, in the dark window of the living room, she could see the silhouette of a man; a mere shadow. 

She stared at it for a while, being able to tell it was not his. But she gave it a little wave, regardless.

She couldn’t tell if he waved back or not.

And with that, she started her engine, made another awkward K-turn, and drove down the street one last time.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Upside-Down Bird: Hybridizing Memory, Place and Invention” by Maria Flook

The Exchange

By David Karp

As Will got out of the car, he was hit with the breeze of the Hudson River as it flowed angrily beneath him. He jumped at it’s rigidness. It stung his eyes and his hands. He could hear the wind as it roared through the valley below him. He shivered, wondering if it was the wind or the darkness that scared his mind more.

Across the river, the city lights of the Upper West Side sparkled and shined, making a soft illumination off the water. But where Will was standing, there were only shadows from the dying trees that aligned the edges of the Palisades. Even the streetlights above him had gone to sleep, and all he could hear was the wind, the waves, and the passing of the occasional car behind him. The night felt as dead and as cold as a graveyard on a snowy day.

He leaned against his car for a minute, the metal of his door cold but unfelt because of his jacket. It seemed unusually cold for an October night, he thought to himself. But then his mind turned to deeper things.

The events of the past week have been the catalyst of the darker things he found himself in. Things even he couldn’t comprehend. A Pandora’s box that he never knew he had. Could he blame it on something as small and miniscule to the world as a broken heart? His depression? His fear? It had all turned him, at first quiet; almost unalive. 

Now…

And out from the trees, just as quick and startling as a deer or a fox, headlights from another car appeared out of nowhere; the shadows. His two eyes dilated as he looked into the headlights of this strange beast. It was moving rather slow, as to keep quiet and not startle Will.

A wolf observing his prey. Licking its lips, saliva dripping and eyes wide. A slow approach reaps the greatest rewards.

The road in front of him started showing itself in the light more and more as the car got closer. It was then that Will realized that they were coming from further down the cliff, not the direction of the highway. They were waiting for him to arrive. Will wondered how long they were waiting there, in the darkness of it all.

They drove past Will without even a word, and then slowed down a little bit past him. He could make out now that it was a Black Lincoln Continental. Not too old, not vintage. But menacing, especially in the darkness.

The car pulled on the side and parked. A second later, the lights switched off, encasing them all in utter darkness.

Despite the cold, Will could feel his wet palms as he clenched them tighter and tighter. He rubbed up against his right pants pocket and felt the knife he took with him. Futile, as he assumed they would come heavier, but it was at least some sort of backup.

Every sound around him seemed to stop. The water, the wind, the highway. All gone quieter than the dead.

The latch of the Lincoln startled him as it opened. From the driver’s side, a bigger balding man in a black and grey flannel and dark blue jeans slowly rose from inside the car. As he turned around to look at Will, the passenger’s side door opened slowly and another man, this one tall but a bit lankier with jet black hair that had seen too much gel came out and turned to Will as well. 

In the silence, they studied Will with their eyes, hidden in shadow. Will stared right back, and there they stood in the darkness: as if in position to begin a duel. He hoped the men could not tell that he was sweating.

They loomed there in the darkness and the silence for a few more seconds.

Suddenly:

“Did you come heavy?” said the man on the driver’s side.

“Huh?”

The two men looked at each other and let out a quick cackle, hyena-like.

“Do you have any weapons?”

“Um, no.”

“Not that it would matter anyway, because if you try any kind of clever shit, I swear they’re gonna find you in that river with the boy.”

The mention of Noah made him cringe, his heart jump and his soul scream.

“I’m good.” Will said, a little more confidently, hiding his lie of the knife.

“Alright, alright.” he said with a tinge of a southern accent that he couldn’t tell was real or fake. “Let’s get down to business! I believe you have something that belongs to my associates. And I believe the deal was to give it back.”

“The deal was for Noah to-”

“Oh, we know the deal!” He turned to the other man from the passenger’s seat. “Get him out here.”

The other man turned and slowly walked towards the trunk. He got his keys from his pocket, opened the trunk up, and reached inside.

Slowly, in his arms, out came Noah. Duck tape on his limbs and mouth, flailing around. Like a fish trying to escape the grasp of the fisherman.

“He’s feisty. I forgot how much spunk this kid got in him.”

The man carried him over to the other man and showed him to Will, front and center, and placed him on the ground. Noah tried to get to his feet, but his bounds did not allow him too. All he could do is struggle and let out muffled angry screams.

“What are you complaining about!” the first man said, “When I was your age, I always wanted to find out what it’s like to ride in the trunk!”

Both men cackled like hyenas in heat.

It made Will naturally move a little closer, out of protection.

“Woah, there!” he said, reaching behind him into the back part of his jeans.

Will froze where he was, waiting.

“As you can see here, we have upheld our part of the bargain. And judging by how fucking terrified you look, I assume you have done the same.”

“I have.” Will said, “It’s in my car.”

“All of it?”

“All of it.”

Both men looked at each other, thinking, and then turned back to Will.

“Alright,” the driver said, “Go get it. I trust that you know that if you try any kind of shit, the kid’s done for.”

Will looked angrily, and nodded.

He turned around and went to the back seat of his car. He opened the door and pulled out a decently sized black duffel bag. It was heavy, but soft.

He closed his door and went back in front of the men.

“Here it is.”

“Toss it here” the driver said.

Will tossed it without uttering a breath. It hit the dirt with a thud, and some of it drifted up like dust.

The driver motioned for the other guy to get the back. The man picked it up and opened it. It made him smile. He turned to the driver and nodded.

“Alright, I will tell you two things now. One: If even one dollar of that fifteen thousand THAT IS OURS is not in this here bag: I know where both of you live. And I will get my money back. And there will be a STEEP penalty. That is a promise.”

“It’s all ther-”

“And I keep my promises. Ok?”the driver interrupted.

Will stalled for a moment before nodding his head.

“And number two, which I need both of you to remember for the rest of your living days,” and at that moment, he pulled out a small silver revolver from the back of his pants and swung it in his hands, “We have a past with this kid. He was alright to us, and I guarantee you that was the only thing keeping him alive this time around. But that expires right here. Right now. That pass has been used up. So I will stress you both to stay away from my club and to NEVER do anything like this again. Because if it happens again…”

He stopped swinging the revolver, took it properly in his hands, and pushed the medal of the chamber into Noah’s temple. Noah’s eyes widened a little, still glossy from his tears earlier. He flinched. Screamed without a sound.

“…I will show no mercy. And that too is a promise.”

Will could feel his feet sliding away from him. His hands fists, his rage flaring like the sun in midafternoon. The fire inside him pushed him closer and closer to break. He wanted to run to Noah and save him and put an end to it all right there and then. If it weren’t for the gun, he felt like he could find a way to destroy them.

Still, except for his eyes, he was still.

The driver took the gun off Noah and looked him in the eye.

“How did you get mixed up with this guy, anyway? You know he ain’t one of us, and he don’t deserve to be raising one of our own. You were better off without him, Noah. We had plans for you. A life. A real fucking good life you could of had. You would have made your daddy proud. If I had my way, I’d keep ya with me. But I don’t.”

He ripped the tape off of Noah’s mouth slowly and as he did, Noah’s eyebrows turned hard and angry.

“He’s not my dad.”

“HEY!” Will mustered up. “Come on!”

The driver looked intensely at Noah “Maybe one day, you’ll see all this differently.”

And with that, the driver dropped Noah. He fell with a thud and he winced a bit in pain, before he rolled over to look at Will.

The driver turned and shot the gun in the air once, breaking the silence of the Palisades.

“REMEMBER WHAT I SAID!” and with that, the driver and the other man got back into their car, as Will ran over to Noah. 

Their car turned on and sped away into the night, and as Will was getting the tape off Noah’s arms and legs, he listened as the car’s engine faded into the darkness; into nothing. 

“Will, I’m sorry.” said Noah with glossy eyes.

“We need to get out of here.” Will said, rushing to get the tape off. Most of it finally loosened after a minute. 

“What are we gonna do n-”

“JUST…get in the car, we’ll figure this out.” Will replied, his face lost in shadow.

As they both got into the car, Will took one last look at the city.

Buildings shining, cars driving too and fro. The street lights were almost blinding.

How far away it looked to him.

He got in, started the car, and they both drove back onto the road and into the darkness of the night.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Prefab Story Exercise” by Rick Hillis

A Panic Attack

By David Karp

The truth is, when I find myself in the heat of panic, I tend to walk down to the Pier. You get lost in the crowd of tourists (and yes, some locals. Maybe such as myself.), watch the ocean in the pitch black if it’s night and try to hear the waves gently crashing over the cackle of the boardwalk games and people screaming as they go on the rides that make them scream. And the music. Oh, there is so much music. Not just the music on the loudspeakers, but guitarists from all over. Singers on their way to becoming the next Sinatra. The occasional saxophone.

Yeah, it’s a great place to get lost if you are feeling as such.

But today, I woke up in a cold sweat and a racing mind.

And after thinking it through for a minute, I said “Fuck the Pier.”

Not that it isn’t still a go-to, but today. Today I woke up feeling REALLY alone.

I woke up and the white noise just started filtering through like a TV in an empty room. No purpose, only noise. No purpose, only thoughts. Thoughts that turned into anxiety that turned into fear that, by then, just picked me up and threw me into the abyss.

Was it a dream I had? I couldn’t recall anything in particular that frightened me.. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night. I didn’t feel anything lucid in my sleep, or sinister. 

What I felt was nothing. And nothing is a dangerous feeling to feel.

So I got myself into my car and sat there, thinking about what to do.

Thinking and thinking and thinking.

And then, I decided that I would just drive. Drive until I found somewhere that could bring a little comfort and redemption to me.

I thought about stopping somewhere around LAX as I drove past it. Find somewhere to sit and watch the planes fly by.

Like counting sheep.

Maybe even in  the In-And-Out parking lot. The view there…mmhmm.

But I think I wanted something more quieter; softer.

So I left LAX behind me.

I drove and I drove and I drove.

Thoughts in my head like sirens and fireworks. Undeserving on all accounts. Lost in the woods, and the path is disappearing right in front of me. As daytime rages on the outside, the sun sets in the raging ocean of my mind, and becomes darkness. Self hatred, self induced. Stupidly believing myself into the spiral of emotional masochism.

My breath draws short and I can feel the sweat on the steering wheel. Miles and miles of thoughts, the further I go. Did I think I could run from something inside of me? Silly, I know, I know. 

I am silly.

But I’ve been like this for 25 years. Well, at least since…well, I guess there is no pinpoint. Therapy has been a constant for me my entire life (at least since my parents flew the mortal coup.) I guess I was just unlucky. But as I got older, I learned to manage the dark days.

But every so often, I have a moment. A day. A dark day.

It gets this bad about once a year. That’s it. But the day it happens: it’s like that world is ending. Who knows, maybe it is.

I hit a roundabout and, as I looked around, I saw lush greenery on both sides of me. I looked to my right as I passed the sign “Welcome To Palos Verdes”. I then realized that I had actually driven to the tip of Orange County.

Jesus.

It had been awhile since I had been here, but as I drove out closer to the water, I could see cliffs lined up along the shoreline, the ocean below gently kissing the edges with a beautiful blue. An unusually beautiful blue.

It seemed like a place to try and rest my mind. Focus on the ocean. Count the waves like sheep until my thoughts could finally rest.

I parked my car and walked along the cliff. I suddenly got to a break in the water where there was a small inlet. You could hear the seals way down at the bottom, but you couldn’t see them from where I stood.

I looked out and, I swear, you could see the world so clearly from up there. It was like drifting into some form of heaven, the blue of both sky and ocean together perfectly. Whatever were your problems didn’t matter now, because everything around you was bigger than you. Brighter than you.

And even this picturesque little piece of the world all for myself seemed to beam a little light into the darkness that was floating around inside me. 

I felt like I could speak my mind to the world, so I reached into my pocket and pulled out my little notepad. It’s where I write ideas that pop into my head. Poetry, mostly.

I sit down on one of the rocks and open it. And I just write what comes:

It would be nice

To not think of what ifs

Or exits that only exist

In the deepest part of all this

The darkest night

The darkest thoughts

Show me something real

Something that won’t go away

Maybe, if I really believe

If I really let go

Maybe there is a way to let go

And find the sun, not shadows

No long goodbyes

This whole year has felt like a goodbye

I’m ready to take that leap

And fall and fall and fall

Until maybe something

Maybe something

Maybe, before I hit the ground

And the world is finally over.

I don’t know, maybe.

I always get through these days, and I’m sure today will be no different.

But nevertheless, that has been my day so far.

No purpose, just here.

I look out into the water and see how calm life can be.

Maybe.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Photograph” by Jill McCorkle

That Swagger

Masculine and Feminine in one old photo

By David Karp

I’m going to be honest here. It was probably the only reason I enjoyed going to tennis during summer camp.

Jesus, I can’t believe I remember her name, it was so long ago. I must have been eleven years old at most.

Rebecca always wore that same grey visor. The ones you saw on TV with the Wimbleton logo on it. Her Nikes were blue and black if I remember correctly. And every class I had (twice a week), she would wear a grey t-shirt and blue shorts. To me, it was the same grey t-shirt and blue shorts every time, though I’m not sure about the facts on that one from her end. But to an eleven year old with a schoolboy crush, it didn’t really matter.

She had this flowing brown hair that went just past her shoulder blades that was always in a ponytail. She had a tan, which I am not sure was from the summer sun that beat down on the tennis court every day or was just natural, but whatever it was she had it.

Ok, I’ll admit it now. I was absolutely smitten and probably unsure what to do with my feelings at such a young age. Not to mention, I wasn’t the most social kid, so talking to a crush was a bit hard for me, not to mention a crush that was probably twice my age. 

But when I think back on it now, I find something quite funny: yes, of course I found her beautiful in the physical sense but what I remember the most being smitten with was something much different.

It was her energy. I had the biggest schoolboy crush with her energy.

Rebecca was probably one of the fastest runners on the court. When we partnered up together, I tried so hard to keep up with her. She was probably aware that she was versing an eleven year old boy not much experienced in tennis and therefore had decided to let me off easy, but god damn even what she would probably call easy was like lightning hitting the ground, I swear!

After class, she would always relax and sit next to me outside the court, striking a conversation the way people twice your age did with you back then. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but she would always give out this chill, cute laugh when I said something cute that made her smile and boy, did it put butterflies in my stomach.

Yes, she’d just chill next to me like, as I guess one would put it now, she was“one of the guys”.

And her walk, I remember her walk. She had this easy-going, masculine swagger to her that I thought was so fucking cool. She walked with purpose, but at the same time, ease. Strength.

Yeah. She was pretty fucking cool.

I remember liking that feminine energy that schoolboy crush brought to me, but I also loved the masculine energy it brought to me as well. It was a strange feeling. It was like she was the perfect juxtaposition that gave in easily to each other. The yin and yang. The balance the world needed.

It was something I looked up to; inspired to be. I wasn’t only smitten by her, but I wanted to be “cool” like her. And that “cool”, I figured out in my reminiscing, was the perfect balance of masculine and feminine energy she had.

I never told anyone about that crush. I kept it to myself, attempting to decipher the kind of feelings that came up along the way. But looking at it again now, years later and years wiser, and trying to answer the questions of the eleven year old me with a schoolboy crush, I may whisper to that young boy that there may be something there after all. Though she may have not identified this way, for myself it may have been the first hint of bicuriousness that found its way into my little undeveloped heart. That desire for and to have a balance of the energies.

And she had it. She was the crush and the role model. The rock star.

It was so long ago. So, so long ago. But remembering it tonight, after quite a while, it makes sense that it is a part of my childhood story. The coming of age. Growing up, growing in, and growing out.

And I can’t say I would remember her now if I saw her on the street, but as God is my witness, I will never forget that swagger.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “Truthful Dare” by Diana Abu-Jaber

The Odds

photo by David karp

By David Karp

Let’s say you are at a roulette table. You put a chip on a random number; doesn’t matter which one it is. Black, white. And let’s just say that that chip is the only chip you put down on the table. The other players look at you like you’re absolutely stupid or you’re absolutely crazy. And you just may very well might be, but you just don’t care. The dealer spins the wheel with a mean strength and you watch it spin and spin and spin. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the thing except the dealers, because he knows the odds and it won’t affect him regardless. It will be what it will be and it is what it is. Fate or luck or something else entirely, there are winners and there are losers.

Now, finally the wheel starts to slow down it’s spin. The spin is starting to die out on every hit of that fine little pointer. Click, click, click. Closer and closer, and the eyes get wider and wider and wider. A few hushes and some light cheering. Almost there. Almost there. And…CLICK. The wheel stops. And you know the odds and their consequences. They were never good. Never good.

And you look at the arrow and then down to the number it is pointed at.

And it’s your number.

And you win.

Well, that’s essentially what the odds were for me getting to where I am now.

It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t pretty.

It was just lucky.

The hotel lobby was large, but dark. Windowless. The lights on the high ceilings were faded. They reminded me of my cousin’s teeth, becoming the very same color after packs and packs of Camels through the years. The walls, once red, are a darker brown every year. The air conditioner was not in it’s best days, so it whispered to us incredibly softly, making it just a bit hotter than it needed to be.
In walks my father…well, the man who I knew as my father. Alberto. The man who was always making deals in his leather suits. The man who has seen it all and then some. The man who always seemed to be as if he was on the run from something. The man who called me his son for as far back as I can remember. 

His dirty white tank top and his faded blue jeans were his signature outfit. On nights when he went out to dance with some new girl he met at the bar after work, he would sport a black suit with purple laces. His slacks would be a little baggy, but nothing outrageous. He’d fix his hair up, slicking it up and back like Elvis, just not as neat.

And those were the two uniforms Alberto lived by, plus a cigar that he would smoke regardless of what he wore that day.

Before we left for the hotel that morning, I walked out of my room and there was Alberto sitting next to the window with a cup of coffee, just staring out at the busy street below our apartment in silence. 

I was about to announce my presence when the phone rang. As he got up to get it across the room, I noticed he was wearing his suit. Must be in for another night, I thought. 

“Hello?…yeah…yeah we are coming….how do you think?…Well, it’s the only way, right? You told me it’s the only way….Then I do what I…alright, alright, just…just let me be, we’ll be there soon…ok, bye.”

He hung up the phone with a slam. As he turned back to the window, I could see that his eyes had gone dark. He was never much of a sleeper. Maybe he was still in his suit from last night. Maybe he just got home.

It was then that he felt my presence and turned to me. He looked at me in the silence for a few seconds. His eyes were brown, just like mine, but his were darker. Whether that was because it was what it was or because he was so tired was beyond me. But after a few seconds of that, he started to smile a little.

“Ricky. My son.”

“Hello, papa.”

He stepped a little closer to me.

“You’re five years old now, a big man. Big man!” he said with a booming, silly voice, like the announcers of a wrestling match. “The world is so big. Bigger than you! And you are my son, so I must make it sure it is a loving, exciting world for you, or I would not be a good father. No?”

“Yes, papa.”

“Am I right?”

“Sure, papa.”

“Of course I’m right, I’m your father!” he said, and he picked me up and held me to him.

“My boy, my boy.”

He put me down and I smiled up at him, as I did for five years. Except tonight, for the first time in my life, I saw something different in his eyes. Something less.

“We must go somewhere, Ricky. Get your backpack and fill it up with your favorite things, ok? We won’t be home for a little bit.”

“Where are we going?”

“I’ll tell you on the way, now hurry!”

“Yes, papa.”

And I obediently and with haste rushed to my room and packed as he told me.

And we ended up here.

And as my dad walked in, I noticed another guy in a black suit behind him. Not like my fathers, more professional looking. Official.

“Ricky. I want you to meet Miguel. He’s a good friend of mine.”

The man reached out his hand. “Hello, Ricky. Good to meet you.”

I shook his hand, cautiously.

“Do you want me to give you five minutes?”

“Yes, my friend, yes. That would be just fine.”

“Alright then.” and Miquel, without looking at me or saying goodbye, stepped out of the lobby and into the back office around a corner.

My father then knelt down next to me.  

“Ricky…my son.”

“Papa.” 

I noticed that his eyes had gotten a little watery.

“Ricky, my boy. Miguel is going to take you this afternoon while I work out some stuff at work. He is a good friend of mine and he will make sure you are safe.”

“Safe?”

“You know, while I’m gone today.”

“I’m always home when you’re at work, why can’t I just…:”

“Because today is different, Ricky. It’s different. But don’t worry, you are going to be fine. Miguel is a good man.”

“When are you gonna pick me up.”

“When I’m done. Right when I’m done, I promise.”

“When is that?”

“I don’t know Ricky. I…”

His eyes started looking like fishbowls. Wide, dark fish bowls that led to nowhere.

“Are you sad?”

He took a second looking into my eyes. “I’ve made a few mistakes, Ricky.”

“Mistakes?”

“Yes, mistakes. And I have to take care of them.”

“Ok, papa.”

“It is ok. It will be ok.”

Miguel rushed in. “Alberto, my friend. We have to go now, there is no time. I’m sorry.”

“Alright, alright.” my father replied, holding back tears as he turned to me. 

“Go with Miquel, Ricky. I will see you soon.”

“You promise?”

“I…”, a hesitation. “…yes. Yes, I promise. Now, go!”

I hugged him close and he hugged me closer, with silent love and fatherly strength.

We let go and he pushed me away, to Miguel. “Go, Ricky.”

“Bye, papa.”

I walked to Miguel who forced a smile to me. “It’s ok Ricky. We have to go.”

I turned to my father one last time and watched him as he stayed kneeling on the ground, looking at me.

Tears had started to escape.

“I love you. I love you so much.” he said, and I watched him fade behind me, staying kneeled as we walked out the front doors. He watched me too.

I still think he’s watching me sometimes.

I never saw my father again.

And that’s all I really know about it all.

I ended up in Vegas right before my sixth birthday and I haven’t left for thirty years now. But as time and space edge me closer to forty, I realize I’ve never stopped wondering where he could be now.

I can’t say I hope the Bellagio is my end all be all. But it could be worse. I’ve been working here a long time and I’m taken care of here. I’ve watched people win the world and lose it all. Gambles, fights, new beginnings, final bets. And it makes me realize, as I watch the people losing and winning, that that’s what it’s really about, really.

You play the hand you have, and you take whatever it gives you, whether you like it or now. That’s the name of the game.

Listen, I have to admit that I haven’t got a clue as to why I’m here. In Vegas. In America. I just ended up here one day with Miguel all those years ago. No idea of the life I could of had if I stayed home. No clue about the past. All I have are questions. But I’m starting to accept that there may not be answers to them.

But one answer I did get, and I do understand, is that I’m lucky.

There are some good odds, some bad. Very bad.

But all and all, it’s been a good night to play.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “The Seed” by Alexander Chee

A Eulogy For Delilah D. Doggy: Queen of the Chihuahuas (2004-2021)

Delilah (2004-2021)

By David Karp

(written on Jan 4th, 2020 and Jan 5th, 2020)

It has been a rough day.

There is one less jingle in the house. It was a relatively new collar, as she lost hers somewhere a few weeks ago on one of her chihuahua misadventures around the house.

Last night, I got to hold her for the last time. Held in my arms like a baby. I got home very late last night and I scooped her in my arms and held her close to me for a while. I had to get up early, but there was something inside me; a worry and a reflection. I stood in my hall until she started falling asleep in my arms. The silence of it all was almost deafening. The hall light shined over us and I couldn’t help but think of our time together. I gave her kisses and pet her little head.

I realized that silence was love.

If I ever have a kid, I imagine it is similar to the feeling of holding my baby close to me. Hell, she was as small as a baby. And it was so easy to love her, and for some reason it was so easy for her to love me. She had been there for every heartbreak I have ever had (I realize this now as I write it and wow) and even when I felt like I failed, no matter how much pain I sometimes found myself in, she would never hesitate to sit next to me as I cried. All my failure I felt, she kept me redeemed. 

She had been sick with dementia, loss of senses and such for awhile. She was very near to seventeen which, I am aware, is old for a dog. It turns out the vet also found a heart murmur, which now we know contributed to a joint circulation problem. She lost a lot of weight and she could barely walk. I knew this day would come. As much as I dreaded it.

Still…

I had convinced myself from the day she came into my life fifteen years ago that she was actually, and quite literally, invincible.

The crazy things love makes us think, huh?

Rock stars

The first full day we had her, I was catching the bus I took every morning to my high school towards the end of my sophomore year. I was running late getting ready and all. I caught it just in the nick of time, but it did require some running. I dashed out my front door, not looking back, and jumped through the doors of my bus as they were about to close. I was thankful for catching it, but as I walked up the steps into the seating area, I heard jingles behind me. Confused, I turned around and saw nothing behind me.

Until I looked down. 

Her black marble eyes, her orange tan fur, just staring at me as she attempted to hop her way up the stairs to follow me. I will never forget that smile on her face. And, even more, I will never forget the smile she put on my face, even when I scooped her up, went out of the bus, and met my father who had come to retrieve her.

Those eyes!

Whether it was her silly antics of her adventures in the house and in the dog park or thinking she was a bigger dog than she was with other dogs, or just the general love that she radiated, she always had that power to put a smile on my face. She was around, essentially, for my whole emotional journey.

She helped me through some rough nights. As a young kid who was developing what would be my very own battle with anxiety and depression, it was the stage where I had sometimes felt like I was drowning in my emotions. The waves of sadness, the panic attacks, the all nighters.

I’m telling you, yes I am older now and (thank God) I have a good grasp on my anxiety and depression to a point where I truly love my life. But there were dark times. And she was a light in those times. A star in a sky that seemed to have none. A breath in the bottom of a deep ocean.

She was love, personified (well, dogified, I guess). 

And I think that’s why this one hits home so much.

Action shot!

Our pets become family. They become a partner for this weird journey called life and, oftentimes, they are a beacon of hope and happiness and love, even when we or our lives feel loveless or unworthy. That is a power greater than anything I’ve seen on this earth.

There is a line from a song in the musical version of Rocky (yes, that Rocky. Judge me all you want. I love the series and I wish I could have seen the Broadway show. I quite enjoy some of the music in it) called “Fight From The Heart” that I remember hearing and it has stuck with me as I “grow up”.

“No one fights forever/I know the older I’m gettin’, the more disappears”

Those lines have been ringing in my head since she passed. I know it’s not a great way to look at things, but I’m starting to realize that there is some truth in that. Not so much the fact that she passed, but with her the era. The connection to the kid I used to be and the adult I am now. She watched me grow and learn and cope and find my own happiness. She was there for the whole fucking thing! And a lot has disappeared through this journey with her, but she was always there by my side still. 

But even with this thought in my head, there is also a hope. The same hope that she gave me that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. An optimism of life and the world around me. And every adventure, every growth, every failure or heartbreak, and every relationship, from here on out, there will be a little bit of that hope in it. That joy of life, that curiosity (Her and I were wanderers. I still am. I don’t see that changing ever), I’m so thankful for it.

Oh, how she helped me find that light in myself.

Life is not perfect. There are wins and there are losses. Good days and bad. There is a balance in this world and in our own that is a journey in itself. It’s the journey I have learned the most from. My own story is long and, at times, complicated.

The cards I dealt were the cards I had to play, and the house really likes to win. But THANK GOD one of the cards I was given was Delilah. She was one of the aces. She pushed me to win, and that card is staying with me in my heart. My lucky draw. My aces high. My winning bet.

I could write for hours. I really could.

But the world must still spin, and my journey must continue.

Delilah D. Doggy (the “legal” name I gave her when she came into my life), my little big love, my monkey, my furball, my monk-monk, my best friend, my queen of the chihuahuas, my little light, my beautiful beautiful companion: Thank you for everything and growing up beside me. Thank you for all the joy you brought to my family and friends. Thank you for chasing me for treats, playing hide and seek, watching movies next to me, going on adventures and hikes with me. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for your loyalty and your love over so many years, even when it didn’t feel deserved. You still make my heart shine a little brighter and my hope a little stronger. I smile and I cry writing this, and though I know you had to move on and that we must part for a little while, I also know you are still next to me with that jingling collar. Rest easy, rest in peace and in love, and know how missed you are in this family and in this world that is a little happier because of you.

I owe you a picnic day in Brookfield Park.

Until we meet again.

Love, 

     Dave

I love you

Questions Unanswered

Photo by David Karp

By David Karp

Her hand was sweaty as I held it tight with mine. I glanced with my peripheral at her, but she was staring straight, her brown hair whipping back gently as the automatic doors slid open.

My bike was leaning on the Rush Medical sign behind the bushes like I left it an hour ago, which I thought was a minor miracle.

The sun had started to come down, which I knew would make this place more eerie. The Medical District had a silence to it at night, like the calm before a storm. Most of the buildings looked the same, the roads were not too crowded, and, as I witnessed coming down Roosevelt, the Medical District was in the middle of nowhere. If you stood in a certain part of the district, or had access to any high rises and looked east, you could see downtown Chicago and think you were in a suburb. And there were empty lots after empty lots. Rush was bound to expand it’s already large hospital campus at some point. More buildings, maybe some places to eat. But, for now, it was just lots.

When I got the call and she gave me the address, it took me a good twenty minutes once I got there to find the actual building itself as I turned into the campus from Roosevelt.

It was a trek from Lincoln Park. But a necessary one, nonetheless.

We got to the edge of the road and we turned to each other.

The only thing that changed in those five months were her eyes. They were still beautiful; the brown was shining as bright as a stallion in the sunlight. But under her eyes, you could see the tiredness in the circles. She didn’t look sad, but worried. Who knows, that worry may have been building up for years, for all I knew. She was full of secrets. 

The kiss on my lips took me by surprise, but I did not shutter.

“I can’t believe you came.”

I wonder if she saw it in my eyes, that I still loved her.

“How could I not?” I replied after a second or two.

She took my hand.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions.”

A lot of questions was an understatement. I had a bible’s worth of questions. I wanted to scream and I wanted to cry. Pull my hair out and then hold her tight. I felt like an angel and a demon were fighting over my soul, and all that kept getting shaken out of me were more questions. Yes, my soul was being shaken and shaken and the only thing oozing out of it from time to time were more questions. Five months of radio silence from someone who said they loved you back would do that to you, surely she would understand my confusion. If I burst into flames and the trumpets of heaven sounded as loud as the ambulance I’m sure she arrived here in, surely she would understand.

But I needed to keep calm. If not for my sake, for hers.

“Yeah, I’ve got a few.” I replied, as cool as the autumn breeze.

Another kiss.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, ok? I’ll tell you everything. I promise.”

I couldn’t help but squint a little in my doubt.

“Kay, the last time you told me that, you disappeared for five months.”

“I know, I know,” she replied, grabbing my other hand and holding tighter, “I want to explain myself as much as I can to you.”

She paused, looking out into the dying sunlight in the west coming from behind another building next to another empty lot.

“And for the record, I’m so sorry. You didn’t deserve that. You don’t deserve any of this.”

At that point, I didn’t know what I deserved. But I had been shaken so much, I felt like I deserved answers. I could feel the tipping point in me, leaking into my brain and giving me a headache and making my heart beat.

“Tomorrow? You promise?”

“Yes.”

“And it can’t be now.”

“Mark…”

Shit.

“I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but I mean, is this it? I get back on my bike and ride back north and you get into your sisters car and go south. We go our separate ways. Me with questions, and you with answers. Is that what’s gonna happen here?”

“Mark, please…”

I retreated my hands.

“What am I supposed to do, Kay? How do you expect my curiosity to be silent? I can’t. I have too many questions.”

She put her head down in thought. I watched as her brown hair swayed with the wind of the coming night. The jeans jacket always kept her warm, even in the harshest falls. And I swear, all I wanted was answers. All I wanted is to see her smile again. But I had a feeling it would be awhile before we got back to the days of museum dates and late night drives on Lake Shore.

She slowly took her hands into mine again. I let her.

She looked back up at me with those brown eyes.

“Mark. I need you to trust me.”

“But…:”
“I know you want answers. I do. And you deserve them. And you WILL get them. I have a lot to tell you tomorrow.”

I just kept looking at her, taking in her words. I saw her eyes growing a little worried now.

“But, Mark. It’s a very complicated situation.”

“Ok…”

“And I don’t want you anywhere near it.”

“Near what?”

“Let’s talk tomorrow. I promise. And I won’t run out of your life again, I promise that too. I just need a little more time so I can get things back to normal in my life.”

I looked at her confused; confounded not at her, but this situation I knew nothing about.

Still, looking at her and my mind racing like stills in a movie, I couldn’t help feel anything but helpless.

“Things were getting so good…”

“I know.” she said, and held me close to her. She was still warm. She was always warm.

“And they will get better again…but what I need from you now is my trust. Is that ok?”

I looked at her, trying to hold back tears. 

“I love you, Mark. Please trust me.”

I had no trust in my gut instincts when I was younger. I had no intuition of anything. My motives were emotional, not logic. But, as I get older, I realize that they are not very different. You realize they are married; in an abusive marriage that resides inside your head. Now I understand instincts and intuition. I have lived through both trials and tribulations in my life. I have the better of them. I can control them, and oftentimes I listen to them and they do not fail me.

But sometimes, even I falter.

Even I fail.

“Ok.” I said, with as much fake confidence as I could. 

Another kiss. This one salty from a tear that escaped her and fell down to her lips.

“Ok. Until tomorrow then.”

We held each other for another minute, it seemed like.

Then, we let each other go, looked at each other for a few seconds, and then I was the first one to turn away, out of fear probably.

I heard her footsteps behind me as I reached my bike. As I turned my head around again to see her walking, she had already disappeared. Turned a corner or got into a car or evaporated into the night sky itself. Nothing would surprise me, at this point.

I picked up my bike, brought it to the road, and biked down that same lonely side street I came up on, only now it was more dark. More menacing.

I caught the green light and turned East onto Roosevelt, peddling slowly on my long journey home.

It only took about two blocks until I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and my thoughts and questions turned to tears. I could feel them blowing off my cheek in the wind.

The road was very empty.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “Two People Come Out Of A Building And Into A Story” by Alice Mattison

The Making/Rambling of “Lasciare Andare” (Part 1)

Where the ruins meet the streets. Taken by me during my time in Rome 10 years ago

By David Karp

Today I read some of the thirty-four page short story I wrote over quarantine for the first time in a while. It got me excited to get back into and and work on the final draft for a couple of reasons.

I’m starting to feel ready to go back into that world. Rome. Roma. The main character, Roger, is very much grounded but grounded in a world that could be half real and half fantasy. We never really know. I think the only person who would know is Roger himself.

This was an important feeling to capture in the story.

Why? Because it was the same feeling I had for most of my trip to Rome ten years ago. 

A lot of aspects of the story are based in fiction. But there are some that are not.

The setting of the story, in and around Rome, is one of those things that was real, and it was something I knew I had to capture in it.

One of my favorite pics of the Colosseum that I took.

The whole time I wrote the first draft, I did everything in my power to immerse myself into the piece and into the world. I watched Italian film. I learned and cooked Italian recipes. I listened to Italian instrumental music when I wrote (much like I am doing now). I find that I write better when I allow myself to be immersed in a world.

I gotta say, the movie “Roman Holiday” was one of my favorites in that time of writing. The emotion, the setting, the characters and dialogue, the story. It was perfect for what I was writing. It inspired me to keep going to tell my own story, which is probably why it turned out as long as it did.

The story is called “Lasciare Andare”, which means “To let go.” A proper title for the theme of the piece. It was also proper to how I was feeling at the time during quarantine. I was on the brink of turning thirty when I finished the story (literally, I believe I finished the first draft the day before) and, being stuck at home and being who I am, one thinks. Hard. And my twenties, let alone the past two years, were something I was deeply reflecting on.

This got hard at times.

But I made a friend in Roger as I wrote of his own adventures, both outer and inner, and we bonded on the streets of Rome. He understood me. It was quite nice to have amidst a global pandemic that keeps you caged up in the confines of your own walls (both inner and outer, hehe.)

My time in Italy ten years ago was an essential and important part of my twenties. I learned how much I loved seeing what there was to offer in other parts of the world. I met so many people (characters, too) that brought me to a place of mysticism and love of life and people; a high I have yet to come down from.

Wasn’t I so photogenic back then? Me somewhere in the Roman Forums

Anyway, I’m rambling. It’s been a long, introspective day. Well, that and way too long a nap which will probably keep me up for awhile. Oh well, I have to catch up on my reading.

Well, folks. I’ll probably talk more about this short story as we go on with this blog on some other Monday. There is a lot to it. But of course, I am going to try to refrain from spoiling anything. But I thought I would let you in on the story that this blog is fueling.

Until next time.

I miss you, Rome.

Are There Even Llamas In Arizona?!

Dug up this masterpiece: my Christmas present to you!

By David Karp

Dear R-

Leo’s getting big, and his prancing around our ranch on Christmastime is getting more and more destructive by the year.

Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I never knew llamas could tell when it was Christmastime, by the way. Well, maybe it’s just Leo. But once he sees us putting up the Christmas tree, it’s like a lightbulb lights up in his head. He puffs up his brown furred chest and jumps around the field out back and knocks over everything in his way. It took me an hour to clean up all the old charcoal from Sofia’s flower beds last week.

I remember when Leo was just a little thing and a little less intrusive. I’ll never forget the look on Sophia’s face when I brought home “A LLAMA”, in her words. I don’t think I’ve seen my daughter so happy in her entire life! Not even in Disneyland, and we take that trip every season just for her! 

But it’s mostly for her, to be honest. When Josephine or I have to travel for work and only one of us is at home with Sophia, Leo becomes someone else to have around. Her imagination flows and flows (much like mine when we were younger, believe me. She is very much my daughter when it comes to that). It gives her a little protection in the world in her head. Whenever she is sad, we take Leo for a walk on the paths around the ranch, and it always seems to cheer her up. Hell, it cheers me up too! I mean, it’s a fucking llama!

This thing is full brown fur, nothing else. Beautiful black…uh…hoofs? He always looks like he is in a state of shock with his wide eyes that never seem to blink. Alas, he is never scared or mean. In fact, he loves everyone who comes to the ranch. He met my in-laws for the first time and, I swear, they like him more than me! Rat bastard! Oh well. Can’t exactly return him. I just drove past the breeding farm we got him at just north up 17 in Black Canyon City with Josephine last week. Closed for GOOD. Didn’t survive the pandemic two years ago.

Wow, has it already been two years? Fucking time flies, man.

Josephine has been enjoying Leo’s company just as much as my daughter. She’s been trying to get him to jump. She’ll hold out some carrots and  have him chase her with a hop over this pipe that’s sticking out of the corner of the field. Only goes up to our knees, so not a big deal for her. But Leo? Won’t be caught dead jumping over it. Flocks right on by with that llama smugness; head up in disapproval!

Oh well. Guess you can’t teach an old llama new tricks. Or I guess a new llama old tricks. Who knows. He knows how to spit though! I’ve caught a few lugies from the bastard. Sofia laughs every time without fail.

Oh, and you’ll like this. We don’t really have a dog house for llamas so he sleeps next to the Solara in the garage. I didn’t pick it! I used to leave him on a long rope in the field. But one night a month or so back, I see he nibbled right through the damn thing and when I went to the car to get ready to look for him, he was sitting right there next to it, whistling with every breath he took in his slumber. Now he wanders in there for every nap so I just let him do it. And yes, the Solara is still running.

So when are you gonna get your ass out here and visit us? Finally meet Sophia. And this llama too, I suppose.

I think you would agree with Josephine. This llama is the perfect pet for me. Remember when we’d always joke about me ending up with a llama one day? I can hear you laughing even as I write this. Looks like it all came full circle.

And I suppose that makes you Leo’s uncle, ay?

You’d like him. He’s a cheeky bastard, but then again, so am I. 

Miss ya, man. Life is good out here. Hope it’s a sunny Christmastime over there in Miami! One of these days, we’ll have to get together Christmas week somewhere and go out drinking on Christmas Eve like we used to, llama jokes and all.

This time, with our families along for the ride. Never thought I’d say that.

Time flies.

Then again, never thought I’d actually own a llama so hey, I guess anything can happen!

Merry Christmas brother!

Always,

D-

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “My Pet” by Alison Lurie

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YA!!!!!! PEACE AND LOVE- David Karp

Love, Emma…

By David Karp

I jolt upright from the rush of my own blood and the rapid beating of my own heart. The light is dim, mimicking the sunset that ended an hour ago. The T.V. is playing some sort of crime show. The volume is on it’s lowest. The only thing I could really hear was a ticking, quick but harsh, from the clock across the room with it’s wide face staring me down.

It’s been like this for a few weeks now. Sleep, work, hide in my living room, repeat. Sleep, work, hide in my living room, repeat…

…living in the quiet.

“What was it?” I think to myself as I try to dig in my mind for the dream that woke me so violently and loud, as if someone was screaming in my own ear.

I lick my lips a couple times as I come to, trying to wash the nerves and the silent screams from my mouth. But it’s dry. Not desert dry, but long slumber dry.

My eyes sweep the silent room with it’s smoker’s teeth yellow walls and it’s dim dance of the light.

And then my eyes travel to the ledge of the fireplace that hasn’t been used once. Amidst a couple pictures of me and my mother and a few knick-knacks from places I’ve traveled to (a sea shell from key west, an pivo bottle from Prague, etc), my eyes fall to the birthday card.

I still didn’t get rid of it.

My mind told me to do my daily reading, my sad sadistic nightly ritual.

“Quite sad,” I said to myself right as I realized that I had already made my way across the room to the mantle.

It shines it’s shiny gold layer like rough glitter over a slab of thin cardboard, like a light stuck in time from those better days. 

For some reason, every time I go and read it, I open it quite slowly. Like in sync with the quiet around me, as to not wake anyone in the room. Though of course I was alone every time.

When I open it, I see the purple penned handwritten note.

The word “love” is written in it twelve times, which was just enough for me to believe it. Especially the ending.

“Love, Emma”

She grabbed me right as I had finished reading it and kissed me softly on the lips.

“I love you. You know that, right?”

The sun made its final peek over the breezy Malibu beach as I listened to a flock of seagulls flying overhead, without a word, towards the darker side of the sun. 

An car shot through like lightning on the pavement, but it was very occasional at best. Even Neptune’s Net was empty for a Thursday night. A couple cars and a group of Harley’s in the parking lot, but this still left most of the lot sad and lonely, despite the shine of its white and red neon sign welcoming in all of the highway.

The waves crashed gently, rushing with the beat of my heart; the same way it did everytime she said she loved me.

Because I loved her back, with every beat of my heart, louder than any crashing waves and deeper than any ocean could go. 

And that made me hesitate, and she picked it up quickly.

She looked at me for a few seconds, with some sort of pain in her eyes, took a breathe, and asked me if I remembered the Christmas card she gave me last Christmas, the first card she ever gave me. It was red and green, with Mickey and Minnie decorating a Christmas tree. In that same purple pen, she put my name under Mickey and her name under Minnie. She bought me a Christmas tree that year to go along with it; my FIRST Christmas tree, something I never had growing up. My mother was atheist, and with good reason after the cancer took my father. She never really recovered from that cold stretch of dark days. And it never hits you as a kid (I was seven). But when you get older and older, it seems to sneak up on ya like an earthquake. And it shakes you awake and destroys what it can.

“I do.” I tell her. “I still have it.”

“Remember when you told me that you had to read it every day for a month to believe the words in it?”

The breeze suddenly felt a bit colder as doubt, that bastard of a side effect to my anxiety, entered my heavy thoughts. That same doubt I remembered feeling that Christmas night, like a shot of adrenaline that made everything more quiet than it already was. The one I had to deal with all my life.

And for some reason, “Love” was the hardest word to read for me. It still felt like cursing in a church. It just never happened because it wasn’t supposed to. It went against your foolish beliefs.

So yes, I remembered. And yes, I did read that card over and over. Especially “Love, Emma”. When she left that night, I brought the Christmas card back to my apartment, sat at the chair that overlooked Howard Hughes Boulevard, and read it over about ten times in the light of the nightlife below me. My heart felt something new and strange that put a then-rare smile to my face. I read it so much, my eyes starting tearing up as I processed something I had been waiting for my whole life.

I looked out the window. Culver City shined bright back at me. 

She pulled me back to the reality of the nighttime on the beach, and gave me another soft kiss.

“Promise me you’ll only have to read it once to believe me.”

I looked her right in the eyes, stuck in the quiet of honesty.

“Alright, MAYBE twice.” she said, with the soft breezy chuckle that did things to my heart nothing else did.

A gust of wind beckoned me, and within my silence, I smiled at her and nodded.

I knew tears wanted to come, but before they could, I got up and took her soft hand, telling her to follow me with my smile.

I let the wind guide me to the edge of the ocean.

“Come on.”
“Are you nuts?! It’s gonna be so cold.”

I started humming a tune I had heard on the radio on the way here and we chuckled our way into a waltz, whether she liked it or not. I knew from her laugh that, despite her not wanting to get her feet wet, she would go along with my foolish antics so long as we were together.

So long as we were together. And we were together. Deeper than reality. Another moment of happiness for my soul. It was getting easier. And as we danced, the water that wasn’t cold enough to make us scream touched our ankles. I looked up to the night sky, with all it’s darkness and mystery, and I held her close. And after taking a deep breath of the cool summer ocean breeze, I prayed, with all my doubt. 

That doubt that leads to honesty, whether we like it or not.

“Thank God this is getting easier.” I said to myself, towards the night sky.

I looked at her and with that honestly, I said “I love you” to her with all the songs in my heart, letting the adrenaline of happiness carry me into the night.

“Love, Emma.” I read.

I hadn’t noticed the T.V. had lost its signal. 

I let the words on the ink carry me to a few tears.

Of course I broke my promise. I’ve read the card every night for the past month and a half, trying to find the honesty in the words.

Normally, I would tear up more, go back to the couch, get the signal back on the TV and eventually drift into sleep in the prison walls of my living room; no sunlight required.

But then I remember that she too broke her promise.

And I tried so hard to believe it back then, but she got in her car and drove down the PCH towards Los Angeles until she disappeared into the night.

And the night ate her up. And she never returned. For all I know, she could still be out there somewhere. But she made up her mind, and I had no choice but to say OK to it.

And you know, whatever the dream was that woke me up this time…I realize tonight that I’m starting to accept those too. The dreams. Manifests of my overworked “what-if” scenarios, I’m sure. But I was sweating less this time.

Time is long, but it does heal, even if it is a lifetime.

It sure felt like a lifetime.

All of a sudden, the lights from the window seemed to shine a little brighter. It actually got a smile out of me.

I turn to the card one last time and read “Love, Emma”, and I close it gently, placing it back down on the mantle, but not upright.

I walk to my window and take in the city. Bright. If you can’t find the stars in the sky, at least you can find the city lights.

I think I’m gonna try and remember that more often.

Something in me feels a little lighter now, and my eyes widen.

Those first moments of moving on are such a high.

I grab the only light jacket I own from the hallway closet, and make my way back to the mantle. Looking at the card, laying on it’s side, tired from all it’s nighttime readings, I reach for it and put it in my wide jacket pockets.

As I head towards the door, I open my phone and turn on my GPS.

The traffic isn’t bad, the night isn’t too cold, and I could make it to Malibu in less than an hour if I took Ocean Park Boulevard instead of the 10.

~~~~~

Writing Exercise: “Through The Senses” by Robert Olen Butler