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.”


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.”


“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.”


“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.


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.



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?”


“And it can’t be now.”



“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.”

“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.”


“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!




Writing Exercise: “My Pet” by Alison Lurie


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

“So This Is It, Huh?”

By David Karp

Vintage Wedding Photo. (n.d.). [Photograph]. https://Www.Publicdomainpictures.Net.

After an hour or so of reminiscing, she followed his gaze as he looked out the window. He had a clear view of the road from the booth they were sitting in with its peeling red leather. The streetlights, shining their bloodied pink hue, led further on into the distance until there was just the darkness of a South Jersey country road. No stars. No moon. Just lines on the road until there weren’t any.

They had come to this exact diner the night before their wedding ten years ago. They were all nerves in their twenty year old bodies back then, so he had suggested they jump into his white Plymouth Fury with a dent on the side and many miles old and go for a long drive.

They drove down the turnpike in a night just as dark. They drove and they drove until they felt as if they were in another world and stumbled onto that very diner beside a country road they didn’t even know they had turned onto.

The truth is they never really wanted a wedding. It was their parents who wanted it (and hers paying for it, as his family couldn’t afford something as extravagant as her family seemed to want. And yes, this did make a riff between the families. Not as extreme as the Capulets and the Montagues, but it didn’t seem too far from their reality either.) They didn’t want the fanfare. They didn’t want the attention. They didn’t want the money and the gifts. They just wanted to be together. She had even thought of hiding the fact of their intent to get married from her parents, but he insisted over and over to be honest. 

He didn’t necessarily regret it, but…


She handed him a photo. He turned it over to look at it.

“Oh, wow.” His eyes lit up. “I thought this would be ashes.”

“They found it the day after and they looked just as amazed as you do.”

He looked at her white dress, flowing on her body like ocean waves in the summertime. Her brunette hair matching her brown eyes; the eyes he so loved looking into.

“I must say, you always looked good in that suit.”

“Really?” He looked at the grey suit hugging his body in the photo, but maybe not perfectly fitted. It had been his father’s wedding suit. He remembered the black tie clenching his throat just a little too tight. But he lived to tell the tale without suffocating.

He then looked at her eyes in the photo and then his own.

“I don’t know,” he said, “we don’t exactly look like we want to be there.”

“That’s because we didn’t, stupid.”

They both laughed, with heart. And they looked into each other’s eyes with a smile.

Her eyes glanced at her silver watch and she noticed the time. Almost midnight. His laughter faded just a bit, but hers had turned into a frown.

“I kinda wish we didn’t have to be here. Like this.” she said softly and sad.

His laughter made a full stop.

“I know.”

“CLOSING UP IN A FEW MINUTES, KIDS” said the waitress from behind the silver counter across the room as she was polishing some of the coffee mugs until the neon lights above made the shine on them that she liked.

His eyes wandered out the window and down the road again. Darkness. That’s all.

And in the silence, as his mind started its unwanted daydreaming again of the world after this moment, she took his hands and held them. A bit surprised, he turned to her and saw both the sadness and the sympathy in her eyes, and it kept him warm, even if his heart was still shivering and his head was still lost somewhere down the road.

“I think it’s time to head out.” she said, smiling as bright as she could.

He turned his eyes once more towards the road, took a deep breath, and responded. “Alright.”

After putting enough cash to cover the meal and a generous tip, they slid out of the booths and walked towards the exit, the waitress too fixated on her task until they were too far out the door to say goodbye.

They stopped in the middle of the parking lot and stood there facing each other.

“Can I keep this?” he said, holding up the wedding photo.

“Of course.”


He put it in his jeans jacket pocket.

“Do you think we’ll make the news?” she asked, a nervous adrenaline in her voice. 

He shrugged and looked up into the dark night.

“Alright.” she said, getting her keys out of her pocket and handing them to him.

“Alright.” he replied, smiling as he took them.

And as she turned to walk away, he asked: “So this is it, huh?”

She turned back and really looked into his brown eyes. She wanted to remember them; the ones she had stared into so many times for the last decade.

For the last lifetime.

Until death…

“See you on the other side.” The only words she could find. And with a smile, she turned and walked away, towards the road.

Towards the darkness.

He watched her pass under every traffic light. A gust of wind crept steadily past him, feeling colder than it really was. He heard the lock of the diner door behind him, but it felt like it was coming from miles and miles away as he retreated into his head.

She looked so beautiful in the night.

Eventually, she slipped away into the darkness.


Writing Exercise: “Wedding Pictures” by Jayne Anne Phillips