Chapter 10625

Afternoon austerity had my nostrils flinching at Cable's nearby dangling, lit cigarette. Not an appealing smell even during the years spent enslaved by it. He noticed my side glare and held out a gnarled blue little cardboard container. Different design on it than before, but I still recognized and recoiled.

"Yeah," he guessed. Then turned the enlarged emblem of his choice brand -- a silver, coat-of-arms style lion -- toward his squinting face. "They changed the box. Same thing, though. Want one?"

"I really don't."

But remained outside still. Stood and shook in jacketless solidarity beneath rolling grey skyhills that twitched kinetic lines and edges. A plowed and planted field wet with electrified rivulets. Flowing over the dome in waves like scrubbing bubbles, the foam imminently collecting, frothing over, and falling in frozen flakes or icy drops. Sleet and smoke cast down from cloud volcanoes.

"You don't want to be here at all, do you?" Cable asked as if for the first time. 

But it could've been the second time and he and I both forgot. That's what happens when you phone it in, drugs or no. Wanting out of a stuck situation breeds unnecessary strife, the resistance only enhancing inescapable pains and woes. Knowing this doesn't automatically instill patient practice, though. 

Regardless, people had asked this exact question of me many times now, throughout my lives. So maybe it no longer mattered who or when or where again. The answer apparently wouldn't change.

I chortled defensively, "It just depends."

A plume of smoke fled the corner of Cable's mouth. "On?" he asked.

"What you mean by 'here,'" I said. "I'm fine with where I am physically and geographically. I'm just not into the season or the reason. Don't think I have to be."

More silent drags of dusty air. Then a sigh. "Let me guess, you gotta leave early?"

"No," I laughed. "I'll stick around until the end."

He nodded.

"Today," I added.

Eyebrow.

"Because I'll be leaving for a lot longer, soon enough."

"Right," he sighed. Then whispered, "But wait a minute..." as he tried another thought, then he trailed off and stared out the garage in a way that begged, "well, would you look at that?"

A woman approached from the cross-fit gym next door, pulled along by a chord attached to a small pit bull. Shorts so short that a hundred percent of the young woman's legs were visible below bright orange spandex. A cardigan hung loosely over white tank. Her entrance into our midst took several seconds of download and install of impromptu software before we could even blink. This moment known in most role-playing, open world games as a random event. Cable and I closed and opened our eyelids at a previously objectified non-player, who had the apparent agency to initiate contact after all. And more importantly hadn't been dissuaded by our male gaze.

"She likes to say 'hi' to people," said the tiny woman. Blinking behind large circular lenses and yellow-orange freckles. She let the rope tug at her taught wrist, and held ground on out-swung pelvis. The gawking guys before her were easily a foot taller and broader each, but with hanging mouths and idle hands. Swaying speechless a moment until finished processing that she meant the dog.

Then I said, "Oh. Hi!"

"Aw, what's her name!?" Cable cooed a cue, and I squatted to the level of the animal in question.

It was named something cute and four lettered. Just like the dog I'd see later that night -- also a pit -- at the girlfriend's place. Spaced out while Cable gushed, introduced us, and praised the pet. He asked the girl about herself while I remained silent and tried not to listen.

The pit's ears were clipped. Looked up during the monotony of Cable's schmooze to absorb optically this particular female form again, but much closer. A bouncy and nervous girl in round, wire-framed glasses and a mousy face like an assistant librarian. But on the frame of a boxer. A swift and sturdy pupil equipped with darting and alive, glass-encased pupils. Tried terribly not to stare below her tight neck when finally acknowledging her glances.

"Her ears," I said. Looked into the girl's blinking orbs just once as I asked, "she's a rescue?"
Affirmative. Pale and distant mist shone silvery behind those flimsy portholes. Glints of distant fish swam in a shallow but expansive sea meant for vast and intermittent exploration by some obsessed sailor. A whole universe far outside the many I'd already thinly spread my current life across. 

"That's a good save," I decided. Resumed standing and added, "She's really sweet."

"The shelter I got her from was mostly Pits," the girl lamented. "People don't want them because they're seen as too aggressive -- but it's not true. She's the sweetest!"

"It's a shame," I agreed. "It's one of those prejudices that accentuates the problem. People regurgitate what they heard and not what they experienced."

"I actually had another dog picked out, but blah blah. Blah blah..." The girl shrugged.

My body backpedaled automatic into the garage so I could busy myself with a broom and some debris on the ground. Swept into a pan as Cable petted the pet, too. The little mutt much appreciated our touches but got bored snuffling at stone, metal, and plastic. Meandered toward outside as the conversation died.

Cable called as they left, "Bring her by any time. We love dogs."

"All animals," I concurred.

The girl waved and trotted 'round the truck toward the gym. Went to focus on something else, but took a peek at the last second to see if she would look over shoulder before walking through the door. And she did. To the delight and chagrin of my childish supervisor.

He strafed sideways inside the garage, back and forth grinning. "What up!" Not asked, exclaimed.

Punctuated by a socked shoulder. "You know that was for you."

"Sure."

He laughed, "No, seriously."

"I believe you." But laughed, too, and shook my head. "Not being cocky -- I'm used to women taking the initiative. Especially when I'm not available or interested."

"What?" Cable expressed exacerbation with his whole body, arms out and knees bent. "She stuck it right out there for you."

"What do you mean?"

"IT!"

"Oh," another shake and grin. "I didn't notice that and it doesn't matter."

"Because you already got a girl?" Cable bobbled, defeated. Married, sober, and envious of the wrong things. "Your girl wouldn't ever have to know. That was silver platter the way miss cross-fit just stood at you," and he did a little thrust. "I'm talkin' camel."

"Stop," I requested.

Drag, puff. "Toe," he insisted.

Sign. 

Silence. 

Then, "I'm reserved to being polyamorous throughout my life, at separate times. Sporadic and temporary monogamy."

He raised so much brow the sunglasses atop his head slid free, letting down dishwater blond hair in spiky mats. Unshowered and sweated in, but the replaced glasses tucked it glistening out of view and cool. 

"I'm never going so far as to pledge my life to someone in marriage -- no offense," I continued. "That way my relationships will be held to a realistic standard and duration, dotted with constant character arcs and plot thickening opportunities for both involved. Neither partner confused as a possession nor dependent on the other. Not obligation as much as alignment."

Further contemplation. Then, finally. "The difference between buying and renting."

"Well, we aren't talking real estate," I chuckled to keep the white knight out of my know-it-all voice.

"But, sure. Symbiotic, mutual self interest is the main thing. Not unrealistic promises."

"Been so long for me," he blabbed. "I just want a studio in the city sometimes."

"Like, back when you had that studio in the city?"

"Yeah."

"Onward and upward," was all I could conceive to cliche.

Couldn't bring myself to explicitly dissuade or encourage a mistress. Not a placement I planned to ever be in, so the conundrum made no sense. Built already on too many problematic notions. Unless a promise has purpose outside the egos involved, there seems to me no reason for institutionalized human attachments. 

It's a handcuffing of appendages that're already especially adept at holding onto one another.

Numbly and dumbly we strutted about the garage afterward, attempting various neglected housekeeping, equipment tinkerings, and opportunistic revamping of the fung shui. Occasionally I'd stop what I was doing to lend him a hand at his task, and vice versa. Swung a hammer at things; washed and re-assembled gadgets; and swept, trashed, cleared off racks for more storage. Organized supplies and scrubbed the concrete floor mindlessly until Cable tapped my arm, snapping me out of a teeth-grinding trance.

Laughed. Fasted through lunch to propel the day forward. Hours elapsed.

...

Cable listed for the third time a stream of maintenance and landscaping issues on par for tomorrow. Snow rumored for afternoon meant we'd be in later to salt and shovel.

"If I can come in at all," I jabbed.

Cable blinked.

"We're looking at a house in the morning," I revealed. 

"You and your girl?"

"Yeah... You can call her 'Nik' if it helps flesh her out more." Said slightly quiet, then stretched and belched. "So, afternoon works. If I'm needed at all, I mean. She'll have to bring me back here because I don't wanna take the truck if I'm not coming to work, obviously..."

"Well, I know I'll need you to move that table at least," Cable blurted.

"I'll take it in case," I said and pointed at the darkest part of the sky. Swirls forming.

The day drained out, faded. Air stilled as might precede a flurry of meteorological activity and/or temperature change. A flash of rain to clear out humidity. Ditched the plan to drive across town to her parent's house and went to my own home instead, a dorm style, where my mattress and blankets were cold, and I slept below ground, constantly confronted with the wrong kind of alone. Noise in the kitchen at two in the morning. Work rarely done in my lair there, because complain. And excuse. 

Almost always returned to sleep once arrived at my room, which didn't promote progress. But it's just so much closer to work, which drains enough to keep my leash short.

Hid in my cave until -- at the brink of hibernation, Nik came over and retrieved me. Kidnapped, more like. Nicked in the night. But alright. Maybe she'd saved me. We'd agreed to apartment search the next morning or it might be bust between us because what we each needed then, from anyone -- lover or friend, was a consistent loyalty and teamwork of sorts. Someone to grab onto or lean against while ascending the depths of debt, despair, or divorce. Just for example.

Our combined resources could prove enough to cut a swath of solitude and semi-independence. Perhaps a tiny two bedroom that allowed pets and had a back porch. And a garage. Climbable trees in a fenced yard. These specifics had us looking a while, but finally she'd arranged to view a place meeting our price range.

We got back to her lonesome and huddled room to cuddle, sleep, and spoon. Watched a little mindless television between commercial breaks, exchanging daily happenings, opinions, and plans. Unpacked and decompressed spirits allowed our bodies to rest fearless, dreaming. 

 

Chapter 10626
  
Donned the pink robe to traverse a shared hall, stairs, landing, more stairs to the lesser used and farther away porcelain throne set behind a solid basement door. Beside the warm and burbling laundry room. Beneath the quiet, clean kitchen.

A very parent's house.

Did imaginary maracas as I sat and contemplated the level ahead. Momentum of overactivity bringing fruition to half plans. Erratic bursts of headlong running toward downhill horizons had ensured a certain footpath as long as equilibrium kept. Help me maintain balance, I prayed.

Hadn't called work, but wouldn't and would face no repercussions because perhaps my assistance meant more than I'd previously realized. A repeat lesson to grind in the sentiment, I guess. I've been told often and in various ways not to fight what the universe provides, even if and when it antagonizes my own selfish ideas. Like the give and take of community, relationships, and society. Although I much prefer to be alone, independent, and natural --building an island, a collective, or an initiative which evolves mankind requires collaboration and people. Purpose and participants.

Subsequent human and humane limits to our infinite faculties as to cultivate universal kingdoms of creative inclusion, instead of hivemind empires -- appears to still be in the adjustment period. Results pending. The key being smaller communities with more overlap, perhaps. Less absolute power. Fewer world news items. The explosion of global connectivity and tech came so exponentially it blew out mankind's expectations and stutter-stopped adaptation. Sending microcosms spiraling unready into the macro. Children who're not even raised by the village have access to a global stage, millions of channels. 

But alas, chaos has in the past created and transformed universes. The apocalypse merely a sandbox-scaled chemical reaction. Diet coke and mentos. Combination via destruction.

Atomic structures share electrons to form complex molecules in much the same way as cultural melting pots are mixed automatically by the invariable, and extremely social, homo sapien. Perpetual motion of physical expression in circles and spirals propel this never-ending game forever onward, both on cellular and ecological levels. All of matter in a slow transition. Progressing toward an eventual end, if any exist. 

There must be a limit to this expansive map, but as it stands most can't or won't even explore locally, let alone nationally. The worldwide web perceived somehow as the global picture, as all truth. No need to leave home to find all the answers anymore. Multitudes tripping over themselves in the streets, pushing each other just to scurry back to boxes stacked side-by-side and on top of each other, merely remaining. Imprisoned. Shoving for fattened survival in concentrated areas, tripping over trash.

Stood to wipe.

Flush!

...

After second breakfast, drove out to meet whoever showed the house. Maybe he was called Kevin. Nik had told me his name earlier when complaining about his inattentiveness, and ironically I'd not listened. Unprepared and out of my element for this particular step of the presupposed secular ladder. The understood next step in a romantic relationship.

Never lived with a girlfriend before.

"Maybe he manages a lot of properties?" I suggested.

But she persisted the case for his ineptitude by showing their text and call history. There were short and abbreviated responses for about every four blocks of texts sent. No returned calls. A couple received.

Ten or so missed. Over the course of four days.

"Oh," I groaned. "Maybe he doesn't want to rent the place to us."

"Doesn't look like it's been a priority."

I nodded.

"Turn here," she dictated, monitoring the route on her phone.

The road dipped at the intersection and into a valley, the tops of distant trees disappearing from view as we followed the original route of many a westward trail into old woods, passing soggy houses and disgruntled apartments until a clearing opened on our left. Some sort of square-shaped estate with a three or four story red brick manor at its small center. The pitched roof and plate glass windows made all kinds of faces at us.

"What is that!?" I implored her. "Some kind of manor?"

"Oh," she noticed it. "The Vaile Mansion. We went there on a field trip once, in middle school."

"For what?"

"I don't remember."

"Is it haunted?"

"No."

"No? Or, you don't remember."

"It isn't haunted," she decided with a quick glance at it.

"I wanna explore it."

"They do tours during the day..."

"No, no, no. After hours."

"It's not haunted!" She sat forward and added, "turn here."

Hung it and craned my neck out the window to take in as much of the strange landmark as possible.

Classically, it had white storm doors around the side. Multiple alternate entrances besides the stone steps, double wooden doors out front. Arches and pillars all etched and sharp. A spiral staircase no doubt led to the top tower where a nearly all-windowed room waited. Barely disguised hatches had been hung in the green roof and where a door had once been, leading off the second floor into nothing. The place would prove to be a claustrophobic maze inside, which both thrilled and terrified.

Not much farther and we rounded onto Pleasant. Pulled past a brown block smaller than the rest on our left, and knew it immediately.

"Let's hope this isn't too good to be true," I muttered.

"Well, he isn't here yet."

But we parked and got out to feel the air. It had a light moisture to it although the sun had been out most of the morning. Not warm, cold, or windy. The large trees beside the drive, in front of the house, and out back would become so overgrown during the summer as to obscure our place completely.

"I can't wait for all this to grow in," she motioned at the bony, outstretched arms of the trees in back.

"Are you sure you wanna mow this?"

Dead grass along the dilapidated back corner of the fenceline seemed to have never been cut. As if the first hint of spring would set it ablaze with ravenous growth. The trees, too, had an overabundance of branches. Moss and ivy already covered much of their trunks. Everything else still rested dormant.

"Did you ever read that Goosebumps book about the killer topiary?" I asked her.

"Maybe," she shrugged. "I had all of them at one point."

"They run together after a while, but the first one I ever read was about those animal-shaped bushes -- like in fancy gardens -- coming to life at night."

"Mhm."

"These trees kinda remind me of that."

"Thanks," she sighed. "I'm more worried about the inside..." And we both peered in through a smudged window. Darkness. "It's cute on the outside. And this deck is perfect."

"I like that it's barely a foot off the ground," and I hung a shoe over the edge, dipping to the grass. "Feels like a dock."

Kevin pulled up and let us finally inside (although he was only ten minutes late), and we did a single file into each of the four or five rooms, then the basement. It took less than three minutes to see the whole place. It had not been properly cleaned since the last tenants vacated, but Kevin promised they would have it done professionally.

The biggest draws for me were the walls, roof, and prospect of no longer sharing space with more than one other person, at most. An abode separated from outward influence and detractors, but nothing so complex or expensive. Just a simple respawn, checkpoint for two haywire human vectors to connect and eject from.

"Seems fine to me," I whispered to her.

"Where's the dishwasher?" she asked. "There was a dishwasher in the photos online, but I can't find the listing anymore..." Nik showed Kevin her phone. The property had been removed, but she had screenshots of the original pictures.

"We'll get a dishwasher in there."

"Okay, but how do we apply now that the listing is gone?"

"You know, they're probably updating the listing is all." He rummaged in a manila folder and found a paper application. "You can fill this out to get your name in, but they may need you to do it again online."

"That's fine," Nik said as she plucked the sheet from his fingers. "But, we'll still get a dishwasher in that hole, right?"

"We'll get a dishwasher in there."

I hadn't really come to be of any assistance, so with nothing to add or ask, I merely stood witness. Kevin blinked after everything he said, either from zero confidence in his claim or plain disinterest. This didn't dissuade either Nik or myself, however, because he was just the middleman. And we had all day, were the first to see the place, and already wanted it in spite of all the unkempt ugliness.

Sat a moment in the drive to fill out the application. Leasing office located in River Market meant we'd be lunching. Dragging this out to make the fee and day less of pay a bit more worth it. Called into work just to be sure the clear sky meant no snow. Cable still pretended to need me for carrying a table. Told him tomorrow. We'd found the place we would try applying to first, and see how that went before doing anything further.

"I'll clean it myself if I have to," Nik said as she adjusted the driver's seat. "Because these people don't seem at all ready. But, I am. I gotta get out of my parent's house. Soon."

"Agreed," I told her. "You think this is a safe enough neighborhood?"

Hesitation. Her head facing away from me, and then her voice cracked. "Look at all those cats!"
Two or four of them vanished before I could confirm.

"Is that your way of saying yes?"

"Oh," she flushed. "I don't know."

"But you feel comfortable in this area, right?"

"That's a different question," and she shotgunned backward onto the road, taking curves with the rhythm of the radio. Up a few blocks and we rejoined the highway that bisects northeast Kansas City.

Independence, Missouri had so many shootings the past year that it never really became news. Forget the national tragedies every month. The gun-violence infection at the bottom is just a rippling glitch from the system refusing to re-assemble itself; our societal management skittish about trying something different than has always been, for it might tip their pedestaled positions. Thus trickles down the cost of their sins and pretend prayers. 

Leaders who ignore the people aren't leaders.

Just last year, Missouri lawmakers -- ignorantly or reactively -- actually turned back the clock on a logical (and minimal) modern agreement for point-and-click kill sticks.

Which aligned quite well with the near zero accountability for rifles, shotguns, and handguns in this and many red states. Unmitigated mental illness plus or minus prescription psychosis, detachment, disillusionment, and desensitization to reality run rampant in today's country so rich with industrialized pharmaceuticals, fermented poisons, and carcinogenics. The lower echelons of forcibly tiered society began living beyond their means long ago because of promises from the head table. Except there isn't enough to go around anymore. The hoarded foodstuffs have rotted. Yet peasants keep killing each other for a piece of that slip, slipping away American Dream.

...

After submitting the application, the afternoon meandered and against prudent plans I decided to stay captive. Enjoyed another quiet evening at her parent's house. Had a rice pudding. Played fetch with Nik's dog, Raja, in the backyard where fallen limbs passed for sticks and were retrieved far quicker than returned. Our routine there had become perfectly comfortable, but inhibited and limited. A childhood room didn't inspire romance, although we'd done our best so far, and because the intimacy between us crescendos often beyond explanation -- the best place for our continued relationship would be in a private place. Kept secret and undescribed. The connection therein a mystery to all on the outside.

 

Chapter 10627

The morning had evaporated by the time she parked her car in the lot. Gave a sheep smile and spilled out onto it. She'd needed to leave immediately because driving northeast to northwest KC in the pre-work traffic had put her an hour behind an already as long commute -- and I'd been a bit grumpy all the while about accidentally staying with her anyway. Mostly because I knew I'd do it again that evening.

Being slightly late meant no head start to pace myself -- would go about my day at a headlong dash. Had to pick up where Cable left off since he'd called in that morning to tag me back.

First up: a simple fence mending that took an hour of grunting and shoving just to straighten out. Found an attentive audience by the end, two women with dogs and what appeared to be my doppelganger standing just beyond them. New telemarketing employees. The heavier of the two girls continued with the guy toward a smoking area when I saw them, while their coworker had to come close and grab her dog from bothering me.

"No bother," I said as she scooped him into her arms just before me. Now we were standing there perfectly, and accidentally, posed to interact with one another.

The woman had an intense slenderness at her wrists, ankles, and waist. Her sleek limbs full and long, however, and she stood slightly taller than my girlfriend. A woolly scarf wrapped her neck and draped her chest. Heavy coat encasing her whole top. With blonde hair and flashy, pointed teeth she introduced her pet. Some kind of small and dark, bundle of fluff. All the while her body pivoted minutely sideways -- as if on a turntable -- to leave opportunity for me and segue of escape for her. Like blocking me in slow motion.

"She's really sweet," was all I could repeat.

"He," she corrected.

"Right," I nodded. Then scrunched my forehead. "You named him after the movie, though?"

She laughed at my not-a-joke, "No. I hadn't even heard of it until some of my co-workers told me."

"Oh," I said. Dorothy sat calmly in the distance, ruddy and stacked full of junk in her bed. But in no hurry.

The only way out of this situation was with continued words. "Cause the movie's about a girl," I told her. "But it's super old."

"I thought I made the name up," she said.

That made me laugh, but not with anyone. "That's okay. Maybe you did!"

She looked bewildered by this last but smiled and finally walked off with her little terrier, Gidget, vibrating in those swooping arms. I squatted to pretend a final something on the fence, then ran to the truck. My audience again watched as I fled the parking lot like a fire truck, Dorothy squealing on balled tires.

Between cleaning, changing ceiling tiles, ballasts, and dead batteries at various buildings on the property and getting caught in casual conversations with the less busy -- lunch happened without me. When the secretary invited me a bit after, however, I said I'd already eaten. The feeling of hunger makes us uncomfortable. And sometimes that's inconsequential to the task at hand. Sometimes it's good motivation. Besides, I looked forward to finishing the current project (remove all rubbish from suite 113) and leaving early sans permission. Ideally before more interruption.

So, hurried.

Got called to check a toilet and paper towel dispenser. Hurried still, into the building and round corners too fast -- ran flat into one of the new telemarketers. He was young and like looking in a mirror, except I had working clothes and he had on a suit. For some reason.

"Woah," he said.

"Yeah," I agreed.

"Hey," he'd not gone about his business yet, stood in the doorway as I implemented swift changes to the disaster area that was the telemarketing center's male washroom. "I've seen you around. Are you like the janitor guy?"

"I'm like the everything guy," I confessed with a single, sloshy plunge to unclog the handicapped toilet. Repositioned the paper towels to dispense correctly. Then flew past him and back out.

Finished relocating the junk in time for another call to the telemarketing agency.

"What's the deal?" I asked our secretary.

"They need a basketball hoop hung..."

"Need?"

"If you aren't busy, they asked if you could do it."

"Won't they be charged? How hard could it be for them to just do it?"

"It can really wait," she said. "No rush."

"But then I can't gripe about it," I revealed. "I'm here anyway, so I'll run up there."

So, hurried.

Into the building again and around the first corner, but slowly around the second to still almost run face first into someone. That woman from before. Her scarf and coat removed to confirm my unrequested imagination. The way certain legs meet hips hints at a continued undulation of curves beneath layers of bulky clothing. Smooth continuity of aerobic, aquatic, and acrobatic measurements.

We both said, "Oh."

She recovered first, asking, "Are you 'the everything guy?'"

"Who's asking?" Stated too harshly.

"Um, my manager was asking for you," she pointed with her whole left arm toward the telemarketing offices. 

"Right," I smiled but did not clarify. Didn't need to know her name. Already had all the female diversion allotted me, taken gladly by one person. The very tension between this stranger and myself a kind of wasted energy. Stay away from me, I muttered.

Never have I hung a basketball hoop so quickly, or ever at all. But I made two drilled holes, punched the anchors in, and screwed the miniature backboard and rim to the wall in under three minutes -- allowing me flee out the front as soon as that woman returned from the restroom, searching.

Borrowed Dorothy or rode my bike. Don't remember. Day flew by.

Either way, found my way. By evening reunited with my lady, but so lengthy and incongruent our respective days that it no longer seemed like we'd seen each other at all earlier. It felt like we'd been apart for much longer than the clocks said. So, we made up for it.

 

Chapter 10628

A low pulsing flutter of winged frequency awakened first from within my abdomen, followed by the hallow growl only a five hour fast before bedtime plus eight hours supine rest equates to digestively. Felt like zeroes. Eyes opened spacedoor swift. Rolled left realizing location -- panicked! Tripped over pink robe and a sleeping dog. 

"Raja, forgive me."

But she just huffed an irregular snore. I stood there.

The only thing worse than an actual phone alarm going off is the sudden memory of not setting one. My morning mindset never on the same page as nighttime ulterior egos, who're always making up for that sense of missing out that abounds in a sea of infinite choice and irregular discipline. The watcher inside every clay ape must maintain conscious balance between its animal's instinct and learned identity to observe clearly.

Cosmic sentience sees through my own carelessly tended vessel a stumbling view of a somewhat shattered multiverse. A bumbling and unpowerful superman, steered by a bored player. Yet, each circle of my life so starkly differed from the previous overlapping set that even staying earthbound and state-side meant still having access to multiple galaxies and planets -- like an interdimensional traveler. A galactic lantern.

Except space travel ain't cheap IRL. Or quick. Found keys, pressed a button and click, click. Truck unlocked on the street. Witnessed yellow glare of tail light confirmation through a nearby black window.

Nothing stirred in the room, so sneaked shivering everywhere except socked feet. Quiet, alone, and free. Or, at least, out of reach. Nik's moans and groans another shade of herself as well, a bottomless well of healing warmth and lovely murmurs that'll churn a lover buttery until the last minute. Which is the perfect amount of time, but alas my body hungered as it often did for punishment, not comfort. Conflict props up cardboard cutout plots for an action hero to shoulder through.

So, having made the rare escape from blankets, clothed myself and ran. Came back and kissed her, then got my wallet off the nightstand, broke free grasping hands, and tried my exodus again. Hallway, kitchen. Cup of coffee at the sink alongside a partially mouthed prayer.

Sip, blow. Grimace. Repeat.

The sugar, milk, and coffee comprising my drink reside commonly and legally in almost every kitchen or pantry without stigma. A simple, logical test of addiction might be abstinence -- but, ironically or not most alcohol-drinking, drug-free Americans rely on glucose daily for dopamine, and have since childhood cereals. Overemphasized dairy and carbohydrates make users obese, but each enters nearly every meal over here far beyond need. Not that any of these nutritional sources should be illegal or necessarily avoided, it's just hilarious how a certain stimulant like caffeine can be trendy and hailed. "I need my coffee to the point of violence," people joke jittering in lines, but shut up about marijuana, hippies and burnouts. It's cool and relatable to be addicted to coffee and cigarettes, concoctions that detract from proper rest and presence by borrowing focus and relax from later, exponentially -- for some, inhaling either drug can be as intense an experience as methamphetamine. Induced vomiting and days of disrupted sleep. But God forbid the healing properties of other things, because already in place man-made laws automatically we heed. 

Washed the cup with hot water, lights still off, and set it on a towel. The ritual a placeholder for meditation. 

...

Second, went downstairs to make a quiet donation. Sat there and tied my smelly shoes exactly so the canvas sides hugged my socked feet. Lacing inside outside reminds me of figure eights, waves in time overlapping back and forth. Mopping a floor to a streak-less shine. For forever. Eternity.

Back when everyone learned to tie their shoes, two camps came about naturally. The Bunny Ears. And the Nots. (Or, the Knots -- not sure because I was in the previous, persecuted majority.) The bunny ear system of tying a shoe implied a simplistic tendency or straight up stupidity perhaps by merely being a step by step process instead of the fluid knots wound by the Nots. Step one: make each lace into a bunny ear by looping it onto itself. Step two: tie them. While the Nots just spun a quick web that, viola, ended in tied laces. Much later, and long past relevancy, the difference between either method became obvious as actually the same combination of movements. The laces are made into "bunny ears" in both cases, but the Not-knotters hid the second ear by making it around the first during the tying of the knot -- instead of separately, before.

This meant both ways of doing the same thing were only ever disguised as different. The line between two opposing sides turned out in the end to be a complete illusion.

Flush!

...

Thirdly, took a sink shower and exited to my ruby red Explorer, Dorothy, where I shared heat once merged into driver's seat, turned the key in the ignition and sat there to really shiver. Gray street matched grey sky and trees, everything devoid of color. Dead street, left over leaves. An opportunity to offer up prior seasonal beauty and blessings, feel the moment. Hone into each hiccup of the sport-style pickup's engine, an occasional chug and cough from rough rides through snowy weather, but otherwise regular. Added chapstick to lips, re-capped it quick to avoid fixation. Slipped mittens over freezing fingers. Fidgeted.

Left once the truck and I had warmed enough to move fluidly. Ready to race traffic down one of two routes. Only before five thirty does either allow for a lonesome road. After and until seven thirty, head and tail lights stop and back up bumpers no different than any metro. Then from sunrise onward the highway stays highly visible and is frequented by the impatient and quick.

The top news story on the radio about a storm which never came. Or a shooting: local, domestic, and terrible. Next top story: another outrageous political distraction that'll never be resolved or revisited. Then, a hollywood idol or social hero involved in and subsequently condemned for a common, human transgression. 

Then, commercials. Tuned out as erratic and irritating static.

One of my Catholic high school teacher's once boasted that, "Garbage in, garbage out," when it came to intake of media, culture, and reality in general. That to consume violent or lustful images, sounds, and words brewed and begot more of the same. But this confuses a human host as mere receptacle and completely ignores the realms of reality outside a person's control -- like the randomness of where and when one's soul is injected into the time-space continuum.

Material subject to his logic of taint wouldn't be reusable. And our avatars are all forged of recyclables in a factory established long before us, the human genome a sequence of accidental assembly. Infinite monkey theorem.  

Different lamps all made to keep flame. Via various oils, combustibles, tinder, potions, and spells. Not every light need, nor could possibly be, identical. However a conduit organizes, though, the point of it's construction is the capture and harnessing of electricity.

Switched off the radio with a jab and put headphones in half my ears, probably in countless concurrent universes. The soundwaves compounded. Kept to the fastest path that morning and got to work extra, super early. An hour before scheduled, two before I'd clock in so that I could do personal work, unpaid and paced professional learning, and be at hand once actually needed and called.

As if I were the part-time bespeckled assistant, part-time solar-powered superhero I'd always aspired. 

...

At lunch got a text.

Nik: call me

So, I did.

Another reminder of numbers. Rent and probable bills plus fees and deposits I'd forgotten to fork over to her, the main money handler. Not my game, as the gambler.

"Have you heard back about the application?" I asked.

"...Yes."

"Well," I paused to feel her silence from the other end. "Not to spoil the surprise, but that must mean we got it. Right?"

"Yeah!"

Jumped and cheered. "Are you excited?" "Yes. Are you?" "Yes! Well, kinda."

She added, "Mostly because it really needs to be cleaned and even though they said they have to have it professionally done before we move in -- kinda want to clean it myself anyway. So, probably gonna tell them I'll just clean it and we can move in already. I'm actually glad we saw it before they cleaned it, because I can't with that. I'm gonna have to do scrub that place down before I can be comfortable there."

Agreed. Preferred to be on site, face-to-face, or otherwise directly involved. Seen from the outside in, may seem and sound the same as any control freak. Yet actions don't reveal intention. With proper integrity, however, intimate interaction with the world and its denizens creates love galore. 

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