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How Things Work

In the rain, the water dripping from the rim of his fedora. He stops anyway, fumbling in his pocket for loose change. The man always asks for a quarter knowing that, if he is to receive anything at all, it will likely be more. What is his name? Telford tries to remember. Charles? They are out, the more ambitious or desperate and is there really a difference, even in such weather.

Thunder rumbles. Lightning streaks over the rooftops. The rain has slowed to a drizzle.

There are fewer these days, in Near North, as the neighborhood gentrifies, slowly at first but recently picking up steam. Ragged men, some women, dig through garbage for scraps to eat. Sleep in doorways. Harassed by the police, ridiculed by the newly arrived, wealthy transplants. They are, these men, as they have always been, both prey and predator.

Telford finds a loose dollar in his pocket. Hands it to Charles? who blesses him and ambles along.

Telford can see Iris at the stoop, her key inserted in the lock. Waving and waiting. Smiling and patient, pleased that he has accommodated Charles?. They have arrived simultaneously. She from working late, he from The Rook Pub.

Inside Iris props her umbrella into the corner at the foot of the stairwell. Telford shakes off his wet fedora.

In bed. He on his back looking out the window to the sky and the lightning. She on her side facing away from him. She flips onto her back.

“Is the storm keeping you awake?” she asks.

“Of course not, storms relax me.”

“Thinking about something then.”

“No. Not really.”

“I always admired your ability to sleep. Whenever and wherever.”

He Laughs.

“One of my many talents.”

“You should list them sometime.”

“Where would I start?”



“Is that his name?”

“I’m not sure. It’s his name for the moment. Until I learn or remember otherwise. Don’t credit me with qualities I don’t possess. And, by the way, I consider compassion an attribute rather than a talent.”

“I think it’s both. I saw you hand Charles? a dollar.”

“To get rid of him. So I could be on my way. Out of the rain.”

“I don’t believe any of that.”

“You’re neglecting my destructive past.”

“We can change. Evolve. Some of us, at least.”

Iris moves closer. Fluffing her pillow in the process. She puts a dry, warm palm on his chest.

A roll of thunder. Telford reaches over an traces the scar on her cheek. It’s an affectionate gesture. A reminder that he loves her because of the scars not in spite of them.

“Should I open the window?” she asks.

“Will the rain blow in, if it starts again?”

“I don’t think so. It isn’t windy.”

“I haven’t seen lightning in a while. I wish I knew more about the weather. Meteorology and all that. The relationship between thunder and lightning and rain and wind.”

“You would want that, of course.”

“I always took things apart to see how they worked. In my youth. As a child and a young man. Problem is, once you take something apart to see how it works it doesn’t work anymore.”

“You can always put it back together.”

“No. No you can’t. It doesn’t work that way.”

“I wish we had met earlier. In our twenties perhaps,” Iris says.

“It wouldn’t have worked. I was different then. Restless. Volatile. Destructive.”

“You still were in a way. When we met, I mean. It worked anyway. In the long run. Still, I wish we had met earlier.”

“Yes. If it would have worked.”

“What regrets do you have?”

“That I wasn’t more restless.”

“And more destructive?” Iris laughs.

“I’m not sure the two qualities have to be paired. Like thunder without the rain.”

“Or the lightning?”

“Again. I don’t know how the weather works. I should have traveled more, for example. Read more. Wrote more. Met more people.”

“And fucked more?”

“Yes. Of course. But less…….. storm-fully.”

“We have time.”

“For what?”

“For travel. For fucking. For all of that.”

“Less time than we think. There’s always less time than you think.”

“Meaning we have less time to waste. We should leave here. Move to another country. Mexico perhaps.”

“Or Italy.”


“Iceland. Uruguay. Denmark. Portugal. Someplace civilized.”

“What’s happened to this country?”

“It doesn’t work anymore.”


“Rich, powerful people took it apart. They don’t care if it works anymore. At least not for everyone. Only for them.”

“That’s called selfishness. You’re going to find selfishness everywhere in the world.”

“But in different concentrations. In different proofs. We’ve achieved 80 proof selfishness mixed with greed and anger and fear. A poisonous stew.”

“Let’s leave then. Iris concludes. Always a decisive woman.


“We’ll start planning in the morning.”

After a long pause that he thought indicated sleep, she says.

“How long will it last?”

“Will what last?”

“This. Us.”

“It has lasted this long. It’ll last as long as we both want it to.”

“But it has to be both of us. I’m tired of the off and on relationship. Let’s leave it on.”

“Right. That’s how it works. Both of us.”

“Your track record is poor. On the ‘both of us’ thing.”

“That was before. When I was more restless and volatile.”

“And destructive. When did you stop being volatile?”

“A few minutes ago.”

Iris laughs.

She snores. Softly like a kitten. Iris is a light sleeper so Telford slips from the bed on cat feet. Pulls on his trousers and shirt. Carries his loafers to the door. Slips the shoes on without socks. His watch says the pub is open for at least another hour. Telford takes his wallet from his pocket. Counts out three fives. Leaves the wallet behind.

The rain has stopped but left its aroma.

Charles? isn’t on the street. The Rook is nearly empty. Dan, the bartender, pours a Guinness as soon as Telford enters the door.

“Sleepless night?” Dan asks.

“No. Just restless.”

“So you thought you’d have a pint and think about things.”

“You got the pint part correct. My thinker is broken tonight. It doesn’t work.”

Christie from the neighborhood sits at the other end of the bar. She once worked at the other bar on Rubicon Boulevard. She used to be married to one of Telford’s band members. But things have changed. Now she’s just a bar hag who hangs out at The Rook. Christie greeted Telford with a wave as he came in.

“You in the mood for company?” Christie asks, carrying her drink with her as she deposits herself on the stool next to him.

Telford looks at her and smiles.

“Not really. I enjoy your proximity but I’m not in the mood for companionship,” he says, not looking at Christie directly.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You used to enjoy my company. A lot.”

“It means nothing. It just means don’t expect much in the way of conversation. Is that okay?”

“I suppose. I miss the old times though. I had a rough day too, you know.”

“Another time, perhaps.”

“Another time for what?” Christie’s voice is hopeful.

“To talk about your rough day.”

Christie takes her drink and rejoins the small group at the other end of the bar.

The dry thunderstorm continues. The thunder follows Telford down the street but asks for nothing that he can comprehend. In the apartment with the curtains drawn open, the moon, shining intermittently between passing clouds, provides sufficient light to undress and rejoin the bed.

This time Telford can think. About Iris. And Christie. And Charles? And Mexico. And lightning and thunder. And how to be restless and volatile without being destructive.

And without taking things apart.



Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. April 20, 2017 at 9:11 pm

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