Savior Complex

Me and the past never really saw eye to eye, so when I occasionally ran into someone I used to know, I immediately flipped through my mental Rolodex for an excuse to chuck at them before continuing on my merry way. It worked like a charm every single time, that is until I bumped into Tatum.

It had been at least seventeen years since I last laid eyes on her and the years had been very kind to this woman, in fact, she hadn’t appeared to have aged a day. She was still that slender mocha-skinned Honduran with a disarming smile but the updated version rocked a nose piercing and shoulder-length dreads in lieu of a bob cut. I couldn’t believe that I was actually pleased to see her, and during the moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history between us had been replaced with heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smile never wavered when she mentioned her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she was studying to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, nine and thirteen years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

Time had no meaning as we stood there conversing on the sidewalk and for the first time in quite a while, I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t a character trapped within the confines of my overactive writer’s imagination. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we would call, and went our separate ways.

And on my way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt, as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life had taken. And on the tail of the guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly deleted her number from my phone because neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret deleting her phone number, she called with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t keen on the latter, but against my better judgment I wanted to see her again, so I agreed.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast-food chain done up in dime-store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company again. I experienced a level of comfort that oddly felt like home.

That was until her daughter, Stacie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have s-e-x?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. Having no idea what the proper protocol was, I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have s-e-x, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes, we had sex.”

Was that how it was done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speedbag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deeper level. The rest of the conversation was downhill after that in terms of my personal comfort. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected, and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children and at her family dinner table, there was no place setting for me. It only lasted an instant but long enough for it to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place. It wasn’t a build-up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people sometimes simply grew apart. It was the Santeria. I told her I didn’t believe in magic, voodoo, and things of that nature and it was true, but the other truth was that it scared a part of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

If Tatum actually practiced rituals, she did a great job of keeping it to herself, her mother, on the other hand, was very open and vocal about the matter. That woman hated me the moment she clapped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason, I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding that fact. She visited our apartment constantly and when she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Santeria objects everywhere.

Things finally came to a head the day I came home from work early and walked in on a Santeria ritual in progress. Our tiny studio apartment was packed with strangers clad in all white, eyes closed in a trance, and chanting in a language I didn’t understand while they danced to the beat of the drummers positioned in each corner of the room. Tatum must have given her mother a key because she was standing in the center of the room, smoking a cigar and glaring at me as if I was the intruder in my own apartment. Speaking in tongues, the old battleax walked up to me and blew a cloud of disgusting smelling smoke into my face.

Tatum came home to find me lying face down on the floor. I told her what happened and not only had she taken it all in stride but she also took her mother’s side, stating that I had no business interrupting the ritual. I’ve never been an arguer, chiefly because I was no good at it but we had a knock-down-drag-out that day…which ended with me moving out of the apartment that night and never looking back. Depending on how you looked at it, if her mother did cast a spell on me, it actually worked because I was finally out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited me around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation with the intention of cutting ties with her altogether but being gentlemanly about it and doing it in person. And if I was being absolutely honest, it had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home-cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door in an apron dusted with flour and seasonings, the picture-perfect happy homemaker. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces were different, still possessing features reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow…incomplete, like faces in transition. I chalked it up to a writer’s overactive imagination and thought nothing more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes, and listened with rapt attention as I told the story of how I met their mother. Cutting ties with them wasn’t going to be easy.

After dinner, we sat in the living room and Tatum pulled out a photo album and flipped through family pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancies, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee, and later with Tatum holding a newborn Stacie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

She described how difficult things had been. Deadbeat developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his kids only to beg off some money in order to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell. One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he had Stacie and Lee removed from her custody by Child Protective Services because of alleged abuse charges. She was nearly in tears as she spoke about the hell she had to go through in order to get her family back together.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the apartment door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicking on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me.

“Everything all right, Tate?” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder.

It was like pouring gasoline on a fire. Oscar lost his mind to the point where there was no reasoning with him. I did the only thing I could think of doing, I made sure he saw me dialing 911 on my cell. This caused him to weigh his options, and he eventually left but not before making a threat to come back to get his kids and make Tatum pay.

She convinced me not to involve the police but only after Tatum agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Stacie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could manage but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return and afraid that I wouldn’t be of much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When I started drifting off, as the tension of the evening released its grip, Tatum came to me. Her nightgown slid off her perfect body. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the window, and I knew then and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in my arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was disappointed.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that combined with the feeling that something wasn’t right, meant there was no sleep for me tonight. I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I went silent, straining my ears—moments passed. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys. Surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding in a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but glass and solid enough to damage a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway. The sound of the doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack. It held something wire-like. A hanger? The tip of the hooked wire scratched at the door until it found purchase. The handle for the security chain. It slid across the groove slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tense moment that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room. Had they heard the noise? Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm the kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, it was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me on the floor. The ashtray slipped through my fingers and clattered away out of reach. The intruder proceeded to punch and kick me and I had absolutely no defense, I threw up my arms but they blocked none of his attacks. He wrapped his hands around my throat and I flailed spastically to get him off me as I gasped for the air that had been cut off from me.

I was overcome with fear but my body was overcome with instinct. My limbs simply tried anything they could to free my throat so I could breathe. But the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there.

And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my grip. I staggered to my feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

Who was Oscar? they kept asking and, What’s wrong with Daddy?

When I told them to stop it, that it wasn’t funny anymore, that I wasn’t their father, looks of genuine hurt danced across their faces. I ran into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of her pregnancy. She and I holding a newborn Lee. Of us holding a newborn Stacie while Lee lurked somewhere in the background.

I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Stacie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum…and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong.

“Daddy just had a nightmare, that’s all,” she explained. “Everything will be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.”

And as Tatum ushered me to the bedroom, she grabbed the pillow off the sofa and something fell onto the floor. It looked like a figure made of folded palm leaves but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot.

“What was that?” I asked, my head still swimming in confusion.

“Just one of the kids’ toys,” she replied in a tone so soothing it was almost hypnotic.

Tatum said she would talk to Lee and Stacie about picking up their things, or she asked if perhaps I could do it because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day at the law firm tomorrow, sitting first chair on a high-profile case.

That’s right, she’s a lawyer, I thought as the fog slowly lifted from my brain. Why did I think she worked in cosmetics? Perhaps she was right, everything would be all right in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Everything would be back to normal.

As I Push My Whimsy Forward

I am of two minds. On the one hand, I want to make a good impression, to reveal glimpses of the parts of myself that will make you think favorably of me. On the other hand, I do not wish to mislead you by pretending to be wholly one thing, when I am an amalgamation of paradoxes that should not be able to function in one body, one personality, let alone society, yet somehow does.

Then you offer me a smile that is polite and mild, and my mind is made up, for I do not wish to hide my light beneath a bushel. It is my desire that you see all of me and I see all of you, because in that act there is such a freedom of either acceptance or rejection, that transcends the simple mediocrity of belonging.

So, as I push my whimsy forward, unfolding politeness and decorum to display the complexities that live and thrive at the very core of my being, I offer you the opportunity to follow suit in order to form an unbreakable bond and temper a love forged in the flames of two pure hearts.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

 

Does Love Exist?

You come to me with a face like thunder, your mind a hornets nest of uncertainty, questioning our relationship, where we stand, where things are headed, because our reality does not quite match up with the fairytale romance you envisioned for yourself since childhood.

You bombard me with questions: do I really love you or am I just infatuated with the notion of being in love, and how can I be certain that love actually exists, what evidence do I possess? I sigh, because in truth I can offer you no proof, but I know that love exists in the way you smile, the way your eyes just beam, in your breath every time you say my name, for that is where I always find true love.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Emotional Matches

When people spoke of our marriage, they often used terms like kismet, destiny, serendipity, and soulmates, and there has yet to be an occasion when someone hadn’t asked the question that my husband and I dreaded the most:

“What is the secret to your relationship?”

As if we could bestow upon them some magical bit of information that could save their failing partnerships. The answer that no one wanted to hear, our truth, was that neither of us was particularly smart or possessed some life-altering dream within our hearts, we were simply two ignorant people playing with emotional matches which wasn’t a real problem because we loved the way each other burned.

We also pledged our immortal souls to the demon god of love, Jespurait, but surely that played no part in our enduring affection for one another.

It was a mere coincidence.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Blessing

“Do you even have the faintest idea why you’re still single?” my mother asks. Questioning me out of the blue is the way she offers her unsolicited and always unwanted opinions.

“I don’t know, Mom, because I just watched The Exorcist and cried through the entire thing?” And this is the way I try to dodge the conversation. “I mean, I know how it’s going to end and I feel terrible for Pazuzu. When it’s all over, Chris has Regan, Father Karras and Father Merrin ascend to heaven but what does Pazuzu get? Bupkis. Nada. Nothing.”

“You’re an odd duck.”

“A sentimental odd duck, let’s not overlook my ability to empathize and emote.”

Mom doesn’t take the bait. “I just want you to find someone so badly. You’re such a wonderful, albeit weird person and you deserve to meet someone really special,” she says.

And then, on cue, Dad pokes his head into the living room and in true man-fashion, tries to fix the problem.

“You attract more bees with honey than vinegar, pun’kin. Maybe if you spruced yourself up a bit,” he says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the way you look–“

“Shut up, George!” Mom punches Dad in the arm.

“What? I’m just saying some fellas need to see the car polished before taking it out on a test drive, that’s all.”

“You want strangers test driving your daughter?”

“No! Of course not!” Dad waves the notion away as if it was a wasp. “What I mean to say is would it kill you to maybe wear a dress and some makeup once in a while and socialize with actual people in the real world in a social setting instead of throwing your youth away on the internet in chat rooms?”

“Dad, I know you mean well but you’re old–“

“I’m 56.”

“And that’s ancient, so is your way of thinking. Women shouldn’t have to gussy themselves up–“

“I never used the word gussy.”

“–in order to attract a mate.”

“We’re not talking about mating we’re talking about dating.”

“Same difference, Dad. If I met someone and we were into each other we might just hook up. It’s only sex.”

“Not in my house, it’s not! There’ll be no it’s only sex happening under my roof, young lady!”

“Which answers your question, Mom, as to why I’m still single.”

“What?” Mom looks confused. “How did this come back on me?”

“Not that it’s any of your business but I still have my V card.”

“Your what?”

“She’s still a virgin, George.”

“Well, thank Christ for small miracles, I suppose,” Dad breathes a sigh of relief.

“And if and when I hand in my card, I want it to be with someone who gets me, someone on my level and I want it to happen in a place where I feel safe and that’s here, with you guys.”

“You’re not asking us to watch, are you?”

Mom punches Dad in the arm again. “George!”

“Ewww, Dad, don’t be gross!” I decide to make one last attempt at explaining my reasoning. “This place isn’t the fanciest but it’s lived in and it’s filled with love—your love for each other and for me and my love for you. I want my first-time love to exist in the same place.”

“Seeing as it will be your first time, it might not be filled with as much love as you think,” Mom says under her breath and it’s Dad’s turn to punch her lightly on the arm.

“Hey,” he says. “Don’t spoil her fantasy.”

“So,” my voice turns sheepish. “Do I have your blessing?”

They stare at each other for a long contemplative moment and to my surprise, Dad is the one who breaks the ice. “Yeah, kiddo. It’s okay.” And Mom nods in agreement.

“Great!” I snatch my laptop up as I bound off the sofa and race past them and upstairs to my room.

“Where are you off to?” Mom asks.

“To get ready! Tommy’ll be over in a little while and we’re totally going to do it tonight! You guys are the best!”

Mom turns to Dad, “Who’s Tommy?”

“Dead meat if he knocks on this door,” Dad says cracking his knuckles.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Lift Your Eyes

“There’s something you need to know about me. I was born with an extraordinary ability that allows me to see into the future. I know, it sounds a bit mad, but I swear it’s the God’s honest truth. This gift has given me the unfair advantage of always avoiding imminent danger by selecting the best possible outcome in any given situation. But the strongest vision I ever had involved you. Although you don’t know me yet, we have an incredible future in store for us, happy marriage, wonderful children, charmed life, the whole nine yards. We will have a connection like no other couple on the planet. Our auras have the capability to overlap in order to create a psychic rapport. The only hiccup in all this coming true is that you must initiate first contact or our fairytale relationship will never happen, so I desperately need you to lift your eyes from your phone and see me!” I shouted in silence until my emotions were hoarse.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Just Maybe for Everything, There Is a Reason

“Where have all the living people disappeared to?” Sally asks and I’m not quite sure whether she’s addressing the question to me or merely ruminating out loud as she is sometimes known to do. “I mean the real-life people, not the walking dead with their heads buried in electronics that fight to live in overcrowded cities only to isolate themselves in public and form fake surface relationships on the internet.”

I make the assumption she is talking to me and I’m about to reply, but either I’m wrong in thinking the conversation included me or I took too long to speak up, because she continues, “I am so tired of dealing with avatars,” this is the name Sally applies to all sentient lifeforms capable of effectively communicating with her who ignore her for text messages and Instagram videos. “There must have been some shift in the social axis that I wasn’t made aware of that suddenly made every avatar I encounter uber unfriendly, discourteous and unkind. It’s like I’ve suddenly become a stranger to my neighbors, the city—hell, the whole goddamned societal globe. How is a person supposed to exist today without someone, anyone, offering up a bit of emotional support or maybe even just a helping hand? Am I the insane one here?”

I don’t answer, chiefly because my truth and her truth are rarely in alignment and I have no desire to hurt her feelings or open up a can of worms. I decide it’s a safer bet all around to allow her to vent her frustrations.

“And now everyone tosses the term friend around so haphazardly,” Sally gestures broadly into the open air as if delivering a sermon to an unseen congregation. “Slapping it onto a multitude of undeserving random strangers so that the original meaning of being someone that shares trust, confidence, and support, despite the odds and no matter the situation. And if an expert were to examine current day friendships, they would find that the relationships only last as long the favors derived from the friendship continue to exist.”

“Well, I’m your friend,” I finally chime in. “And none of that applies to me.”

“I’m not talking about you, of course.”

“You’re not talking to me, either. This is the verbal equivalent of a thread rant and I’m not saying that I don’t understand how you feel and agree with what you’re saying in part but I’d like to address this topic in a broader sense, if I may?”

Sally is visibly put-off by my interruption but gestures, “By all means, fill your boots.”

And I explain to her that one of my pet peeves with social media profiles and posts is the rampant negativity that prevails. After touting how happy, friendly, down to earth they are, individuals will proceed to run off a list of don’ts and other things that they absolutely positively will not stand for.

“But why not simply concentrate on the positive? And that includes you,” I pause to gauge her reaction. Her face is expressionless, perhaps I should stop but to be honest I want her to hear what I have to say, so I press on.

“As overused as the Gandhi quote is, why not try to Be the change you want to see in the world? Which means, perhaps instead of expecting people to immediately conform to your desired way of being—”

“Desired?”

“Yes, desired. Are you really being the type of person to the avatars that you want them to be to you? Why not pay it forward and set the example by walking the walk in addition to talking the talk? You want people to wave Hi to you on the street? Try waving first.”

“So, the responsibility rests solely on my shoulders?”

“Do I even have to answer that, Sally? If you want the people within your sphere of influence to treat you differently, who better than you to take on the responsibility?” 

Sally opens her mouth, closes it, then opens it again but says nothing, obviously attempting to formulate her response. In the silence, I continue.

“What if all the avatars you pass every day, the ones who somehow seem familiar for no apparent reason, the ones who brush past you without so much as an Excuse me, were all meant to cross your path for a reason?

“What if a soulmate—yes, I believe you can have more than onesomeone who held a message for your life and possible insights into your future, was lost because you were too deeply into your righteous indignation to catch their gaze?

“Or better yet, what if every bump was meant to be a chance for an avatar to share something they know that might help you on your path, or maybe even better still, you happen to be one of those people holding onto a piece of their life that needs to be let go or needs to be passed on like a story you need to share?

“Think about it, haven’t you ever come across people in your life you think will be there forever, and then they just fade away? Moving onto their own journeys, their own paths only to find them in your life again, stronger and more beautiful?

“And speaking of beautiful, this is a crazy, beautiful world, but you only get to see how wonderful it all is if you take chances. Don’t let opportunities pass you by. You do you, live your life and stay angry and vigilant if you’re comfortable with that but pay attention to the signs that maybe there are messages out there for you. Maybe there are people you need to meet, souls that can add to your journey through life. Souls to help you grow, souls to make you cry. Adding strength to your life and your soul. Just maybe for everything, there is a reason.”

“And you accused me of going on a rant? What the hell was that and where did it come from? That’s the most you’ve said to me in the two years I’ve known you,” Sally says, raising one eyebrow, then lowered them both suspiciously. “Wait a minute. You mean you, don’t you? You think you’re the person that’s meant to be my soulmate?”

I can feel the blush rising from my collar, up my neck and enveloping my face and I am powerless to stop it.

“Is that such a crazy idea?” I ask in a voice that cracks like I’ve regressed to puberty.

“I-I don’t know,” Sally shakes her head like she’s trying to shift the idea into place. “This is all so left field. Maybe we can discuss it over a cup of coffee?”

I pull my phone out of my belt clip, unlock it and begin scrolling, “Um, okay, friend, but just let me check my messages to see if I missed an important text or something.”

Sally’s face flushes with anger but before she can rage at me, I throw my hands up in surrender.

“Just kidding! It’s a joke! I’m joking!” I smile as I put my phone away.

Sally whacks me on the arm hard enough to sting, but she’s smiling, too, so maybe, just maybe, things might work out for the both of us.

Text and Audio ©2017 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

When You Know What You Want, Contact Me

We hated each other from the moment we met. No logical reason, just something at our mitochondrial levels, some cellular vibration or preternatural instinct caused a repulsion between us instead of attraction.

But a cool current ran beneath our fiery surface feud, a sameness we hadn’t discovered until we accidentally had a civil conversation and I realized just how interesting she was. She must have felt something similar because during the conversation she made me promise that I would not sleep with her under any condition. The request caught me off guard coming out of left field like that but, to be honest, the thought had not crossed my mind, so I agreed without a second thought.

The following day we were back to normal but every once in a while we shared a pleasant conversational moment. When the holiday season finally rolled around, a bizarre set of circumstances led us to being alone in her home. She had been drinking but was far from drunk and I supposed it allowed her to feel a little more at ease with me so we talked and talked and talked and talked. It had been a long time since I held a woman’s company in conversation alone until the break of dawn.

She mentioned she was getting tired and I took that as my cue to leave… when she stopped me. Producing a crochet blanket from behind her leather couch, she told me how comfortable it was and how she had fallen asleep on it many times. Then she laid down on the couch to demonstrate and invited me to come see for myself.

So I did.

I slid behind her, the big spoon to her little one, with the scent of her perfume, shampoo and even the liquor mixing in my nose and making my heart race. I held her and we talked, soft, slow and sweet. The opportunity was there and if I said I was not tempted in the least, I would be bald-faced lying. But to this woman who was in so many ways out of my league, this woman who whispered “I love that way your mind works,” I had given my word and I kept it and I have kicked myself every day since.

I refuse to admit I love her. Chiefly because I don’t, or at least not in a way I’d like to. Not in a healthy way. I am infatuated with her, but it is different from any infatuation I’ve ever felt to date. I see her everywhere and in nearly anyone who comes close to her hair coloring and body type. To be clear, I do not fantasize about her nor can I picture a future in which we share a life, but I cannot get her out of my mind. I know exactly where she is but I will not contact her. On the rare occasions that she contacts me, I sometimes do not respond. I do not know why I do this.

Her last text message read:

Are you ghosting me? Something I said? Whatever the deal is, when you know what you want, contact me.

I will never tell her what I truly want because she cannot give it to me. I do not desire her, but I do miss her. No, not really. Not in that way. I want her attention and possibly her affection but not all the time. I guess all I really want is the ability to travel back in time and relive that special one-of-a-kind night when all the pieces fell into place…

and break my promise.

Text and Audio ©2009 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Some Assembly Required

In the midst of a tantrum burst of emotions, Robson stomped into his room and slammed the door shut so hard the picture on the wall to the right came free of its hook and crashed to the floor. It was one of his favorites, a print of a painting depicting a young boy and girl building a snowman with the caption “Snowmen fall from heaven…unassembled” across the bottom. The glass and the frame were cracked and now it was ruined just like everything else in his life! He kicked over his wastebasket, the plastic one with Captain America and all the other Marvel Avengers on it and discarded candy wrappers and other bits of broken junk he no longer had a use for skittered across the floor which only made him angrier.

He threw his head back and screamed, “Why can’t you give me what I want? Why can’t I eat what I want to eat and watch what I want to watch on tv? I’m sick of this stupid house and I hate you both! I can’t wait until I get older and leave here forever!”

And the rage kept spilling out until he had expelled all the air from his lungs and the rant became a coughing fit, but he didn’t care. He pulled in a deep breath of new air and let out a frustrated and sustained, guttural bellow so loud it vibrated his eyeballs.

When the red mist of fury lifted from his vision and he was left with nothing more than the fatigue of ages pressing down upon him, he heard a soft rap on his door. He had no desire to respond, so he didn’t but the door handle turned slowly and his father pushed his head inside.

“Got it all out of your system?” his father asked with no trace of anything being out of the ordinary.

Robson didn’t answer, he couldn’t answer, the fatigue wouldn’t allow it. But as his father entered the room and surveyed the damage, the young boy stood firm, and let his breath out through his nostrils in a defiant hiss.

His father picked up the cracked picture frame and examined it as he walked past Robson to sit on the bed. He patted the full-size mattress, indicating for his son to have a seat but the boy didn’t move. “Come on, it’s not going to kill you to sit next to me. I just need you to listen to what I have to say and then I’ll leave you alone to continue being mad at us.”

Reluctantly, Robson dragged his feet as if the gravity in the room had suddenly increased and plopped onto the bed as far away from his father as he could manage.

“A shame about this picture,” his father said. “Your mother and I bought this for you because it was the first thing you actually asked for. You pleaded with us and made your case so succinctly that we had no choice. At the time, we didn’t have the funds to spare but sometimes the happiness of the people you love is worth more than money.

“The reason I’m bringing this up is to talk to you about sacrifices. You’re too young to fully understand this but everybody in the world has to make them, no matter how young or old they are. And you may think the things we ask or tell you to do are unfair but that’s only because you don’t see the bigger picture and there’s no real reason you should at your age. Our job as your parents is to take care of the big important stuff so that you can live the easiest life we can manage to give you. But it’s also our duty to prepare you for what’s to come and we planned to wait until you were a little older but since you’re so eager to grow up, let me tell you what life holds in store for you.

“As you get older, you’re going to learn that even the people who were never supposed to let you down probably will and someone who has the same opinion about you…you will let them down, as well. That includes the three of us, champ. We’re eventually going to let each other down.

“You’re going to fall in love one day and your heart will get broken and it will probably happen more than once and it will get harder to love with each passing break. And most likely you’ll break a few hearts yourself even if you remember how it felt when yours was broken and try to avoid doing it to someone else, it’s going to happen.

“Despite your best intentions, you’ll fight with your best friends, blame a new love for things an old one did, complain because time is passing too fast, wish you had your childhood to do over again to get things right, and you’ll eventually lose someone you love which includes me and your mother.”

Robson sat motionless, staring at the cracked glass and broken frame, unable to meet his father’s gaze because he felt the sting of tears in his own eyes. “What do I do?” he said in a small voice.

“What do you mean?”

“To stop all the bad things from happening. What do I do?”

“Well, you can start by not taking the good things and times for granted but do take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you’ve never been hurt…because every sixty seconds you spend upset is a minute of happiness you’ll never get back. But before any of that, you should go apologize to your mother, she was really upset by some of the things you said.”

Robson hopped off the bed, turned his back to his father and wiped the tears from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. He walked to the door with a purpose but stopped at the door jamb and said over his shoulder, “I don’t really hate you, you know.”

“I know, kiddo,” his father smiled. “Now, go give your mother a great big hug and kiss and drag your butt back in here so we can straighten this room up.”

The little boy took off like a shot out of the room yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! I’m sorry!”

His father stood up, righted the wastebasket and carefully tilted the broken glass into the little plastic bucket. He caught sight of the caption on the picture and thought, Snowmen aren’t the only things that require assembly, sometimes family bonds do too.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Breadcrumbing

breadcrumbing

Clive was a dyed in the wool true believer that online dating–the websites (both free and paid) and the process—stunk to high heaven. Not because a great deal of the time was spent sifting through miles of unimaginative profiles that featured photos of celebrities that in no way resembled the actual embittered people who recited a Don’t List of all the things they simply would not stand for in a partner or relationship—well, not mainly for that reason—but merely because he was forced to write a self-summary, also known as his personal kryptonite.

His experiment nearly ended right there.

Primary among the things he hated, in addition to being questioned about any personal information that he would never voluntarily offer up in conversation, was attaching descriptors to himself and/or writing a self-summary. The notion of having to explain the equation of his essence, his being, in order for a stranger to do a quick assessment and chuck him into a labeled box, was enough to make him retch. Not to mention the fact he considered himself boring as hell and had nothing interesting to fill a questionnaire out with if he were keeping it 100, as the young-uns said.

But needs must when the devil drives, so he picked himself up by the bootstraps and scratched his puzzler on the best way to go about creating a self-summary without laying out all his information upfront—like he was actually going to tell a bunch of judgmental strangers anything important about himself, please. Clive was determined to try and reintroduce the notion of courtship back into the dating world and planned to use the interweb to hone his slightly rusty—okay, severely rusty—wooing abilities. One wouldn’t need to be Ellery Queen to suss out the inherent flaws in that plan.

The workaround came fairly quickly and was a no-brainer. Clive was going to summarize himself in short story form, as a sort of coming attraction to ward off them what cain’t be bothered with a bit of good old-fashioned storytelling. This was the result:

One day an old woman stepped directly into my path on the street, stopping me cold, and asked, “Who are you?”

“Pardon?” I was taken aback by the suddenness of the question.

“If you had to describe yourself to me, an absolute stranger, what would you say?” she thwarted my attempt to sidestep her.

“Most likely…nothing,” I admitted. “Since I’m not too fond of the question.”

“Well, what if Nazis held guns to your parents’ heads? What would you tell me then?” she smiled.

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

I hated being manipulated like this, but I couldn’t have anyone, not even this old woman, think that I’m some heartless brute that would allow Nazis to murder my parents in an effort to avoid providing a self-summary.

“And don’t hand me any of that work in progress nonsense, because we’re all works in progress until we give up living.”

“Fair enough,” I nodded in agreement, for it was one of those overused expressions that I can’t stand, just like thinking outside the box.

“Who I am is a born-again optimist. What I believe is that love should not be denied to anyone, even to those born with icy hearts. What I know is that I’m wise enough to accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.”

“Corny and clumsily poetic…” she eyed me for a long moment. “…but an artful dodge, so I’ll let you get away with it… this time.”

This time? Just who did this woman think she was?

“If you had to write a summary about yourself, would anyone read it?”

 I shook my head. “Probably not.”

The old woman cocked her head to the side, “Why not?”

“Because I’m old-fashioned.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” she asked.

“Simply that I wouldn’t reveal too much. Instead of handing someone Cliff Notes about me, I’d prefer to let that information come out naturally during the course of a one-on-one conversation with the person I was interested in. I don’t think that my life and personality can be compressed into a resume.”

“Is that a fact?” she said more to herself than anything else. “So, what are you doing with your life? Living it…is not an acceptable answer.” She tapped her foot impatiently.

What a surprise. Another question I hated, for how do you sum up passions, goals and interest in a sentence? A paragraph? It needs to be discussed in casual give and take conversation, which I knew would not happen here, so I answered:

“I’m in a creation stage of my life, at the moment. The need to create things is strong in me and I do that utilizing art, writing, sculpture and filmmaking. Some of my work has been published, which has brought me some attention but not anything close to notoriety.”

“Very good…” the old woman said, pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t have to pull teeth that time.”

“And my final question for you today is… what are you good at? I mean, really good at?” the annoyance seemed to melt away from her face, which put me at ease a bit.

“Hmmm…” I scratched my puzzler at that one. “If I had to give you one thing, I suppose it would be my ability to suss out how things work. Not machines and the like, but other things, intangible things… and people, as well. Except for you, that is. You’re a complete mystery to me.”

The corners of the old woman’s mouth curved up into a slight smile, as she nodded “Thank you.” and left as suddenly as she appeared, leaving me perplexed as to what just transpired here.

And with the self-summary written, all that was left was to join a bunch of free online dating sites—who’d pay, I mean, really—and cast his line into the water. But Clive hadn’t wanted to be aggressive about it, so the only two restrictions he imposed on himself were:

  1. He wouldn’t be the first person to initiate contact.
  2. He wouldn’t submit himself to a dating questionnaire when a woman was trying to gather more intel on him. Why make it easy for her to dismiss him based on whether or not he looked good to her on paper without even the courtesy of a flesh meet?

He also had to ask himself an honest question, Was he doing this to find an actual companion, an activity partner—young’uns would only understand this when they were older—or was he just out to get laid?

To anyone reading this, the initial obvious answer was to get laid, Clive just knew it, and he couldn’t blame anyone. When one cleaved through all the bullshit that men did and subjected themselves to, 9.75 times out of 10 sex was the reason, the answer, and the end goal. And okay, maybe that factored in a little bit, but mainly it was to find a companion.

But how could Clive attract the attention of women without contacting them or putting his statistics on display? Naturally, he knew the answer was to blog, but keeping a running online journal of his daily life—wake up, work, watch movies, procrastinate, troll the internet, sleep, repeat—would’ve bored anyone to tears.

No, he’d be forced to resort to the only thing he’d ever been good at in his entire life…

Inventing shit.

To be continued…

Text and Audio ©2017 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys