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There was a chicken in my bed.
I found the first one in the alley. I was on my way home from the market—jacket zipped up to my chin, warm gloves curled around the handles of my grocery bags—when I noticed her from the corner of my eye. They’d stripped her of everything after they’d had their fun and left her splayed on the wet concrete. She lay there, sad but also resigned. It was just how it was every winter.
People brushed past me as I stood at the mouth of the alleyway. Some looked curiously at me, but most of them just rushed past me without another thought. I didn’t blame them; sights like these were common after Christmas and New Year’s. Huddled under doorways, propped against trashcans and under streetlights…there were so many of them. Sometimes whomever put them there tried to cover them up, but they were all broken things, obviously abandoned by their families. There was no hiding that fact.
The sunlight was fading fast and the chill was setting in. I just wanted to get to my warm home and make dinner and unwind on the couch, but there was something about her…
I squared my shoulders and stepped into the alley, stopping just short of her stump. The whole place smelled of damp trash with a dash of pine. I squatted and touched her gently. She still had some tinsel tangled in her branches.
“Hey, girl,” I whispered quietly. She rustled forlornly when I took hold of her sticky branches, her needles crunching and releasing more scent. I tugged experimentally, took a deep breath, and dragged her home.
I picked up the next one right on my street corner. He must’ve been such a glorious sight; even in his sad state, I could see the lights and the ornaments in his green branches like ghosts of days past. He gave his all to his chosen family, but in the end he too was put out. I knew that this was what they were grown for…Still it made me sad. Loved and cherished, then tossed out like nothing. The third tree happened quickly—bundled into my car trunk en route to the doctor’s. The fourth had so many branches broken, I nearly cried when I saw her. And by the end of two weeks, I had a collection that not even my family could ignore. My orphans had to go.
On a cold and starry night, I made several trips back and forth from my garage to the beach, each time chauffeuring three or four trees in my car. When I was done clearing out my collection, the hole I had dug in the sand was chest-high with trees laying criss-cross against each other. I circled the pyre several times, drenching the trees with lighter fluid. And then I struck a match.
I stood there with the lit match poised on my fingertips. I thought about how the trees didn’t understand Christianity or religion or Santa Claus. They just existed and did their best to be trees. We turned them into symbols of peace and of family and of tradition, cutting their lives short for something they didn’t understand or believe in. We used them and disposed them without thanks.
But the trees accepted it; their life and death was preordained, and the trees, in their infinite wisdom, accepted it with grace and patience.
I could only hope to share in their wisdom.
I dropped the match and with a whoosh the trees exploded in one last display of magnificent dancing lights, the flames twisting and swirling wildly.
I saluted at the fiery, crackling pyre before taking a sharp about-face. I took a deep breath and started running away from the cops who were blowing their whistles and gesturing at me. I had forgotten that bonfires weren’t allowed on this part of the beach. Oh well. Worth it. Thank you, Christmas trees, thank you.
It was midnight when they came.
I hid in my closet, behind the boxes of winter clothes. The dust and musty smell assaulted my nose, choking up my throat and seizing my lungs. I frantically arranged the bags and cardboard boxes around me and hunkered down as far into the corner as I could go. I clapped my hands over my mouth and tried to control my breathing. Over the roar of the blood pounding in my head, I could hear footsteps moving quietly through the house.
It seemed like an innocent enough conversation. I certainly hadn't expected things to go this far.
Don't get me wrong...I'm not one of those predator types. I don't want to take advantage of anyone. I just...wanted a soul mate. Someone to hang out with, so I wouldn't feel so alone all the time. And now, I think...I might have found one.
I'm Stephanie...Steph for short. Well, okay, that's the name I've *been* using. My actual name is David Harris. I'm a 38-year-old, 5'6", 230-pound guy, which is to say that I'm your stereotypical short, overweight American guy. I've never had any luck with the ladies...perhaps there's something about contractors that turns a woman off? I keep seeing porn where a guy goes over to a lady's house to do some work, and they wind up doing some construction of their own on the bathroom floor. Mmmm. Although, now that I think about it, those guys probably weigh a bit less than I do. Oh, and they're not actually contractors...they're porn stars. That might also have something to do with it.
Steph, on the other hand, is 15 and a sophomore in high school. She's 5'5" and 110 pounds. Her favorite subjects are chemistry and English. She maintains an A- average, and when she's not in school, she listens to pop music, follows her favorite stars, hangs out with friends and loves to go to the movies. She even writes reviews of every movie she's seen and posts them online. One day, she'd love to write about the entertainment industry in some way, perhaps as a reviewer, reporter or columnist.
Steph is an optimist and has a bright future...that's two big differences from David, right there. So naturally that makes her someone you might want to talk to, right? Maybe? It turns out that I found someone who wanted to talk to Steph, right on the good old Internet.
Katie is 16, and also a sophomore. She describes herself as someone who's generally optimistic also, but who needs a bit of a self-esteem boost from time to time. She likes math, and writing for the school newspaper. She also likes movies, so we hit it off right away. I've recommended quite a few to her that she wound up really enjoying, and she pointed me in the direction of a few gems as well.
We started with movies, but our conversations moved in many different directions after that, finally getting very personal. We talked about families, friends and personal history...sadness...feelings. About what we wanted, and then, what we wanted for each other. I came to the realization that, in many ways, Katie was just like me. What naturally followed was a desire--in both of us--to see each other.
That set off a chain of events that led straight to today. I'm currently standing at the welcome gate in my airport. Katie's plane landed 15 minutes ago, and she texted that she'll be exiting the passenger area very soon. I can't believe that this is actually happening. But I'm really, really nervous. After all, even though I typed all of what Steph said, I do certainly appear to be someone else.
So I brought a sign with me. It says, "Hi Katie, it's me, Steph." I've got it attached to my shirt. It's in black marker, on white paper...impossible to miss. I'm hiding nothing; I'm letting it all hang out. From the very first moment, she'll see who I really am: not the optimistic, confident, beautiful 15-year-old with a promising future, but instead...me.
I started to panic. Just a little at first, but then more so. I don't feel scared, but...I have no clue how she'll react. I have no idea what's going to happen.
I tried to calm my nerves by watching the people emerge from the passenger area, one by one, thinking about what sorts of people they were. A middle-aged businessman, perhaps? His briefcase suggests that, anyway. And that guy? He looks like a bum off the street...how does he even have the money to fly? That woman has a lot of poise. Maybe she's a lawyer? Or a teacher. Naw, I'd be scared if she was my teacher...
My people-watching session was suddenly interrupted by the gaze of a man that I hadn't noticed up until this very moment.
He was an inch shorter than I was...like me, short and pudgy. He gazed up at me with longing, frightened brown eyes, eyes that mumbled something about how he'd been searching for me, all this time, but didn't have a clue what to do now that he'd found me. My first reaction was one of puzzlement. He cast his eyes downward somewhat. I followed them down to his chest, and noticed that he, like me, was wearing a sign of his own:
"Hi Steph. It's me, Katie."
I froze up.
No way no way no way no way.
We had both been hiding behind an alter ego. Now, there was nowhere to hide. There was only...
...someone who thought the same way as me. I looked into those brown eyes again and saw the same sort of longing that I'd been feeling for years. Longing for a soul mate.
In my head I'd imagined Katie and Steph together. Holding hands. Bonding over lunch. Shopping. On the phone. In the car. At the park. Even doing mundane things such as laundry. Together, as one.
I couldn't explain why, but I felt that I saw the reflection of those thoughts in the deep brown eyes I was currently staring at.
Everything else around us vanished. It was just me, and him. Nothing before, nothing after, only now. I felt as if I'd been glued to the floor...I was completely unable to move.
Now, his eyes seemed to be asking me something. I don't remember what they said. I'm not sure that I ever even figured it out. Instinctively, I smiled.
He threw himself into my arms.
Acting on instinct once again, I returned his embrace.
What was happening? It didn't matter. Was I Steph or David? That didn't matter right now, either. Hell, I didn't even know this person's real name yet. But his hands were all over me and mine were locked behind his back.
He kisses me. I should say "he suddenly kisses me," but it didn't feel sudden any more. It felt scripted. Natural. Expected. And...wonderful. We kiss and kiss again, and then we go on autopilot, our hands and lips moving on their own. Tongues danced. I caught the smell of his body and for some reason it felt lovely. His embrace felt big and warm and inviting and affectionate. And his eyes...oh, his eyes.
Our tongues seemed to tie in a knot. His hand reached my armpit and it tickled so good. I gently stroked the backs of his soft hands...I wondered what he does with them all day. My left hand met the right side of his face and he pressed up against it like a puppy, wearing a smile that grew from nothing all the way to covering his whole face...as well as mine.
Some time went by...a minute? An hour? I couldn't even tell. We found each others' eyes again, just as we realized that we could probably take this somewhere else. Like the hotel room I'd booked.
Lo and behold, we started walking, and jumped right into a conversation that felt almost exactly like a typical, nightly Steph-and-Katie dialogue. It felt more familiar than I ever could have imagined. More natural.
It was like I'd found that soul mate I'd been searching for, in the least likely of places.
"Katie" led me to his car. Actually, it turned out to be a big red van.
Yes, "Katie." Do you have candy? I'll get into your big red van, I thought.
And I did.
#27: Expensive exhibit
A beating heart
A work of art
Less so right now,
Or perhaps more?
The colors soar.
We've got shades
of red galore.
A steady rain
comes from a vein.
I can't explain.
Each little drop
lands with a plop.
Of lovely sound,
a bumper crop.
Some hits my face.
I get to taste
a flavor that
I now embrace.
From head to toes,
this rain goes;
a pleasing scent
enters my nose.
My senses dance,
enter a trance.
With this art,
I find romance.
I feel such glee
at what I see.
This work of art
was inside me!
Oh whoa, my head,
It's time for bed?
Oh shit, I guess
this means I'm de--