I dreamed of you and your biscuits

Seeing Carl was not unusual. Hearing from Carl was quite unusual.

“I dreamed of you in spectacular color.”

            Carl clutched his backpack to his chest with both hands. He took a step forward. Maybe he was aware of the others. Maybe not.

            “I dreamed of you in this very moment.”

            She raised her eyebrow. Seeing Carl was not unusual. Hearing from Carl was quite unusual.

            “You were making me a biscuit. One of those hot buttered rounds where the strawberry jelly is so thick it leaks and stains the sides. Heavens.”

            Jasmine put a slice of cheese and a wedge of ham between the folds of biscuit and wrapped it in yellow wax paper. She stepped to her left, in front of the pail of potatoes, and Carl followed.

            “You want hash browns,” she asked.

            Carl leaned forward to whisper. “Can you not see?”

            Jasmine sighed. “I don’t have time, Carl. You want hash browns or not?”

            Carl turned and looked at those who stood waiting. The couples with their eyes glued to their cell phones, their hands in a constant scroll. The girl who pulled the string of pink bubblegum from her mouth, wrapped it around her finger in a loop of three and stared at him.

            “You are in my dreams. And, yet, you are here before me, now in this presence, serving me a feast upon which I shall savor and accept with the greatest of gratitude.”

            Jasmine walked to the register and her fingers punched the numbers. Her feet hurt. She’d been making biscuits since 5 a.m. and her baby needed more formula.

            “Three twenty five, Carl.”

            He stood before as he does nearly every morning. He wears the same long coat with the holes in the sleeve. His pants are still dirty and his shoes covered in dirt. His hair is thin on top, greasy and unwashed. He smiles and she sees his teeth stained yellow, one missing, completing the homeless ensemble.

            “I see you every night,” Carl says, reaching his hand inside his pocket, where he digs and digs and digs.

            “Hey buddy,” says the man with the cell phone. “Can you pick it up?”

            Jasmine smells him and she wonders if he joins the others under the overpass by the interstate. She sees them when she drives to pick up her daughter from her mother. Carl is here every morning and he’ll shyly slide a quarter across the counter and ask for a cup of coffee. Never before has he asked for a biscuit.

            He pulls his hand from his trousers and his palm is empty. He raises his eyes and she notices they are brown, as brown as her baby girl’s.

            Jasmine pushes the biscuit across the counter to his waiting hands. And he smiles.

            “You do see. My dream angel.”  


NOTE: The above work of fiction came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins challenged us to think of synchronicity. As writers, we are always excavating something or using our writing to explore something inside us.

Why, how and when do I write? Now you know

Best writing advice? Well, there is a Hemingway quote that hangs on my wall: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

I was recently asked to be a featured member of the Charlotte Writers’ Club. The feature, dubbed Meet A Member, runs in each monthly newsletter and is a great way to learn more about the fellow club members.

I’ve been a member of the Charlotte Writers’ Club for nearly two years now and have found it to be a great resource as I venture into the world of fiction writing and freelance work.

One of my favorite benefits of being a club member are the monthly programs by published authors taking on such topics as “Maintaining Suspense in Your Writing” and “Getting to Know Your Character.” The club holds several writing contests throughout the year and rewards the top submissions.

There are also opportunities to present your work during Open Mic Nights, as well as a Virtual Writing Salon. There is the supportive community of fellow writers tackling many of the same issues, as well as chances to share feedback as part of several critique groups.

All in all, I’ve found a very worthwhile organization and one that I’m happy to be a member of.

What follows are my responses to the questions asked each month of the featured club member.


Meet a Member for July 2021

Michael Banks

Bio:  A product of the western Kentucky coal and corn fields, I’ve spent most of my life documenting achievements and failings while working as a journalist at newspapers in Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina. I keep rowdy fans in check at Panthers games, write random features for magazines and enjoy the occasional sip of bourbon beneath my redbuds. All while pondering the first draft of my first novel.

When and Where Do I Write? I’ve found the Open Studio at Charlotte Lit to be a perfect place to get away and get my words down — morning, noon and night.

Favorite writing tool? I wish I could say I bang out my scenes via Hemingway’s Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter. Instead, it’s the soft pitter-patter of my MacBook Pro that brings comfort.

A favorite writing resource? Notes taken from Charlotte Lit classes and CWC presentations are a great help, but I find that when I’m stuck I go in search of some of my favorite authors. Ron Rash and Jennifer Egan have helped get me back on track lately.

Best Writing advice you’ve received and actually taken? On my office wall hangs a supposed Hemingway quote: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Claire Fullerton says, “For a writer, there is no there to get to, there is only the fulfilling, soul-driven act.” And that goes hand-in-hand with what I heard fellow CWC member Landis Wade say once: “Find joy in the process.” All good advice, I’d say.

One thing I would like help with? Now that the first draft is done, what’s next? How do we embrace revision? How do we query? The benefits of self-publishing? I’ve got quite the laundry list.


Membership in the Charlotte Writers Club entitles one to participate in workshops, critique groups, contests, and guest speaker programs. The cost is a modest $35 per year for individuals and $20 for students.

The organization welcomes all writers in all genres and forms to join our Charlotte-area literary community. A membership in the Charlotte Writers’ Club helps support writers, readers, and literacy at a critical time in our nation’s and our city’s history.

To join or renew a membership, click this Membership Link and follow the instructions.

Obsessed with RC Cola and baseball, and how it all went wrong

It was the summer of 1978 and I discovered RC Cola and baseball. My daddy? Well, he found Billy Beer.

In the summer of 1978, I discovered RC Cola and baseball.

I guess the soda that was a cheap knock-off of Coca-Cola had always been around, as was baseball, but that summer I consumed as much of both as humanly possible.

The reason? The collector cans that featured the RC logo and its slogan “Me and My RC” on one side and a photo of a Major League Baseball player on the other with his signature, stats and other pertinent information, such as was he right-handed or left-handed.

The collecting became an obsession and the stack of royal blue 12-ounce cans soon filled a wall of my bedroom. While I was always hopeful of an All-Star, such as Pete Rose or Reggie Jackson, it was multiple cans of little-known light-hitters like Freddie Patek and Bobby Grich that made up my shrine. 

These ballplayers were the ones I heard Jack Buck talk about at night and on Sunday afternoons, his voice stretching from the St. Louis Arch out across the corn fields of Southern Illinois and the cliffs of the Shawnee National Forest, across the Ohio River and into our little pocket of western Kentucky.

We lived “out in the country” as they said back then and my momma said it was too far to drive into town for Little League baseball. So, one day, I took a can of black spray paint and drew out a square strike zone on the side of our new brick home. I picked up a rubber ball and stood 12 feet away and threw as hard as I could, over and over, aiming for perfection. My daddy came home, saw what I did, spanked me good and gave me a can of turpentine and told me to scrub. And I did, until my fingers ached, but that black box remained, now part of our home.

And, inside those brick walls, the monument of tin cans grew larger and larger as I drank more and more RC. And, as you can surmise, an 11-year-old boy hopped up on caffeinated soda is going be clumsy and careless and the temple would often come clanging down, oftentimes at night when I’d stumble making my way to the bathroom.

Maybe collecting the cans was a gene thing, like a widow’s peak hairline, passed down from generation to generation.

My dad cherished a can of unopened Billy Beer, a beverage known more for being endorsed by the beer-guzzling brother of then President Carter than for its taste. And he proudly displayed that single can of Billy Beer on our living room mantle next to the family Bible handed down by the teetotaling Robinsons on my mother’s side. I’m sure he saw fortune in his future and a day when that can of Billy Beer would be worth thousands of dollars.

But maybe it was more than that.

Billy Carter, the brother to former President Jimmy Carter, is shown with a can of Billy Beer that he endorsed and promoted in the late 1970s.

Eventually, my RC cans were dispatched to a grey, weathered barn that was starting to lean more than it was upright with a good part of its rusty tin roof curled back like the shavings from an apple’s peel.

That summer I remained true, continuing to drink RC and adding to the collection, the cans climbing the slats around a feed crib that contained more rats than healthy ears of corn. But the rains came, as they do, and the bottom of the cans began to rust. And I picked up football in the fall and then basketball in the winter and spring. There would be girls and then a driver’s license and the cans would topple and fall when the winter winds blew between the ever-widening planks of oak.

Eventually, the rust spread, covering the faces on the cans, and I could no longer see if I was looking at Freddie Patek or Pete Rose. One fall day, the cans were thrown into black plastic bags and tossed in the back corner of the corn crib, that darkest part down where the rats made their nest.

But the can of Billy Beer remained. For a while. 

More than 40 years later, the homeplace remains, as does my mom. She’s like the maples she planted in that western Kentucky dirt. Still strong and rooted in place. The old barn has long been torn down, replaced by a shiny red, two-story building built by the Amish from down Crittenden way that is more guest living quarters than it is a work shed. 

The RC Cola cans are also long gone, dispatched not soon after my father left when most of his blue jeans and those country western shirts with the pearl snap-on buttons were taken from the closet and dumped in the backyard, doused with lighter fluid and a match was struck.

I don’t know if I ever asked my mother if she took the cans to a recycling center or just simply put them in the burn barrel, their sides blackening, indistinct. Just another can in a smoldering mess of household garbage. Forgotten. 

Come to think of it, I don’t know if we’ve ever really discussed the divorce much.

The separation stung at first, but eventually as you get older and perhaps wiser and maybe forgiving, you learn to accept the betrayal and loneliness. Like the collector cans, the pronouncement of “till death do us part and forever and ever” was something that was just taking up space and needed to be thrown out. The connection gone.

Still, there are days, like today, when an overheard bit of conversation or a question about obsession takes me back to those cans of my childhood. It’s those memories that remain. Good and bad. 

It’s your mom going to the IGA, picking up a six-pack of RC Cola and there being two more Freddie Pateks in the bunch. You disappointed, but not saying anything as you pull the tab and drink the bland soda, hopeful for another day.

It’s spray painting a black square on the side of a brick wall. And bits of that square block still clinging to that sturdy brick, 40 years later.

It’s clinging to the past and hoping that what you hold will only become more precious as time goes on. But, more importantly, it’s realizing when it’s time to just take it out to the burn barrel, light a match and move on.

I do an Internet search and find that you can buy six of the RC Cola baseball collector cans for $20. Another seller is offering 53 of the used RC cans for $150.

A pristine can of Billy Beer, unopened, can be had for $21. 

But nobody’s buying.

The Call of the Crow

What do you see when presented with Van Gogh’s “Wheatfield With Crows”? I thought of a man’s impending death.

Photo by narubono on Unsplash

I see the crow and quickly look away.

I hear the incessant “caw, caw, caw” and I want to place my hands over my ears and hum the words to a happy song. But nothing comes to my lips.

The crow is black. The crow is foreboding.

Is the crow death?

In the river bottoms, the crows come in packs, swooping low over the harvested fields, the broken stalks of corn like the limbs of war dead, half-in, half-out of the grey, boot-sucking muck.

A murder of crows is what they call that pack of black that fills the fading light of late afternoon. 

“Fitting,” I mutter to myself, raising the collar of my worn pea coat to my neck, a shield against the harsh December wind that comes from the north.

I, too, am in my final season and I believe the crow knows.

I skirt the field and climb the hill and they fill the branches of the barren oak that rises up and over the farmhouse. The roof has started to sag from the weight of rain and all these years. I know that I’ll not repair it. 

Inside, where my wife once stood at the stove, stirring the pot of soup, and the brown-headed girl, she being 10 then, came to me with open arms and words of “daddy, daddy, daddy,” it is now quiet. On the wooden table, there is an opened bag of bread, a slice of white lies to the side left to grow stale. Mold just a few days away.

My breath catches and I feel a tightening in my chest. I retreat back to the cold wind that whips around the porch and I stumble down the three wooden steps. I stuff my hands in my pockets and hunch my shoulders.  

I don’t look up. There’s no need. I know the crow is near. 


NOTE: The above work of fiction came from a writing prompt presented during a recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. In the session, presenter Kathie Collins challenged us to respond to the Van Gogh painting “Wheatfield With Crows” and write what moved us. An interesting note is that the painting is believed to be the last work of the celebrated painter.

High school principal by day, Walmart stocker at night

We all could learn a little something from Henry Darby.
He spends his days as the principal of a high school in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
At night, he stocks shelves at an area Walmart. His pay goes to help needy students and families.

Henry Darby is shown in the hallway at North Charleston (SC) High School, where he serves as principal. Photo by Mic Smith.

Editor’s Note: An edited version of this story appeared as a SC Stories feature in the April issue of South Carolina Living magazine, which is distributed monthly by the South Carolina Cooperative Electric Association.

Students at North Charleston High School in the Lowcountry of South Carolina often gaze at the wall of awards principal Henry Darby has amassed over the past 40 years. He’ll ask them what they believe is the greatest honor among the stack of plaques. They never pick the starched white shirt hanging in a box.

“it reminds me of my humble beginnings,” said the North Charleston native. “It’s not the height that you reach, it’s the depth that you come from.”

The shirt came from cloth his mother gathered from an area dump. Florence Darby took the fabric home, boiled it in a kettle in the back yard and made the material into a shirt. He wore that shirt to school two to three days a week for the next four years.

Darby knows poverty, but also the value of education and willingness to work.

He recalled a day when he was 10 years old and his mother was given food stamps.

“My mother put both her hands upon my shoulders, pulled me near to her and tore up the food stamps in my face. Her words were, ‘Boy, you’re going to learn to stand on your own two feet.’ I have never forgotten that lesson.”

And he also knows there are times when others need help.

“I know what it feels like to live in poverty and it’s not a good feeling,” he said. “I just do my best to help those I can help to get out of poverty.”

“I know what it feels like to live in poverty and it’s not a good feeling. I just do my best to help those I can help to get out of poverty.”

Henry Darby, principal of North Charleston (SC) High School

In addition to his full-time duties as principal, Darby works the 10 to 7 overnight shift on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays at a local Walmart. His pay goes to help North Charleston students and their families struggling to buy groceries and clothing, pay rent and keep the lights on. 

“The first six weeks or so it was pretty rough,” he said of his job as a stocker. “Just standing, standing, standing. Muscles I hadn’t been using before. Feet swollen, knees swollen. But I’m not a quitter. I’m one of those Vince Lombardi guys. ‘Quitters never win and winners never quit.’”

His story has garnered state and national attention and there’s been a spike in donations. That’s been heartening, Darby said.

“Americans came together to support a cause to help children. It’s almost as if we want to forget about our differences… It’s a beautiful example of how Americans can help Americans.”

Some of his friends, worried about his age, have urged him to slow down. He proudly points to the 40 pounds he’s lost over the past seven months and said he has no plans to stop.

“Whenever I can’t teach or can’t help someone, I’m just gonna say, ‘Swing low, sweet chariot. You can carry me home now.’ I just love helping people.”

Whenever I can’t teach or can’t help someone, I’m just gonna say, ‘Swing low, sweet chariot. You can carry me home now.’

Henry Darby, principal at North Charleston (SC) High School

Getting to know Henry Darby

Age: Born on Nov. 28, 1954, Darby is 66 years young.

Occupation: Principal of North Charleston (SC) High School; 17 years as councilman for Charleston County (SC); associate at Walmart since August 2020

Book smart: A collector of rare historical books, his favorites include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” and a first edition copy of “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” by Jefferson Davis.

Music to the ears: He’s been playing the piano for the past 40 years and has been recognized several times for his talent. He loves to listen to jazz composer Charlie Parker.

The GOAT: There was a time he had a herd of domestic goats. “Goats will keep your yard clean, manicured. And since I was working three or four jobs at a time, I didn’t have time to cut my own grass. I loved my goats.”

A heart-shaped box of chocolates on Dyer hill

What could possibly become of a cold winter’s day, one impossibly large hill and a frozen box of chocolates?

When you’re 13 years old and you stare down Dyer hill, the snow still falling, your gloved hands wrapped around the sharp metal blades of your wooden sled, your heart is going to race.

Five slippery steps on the thin white powder, the ice-covered blacktop lurking below, then throwing the Western Auto Flexible Flyer out before you, the thump of your chest landing on the wood and then speeding head-first into a cold wall of winter.

Before you leap, you sneak a peek.

The girl with the freckles, the one who can throw a football farther than any boy and run just as fast, is watching. You begged your mother for the $5 bill and then read card after card until finding the Valentine that was just right – not too mushy, not too dorky – and the heart-shaped box of chocolates that you plan to leave in her mailbox when darkness descends.

Her blue eyes sparkle, the red scarf dotted with flakes of white to warm her lips, and your heart races and you run and you run and then you leap.

Editor’s Note: “A Heart-Shaped Box of Chocolates” stems from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were challenged to write a bit of flash fiction, no longer than six sentences, detailing a season and a moment during that season.

My love of grass

Fat Tuesday has me hungry for fine fescue

The lawn at Woodbend on a late April afternoon. Photo by Michael Banks

Most just shake their head and walk away. “No, no, no.”In fact, they are so adverse they’ll suddenly stop and turn, telling me their disdain is so great “I pay $50 every two weeks just so I don’t have to do it.”

They cannot comprehend my love of mowing my grass.

There’s something about sitting astride the bright green John Deere and hearing the motor catch when you turn the ignition. The slight shudder as the sharpened steel blade engages, in its wake the spring smell of fresh-cut fescue.

Maybe it’s about being in control. I follow the same path, a geometric pattern created some 15 summers past, only altered when the red buds grew tall and the azaleas wide and heavy with their showy whites and strawberry reds. My blade sweeps once and then again, shearing the blades to within 4 inches of the brown soil. Not 3 inches. Not 3 ½. But 4.

As with any love, there are tests. In the late summer heat, the sweat runs from your brow and you taste it on your lips. A cloud of red clay dust often blows, my Deere now brown, and the shards of crabgrass cling to my exposed ankles.

Yet, I sit and mow. Horizontal then diagonal. Always staying within the lines.

And on a Mardi Gras Tuesday, a day after thunder rumbled, lightning cracked and the rains fell, there is a ray of sun dancing upon my window frame. Beyond I see the clover and chickweed green and spreading, the fescue tall and waving in a cold wind.

I think of spring and my Deere.

And there is comfort in that.  

Editor’s Note: “My Love of Grass” stems from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were challenged to write of a love that is often neglected, a quieter love we all crave for comfort. We were told to focus on the concrete, grounded in actions and sensations, to bring the reader right there so they can feel the love first-hand.

Beanee Weenees in the parking lot

They’ve met for a year in the vacant parking lot. He’s always brought Beanee Weenees. She’s so tired of Beanee Weenees.

Editor’s Note: The following is an example of flash fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We were given an example of flash fiction and encouraged to write from what inspires us.

The car door creaked and groaned as a 15-year-old Buick tends to do when he opened and closed the door. From the yellow plastic bag, he pulled forth a dented cup of Beanee Weanies. He smiled as if he was handing her a handful of sapphires. 

Sure, she likes the taste of hot dog chunks and gravy and beans. Her mistake was in telling him. Since that first time they agreed to meet in the back corner of the vacant Food Lion parking lot, it’s always been Beanee Weenees. For 30 minutes, they’ll sit in the Buick and hold hands. She’ll slurp and listen as he talks of tomorrow.

She’s so tired of Beanee Weenees. 

Today is exactly one year after their first lunch date. The box holding the ring holding the quarter carat feels heavy in his pocket. When, he wonders. He decides definitely after she’s had her Beanee Weenees.

Tripping with death high above the Barren River

Ride along on a trip to the “locks” with a pocketful of ‘shrooms.

The following is a short piece of fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. We writers were asked to recall a “near death” experience of our own––or imagine one for a fictional character––and describe the setting with as much sensory detail as possible

Tripping with death above the Barren River

The Barren River runs fast here, slicing through the forested green gorge, its metallic blue waters dotted with white outcroppings of rock, like a lost field of mushrooms dropped down among the foothills of western Kentucky.

College students come here where the river plunges 20 feet over the falls, the mist from where the waters splash off the limestone below creating cool wet clouds that rise and hover, leaving tiny wet droplets on your tanned skin. 

Seeking space from exams and empty wallets, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds come to the Locks to sip cherry hooch mixed with pure grain alcohol and trip on shrooms. Those wise know to keep one in your group moderately sober as a trip to the Locks requires traversing a one-car-wide path that splits a sheer grey wall of granite and a dizzying drop of some 40 feet to the river below.

And it is here, 45 degrees vertical on that thin ribbon of road, where JD has decided to stop his hand-me-down hatchback. He needs to piss and it won’t wait until we reach level ground. 

I sit in the back seat alongside Adelphi and we tip our beer cans together. “Cheers, mate.” He giggles. I’m quite certain he gobbled most of the pocketful of shrooms JD carried and in his altered mind he’s anywhere but perched in a Pinto on the side of a cliff waiting on his driver, who is still visible through the front window, a yellow stream now snaking its way between JD’s legs, carving a path in the dry, dusty gravel. 

I glance out the open window and look down. It’s a straight shot, save for a few stubborn scraggly pines, to where the river runs clear below. I can smell the mist and hear the river hissing as it starts to run fast near the lip of the falls. I’ve never been one for heights. A boyhood trip up the St. Louis Arch left me light-headed and queasy and my back pressed against a carpeted wall, the people below a speck of tiny black dots moving hastily like worker ants serving a queen. 

Adelphi giggles some more and takes a long sip from his beer.

“Fuck it,” he says, leaning forward and over the front seat. As if in slow motion, I watch Adelphi as he shifts the gear stick into neutral and, giggling again, flops back, landing partly atop me, his beer spilling onto my jeans. There’s the smell of warm hops and a sudden lurch in my stomach as I feel gravity grab hold of the Pinto and we start to slowly move downhill.

Hearing the crunch of tires on gravel, JD has turned around, his hand still around his pecker and a look of curiosity upon his face as he tries to ponder how his one piece of tangible party has slipped into gear and is steadily moving backwards toward where the road bends, a literal dropping-off point.

“We’re moving, man, we’re moving!” Adelphi shouts out, reaching up to the top of the brown felt roof, his hands rhythmically smacking again and again, seeking out whatever unicorns or demons are filling his head space.

“We’re moving, man, we’re moving.”

Adelphi

I feel my own fingers digging in between the cushions, thinking a seat belt strapped around my waist is going to do me some good when that Pinto plummets backward off the cliff, smacks three pines on its way down and ends up, roof down, wedged between two big boulders, water streaming in and me stuck in place with my seat belt. Instead, my hands pull out a months-old peppermint and three years’ worth of brown, sticky lint.

My eyes remain on the front window, focused on JD, who has now taken on the form of a hermit crab, his legs askew, jeans still unzipped, pecker flopping, as his pudgy arms try to keep pace with his even fatter legs. He runs for his Pinto, its back bumper bouncing us off the wall of granite like the shiny silver ball ricocheting off the bumpers on the pinball machine I used to pump quarters into on Sunday mornings between Sunday school and worship service. Seems like years ago.

Game literally over, I think, surprising myself in the clarity and calmness of how one accepts one’s demise. My hands grip the headrest in front of me and I push my spine farther into the back seat cushion, readying for the free flight, bracing for the bone-jarring impact. 

“It’s beautiful,” Adelphi says, linking his arm around my bicep, pulling himself close. He leans his head back and lets loose with some Skynyrd in the sweetest harmony I’ve heard. And there, in that moment, I realize I’ve never known Adelphi to sing. 

“If I leave here tomorrow

Would you still remember me”

I’m fine with dying, I say to myself, and close my eyes. If it must be like this, then it’s gonna be.

“For I must be traveling on, now

‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see”

I savor the air that enters my mouth and fills my lungs, counting each breath. One… two…. I can taste the river on my tongue now, the wetness and cold awaiting. I hear the spring breeze whistling through the pines and I think of dead doves.

One breath. Exhale. Two breaths. Exhale.

“My father, who art in heaven,” I mumble, my mind in a jumble, trying to remember the words.

Adelphi now in full chorus.

“Cause I’m as free as a bird now

And this bird you cannot chaaaannnngggggeeeeeee”

The car lurches and our heads snap back and then forward, my forehead smacking the head rest, my fingers white, clenched in the foam.

I later come to find out that JD, that sweet, plump, slow-moving snail, had somehow managed to catch up with the Pinto and then wedged himself inside the open door and thrown his body into the driver’s side floorboard, his hands slamming down on the brake pedal, the Pinto’s back bumper hanging off the edge.

For a few moments we sit there in silence. The river still hisses below, almost like it’s angry, mad that it’s missed out on its allotment of drunk, foolhardy, teenagers. The spring breeze still blows and I feel it enter the open window, cool on my face that’s wet with sweat.

Adelphi breaks the silence. “Glorious day, dude.”

JD sits upright, closes the door and turns the ignition. The Pinto finally catches, slips into gear and then climbs, in its wake just dust and the river waters that run through the rocks and cascade down.

The last toast

A man chooses to stop drinking. What gets left behind, what is lost?

The following is a short piece of fiction stemming from a writing prompt during the most recent Pen to Paper Live session hosted by the Charlotte Lit organization. You can register here. On the eve of the presidential inauguration, the prompt was to examine what ends when something new begins? What gets lost, what gets left behind?

The Last Toast

Today is the day I stop drinking.

Seven words skewered in pencil on the back of an overdue electric bill from the City of Decatur.

The words a promise I’d made to myself some six hours earlier. Now the empty fifth of Kentucky Tavern on its side, a small pool of the brown elixir lingering in the glass on the nightstand, a remnant of the night before.

There’s a momentary urge to bring the cool glass to my lips to feel the burn of the whiskey as it hits my tongue, that sensory overload only topped by the feeling of warmth that spreads through my torso.

I’ll miss it. 

We had our falling outs, particularly that DWI three years back and those hungover mornings where I lay curled in bed instead of cutting wood. And, of course, there’s Rebecca. She said I loved the drink more than her.

For a while now, it’s been just me and the whiskey. And, for a while now, that’s been just fine.

Oh, we had our fun. 

That first sip when I was 14, the bottle passed from my daddy as we sat on the tailgate of the pickup truck waiting for the doves to rise from the brush. My welcome to manhood moment.

That late summer night down in the back woods of the Chattahoochee, three dates in with Rebecca, sharing the pint in the back seat of my Pinto, that hot spice sticking to my tongue, my lips numb.

Plenty of graduation celebrations, keg parties, afterwork socials, snips on lunch breaks, morning pick-me-ups, afternoon get-me-throughs.

We became good friends. Maybe too good of friends.

Comes a time when a man’s got to do what he thinks is best for him. And for me, that’s leaving you, whiskey.

Don’t you come knocking again on my door.

Please.