Best Worst Year: Episode 80 (Or, Sugar)

You’ve been looking at the sugar dispenser for the last twenty minutes, turning it over and back, watching the saltine cracker tumble and disappear in the avalanche. Checkerboard vinyl tablecloth sticks to your bare arms. For a midwestern dinner on the edge of winter, the greasy spoon is unnaturally humid. Wheat toast, slightly burnt, dips its toes into a runny yolk. There is a teardrop of Tabasco left in the bottle–you were waiting for more before eating, but ten minutes ago was fifteen minutes after you asked for a fresh bottle–not happening. Your waitress is as hungover as you are jetlagged. The butter has pooled in a delta shape on your bread. The cheapest breakfast on the menu and you’re getting what you paid for in more ways than one. The local newspaper doubles the distance from you to St. Louis in print. Even though you’re an hour and a half away from current events, you might as well be back on the east coast as it relates to how the paper covers it.

Blue lights on wet pavement. Leather gloves in the snow.

The worst kept secret in town is the fact you built a straw house on quicksand. Does age make you aware of your struggle? Flying home through Atlanta, someone drew a bird on the towel dispenser in the men’s room near your Delta gate. Thrasher, you’d think it was the state bird of Georgia. The second mascot of the second failed attempt of NHL expansion into this state. On your early morning flight back to St. Louis, a flight attendant spills hot tea on you. Half awake, you barely feel the steeping boil seep through your coat sleeve. You swore she was quoting the Counting Crows. There is a shadow dispersed in the clouds below you. You are now entering Missouri.

Aisle seat. A murder of one.

You finish your fifth and final student conference before lunch with the best writer in the class. You talk about adding arrows to his quiver. He folds his notebook under his arm, tucked like a single wing. You draw birds on a notepad–wavy m-shaped spectres in ballpoint black. There is a sense of the hunt in the way he takes to the page. You know what words look like when they set to chase the undefined quarry. The snow waits for you to drive home. You watch pages empty out of the sky, one white leaf of papery flake at a time.

Tire tracks in a blizzard. So much to write down.

You fold your legs over to one side, twist your head in the opposite direction, and spread your arms to their fullest wingspan. Gravity pulls ache out of your lower back. Breath strings the bow of your body, but the archer in your twist wrings out tension. You lay on the floor like an anchor missing a fluke. The full weight of the last few months spill out of you–but only for a count of thirty. You unstring the bow, repeat the motion for the other side of your body. Slow the heart to a thrumming trickle. The largest television in the gym is on Fox News. Four white anchors talk about the state of racism in America. You lay there a little longer than you expected, listening to the clatter and slam of pulleys and weights.

Teenage bodies in a Smith cage. A pair of lawyers talk about the weather.

You eat leftovers over the sink while watching an owl on your fence. You haven’t seen one this close since your grandmother died. Spill a spoonful of soy sauce over jasmine rice. “What’s Going On” pops and hisses. Your kitchen smells like burnt sugar and almonds. Whiskey melts ice. A tumbler on the kitchen counter. Your upstairs neighbor steps out on his back porch and the owl flies away. Their baby is crying. It’ll be Christmas before you know it.

Marvin Gaye was shot in the back. There are only two seasons anymore.

______________________________

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. He writes “Best Worst Year” weekly for Sundog Lit. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.

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