by frank williams
by josh vancil by jake davies
by graham seidman
by bill dentler

visions of melissa
by greg beaver-seitz

   The time flies and I don’t mind. I pace around, I chew my fingernails, sometimes I let it all drift away, remember all the goodness. Now I walk back and forth on hardwood floors, end to end in my apartment. From the little bay window in front, looking out over the street, to the rear windows, grimy from the kitchen, looking over the alley.
   Melissa comes in. She opens the front door and steps into the room as I’m trying to read on the couch. She takes off her shoes and walks over to me, she bends down and she kisses me on the cheek. Her lips rest on my skin for just a moment, I twist my head and brush her with my lips and she stands and looks down at me. She smiles that smile –her lopsided sweet smile— and turns, walks back toward the kitchen and the bedroom.
   She hasn’t been home for a week. It’s nothing new. I’m never bothered by it when she disappears, I don’t think I need to worry about if she’s safe or not, or about what she’s doing. I worry because when she’s gone it leaves me agitated and nervous, anxious and restless.
Now I lose the nervousness that’s driven me around the place all afternoon. She’s home. My restlessness is replaced by calm energy that finally has an outlet. Melissa’s coming and goings have taught me how destructive my energy is when it can’t be spent; I go crazy, not able to do anything about it. Melissa’s arrival just knocks a hole in it all and my energy is the productive kind.
After a moment, I follow her to our bedroom, I try to remember when exactly I saw her last. I think we did eat dinner at the China Express before we came home, then I went into the shower and she was gone when I got out.
   In my bedroom she’s staring at the books on my shelves. I walk up behind her and she braces for my kiss – it’s brief on her neck as I pivot around her, my left hand on her waist. I grab my notebook off the top of a row of books where I threw it a few days ago, lonely and frustrated with all the wrong words.
   After I kiss her she shudders a little, I see, as I turn away from her, but she doesn’t move. Walking back into the living room I can picture her eyes scanning the books, row by row, with ferocity and admiration. I picture the books themselves, hardcover Hemingway and old copies of Jack London, paperback Kerouacs and a bunch of talented people I think of as my contemporaries.
   In my chair I open to the first blank page, find that my pen is in my right pocket where it should be, and begin writing.
   Having Melissa in the other room, looking at books –and then I can hear her paging through them after a while– the words spill out of me. I’m overflowing with words, and they’re the right words. Ideas and people, places and conversation, it all comes together just right, like jazz, on the pages of my notebook.
   She reads for a while and I write without pause, my characters thinking for themselves, my story becoming the collision of beauty and sadness that gives birth to joy and ecstasy. After some pages for both of us Melissa comes out and sits opposite me. I want to talk to her, badly, but she’s content to smile, glowing, across the room at me while I scribble down the rough edges of something that I know is already beautiful, that I’ll wake up in the morning wanting to read and improve, that’ll give me that rare happiness, complete and unfaltering. As soon as I can, I bring myself to a point that I can leave it at for now.
   Just as I’m finishing up writing, she’s standing up, she’s putting on jazz, putting on jazz that is cymbals and sax and piano jumping around and I briefly think: we are jazz, me and Melissa. I’m done writing and she sits down on the couch now, next to me, and we’re jazz, and we jam about the last week and the next week and everything. There’s this inaudible bass line just carrying itself through the music and my foot thumps along with it, steadily, instead of shaking nervously.
Her and me and the jazz, and it’s all right. When I look outside and it’s dark though it’s not late at all –still afternoon– the music makes it okay. Jazz makes the coming of winter all right with me, having Melissa here next to me makes the coming of night seem like the coming of a big crashing drum and cymbal and thwumping bass solo building up right in the middle of a jam. So we just sit there and we jam. Melissa’s my steady bass line, she’s my wild piano.
   In bed later, Melissa lays near me. Every night I sleep alone I can only feel how the orange glow of the city leaks through my blinds and it kills me a little more every night. Tonight, I don’t even think about it, I don’t feel any of that, tonight Melissa is here and I don’t think about anything but her and all the good that she is in my life.
   Though it’s late and I’m tired I can’t fall asleep. I’m thinking about what I should do with what I wrote tonight, how to make it better, where to go with it next. Sentences whisper through my mind, describing a character or a setting, ways of feeling and conversations, words that I don’t know where they come from. I almost want to get up and write some of these down but instead I repeat everything over and over in my head so I might remember it tomorrow.
   Occassionally Melissa rolls over or stirs and I know she’s still awake. I don’t know why, don’t know what she’s thinking, and I kiss her shoulder, her neck, her cheek, lightly on her warm, smooth skin. I imagine that in some way she’s thinking the same thoughts that keep me awake some nights. She told me tonight that she’d been at home this last week, far up in the woods to the north, and maybe she’s trying to reconcile home and the silence and darkness of the nights there with this orange-glowing city of midnight police sirens, this feeling of claustrophobia brought on by being engulfed in pavement and walls and people and lights. I don’t know what to tell her so I let her think and I lay with my arm across her some and kiss her and we finally fall asleep together.

   In the morning I drive around the city in my car, not really getting anywhere. I’m distracted by the sky, the sky that is beautiful high gray clouds, chunky and almost would be solid across the sky if not for organic gaps between that show through incredible dark, dark blue winter sky. Far to the south now, the sun burns white behind the clouds, sending down specific rays all over the city, shining down on buildings and streets. But, though it’s a rare sky I realize that it’s nothing against this landscape of the city.
   I’m going nowhere and thinking about the overwhelming skies I’ve seen from rocky shores of lakes miles from anyone, hundreds of miles from these railroad tracks and low, anonymous buildings that are littered along these urban streets. I can’t bring it all back here, the rush of being on that lake in the middle of summer, watching unbelievable clouds sweep powerfully across the sky from the north and the west. I remember that I felt a certain ecstacy, but I can’t remember at all how it really felt.
   The sky is my solitary companion this morning because Melissa had things to do, so did I. But, I couldn’t do any of those things, they don’t even exist, I spend one night with Melissa and nothing else exists. So, while Melissa runs her errands I point my car in one direction and then, another. I drive for more than two hours, avoid the freeways, let time slips by in a haze of thoughts and emotions that roll all over. Nothing really hits hard or digs too deep, I don’t let it, learned how to do this from too much experience from moodss that are often unpredictable and too easily thrown from one end to the other… Luckily, before I lose myself too deeply in my psyche or the maze of streets, it’s time to meet her back at the apartment.
   The strange melancholy roller coasting morning flashes out of being when I walk in the door and see her sitting on the couch with a sandwich and a Coke for herself and one of each for me waiting on the coffee table. She’s absolutely beautiful today. I know I kissed her once this morning as she climbed out of bed before me, but it feels like I haven’t seen her at all. Last night even seems like a dream, so I drop my bag on the floor and walk across the room to her –she looks up as I bend down and we kiss openly, savoring it.
   We have music on the radio and she and I eat our lunch together on the couch. “How’d your errands go?” I ask her
   “Good,” she tells me, “I got everything done that I needed to, no problem. Do you have anything going on this afternoon?”
   I don’t and we eat silently with this perfect coincidence of freedom on a Friday afternoon.
As I’m chewing my last bite Melissa says, “Let’s go somewhere and watch people.”
   “Sounds perfect, where?”
   “I don’t know, what do you think?”
   And we both think, though I’m quickly distracted by the music on the stereo, hip-hop beats just quietly bumping along with subtle manic trumpet over everything. I’m gone –thinking about how great the music is, that it’s beautiful genius that comes up with this— and Melissa says “What about London House?”
   Her suggestion is good I think, a favorite coffee shop, so we kiss once, lingering and subdued, and rise off the couch and wander around the apartment separately, collecting books and pens and notebooks, putting on jackets for the cool afternoon.
   Melissa drives so I get to just sink into the passenger seat for the drive across town to the café, a perfect drive with her, we talk and begin noticing the people we see together; in their cars and on the sidewalk, we pause in silence at a stoplight, pull up next to a city bus packed with every kind of person, all of them within inches of each other, no choice but to silent and try not to bump one another. It’s a perfect short drive across town, with happiness and relaxation and safety and reverence for all the biological wonderment of humanity.
   When we get to the coffee shop and climb out of the truck –which I have obscurely dubbed The Transparent Eyeball during the drive and plan to tell Melissa when we drive home— the clouds in the sky are those of the afternoon, threatening to rain coldly.
With hot coffee and words we sit by the window in front and look out on the street. The sidewalk is busy with all sorts and Melissa’s presence, as she reads and writes with me, is enough to reawaken the ecstatic feeling of watching humanity exist, and then pinning it down, painting it, sketching the huge spectacle of it all in the pages of my notebook: white pages, blue faint lines, black ink trying to capture it all.
   We’re here for an hour or more, mostly in silence and happiness, my emotions slowly settle to a sort of rare happiness, rare only because I know it can be sustained, that it’s created out of tangible, good, stable things. In the late afternoon –the sidewalks emptied and the sun almost gone behind the skyscrapers in the distance— Melissa’s cell phone chirps from inside her purse. The sound snaps me out of my trance and my heart flutters, the ring threatens our solidarity, threatens my writing, threatens my happiness. I don’t know why I feel it, but I’m nervous as she fumbles through her purse and answers the ring.
   She says “hello” and then seems to get excited and I look down at my pages and pick up that it’s her sister, her older sister Callie, and then Melissa gets up from our table and walks outside by the door, blowing a kiss at me silently, and she lights a cigarette standing out there I see, and she talks to her sister. My mind is okay, sort of at ease, and I read rather than write, read some good words while she talks on the phone for fifteen minutes.
   When Melissa walks back up to the table and sits down again I’ve sort of managed to get myself lost in my book. I look up and she looks at me and smiles, lopsided, and says “That was Callie.”
   “Yeah? How’s she doing?” I ask.
   “She’s good. She’s got a week off of work and is going to drive out west, to Wyoming,” she says this and looks down at the table, into her coffee.
   “Sounds fun,” is all I say because it’s just what I have to say before she says what I know she’s going to.
   “She asked if I wanted to go with and I really do want to.”
   I’ve got every right to say that she just got home and she was already gone for a week and that I’ll go crazy in that apartment alone for another week, and that I love her and I need her. I don’t say that, I try not to be that way. Don’t say that but say “Well, it’ll be a lot fun and I wish you had been home a little longer before you left, but you should go, it’ll be a lot of fun.”
She halfway looks up and then blurts out “I’ll tell you all about it! I’ll tell you about it and it’ll be just like you came with.”
   It’s my turn to look down, into my coffee, and I nod a little and know that it won’t be at all like that. But, I also come to this realization that Melissa, my true love, will always be coming and going. Because I realize that this is why I love her, because it is her entrances that elate me and her exits that despair me. Because she is Melissa and I’ll do anything for her grace I only look down for a moment and then I look up and I nod again and smile, lopsided myself, and tell her it’s all right.

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