From “A Soft Projection for Q4” (published as a special online supplement to Zoetrope: All-Story‘s Winter 2015/2016 Issue):

I maintain an acute awareness of posture. I do not rely on this desk, on the Pharm–Alpen building, on the West Emery Office Park.

Mindfulness isn’t magic. Mindfulness takes work.

Late morning sunlight spills down my light well, warms my face. The pink glow beyond my closed eyelids could be the glow of any sunlight anywhere, as I sit swiveled strategically between my dual monitors. On my left, the Q3 metrics deck for Do–I–Have– On my right, the Mayo Clinic web page on hemochromatosis (iron–storage disease).

Shoulders open, palms relaxed.

“Earth to Jason.”

Josh Crowdis takes my hard–won serenity and clubs it to death. I see him in the side–view mirror I soldered off my old three–speed Schwinn and Krazy–Glued to the edge of my left monitor. Just as a joke, but it isn’t one, really.

From “Old Teeth” (published in Glimmer Train Issue 86):

I ask her what happened to her box of stuff, and she goes back inside to get it. I’m just trying to be a good guy. But it sounds like we’re old hats at this, drinking in the middle of the day together and leaving our things in bars. A real sorry team.

From “Impala” (forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review):

“At least you got a goodbye, Brainy, because I didn’t get shit,” Benny says, like he has been waiting a while to say it. The unlit joint bounces like crazy under the words. I pretend not to notice, but I can almost feel the first bite of smoke in my lungs.

I wonder whether him and Lindy ever hung out up here just the two of them.

Across the valley the coastal range is craggy and purple-black. Fingers of fog drape the gaps, stuck there colorless until the heat burns them off.

The Kings used to flood this valley for centuries at a time. Where our houses are used to be marshlands. My grandfather has marine fossils to prove it. The years he spent finding water, he also found mollusks, white coral. A hunk of shale with a kelp formation printed into it like a peace sign. He made wood frames and bought lucite cubes for some of them. Others he kept in baggies taped with different colored labels depending on the period. It is all in sagging boxes in a corner of the garage, but it will be gone soon. I am probably next. Mom has all but said she is moving into Wade’s place. One time I said I could just stay at the house. They looked at each other like I just told their all-time favorite joke, then Wade got his serious face together and told me I have a lot of things to learn.

From “R and R”:

Me and Tim used to cruise around in these trees playing 82nd Airborne, toting snapped-off branches for rifles, pretending we were ducking German halftracks in the Ardennes.

One time Pop wandered past with a brew in his hand, in an expansive mood. This was around when he quit drinking for good. I must have been nine or ten. He goes, “You boys want to know what it’s really like to be way down in the shit?” Something like that. It was one of those windbag things he never would have done sober.

He ran it down for us though. First time you see a buddy hit, you try and help. All you do is puke all over his boots. Next time, next buddy, you keep it together, do what you can, manage to fight off the puke until after all the chaos passes. Guess what? He dies anyways. Then every buddy after that, you don’t puke at all. It doesn’t matter how much of his insides are coming out or how bad he is screaming. Your body outsmarts your brain. Fear becomes this quaint little thing. And the best part is you feel guilty about not puking. Like the third squirming buddy and all the ones after, they don’t deserve that kind of physical response?

He told us to go play grabass someplace where he couldn’t hear us.

From “May, Might, Must”:

The cold of the patio numbs my socked feet. In the center of the table there is a metal ashtray shaped liked Texas. I pat my pockets, feeling for the familiar weight of a Bic lighter. It starts as a habit, becomes a way of letting you know I remember. I knit my brow in exaggerated confusion, feel the cold air drying the sweat on my forehead.

“Don’t remind me,” you say. You rub your arms below your shirtsleeves. “But a thing like this happens, and you do not ponder your future between drags.”

I see the ghosts of my Camel Lights and your Winstons on the table, hear our little song in my head. “This brand is your brand, this brand is my brand.”

Lightning blinks above the east county hills, leaving glowing cracks on the gray sky.

“Never too early for gum, I guess,” you say. In the bills drawer there is nicotine gum, packs and packs of it. We have left yesterday’s little gray nuggets in the ashtray. They harden on the cold metal of central Texas, in towns I can’t name, but you probably could.

Copyright © 2017 David Goguen