Can't AND Won't by Cyle Talley

Ryan is driving his son to school and they are late. It's the boy's fault. He slept in. Teenagers. They either can't or won't admit to themselves that they need a solid eight hours of sleep. Maybe it's both: can't and won't. Ryan might've shouted at his son. Okay, he did. "Why in the  hell can't you kick it into second gear? Let's go!" He had taken his son's phone, seeing it as the culprit of another late night.  

It's a seventeen minute drive to the high school. The car has been like a tomb, and it's minute fifteen. Ryan decides that if they aren't going to talk, he may as well get to enjoy some music.  

"Is this Bowie?" his son asks.  

"Yeah! How do you know Bowie?" 

"Guardians of the Galaxy." 

"Is that a band?" 

The boy just sighs; he puts his forehead on the window.  

"Is it code for 'Screw you, Dad?' Help me out here." The boy's impotent and indiscriminate rage is oppressive. It fills the car like a rancid fart. That might even be preferable, Ryan thinks. 

"The first time I heard this album was with a girlfriend. She moved down here from Seattle. Everyone in school figured she'd be into Nirvana, Soundgarden, but she really only listened to Bowie. Cool girl. We liked to turn it way up and drive down the 101 with the top down. I had a little Miata convertible then, and she had really great long hair.  

Ryan pulls up to the curb of the school. It doesn't look all that different from when he had gone here, except that even the kids hanging out in clusters and groups are staring at their phones rather than at each other. His son opens the door. 

"Cool story, Dad. And now you listen to Bowie too loud in a fucking Prius. Does the top come down on this thing, too?"

The boy gets out, runs a hand through his hair. "Are you gonna give me back my phone?" 

"It's my phone. I pay for it. And no." 

"Whatever Dad," the door slams and the boy walks away.  

Ryan turns it up a bit more and pulls away from the curb thinking of the other things he'd like to say to his son, but either can't or won't. Maybe both.  

Our Friends by Cyle Talley

When we leave on trips- and we do, as often as we are able- we ask our friends to water our house plants. As we have no pets- because we travel with such frequency, and who can afford the kennel fees?!- our house plants have become like pets to us. We've given them names, we care about their well-being, we think about them when we are away.  

Our friends' intentions are good, we know. They mean well, but they just don't provide the same type of attentive care to our babies as we do. Instead of watering each plant a little bit each day, our friends let several days pass and then drench the poor dears. What a terrible thing that they know feast and famine! 

We would say something to our friends about it- really give them a piece of our mind- but they're the only friends so consistently willing to be called upon each time we leave our beloveds behind, and so we say nothing to our bad-good friends, because we do so love to travel.  

Pendulum by Cyle Talley

My parents' favorite word was "don't". "Don't hit your brother, Neil," "Don't lick the knife after you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Neil. No, I don't care that it's just a butter knife. Don't do it," "Don't terrorize the cat with the vacuum cleaner, Neil," "Don't jump on the bed, Neil- and don't you dare jump off of it either, young man!" 

The subject matter may have gained more complexity and nuance as I got older, but the dictate was the same. "Don't disrespect your coach, Neil," "Don't quit the team, Neil- how else are you going to get a scholarship? We can't afford to put you through school," "Don't drive the car that fast," "Just please don't get her pregnant, Neil. Please," "Don't put the baby up for adoption, Neil. We'll help."

Ben was born five years ago and when I held him for the first time- all pink and wriggling and squirmy- I promised him that I'd have favorite words: "Sure, give it a shot."

"You want to try to melt your toy with a magnifying glass? Sure, give it a shot," "Jump off of the bed? Sure, give it a shot," "Can the dog be ridden like a horsey? Sure, give it a shot. He'll let you know," "Ben! Dinner! Can you touch what? The stovetop? Really? Are you sure? Because--" 

The Rooster by Cyle Talley

Last night as I was waiting for the bus, I saw a man who reminded me of a rooster. Spindly legs, chin craning for the sky, and eyes looking for a fight. 

The bus stop is across the street from a grocery store and a liquor store. I'd gotten a rotisserie chicken from one and a sixer from the other and was looking forward to going home and plowing my way through both.  

I saw the Rooster come out of the grocery store right behind a guy with sunglasses on and too much stuff in his hair. The Rooster was headed to the liquor store, the other guy hopped in his Beamer.  

I guess the Rooster didn't like the way the Beamer passed him. It didn't seem close to me, but the Rooster shouted, "WHY DON'T YOU LEARN TO DRIVE, YOU GARDEN STATE FUCK!!!" Just like that. In all capitals.  

Well, the guy in the Beamer said something to the Rooster and revved his engine. The Rooster extended both arms and as he stalked toward the car, his head started to bob.  

"I'm right here, bitch!!" The Rooster shouted. "I'll mess up more than just your hair!"  The Beamer drove away. 

"That's what I thought!" The Rooster said, dusting the shoulders of his Carhardtt off with quick swipes. He went into the liquor store.  

He came out a few minutes later with a 40 in a bag. Seemed like a bad idea to me, but I wasn't going to get into it. The Rooster skulked across the parking lot and got into a old Toyota pickup whose belly was nearly touching the pavement. It sounded more like a motorcycle than a truck when he stuck his foot in it and raced down the aisle, made a turn, and shot toward the parking lot exit.  

A guy in a purple ski jacket walked out of the liquor store just then and saw the Rooster make a ripping left turn onto the road and into the median. He missed being hit by oncoming traffic with no more than inches to spare. The guy in the ski jacket shouted something that I couldn't hear over the truck's brassy whine and began walking toward the grocery store  

"WHAT'D YOU SAY TO ME, YOU FUCK?!" Just like that. In all capitals. He punched the truck into gear, kicked his foot into the gas, and whipped the steering wheel around so that the truck spun on its front axle, grey smoke coming from the rear wheel wells, and ripped back into the lot, pulling up next to the guy in the ski jacket. 

Both guys were shouting things that I couldn't quite make out, but I think I heard "baby", "responsible", "felony", and "truck". I know for sure that it ended with the Rooster putting his foot into the gas, and racing around the parking lot like it was a race track while the guy in the ski jacket walked into the grocery store, but then the bus came and I got on it.  

"Hey Doug," I said to the bus driver. Doug looked at the plumes of grey smoke hanging over the parking lot, and I saw The Rooster peel away  

"What was going on there?" Doug looked at me in the rear view mirror. "Shit, man," he said when I told him what happened. "I'm just not sure how guys like that make it through the day."

Shame by Cyle Talley

"Now wait just a minute," he says, turning onto his side to look at her. She's got her hands behind her head, staring at the ceiling in the milky moonlight. "You can't be serious." 

"I swear to God." 

"When I was in high school-" 

"A million years ago." 

"Yes, back in the prehistoric dawn of the 90's when a man could tell a story without being heckled-"

"Oh, shut up and tell me." 

"We had this Biology teacher junior year, Miss Daniels. For the first time in my life, I had no trouble paying attention in science class."

"Good teacher? Or just a babe?" 

"Yep." 

"Oh jeez. So you were paying attention, but not comprehending a damn thing."

"Anyway, she was also funny. Very snide. No time for bullshit. This one day, we were working in groups and this idiot, Josh- sort of a hick kid who drove a big diesel truck, thought he was the shit; he was always mumbling under his breath about what he'd do to Miss Daniels if he ever got the chance- he pulls a coke out of his bag while she's writing on the board. He gives us this shit-eating grin and then makes a loud coughing sound as he opens the can. Miss Daniels doesn't miss a beat. She says, 'Joshua,'- she used our full names no matter what; I was Jacob, never Jake- 'Joshua, do you think that I'm an idiot?' She's still writing on the board, so he takes a swig before saying, 'No miss.' She says, 'Well, I'm increasingly believing that you might be. Please throw that soda away in the garbage can next to my desk.' The class lost it. This is a guy who'd harass girls and grab their boobs; who'd trip guys in the hallway or piss on their shoes in the bathroom. A real jackass. We heckled him as he turned tomato red and walked up to the front of the classroom where her desk was. She turned to watch him do it and tried to cover her smile with her hand. You could tell that she enjoyed that. So-" he adjusts his pillow and yawns. "The answer to your problem is shame. Just a little bit."

"I'd love to. Really, I would," she says. "But the problem is that vape pens don't make any sound." 

Pessimism by Cyle Talley

You'll get fat, or I'll get fat, and whoever doesn't will be a little embarrassed to be seen with the person who did, and then resentment will creep in and suddenly sex will suck, and then each of us will retreat to the insipid- like romance novels or a recliner and sports. It happens  I've seen it.

You'll get religious, or I'll get religious- pious, zealous even- and want to start handing out tracts to people at the grocery store or going door-to-door on Saturdays and you'd want me (or I'd want you) to come with. That happens, too. I've seen it. 

Or what if I turn out to be a bad parent and I- I don't know- I hit the kid? Or maybe I don't hit them, but I guilt or intimidate them? Even worse, what if you turn out to be a bad parent who is so confident that they're a good parent that they can't even see what kind of a demon spawn they're raising? What if you're indulgent and my kid ends up being an entitled brat? I've definitely seen that happen. Kids aren't like dogs. You don't get a do-over every fifteen years.  

Maybe we get ourselves into a terrible mortgage on a property that can't be given away, or we put all our money into the stock market and it tanks- or, hell, we only make safe investments and never actually make enough to retire? Maybe I get cancer or you have- I don't know- Huntington's Disease; maybe you have terrible taste in decor; maybe I'm not as interesting to you as I am right now and you get bored and you leave with someone else; or you become like your mother and pissed off at everything and everyone and me; or I become like my mother, emotionally catatonic. 

It happens. I've seen it.  

Jesus- what if you become a Republican?!

Hints by Cyle Talley

 [KATE stands at espresso machine making drinks behind coffee shop counter, MAN walks up]

"Hey! How's it going!" 

"Hi! What? I can't hear you over the machine." 

"I said, how's it going?" 

"Oh! It's good!" 

"I heard you're going to have an opening at a studio?" 

"Yeah!" 

"How's it coming?" 

"It's taking forever to get everything done and framed. Between that and here I barely have any time to sleep for a few hours- I have an americano at the bar!" 

"How many pieces are you showing?" 

"Twenty five." 

"What are they? Like painting? Or--" 

"A few paintings, mostly mixed media." 

"Sounds cool! What's the show going to be called?" 

"Leaving." 

"Oh! Interesting. Do you get to name it, or is that the studio's call?" 

"I have a dry cappuccino at the bar! We uh, we kind of agreed on it together. It's the theme of the work, I guess." 

"Cool. I'm looking forward to seeing it." 

"Thanks." 

"So what else is going on?" 

"Pretty much just that. Like I said, between work and here, I'm pretty swamped. Here's your latte."

"Oh yeah, you did say that. Sorry." 

"I should- I should probably get back to work." 

"Oh yeah! Totally! Sorry! Hey, it was nice to see you. Thanks for the latte." 

"Yeah, of course." 

"Maybe I'll see you around sometime?" 

"I'm sure I'll make you another latte tomorrow morning." 

"Yeah, gotta have my coffee. Well uh- have a good day, Kate!" 

[Man leaves, other BARISTA drying cups, comes up to KATE at the espresso machine] 

"Jesus. Who was that?" 

"Just a regular." 

"He's so annoying. I mean, take the hint, dude. Could you have been any more clear about how little you wanted to be talking to him?"

"I feel bad. He's really sweet, but yeah- it's too much." 

"Want me to tell him off next time?" 

"Maybe I'll just hide in the back tomorrow?" 

Waiting for the Train by Cyle Talley

He is waiting for the train. He has never waited for the train. He has always come careening onto the platform like a cannonball; his shoes untied, his tie lolling out from his pocket, his hat not fully on his head, at least one document sticking out from his briefcase, and had to practically lunge through the slowly closing doors to board the train and make it to the office on time. He has learned, when careening, to hold his briefcase in front of him as it once got stuck between the doors and set off the alarm, which stopped the train. What an ordeal that was. 

How strange to be waiting, and to have even had the time to purchase a cup of coffee in the station. So this is what it's like to be early: you sip your coffee from a paper cup and intermittently look at your wristwatch and look around at your fellow commuters. What's the line? "How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! Oh brave new world, That has such people in it!" Something like that. Not much use for Shakespeare in modern life these days, but he still keeps the copy of The Tempest in his briefcase as he had carried it in the war. It's become a talisman. He can't help himself. 

But back to waiting. He is still waiting for the train. He has finished his coffee. He has put the paper cup in his briefcase to put in the garbage when he arrives at the office. He looks at his wristwatch: 8:07. Goodness. Still another eight minutes! What will he do with himself? What do other people do with themselves? He decides that the anticipation of the coming train is much worse than the panic of being late to its arrival. The latter is a rush; a prickly feeling on the skin; a wild, wide-eyed wind of adrenaline. The former is a solid stone that sours a person's stomach and makes it difficult to think, to prepare, and even to move.

He does not care for waiting.