A month later, I got an email from Deadman’s Tales saying they loved my work and were honored that I chose them to publish with. I showed Stan and he was more excited than I was and said we should celebrate. We did. We went to a seafood place called The Angry Crab and ordered the biggest dish they had, something called The Angry Feast. Stan paid the bill. We went to a bar and got drunk.
I told Stan I was only nineteen and he said if an eighteen-year-old could hold a semi-automatic and shoot Iraqis in war, then a nineteen-year-old could have a goddamn beer. He had a point. After that, we went to a free comedy show. The jokes were alright, some were funny—even funnier since we were buzzed. I laughed so hard at one joke I fell out of my seat and made the audience laugh and the comedian happy.
Stan was laughing so hard his face turned red.
He took the train with me home because I had trouble standing on my own two and when we got to my stop, he put one arm around me and hauled me down the block and up to my door. He asked me if I could handle getting upstairs and I said I could. He told me not to sleep on the floor and to drink coffee for the hangover and went about his way like a creature in the night, surrounded with a black, shadowy aura.
That was the last time I saw Stan alive.
I woke up the next morning without a hangover. I felt rested and thirsty, so I went to the kitchen and drank a large glass of orange juice. I went back to my room and saw that I had twenty missed calls from Arthur, our coworker, and called him back. I asked him what the matter was, and he told me Stan was dead, that on his way home someone stuck him up in an alley and shot him, took his wallet, and left him to bleed out.
Half an hour passed before anyone showed up and called the ambulance but by then it was too late, Stan has bled to death. I dropped the phone and stood there in shock. The sound of Arthur’s voice calling my name seemed far away, as if on some distant planet in the deepest part of the galaxy. The room started spinning and my heart started beating rapidly. I walked with shaky legs over to my bed and sat down.
Stan . . . is dead? The thought stood alone in my mind in the ringing and deafening silence of the room. Stan . . . is . . . dead?
Tears had been falling down my face, but I didn’t notice. The suddenness of the news rendered me incoherent.
Stan . . .
I screamed at the top of my lungs and broke into sobs, trying to console myself to no avail. I picked up the lamp on my nightstand and threw it at the wall and it shattered. I tore sheets off my bed, flipped over my mattress, knocked over the nightstand and sat on the floor holding my knees and sobbed into them.
I looked up with watery eyes and saw a picture on the floor, it was when Stan and I went to the NASCAR racetrack together and test drove the cars a month before. He was in a red suit stamped with various brands and I was in a blue suit, we were both smiling as the sun shined bright over our heads in the cloudless blue sky.
I picked up the picture and looked at it until the sun went down.
In October 2005 I met a woman name Jasmine Sullivan, an English major at NYU. I quit the ad agency and wrote poetry full time and made some decent money, even won a couple contests with prizes as high as forty thousand dollars. I still lived in the place he got me out of respect and because I was still grieving. She had hazel eyes and caramel skin, a wide, radiant smile with pearly white teeth and long, dark curly hair that flowed down to the small of her back.
I was sitting in Washington Square Park on a bench, facing the road, when she came up to me and complimented my outfit. I wasn’t wearing anything special, just a simple black V-neck with chinos and suede, lace-less shoes from ALDO. Nevertheless, we struck up a conversation.
I found out she wrote short stories and poetry and I told her I wrote poetry as well, she asked if we could swap work sometime and, still thinking about Stan’s abrupt death, I said why not—he wouldn’t have wanted me to cry over him forever.
We met at a Starbucks at West Ninth Street. I sat waiting for her with a black coffee and one poem called The Deadman’s Holiday. She came in about ten minutes later with a black leather bag and a colorful assortment of folders held to her chest. She saw me and waved with her free hand and I waved back when she came over and took a seat.
She slapped the folders on the table, and I saw they had labels such as short stories, poetry, essays, journal entries, research papers. A writer after my own heart, I thought at the time. She took all but the folder labeled poetry and placed them in her leather bag neatly and out of sight. She slapped both hands on her poetry folder, sighed deeply and looked at me with a let’s-get-to-work expression.
I read about five of her poems while she read the one poem I had with a red pen in her hand like an English professor. Her poems were rather good, they were clean and concise, no unnecessary words or clunky and awkward phrases, and they talked about things that mattered such as the social and political climate of the United States, the senseless wars and violence, police brutality toward blacks and Latinos.
I could tell by her writing that she was meticulous and liked control, I chuckled and supposed my writing would drive her crazy since it was predicated on spontaneity and divine muses.
“I love it.” She said, pulling me from the reading trance I was in.
I looked at her and found an expression of marvel stamped on her face. I never really thought of my poetry as good or bad, I just wrote them when the mood struck me.
“‘The snow falls and the wind blows/ specks of hail slice my face/ Christmas will be white again this year/ but the blood that runs down my cheek spells my fate.’” She recited. “Such mystery and sense of dread, I can feel the uncertainty of the speaker in just four little lines.”
I complimented her on her clean and concise style of poetry that acknowledged important social issues and she feigned modesty. She asked me if I’d considered publishing and told her my work was published in a magazine called Deadman’s Tales.
Her jaw dropped.
“You’re published in Deadman’s Tales?!” she whispered loudly. “Rudy, that’s amazing!”
It was my turn to feign modesty.
She asked me if I could write a poem specifically for her and I told her yes and that in fact, The Deadman’s Holiday was the very poem.
“You want me to have this one?” She asked.
“Are you sure?” She asked again. “You can make some real money off this, even enter it in a contest.”
I told her I was sure and that she should keep it.
She smiled and relented.
We started dating shortly after, she’d come to my apartment and we’d swap poems and talk about all the greatest writers and who our favorites were. Her top five were Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, and Shakespeare.
I told her I didn’t have a top five and that I didn’t read much after my friend and mentor, Stella, died in a car accident when I was thirteen. She said she was sorry for my loss, but I waved it away. Condolences weren’t necessary. She asked me how often I wrote poetry and I told her when the mood struck me, she looked at me disapprovingly.
Over the next few months, she would come over and make me write at least five poems a day on command. It was infuriating. Not Jasmine, I always enjoyed her company, but the process itself. I felt like I was falling into a void of darkness with no way of getting out or at least stopping my descent.
The blank page became an infinite space and made me feel like a speck of dust in the universe. The only time I remembered feeling like this was when I looked at the stars at night and when Bradley used to lock me in the closet and call me a worthless nigger. It took hours for me to write just a couple of lines and when Jasmine saw the sweat flowing from my face onto the keyboard, she told me to take a break.
She placed two gentle hands on my shoulder and said I was trying too hard, that I was too tense. I tried to relax but to no avail, the internal chatter in my mind was in full force with no sign of relenting until I was dead or unconscious, which rendered sleep impossible.
She leaned down and hugged me from behind, the warmth of her body causing goosebumps to rise on my arms, legs, and chest. She nuzzled my neck and gently kissed it, working her way up to my cheek. I turned slowly, rose from my chair, and embraced her in my arms. We kissed for what seemed an eternity, her lips against mine were the definition of ecstasy itself, dopamine rushing from my brain to my groin as her soft breasts pressed against my chest.
I picked her up and took her to my bed.
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