12th Month

Light from the full moon reflects blue off the crystalline ground.
In the distance, I see black soiled hillsides where
Construction has ripped the trees from the ground

Leaving the woodland creatures to find homes elsewhere
In our white dusted trees, in the forests to the west
I walk up the hill through the drifts and pass the last in a line
Homes that glow warmly from the strings of carefully placed lights

There in soft cold air stands a stag, statuesque, and unreal
As I stop, we assess each other for a few moments

Why should this majestic beast bearing
A full rack of horns ever fear me
So weak and slow by his comparison

As I continue on, his tail raises its warning flag
He leaps through the yards
Through what is left of his former forest home

I am left alone in the night
My hot breath billowing white clouds around me

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, December 2003

Glamorous

Friday morning started precisely at 7am for Abigail Rudd, as did every morning at Acme Chemical for the past six years. She parked her Volkswagen in the exact same spot and plodded to the front door to start her day managing the front office. Some of her co-workers sat on the loading dock with coffee and cigarettes before their shift. They would watch her pass and say “Good morning” to her. She would say “Good morning” back and there ended their conversation.

Abby was round, the shape and color of a dried gourd but with better skin. Although painfully shy, she wore fashionable patterned skirts as if someone had meticulously painted that gourd. They swung across her wide backside to the delight of some of the more lonely loading dock crew. She had a clumsy gate and kept her arms outstretched as if she were trying to maintain her balance. She had delicate hands and held them in a peculiar way- with her wrist bent, thumb and index finger pinched together, the rest of her fingers fanned outward in the shape of a bird’s wing scooping the air, trying to take flight.

Her desk was very neat and organized, with a framed picture of her cat Rufus next to a single potted plant. She worked quietly, consistently, and without complaint. No one really knew her. When other workers engaged her in conversation, it would revolve around work only. Because she avoided talking about herself to avoid being gossiped about, she naturally became the center of the rumor mill at work until finally it had been decided by the collective that she was far too plain and far too awkward to be hiding anything really juicy.

Her shift ended at precisely 4pm and by 4:05, she was wheeling her Volkswagen to a jewelry store on the north side of the city she frequented- just to window shop, just to dream. For wives of executive husbands, it was a very tacky place indeed.  The shop was well known locally for their wide selection of extravagant costume jewelry. Abby had a sketchbook full of dress designs inspired by the large ornate necklaces the shop would sell.

The sales reps knew her and were annoyed by her always looking, never buying. In fact, they mostly thought she was stealing but had never been caught in the act. They decided to make her feel unwelcome so that she would stop coming but Abby had not gotten the hint. The truth was that Abby felt overwhelmed by the variety and the prices. She had to budget her money like all working stiffs and that money was earmarked for clothing, not accessories. She was waiting on something very special.

The shop was always busy with young girls sprucing up for a dance or showgirls (theatrical or otherwise) accentuating their assets.  Long glass cases created an interior rectangle and the sales reps stood behind it to show customers more expensive items. The real showstoppers adorned the headless busts in the locked window displays.

Abby took her time walking along the outside parameter; necklaces of every color from floral to geometric deign hung from hooks. She stared for some time when a woman standing unnoticed next to her said in a husky voice, “How can one decide? Impossible.” Abby looked up at the woman’s face and realized that she was a very good female impersonator. “This is the best place for Lady Pearl to find jewelry but the prices and the lack of service…” She tapped a manicured nail against her lower lip and motioned her head toward the sales reps that were ignoring her. She then pointed her finger at a large draping rhinestone necklace and said, “That one.”

Abby noticed a lavender pearl choker and leaned forward to get a better view. She had not seen it before and it interested her enough that she did something she rarely did; she tried it on. The choker fit and the beads lay delicately against her skin. “Oh honey, look at yourself,” said Pearl as she handed Abby a mirror. “Here,” she stood behind her and pulled Abby’s hair into a messy updo without asking permission. “Glamorous,” said Pearl.

One of the more pushy sales reps ended her interaction with a customer to come over to Abby and say, “May I help you.” Abby flushed and looked down at her shoes. “Just looking,” she said. The sales rep held out her hand and snapped, “If you don’t intend to buy it, please don’t touch it.” Abby unlatched the necklace and gave it to the woman, embarrassed.

Lady Pearl dropped Abby’s hair in disgust and said, “Well, I do intend to buy something. No one seems interested in helping me.” The sales rep hung the necklace back up and said without interest, “How may I help.” Lady Pearl proceeded to occupy the sales reps attention for the next twenty minutes. She had her take down sets from high on the wall only to reject them, pull out velvet lined box after velvet lined box that were left aside in disinterest. She intentionally kept the sales rep distracted. Abby wandered through the large spinning stands that held earrings and bracelets of various metals and stone, glancing back at the choker, longing to buy it but too broke and too embarrassed to try. It was very special and it was destined for someone else.

Finally, Lady Pearl settled on the necklace she had originally pointed out to Abby and checked out. Abby had made her decision and left the store shortly after her. Pearl was parked one space over from her Volkswagen. She stood beside her car with the driver side door open, smoking, the delicate bell warning the door was ajar unnoticed. She waved Abby over to her and held out her clasped hand. “Here,” she said, “This is for you. That woman was a hag.”

The purple choker Abby desired dropped into her palm. “You didn’t have to buy this,” Abby protested in embarrassment. Lady Pearl laughed, “Buy? Oh honey, I did not buy it. You have no idea how little money drag queens make.” Abby flushed in embarrassment and guilt and excitement as the stolen necklace she so deeply desired lay in her hand. She was too afraid to take it back to the store and too grateful to Pearl for her kind gesture to insult her. It was not how she would want to acquire it but now that it was in her possession, she would not let it go.

Lady Pearl said, “They are always bitches but where else can a girl like me find jewelry to suit her? Buying clothing is worse. Sometimes I have to steal it because the sales reps refuse to sell a dress to me. If I were buying it for my sixty year old mother that would be fine but not if I intend to wear it. One time, I couldn’t try on this gorgeous sequined number and that shit ended up just one size too small. Can you believe that? I can’t return it and I can’t use it.” Abby stared blankly at Lady Pearl, “Why don’t you just alter it?” Lady Pearl laughed through billowing smoke, “Do I look like I know how to sew?” Abby blinked, “I do.”

Pearl put one hand on her hip, “How fast do you work? Will you fix it in exchange for that necklace? Can you get it done by tomorrow night? I have a huge show at ‘Dick’s Bar’ and I would absolutely KILL IT if I was in that dress!” Abby had plans to clean her refrigerator and sterilize the cat box on Saturday. Instead, she scribbled her home address on the back of her business card, “Come by at lunch tomorrow. I will fix your dress.”

Abby expected Pearl to arrive precisely at noon the next day. At 3:37pm, Abby answered the knock at the front door and Pearl burst into her living room as a woman late to her own wedding. “I couldn’t find the damn thing or my new lipstick. It’s OK if I get ready here, right?” Rufus wound himself around Pearl’s ankles, demanding cat food. Pearl handed Abby the garment and followed her into the bedroom.

The closet door was open and when Abby went in to retrieve some supplies, Pearl gasped, “What is THAT!” On the left side of the closet hung a line of hangers with neatly organized business casual clothing and leisurewear. On the right side of the closet was a series of purple dresses- elaborate, flamboyant, and risqué costuming suitable for a burlesque showgirl. Tubs of craft supplies- beads, feathers, and strips of leather were stacked underneath and Abby was digging to find black elastic in order to modify Pearl’s red sequined mini dress.

“I think I have what I need to fix this,” said Abby ignoring Pearl’s question. She never let anyone see her dresses. She wanted Pearl to see them. She craved her approval but only if it was unprompted. She had to know her work was good enough to stand on its own merit without sympathy. “If you can’t fix it, I would die to wear that instead!” Pearl pointed at the French Can Can dancer outfit. “Do you like it… do you think it goes with my choker?” asked Abby. Pearl smiled a huge toothy grin.

Hours passed and Abby finished the alteration while Pearl finished shaving. It was precisely 7:14pm and Pearl was suddenly heated up about being late again. She burst into the living room where Abby waited to see the altered garment. Pearl was in the dress she had arrived in and said, “It looks great. You can see it when I am on stage and my hair is done and these God damn false lashes are finally in place. You are coming?” Abby looked at the clock, “I was going to watch a movie and go to bed.” Pearl rolled her eyes, “Girl, get in the damn car. I may have to have you sew me into this thing.”

Pearl was right. She had forgotten to bring her larger bust for the fitting and was popping out of the dress until Abby fixed it backstage. The dressing room was a kaleidoscope of costumes and makeup and women all over six feet tall in platform heels. Hairdos were high and earrings hung low and Abby felt as if she had finally come home.

Pearl got her a seat at the reserve tables right in front of the stage. A friendly lesbian bought her a drink which made her chatty and want to drink more and for the rest of the night she talked at length to the girls about their costumes and makeup and inspiration to perform. Abby did not remember coming home Saturday night but she did remember the hangover that kept her in bed most of Sunday.

On Monday morning, at precisely 7:22am, Abby pulled into her parking space. She spent the morning staring out the window of her office and was rather listless in her duties. Her boss approached her at lunch and asked if she was feeling OK, “If you are ill, please take the day off Abby. It would be the first time in my memory that you did.” Abby tried to shake off the funk. She was determined to concentrate on work until the afternoon break at 3pm.

Later when she returned from the break-room with her coffee, a group of workers and her boss were standing outside the conference room. They had just finished a meeting when the front double doors of Acme Chemical were thrown open. Abby’s jaw dropped as Lady Pearl in a floor length leopard coat sauntered in. Everyone in the front office stared at her and then at Abby when she exclaimed, “What are you doing here? How do you know where I work?”

Lady Pearl winked at the workers, “I have your business card, remember?” She slapped both her hands on Abby’s desk and leaned in, “It’s amateur night at the burlesque club… You’ve got that dress, you’ve got that choker, and we are about to get you some stockings.” Abby looked at Pearl, looked at her shocked boss, looked at the workers’ cigarette and coffee stained teeth, looked at the picture of Rufus. Lady Pearl straightened to her full statuesque height, “Abigail Rudd, are you coming with me or are you going spend the rest of your life rotting in that brown tweed here at Acne Chemo?”

Abby slammed her coffee and grabbed her purse. “Acme Chemical. I’m taking the rest of the afternoon off. Let’s go.”

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, August 2016

Lady of Green Glen

Black cold night falls
Orange street lamp alights
Snow
It reflects
Illuminates the glen

She appears
Trick of the light
Shadow
Crouched, naked, pale
Porcelain legs

Black hair cascades
Hand covers her mouth
Worry
Fear of discovery
Under the jungle gym

Apparition of a woman
Stands only at night
Frozen
Fades at dawn
Until next dark

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, October 2003 (revised February 2017)

Red Letter Day

On a dark night late in the year, you drove thirty minutes to a post office on the southern edge of downtown, to mail a single letter to someone you will not remember twenty years later. But anyway, it was more to get away, to send some feathers in a red envelope, some feathers from the wings of your heart which longed to fly out from this empty low place, to find a home where it was wanted and needed and valued. You no longer wanted to feel as though there was an impatient curmudgeon named Time waiting by the front door in a worn floral armchair asking, “Oh, you’re still here?”

That is why it did not matter to you that the drive was an hour round trip, to mail a single a letter, to whom you will never remember. It was important. It must have been a boy who you hoped would save you. No one noticed if you were gone for long periods and for long periods, years in fact, you wanted to be gone.

A red envelope, near Christmas, with light snow falling on snow covered streets that muffled the sounds of the tires of the car you drove. No one was out, just the low hum of emotional energy that surrounded the small cafes’ and bars that lined the brick streets, reclaimed from sagging industrial corridors once ruled by corporate giants, then prostitutes and the homeless.

It was freedom. It was hope. It was a moment. The long sad empty that followed still follows as you squeak along through life, sending love letters to people that do not realize that they are love letters. Nothing more than crystallized water on delicate flowers in early spring or buds on a tree that had lost its leaves in late fall, then during an unseasonable warm snap began to sprout, only to finally be covered in snow.

Tea can sometime serve as a (poor) substitution for coffee. It can serve as a way to stave off hunger. It sort of works. It gives you the illusion. Tea for a woman in a snagged pink terry cloth robe, with lumpy hair, flowerless, kiss-less, sipping hot water after a hot bath muttering, “This will do…”

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2017

The Drive

We stopped along the side of
The winding, narrow two-lane road
That curved out of sight behind the next hill
You cut fresh sagebrush off the side of this arid mountain

It filled the car with the scent of wild outdoors
Which followed us home, a thousand miles to the city
The road ended atop the pink mountains
These Goliath witnesses of eons

Watched the land run red with blood
The essence of the violence
That occurred in the valley below
Had oozed and seeped into the soil

It radiated through the air and into the people
The place I had hoped would become our home
Echoed too hollow and strange
And empty

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, October 2003

Thanksgiving

Karen pulled up to the shoddy beige apartment complex after school on Wednesday afternoon. Pete was released early for the Thanksgiving holiday and he was excited to see his dad. Tim, Pete’s father, had insisted on hosting dinner that year. In the past it had been his favorite holiday, the one day out of the year that he and his brother William got together and prepared the meal for the whole family. That was before Will got shot.

When Tim answered the door Pete jumped into his arms and hugged him. Karen could see the disheveled mess Tim’s apartment had degraded into- scattered papers and beer cans, the trash overflowing, and a stack of pizza boxes in the corner of the living room. Rufus the cat was eating meat off of a chicken bone on a plate that had been left on the floor. As long as the rent was paid the apartment managers left Tim alone. This had not been easy once he lost his job. Pete ran past Tim, threw his overnight bag on the couch, and slid on his knees in front of the TV to the video game console. Karen allowed Tim to kiss her cheek and went to the kitchen to check on the turkey. “Just a second Pete,” said Tim.

When Tim entered the kitchen he found Karen leaning into an almost empty refrigerator. She stood up leaving the door wide open and said, “Where is the turkey?” Tim slid in front of her, pulled a beer and a soda pop from the top shelf, shrugged and said, “I forgot.” Karen stared at him, pursed her lips but said nothing. A look of defeat washed over Tim’s face as he drank the beer and got another one out of the fridge. “Hey Pete- what do your want on your pizza?” he said as he left the kitchen for the living room and a long night of video games. Karen pressed her purse under her arm and said, “I’ll be back.”

“Pepperoni and none of those gross peppers,” said Pete when Tim handed him the soda pop. Tim dialed the pizza delivery restaurant, went into his bedroom, and closed the door. Pete could hear Tim order the pizza through the hollow core door and he started a new level. Rufus was hungry and he rubbed his face forcefully into Pete’s legs to get his attention. After a few minutes, sobbing erupted in the bedroom. Pete stroked Rufus, turned up the sound on the TV, and focused hard on his character in the game. Eventually, the pizza arrived and Pete said, “Hey dad! Where’s the money?”

Two empty coke cans and five empty beer cans stood on the coffee table next to the open box that contained the four slices of pizza that were left. Rufus peered around the corner of the kitchen licking the cat food from his chops. There was a knock at the door and Tim got up to answer it. “Grandma!” Pete said as Karen’s mother walked in with grocery bags full of the ingredients needed for a modest Thanksgiving dinner. “Karen called and said you needed this,” she said as she placed the bags on the table. “The turkey is still frozen, Tim.” She went into the bathroom and filled the tub. “Where’s Karen?”

The turkey floated like an ice cube in the water as Rufus sniffed the bathtub. Grandma put on her coat and said, “The turkey will be thawed by morning. I am sorry your brother will not be here to celebrate with you but you need to start making new memories for his sake.” Grandma looked at Pete who was once again absorbed within the television. “I am,” said Tim as he sucked down another beer.

After she left, Tim fell into the couch to watch Pete play. It was made of navy corduroy and was in good shape for a thrift store find. It was a hide-a-bed which was all that mattered to Tim. He needed a place for his son to sleep whenever his mother allowed him to stay over which was not often. That was OK with Tim. He was not well and he knew it. He did not want Pete to see him on the bad days. It was why they couldn’t live together anymore. The day he moved out, Pete begged and cried but Tim knew and Karen knew and they had agreed it was best.

He was going to get better one day. He just couldn’t handle it right now. He was trying very hard not to make Thanksgiving a bad day but it had been his day with his brother to show off to the family, to have a little friendly competition. Will would not be there, could not be there. He had hoped to relive the good times by hosting dinner but instead he was overwhelmed with bad memories.

The year before on Halloween there had been gunshots and more blood than Tim could stop before the ambulance arrived. He had been the one to insist they go out- to an old haunt for old time sake while Karen took Pete to Trick-or-Treat. It was just a little ‘blast from the past’ of a misspent youth. They knew the owner and he let them stay after bar close, after everyone else had gone home so Tim could sober up a little.

While Will helped him to the car, Tim insisted they stop so he could hug his brother- because he both loved him and didn’t want to fall over. That’s when the other car came. That’s when a man shouted, “Fucking faggots!” and a gun was fired from the passenger seat. That’s when Will died.

Tim could barely work the cell phone to call for help. He couldn’t stop the blood. They didn’t catch the shooter. Tim was too blurry eyed to see the license plate or the man. The car was unremarkable. Will had died. It was Tim’s fault. There was no justice for Will. It was Tim’s fault.

“It’s time for bed buddy,” Tim said. He made up the hide-a-bed, tucked Pete under the covers, and kissed him on the forehead. Once Tim knew Pete was asleep, he went into the bathroom, took a handful of pills, and slammed another beer.

At 3am Rufus started kneading Pete and dug his claws into his chest. This woke him out of a deep sleep and once he chased the cat off, he got up to use the toilet. He found his father passed out on the bathroom tile. “Dad, dad!” shouted Pete as he shook him. “Huh?” said Tim as he awoke and rolled over into groggy stupor, one eye half open and looking at his son. “Wake up dad! What are you doing?” said Pete. “I’m protecting the turkey from Rufus,” said Tim. Pete helped his father to his feet, took him into bed, tucked him under the covers, and went back to the living room. He couldn’t sleep until the muffled crying stopped.

Long beams of sunlight came early through the shadeless windows and woke Pete up. He started playing video games early and the explosions on the TV were loud enough to wake Tim out of his hangover. He staggered into the room and yelled, “Turn that damn thing down, Jesus Christ!” Pete ignored him while Tim retrieved the turkey from the bathtub and set about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Once it was in the oven, Tim put the couch in order, sat down and said, “It sure is a good thing I was guarding that turkey last night! Heh heh…” Pete ignored him and stroked the cat. “Say Pete, the football games are on. Let’s watch football like we used to with Uncle Will.”

Pete and Tim came to a silent agreement not to discuss the events of the night before. Tim turned on the football game and they ate a breakfast of cheeseballs and left over pizza. They spent the rest of the morning yelling at the television until Karen walked in and said, “You two still haven’t showered?” She could see nothing else was ready for dinner but at least the bird was in the oven. As the boys got cleaned up for dinner Karen prepared the other dishes- nothing but boxed foods, a far cry from what Tim used to serve. It was fast and easy and Karen was thankful. The turkey was perfect.

After dinner, for the sake of her son, Karen sat on the couch for a very long time reading a book. The boys watched football and stuffed their faces with pumpkin pie until it was time to leave. Pete cried and begged his mother to let him stay the weekend but Tim knew and Karen knew and they had agreed it was best. “You have homework to do young man,” said Karen as she packed his things and pointed him out the door. “It’s just that stupid paper for my stupid teacher- ‘What I did for Thanksgiving’. Who cares?” said Pete. Tim hugged him goodbye for a long time.

As they drove away, Pete stared out the window and said, “Dad is great. Dad sure does make a mean bird. Uncle Will always said so.” Karen sighed and said, “He sure does.”

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2015

California, ND 58010

The doors here are on barns that contain farm equipment or rusty cars or cattle. They are not Spanish style doors on homes with manicured lawns that face the ocean. The mess here is apparent but no one feels the need to hide it.

There are steep hills, too steep than should be built on due to the risk of landslide but rich people build here anyway. They can afford the reinforcements that the homes require and require the reinforcement that a beautiful home with a steep staircase down to a private beach provides. You can swim naked here and if anyone should speed by in a boat, it provides an opportunity for your wife to show off her expensive breasts. It never ices over but sometimes the fog rolls in so thick you cannot see the bottom of the stairs that are suddenly very slick. Those are the times your teenage daughter slips down there to make love to your golf buddy’s second son, the one without the ambition.

The only stars we have here are the ones that fill the night sky. Well, that was before they struck oil and the refineries were thrown up, their high towers always on fire, always burning away the natural gas to avoid explosions. You can still get to the national parks though to canoe the streams past the grazing bison and elk. There is no glamor here, no ocean, no press of people like the coast of California. Well there never used to be before the oil rush brought in big money and bad men.

She would spend her days among boxes of shoes, boxes of hats, boxes of chocolates (that she would send as gifts to her friends that she wished were fat), scarves and sweaters, jewelry and lingerie, all brought to her by sales people as if they were waiters at a banquet. She could spend the day deciding on a single pair of boots and they would let her.

It’s black out here between towns when there is no moon. If your pickup truck breaks down along the fields there just isn’t anyone around to help. Your cell phone won’t work here either. You can stand under the world’s largest picture window and stare at the expense of the physical universe, the Earth as a microbe to it as the microbe in your eye is to you. You can see the passage of time out here clearly as the Earth spins and the stars move beneath the outstretched horizon.

They had both grown up in blue collar families but he had married her and he had made a lot of money. It afforded her a life without work, a life of lunches and shopping and alcohol. Their daughter was her project, a reflection of their high status. She would exceed at school. She would attend an Ivy League college. She would remain petite and blonde and marry well, into a family of wealth and status. This would leave the long legacy of North Dakota back country forever buried.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, December 2014