THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROOM

Droplets form at the corners of the cosmos, dripping, glittering things that dance and silhouette in gold as their rivulets flutter and vanish and reappear.

Ease yourself away and you’ll see them there, little friends as we buzz and whir and bleep and bloop. Faithful little friends that have always been there in the center of you.

Wind rushes from nowhere in that happy void, colors of amber and merlot, twisting colors that smell of sandalwood and kiss your buds as you taste them.

And the ones who came before are all there inside, and haven’t left, and are buzzing and whirring and bleeping and blooping just the same as they did before, just in a different way.

This breath is the only breath, the next a dream and a wish till it’s inhaled, till it fills up the machine and refreshes the tiny cosmos.

Future is nothing, a silly little whimper on a cold morning telling you what it thinks, but it’s blind. Has eyes but doesn’t use them.

Past is nothing, a frittering game of closed doors and drawers, of comings and goings, but it’s mute. Has a mouth but doesn’t use it.

Here is now, and the birds know this. Here is now, and the plants know this. Here is now and the stars know this as they glimmer and wink and fill your cosmos with their own.

Little whispered kisses go earbound and hot breath meets them there, a rendezvous. More are sprouting all the time, it’s impossible to count them all.

Humored dogs open mouths and wag tails and lap at pools and sun and speak as the whole thing just goes on and on and on andonandonandon.

Sparkling touches sent between two halves of the whole, lightning at the fingers and at the toes too. There’s enough to start a new cosmos, which will always happen in time, and always will.

Little winked looks go eyebound and rose-tinted smiles meet them there, a rendezvous. Furtive ones are sprouting all the time, and they’re getting more bold.

And it was then and you were there with your little pack and your wide eyes and your sight in the dark with dizzying peaks speaking your name just as long as you listened.

Your name is not your own but just borrowed for a time, just handed to you for a spell so you can wear it out and give it a rest for the next one.

You is you is you is you is you is you is you is you isyouisyouisyouisyouisyouisyouisyouisyouisyou.

The words don’t matter, but the sounds do, tell them all that and see what they’ll say with their looks and their smiles and their thoughts kept crypted betwixt two hanging earlobes.

Say it a million times and a million more, any word will do, and you’ll see for yourself. Yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes.

Cause all we are is twisting and turning things for a while before the intermission comes, cause all we are is dancing in the sun till we’ve had enough and want to try another game.

And you and me and everyone we see is inside, within, locked deep and sent to sleep within a cold and a fact and a training and a listen.

Mind is. That’s all folks is what you heard then and it’s all you’ll hear now, and that’s just fine because it’s all a dance. And no one ever dances to get to the other side of the room.

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SOUP AND A SMILE

The world as we know it was forever changed by a smile. This is how it happened.

There was a man who felt invisible. Like he didn’t matter, like no one cared. This feeling was only made worse by the fact that he took the el every day and not once had a single person looked his way.

So on a particularly depressing night he sat on the train, and stewed quietly to himself, and thought: this is the night I do It. And he was turning over the possible ways to do It and how others might respond when a man sitting across from him looked his way, smiled, and nodded. He got off at the next stop and that was that.

The man who wanted to do It went home, and instead of doing It, he decided that things couldn’t be all that bad if a man could smile and nod his way. So in the morning he abandoned thoughts of doing It and went to the soup kitchen, to help out more people who might feel invisible.

And before long, he was not just visible, he was recognized. He gave his own smile with every meal he handed over, and soon became known as the Soup-and-a-Smile Guy.

The good deeds built, until he was volunteering every day. Until he was going out on the street and smiling, going out and talking to people. He never did this before.

Soon the local news caught wind of this soup-and-a-smile do-gooder and ran a story, intending for it only to be a mild heart-warmer in between all the heaviness. But it took off. Volunteers crowded the soup kitchens, doing their own rendition and clamoring to meet the man who started it all.

The support was pouring in, and soon enough the man was able to quit his job and help others full time. He made no money apart from donations, but he didn’t need money. He was seen. He was helping.

He started the Soup And A Smile Foundation, which very quickly expanded beyond the homeless. Needy children around the world were sent full meals and a picture along with them of the smiling do-gooder.

Soon he was a legend in those parts of the world, revered beside deities though that was the last thing he wanted. He was on talk shows, radio stations, commercials, and those in need were always the priority.

He gave up his home, turned it into a refuge for at-risk teens. Only wore what he needed, gave up the rest of his possessions to those who could use them and became a happy wanderer.

Wherever he went, happiness followed. All it took was a smile from him, and he’d instantly made a new friend. He joined action groups, peaceful protests, walks to end all sorts of diseases, and all the while his group of followers grew.

Those in charge were afraid. He was too powerful. And what’s more, he advocated peace and minimalistic living and community. He was a threat.

They arrested him at a peaceful protest, tazed him and pepper-sprayed him too. And all the while he didn’t fight at all. All the while he kept smiling for his friends’ sake. It was all caught on camera, as you can imagine, and it spread. Got so there was nothing else on social media but his smile. He became a rallying cry. A hero.

Cities fell first. Not a drop of blood shed, just a horde of people who took over city halls in the name of a soup and a smile.

And it spread like that, one big wave of peaceful discontent, until police departments surrendered and governors put their hands up to provocateurs with no weapons.

They stormed his prison, overwhelmed the place by sheer numbers and refused to flinch when they were fired on. Just kept smiling, to return the favor to him.

He was freed that day, the same day the President resigned and Congress quit the capitol.

The people wanted him in charge, but he refused. It wasn’t for him to rule, or anyone else for that matter. It was for the people to govern themselves. To give to those who were in need, to help as many people as they could.

There was no more business. No war. No industry. No debt. Technological progress came to a halt, but the people were happy. They lived simple lives in harmony with each other and gave what they could.

No one knows where he is today, but that’s okay. Because a part of him will never be gone, will always be there to offer a soup and a smile.

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FIRST DATE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

If he had to give the date a numerical rating, he’d probably backtrack and say it was on a five point scale if pressed. She was cool, way cooler than he thought conceivably possible, and he was just so not. Cool, that is.

I mean don’t get me wrong, dude could be cool. Dude could be stop-stop-I’m-actually-going-to-pee funny. It’s just that when he saw that smile, that radiance… Let’s just say he reverted to questions of employment and (groan) small talk about the weather.

And so when the meal (and his time) was up, and he could see this wonderful person slipping away, he dropped the L word. Actually started shaking his head before he finished saying it, he knew how bad of an idea it was. But he said it, and it hung there in the air like some delicate bubble that she finally popped with a nervous laugh and an insistence that she really had to go.

It was about that time that the sky started falling.

What at first looked like basketball-sized hailstones revealed themselves to be meteorites as they crashed apocalyptically into the ground and sent up molten blacktop from the parking lot they were standing in.

It was 9 p.m. but it might as well have been a.m. for the blinding light that dominated the sky. Locusts appeared out of nowhere and skated through the air. Dude could almost swear he heard “O Fortuna” being chanted in the distance.

And so naturally he literally swept his date off of her feet and tried his hand at heroically escaping danger. Only he tripped on a nearby meteorite crater and faceplanted with her in his arms.

“I know how to run, you know!” she offered up as she dusted herself off.

“Sorry. I was trying to be cool.”

“Well don’t. Try staying alive instead.”

And she bolted, leaving him behind and in tow as what appeared to be the living dead started sprouting out of front lawns across the street.

Cars careened out of the way of boiling lava lakes that had just opened up in the center of the street nearby and went over curbs, downed light poles and tumbled end over end like some bad action movie as the two sprinted, our dude huffing and puffing to keep up.

He somehow had the presence of mind to produce his keys and direct her over to his car, which car had narrowly avoided having its engine crumpled by a felled light pole. But he stopped outside of the car, frozen.

“What is it?!”

“Nothing, I– I can’t figure out if you want me to open your door for you or not.”

“Just get in!”

And get in he did, the two of them almost yelling louder than the carnage outside as he sped crazily away.

The car turned a curb into a speed bump as he swerved onto the main road and avoided both the lava lakes and what he was now absolutely sure was in fact the living dead.

“Does today line up with any ancient prophecies you’re aware of?”

“Seems like it’s lined up with all of them. Just keep driving!”

Something about being in the driver’s seat gave him the courage he was wanting at dinner. Not to mention the fact that his audience was fairly captive. So:

“Sorry for making an ass out of myself with the whole love thing. That was weird, right?”

“I’d say so.”

“It’s safe to say that I don’t love you, don’t worry. I mean, that’s not to say I wouldn’t in the future. You seem fairly lovable. It’s just that–”

“I get it.”

He deftly swerved around a crack in the street that went miles deep and opened his door on a zombie who had clung to the car. She seemed impressed.

“If we make it through all this, I’ll make it up to you. Would roses be too cliche…? Anyway, there’ll be no love stuff and no shitty small talk. Pinky swear.”

“Amused” would best describe her smile.

“I’ll think about it.”

But she wouldn’t have time to think about it, as the road ahead was blocked by mangled cars and behind them scores of ghouls were making a Thriller-esque approach. And just to complete the image, our dude connected his iPod and started up the song.

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t know, but whatever I do it’ll be cooler this way.”

He scanned all directions, but there was no way out. In the rearview, he could’ve sworn he saw the zombies shuffle in time to the beat, but he had no time to revel in that fact.

It was then that an opportune meteorite flattened the front of a nearby car up ahead, almost giving it the appearance of a rickety ramp. It didn’t look like his car had any chance of clearing it, but he looked her way anyway. He wasn’t met with disapproval, so he gunned it. Used every iota of concentration to make the jump. Closed his eyes like Luke taking out the Death Star. And when his eyes opened again they were airborne, their car clear of the blockade and about to touch down.

She gave him directions to her house as the chaos began to die down, as the calm after the storm finally arrived. He pulled up in front of her place, her whole block littered with apocalyptic aftermath. Both were out of breath.

“So… What do you say? Same time next week?”

She surveyed the wreckage of the world for a while, finally smiled.

“Sure.”

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OUT HERE

Out here the sky’s as big as the world, and all the rain’s a drop of you and me and everything we see.

Out here the wind blows skyward and takes a piece of us with it as it dances in the field.

Out here there’s room for dreams and wishes, love abounds and glitters on the lightning bugs’ wings.

Out here there is no lost, no posted flyers for the world to see.

Out here the sun laughs as it rises, it kisses the pregnant clouds as they drip their dew.

Out here there’s elephants in trees and sounds in your hair, bright sounds that smell of cinnamon.

Out here there is no could have or should have, but only the breath of the bugs on the grassblades.

Out here the world doesn’t stop or go, and what you see is inside you.

Out here the flickers come from your fingertips and linger a while like pixies on the moon.

Out here there’s water on the wind and rivers in the sky, ten miles long and twisting things.

Out here the mud will clean you and the water will muck you up.

Out here there are sights to see and people to be and it’s all just over there.

Out here you can climb on the air and sing on the hills, the only one who will stop you is you.

Out here the clocks drip slowly and flutter away when they’ve had enough.

Out here the books line the streets and call out to you when you pass them by.

Out here the souls are crisp and line-dried and chamomile-scented.

Out here there’s a buzz in all the people near and far, a silly little hum they look at from time to time.

Out here the sprouts shed their seeds and let them float off beside them for another one to catch.

Out here there’s a willow branch on a man’s head and it’s just as tall as can be.

Out here there’s room for it all and more, and the sunshine evaporates on your tongue.

Out here the childhoods rush back like waves, but calm against the break.

Out here you are who you are, whenever and wherever you are.

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EXPIRATION DATE

He was out in the crisp, thin air of the Smokies when he found the universe’s expiration date.

It was just hovering there, kind of floating if you will, a tag the same as the kind you might get a government warning against removing from your average mattress.

He’d been hiking so long in an off-limits thicket of Clingman’s Dome with barely enough oxygen to sate his lungs’ appetite that he figured he must be hallucinating.

But when he pulled and tugged, and yes even hung in midair from this floating tag, he was convinced.

It was a simple tag, efficient. All it had on it was:

PRODUCT: UNIVERSE

And below that, a “BEST BY” date that corresponded to two weeks in the future.

Naturally, he figured that should the tag be removed, whoever was in charge of throwing away the universe wouldn’t know just when it had expired, so he pulled on the tag some more. Bit at it, ripped at it, even hacked at it with his pocket knife, but nothing worked. That tag was stubborn.

And so he went home. Didn’t tell a soul what he’d seen for fear of ridicule. Kept it to himself and sat and worried over it till it got so he was always sweating. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day he was thinking about that expiration date. There was no escaping it. It wasn’t an expiration date for him, or the Smokies, or even the world itself, but for the whole universe. If the whole universe was about to be tossed in the trash, then what way out was there? And why did he have to be the one with the privileged information?

He stewed like that for a whole week, till his head was always hot from thinking, till his eyes were black from lack of sleep, till he knew that he couldn’t live like this anymore, for the last week of his and everyone else’s life.

So he went outside.

He sat in his rickety old chair on his rickety old porch and he watched. He listened. He heard his heart pumping just as fast as it could, watched the goldfinch across the street build her nest as the morning dew evaporated on his lawn. Saw the nearby willows sway in the breeze, pockets of light shining through and dancing in the field over chipmunks whose default setting was scurry. Watched the petals of a daisy dip way down low and threaten to graze a nearby anthill as a chubby honeybee plied its trade.

He saw things, and he heard things, and he felt them in his bones. He breathed and watched and waited and didn’t have a care in his soul for what was going to happen.

Another week went by after that, with his heart and soul lifted and fluttering on the breeze. And try as he might, he couldn’t locate the Great Garbage Can they’d all be thrown away into. Everything carried on just the same as before.

So he hiked back to Clingman’s Dome and pushed on through those thickets. Checked his compass and the angle of the sun both, but try as he might he couldn’t find that tag again. Here was the clearing where he’d found it, all the nearby landmarks the same, but it was gone. Removed. Maybe never there in the first place.

But that deep calm of his didn’t go with it. No, it stayed and hasn’t left once. Probably never will.

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