Table of Contents

 

3 PIECES

Adam Patric Miller

 

 

THE SNIPER

My stepdaughters sit in their dad's SUV across the street on Glastonbury Ave. Exhaust puffs into the 5°F air. They've gone to Starbucks to use a gift certificate. Now they're walking towards the house, talking, breath puffing in the air. Stepfather. I love the girls, but they aren't mine, so I keep a distance. I help when I can. I admire how K— raises them. Zero white parenting. No cheering, no "Good jobs!", no pats on the backs. F—, a college sophomore, leaves soon to study in Thailand. J—, sixteen, goes back to Pittsburgh to study ballet. My youngest son, I—, returns from a run in the 5°F. His rusty chin with the facial hair of a seventeen-year-old is iced up. I take his picture and post it on Facebook with a comment referencing Heat Miser (I—'s red hair) and Snow Miser (I—'s icy chin) from a childhood cartoon. The Year Without Santa Claus was broadcast December 10, 1974; Nixon gone, Gerald Ford president. Four months later, American civilian and military personnel will be helicoptered out of Saigon. April 30, 1975 will be called Liberation Day or The Fall of Saigon. In April of 1975, I'm in my backyard shooting birds after school with a BB gun. Sometimes, instead of shooting, I'm in my bedroom with a violin under my chin playing Bach. Dad taught me to take apart and put back together my sixteen-gage shotgun. I only use the shotgun when we shoot skeet. When I was younger, I made drawings of guns. I made models of muskets. I was a dead-eye with a BB gun, having graduated from a Winchester lever-action to a Daisy air rifle. One day I was in my bedroom and saw an Acorn Lane kid in the Cat Lady's backyard sixty yards away. I pumped my air rifle once and took a bead on the kid.  My parent's home was on the top of a hill at the bottom of Long Lots Lane. I figured distance and elevation. I broke the first rule Dad taught me about guns. One day I'll shoot my brother with one pump in our driveway and he'll remind me what I did the rest of our lives. I shot myself with one pump to show him it wasn't so bad or I offered to do it. Cain's mindset. I took a bead on the shadow of a kid in the Cat Lady's back yard. The shadow moved then got still. I breathed in through my nostrils and breathed out a half-breath, and held it— until I gently pulled the trigger. A yelp. The shadow looked wildly around and ran. I felt a surge of power. I knew what the shadow didn't know before I pulled the trigger.

 

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THREE WORLDS

For thirty-seven years I lived in the twentieth century and the twentieth century hurtles away. We have our four teenage kids at home and I walk into the living room and all four stare at phones. We play a card game and they look at phones.  We go ice skating with their phones. Skating on the Jefferson rink I remember Petrucci's pond in Saugatuck. We waited for the temperature to sink below 32°F. We walked 1.4 miles to venture onto Petrucci's frozen pond. We listened for deep thwonking sounds, watched for cracks. Snow was shoveled to the sides of the pond, broomed from the dark surface. Carp swayed in an icy creek on the side of the pond, disappearing beneath Turkey Hill Road. In the kitchen I mixed flour and water to form dough balls to be pressed on a hook. On a spring day I dropped my line into the creek and carp nibbled until the dough disintegrated. Years later I saw Escher's Three Worlds and felt watched by the fish with its wide-eyed amazement and whiskers. Three bare trees and fallen leaves on a pond's surface were inside me. My parents took me skating to a part of town with a forest of birch trees flooded by rain and frozen by a cold snap. People from town parked cars and sat on the side of a road tightening skates. The birch tree forest was north of my cousin's house near farmland where I took horseback riding lessons. Bitter cold, at dusk, skaters dodged trees. Bundled with a scratchy sweater, scarf and hat, I stood on double-bladed skates, freezing, mittens on white bark, watching. The smell of burning wood, smoke from chimneys, burning piles of leaves, a sharp smell, damp and smoky in dry air burned my nostrils. I was alone. Skaters disappeared in and out of trees and the scene got darker by degrees. I felt a child's solitude and skated its surface as fast as daredevil teenage boys. Quiet with the sounds of disembodied voices and blades angling into ice. Each year as a teacher I'll write on the board Frost's "Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting." Winter's ice, birch trees, skating, leaf smoke, property borders of piled stones. Jerry's family installed a black cast iron wood burning stove against the back wall of their living room. Jerry and I were tasked with feeding the black stove. On the back wall of the garage a cord of wood was stacked and covered with a blue tarp. We'd hustle into the freezing cold night, load our arms with wood and stack it next to the stove. Jerry's family closed unused rooms. The burning wood smelled good. When rats pattered on the ceiling of his bedroom, I helped Jerry set traps, and once caught, we drowned the rats in a galvanized mop bucket in the garage. The soaking gray corpses we wrapped in shopping bags and dropped the bags in a garbage bin. It's -2°F. Across Glastonbury smoke rises from chimneys, pushed down by cold. Leafless trees reach above the neighbors' roofs into a powder sky, their long branches cross-hatching and bisecting in shadow blackness like frozen ink.

 

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BORING

I call B— and when he doesn't pick up I leave a message goes like this: "It's Wednesday." Or I say, "It's Tuesday." A variation: "It's Friday." We've put names on stretches of time, segmented them, made a counting system. That's human. I'm saying to B—, "Good morning, old friend. We're human." I'm lucky with friends. If I count, my friendship with B— traces to 1984. I met him in the fall when we studied to be performing musicians at a state university in New York. We constructed a friendship. B— made me listen to Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson. A jazz pianist, he spent a minute with ear training, theory, composition, performance, but it didn't last long. B— holed up in New York in the 100s in a one room apartment centered on a piano and the day-to-day wall-to-wall work a young artist does for years, playing clubs at night, sitting in until dawn. The walls to his place were padded. Every great artist has had to have his padded room. Soon B— toured with famous jazz musicians. I didn't publish a book until I was fifty. Last November I flew to New York to hear B—'s trio at The Village Vanguard. I stayed at The Jane Hotel on the cheap. The Jane put up the survivors of the Titanic. The wooden room I stayed in felt like I was in a cabin inside a ship. The bunk was attached to the wall. The room was a roomy coffin with a port window to the Hudson. The hotel was designed by William A. Boring. At the top of The Jane's octagonal tower there's an old-style bar with a dapper ghost serving drinks. Drunk, you can walk onto a deck and fixate on a red light across the river while twenty-somethings smoke pot and stare at phones. Everyone at midnight on the deck of The Jane Hotel is a thin-tattooed-pierced-bearded-bored DJ, dancer, rapper, actor, artist, model, musician, chef, writer. I'm a middle-aged English teacher from St. Louis, transposing young New York revelers thirty years into the future when they're me and I'm dead in my cabin, reclining in a fuzzy orange chair, My Shining Hour buzzing through my head, recalling the second set heard in an underground triangular room a quick walk from The Jane Hotel.

 

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These short pieces originated as early morning journal entries. Here's the version of "My Shining Hour" buzzing through my head in "Boring": [link].