The prompt this time was a music prompt. I played the song, “Imagination,” sung by Jimmy Scott. Scott’s androgynous voice is haunting and achingly beautiful, and listening to it produced some very powerful and strange writing. What I wrote is below.
Try not to think about all of the suffering in the world, he tells himself. Try not to bleed for everyone. But even as he places himself in the moment, here, on the cool, quiet street, he feels it. Somewhere bombs are leveling apartment buildings and children are being victimized. Somewhere a mother of two is hanging herself, or a home is going up in flames, engulfing everything.
He walks past the house with the potted succulents no one ever waters and fantasizes about giving the thirty plants a drink. He stops in front of the wishing tree, lit up with a string of Christmas tree lights, hundreds of wishes written on paper tags, hanging from strings. I want a new dog; I wish I could find new love; Please let my sister’s cancer be curable.
He wants to practice maitri—the Buddhist practice of loving kindness—to inhale deeply when he passes the homeless man on the street in filthy clothes, talking to himself. He inhales deeply: smoke, urine, dog shit, pain. Takes it all in, then lets it out. Exhale. And it still hurts.
Only yesterday, on his way to lunch at a cafe, a young man stumbled past him, barefoot on the city street. He leaned awkwardly, a plastic bracelet from a club the night before wrapped tightly around his wrist. He was in a daze, hung over from something, a roofie? Crystal meth? He couldn’t be sure, but he wanted to help the young man. He was frightened. The sight of him, vulnerable, cloudy, made him fearful.
But tonight, he brings himself back to tonight. The sun has just set and the sky is still a royal blue. Wind chimes clink and dance on a distant front porch. It’s Sunday, and he’s on his way to meet his lover at a bar where they will share a couple of overly sweet cocktails, exchanging their usual niceties before sex, before the lonely animals inside them reach toward one another in lust as old as humankind.
At some point, an old friend will walk past them, oblivious. His alcoholism has made him all bones and missing teeth. His old friend will not see him, nor his lover, will make a bee line to the end of the bar where there are empty seats, finally arriving for his reposados on the rocks with lime. They soothe the rawness of his old pain: the abusive older brother, the priest who used him, the cousins who humiliated him in ways he can only talk about when he is slurring and teetering on his bar stool.
“Let’s go,” he tells his lover, hoping to avoid the old wounded friend and the awkward conversation that is sure to follow. They leave. But one part of him stays behind. One goes out hand in hand with his lover, anticipating skin against skin, and the open, wet mouths. The other part stays behind, sidles up next to his old friend, orders himself a tequila too, just like they did in Puerto Vallarta all those years ago.
“Hello, old friend,” this part of him says. “I still love you. Tell me the saddest story you can, and I will listen. I will listen.”