Readers Report: Right Place, Wrong Time


A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “Right Place, Wrong Time.”

Edited by Susan Clements.


For years I had dreamed of seeing her in a wedding dress, this woman I loved. I imagined the glow of the veil over her dark hair, the taut fabric at her waist, the pristine grin. I had guessed that she would move like smoke, an impression only half realized, and she did. She was so graceful that she almost wasn’t there at all. My eyes ached from all the white, but I held them to her just the same.

These are the moments in our futures that we consider with a certain skepticism in youth, a distant curiosity only laced with dread, like drops of ink in water. Only later, when the full weight of the years has bore down on us, do we recognize their stark possibility. We fear, for instance, that when the day at last arrives when our loves put on that dress, they will put it on for someone else. But fear is all there is; we do not expect, do not prepare. And then we turn our heads and the day is all around us, and the pain is like a splinter in our throats.

I had promised that I would come only after she began to cry over the phone; I was powerless in the face of her melancholy, so strong and so familiar, like the smell of a house I’d grown up in. When the invitation came, I sat in my chair in the living room for hours with it, drinking heavily, listening to Iron & Wine, turning it over and over in my hands. It was signed in her handwriting, the same loops and dots that graced the notebook pages I kept in a drawer at work.

She was married in the Queen of All Saints Basilica, where I had once planned our own wedding. I stayed for the ceremony but not the reception; I kept my promise, but for the life of me I could not face her. I imagined her searching for me, working hard to conceal her worried frown, hating me for leaving a blot on her happy day. But it was more than I could stand. I stayed until they kissed, until the families rumbled to their feet, and then I disappeared. Later, at home, I lay on the floor in my front hall, counting ceiling tiles, waiting for the friends to post photos on Facebook.
— Chris Green

* * *

The two men that I passed while first checking out the beach are still sitting under a tiki umbrella when I mosey up to the lounge three hours later. I grab the empty table next to them and watch in awe as an enormous sun sinks further into the horizon. Birds sail past silently, gliding over the gently churning water. The beaches on the Yucatan are absolutely wonderful and there is nowhere I would rather be right now.

A loud grunt disrupts my placid ocean viewing. I turn to locate its source. The larger of the two guys has removed his cowboy hat and is wiping his brow with the shoulder strap of his tank top. He waves a hand in the air, requesting another drink. A server in a dress shirt and tie hustles across the sand to their table. He takes the drink order and inquires about their possible interest in dinner. A meal perhaps, amigos? The men wave this off and direct the server to bring more chips (free). Then they resume talking about the cell phone business.

I return to watching the water. The sun has set, releasing a gentle breeze across the beach. A fat moon rises behind us and bathes the ocean’s edge in a soft light. The scene is one of pure peace and tranquility.

The guy in the cowboy hat lifts out of his seat, wobbles through a turn, and marches unsteadily towards the water. He staggers to a stop at the surf’s edge and stands in place, backlit by the moon-glow. Then he grips the top of his shorts below his gut, unzips his fly, and starts urinating in the water.

The scene is no longer one of peace and tranquility.

A wave crashes at his feet. He struggles against the undertow and falls down, face forward. He lies on his stomach, flapping his arms as water courses over his back and drags sand up into his shorts. His friend and the Mexican server jog towards him like a Greenpeace rescue squad. They each take an arm, lift the guy to his feet, and drag him back to the table. The guy falls into his chair like a creature that has just completed an exhausting evolutionary transition from water to land. He coughs and hacks for a bit, dislodging salt water from his sand-covered face.

Then he orders another drink.
— Thomas Sullivan

* * *

Right place/wrong time . . . seems to be my knack. Everyone has one, a knack, that is, but my particular area of innate expertise is the crappiest timing ever. I’m the girl who always arrives just as the cops are busting up the party, or the boy has already met the girl (or boy), or the music has just ended and the crowd is streaming out of the arena. I even managed to meet and get together with the man I always longed for just when it was least advantageous for either of us. Now that’s not to say it all amounted to no good, because our time together yielded a great kiddo, who is now thirteen and a far better human than either of his parents. But, let me tell you, the together part was no picnic. Take two people with major issues surrounding relationships, add in a heaping dose of past abuses, a whole lot of mutual misunderstanding, some hazardous communication problems, and the proclivity toward making each other pay for the past transgressions of others, and you have a recipe for disaster. You see, we had met as teens in our hometown, and knew all the same people, but never really got to know each other. Peripheral to each other, not really connected, until a month or two after my best friend died of a heroin overdose. I had moved back in with my mother for the summer to sort of collect myself, and wound up at a brunch for a mutual friend. He and I spent a little time sort of walking around each other, trying to get a sense for who we each were, and since my radar was sort of whacked out of service, I didn’t pick up on the I’m-so-not-able-to-be-good-for-anyone vibes I hear tell now that he was putting off. All I saw was his height, his beauty, and the intense intelligence he shared with me. Let’s face it, hormones were doing my thinking for me. At any rate, in his words, I ‘pursued him doggedly’ until I lit down in gestation land. By the time I found out I was pregnant we had parted ways, I was in no shape to make a decent decision (aside from knowing, immediately, that this child was coming to my life) so i did what i always did when in crisis, I drove to my friend’s house up in Berkeley. Somehow he got wind of the situation and we ended up meeting to talk about things. From there we left for Oregon, where we lived in disharmony for about a year. It was dreadful. Neither one of us was happy, and had no qualms about making the other person more than aware of that. By the time our son was born it was clear to everyone that we needed to break up and try to find a way to parent our child without being otherwise connected. Still, even that didn’t work so well and we got mixed up in some domestic violence, which led to us being parted by the law. When I look back now, I realize that if he and I had met either five years before, or ten years later, we’d have been a fine pair. The timing, the right place/wrong time of it, was so . . . wrong. It took us eight years to come back together as co-parents and give our son the best of both of us. Now we all know each other in such a better way, a healthier way, and can be the right place/right time. I wish that we’d been strong enough to make it so in the first place, but how glad am I that it’s all sorted out now. And my radar? So much better since all of this. So well calibrated is it that I haven’t delved into the realm of ‘relationships’ since then, opting for the all-inclusive awesome of full-time mother. Should I find myself meeting someone who I think is just great, I will first ask myself if I am thinking clearly, ignoring the red flags, or if the all clear is being sounded by something other than hormones.
— Ava Owens

* * *

$540 Amazing Budget Bohemian Artist Loft Share, SE Williamsburg. THE BEST!

Date: 2011-03-02, 3:43 AM EDT

Reply to: see below

This share is available as soon as one of our old roommates moves her futon out of the living room, which should happen by April 1st. (No April fools intended, it’s not like the futon has bed bugs, it’s just that this girl did not turn out to be the creative type at all. She was totally over the top about Post-it® Notes, she left them everywhere on every which subject, and we just don’t want her energy around us any longer!!!)

So obviously this is like the best price you are ever going to see for a party pad in B.Burg. Your fellow flat mates are a performance artist/ukulele player, a digital media editor, a mime, and a Frenchman. You will be sleeping in the living room. The living room gets a lot of light because there aren’t any doors. If this makes you uncomfortable, we could eventually consider the installation of a Japanese rice screen but honestly, if you’re into doors, you’re probably not the right roommate for this creative team.

Must love: Maté, root vegetables, red panda cams.

Must not love: Pinot Grigio, quiet time, wheat.

Sometimes guests sleep over and they’ll need to sleep in your “room.” We have two vintage tatami mats stored for this purpose. Also, Arielle (the performance artist) does Ashtanga yoga every morning but wants me to mention that it’s a silent practice so you’ll probably just sleep through it.

What else? We like to watch movies, make noodles, and occasionally drink beer. The TV is in the living room so you really have the opportunity to live in the creative hub of the apartment.

Are you wondering if we’re selling our ex-roommate’s futon? We’re not!

Spencer at Willoughby {Google map} {Yahoo map} (Just kidding! If you like Yahoo, you can’t live with us!)

  • Cats are OK—we already have one although I haven’t seen him in a while.
  • Dogs might be OK —will it attract ladees to our party pad? Send pics!
  • Location: THE BEST!!
  • It’s NOT OK to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests unless your commercial interests can be combined with ours (including, but not limited to, sci-fi music videos, guerrilla poetry, spelt).
  • 🙂

— Courtney Maum

* * *

“Maybe it’s that we met too soon or that we didn’t meet soon enough,” you tell me, and I have to agree even though I don’t want to agree.

“We met when we did for a reason,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say.

I am reminded of another conversation we had one night, late, the road essentially invisible. You were telling me about the series of ex-boyfriends that preceded me. I asked if you thought about any of them—mostly I wondered if you would think about me once I was one of these ex-boyfriends—and you told me no.

I don’t think about the times when it wasn’t working, and I only sometimes think about the times when the relationship ended because of a shit reason or excuse, you said.

You don’t miss any of them, I asked.

No, you said. However long the road, you get to where you are meant to get.

I wanted to correct your second get. Be, I wanted to say. You get to where you are meant to be. Or even suggest ending the sentence with meant: You get to where you are meant. Or you are meant to get where you get. Revising your words doesn’t change their meaning, but here, on this side of the conversation, as we negotiate our dissolution and begin dividing things into yours and mine, I want to remind you of this conversation and I want to ask into which category I will fall. Have we failed because we didn’t work, or have we failed because of some shit excuse or reason?

“I love you and I always will,” you say, and I believe you because I need to believe you.

I want to ask if you will think about me, because I will think about, and I will wait for the moment when we should have met, if only to see if you have gotten to where you were meant to get, that is, if you have somehow returned to me, because you will still feel and smell like home, even if your locks have been changed and my key no longer works.
— William Henderson

* * *

We sat at the downtown bar on the corner where everyone knows each other’s names, the one where everyone’s been at least once. We drank pitchers of beer, and one of sangria, but we didn’t need them. Not at all. We were drunk every second that July. Even when we were as sober as puppies.

Every now and again, when last call was threatening to kill our thrill, we would abandon our friends and dash off on our lightless bicycles. First, I would disappear to the “bathroom.” And then him. He rode twice as fast as me and didn’t care if I disappeared into the nothingness of the leafy residential avenues, but it didn’t matter because we always ended up at the same place.

This time, however, I didn’t tell him I was leaving. I biked to our spot and waited on the already dewy grass of the park. He met me there without rhyme or reason.

I licked my lips like a four-year-old does when she has sticky fudgesicle remnants all over her face. I then cumbersomely climbed over the jagged fence, without cutting my knees. Him, on the other hand, he made one swift move so that he almost floated right over the six-foot barrier. It was meant to keep us out. It was meant to keep everyone out, but of course, it didn’t.

We undressed without saying a word, but I could have sworn there were ear-splitting sounds all around us. We held hands, again, without a word and jumped into the water like clockwork.

Half underwater, we kissed so hard that my brain did a 360—360-degree spin so slow that I could feel the earth moving faster. There were lights on the pool, making us feel like we were filming a movie.

But they don’t use sirens like they do in the movies, no, not for “minor offenses” like these. Instead, they roll up in twos with shiny badges, heavy legs and lurid grins. Most of the time, it’s a bunch of teens or twenty-somethings wishing they were teens, half naked in see-through undergarments. But this time, it was just us.

They gave us tickets; I guess it’s protocol. Under my breath I mumbled that there was real crime in this city, but I realized, at that moment, that there was nothing as delicately criminal as our love.
— Tiana Reid

* * *

—You have no idea who I am, do you?

The old man turned to peer at the woman in furs. Sitting next to strangers in dining cars made him want to peel his skin off.

—Should I?

He turned away from her towards the sun sinking behind Cologne Cathedral. When the sun rose again, he would be drinking coffee in Krakow.

The waiter brought their lachsbrot and the woman raised her glass of Pilsner towards him.


Polish. What made her think he was, too? He refused to meet her eyes as they clinked glasses. They sipped cold Pilsner in silence as the train slid eastward into the night.

She shrugged off her furs, revealing a black suit, cut to point pleasingly towards her hips. He didn’t usually go for women as old as himself but there was something about this one . . .

—Going home, are you? she said, as they sliced into their schnitzel with new potatoes, small as bullets.

—Poland isn’t my home.

She removed her gloves to drink her coffee from its tiny cup.

—Is that so?

This woman’s wrists. I know those wrists. But the thought faded as sleepiness chased him.

Dobranoc, she said.

—Yes, goodnight.

Alone in his compartment, he dreamt of a girl asleep in a hayloft; their secret meeting place. The day before, the underground court had pronounced her a collaborator. His only job before the sun came up, after kissing her for the last time, was to shoot her.

If he didn’t, he had seen what the boys in his own Resistance were capable of.

But she’s alive. She didn’t die. She’s come to find me?

He stood to watch the sun rise over Krakow. His reflection fractured in the train window.  Behind him stood the woman in furs. Her gun pointed towards his ear.
— Sheena Cook

* * *

I remember the day I met Jennifer, in line at the Coffee Bean. She had a glittering diamond on her finger and a fiancé smoking a cigar outside—a sullen man I knew from our circle of acquaintances. A herd of women clustered, mooing their congratulations.

“That girl does not look happy,” I thought, and something about that realization was pleasing, because Jennifer has shiny hair that swings around her shoulders and legs that reach up into tomorrow and ice blue eyes that make men stammer and say stupid things.

“Congratulations?” I said, a question in my voice. She looked at me and laughed, teeth white and even, like a Crest toothpaste ad.

I remember the day, months later, when the sullen fiancé put her belongings onto their front lawn. It took an hour to coax her cat, Chicken, from under the house. I carried him in the U-Haul on my lap and he peed all over me. I couldn’t really blame him.

I remember what I ate for lunch the day Jennifer read me the letter from her adoptive father: a salad of baby lettuces tossed in a sesame vinaigrette. Pink, gelatinous slices of ahi tuna I pushed to the side of the plastic container, the slippery flesh too thick in my mouth.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and her hand shook as she held the page, white notebook paper fluttering, his blocky printing bleeding through the backside.

“I thought you wanted it,” he said. “You were so warm and wet . . .” and Jennifer stopped there.

We were packing the living room of the expensive apartment she could no longer afford after Marty, the new boyfriend, came home one day and said he had to go.

“I’m leaving you money,” Marty said.

“I’m leaving you all the stuff,” Marty said.

“I’m leaving you,” Marty said.

Marty sold cars and looked like an underwear model. Now he’s married with two kids and I hear he’s become a Jehovah’s Witness but I doubt it’s true.

I remember what Jennifer was wearing the day she told me her birth mother didn’t want to meet her: a white cotton dress that fluttered in the salty breeze that blew into her front yard in the summer.

Jennifer calls while I’m in Prague. “I’m getting married,” she says.

“Congratulations?” I say, but by the time I get home it’s over.
— Shanna Mahin

* * *

Seven people so far. One suit, two jackets with ties. The women are in dresses. Four heels, one flashy jewelry, one trendy jewelry and two datepurses. No fancyhair or sexhair, all classy and casual. The last is still at the door. I couldn’t see her bag. I clutch my binoculars.

A uselesspurse. I have one here, but it only matches two dresses. I have my luggagepurse, but I haven’t seen one. My palms sweat. My heart speeds up just a bit. I R.S.V.P’d. No backing out without being ill or rude. I had food-poisoning this month already. I hate people who send invitations that don’t give clues about attire. Thirty-four minutes.

I have nightmares. I am wearing the wrong thing. Nobody says anything, but they are wearing the right thing. They give me a Look and Pity. Sometimes I arrive in the proper clothes, but they change as I walk in. Small talk is hard, but if you look right, awkward social skills are ignored. I stopped asking friends for advice months ago. I got the Look and Pity before I finished speaking. It vibrated through the phone. I have more nightmares now.

Three more: one suit, two dresses. Heels, classy hair, trendy jewelry. Both carrying a uselesspurse. My heart is pounding audibly. My palms are sweatier: too wet, and I can’t wear anything light.

Twenty-six minutes. Two car-to-door, five to switch purses, two for shoes, four for makeup, three for hair, one for jewelry, four for dresses, three for undergarments—two for decisions.  I climb back. My wardrobe is hanging in plastic and ready for duty.

I plug the curling iron into the cigarette lighter. Strapless bra, charcoal a-line, black heels, arty jewelry. A perky ponytail with minimal makeup. Curling iron in the coffee mug. My hair took extra—six left. I pull purses, including the useless. Five. I dry my hands. Two. I step out of the car, spin back. I run for the door. The datepurse bangs against my leg.

My ponytail bobs sweetly. My datepurse makes friends. My palms are still sweaty. My dress finds the bar. My arty jewelry makes a joke. My shoes say its been two hours and I don’t recognize anyone.

I stand by the door and count to twenty. The invitation is under the driver’s seat. The party is tomorrow.
— Kate Hayes

* * *

“This wind reminds me of North Dakota,” she said, the trim of the table’s umbrella snapping smartly. He looked at loose bits of her put-up hair blown now up, now down like a semaphore code he could not read.

“I wonder why they leave the ceiling fans on?” he asked absently, avoiding her eyes. He took a sip of Abita, the napkin struggling to escape from the condensation that held it in place.

They had exhausted all the possible pleasantries—their daughter at college, their son’s progress on the saxophone, her search for a job, whether to paint the house—gingerly avoiding the reasons they were meeting for a drink here in this outdoor café, the one they had always visited when he brought her and the children home to visit his family, instead of on the porch of the house across town.

They were reduced to the weather. It was probably time to go.

“We were happy in Fargo, weren’t we?” she asked.

“It was a great place to raise the kids,” he offered. “I miss snowshoeing sometimes, those gorgeous, windless ten-degree days along the river, everything so still and so bright. I walk in the park sometimes now but it’s not the same.” He drained the rest of his beer. “Are you ready for another?”

She looked down at her wine glass. “I don’t know.” Looking back up, she asked, “When did you start walking in the park?”

“I don’t power walk like you. I just wander over by the Great Lagoon. It’s so close to my apartment.” He had almost said house. An entire vocabulary in a box; certain words had to be chosen so carefully. She had the house, the children. He had an apartment.

“We should do this more often,” she said. “I had fun.” They had dispensed with his anxiety attacks around her before the first drink arrived.

“Me too,” he offered.

“I’ve really changed,” she said after a deep swallow of wine. “The kids say so all the time. I’m not that person anymore.”

He stared back, brought his bottle to his mouth for a moment, set it down untouched.

“Neither am I.”

They both looked away: from each other, the hovering waitress, the umbrellas of memory. She lit a cigarette. He glanced at his watch, and reached for his wallet.
— Mark Folse

* * *

I live in San Francisco.

It’s the right place for me. I wear hoodies year-round. I have legal access to every marijuana strain known to man. I watch movies you’ve never heard of at the cinema. I drink Racer 5 on tap whenever I want. I get tattoos from the best artists in the world. I can walk the streets naked. I eat burritos, not bombs. I buy books that are neither new nor electronic. I breathe clean ocean air, see big beautiful trees, and sleep in the warm blanket of fog that creeps in through my rooftop window.

But I moved here at the wrong time. The Beatniks are no longer social lions. The Summer of Love is over. The dot-com bubble popped. You can’t even join the 49ers and strike gold anymore unless you weigh 300 pounds. There’s no opium left in Chinatown—only snow globes, t-shirts, and magnets. Harvey Milk has been replaced by corrupt assholes in tweed and silk. Kids with ball-squeezing pants and fixed-speed bicycles are ruling the streets while skateboarders are feeling the heat . . . The Hubba Hideout, for fucks sake, was murdered!

I’m in the right place, but at the wrong time. With the San Francisco Chronicle going bankrupt, the Herb Caens of our generation are joining the unconscious drunks of the city instead of getting Pulitzer Prizes for being the conscience monks of the city. And all I’m paid to string is cheese.
— Christopher Forsley

* * *

I had so promised to visit Paul, my coast-to-coast Deadhead brother, by whose side I had worked in the very fields and sheds that had landed him in a cell.

Humboldt to SF-bound, rare sunshine on shoulders and the road ahead, I would keep my post-trial word and today make his day.

Till my monthly friend showed up—running south, into baggy hippy pants, under which I wore no underwear.

I was sure I could make it to the Courthouse, sans disaster, despite product, panties, or paper.

Two hours, three Ladies Rooms, and one mini-mart later, I was freshened for The Visit.  But prisoners are elsewhere; out Low Gap Road. I want to leave, head south; fuck Dodge and this one-horse town with no feminine protection.

But I go. I park in the dusty, arid lot, amidst darkening trees. The sun drops quickly, anxious also to depart this place.

Pad slipping, I wrestle and harness; impeding forces that want to break loose and stream free. Official signs state visiting hours, ending shortly. Belongings will be searched. I return purse to truck; self to gate. I adjust nervously, like a ballplayer, minus the spitting.

The concrete entryway is like Kaiser—minus magazines or welcome. Signage, benches, and me. No record, no warrants, no nothing to hide or search; just an American girl in boots, t-shirt, baggy pants, no underwear. I grapple myself, untangling sticky glue from nether regions of long hippy hair. I get antsy. Minutes tick. I can’t get in anymore than he can get out. But my word!

Before cameras are anywhere, I sense it. Surely I am seen! It’s state property. It’s jail! Crotch-grabbing = suspicious behavior = searchable behavior. My breath grows short. Open road fades to sweat and fear; bleeding lamb and lion’s den. Uniforms will prevail; weapons will fire upon entry through door, walls, gates, into lair.

I run, ripping savagely into my truck. Revved, I hit the road, turn left; left again, leaving, coursing down 101 South; home-free.

I was there. I was right there, in the right place. Paul, word, heart, promise, truth; for I had said that I would come. Who knew my friend would appear at the wrong time? How high the moon?
— Virginia Giblin

* * *

The grenade detonates slowly. Too slowly.

Cabrinovic has lobbed it perfectly. He watches it fall squarely beside the motorcade and recalls how once, as a child, he kicked a ball with such gusto it cleared the fence and how, with their ball lost, the neighborhood boys stopped speaking to him. He blinks. The wrong car explodes.

Damn ten-second delay.

Cabrinovic is nineteen years old. In his trousers, he keeps fountain pens and licorice. He is proud to be a member of the Black Hand, even if the name makes him blush. He likes the way the men clap him on the shoulder. They drink together. They sing together. They look each
other in the eyes. They say they will be heroes. He hasn’t intended to miss.

If you come at the emperor . . .

Someplace behind him, a woman screams. Fists, satchels, heels: everyone starts running. He fingers his breast pocket for the cyanide tablets his pal Princip has given him. When Princip pressed them in his palm earlier that morning, they’d grinned. Why? Cabrinovic swallows the tablets.

He thinks of his mother, whose cabinets need repair. She’s been after him about it for weeks. Who would fix them now? Who? And what of the old alley cat who comes to his door some nights for a pan of milk?

How long does cyanide take to work? Cabrinovic feels ill.

No one notices, amidst the chaos, a dark-eyed young man heading for the river. But they notice when he jumps in it.

The river is about four inches deep. A mob pulls Cabrinovic out, then starts throwing punches. Later, police will determine his cyanide tablets out of date.

Meanwhile, the archduke goes straightaway to visit the wounded at the hospital, but his car stalls beside a restaurant where the Black Hand scumbag Princip has stopped off for a sandwich. Princip draws his gun and—pop pop—the Ferdinands are dead. Some guys have all the luck.
— Li Cornfeld

* * *

The bridge out of Nuevo Laredo and into the United States of Texas is a congested, overheating Purgatory. No matter the temperature, inside the car it’s boiling and you inch forward with air off, windows down, conserving gas. Look into the cars of your fellow refugees; children with their mouths open, arms twisted around their heads in disbelief. Their parents silently rehearse the story they will tell about the trivial item they intend to forget to declare. Everyone sneaks something out of Mexico, even if it’s something you’re allowed to have.

At bridge’s end, a gaggle of Mexican police sit on a tank and watch grimly. At the tank, traffic splits into two lone channels through which thousands of humans will pass today, their papers and cars reshuffled by guards who work with the deliberateness of furious watchmakers. They clutch your papers. They study your person, your tattoos, your pupils. They smell you.

Years ago, you came to the border to play, to shop, and for dentistry. They say after 9/11 everything changed. You can’t cross with a driver’s license or library card and a big Heartland smile anymore. Americans leaving Mexico are required to have a passport. Today, all but one know this.

The line they send you to for processing (while they dissect your car) means hours of standing.  You’re the only one not Mexican. Some work on the American side and make the return trip this evening. Many do it daily. They carry bags and children. There’s a routine. One man carries two fifty-pound sacks of dog food.

In the office where you’ll prove your Americanism, a huge poster of the World Trade Center hangs. It says, “Never Forget.” I don’t recall attacks on the Texas border, but that’s the kind of smartass remark that will double the agents’ contempt for you and your time here. The badges say Homeland Security.

Back in your car, cleared to cross an imaginary line in the desert, the guard asks again why you were in Laredo. “Get away. Shopping. The sights.” But the mercados that once bustled with Americans and their dollars are ghost towns. The hotels and pools are entombed inside concrete walls topped with broken bottles and barbed wire. Restaurants are closed. “There wasn’t much there.”

“That’s right,” he says. “There’s nothing in Nuevo Laredo. Don’t come back.”

Never forget.
— Jeff Questad

* * *

“In another time and place . . .” my best friend says when I am twenty-three. He says this as he is perched on top of me on his bed, where we are frozen after a hastily aborted “mistake” resulting from the bottomless Margaritas that were the office Christmas party. “You’re still my friend,” I hear myself say, and he smiles big and kisses my cheeks and I feel adored. His girlfriend visits tomorrow.

I am in a new city with a new job when I am twenty-five and this office party has less alcohol. I meet a cute boy who makes me smile and laugh more than I ever have in my life and I think this must finally be my time. He’s the nicest man I’ve ever met and he actually has morals, so we have to wait a few months while he wraps up his relationship. He’s going through a lot, I make sure not to push too hard. Finally the time arrives, except the next day he can’t look me in the eye, and suddenly my best friend is a stranger.

I weep to my girlfriends, who assure me that the connection was real, it was just bad timing. I can’t accept this. I am infuriated at Time. I use the very last bit of my money, sixty dollars, on a psychic named Karen to learn how to manipulate fate back in my favor. She says she sees bad timing, but he’s coming back. I believe her because she was also able to describe what my mother looks like. I have hope, then impatience, and the third time I see Karen to ask what I’ve been doing wrong all these years, she gently suggests I try therapy.

I can’t make sense of my heartache. He isn’t even my type. He is a vegan, and a Red Sox fan, and a “cat person.”  Karen and my therapist and my hairdresser all say he sounds like a jerk. But he’s not. It was Time’s fault. And mine.

They say it’s all in the timing, but then they say time heals all wounds. I waited for Time to bring me one or the other, loving those same two men for weeks into months into years. Except, neither saying is true, and Time will do nothing but keep on going by until I do something with it.
— K. Schmitt

* * *

The doctors told my dad he would need surgery to remove the three-centimeter tumor on his pancreas. I tried to translate the little that I could, but my dad speaks English well. He understood. My mom missed the word cancer and only heard its less threatening forms like “mass” and “tumor.” We didn’t correct her. Pancreatic cancer is one of the worst types of cancers to have, they said. The organ lies in the center of the body, and it’s connected to all these vessels that allow the cells to invisibly creep everywhere. They said it was fortunate that we—we’re a team now—found it early and in good time. And I thought there is never a good fucking time for cancer.

A few years ago, after I graduated, I decided I no longer wanted to be a doctor. I figured at the time I would go someplace else, anywhere else, and allow my body to find itself and discover where it belonged. I wanted to be far away from home, where my elementary, middle, and high school were all across the street, where my parents raised me in their image. I had heard of two guys who walked across the United States, for charity. That sounded fun. I had a friend who left for Paris to become a pastry chef. That seemed delicious.

My dad was clutching a pillow to his chest to stem the pain from the incision. We were at home watching the US Open. Federer hit a forehand winner and I wanted to comment on how great a shot it was, but I couldn’t find the words in Vietnamese, and I knew my mom would have scolded me for using English. So I sat side by side with my dad on the couch, and we watched the rest of the match and all the commercials, wordlessly, and I knew what I’ve always known—that here is where I should be.
— Steven Le

* * *

There was a point, not really too long at ago now, that you remember thinking this time it was different.

That the want inside you was not the same want as before. That you were smart enough now to know that this was just a goal, a job, a step into the future.

Not the heavy hope for happiness you’d followed in the past.

“If I get this,” you told yourself, “I’ll be great at it. I’ll work hard. I’ll be following the path to adulthood”.

“All this will do,” you figured, “is make me smarter”.

And then without realizing it your answer changed.

“If I get this,” you began to say, “everything will be great.”

It’s too bad it took so long to realize the slip.

Everything is far too much to ever be entirely great.

Everything is happiness. It’s the calming of the brain from the ticking and the tapping and the spiraling and the pounding that’s pulling you into the ground. Everything is being loved, not by your parents, but by someone, the right someone, the smart, kind, fascinating someone who asks you questions. Not that you’re one of those people who needs someone, but your ability to stand up to loneliness is starting to wane and filling that loneliness withmeaningless-naked-hot-body exchanges isn’t really working as well as it used to.

Everything was being good enough. Not just for yourself, but for everyone else, too. No longer worried about the silliness in being bad, or disliked, or judged more than you’d like.

“Everything,” you said, “will be great”.

And then you fell asleep and hoped about the future, until you watched it and realized you’d done it all over again.

“This time will be different,” you tell yourself, but telling yourself these things doesn’t make them true.
— Emily Hemson

* * *

It’s the bench with the worn wood in the park, the rickety one, set off a bit from the others. The one that faces west, that allows for the best view of the old tree with the delicate leaves that look like sunflower petals from that distance. It’s that one, that bench with the pocketknife carving on the left side, where you sit.

It’s late afternoon and gray out. The drizzle has just begun to wet the ink on the page, or the camera lens, maybe the dog-eared words of Rilke.

Pulling my sweatshirt hood up over my head, I continue to wait. My legs in the shape of a pretzel, then, as the gray picks up the cold, I fold them up against my chest. I am in a ball. Waiting. Looking at the figures in the distance: college students with their cigarettes and coffee cups, a pair of worried parents bundling their first child against the wind, an elderly couple sneaking bread to the birds.

I dry the rivulets of water that collect on my glasses. Keep blinking until I cannot see. Dry again. Repeat.

I think of your flaws first because that’s what makes it interesting, because that’s what’s real. I imagine your history, your threshold for hurt. I think of my own. What did your world look like before? I try to picture you as a child at the dinner table, draw your family in my imagination, what your face expressed. I wonder: Will you have a propensity for panic attacks, silence, hand holding? Will you be a terrible speller; will you cry at the same part in the movie that I cry at; will you have an affinity for microwavable macaroni and cheese?

It is raining hard now. There is little light left in the sky. My teeth are chattering from the chill, my sweatshirt is soaked—needs to be wrung out, again.

One more minute, perhaps. I concentrate on the old tree. I watch the leaves as they descend from their branches, the choreography between the wind and the rain. I shut my eyes: You are catching them for me. I try to make out your outline, memorize your hands. Exhaling, I search, but all I see are discarded leaves, sheets of gray rain, and my own fingers, as I outline the carving in the space beside me, again and again.
— Krista Barragar


Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.