Fragment of a dream

I woke, but the dream retained its tendrils in my heart. I had dreamed of a white house with no windows; I was standing outside of it, looking for the door. The sidewalk was cracked, and had heaved from the pressures of the frost and the roots of the tree that stood over my head.

There were fence posts surrounding the property, but no fence: It had been torn away years ago, leaving just the pales as beacons of the long-lost barricade. And the grass, once green, was brown and dried from the ongoing drought.

In the distance, the morning sky burned in purple and crimson as angels wept blood for another lost soul.

Triangular Gaps

There is an unfortunate gap in the triangle congruency theorems. It would be nice to be able to say that we can declare that two triangles are congruent based on a pair of sides and exactly two other bits of information, but we cannot.

If we can match up all three pairs of sides as congruent, the triangles are congruent.

If we can match up two pairs of angles and one pair of sides, the triangles are congruent.

If we can match up two pairs of sides and the angle between them, the triangles are congruent.

If we can match up two pairs of sides and a non-acute angle, the triangles are congruent.

But if we can match up two pairs of sides and an acute angle not between them, then we could be describing either of two triangles.

This gap is painful to the mathematician who prefers clear order.


“It might just seem like a pointless detail to you, but it’s a symbol, is what it is.” He leaned in close to me, so I could smell the garlic and cigarettes on his breath. “A symbol of who I am. A cog in the machine. But not just any cog, oh no. A rusty cog, with a chipped tooth. It was once destined for greatness, but now it just grinds away. Dreaming of its lost aspirations. Waiting until it’s replaced by a newer part. Titanium, not steel. Steel was part of the past. Steel has lost its relevance.” He sat back, sighed, and found himself staring at where the two walls met the ceiling. I watched him in silence, thinking he was done. And then, in a long, defeated exhalation, he spoke: “It’s never a small detail to a small cog.”

January 8

A day late, but not quite a dollar short: That was the story of his life, it seemed. Running behind but still somehow managing to eke out just enough to be considered a success. Or, at least, not a failure. He didn’t know how many times he’d been here before, sitting on the edge of his seat, biting back the urge to scream, fighting his own anxieties for no apparent reason: He hadn’t arrived, he’d never arrive, but at the same time, he’d never drown either. He’d simply continue to be.

January 7

There was a little girl who thought she’d challenge the world to change, to become the way she wanted it to be. She had grown tired of the angry way it had decided to march onward, day after day, and decided that it needed to learn to walk backwards, or at least sideways. She told her mother of the plan, but her mother told her that she was daft and that she needed to learn to accept things the way they were. She told her father of the plan, but her father laughed and patted her on the head and suggested she go back to playing with her dolls. She told her brother of the plan, but he shouted at her to leave him alone and slammed his door in her face. She told her sister of the plan, but her sister was busy with nefarious plans of her own and didn’t have time for such nonsense. Only her grandmother bothered to listen with an open mind, and then smiled softly and nodded and told her that big challenges require big plans. And so the girl set out to plan, taking the largest sheet of paper she could find and the smallest pencil she could find so that she would have plenty of room to lay out everything she needed, and then she set out to work.

January 5

On the fifth day at sea, I was set adrift in a rowboat and left to my own devices. In the boat, I had an oar, rations for three days, and an umbrella. There was no cell phone, which was just as well, because I was out of reach of any towers anyway. There was no radio, either.

This was not punishment: This was of my own choosing, and my own design.

I watched the ship disappear onto the horizon; it took an hour, by my reckoning, but my reckoning was not the most reliable. Especially not in the hours that followed until nighttime, as I left the oar dry and felt the steady rhythm of the waves guide my little boat.

What madness had I gotten myself into?

January 1

At some point, walking along the snow-flocked train tracks in the winter evening’s half-light, I became aware.

By this I mean: All that I was was now. I had no past to dwell within, chiding myself, steeped in regrets. I had no future lingering in the wings like a Dickens villain, ready to set me to denser tasks.

I had no recollection of where I was going. I had no recollection of where I had been.

At that moment, I was at peace, and so I let that moment become my entirety.

And then it was gone, and I walked onward.

— ptkh 010114

The Grandfather Tree

I never thought I would give you permission to cut down that giant oak tree in the back of the property, the one that had led my grandfather to buy this land in the first place. It had been tall even when he’d seen it as a young man only a year into his first steady paycheck. He told me about how it had lorded over the property, a gaunt, stern figure looking down over the house from its vantage point at the far corner. The house, my grandfather’s house, was a postage stamp among its gridworked clones, with nothing in particular among its aluminum-sided façade to stand it out among its neighbors, but the tree was its own unique specter, a promise of stability and foundation hovering in the midst of mundane clichés.

Over the years, it had grown as trees grow, slowly, subtly, weathering storms and seasons, throwing down its leaves each autumn only to take them up anew in the spring. By the time I was old enough to see it, it had dwarfed the power lines that now snake through its lower branches. The power company had tried to cut it back, but my grandfather, and then my father, and then at last myself, we had stood firm against any threat to its majestic arms, reaching ever skyward.

When I was a child, it had been struck by lightning. Several of its branches had come crashing down, cleft from the trunk, and destroyed my father’s storage shed. He forgave it. The lightning had not been its fault: The lightning had been a reminder. Don’t reach too high. Know your limits. Aspiration was fine, but everyone had their place in the world and, like Icarus, there was ever the risk of reaching outside of that place and getting hurt.

At the time, I thought my father was talking about the tree.

You’ve hated that tree ever since you met me. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because there’s something in that tree that you can’t be or have, a heritage that contradicts your Gypsy soul, your vagabond spirit. My grandfather, fifteen years gone now, lives in that tree. It is where I am from.

And then, two summers ago, another lightning strike, only this time the giant oak took a direct hit in the trunk, singeing out its guts and leaving a hole large enough for me to stand in. I thought that would be the end of it then, I thought it would collapse after a few months, weighed down by its cavity, destroyed by its own lack.

The next spring, though, the leaves were back on the tallest branches. The gap turned black and ominous, but the leaves were defiant. And then, months later, they fell. As per their wont. And this year, again, they were back.

So the tree lives on, I know. There is life yet in it, even with its charred maw. Perhaps it has another decade, perhaps another century. I do not know how long it was there before my grandfather. I do not know how long it will persist if nothing is done to it.

But it is no longer the tree my grandfather bought this property for. It is a shadow of a ghost. It is time to move forward, and this shell of a tree is holding us back.

So I give you permission, while I am away this summer: Tear it down, make it gone while I am not here to see the deed. Have the remnant of the trunk polished flat so we have a place to sit on the corner of the land and watch the world march on. Chop its flesh into sawdust and splinters. Let it be devoured.

I give you permission to let me let it go.

An Experiment in Pronouns

Tee hated skim.

Crystal knew that with all of ter heart: Tee hated Marcus, body and soul. The way that skee looked at tim, with that glib smirk, that cologne that skee wore in a cloud of sweet seduction, that swagger in sker step as skee stood by the coffee maker.

And oh, how tee hated coffee! The smell of it filled tis lungs and made tim want to vomit up. The coffee: The cologne. The stench of them ran together until it was all tee could do to keep from screaming, right there, in the cubicle by the window overlooking the river which pounded the rocks below.

Crystal could not remember what had first set off this rage. Tee thought back, trying to embrace that moment where casual dislike had turned into loathing. When tee had first met Marcus, to be fair, tee had been rather struck by skim.

Skee was a handsome enough man, to be certain. Witty, too. Marcus had had a quickness about skim that tee had found quite attractive.

In those days, the cologne had smelled of roses, with a hint of clove. It had turned ter head, and tee had found terself wondering if tee was falling into a pleasant trap. They were co-workers, of course; they should not have seen each other in that way. Sker magnetism, though, was difficult to resist, and tee found terself thinking about skim far too often when tee should have been thinking about something else.

Like work.

Work which slipped away from Crystal, bit by bit, until tee found terself drowning and overwhelmed. Not bad enough, not yet, to attract nasty notes from those Up Above, but enough to make tim worry about ter ability to ever catch up.

And that was when the feelings began to turn against skim. Anxieties about work became anxieties about the abyss that tee was sliding towards, at the bottom of which tee saw sker smiling face, no longer friendly, now glib and taunting.

The bastard. The bastard would have to leave ter office, and if skee would not do so willingly, perhaps it was time for skim to have an accident. A serious accident. A fatal accident.

Tee stared at the drip-drip-dripping of that infernal coffee machine and thought about ter hatred. And ter next steps in ridding the world of Marcus’s omnipresence.

The Wanderer: The apple

The wanderer stopped at the side of the road, stooped down, and considered an apple that had settled itself into the muddy sluiceway.

It did not appear to have come there naturally. There were apple trees in the distance, to be sure: Ghostly fingers reaching up into the late November sky, backed by a gray soup of swirling clouds. But those were far away, and this apple did not carry the scars and wounds of a fruit that had been taken from its natural milieu by a curious animal.

This apple was red all around, unblemished by bruises or cuts.

It could have fallen off a passing truck, but if so, where were any of its compatriots? Why wasn’t there a line of apples strewn intermittently along the road? Why had this apple, and this one alone, jumped out of the truck’s bed and found its way into the mud?

The apple was damp and cold. It felt densely cold, as if it had fully absorbed the moroseness of its context. The bright red skin belied its fatalistic meat. In the fading light of evening, the wanderer could see that redness, which had resisted the chill in the air with callous defiance, beginning to swoon.
Even as it had stood up to the ravages of the brisk autumn gusts, the skin had forgotten its reliance on sunlight for its strength. Its boldness was in its redness, and without that, it was nothing. It might glow for a while after the dusk had completely taken hold, but eventually, it would yield. It would coalesce. It would converge.

The man held the apple close to his nose. It smelled sweet. It smelled like autumn ought to smell: Not the oppressive chill of November, but the warmth of campfires and the crackle of burning leaves piled high in the middle of the yard, streams of smoke curling up, upward, farther up to the cloudless sky, to the full moon bearing down with all her might, to the stars that, out here, away from the cities, still dotted the sky.

He held the apple close to his nose, and for a moment he forgot himself, he opened his mouth and pressed the skin to his teeth and ran his tongue up against the cold chill… and then he remembered. Like an electric shock, pulsing through his soul, he remembered.

In anger, he pulled back, ready to throw the apple. In his mind’s eye, the wanderer saw the apple hurtling across the sky, barely visible in the impending night, landing somewhere, out there, in the darkness and the solitude, left to rot. To rot slowly. To be forgotten, half buried in the cold, muddy earth. To be buried by snow, slowing its decay. Perhaps it would even be there in springtime, long enough for its hope to be crushed as it will tilled for the summer crops.

The wandered held back. That could not be this apple’s fate. Not after it had struggled to survive even in its own death. An unblemished fruit deserved a better ending than that.

The man took a handkerchief out of his pocket, and carefully wrapped the fruit in it. He tucked it tightly into his pocket, adjusting it so that it would be protected as the man continued on his way.

This would be its beginning, the man decided, not its ending. This was as it had been decreed.