Backseat

A short story by Mike Lee


We were on the road again, with Kansas nothing flying by on the narrow
Interstate strip, barreling toward Salina, to take the turnoff south through Oklahoma, and to old homeland Texas.

I sat in the back with my daughter, both of us bitching about the cold. Won full custody of her the month before. Child protective services said it was cool to take this trip and not inform the mother of our plans, reminding me that the court removed her parental rights.

Dorrie, my daughter, returned to her book, wrapping herself tight with the blanket Lia gave her. I pulled my black leather motorcycle jacket together, zipping it up.  I looked out through the window staring at some exposed rock on the side of the road.

I felt loose at every inch, thinking of American mermaids I dated that could have been Dorrie’s mother. Instead, I picked the Irish bottle-stashing drunk who I caught choking the kid. Had mom led out in handcuffs, slapped papers on her while she was in rehab and ground her through the family court machine back in New York.

I hated every minute of it. I may have fallen out of love of my estranged wife, but I did marry her, put up with years of bullshit, and let things slide to apocalyptic lows. But I am a man who causes trouble for himself, and at the moment while staring at flat fields of prairie spotted with exposed glacial stone, I committed the guilty sin of dragging the innocent into my bad decisions.

Lia was driving; her glasses slightly askew while her husband read the book lying on his lap. Lia asked him to change the music on the iPod attached to the cigarette lighter.

The music was some Americana band I had a vague affection for, Wilco, and I recognized the song. Dorrie’s ex-mother liked that song. I liked it better. “I’m Always in Love”—that certainly wasn’t the problem for anyone but me because maybe it was not true. Maybe for one, someone whose heart I continue to beat for.

Could have been Lia. I knew her since she was fifteen, but she is married to Tad, and though she bailed me out of this jam, she is glued to the man. I accepted the help, but this still felt weird relying on girlfriends from 30 years ago.

No, it was someone else. She was before Lia, and although she was not the first girl I kissed, she was the one I fell in love with.  This distinction belonged to that American mermaid dream with green eyes who was Texan with each hand gesture and in the tenor of her voice.

While Heaven loves that driver, the one I wanted behind that wheel was that Texas girl; she may still be around once we arrive in Austin. I’d look her up, but she has a boyfriend she told me she liked in an e-mail she sent when troubles formed like thunderstorms on the horizon.

The backseat where this new family sat was getting slightly warmer. The heater kicked in big time by the turnoff toward Oklahoma. It spared that lucky child, Dorrie, who let the blanket drop while silently reading her book.

I thought to ask the woman I loved to please let me in, but knowing she may say no, I shifted my thoughts back to the road ahead. We were looking at twelve hours through Oklahoma, then across the state line and on to a hotel in Georgetown.

Closed my eyes and leaned back in the seat, slumping against the cold glass. I pushed my hat aside to keep my head warm, and fell asleep.

When I woke up it was getting on sunset. I pulled my cell phone out and took a couple of photos of the draining sunlight on the far western horizon.

The faster Lia drove, gunning it up to make Georgetown, the closer to home and green eyes from teenage years I felt.

Maybe I will look that girl up. Won’t tell anyone.  After we check in, I will tell Lia I need some air. Knowing her, she’ll be tired and crash out while Tad goes on his laptop and plays all-night online bridge while lying in the bed next to his wife. Dorrie will be in her room, probably still with her novel, maybe watching television.

I will go out into the Texas cold, flip open my phone and look for her number. I have it written on scrap folded neatly in my wallet.

I did not call her during the hell-time. I did not want to be a bother.

Fumbled for the number. Could not find it. Frustrated, I sighed and walked to the gas station for another pack of cigarettes.

I sat on the curb, smoking nervously, wondering how I could have lost that
number. Felt like I had let that connection become severed, and for no good reason.

Instead, I made up a poem on the spot, reciting the words I knew I would forget before I went to bed. The girl in my memory would hear it, though, as I lost myself to the cadence of my feelings and lit one smoke after another.

In Austin, I will be with Lia and Tad. Dorrie. Lia’s mom had arrived earlier, with her daughter and son-in-law’s children. I will have no time to find the girl I actually really did love.

Perhaps just being in Austin will be enough. It is possible I will run into her and finally tell this woman face-to-face how I feel, boyfriend or not. I shall even say it in front of him, if need be.

I finally finished reciting my poem, and bid her good night with a sweet, lingering kiss into the winter night.

I slept through until half past dawn. The best, restful sleep I had in years.

So be it.


Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City. His fiction has been published in West Trade ReviewThe Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, The Airgonaut, Sensitive SkinReservoir, The Avenue, and others. His photography is currently being exhibited at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California and as part of a group show at Darkroom Gallery in Essex Junction, Vermont, curated by Bruce Gilden.

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Ernst Junger

A flash piece by Mike Lee


We share a table in the outdoor patio at the office tower where we work, quietly eating our respective lunches. She keeps hers simple: a banana with a cheese sandwich. She bought them, along with a crème soda, from the deli across the street, on the corner.

I first saw her last week at the bookstore, in the fiction section. She held a copy of On the Marble Cliffs, by Ernst Junger. She was a medium height, mid-thirties, with long, wavy brown hair, and glasses that were large for her face. I fell in love.

I let her wordlessly pass. I am shy.

Today, she wears the white silk blouse she did at the bookstore. Her hair is pulled back. She’s wearing a pencil skirt, and high heels. I’ve worked in this building for eleven years, and never knew she existed before last week.

I plan to ask her what she thinks of Junger. I read his books. I intend to bring up that Roberto Bolano mentions him in two of his most important novels. She will speak, and I will respond. We may agree to meet for lunch tomorrow.

She finishes her sandwich and eats half of the banana, before placing the remains and wrapper in a paper bag. I finish my salad and lay it aside while she pulls out her iPhone to check messages, sipping her crème soda. Her lips are voluptuous.

I sit with folded hands as she rises and returns to the building.

Loose ends are never tied together to one’s satisfaction. Instead, events usually unfold so as to contradict the hoped-for conclusion. Nothing ever happens the way one expects. Therefore, the individual is left holding the frayed end of a rusting cable, with the plastic-coated, colored wires hanging askew like a dog-chewed bouquet of flowers.

Later, at work, I write this down.


Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist, photographer, and a managing editor at a trade union newspaper. Some of his fiction pieces, as well as other types of work, have appeared in The Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, Sensitive Skin, Visions Libres, Glossolalia, Dime Show Review, Peacock Journal, Third Street Writers, Corvus Review, Violet Windows, and The Potomac. His stories are also featured in several anthologies, including Forbidden Acts (Avon Books) and Pawn of Chaos (White Wolf Publishing). Lee’s story collection, titled All Your Ambition, is available from Blurb, and published in Germany by VL Editions.

Lee’s photography has been included in several group shows, including those at the Museo della Grafica in Pisa, Italy, with his photographs featured in the Museo’s collection. His photography is currently being exhibited at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California.

Lee lives in New York City.

Wine

A flash piece by Mike Lee


“Wine! You’re drinkin’ goddamn wine!”

Mom on my left, with Dwayne on the right, sitting on the sofa in the house Dwayne shared with his mother and his screaming younger sister…

Her high-pitched words were brutal. Dwayne is an alcoholic, and my mother never seemed to care. Years later she admitted she was one, only because she thought about drinking all the time. I did not believe her. At least she was private about it; I never saw her drink in front of me. Perhaps in my dim memory she did. Or maybe I was inattentive. I nodded in acknowledgment, moving on, which I did for real several months later, one month short of my nineteenth birthday. I only saw her twenty times before her stroke nearly fifteen years later.

That aside, this was a situation I never asked to be involved in.

The sister yelled, “Goddamn wine!” again before flinging the quart bottle of MD 20-20 into the fireplace, glass shattering against the brick, shards flying onto the carpeted floor.

This was a trinity: mom, boyfriend, and me in the middle; though someone else’s son—another drunk—was with us, too.

We all sat quietly, heads down in shame.

I leaned over and gathered the pieces I could reach, and then got up to get the rest. I pulled open my shirt and dropped them in, harvesting Dwayne’s sorrows. Mom’s as well. After gathering all the glass I could find, I walked to the kitchen, passing the raging sister. I tossed the shards into the garbage.

Dwayne died two years later. I was fourteen. Mom got the call late at night during a snowstorm. The phone awakened me.

It was a bad year for her. I did not go to the funeral. Instead, I shined his boots, which they would bury him in. His aged mother watched, understanding.


Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist, photographer, and a managing editor at a trade union newspaper. Some of his fiction pieces, as well as other types of work, have appeared in The Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, Sensitive Skin, Visions Libres, Glossolalia, Dime Show Review, Peacock Journal, Third Street Writers, Corvus Review, Violet Windows, and The Potomac. His stories are also featured in several anthologies, including Forbidden Acts (Avon Books) and Pawn of Chaos (White Wolf Publishing). Lee’s story collection, titled All Your Ambition, is available from Blurb, and published in Germany by VL Editions.

Lee’s photography has been included in several group shows, including those at the Museo della Grafica in Pisa, Italy, with his photographs featured in the Museo’s collection. His photography is currently being exhibited at Art Thou Gallery in Berkeley, California.

Lee lives in New York City.