Imagine the man
who learns over a hotel phone line
that his whose family has burned in a house fire in Ohio,
nine hours earlier, the day before his short flight home.
From then on, it will play like the late night movie special every incoming dusk
flicker on the unwrinkled big screen, illuminating the darkness.
In order to remember
he will do small things. Chew his lip to its bright edge, til he can taste metal.
He will hiccup for hours at a stretch, neither able nor wanting to stop.
He will pull the tight skin from the back of his neck and pinch it hard between thumb and index nail.
Once, when he is doing the latter,
another man, wearing a grey suit poorly tailored and brandishing a half-centimeter shaving cut in the skin just beneath his left ear
will be about to raise his wine glass in yet another toast
of the interminable birthday party of their employer,
but will pause, noticing the tensed, raised arm of this fellow sitting across
whose face communicates nothing festivity,
rather a grim hardness that seems to reflect the laughter of the room and return it hollowed.
This will irritate the man about to make the toast. For an indulgent moment he will envision his own hand reaching to jerk the other’s down, to awaken him with bright slap.
This however will pass in a split second. And the toast will be made,
albeit with perhaps less confidence, the words clipped at the ends,
which the other guests, or those at least listening will interpret as a sign of the speaker’s encroaching drunkenness,
that some will find embarrassing and others amusing and a few
will watch the sweat accumulate in the grooves of his five o’clock shadow
and feel pride to not be so sloppy,
so blatant in their decomposition at this late hour of the evening.
The man, who for the hundred thousandth time is privately viewing a film reel of flames
collapsing the Sears brand vinyl siding of a low slung two bedroom house
will exhale as the toast is pronounced, and the brief attention of the speaker drifts away.
He will exhale again, pushing out the air in a puff,
and let his fingers move downwards, drawing a rich red line from nape to shoulder,
He will lower his hand
with great control
to the now wine drop spattered white-spread table.
He will exhale again.
Return to chewing his lip.