If I Had It To Do All Over Again

Hourglass

A salesman came to the door yesterday.  I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock.   We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.  I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.  Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.  There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.  Think he was checking the state of his breath.  

“Hello,” I said.

“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.

“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”

“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.

“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.  Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”  he said with unwavering confidence.

“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.

“May I come in?”  

“I suppose,” I said.  My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.  Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.

“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.  My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties. 

“And how would you like to be called?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Your name?” He nodded.

“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.  Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”

“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.

I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard. 

“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”

“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”

“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.  “Will Earl Grey do?”

“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.

I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’  What had I gotten myself into?

As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”  “Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”  My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”

I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.

“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.

“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”  He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”  He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.

“I see,” I said.  “And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.

“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.

I stared at him.  No words formed.

“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”  He offered,  “In short supply and little known on the open market.”

My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”

“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”  He asked.

“Do what all over again?”  I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.  A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.  Which for me is saying something.

“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.

“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.

He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.  “I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.  

“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.

“Very simply actually.  You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”

I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.

“Poof!” I stammered.  “What exactly do you mean by poof?”

“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.  Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?  Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”  He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.

“What about this life?” I thought to myself.  “I love this life.”  I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.

“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?  How the hell would that work and why should it?  More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.

“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.  “I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.  Please take a moment to sit with it.  May I refill my tea?  The kitchen is just through there yes?”

I nodded.  Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.  I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.  Not my habit.  

“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.  But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.  I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!  

Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?  Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?  Was it a test?  I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.  Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.  I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.  I sipped the now cold coffee.  

There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.  There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate.  Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.  Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.  Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?  And there was the answer.  Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.  Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.

“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”

“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”

“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected

“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”  I said with a new found smile.

“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.  That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity.  An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”  I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.

“I see,” he said.  “Understood, understood.  Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.  Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”  He asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said.  Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.  He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.  I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.  

“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.

“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”  I offered.

“Have I?” He smiled.  “Excellent!”  He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.

#fiction

Stepmom-O-Rama

Here We Go Again

stripper shoes crop

Juliet zipped her dress and gave herself a once over in the hotel room mirror.  “Here we go again,” she half spoke, half laughed then took a swig of Stoli straight from the bottle.

I peered around her well-preserved, thirty-something body into the mirror straightening my tie.  “If I have to go to one more of dad’s weddings I swear I’ll set myself on fire!” I said.

“Really? Oh, that would be so sad for me.  I’d have to go to all his future weddings without my favorite brother.  Besides I thought you always wanted to die in a killer whale attack.”

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “killer whale attack has long been my preferred legendary death scenario…and I’m your ‘only’ brother.”

“Which makes you a shoe-in for ‘favorite’ you awesome man.”  She laughed.

Both of my sisters are wonderful, but Jules and I have always been especially close.   Our senior, and noticeably absent sister Samantha was supposed to be with us for pre-ceremony cocktails, but it seemed her chronic tardiness had struck again.

Juliet handed me the Stoli, “At least we’ll never have to live with this one.” She smiled.

“True.” I mused.  “I suppose being somewhat grown up and thoroughly self-sufficient has its perks.”

The door flew open.  “Sorry, I’m late!” Samantha rolled into the room like a runaway circus train, garment bag, cosmetics kit, and other undefined bits of tiny luggage hanging from her person.  “What are we drinking?”

“The usual pre-dad’s-wedding fair…vodka.”  I handed her the bottle, and as her lips touched it, we had once again closed the circle, completing a ritual celebration that had been part of the Montfort family culture since we were in high school.  Other family’s had Thanksgiving or Christmas; we had Dad’s weddings.

Sam lowered the bottle, “Well, here we go again!  How long do you think this one’ll last?”

Juliet sat on the edge of the bed pulling on her high heels. She motioned for a bottle pass.  “Her name is Candy for Christ’s sake…it can’t last too long!”

“I don’t know,” I interjected.  “Bambi lasted almost 13 months…come on…Bambi?  I give ‘Candy’ better odds.

By now the average observer may be wondering why three siblings in their late thirties to early forties were in a hotel room preparing for a wedding with no significant others in tow.  As it happens, the old expression about the falling apple and the inevitable proximity of its final resting place relative to the tree from which it came is beautifully illustrated by our family.  That’s right, my sisters and I are all divorced.

The advent of dad’s pending nuptials had Samantha in a reminiscent mood. “Do you remember the screaming red Christmas tree that Cinnamon put up my senior year?  The place looked like a holiday whore house.”

“Who could forget,” I laughed.  “How about Buffy’s pink Corvette with the heart decals?”  To this day her dropping me off at school in that thing ranks among my most awkward moments.  Idiot high school boys alternately calling me a fag for coming to school in a pink car, then saying they wanna ‘tag’ my mom.  “Ew,” I’d protest, “she’s not my mom”…and as an afterthought, “and I’m not gay you assholes!”

My darling sisters laughed.  We’re a fucked up bunch to be sure, but at least we have each other.  The shared experience of growing up in the company of a fast-moving parade of “dancers” has had the effect of “Gorilla Glue for the Soul” on us.  Jules looked at her watch and grimaced.   Then as her right hand applied deep red lipstick, her left reached into her carry-on luggage sized purse.   Without turning her attention from the mirror, she found, apparently by Braille, and produced three silver flasks.   She tossed them at me with a playful wink.  “Fill ‘em up bro; it’s go time!”  As I poured and spilled the Stoli into the unreasonably small flask openings, I laughed to myself.  Thank god for my two wonderful sisters.  We may not be well equipped for matrimonial endeavors of our own, but we make a hell of a team at a stripper’s wedding.

We raised the dripping flasks high. “To Pops and…uh, Candy is it?” Sam hissed.

Jules snorted, which turned my snigger into a guffaw.  I quickly composed myself.  Cleared my throat and in my best, if hastily conceived oratorical tone confirmed the name of the stepmom de jour.  “Yes, yes, to Pops and Candy, and the two most wonderfully inappropriate, dazzlingly witty and truly lovely siblings-in-arms a brother could ask for!”

“Goddamnit,” Jules scolded.  “If you make me tear up I’ll wipe my runny-makeup face all over that white shirt!”    I laughed.  We finished the toast with the clink of silver and a quick slug.  Next stop, stepmom-o-rama!

#fiction

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Free Fall

Free Fall JH 2

“What do you mean ‘bad’?” I asked.

“I think it’s self-explanatory.” He said.

“Nice bedside manner doc!”

He reached into his lab coat and produced a flask and two plastic shot glasses, “Cheers!”

“Ha, we’re celebrating my terminal diagnosis?” I said with a hastily shaken tone cocktail of irony, indignation and false bravery.

“We all have a terminal diagnosis, my friend.  I love you, and this shot is to celebrate your life.  The life behind you, that left before you, and most importantly this moment, when we here together face the inevitable; the heartache, the confusion, the freedom, and the truth, that we all try so desperately to ignore.”

I found myself smiling in spite of the dour news, “I love you, man.”

Doctor James had been my college roommate freshman year, and my best friend for the last thirty years of my now seemingly bookended life.  Together we had surfed the waves off the Santa Barbara coast, chased the same woman at parties and fought over the outcome, ridden a motorcycle through the courtyard of a dormitory with frantic RAs chasing us.  This was the man who knew me better than anyone on the planet.  He had supported me every step of the way.  He knew when to say “I’m sorry,” and he knew how to forgive.  He was the perfect person the usher me onto the crowded tarmac for those awaiting passage to the hereafter.

“So by ‘no’ you mean there’s no cure?” I asked.

He looked me in the eye, raised his plastic shot glass to offer a toast, I obliged with a shaky reciprocal gesture.

“There is only one cure for life, and as mortals, we will all one day be cured.  May you rock the fuck out of the days, months, or years left to you.  May you know that I love you like a brother with all my heart and will ride this last wave with you wherever it may take us.”  He held his glass and my gaze.

Damn him; the fucking bitch made me tear up.  I killed the shot and immediately put my cup out for a second.

“How long?” I asked.

“I don’t fucking know…six months, six years, it’s so fucking random.  Let’s see, no sugar diets, kale, and on the uh-oh side, hidden guilt, self-hatred, or an emerging heretofore unseen badass extreme will to live.  I could tell you some number, but then that number enters your reality and who the fuck am I to shape your perspective on something like this?  I’m just a doctor.”  James laughed as he filled our little plastic shot cups.

“Let’s go to the mountains and hike.” He said.  “I’ll clear my schedule; we’ll go to my place in the Sierras, spend a couple of days and let this percolate.”

“Are you coming on to me?”  My super thin, false bravado wavering.

“Ha, fuck you, I’ll bring coffee, be ready by 8 am.”  Doctor J. hissed with a shit-eating grin.

“Thanks?”  I had to laugh.  Hiking would be good!

#fiction

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Butterfly Girl

PAPILIO MACHAON

The wooden window frame creaks gently at the caress of the breeze.  Dew drops tremble on the laden blades of grass running from the mailbox to the front steps.  Sunglow shines at the edge of the world, kissing the brickwork of the sleepy cottage, built long ago for someone’s profit, filled this day mostly with love.  In the kitchen, the faintest click signals the release of water, soon to be steam, then to become the rich black elixir that she loves with just a dash of cream.

As always the alarm is set but unneeded.  Her long lashes flutter open to the glow of this new day.  Most mornings her first thoughts are steeped in gratitude…for all of it.  For her life, her child, her present moment, and still with some difficulty she embraces and acknowledges her gratitude for the past.  Every day has lead to this moment, the aroma of coffee, the faint light filling the skylights, the peace that once seemed a phantom now seems a life.

“Mom”

“Yes, my darling one.”

“Can I have some coffee?”  Her son Jonah asks.

“Certainly, but no sugar please.”

“Nevermind.”

“Joey, have you noticed what an amazing gift this morning is?”

“Yes mom, I said my gratitudes,” his words wander naturally down this well-worn path.

“Excellent! I love you!”

“Love you too.”

Three paintings hang on the wall, across the room from her king size bed.  The painting on the left is of an intricately patterned caterpillar making its way across a birch branch in what looks to be late Summer.  The next is of a delicate chrysalis suspended from a similar branch in the Fall.  The painting on the right is of a magnificent butterfly taking wing in the Spring.  So it goes that not every day has been this day, full of comfort, and love.  But today, a few before, and many after will be very much like this one.

Discomfort, I’ve heard tell, is the price of admission to a meaningful life.  Knowing the Butterfly Girl’s story, I believe that to be true.

#fiction

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