At the far end of night, Jasmine stretched painfully. Sleepily she crawled out of tangled sheets and blankets. Rude sunlight was already dripping through the makeshift curtain. Finding her sweater she pushed her short hair back under a knit hat and ventured out into the crisp autumn air.

Outside in the chilly air, the sunlight was almost forgivable. Jasmine’s thoughts drifted down the path of fallen leaves, to shards of memory stirred up by the wind.

“Someday I will sit with you under a tree by a lake and ask you infinite number of questions

His words came back to her, flickering like reflections on the water. Much of their friendship had been words, as they lived always separated by an ocean.

“What I don’t understand” she began, tracing his profile with her eyes “Is how you could seep into me, these pieces of you tangled in my own spirit. I mean, we’re supposed to barely know each other. We spent one afternoon together a year ago, and now…” She trails off, knowing that what she said was false. She did understand. It was his words, of course. Drinking in his words with hungry eyes. Letting them trickle into her soul, after all, she was safe here alone, nobody to notice, and interpret. Nobody to trust or distrust. Only words slipping into her softly, gently. She didn’t understand then, that he was in his words. He stole into her like he stole into his sketches. Peering up at her smiling, laughing, beckoning.

She first met him when he came to visit his friend at the college she attended. It was October and the leaves were finally turning.

She saw him before he noticed her. He was bent over a sketchpad, drawing the old barn behind campus. All she could see was the shaggy brown back of his head, but she liked him immediately. The old gray cat sat in a patch of sun, cleaning herself. Jasmine walked closer to a nearby maple, crunching the dry leaves so he’d hear her approach. Lifting his head he turned to her and smiled.
“I hope you’re not going into the barn” he said, glancing at the cat in front of the big double doors. Jas laughed, she was carrying a box of resin and tools for patching the canoes.
“Don’t worry, I can use the side door.” She assured him. She walked closer, nodding at his sketch pad. “May I?” She asked. He turned the pad towards her as she squatted down beside him.

The lines were dark and definite but the shapes themselves were blurred, suggesting objects below the image originally defined.
Just like you…” She murmered.
He looked up at her, surprised.
“I’m sorry-“ She said, taken aback. “I didn’t mean…”
“No, you're not wrong” he said. “I was just surprised at how much you saw.”
“I’m Jas.” She said. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before-do you go to school here?”
“Laurence” he said, standing up. “No, I’m visiting my friend Martin. He’s in class right now, so I found my way back here.” Just then the cat sat up and stretched, slinking off towards the trees where a chipmunk was rustling in the undergrowth. Laurence look after her regretfully.
“I guess I’m done sketching for the day.” He said. “What’s all that for?”
“I have to go patch the canoes.” Julie said.
“The canoes?”
“Yes, we store them in here.” She answered, motioning towards the barn. “Have you ever patched a canoe?”
“No…Why? Would you like some help?”
“I’m just kidding.” She said. “But…if you’ve got nothing better to do, sure.”
Laurence followed her into the barn. The canoes that needed work were stacked to one side. There were four of them. Jas and Laurence moved them out to the middle of the barn.
“You were going to do this yourself?” Laurence asked surprised. The canoes weighed seventy pounds each and were eight feet long.
“There is a trick to it.” Jasmine replayed. “You put it on your shoulders, as if you’re portaging.” She demonstrated, making sure one end was wedged against the support beam, she lifted the other end and rolled it onto her shoulders.
“Your crazy!” He laughed.
“Not really, once it’s balanced it’s perfectly easy to carry. It’s getting it up initially that can be the challenge.” She lowered the canoe to the ground again.

When Laurence left a week later they continued to keep in touch. He’d send her sketches, they emailed endlessly. When she needed a break from studying, she’d walk out to the old barn, and sitting against the tree would write him a letter. The strange thing was how close she felt to him. He was on the other side of the ocean and yet reading his words he felt so close. It was as if all the formalities that one goes through normally when first getting to know someone were tossed aside.
Our friendship is inside out.” She once told him.
“Yes, yes” he assured her. "Everything we usually keep in, is outside, where it belongs." He had that way of finishing her thoughts. The ones most people had trouble understanding in the first place.
“The problem is,” she continued, as if she had been speaking all along. “That we never get to the outside. The outside is stuck within, and an ocean apart.”

Jasmine pulled her hat down over her ears. The night before she had been sprawled out on the floor, going over registration forms for the November ropes course. The College where she worked offered a ropes course for local grade school students every fall. The phone rang. It was after midnight, nobody calls this late she thought. Then she knew. Jumping to her feet, she ran to the phone. It was Laurence, sounding so close she had to look around her to make sure he wasn’t right there. They hadn’t talked in months, they spent the first twenty minutes catching up. She asked him about Mira, the woman he had been dating. He was silent for awhile. Jasmine looked at her reflection in the dark French doors. She knew before he said it why he had called. Normally she would fill in the silence with his missing words. This time she just waited. He told her they were getting married. Had got engaged two weeks before. As he talked about his proposal, his voice became light and warm. As always with Laurence, one mishap followed another. He had planned the perfect evening-she came down with food poisoning. Jasmine smiled as she listened, she could hear the doting affection in his voice. Then he words trailed off. And the silence he left was questioning. Are we going to be okay? Jasmine answered him, as she always answered. Our dreams are an ocean apart. They always have been. And we’ve always known this. His thoughts came to her, rocking gently against her ear. There was always the hope. The hope that one of us would learn to swim.

When they hung up she went out to the darkened porch and wept. She knew she’d always have his friendship, the way she always had. They had each had their own relationships, their own lovers. What she cried for was the loss of the dream. Her dream. Their dream. That one day one of us would learn to swim.

Peace be with you
and with your kin.

There was an old truck parked out back. Overgrown and unloved, it had sat there since some point in the early 1970s. Kids used to play in and around it, but that was back in the day when getting a tetanus shot was considered a mark of honor. These days, parents looked sternly on their kids when they dared approach twisted steel and rusted door panels.

"Doesn't much matter," Clyde told the passenger in his taxi cab. "Don't matter much of a damn. They had to open Fireball's Tavern somewhere, didn't they? Why not out back of old man Parker's place?"

Sara didn't really listen to the old taxi cab driver. She was disgusted with his appearance and his manner. Growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood in a split level house with two and a half bathrooms spoiled her. The fall from grace had taken a toll on her psyche. The way one's world can come crashing down is as sudden as it is methodical. First there was her father running off to somewhere in Asia with his Taiwanese business partner one Sunday in August, two months before Sara's sweet sixteen birthday party. At least he left a present behind for her. Oddly enough it was a child's teddy bear that Sara promptly discarded in a place she used as a dumping ground for those memories she wanted forgotten. Then there was her mother's descent into alcoholism and expensively decadent lifestyle that lasted until the money had run out. So much for college and so much for a once bright future. After Sara's older brother Tom got a life sentence for shooting his ex-girlfriend while she made crazy love in the back seat of a Buick with the captain of the swim team, there was little hope for Sara to make it through the night. There were too many storm clouds in the sky and too many blinking lights beckoning from the distance.

Fireball's Tavern was not the kind of place you'd take a girl on a date. It was the kind of place you were likely to lose a couple pints of blood for looking into the wrong face. Some of the people there preferred not to be noticed. Others depended upon it. When the cab pulled around the back of the former nine acre farm now known as old man Parker's place, Sara opened her purse and pulled out a cigarette. She waited to light it, remembering how the cab driver, who hadn't bathed (or even thought about it) in two weeks told her that cigarette smoke offended him. When the cab stopped, no more than twenty feet from the old abandoned truck that Sara remembered from her youth, she handed the cab driver a twenty dollar bill and stepped outside without waiting for change. She lit the cigarette and started walking towards the back door to old man Parker's place. The back door led into the basement. The basement was the dark establishment known only to those who were low enough in their station in life to remember its name. Fireball's Tavern was not the kind of place you would take the kids to after church for a quick beer and a plate of onion rings.

Sara had a particular fondness for the old truck parked out back. She stared at it while she smoked her Virginia Slims 120 and visited with her memories. Her brother once took her out behind old man Parker's place and dared her to play doctor, or some other such game. In the end, she showed him hers and he showed her his. Sara found herself strangely amused by their mutual show and tell, yet Tommy turned red in the face. Sara still chuckled at the memory of causing her own brother's first erection. Given the current state of affairs it was more than slightly amusing coming at her in the rear view mirror.

"Reedy to wurk off yer centunce?" The voice belonged to Hank Greene, a bookie with a plastic knee and two bullets lodged in his left buttock. He was a difficult sort, but no more than most of those who drank their dreams away behind old man Parker's place in plain view of the old truck that was parked out back. Fireball's Tavern was not the kind of place you walked your poodle past.

There really wasn't any kind of sentence, in the literal sense. Sara just happened to be on the wrong side of the line between desperate and less than desperate. Hank held the door to the bar open for Sara, breathing heavy while he stared at her hind quarters in the tight short skirt she was wearing. He licked his lips quickly, but with extra moisture flapping around wildly after letting the door close behind them.

"Where the fuck is Bixbee?" Sara asked as Hank's big, veiny hands found their way to her shoulders and his thick, dirty fingers tried to snake their way down to the exposed upper portions of Sara's breasts.

"Doin' sum broad up en wun ov de rheums. Seat down un mabee whee kan doo sum bizniz."

"Take your fucking hands off me or I'll tell Bixbee what you've been doing with Lana."

Not much scared Hank Greene, but he knew better than to cross Bixbee. Fireball's Tavern, which was not the kind of place you would take your grandmother for her eightieth birthday, belonged to him and everyone who came there belonged to him as well. If he told you to shoot a wino somewhere on Park Avenue, you did it. If he told you to get on your knees in front of a drunken sailor with four and a half teeth, you did that as well.

Once Hank removed his hands from Sara's shoulders, she turned quietly and took a seat on the plush, red velvet loveseat in the anteroom to the bar. "Tell Bixbee I am here and that I want to see him right away. I brought him what he wants and now I want my fucking bear."

"Stupeed fuckin' broad. Awl dis ovah a fuckin' ted dee bear." Hank opened a side door and went up the stairs to the house over Fireball's Tavern (not the kind of place you'd want to come for help if you had a flat tire). Sara waited fifteen minutes before he returned with Bixbee, who was wearing a black camisole with black garters, stockings and delightfully cut three inch Italian pumps. Bixbee took a seat next to Sara and admired her white fishnet enclosed thighs for nearly a full minute before he spoke.

"Where's my money, you witch? When Bixbee gets crap taken away from him he gets it back and I want the money for the blow now! The next time you deal for Bix, you better give me something more up front."

"I didn't have to give you anything up front. You stole my fucking bear out of the old truck."

Bixbee began screeching like a lonely frenchwoman who had just sliced her pinky finger with a corkscrew. "You left the freakin' bear in the truck for twenty freakin' years! Not my fault, you pris!"

"Where's my bear, Bix?"

The cab driver pulled up behind old man Parker's place and shoved the transmission into "park." He pulled out a small bag of cashews and began deliberately slipping one out of the bag at a time, holding it between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand and slipping it into his gingivitis ruled mouth while cradling the bag in his right. He positioned the cab so he could stare at the old truck parked out behind the house and see the entrance to Fireball's Tavern, which was not the kind of place he usually liked to drop off pretty young women. For no reason at all, the last scenes from the Robert DeNiro flick Taxi Driver flashed through his mind and he imagined bursting into the bar and shooting everyone and taking the girl home with him. "Nah," he thought to himself and settled instead for adjusting the position of his rancid genitalia into a more comfortable position. The girl had called him, telling him she would wait for him on the back porch of old man Parker's place. He felt it was his duty to wait, as he could not leave a girl like that in a place like this with no escape route. For someone like that to come here meant there was serious business. The cab driver slipped a small plastic bag out of his filthy shirt pocket and peered inside. Still two tabs of acid. "What the hell, no time like the present," he told himself.

The girl came out of the house with a defiant grin, clutching a raggedy looking something-or-other in her left arm. The side of her face was looking bloody and she was walking with a limp. The cab driver stepped out of his ride and put his sunglasses on. He walked slowly towards her, and just before the effects of the LSD hit him, he spoke.

"You okay?"

"I'm better than okay," she chuckled.

She might have been delirious, but the cab driver didn't know. The colors were starting to swirl and the sky started to melt. The girl sat in the back of his cab as he negotiated the jungle terrain that surrounded him in his mind. After slamming the cab into a burning bush, he decided to lie down on the front seat for a while. The girl stepped out, slipped a hundred dollar bill into his shirt pocket, walked out into the moonlight and started to dance.

She was rich and no one would ever understand why.

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