Care Taking and Taking Leave


Back east, Lila and Carl, JJ’s best friends in the world, were shacked up in JJ’s farm house, care taking, and failing to care for each other.

“I think we’re done here,” Lila said. “If you can’t even say how you feel.”

“Now I see why he ran away from you over and over and over,” Carl said. “All this processing!” He sat at the table with his head in his hands, massaging his temples, trying to knead something away.

“Who said he was the one? You think it’s easy being around that erratic drunk?” Lila stood in the kitchen doorway, blocking passage to the rest of the house. “I just want to know what the hell we’re doing here?”

“Care taking,” Carl said. “Place holding.”

“Taking care of what? Holding who’s place?”

“Purgatory,” Carl muttered.

“What was that?”


“I just want some clarity,” Lila said. “I mean, we’re in his house, he’s away, probably in trouble, and your wife wants you back.”

“There’s no going back. Not after this.”

“After this, what?”

“This…this…What the hell is this?”

“That’s what I want to know!”

They were silent, Carl looking at the table top, trying to divine some message from the wood grain and swirls. Lila stared right through the hunched form of Carl, trying to figure out what had happened these past couple months. It seemed so right in the summer. Right, but wrong, like one more drink on a Tuesday night. Or buying something big and unneeded on credit. The worst part? She couldn’t stop thinking (worrying!) about JJ. Of course, they were living in his house so there were reminders everywhere. But, he had that look the last time she saw him, that dead-eyed autopilot doomed look, like a suicide bomber tying up loose ends before the mission.

“It’s time for you to go home,” she said.

It was heavier now, the silence. The crackle had gone out of the air and the next thing that was said would change everything.

“I know,” Carl said. “I know.” He looked up and grinned at her. “I always knew this was just…”

“Temporary,” Lila said.

“And wrong,” Carl said. “He’s a complete piece of shit sometimes, and maybe we needed to do this, to punish him.”

“But we love him.”

“You love him. I’m just the friend who shacked up with his girlfriend.”

“Is that what this was? Our way of punishing him?”

“Well, after we scratched the itch. After all, we moved into his house!”

“To care take.”

Carl got up and put out his hand. Lila looked at it then laughed and embraced him. They parted and Carl looked at the floor. “Listen, I’ll look after this place so don’t worry.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, since you’re going to Colorado. Don’t worry about JJ’s house.”

Going to Colorado? Lila thought it and knew it was true. What else was there to do?

“Take care,” Carl said and headed out the door, back towards his wife and home. “Let me know when you’re gone and I’ll come get my things.”

            “I will,” she said and went to find her laptop to book a flight to Denver. “It’ll be soon.”

Under the Dirt Floor


Lila and JJ were in bed.

“It’s too hot,” she said. “Don’t you have a fan?”

“Yeah, somewhere.”

“Well, summer’s here.”

“Not yet,” JJ said. “This is just the beginning.”

“Well the sticky is here. And I don’t like sweating in bed.”

JJ looked toward the window, still and dark out there and, yes, humid. No breeze from outside. No moonlight. The hot and hazy days come suddenly and then you wait for the breaks. You wait for the thunderstorm and the dry breezy day after when everyone says “what a relief” and “I can live with this”. But, we still have to live through it all, JJ thought. Or we should try.

“Did you ever think we’re supposed to sweat? Maybe it’s supposed to be hard to sleep.”

Lila got out of bed. “Where’s that fan?”

“In the basement.”


“I’ll get it,” JJ said and rolled out of bed. The basement floor was dirt in this old farmhouse without a farm, and she hates it down there. She thinks there are bodies beneath that dirt. JJ thought of an old Stephen King story as he walked down the two flights. An old Nazi, living anonymously in the American suburbs, rediscovers his penchant for killing. Old habits, old lusts, reawakened. The old Nazi starts with animals, cats from the neighborhood, and buries the bodies in his cellar. The old Nazi may have buried a person down there, too. Maybe Lila had a point.

He returned with the fan and plugged it in. It was a box fan and it fit nicely on the window sill to pull in the fresh air. “How’s that?”

Lila was stretched out on the bed in a long t-shirt, spread-eagle on her stomach. She spoke into the pillow. “Now I’m cold.”

JJ pulled the sheet, which they had kicked into a crumple at the foot of the bed, over her. He got the light blanket and left it folded in half at the foot of the bed, ready to be deployed for a 3:00 AM chill. “How’s that?”

She rolled over and looked at him. “You’re nicer than you used to be. It freaks me out a little.”

“Yeah, well, fuck you.”

“That’s better. Don’t get too nice. Don’t go all docile on me.”

It could never work between them the old way. Their past was always in the background with it’s relentless patterns and ways of being. Bags in the hall. A reversion to the mean. You try to change, you try to bury it and move on, but a hand comes up through the dirt and grabs your ankle. You can only pull free so many times.

“Let me tell you what’s buried in my basement.”

“You know that freaks me out.”

JJ got into bed and turned out the light. “I’ll never be too nice,” he said and reached for her.