You are standing in a restaurant, leaning on the sticky counter.
Swatting flies, waiting for the first customers.
You’ve made a promise. You’re going to grovel before them, bow low.
Eat what they leave behind.
Then you’ll bike back home.
It sounds like summertime.
You are speaking with your landlord, through a gap in the fence.
Landlords help the small feel tall—is he kind?
He gave you a reduced rate.
Nothing’s free that’s fun.
You’ve been hitting the bottle, getting forgetful.
You’ve been strewing them around your backyard. Or breaking them and placing their bases along the walls.
To keep the bad men away.
And your roommate—he helps you break them.
You are sitting on your stoop, keeping an eye on the cats.
Evil pussies, lolling on your neighbor’s red steps.
Barn red. Kerchief red. Nail-lacquer red.
Seeing you seeing them.
They’re thinking here’s a human. They’re thinking milk and mold. They’re thinking endless sex.
You are always thinking sex.
You are wandering the streets with your doctor friend, discussing the young girl.
He cuts cadavers for a living, plays the piccolo in his spare time.
His weaknesses are energy drinks, gas station snacks.
And the young girl—she won’t commit.
Sometimes it’s nice…
No, no, he’s law-abiding.
He loves her madly, enthusiastically.
She’ll lose interest, move on. She’s pin-thin, very pretty.
And him: gunshot, self-inflicted—he’s already called it.
It is rainy, hot. Fat drops are falling on the cobblestones.
The doctor has an umbrella, but you do not.
Yes, poor you.
You are sitting on your green sofa, reading the news in your black briefs. The a/c unit thrums above.
You are learning of two homicides.
They were very nearby.
How long can one run from violence, before it finally pinches one’s behind?
How long can one deliberately run toward it, and fail to find it?
You should try jogging—it might clear your mind.
Slide on some bright shorts, stick to the middle of the street.
Keep your hands above your head, so you appear taller.
You are in a dirty bar, watching the local sports team.
You’ve attached significance to this season.
The people in this place—they need something soon, what else do they have to look forward to?
Are you rooting loudly?
Cheering at the team, jeering at the enemy.
Remember your sick throat.
You’ve been to the clinic. The white pills are working.
Ah, yes. Well then, tip the glass all the way back.
You are lying on your ex’s bed in a purple painted room.
The one with the magic mouth.
But you are completely useless now.
She’s rubbing your backside, cooing sweetly.
You really want to make love a final time.
Even on this dumpy bed, even on this sweltering night.
It would set things right, you think.
But you can’t manage.
Tickle yourself for a second. Try to remember pleasure.
Your penis feels so far away.
It’s hard to find among the rushes sometimes, but it’s still there, don’t despair…
There’s plenty of summertime left.
You are sitting in a coffee shop, beneath the groaning blades of an ancient fan.
The aroma. The rich, roasted beans.
You’re hunched over your decrepit laptop.
Soon you two must part. What are you doing now?
Typing out some dreams you’ve been having.
In one you ate your mother, and shat on your brother. In another you had tea with your father. In a third, you moved back to California.
There’s a policeman at the next table.
Enjoying a latte?
Torture porn on his mobile phone.
To each his own special bone.
Should you shield him from what you’re working on?
Is it a crime to type one’s dreams?
You are consoling your roommate, whose date has just ended badly.
The lady steered her bike into a parked car.
Something was broken—the back window, her face.
Drinking was involved.
You are consoling him.
You’re patting his back.
After all, you’re no stranger to grief.
Being out of school has been hard on you.
But you’re still human.
Her face will heal—by the grace of God it will.
How do you think God is doing up there?
You ask him all the time. And always he says, “Fine.”
You are bleeding from the behind, after letting a stranger enter you.
Hats off for trying new things.
You’re never without protection.
Even in a nice rented room.
The stranger promised to show you colors, the likes of which you’d never seen.
There was only one color, and it was lime green.
Did you kiss this stranger before leaving?
What’s a kiss?
A quick sucking, with puckered lips.
Oh. Then, no. No, you did not.
You are in a cold casino, sitting at a poker table.
Faring poorer and poorer. Nothing but foul hands all night.
And no friends—no one will meet your damn eyes.
Wrap-around sunglasses, ratty button down.
What will you do with your winnings?
One mustn’t think that way.
What will you do with your losings?
Shake your head, smile bittersweetly.
Get on your bike and ride into the night.
Hiss at passersby?
You are in a pharmacy, deciding between the cream and the spray.
Your bicycle seat is too low, and it has hurt you.
Something, at least, has made a mess of your crotch.
Health will overwhelm you—in old age, maybe.
Why are you smiling?
You just realized something.
You just realized that you don’t really need anyone else, that you can be your own clown.
You are lounging in a leafy park, gazing up at the statue of a slave.
This country’s come a ways?
Yes, but you can’t seem to stop yawning.
You’d better stop. Or else Hell’s maw will yawn back at you.
One can be too tired for Hell.
Yes. Though no one has come back to tell.
You are in a twenty-four-hour store, bumping into the shelves.
You are dead drunk.
No, now you have a bad flu.
The swine strain. The pig variety.
Bless the person who gave it to you.
It will give you a chance to rest and recoup.
All you can stomach right now is sports drink.
The most beauteous shade.
You are worrying about a good friend who has fractured his skull out of state.
He’ll be all right.
He thinks strange things when the sun goes down. He thinks a real monkey tried to break in last night.
You’ll make it up to see him.
You think not—he says he’s not accepting visitors.
He’ll be back on his feet by Christmas.
If the monkey allows it.
You are slow dancing with a woman in your living room, one hand on the small of her back.
What a lovely dance you are doing. There will be a second date.
Depends how much of your story you tell her. How much you show her.
Tomorrow, you’ll probably burn your oatmeal.
Tomorrow, not even lunch is safe.
Who does she remind you of? That bird-of-prey profile in half-light?
The first person you chose to desire, many years ago.
It’s not really her, is it? A miracle!
Oh, no. Definitely not. No way.
You are in your bed, worrying that your roommate can hear you touching yourself.
It’s a common worry.
The door is so very thin.
A thick door might cost more than you’re worth.
It’s true. But then suddenly you hear something…
Your roommate—through the thin door. He’s touching himself too.
You laugh at life’s little ironies.
A room away, you hear him laughing.
Through the door, you hear him laughing.
You are standing by the river.
The gospel of nature…
You stink, and your eyes are pink.
You see a swimmer in the distance, waving out in the water.
Perhaps it’s a rodent that’s drowning.
The bridge is gleaming.
The same bridge, where those poor people were killed… it’s always that bridge.
People get fed up.
When they hunt down and kill all those who hate them.
Now, don’t you start talking like that…
You are sitting on the stoop again, and your neighbor is showing you his new tattoo.
So many options… so hard to choose well…
Inscribed on his chest is the name of this place.
Like you, he isn’t from around here.
Even so, it’s so important to have pride.
Pride. The kind felt deep inside.
You tell him you like it.
No you don’t, he says.
You are practicing the guitar in your bathroom, seated on the white tiles.
It’s a pissy instrument, at the end of the day.
You aren’t progressing.
The same four chords.
Over and over and over again.
You are in the restaurant again, reacting to news of the manager’s unexpected death.
He really is dead?
In his sleep. With bottles all around.
And you’re laughing?
You shouldn’t, not even internally.
Death will come for you some day—will you be ready?
And what is that the busboy is shouting?
“Who is next? Who is next?”
Might be tomorrow, might be today.
“Who is next? Who is next?”
You are sitting on the sofa, your phone hot against your ear.
It’s your father on the other end.
He is asking if he needs to come retrieve you.
You tell him no. You are fine.
Yes, you’re fine.
You’re just crossed.
Yes, everything is all right.
You are dreaming of yourself giving birth, squatting over a frozen field.
The child looks like an ear of blue corn.
It frightens you.
You hear yourself say you’ll love it just the same.
You should wake up soon, you know.
Glass is breaking nearby.
It’s just the wind.
There’s no wind here tonight.
Even so, it’s still nothing.
You are in your bed now.
Lights out, decrepit laptop closed.
You’re tired of this.
One hundred percent spent. Old jokes, stale jokes.
See you in the morning.
Yes, in the morning. Who do you think you’ll be, tomorrow?
Where do you think you’ll be?
Well, of one thing you can be sure: tomorrow it will still be summer.
Yes. It will be summertime for a long time.
Glad you’ve got that straight.
Couldn’t forget if I tried. Goodnight, you.
Michael Jeffrey Lee's stories have appeared in Conjunctions, The Collagist, Denver Quarterly, and Fairy Tale Review, among others. His first book, Something in My Eye, received the Mary McCarthy Prize and was published by Sarabande. He lives in New Orleans.