Jack The Lion

"The easy thing to do would be to stand here and cry."

The man looked up from his little book, "Everyone keeps saying that he wouldn't want us crying, but how else do you show that you'll miss someone?" He closed the little book, "I was the last one to see him alive and the one to watch him die. When I saw him I was past hope, past lying to myself, and I knew he was not going to make it."

Two days and a haircut earlier, this man felt and looked like a boy. He watched the family gather at the old man's house. The nervous laughter that happens at times like this offended the boy. He understood it, but he wouldn't be a part of it. He sat by himself in his grandfather's chair. The old man was clean and never carried a scent, so the recliner still smelled like leather. This would all be easy if the boy was a believer. He wouldn't have to let go. He would just have to wait to see his grand-dad again. He had hope, lots of it. The old man was a lion and this wouldn't be his last roar. Still, the boy wrote kind words in his little book. The same kind of book his grandfather kept in his shirt pocket.

Always have pen and paper.

It was one of the old man's rules; part of his way of life. He was a self-made man who started off his working life walking an hour to his job. Walking a little faster at night when his shift ended, his hand on his knife at all times.

The boy felt the knife in his pocket and felt proud of himself. The old man taught him a lot over the past few years. They weren't distant while the boy was growing up, but they didn't have what they have now. The old man saw that the boy was turning into a man. It was a slow change, but he was becoming a man.

God, why couldn't he believe? He had faith when he was young. He had faith through the death of his mother, through what people would call rougher times. Why couldn't he have it now? The boy couldn't think about this. He started to cry, but no one noticed because he never made a sound when he cried. It was just a few leaks around the eyes. He kept on with the kind words in the little book. He wished the words would come to him like magic even if he wished that he wouldn't have to use them. He knew he wouldn't have to use them.

He couldn't decide if he was selfish or chicken shit for not going in to see the old man yet. He kept writing. He mouthed the words to himself, "The easy thing to do would be to stand here and cry. Everyone keeps saying that he wouldn't want us crying, but how else do you show that you'll miss someone?" He cried and kept writing.

The boy's words were stopped by his cousin's voice, "Jack. He wants to see you."

Jack walked into his grandparents' room and stopped lying to himself. The old man nodded and said, "Well, I guess it's time for me to go then."

"I wish you didn't have to."

"I do too, son, but I have to." "I know."

"Tell everyone I love them. Tell your grandmother she's my life. Keep her going to the doctor. She doesn't need to rush to see me."

"I will."

"I know you will. You think you're weak, but that's where your strength is."

The boy cried and made a sound. "I'm damn proud of the man I met in you."

"A lot of that is you grand-dad."

"That's how I'll stay alive."

His grand-dad nodded off to sleep for a few last breaths. The boy could feel all the parts of the old man that would stay alive inside of him.

They weren't enough.

"I love you," said the man, no longer a boy.

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Shaped Like Rolling

Ball was red and shaped like rolling. I played with Ball by trying to keep her under my paw. She was fun, but hard to bite. Thomas knew I was enamored with her and it made him happy. He laughed and smiled.

Thomas was a good boy.

That's why it surprised me when he took her from me. He took her from me and threw her. I remember being upset and confused. I ran after her. She was rolling, but I was able to stop her. I remember thinking that if I didn't stop Ball, that she would roll forever and I'd never see her again.

I tried gripping her in my mouth again, but failed and would fail many times before I could. I pushed at her with my nose. I was playing with Ball when Thomas called for me. I rebelled. I didn't go to him until he called a second or third time. I didn't want to leave Ball. I guessed that to be a good boy I would have to, but when I stepped away from Ball, Thomas pointed and shouted her name.

I nudged her with my head trying to roll her to Thomas, and I did eventually. He called me a good boy. He called me that and scratched behind my ears how I like and rubbed my tummy like I love. He held up Ball and I gave her a lick. Thomas laughed and gave me a little tap on my nose with Ball. He threw her again, and this would go on. Him throwing Ball, me fetching Ball, and then Thomas giving me all the love I wanted.

Thomas and I would get tired, but Ball never did.

Ball is older, like me, but she's still shaped like rolling. I can't roll anymore. It hurts me to try and it hurts Thomas to see me try. We play with Ball on days that I don't hurt, but Thomas hasn't thrown Ball far in a long time.

I'm with her now and I hold her under my paw, close to my nose, so I can smell my youth on her: the smell of grass, Thomas, and Ball, herself. It is the last thing I smell.

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Rough Draft

He started the book with the ending planned out. He always had the ending. A few days later, he had some good sentences and a straight line from the start to the end. He wrote. The straight line became longer and twisted in the process. He became attached. He fell in love with the idea more than the words. Soon the words weren't good enough. How could any words be good enough for her?

She was based on a woman he knew. They would talk at night while she smoked. They did this every night for a week. He would walk around the grounds of his complex when he didn't want to sleep. He saw her two nights, smoking at the table near the apartment's playground, before she motioned him to come to her.

She lit another cigarette and he could see her face was beautiful. She used matches.

"Can't sleep?"

"I could, I just don't want it."

"Are you a night owl?"

"Aren't all owls, 'night owls?'"

She smiled while sucking in the night air through her smoke.

"You can sit down."

He liked standing. He liked pacing. He did not like sitting. He did not like lying down. He did not like stillness.

He sat down and they talked until she was out of matches.

Every night, except for the last, her cadence was calm and only the speed of her voice varied. Her words were exact. She took as much time as needed to make sure of that.

He told himself he was trying to get her words right. He was trying to make them as exact as she would have made them. He would let the book be finished, he would write the ending, when he got her words right.

The woman's name was Lilly and he named her character Luna. He loved Lilly, but the late night conversations would end with her matches and never with either of their mattresses.

Lilly moved. She told him she was. He said he wanted to keep up with her and she said the same. Information was exchanged and kept. They never kept up like they both wanted. They both waited until Luna was all he had left of her.

He wasn't going to let go of Luna. Luna was perfect. She always had something more to say and she never ran out of matches because she used a lighter. Their first time was when she brought a bottle of whiskey to the playground table. They kissed, like drunks, on the equipment. They found a slide and crawled into it to feel each other's bodies get warm. They finished the bottle and each other in her bed, a simple mattress on the floor.

He moved his mattress onto the floor.

Luna was afraid of falling to the floor during her sleep. Her sleep was as restless as his mind. That's why she smoked at night. She did it to calm herself.

He would fall asleep with his writing pad. He would fall asleep with Luna's new words and wake up with them on the floor.

He did this for months, but the words started to come to him slow and less exact than they should be. Less exact than what Lilly would have said.

This is why he didn't keep up with Lilly. The last night at the table her words were slow and not exact. He thought she was bored. He thought he had started to be a chore for her like he had for everyone else. That last night at the table, when she was out of matches, she couldn't find a way to ask him to walk her to her place and stay.

He felt Luna was leaving him. She had been with him for over a year. He had memories with her. He had a life planned with her. She would be his greatest accomplishment. He would let others love her like he loved her, but she would only be his.

He sat still and tried to type. He always had the ending. He had known it from the beginning.

He couldn't write it and Luna left him because of it. He woke up one day and she was gone.

He moved his mattress off the ground.

Luna had changed him when she left. Every girl that left him had. The other girls left him with movie ticket stubs and photos.

She wasn't real and she had hurt him the most.

Luna left him with a book he couldn't finish and a relationship he couldn't tell anyone about. He still knew the ending, but the words weren't right. They couldn't be right because neither Lilly nor Luna told him goodbye.

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