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The International Writers Magazine

Ater The Winter
Mike Blake

Clapton singing Have You Ever Loved a Woman in his head, a half pint of cheap vodka in his pocket; it’s all he needs to cap this hot afternoon off. Memorial Day weekend in his home town, the one he has come back to often enough over the years, but that now seems to be a different place altogether.

More people, more motor vehicles on the roads, more businesses, and more housing developments. He gets the feeling he could walk down Main Street and not see a familiar face to wave to. That’s the one thing that makes the place strange for him now, for it was never like that when he was growing up here. At one time, you knew almost every family in town, especially if, like him, you went through the school system. Technically, the place was a village, after all.

Now, he might as well be walking through a town he’d never been in before, but nonetheless saw plenty that was familiar. It looked like so many places he’d been through, with a modern facelift of shopping plazas, fast food restaurants, big supermarkets, new golf courses and tourist traps on the road to the beach. When he was a kid, residents drank coffee and ate donuts at the one town bakery, but now there were three coffee shops along one strip, with drive-thrus, and the old bakery had cut its hours. The two bars had changed ownership numerous times, each getting facelifts, too, so as to attract a different kind of drinker – more of the yuppie type – rather than the old drunks who used to frequent the places when they were called dives. Maybe business was better, he didn’t know, but he would have bet the drinks cost twice what they used to.

He wouldn’t be here long, he knew that. He had gotten through the winter months and accomplished what he’d wanted to do. He’d finished the book he’d started the previous summer. It was the biggest book he had yet written and he wanted to complete it in one stretch of time, without any break, while the story was still fresh in his mind. He had done that and now he felt pretty satisfied with himself. He had earned a break from that daily routine at the house; it was time to get outdoors and on the road again. It had taken a mental strength to stay indoors here in the northeast for months (when he could have been sitting on a beach in Florida), at a desk no less, every morning with his coffee (no drink), putting those few pages of words down. He doesn’t think he would have had that dedication ten years before. After a month or so, he probably would have gone south, telling himself he’d finish the book the next summer. Which he probably wouldn’t have. The difference between then and now was his acceptance of the importance of writing in his life, and how it was probably the only activity that could keep his spirits up for a sustained period.

It took discipline to keep at it, sacrificing plenty of time for other pursuits, yet in the end it was the healthiest thing for him. It came down to that sense of accomplishment, something he had lacked for years. Difficult years, with too much drink and plenty of thoughts of suicide. He might have called those years suicide on the installment plan, and, for the most part, they weren’t pleasant to look back on, though there had been some high points. Without some high points, he doubted he would have made it.

Had he ever loved a woman? Yes, more than one. And so he always appreciated that song, one of his favorites that he seldom heard anymore. He had just happened to walk by a parked car that had it playing, and had stopped to listen for a couple minutes, reminded of just how good the guitar was on the Layla album. Clapton and Duane Allman dueling, and he thought the guy’s name was Gordon on some big sounding drums. Not a bad cut on that album that he had back in high school. He had quite a collection at that time and he wore it out. That was back at the house he grew up in, the one his parents had been out of for eighteen years now. He could still remember the hours he’d spent in his basement room, away from the rest of the family, the music turned up loud. That music had definitely helped him get through the high school years, in a way that books didn’t. It was also the finest thing to go along with all the drugs he took in those years. Music and drugs seemed to compliment each other for him, and they still did. A little booze and a good song from the past and he felt damn good, probably the best he would feel all weekend. He would be sober for the better part of it, but he would enjoy these next couple hours at least. He’d have his toast to his book and to the upcoming summer, and also to his memory of the town.

© Mike Blake June 2007

In the Redwoods
Mike Blake on the Californian Road
The moon was out that night – if not full, then close to it – and it shed a silver-white light down over the trees and the bank of the river. It was a wide, rushing river that we had crossed by a long wooden bridge to the flat, open bank (if you could call it that) where we settled for the night.

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