Watching from the train as the snow-covered fields scroll by, you consider the question of Petra and Alan Shindel. Is she making it up, just trying to discompose you? And what about Shindel? You admit to yourself he’s been turning up unexpectedly here and there. And his solicitous phone calls. Guilty conscience? Checking to make sure the coast is clear? Asshole. Then you realize the pot and kettle aspect of the situation. Not to mention that, far from making you feel jealous or betrayed, a Petra-Shindel relationship provides you with a place to stand. Place to stand? Hell, it’s set you free. Then you realize you’re the one who decided to catch the homeward train.
Ultimately, you decide you should check Eleanor’s voice message from the day before. As is her habit, she’s succinct: “Where the hell are you?” Then you check to see if she responded to yesterday’s text about your inability to leave Petra. This time she’s not quite so terse. “I called your office, even though you haven’t been going to campus. You weren’t there, of course. Since you gave me access to your voicemail there, I checked it. Nothing—except all the weepy messages from Petra you haven’t deleted yet. Here’s something you should know: when I leave important voicemails for people, I sometimes re-record them to get them just right, and the second or third version always ends with a different sound. Sort of a clunk. But that lets you know it’s a second or third version. All of those histrionic messages from Petra end with that same clunk. Apparently she can weep on cue. At least with a little rehearsing. After all, she does work at a theatre. You can listen for yourself sometime. You’re a moron. I love you. Your loss.”
As you’re digesting this, particularly the last few words, you become aware that the train’s wheels on the track are beating out a dactylic rhythm: BUM-bi-ty, BUM-bi-ty, BUM-bi-ty, BUM-bi-ty. EL-ea-nor, EL-ea-nor, EL-ea-nor, EL-ea-nor. Metrics in action again. The world shifts. The sun picks out gold highlights on the snowy fields rolling by. You see a rust-colored hawk hovering kite-like against the cloudless sky. You finally recognize the option you’ve been sifting for through the sludge of guilt. It’s joy. You are a moron. You press the telephone’s Home button and speak her dactylic name.
Arnold Johnston's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won over 300 productions and readings, and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated over twenty books. Arnie’s latest projects are The Infernal Now (poetry, Kelsay Books, 2022); Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been, (poetry, FutureCycle Press, 2020); Swept Away (novel, Atmosphere Press, 2021), and Mr. Robert Monkey Returns to New York (a collaborative children's book with Debby, Brandylane Publishers, 2021). A performer-singer, Arnie has played many solo concerts and over 100 roles on stage, screen, and radio. He was chairman of the English Department (1997-2007) and taught for many years at Western Michigan University.