Bio

 

Mike Lee is a writer, labor journalist and photographer based in New York City and Managing Editor of Public Employee Press, the voice of District Council 37, AFSCME. Fiction and forthcoming publications include West Trade Review, The Ampersand Review, Paraphilia, Sensitive Skin, Reservoir, The Avenue, The Drunken Llama, Visions Libres, Glossolalia, Dime Show Review, The Scarlet Leaf Review, The Euonia Review, The Solidago Journal, The Flash Fiction Press, The Peacock Journal, Third Street Writers, The Corvus Review, Violet Windows and The Potomac. His stories are featured in several anthologies, including Forbidden Acts (Avon) and Pawn of Chaos (White Wolf). A story collection, titled All Your Ambition, is published in Germany by VL Editions.

 

1.

I sat at the end of the dinner shift during checkout, waiting for the cash from the credit card receipts, thinking of you in 1988 Texas while listening to the radio. KAZI-FM, the community radio station. They played Dissidenten, a band that was to perform at Liberty Lunch.

My manager handed me 37 bucks. After tipping the bartender, I made 88 dollars. That’s great for a weeknight.

I walked from the restaurant, to Liberty Lunch, carrying my spiral notebook, with the Bic pen – black ink – inserted into the coils.

I arrived early and ignored the opening act. After grabbing a beer, I sat at a park bench of worn wood, wormwood, opened the notebook and jotted down my thoughts; mainly of you.

I opened up with something profound: “But we live amid a chaotic environment, a time when it is so easy to be lost in a world of constant changes, so much coming so quickly that emotionally we have to snap and try to rewire our brains to the point that frustration kicks in and we just want to stop, stop, stop.”

“Stop.”

Typical me, I began with the second paragraph. I keep the first to myself. No one else needed to know a secret known only to you.

While writing I felt ambivalent, as always when Abby was on my mind. I wanted to finish my novel, but it came out only a sentence a day, sometimes more, and often disjointed. It was a dream, an ambition, but always elusive. I would finish it years later. It now resides in my computer.

I put the notebook away, rolled it up under my arm and joined the crowd gathering haphazardly toward the front of the stage. Sometimes I don’t want to be alone, even though I find it too easy to segue into solitude in a crowd. Sucks, but that’s just me. Abby understood.

 

2.

Two weeks after her daughter ran away from home, Ellen’s best friend came by to visit. She took the time to lend support, as Ellen was beside herself from grief over losing her only child.

The visit was not helpful. Louise’s support was more about signaling to others in her orbit that she truly cared and loved Ellen. Louise was not well-grounded when expressing her feelings – it was doubtful she had any regarding matters outside of her own needs, and she had plenty of those to tend. Showing up for Ellen at a time of personal devastation and trying not to refer to herself was a chore. And she failed, which was the norm.

Around fifteen minutes into the visit she talked about her car trouble and how hard it was to get the money together to have it fixed.

Through her tears, Ellen endured Louise’s bullshit. After her friend finally left, Ellen threw up in the toilet and went to bed with a migraine.

She opened her eyes to see her daughter standing over her. She’d dyed her hair banana yellow and had pierced her nose.

“Mama,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Ellen groaned, but smiled, holding out her hand. Abby grasped it with both hands tightly, tears in her eyes.

“Baby, I’m too fucking sick for any more tears,” Ellen said. “You’re welcome to cry for both of us.”

Afterward, Abby made some lunch. Grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches toasted on the griddle. When Ellen was finally able to eat, she took a bite.

“I promise I won’t hit you again,” Ellen said. “I’m so sorry.”

Though she often thought about it, and sometimes had her backpack filled and ready to go, Abby didn’t run away again. She moved out after she got her GED after her seventeenth birthday. They talked a couple of days weekly for a year until less so after Abby learned to play bass and joined a hardcore punk band with a tour booked.

 

3.

We had known each other for years, since before I got married.

After the divorce, Tony and I remained friends, yet with a sense of uncertainty. Our friendship was akin to a suit with a loose thread. Pull long enough and the sleeve may become undone.

After work, Tony and I would meet up and take the train up to Penn Station. Tony lived out in Long Island. I had a one bedroom in Chelsea.

We’d talk about politics and our lives, which somehow made me feel there was some trust remaining between us.

On a winter’s evening, when the night arrived at five, we stood gripping the railing in a crowded car, chatting. Christmas was in the air – a week away. I noted a mother with a baby dressed as a Santa’s Elf on her lap.

“Hey, man,” I said, pointing at them. “Don’t you just think that’s adorable?”

Tony didn’t look. His mind was elsewhere.

He blurted out. “You know, all she did was slap her around a little.”

I stood unresponsive until the doors opened to our stop. I waved goodbye.

Walking home, I thought about Abby. I went to high school with her. She was cool. Never dated, and wish we did. Life might have been different.

I passed my street and continued walking south on Sixth Avenue. I hung a left and walked into the Guitar Center on 14th Street. Pulled down a Fender Telecaster, plugged it into a Vox AC30 and played a few songs Abby wrote.

After that, I rode the subway alone.

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