Joseph E Bird

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Just a closer walk with Thee.
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.

Darnell downstairs, singing. The clang of the skillet on the stove. Breakfast on a Sunday morning.

Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

She closed her eyes, tried to find more sleep, but the sun was lighting the room and Darnell wouldn’t stop singing, though he just kept repeating the same refrain, and the banging pots were like an alarm set to repeat every two minutes. So she got up and put on her clothes from the day before and made her way downstairs to the kitchen.

I come to the garden alone.

At least he had changed songs.

Her father sat at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee in front of him. She went straight to the counter and poured herself a cup.

Darnell still hadn’t noticed her.

While the dew is still on the roses.

She went back to the table and pulled out a chair and sat with her father.

“You boys are up early.”

Darnell turned around.

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. I will be rejoice and be glad in it.”


“Scrambled eggs?”


He pulled three plates from the cabinet and dished out eggs on each one, then two strips of bacon, then toast.

“You’re going to make someone a happy wife someday, Darnell.”

He laughed and took his place at the table.

“Bow your head, Pops.”

And he did, as did Heather, but she didn’t close her eyes.

“Dear Lord, thank you for another day of life, another Lord’s day, and for this wonderful food you have provided. Be with our family, Lord, and bless us and draw us closer to you. Amen.”

She looked up. Her father’s head was still bowed. Maybe he was praying.

“Ok, Pops. You can eat now.”

He looked up, first at Darnell, then at Heather.


“Good morning, Daddy.”

And they ate.

Her right arm felt funny. Under the table, her right leg twitched. She switched to her left hand.

“You prayed for your family. Back in Texas?”

Darnell was about to take a bite of his toast, but stopped and put it back on his plate.

“No, ma’am. I don’t have family in Texas. I mean I have relatives, but no family.” He held his hands out over the table. “This family. Us.” He picked up his toast and took a bite.

There’s different kinds of family.

So said the roughneck-turned-tackle shop owner.. The full-time philosopher and quiz show aficionado. Lucas.

Well, this one was different, for sure.

“What constitutes a family, Darnell?”

He took another bite of toast and studied on an answer.

“I don’t know if I can proper answer that. It’s not like I been studying on the situation and come to a conscious conclusion. It just feels like family. You’re like a sister. Maybe a little like a Mom. And Pops is Pops.” He shrugged. “Family.”

Part of her wanted to argue. This was no family, despite the fact that there was a biological link sitting right across the table, staring at his eggs, chewing on a strip of bacon, completely unaware of the conversation going on right in front of him. Her father? No. At best an empty shell. Worse, a selfish, uncaring man who took away her mother. Her father was just a dusty memory. And Darnell a brother? Just because he takes care of her father and helps around the house and runs errands for her and cooks breakfast, doesn’t mean he’s family. She could get the same service from a temp agency. And besides, it was all temporary. They’d both be going back to Texas before too long. House guests was more like it. And guests was being generous.

Still, the eggs were good, and the morning was peaceful. And if she were being truthful, it beat having a bowl of cold cereal by herself.

Darnell was humming Just a Closer Walk with Thee.

“Wish I could remember the words. All I know is the chorus.”

“Can’t help you there.”

She knew the hymn. At least it was familiar. Maybe from the times she went to church with her mother as a child. Maybe from the radio or television or a scene in a movie. The tune was easy and soothing and the kind of melody that would find a home in the mind and drift to the heart and grow into the soul and become a part of the collective memory that would come forth unexpectedly and bring with it a wash of sentimentality.

The smell of bacon would linger as the eggs disappeared and the coffee cooled. The last bite of toast with strawberry jam. The quiet clinking of silverware on the plates ceased and all was quiet. Soon the day would begin in earnest. Even if this were Darnell’s contrived family, it was nice.

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.

“Thanks, Darnell.”

“You’re welcome. Me and Pops are going to church this morning. You should come with us.”

And there was the other aspect of her unknown father she hadn’t taken the time or made the effort to reconcile. He had never been a church-going man. He was, at first, her good father, always there for her, always including her and making her feel special. He just didn’t go to church. That was her mother’s thing. And their family had been just fine without church. Although looking back she wasn’t sure how true that was. Then he murdered her mother, went to prison, and found religion. It was a cliché that hardly warranted consideration. And it wasn’t like she could have a conversation about it even if she wanted to. His mind was gone, and with it, all memories, logic, reason, and explanations of anything that would make sense of his life, or his life with her mother, or his role as a father. If it was all incomprehensible to him, how could she ever understand?

copyright 2018, joseph e bird; from the novel Heather Girl

new york morning

sunday morning
by myself
and it’s cold
in the shade
of the tall buildings
as I unlock the doors
of the parish
a full hour before
the service begins

and I know where
she’ll be sitting
her hair falling
onto her shoulders
her brown eyes
and that perfect

because she is an
like so many are
but she really is
and she is so
nice and friendly
and unpretentious

so perfect
and I can
do no more than
look her way
when she lingers
by the heavy doors
reading her bulletin

she has my heart
without knowing
but she is
and I am me
and the holy
and the profane
can not
be together

but I speak
she smiles
and I ask
her name
and I shake
her hand
and I tell her
my name

and I ask
where she’s
from because
everybody has
come to new york
from somewhere else
in search

cincinnati, she says

now I’m smiling

I’ve seen the
reds play there
I’ve skated
on the ice
at fountain square
and looked out
over the city
from the top
of carew tower

and I turn off the lights
and lock
the heavy doors
and she waits
in the cool
sunday shadows
and we walk
in the new york morning

copyright 2018, joseph e bird

Sunday Morning



copyright 2016, joseph e bird


Author’s Notes:  This story is told from the perspective of a young adult and reflects his world and the things he is struggling with as a result of decisions he has made.  There are offensive words but I feel in this story, with these characters, they are warranted.  And the story doesn’t wrap up neatly with a satisfying conclusion – kind of like real life.  This is a story that’s supposed to make you think about things.


Man, that crazy nappyhead could play.

Chill. Those are Jupie’s words, not mine. I’m just an old nappyhead, he would say to me. And then he’d tear off a screaming riff on that old Les Paul. Just crazy.

Then I had to go and kill him.

It makes me sick to think about it. I mean really sick. Not just puking sick but a hurt so bad in my gut that it feels like my stomach has been eaten away.   Bad enough what happened; even worse what happened after. I wonder if I would feel so sick if I was in jail instead of Pinky.

I’m a pretty good guitar player, too, you know. Not like Jupie, but not bad considering how lon­­g I’ve been playing. I just turned nineteen. When all this started, I was underage. Too young to be in bars, but that’s where the music was.

Barrett’s Landing – that’s where I’m from – doesn’t have much in the way of nightlife. Me and Pink tried what was there, Fat A’s, Upstairs, even Jimmy’s, but all they ever had were cover bands and beach music. Which is really jacked considering there’s no beach within five hundred miles of Barrett’s Landing. There is a river, but no beach.

I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was fifteen. A pretty decent Strat knock-off, good action and a sharp tone. I started taking lessons from a guy at church on Sunday nights and I caught on pretty quick. After a few months I was good enough to play with the church band. That really made my daddy happy. He’s the preacher.


I went to see Pinky last week. They just built the state prison a few years ago, so I had in mind that it would be a little like my old high school, which was pretty new, too.

My old high school was a waste. My daddy made me finish my senior year at the Robert F. Kennedy Youth Center in Virginia. RFK was different. Not like Riverside at all. I kind of liked RFK.

I was nervous when I checked in with the guard outside the parking lot and told him I was there to see Pinky. He looked at me like I was a smartass or something, but I caught my own bad and turned it right.   Greg Matusik, I told him. I don’t know how he got the name Pinky. That’s what we called him in junior high. He was always Pinky. Or Pink. I never even thought of it as queer until I said it out loud to the guard.

He gave me a visitor’s pass and waved me through. I looked out over the prison as I walked toward the visitor’s entrance and felt a little better about the whole thing. The buildings looked new and not that different from Riverside, except for the tiny windows. And the two chain-link fences topped with twisted rows of razor wire.

I walked toward the two-story building with the glass front. I really didn’t have a choice. It was the only building you could get to from the parking lot. Inside, I showed my visitor’s pass to a lady behind thick glass and another door opened, leading to a tiny lobby. The lady asked me more questions and had me fill out some forms, and then told me to wait in one of the chairs by the wall until an officer came for me. It wasn’t so bad. Kind of like waiting to see one of the school counselors.

After a few minutes I heard a click and a guard came through one of the doors on the other side of the lobby. He called my name and motioned for me to come with him. He wasn’t even wearing a gun, which made me feel good. After I went through the door I put my keys and cell phone in a plastic bucket and walked through a metal detector – just like high school – and another guard waved a wand around me. Nothing beeped and they took me into another room.

At first it reminded me of our Resource Room – the library – except that instead of computers at each work station there was more of that thick glass. There were maybe a dozen stations, but only two people in the room. On the other side of the glass were prisoners. One was a kid who didn’t look that much older than me. He looked scared. And sad. The other was a black dude, an older guy, probably forty or fifty.

The guard told me to sit at one of the stations and after a few minutes, a door on the other side of the glass opened and a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit sat down across from me. It took me that long to recognize him.

It had only been a month since I saw him but that had been on television. My lawyer didn’t think I should go to his trial, even after my acquittal. So the last time I saw him had been on the news after his conviction. He didn’t look so good then, but at least he looked like Pink.

A month later, his long blond hair was gone, shaved to the scalp. His eyes looked tired and heavy with dark rings that seemed to pull down on his skin. Under the short sleeve of his orange jumpsuit was a patch of red swollen skin. He slouched in his chair like the punks in high school used to do. Except Pinky was never a punk.

“How you doing, Pink?”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Yeah. Sorry.” The awkwardness of those first few words made me realize that I hadn’t even talked to Pink since that night. “What’s wrong with your arm?”

He glanced at the wound and rubbed his hand over it. “What do you want, David?”

He looked at me. Right in the eyes. He never used to do that. He has dark brown eyes. I had to look away.

“I’m sorry it all ended up like this,” I said. “I never thought you and I would do any time. I thought it would all fall on Ansil.”

“Well you were half right.”

“I’m sorry, Pink.”

“Don’t be sorry, David. You can’t help it. Guys like me and Ansil were born to take the fall. At least we’re doing our time now.   I hope you burn in hell. Maybe you should talk to your old man about that. See what he thinks.”

“Pink, I’m sorry.”

But he was already walking away.

About a half mile outside the prison, I pulled off the side of the road and threw up.


Jupie must have had a dozen guitars, most of them pretty good. That night, as I waited for the cops, I played his Les Paul. It’s unbelievable. An early 50’s model. I haven’t touched a guitar since.


I’ve got an apartment out on the highway. It’s small and noisy but nobody bothers me. My folks said I could stay with them as long as I wanted, but I don’t think they meant it. It was best for everyone for me to leave. I got a job at Wal-Mart, which is ok for now, but I’m going to look for something better. Long-term, who knows. I always thought I’d play music. But every time I think about playing, all I can hear is Jupie. And then I see him dead.


I’m the one that actually pulled the trigger. I killed Jupie. But Ansil is the one doing life. Pink got ten years for accessory. And I walked. How jacked is that? Daddy used to tell me life wasn’t fair.


You know what’s funny? After what happened, after the mess I got into and how I screwed up, I shouldn’t have any friends. But I got plenty. Always have. People like me. I wonder if they really knew, would they still like me.

I went to church last night for the first time in a few years. Not my daddy’s church, but one of those little churches you see tucked away in the trees up on a hill. My daddy started out in a little church like that. Everybody says he’s a really good preacher. I guess he is. People come from all over to join his church. He’s on television and radio, too.

I gave up church because it just seems so jacked. I’ve got a lot of friends with different beliefs and they all say they’re the ones who are right, the others are going to hell. I was born in a Christian family. Kanti’s family is Hindu. I don’t have any Jewish friends. A couple of guys I know at RFK are into Islam.   Who am I to say that because they’re not Christian they’re going to hell? I’m glad I’m not God. Let him sort it all out.

The preacher last night was an old dude, I mean really old. When it came time to preach he looked like he could barely walk to the pulpit and when he started preaching he was mumbling so low I could hardly hear him. He looked out over the congregation as he spoke and I think he noticed me. I don’t know if he recognized me from the news or just saw an unfamiliar face, but I know he saw me.

He preached about King David. Was that a coincidence? I doubt it. And that old man really got wound up. Ten minutes into it he was banging his fist on the pulpit and that voice was booming all over that little church.   No, he was preaching at me. Preaching forgiveness.

I’d heard the story before. King David hooks up with Bathsheba, who’s married, and gets pregnant by David. Eventually she has the kid, and David, not wanting to spoil his sweet gig, has her husband killed. In the end, David walks. The old man preacher says David repented and God forgave him. That’s it? He stays King? He doesn’t do any time? And everybody says David is the greatest king ever? That’s jacked.


If it hadn’t been for me, Pink would have never even been in the Corner Lounge. Like I said, Barrett’s Landing had no music, so I started checking out places in Wheeling, just up the river. First time I heard Jupie at the Corner I was blown away. The place was packed. We had sat through a couple of blues sets and I was ready to leave when Jupie took the stage. I didn’t expect much. Jupie was a little dude, kind of old and bent over. He sat on a stool and plugged his guitar into a little amp beside him. He had a drummer and that was it. But what Jupie did totally rocked the house.

The drummer laid down a back-beat and Jupie followed along, his feet tapping up and down. Then the screech of his guitar. Then the killer riff. Then the slap-stroke-bend-hammer on-slap-slap-slap with his right hand while the left hand jazzed up and down the fret board. Unbelievable. I don’t even know what you call it. That’s why the place was packed. They knew. Me and Pink went back every time Jupie played. Each time was like getting struck by lightning.

After sets, Jupie would hang out in the Corner and talk to people. The dude should have been a superstar and here he was hanging in a club in Wheeling. Once, after I had talked to him a couple of times, I asked him why he was still in West Virginia. That’s when he told me he was just an old nappyhead. He spent some time in Los Angeles but the record companies had no use for him. Didn’t know what to do with his music, he said. Well, yeah. That’s probably legit, even if it is jacked. Jupie deserved better.

The Corner’s where we met Ansil. Ansil played bass guitar and was into Jupie’s music like I was. I heard Ansil play once. He wasn’t very good, but he was fun to hang with.

Me and Pink drank our share of beers at the Corner, but Ansil always wanted to do more. We smoked weed outside the club sometimes, and then we started trying other stuff. We’d give Ansil the cash and he’d disappear for a while and come back with the dope of the night. We did some meth, a little crank. Whatever.

Nobody ever knew I was doping. I got this way about me, I guess, that helps me get away with stuff. People like me and don’t want to think bad things about me. Pinky was always having trouble, though. He probably did less than I did but he was always getting jazzed by his folks and the kids at school. Nobody could figure out why I was hanging with a doper. Guess they thought I was trying to save him, me being a preacher’s kid and all. Yeah.


Ansil’s in the same prison as Pink, but from what my lawyer told me, he’s in maximum security. He’s probably ok with Pink, anyway. Me – I’m a different story. I wouldn’t blame him if he tried to kill me if he ever saw me again. I can’t imagine there’s anybody that doesn’t deserve it more than me.


Once at Riverside, I was supposed to do a written and oral report on A Separate Peace. I was usually a decent student but for some reason, I kept putting off reading the book until it was too late. So I sugared up Karen Richards until she let me copy her notes, which got me by the written part. For the oral presentation, I practically read Karen’s notes and smiled a lot and told a couple of jokes. It helped that the teacher liked me. All the teachers did. I got an A. Karen got a B.


It was a rainy, wet, cold miserable night. Jupie was supposed to play at the Corner but had cancelled because he was sick. Me, Pink and Ansil had a few beers while we slogged through two sets of really lame blues by a fat white guy. Then Ansil says to meet him in the john. We pop some meth and then Ansil tells us he made it himself. I wish he had told us that before.

The other times we had done meth, it made us a little hyped, but nothing like Ansil’s home brew. Oh, man. I felt like someone was in my head. I told Pink the devil had got in me. I meant it. I might have been right.

We left the Corner. We had to. We were too jazzed to stay in one place. We needed to burn. We drove to the park and got chased out by the security guard. Ansil cussed him and I sped away, throwing gravel in the guard’s direction. Then Ansil pulled a gun from his jacket. I never knew he had a gun. He wanted me to go back to the guard shack so he could fire off a couple of rounds. Just to scare him, he said. I grabbed the gun from him and put it in my pocket. No way I wanted that kind of trouble. I may have been crazy high, but I wasn’t that far gone. Ansil cussed me and then laughed and popped some more meth.


Sometimes I wonder how I got to be me. Why am I like me, and not like Richard Franklin? Rich and I practically grew up together. He’s student council president at Riverside. Went on the mission trip to the Dominican last year at church. Gives really good talks about Jesus. Why isn’t that me? I don’t know why, but I know for a fact it isn’t me.

Here’s the thing. I’m not stupid. Really. I got good grades in school and I didn’t even try that hard. And when I was still going to my dad’s church, it seemed like I was the only one thinking about things, the only one with questions. Everybody else just ignored all the hard stuff or told me to pray about it. Why can’t we ever talk about it? I was always getting jacked around, so I quit.

And here I am, living in a dumpy apartment by myself. I’ve ditched my folks and all my old friends. My best friend is in jail. I feel like crap all the time. I killed Jupie and I’ll never do time. Except that I am. I’m not stupid.


Jupie lived in a second floor apartment on B Street. Somehow Ansil knew this. He said we should go see him, see how he’s feeling. We were mad hopped up. I’d have gone to see the governor that night if Ansil had suggested it, but the possibility of talking to Jupie in his apartment was way jammin’.   Maybe even get to hear him play.


I had no idea how late it was. Never really knew until the trial. Cops said it was around two. The door at the street was open and we climbed the steps to the apartments. Ansil knocked but didn’t wait for Jupie to answer. He lowered his shoulder and barreled into the door and it crashed open. I know now that Ansil was meaning to rob Jupie all along, but at the time, I don’t really know what I thought. I remember me and Pink laughing. Then Ansil took a mean turn.

“Give me the gun,” he said, his voice deeper and more gruff than I’d ever heard. He scared me.

“What?” I forgot that I even had it. He reached in my jacket pocket but was in the wrong one. Then he pushed me and as I fell onto the couch I reached into my other pocket and wrapped my fingers around the cold steel. Ansil pulled me by the arm and reached for the gun.

I’d never heard a gun fire inside before, and probably neither had Pinky. It scared the hell out of all of us and we turned to see Jupie standing in the doorway of his bedroom wearing baggy boxers and holding a gun that looked too big for his skinny little body. He yelled and cussed and it was obvious that he didn’t recognize us. I started to call his name, but before I could, Jupie fired another shot.

I remember hearing the bullet whiz by my ear and then heard the thud as it exploded in the plaster wall behind me. I don’t remember squeezing the trigger, but I guess I just reacted. Jupie dropped to the floor.

Ansil grabbed the gun from me. I remember that, because he grabbed it by the barrel and burned himself. Then he started going through Jupie’s stuff. I don’t know what all he took. Pink took stuff, too. They took off, but I stayed. It didn’t seem real.

My daddy’s got a lot of money and he hired a lawyer from Charleston to handle my case. I didn’t even have to testify. I just sat there through the whole trial while the lawyer told everybody that Ansil killed Jupie. Because I didn’t take anything and because I stayed and watched Jupie die, I got off with probation. That’s jacked.


I’ve got no taste for dope now. Or even beer. Don’t care about music, either. Just don’t care.

I keep thinking about that old man preacher. No BS about him. Laid it out straight about King David. But David was God’s man. I quit God a long time ago. That’s jacked.


Copyright 2014

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