July 07, 2008

Of Lattes and Stuffed Monkeys

By John 'Falstaff' Hartness © 2008

I saw her sitting there, at the only patio table with an open seat. Sitting alone listening to her iPod on a gorgeous Spring morning. One of those sparkling mornings that's just cold enough to carry a sweater, with just enough warmth in its smile to promise you won't need it.

"May I?"

"I... OK, sure." She gave the patio the once-over to see if there was another option, then gave me the required polite response when she saw it was either sit with her, or juggle my latte, muffin and novel while standing.

"What are you listening to?" I could see she was upset, and probably didn't want to talk, but I had a feeling it might be worth it to pry.

"I... it's a new Alanis Morrisette song. Her new album is all acoustic.” I loved the way she paused for a second before answering, just that slightest hesitation when she wanted to tell me to piss off, but couldn't quite bring herself to do it. I leaned over, took the dangling earbud, and popped it in. You Oughta Know sounds so different with a live drummer and acoustic guitar, but it still transported me.

Scent is supposed to be the sense most closely tied to memory, but for me it's hearing. A song can take me almost physically back to a moment in time, and this one was no different. It was almost ten years ago, the album was new, Alanis wasn't a superstar yet, just another angry young chick carrying the Ani DiFranco banner for the next generation. And I was twenty, bleached blonde and jilted with her hit single blasting through my dorm room as I threw all of the sorry bastard's pictures, CDs and clothes out the window onto his head, drowning out his protestations and apologies with projectiles and expletives.

He at least had the wisdom to run when I appeared in my 8th-floor window holding his guitar. He must have known the amp was coming next. Annie, my roommate, opened the door, peeked in at the carnage, and swiftly decided that this would be a good night to study at the library. I spent another hour or so playing the raving Medea; then decided I needed to be at home.

So I abandoned the carnage of my room, leaving an apocalypse of shattered glass and plastic on the sidewalk and the oak outside my window garlanded with t-shirts and sweaters. Five hours later I pulled up in front of my parents' house without ever really noticing how fast I was going or really having a plan as to where I was headed. My kid sister, just fifteen, was sitting on the porch swing when I got out of my much-abused Cabriolet.



I sat down next to her on the swing. We sat there for somewhere between twenty seconds and an hour; swinging on the porch, listening to the crickets and trucks on the highway. Just sitting and swinging. I didn't need to talk, I just needed to be with somebody I still trusted.

"He fucked my best friend."

"I know. Annie called. She thought you might come home."

"He's a fucking piece of shit."


"I still love him."


And I curled up into a little ball on that swing, and my kid sister held me while I cried myself to sleep. I woke up the next morning in that swing under a faded blue blanket, with a pillow from the bed I grew up in under my head and her stuffed monkey tucked under my arm.

A passing truck jolted me back to the present and I caught the girl looking at me strangely. “I know this tune,” I said.

"Yeah, the song's old. But the album's cool."


We sat there for a time without time, listening to Alanis on shared earbuds, until I reached out and touched her hand.

"You know he's not worth it, right?"


"Doesn't matter, does it?"


Then I reached into my bag, handed her the monkey, and held my little sister while she cried out her soul on the Starbucks patio.

John 'Falstaff' Hartness is a writer from Charlotte, NC/

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