(Photo Credit: This short story was inspired by American artist John Casey‘s piece, Hopeless, acrylic on panel, 14″ x 11″, 2015.  http://www.johncasey.com)



There is a jukebox in the corner

Where saddle shoes used to tread

Under skirts and socks with lace

Splattered with drippings from

Chocolate malts and shakes,

Where pearls used to bounce

And roll across the floor.



Tile black and white—

I know it sounds trite

Like paisley on a bow tie

But patterns and bow ties

Bring order to the madness—

Also hamburgers, French fries

Ponytails and Snake Eyes.



He came to this place

Where the music was stuck—

Records displaying

Yellowed faces

Songs replaying

Grooves worn low

Weary, dull and much too slow.



Going backward

Isn’t really his thing

But there came a day

When his soul melted

Slipped through his lungs

Leaked and oozed

Puddled around the soles of his shoes.




No longer

Was an option for him—

What was he supposed to do?

Walk away, a shell of a man

Empty but for the wind

Whistling through?



He stood

Until noon traveled around him

Draped over the moon

Darkness descended,

Then fell his soul

Standing stuck

He heard the rattling of a rancid truck.



“Move aside,”

Said a man

Who smelled like Linus looks

Plus the tan lines of a garbage man,

“You’re in my way,

and what is this filth

at your feet?”



Accustomed to the dross

Of the city streets

With fetid hands the garbage man

Began to lift the spilt soul

Which was running into the ditch but,


Cried the empty man.



“That is not junk

though it lacks the glow

of gold

please leave it here

with me

it is all I have

if the truth is told.”



“All you have?”

Laughed the man

With the smell of human waste

On his hands,

“Then pick it up.”

Then came the second truth,

“I can’t.”



“I need your help,”

The wind spun around his tongue

Then played the space

Between his ribs

And his lungs

Like a concerto for weakening

Flesh and bone.



“Damn it all,”

The collector of trash replied

As he bent at the waist

To clean up the spill

That rolled down the hill

Before it crusted, caked and dried

Under the heat of the sun.



“I’ll put it in your pocket

now move along

get something to eat

there is a diner

across the street

that serves the lost

and the weak.”



And so, this is how he came

To the place echoing with the past—

The jukebox, the pearls

Where nothing was meant to last—

Fate brought him low

Then brought him here

To face the time where it all began

(Thanks to the garbage man).



“I don’t understand,”

He thought to himself

Then said it out loud

As his eyes rolled around

Searching for some logic

He could grip

Or some algorithm

He could apply to the script.



And then

Entered a ghost

With matted hair

On the sides of his head

Coming out of his ears,

A limp in his knee and

Teeth glowing green.



“I don’t believe in ghosts,”

Said the empty man

“Tough shit,”

Said the apparition

Blunt in his delivery and

Over dramatic

In his long flowing livery.



“Do you have a cigarette?”

Coughed the ghost

To which the live one replied,

“Do you always start with small talk?

I don’t mean to gawk but

your presence and general

demeanor are starting to piss me off.”



“You are here for a reason

and so am I

we need to get some things straight

before it’s too late

for you.

As you can see

it’s already too late for me.”



The beginning and the end

Sounded like a riddle

But somewhere in the middle

The living man

Recognized the voice,


He squinted and then stuttered.



“No shit,”

Said the ghost and then

Once more,

“Do you have a cigarette?”

The living man

Almost fell to the floor

“Here, one of my last four.”



They sat in a booth,

The jukebox began to croon

They ordered hotdogs with ketchup

Had no forks

Cut their food with a spoon,

“I don’t mean to pry

but why have you come?”



“I met her here in 1952

we were both too young

to know what to do

so we loved and had fun

and then she had you

I thought of staying

but I couldn’t follow through.”



They sipped coke through a straw

To fill the long pause,

“Again, I wonder

why are you here?”

The ice clinked

In the ghost’s tall curvy glass,

“I know I was an ass

I feel kind of bad

I heard you needed me there

but I didn’t know—


it was hard to stay away

and hard to stay

I wanted to say . . .”



A pause.



And a tightening of the throat

Both the man and the ghost

Turned and squirmed,

“But why today?”

Asked the living son

Who wanted to run but chose to stay.



“Before I go to my final space

I was given the gift

once more

to see your face

and written there

I saw your hopelessness—

it rendered my journey motionless.”



“Is that when my soul

dripped all the way out?”

The ghost whispered back,

“That wasn’t your soul

it was fear and self-doubt

and I couldn’t help but

notice my name

on the puss that spilled out

so I used my airy powers

to stop your feet

with the little time I have left

I wanted to meet

in case my song repeats

after I’m gone.”



The air was still

Atmosphere heavy

Like before a storm

The ground felt shaky

And covered with worms

Snakes, anteaters and obese germs.

“I took a bit of you

and left too much of me

dropped you in a hole

of anonymity

no sure identity

as is given by a dad

and when you reached for me

your hand collapsed



your confidence slid—

but hear me now:

you are the best thing

I ever did.”



The living man

Felt a peace begin to grow

In a place he did not know

Existed before today

Above his ribs, above his lungs

Where scabs were hung

Replaced with Band-Aids.



“I didn’t know

and I have a lot of questions

but I feel your time is fleeting

so I will ask only one

why wait

so late

to have this meeting?”



“Time is made of seconds and of hours

each tick devours each tock

as we ignore the face of the clock

take for granted the breath

and selfishly hold the seasons

in vaults of the mind we keep locked

for prideful reasons.

But I tell you,

my son,

you are not


I see your shine

and as long as you are living

there is still


so live

and be the you that is


of the weight of me

and my stupidity,

I am sorry.”



Then the ghost

He didn’t believe in


To whence he came

But left a ray of something

Maybe hope

And the jukebox continued to play.


copyright Jill Szoo Wilson