map Mercy

by Richard Weems

Published in Issue No. 24 ~ May, 1999

I alight.

My baseball cap placed on the seat cushion, though not before a brisk shake to avoid as much as humanly possible a rim-wide ring of wet where I am to eventually deposit myself into sitting position and face her once again. Here she is, she is here waiting, waiting she is, and to make her wait further for the natural removance of unwanted wet before I can sit is testing a most benevolent patience. The rain has done its duty, done its damage, done its due, and I am to take this opportunity of enclosure to offer myself a respite from the precipitation and take the offer offered for some drying out.

Position of cap: brim forward, team mascot (team of no consequence) still smiling after all these years.

Thus having laid, I remove my first layer-rayon windbreaker, black. It resists against my bulked sleeves, but no no no no no no no its sleeves will not reverse on me. An unfortunately uncomfortable position aids in the prevention of this, a position reminiscent of rude detention in a legal manner, opposite hand holding the cuff of the sleeve being wriggled out of.

Patience patience, it comes, it comes off.

Explanation of legal simile: not from experience. Really. Please…let’s be serious here.

Worthy note: windbreaker removal performed with concentrated care and not indicative of coming endeavors in the preparation of a prolonged sit. Reversed windbreaker sleeves, reversed black windbreaker sleeves especially, are for certain an omen and create chaos and turmoil and most certainly an abortion of the sitting procedure for sure for I would be a sitting duck for any doomsday meteor headed my way.

So permit the extended performance of windbreaker removal.

Windbreaker off, it must be folded and held and not placed on the back of the chair immediately. Prevention of the following: bottom of the heap. The loss of an opportunity for drying it out. This makes the process more intricate, more time-consuming, but to go back out there with a wet windbreaker and lose the opportunity for some drying out…

My order expressed to the waiting waiter: Coffee, I’ll take coffee. Black coffee. Black coffee as strong a coffee as can be.

Windbreaker folded over (outside showing only, you bet), then folded over my arm, I remove flannel, tee, thermal, tee, long sleeve tee, tee, tee, always with care to prevent reversals, but always with more care not to drop the windbreaker-the reversal of a mere undergarment is an easy risk if the windbreaker is not to drop.

There are rules; always, there are rules.

Layers are swathed, draped, drooped, hung. The windbreaker graces the top, some great black father out to smother his seed. Chaos curtailed, disaster on hold. I place the cap on a corner of the backrest and prepare for the sitting.

We will not go into detail here: it is sitting down, plain and simple-I will not concern much with the sitting. Sitting is natural, of nature, and may be done w/natural manner and mannerism.

Seated thus, clothes hung thus, donning still my final tee and wet wet trousers and lame excuses for shoes, coffee served thus (looking strong, kinda strong, could be stronger, all requests for milk, cream, sugar, a dash of cinnamon on top (confound these kinds of places!) refused flatly and the more I’m asked the more I have to turn the cup one full revolution for every no, every no spoken and every no screamed inside, a lot to make up for already), I am sitting and facing her, she angelic in her patience through my necessary goings-through, though who could meet a sister’s eyes, a nun’s eyes, meeting like this?

“Tell me how you are,” she says, impossible to divine the intent. Sarcasm? Sincere concern? She is generally prone to honesty, but still but still. Hard to know, hard like this, with the table so out of order and all, the salt and centerpiece and pepper in that order but far from a straight line based upon their centers of gravity (the only noncontestable point of reference for determining a straight line in table settings), and the sugar the sugar oh we haven’t even started with the sugar, served in packets no less, such a confounded place this is, such a dump and a dive and a waste of her and my time, our time, mine and hers…

Yes, hard to gauge her request under such circumstances, quite hard, and I reply thus whilst drawing upon the table some hope of a sense of order amongst its decorations:

“Is this to curry favor?” I begin. “A cry for reconciliation, or a mere opener to maintain relationships ascertained and continued by our last conjoining also initiated previously by you by request sent through channels of my known habitation and habits of walking, stopping for a moment precisely for a look or a visage, a request effected along I’m certain with pecuniary remediation for there is little other reason for these channels to pass along your request and for what reason you would effect these communiqués is beyond me beyond me completely beyond me it is for what would you want a conjoinance? surely not only to ask that stupid stupid stupid question.”

My hands shake and I continue the positioning positioning repositioning of aforementioned out-of-place items. Best I can I try to hold off the shaking but she must see it, but she knows enough of me to know to await an opening before speaking.

I continue.

“Unless we are to just resume where, they say, ‘we left off,'” I quote, I unquote, “I quote, I unquote, in which case I am then to have a clear idea, then, of that time when, then, our conversation last ceased and thus pick it up from whence I left, or you left to be precise, yes, for you left and that is certain, you are the one who had enacted the leaving-”

My shufflings create an imbalance in the sedentary nature of the salt shaker, and it falls and sprinkles white salt upon the white-like-salt tablecloth (confound confound confound), but there is no mistaking the presence of each and every granule there, sitting there, mocking me there, announcing itself there with bells and whistles and the threat of mass destruction everywhere.

It makes me want to scream.

And I am ready to.

She seizes the opportunity. “Norman,” she says (she knows better than to take my hands). “Norman, we haven’t forsaken you.”

While I still taste salt I continue pressing pressing my fingers against the tablecloth, pressing them and licking them clean. Salt is bad, bad for the constitution, for the steadily-beating heart, yet all the salt must go, go away, and I continue while I still taste salt.

Meanwhile, she goes on again about the church, the love that is always there for me, the they who will love me and anoint me and clean me and take me into their fold evermore without death.

“We’ll care for you, Norman,” she says. “We’ll love you, Norman,” she says. “You have only to ask us into your heart,” she says, Norman.

Always they she speaks of, always the first person plural plural plural. Nothing personal, only collective.

“Marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me.” I am permitted but one breath, a breath long enough only to skip one ‘marry me’ and keep my tempo is all that’s permitted for any chance of success to remain. “Marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me marry me.”

She puts out her hand and she is smiling, smiling in that conciliatory way, that way of no, that way of no, I’m sorry I’m sorry sorry sorry.

I don’t take her hand and she ups to leave.

“Get yourself something to eat,” she says. “Make sure you eat,” and she leaves behind the usual amount. She leaves it on my side of the table.

“You know where to find us,” she says. “Until next time, Norman,” she says.

I look at her. That angelic face. Literally.

She smiles. She bows her head, as if sliding down a ramp to propel her egress. She nods back to those who nod to her reverently.

She’s doing her job.

I drink my coffee in the usual full-committal fashion. No stopping once the act is started. Burnage in the past has not been infrequent if the coffee does not cool at the expected rate.

This time, the drinking is the usual fire going down into me. The fire I can handle.

Payment made, her change pocketed (so much more pickled pork could be had for this amount versus the squandering that would ensue from maintaining the tab at this confounded place), rising and dressing and keeping windbreaker for final layer without exposure of same-material lining much the same as the process for the reverse, the actions by rote by rote by careful careful rote, I prepare to finish out the day.

My exit: damp only and clothed.

O the sun! It is in return, in exposure, coveted no more by misty humidity and cold fronts pushing along heady heady clouds. It is magnificent! It is blinding! I am blinded! Still, I maintain the motion I must make, my steps measured and necessary to transport me to where I may alight of this money as prodigiously as possible. Pig’s knuckles pig’s knuckles, pig’s knuckles await. My eyes are burning! My lids are scorched. I trudge on, lest all come down around me.

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Richard K. Weems ( is the author of Anything He Wants, winner of the Spire Fiction Award and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and The Need for Character. His short story publications include North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Mississippi Review, Other Voices, Crescent Review, The Florida Review and The Beloit Fiction Journal. He will be teaching once again this MLK weekend at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway in Cape May, New Jersey.