William Alton


A Temporary Patch

The angle of her face in the well lighted room makes a shadow on her chest. The nurses come and go. They bring her ice chips and painkillers. They check her cervix and pat her shoulder like she’s a child doing some trick well. Outside the window, the stars burn blue in the night. It’s been four hours since her water broke. Pain makes her snappish and short. I keep my peace and hold her hand through the worst of it. I’m only a man, but I want to me here. I might not understand the nature of her pain, but I want to help. Talking doesn’t help so I kneel by her side and wait for the baby to come.

The doctor arrives and catches the baby as she slides through the folds of her mother’s flesh. I don’t know what to do, so I watch the head come through, then the shoulders, belly and legs. Blood and mucus make her slick. The nurses wrap her in a blanket and rush her to the warmer. She cries and it’s the best sound in the world. They bring me to her side and I wash her with warm water and a soft cloth.

I bring her to her mother’s breast and lay her there. She kicks and squirms in the blankets. Her mother smiles and laughs. This is what we’ve been waiting for. This is the reason we stayed together through everything. This child will bring us together for a short while, but she will not fix the broken heart.



Breaking Up

She stands under the tree and smokes a cigarette. She drinks bourbon from a flask. The sun is a hazy wheel. She presses her bare toes into the grass. I walk through the park looking for her. We’ve made love by the creek running through it. We’ve sat naked in the moonlight, our skin pale and warm. She hides from me now. She has nothing to say. I miss her, but she says she’s done with me. She says she needs a life. I don’t know what that means.

Tomorrow she’ll move her things out of the apartment. She’ll leave me there alone and stunned. The empty rooms will remember her name. The bathroom will remember her scent. I’ll walk along the walls, my hands empty, my mind circling.

When I find her again, I smile and she asks how I’m doing. I shrug. She doesn’t touch me. She moves away. She stands under the tree with her cigarette and stares out at the grass as if she’s already gone.




She loved her husband best when he worked. The skin of his bareback in the sunlight, the muttering grunts when he lifted something into the wheelbarrow. She watched him from the porch and worshipped his long muscles. When he stopped for a minute to rest, she watched the sweat on his shoulders dry. He came into the house and got a beer. He came and got many beers. He mowed the lawn and drank and when he could no longer work because the beer’d gone to his head, he showered and dressed in sweats and sat on the couch drinking more. Come suppertime, he sat at the table and picked at his food. He wasn’t much of eater. Nothing she cooked seemed to please him. She tried to make the house comfortable for him, but he was too distracted to notice.

One night, he came home angry. He wouldn’t talk, so she didn’t know what to do. He drank too many beers and when she said something, he slapped her. Blood swelled in her mouth and she hid in the bathroom until he went to bed. This wasn’t the first time he’d taken his hand to her, but she was afraid to leave. Where would she go? Who would love her if she left?

In the morning, he touched her bruised face. I shouldn’t have done that, he says. She shrugs. She has nothing to say. She didn’t if she should run away or into his arms.


Couches and Beds

She sits in the kitchen and the night rubs the windows like a yellow dog. She sits and smokes and waits for the world to slow down enough for her to sleep. Midnight is coming on hard and she’s afraid of going to bed, because her bed is empty and there is no hope of filling it. She drinks wine and smokes a cigarette and takes her pills that make her sleep and waits for the dropping feeling before lying down on the empty bed and sleeping until morning.

When the sun rises, she opens her eyes and tries to remember her dreams. The steal away though. There’s not even a stain of memory. She gets up and dresses and goes to her car. She drives to work. She works hard and comes home. She makes a steak in the oven and eats in front of the television watching other people’s lives. She forgets to wash her plate and showers and takes her pills. Maybe tonight, she’ll sleep without dreams. Maybe tonight, she’ll sleep on the couch. The bed is a desert of loneliness. The couch could save her. The couch could cradle her until the dreams start and she wouldn’t have so much space to fill.


Dinner and Breakfast

The traffic is slow and loud. The gutters are full of water and leaves. I stand on my balcony and wait for her to come to me. She is a busy woman, but at the end of the day she always comes to me. She sits in the kitchen and smokes cigarettes while I cook. She adds salt to the soup when I’m not looking. The clatter of her bones is the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. I wonder if she lives with pain. She doesn’t say anything, but the look on her face is unbearable. I don’t know how she lives like this.

She eats little bites. She is careful with her spoon and fork. Her teeth are white against her red lips. I want to kiss her, but she is so far away. Tonight, we’ll make love on the couch. Anything to change the perspective.

Night comes and the wind rattles the screens. Rain beats a rhythm on the roof and I lie in bed listening to her breathe, listening to world going on without us. In the morning, we’ll drink coffee and eat eggs. I have to go, she’ll say and I’ll watch her rush out as if tide were turning and she needs to catch a boat.

Copyright © 2013 William Alton


William L. Alton was born November 5, 1969 and started writing in the Eighties while incarcerated in a psychiatric prison. Since then his work has appeared in Main Channel Voices, World Audience and Breadcrumb Scabs among others. In 2010, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published one book titled Heroes of Silence. He earned both his BA and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon where he continues to live. You can find him at williamlalton.com.