Love Letter

We’ll see summer come again
Darkness fall and seasons change*


In the early afternoon he sat down to write a letter, having skipped lunch out of boredom with eating and the realization that preparing a meal would require too much effort. It was a warm day and the fans were humming, lulling him into a state of torpor. But he thought probably writing was still possible. It was worth a try because he had to finally say what needed to be said.

“I’m sorry I said that I loved you,” he wrote. “It was uncalled-for.” He raised the tip of the pencil and turned the barrel in his fingertips. “You always said that I don’t speak the way I think and I can’t think the way I ought to think, so I think you should have seen this coming and been prepared with something passing as tolerance, even pity. After all, you knew my limitations better than anyone, especially me.”

He paused and looked out the open window where the sun was high and bright on a single cypress tree in the distance, on a hill. He wasn’t hungry yet.

“I remember when we met at college and after class I saw you by the elevator, dressed in purple. We rode down together and went for coffee, to talk about philosophy. Spring came and rainy days and nights but little time to stop and think. The time went by so fast. There were things I thought I wanted and what I thought I wanted from you I didn’t want and never got. What you wanted from me, you took. But your purple dress was beautiful.”

Hunger caught up with him and he went out of the room and down the stairs, past the slotted windows shaped like pears that revealed only the climbing wisteria. In the kitchen were garden tomatoes and cheese, chilled water in a canning jar. He sat for a while and looked at the pictures in a catalog: Flannel shirts, jackets of quilted down, sturdy boots.

Autumn was coming and he would be alone. In solitude, he always said, there was less friction. So his life should have been like an oiled sheet of ice, except for all his memories. They would never leave him entirely alone.

He put the catalog down when he remembered the pencil he had left upstairs. It was bright yellow, waiting in the light on the unfinished page. He climbed the stairs slowly, thinking about how the letter should end. It was a long time coming and maybe the letter should be about time. She would have gray hair by now. Grandchildren. She was living or not, somewhere in the turning world. So for years he’d been writing the letter, again and again, watching as graphite filled the page with pain he couldn’t remember if he ever felt.

At the third turning of the twisted stairs, an odd old bellied window showed the wisteria was blooming lavender and purple in the late summer light. “If the blossoms are purple, what color was her dress?” It worried him for a few steps but the thought was gone before he reached the desk. He picked up the pumpkin-colored pencil and started again.

“Please forgive me for saying I loved you but I was overwhelmed by your wine-colored dress and all the darkness in your eyes, and the white shorts you wore at the lake. I was stunned by your courage with the boat and your soft brown hair. I saw that you would live forever, always nineteen, and the only things that frightened you were what I said and a boring life. Come back so I can never say it again, not for another forty years.”

In time he looked up from the paper to the window but the sun had set and the old oak tree was gone from view. Inside the room, everything was tinted faintly orange by the shade of his lamp. He crossed the room and looked out again but there was nothing to see and all of the friction of others was gone from his life. Below on the trellis, the wisteria was climbing up to him with flowers black as night. He pressed his forehead to the glass and said to evening, “I love you.”



J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

*The Grateful Dead



I wrote this flash fiction piece after reading an article about the writings on memory of neurologist Oliver Sacks, on the subjectivity and communal interdependence of memory. My idea was to create a piece in which the present seems to change memory and memories seem to color the present. The inconsistencies in recollection and color are intentional. There are allusions to the Kafka quote I posted recently, and to Ash Wednesday by Eliot,which is basically an allusion to Dante. And while I was writing, I was listening to The Weather Report Suite by The Dead.

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true … depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. . . . Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. [Link]


A Flock of Birds

The sun had been up for an hour, hidden above the clouds that brought rain to their Sunday morning. She made oatmeal with honey and two percent milk. He made the coffee and toast. They sat across from each other at the oak table at the end of the kitchen. The bay window admitted a view of the gathering storm. He had the comics section, culled from the Sunday paper, folded beside his plate. She had nothing to read, and stared out the window at the back garden while she ate.

“Everything is like a flock of birds,” she said, taking a last sip of her coffee. A little more remained but it had gone tepid and bitter. She set the cup down and pushed it away.

“They settled here a while and ate seeds and bathed in the fountain, she said.” “Then one by one flittered up and flew away.”

“Everything is?” he said, but did not look up from the comic strip that was making him smile.


He stirred the coffee in his cup and finally looked up at her. “You said everything is like birds. You can’t mean this house is like a flock of birds, or this table, or me. You can’t say everything is like anything because some things are not. Some things are like other things or nothing makes any sense. So what do you mean by everything?”

“I mean life. Life as I thought life was and would be. Life got startled and flew away. Nothing is quite right anymore, and I don’t understand.”

“I see,” he said. “The birds are an existential metaphor; at breakfast, no less.”

“If you insist.”

“I do.” He held the newspaper in front of him and snapped it like a great pair of wings and folded it to see the next page. “Life saw the great cosmic cat in the yard and scattered, took to the trees.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“No, no. Yes. Teasing a bit. So what kind of birds?”


“What kind of birds flew away and left nothing but memories?”

“Not real birds.”

“I know,” he said. “But since you’re imagining them, what kind of birds do you see?”

“Little ones. Sparrows.”

“Hungry, nervous little things. No mockingbirds, no hawks or gulls? Nothing more formidable?”

“Just the little birds, like I said. They’re gone and it makes me sad.”

“Well, it’s not quite spring yet, and pretty soon …”

“I realize they come and go and I might blink and see them all returned, or just a few, or many more than ever. I’m talking about how I feel. They’re gone forever, every one of them.”

“And took away the waters of the birdbath, the withered petals and the yellow leaves? I think you need another cup of coffee, Dear.”

“Maybe so. I’m still tired. But it threatens to sour my stomach.”

“I never digest anything well anymore,” he said.

She ignored this, remembering the day when she was four or five and her mother took her to the pond. They had half a loaf of stale bread, to feed the ducks. The large, demanding goose frightened her, and she wept.

“We still have the summer, the memories of it. And it was wonderful. I should be grateful to God for my memories.”

“I understand. And then, you also still have me,” he said.

He pushed away from the table, picked up his bowl and cup and took them to the sink. He started the hot water flowing and went back for her cup and bowl, and the small plate on which they shared the toast. He washed everything in lemony soap while she sat at the table by the window and watched the cold rain fall.


 Kyle Kimberlin

Creative Commons Licensed

The Larger Death

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. You were probably aware; I believe it was announced. So last night I sat here at my desk and read a few lines from Ripening by Wendell Berry:

The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead!*

Ol’ Wendell knows a thing or two about the human heart. So in keeping with the spirit of romance and earthly love, here’s a vignette, a bit of love story fiction by me. I wrote it and it’s mine and the author of it is me. (I’m teasing a someone who thinks I post too much stuff by other people.)

Park 2013-05-26 17.19.13

An After Dinner Walk

There was a day – late summer because the days were still long and warm – when we decided to go for a walk after dinner. I thought it was a poor idea, being full and sleepy. I wanted to sit and watch a game or the news, to have the cat ju­mp up in my lap and fall asleep, purring.

We started out briskly. She was in the lead as always, with her quick clipped steps. By the time we passed the gray bungalow with white window frames, two doors down, she was pulling ahead. She walked like a grade school principal on her way to break up a fight.

Hey, after dinner walks are customarily taken at a more leisurely pace.

Oh, you have the book of customs for taking walks. I’ve been looking everywhere for that. You need exercise. 

Madam, I will not have you walk me like a dog. Slow down and enjoy the stroll, or forge ahead alone.

No need to get mad.

I’m not. I’m just saying.

The bird bath in Mrs. Aldernecht’s front yard was full of fir tree needles again. The morning paper was gone from her drive, which meant she was getting too old to care for the birds, but not too sick to go outdoors. I was relieved.

Two doors farther and across the street, Charlie Harmon stood in his open garage, polishing his Yamaha. His wife left him, took the kids, but he kept those tires black and the chrome bright. He had a new satellite dish, bolted to the chimney high above the roof.  Reaching from the corporeal to the divine. We waved to him.

We reached the end of the block and turned, went on and turned again, circling back to the house. In the kitchen, she poured a glass of wine. She offered me the bottle but I shook my head.

You didn’t want to go on? I said.


We went around the block, and didn’t go on to the park.


She went to watch Jeopardy on the bedroom TV, to change her clothes, to drink the wine. I sat at the table and watched the last light from the window strike a metal rooster trivet hanging by the stove.

I wish we had gone on to the park, so I could pick a flower for her to have. Someone would be playing Frisbee with a dog.

Everything would be different if she had held the flower I picked for her and watched the dog running and jumping. We would have gone on to the playground, and seeing the children playing there, we would have gone home to make one of our own. Charlie would have sold the motorcycle and got his wife and family back, and I could have cleared the needles and filled the birdbath with water, to keep Mrs. Aldernecht out of the nursing home.

We turned and turned and the dog never played. The children never played and the sun went down. Then there was a day after dinner when she wasn’t there. Then neither was I. But sometimes I pick a flower, hold it for a while. When nothing happens, I let it drop.

An After Dinner Walk
by J. Kyle Kimberlin
Is Creative Commons Licensed

Once There Was A Man

I was just thinking. If my life was a book, what kind would it be? Not a novel, I think. Not a phone book, a pretty blank journal, or a coffee table book of surreal watercolors. Possibly a crafting book: 101 Things to Make with Macaroni and Elmer’s Glue. More likely, a chapbook of disjointed poems, printed on plain paper, galleys partly assembled and dedication unwritten. You would find it in a desk drawer, under a collection of old birthday cards.

And if that’s true, metaphorically, shouldn’t I do something about it? Life should be a travel book of images: Kyle’s Amazing Walkabout Through Time and Space.

Scary, isn’t it? This mortality business, I mean. This urge to do something and be something in our brief passage. And it doesn’t make it easier that life turns out to be memory and that memory is fragments. It all makes plot conjectural at best.

Once there was a man
who failed at everything he tried
but wrote it all down
before he died.

– from Good Stories by William Greenway, in today’s Writer’s Almanac.

Anyhoo, here’s a flash fiction piece I wrote a few years back; a story about a story. It was fun to write.

Continue reading

What She Said

Here’s a bit of flash fiction, a scene of departure. Someone I love said the first sentence to me once, years ago, in a much different context. I wrote it in my notebook and in time it morphed into this small piece. An earlier version was previously posted in this space. I think it has improved. 

“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me. Just so you know, you really have no idea.” That’s what she said.

Continue reading

Garden Window


I always loved music. Trumpets and guitars especially, or a nice clear piano. Dance music or grave ballads, it didn’t matter. But here, only scratching sounds come through my window, like when the record ends and the needle skips against the label. Rats’ feet on dry boards. Not so much sound as the impression of it, the idea of someone whispering about me in a faraway room, about my problems and how I am nothing. So if a sound like music came through, perhaps two or three notes as from a tuba or a vibrating pipe, I could try to have hope.

Continue reading

The Box He Carried

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.

– Marcel Proust, novelist

No. Sorry, Marcel, but I’m not buying it. I don’t believe that it’s himself that the reader finds in a book; it’s not a mystical selfie. The best writing is a sort of tribal drum that calls us out of our isolation and into the firelight of the commonalities of humanity. Art helps us understand the suffering and hope that we share, not the machinations of the ego.

Continue reading

The Things People Say

Someone once said that a writer is a person who observes the suffering of others and decides to take a few notes. Maybe it was me, because I can’t find it with Google. If you know the source of the quote, let me know. Unless it was me, then I don’t want to know.

Anyway, I was in a coffeehouse one day, as far as you know, and I overheard a woman say this to a guy. I imagined what it might portend and wrote this little flash fiction piece. It was originally in third person, but I think first person lends a greater sense of intimacy.

What She Said

“You have no idea how much you’ll miss me.  Just so you know, you really have no idea.”  That’s what she said.

I stood there in the bright sunlight, shielding my face with my hand and watching her where she stood in the shadowed doorway. I was trying to see, for the last time, how blue her eyes were. And I knew she was right.

I could tell you everything, from the first time I saw her in the park with her dog, wearing a pale yellow sun dress, no shoes. And how when I spoke to her, she took off her dark glasses so I could see those eyes.

As long as I can remember, my life has gone in the same direction. I’ve heard it’s possible to turn around, but I keep going the same way – mostly north, into cold country. Until that day in the park, when we stopped to talk about dogs. It was like I clapped my hands and everything changed. Or like she spoke and I believed.

Now everything has changed again, and of course she was right. I have no one to blame but myself.

My pickup was parked at the curb. As I turned and saw its faded green paint, it looked like a friend who knew I screwed up and didn’t care, who knew the roads where I might find hope, food, and a place to sleep.  As I passed in front of it, I felt the heat from the radiator, and I heard her finally slam the door.

Birds singing.  Dogs barking.  Maybe her dog, clawing its way up the back of her sofa to yell at me through the picture window.  A Cessna droned overhead, so I stood for a moment beside the truck to watch it go.  As a boy, I loved to lie on my back in the grass and watch the planes.  The sound of them could push me to the brink of sleep.

Merging onto the freeway, the growl of the engine working through its gears covers every sound but the rush of air.  Sometimes the right thing to do is right in front of you, but its impossible. The mind stands back and begs for time, and the heart defends its solitude.  I hate doing what I did and I know that I will pay for it.  She was right, and this will be a long road to drive all night.

When I reach the coast and see the sun go down in front of me, I’ll have to bear right at the junction and head north.

Creative Commons License
What She Said by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution-
NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Passing Trees

image for passing trees

“What time is it?”

Taking one hand from the wheel, he started to push back the sleeve of his jacket to see his watch, then stopped. He glanced over at her. She sat looking out her window through the rain, at the trees.

“There’s a clock on the dashboard in front of you.”

“Is it right?”


“So you won’t tell me?”

“What’s the use of having a clock in the car, if you always ask me anyway?” But now he did push back his sleeve and look. “The clock on the dash says the world is one minute older than the watch on my wrist. So I’m going with the clock. I’m feeling pretty old right now.”

She frowned and watched the trees, a dark wall and a dark road, a grim and rainy day. She did not look at him, or care about the time. It was only something to say, some excuse to conjure his voice out of the distance between them. It was a good voice, solid and deep, a comfort so often, and always in the dead of night. Sometimes she lay awake and whispered I love you, and he would answer in that voice, without waking. Love you too.

As they passed the end of the orchard, a field opened up. It was fallow, the earth broken and turned. Far back from the road was a brick house and a barn. The house was brightly lit, and smoke rose from the chimney. It was a stranger’s life sitting quietly surrounded by death, waiting to be swallowed by time and rain. She could not wait to get home, turn on lights and music, make tea, and pretend, like that house pretended, that the world was safe.

“I hate myself for leaving him there.”

He checked the mirror and said, “It’s a nice place.”

She turned at looked at him. “Nice? I hate us both.”

“Now, now. Yes, it’s a decent place, as …”

“And he hates us too.”

“… as such places go. Pleasant and homey.”


“He’ll come around. It’s very nice. He’ll get used to it, make friends, have activities. You saw they have a piano in the recreation room. And the courtyard will be warm on sunny days. We’ll visit and take him outside. He’ll be fine in no time.”

“He’s never yelled at us like that. Never at anyone, that I can remember. So angry. Like we’re Eskimos, shoving him out on an ice flow.”

“We’ve been over this. Can you really pretend we’ve been thoughtless?”

“Do they even do that, did they ever?”


“The Eskimos.”

“I don’t know.”

“He said we’re going to hell.”

“Oh God. Everyone is on their way someplace, but not there. And we’re only doing our best.”

“No. We could do better. We should bring him back. Fix up the spare bedroom.”


“Rent one of those hospital beds. I could take care of him, I know it. I could quit my job, we’d get by.”

“You couldn’t. You can’t even lift him. Neither can I.”

They passed the end of a narrow road that broke the blur of idle land and disappeared toward the hills. She saw that her hands were resting on her lap palms up, waiting to be filled by something only God could design.

“You know him better than me.”

“Yes,” he said.

“Since the hour of your birth.”


“So I hope you’re right. But he’s already haunting me.”

There was another line of trees close against the road. Almonds, dark and full of rain.



Creative Commons License
Passing Trees by Kyle Kimberlin
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License


A Summer of Strange Dust

Today was my grandfather’s birthday. We called him Papa though, and he’s in heaven now. And this isn’t about him – or me – but in honor of … inspired by … 

A Glass of Cold Water

The sun rises slowly so that everything – the light, the birdsong, the smell of cooking food – is a long and tender hug. The musicians sleep until noon then sit about the plaza singing dirges as the day gets hot. He remembers his Papa would send him to the kitchen for a “glass of good cold water” on every summer day like this. Then he would take out his pocket knife, with a warning for it’s sharp little blade, and send the boy out to pick tomatoes for lunch in the amazing heat. He grew up with memories of water and fruit, but he still arrived at here and now, and there is no remedy for that.

It has been a summer of strange dust and barking dogs, and the music in the streets is flat. The players strum and knock their guitars with heavy silver rings to keep the beat. They sound like horses walking on stones in the shade. The trees drink all night from somewhere deep beneath the town, and put on clusters of yellow blooms. Any breeze will blow the flowers down around the fountain, to be swept away.

He works all morning, eats too much at noon and by evening he knows that he will never leave this place in all his life. He has an orange tree, clean shirts and a place to sleep in a room in a house that’s a cluster of rooms the use of which he has forgotten long ago. Except the ones for eating, bathing and sleep. All such things he does alone, and cuts many flowers for the dead. He has the music as the day goes by.

His room is hollow, a hollow room in a hollow house. Like living in a musical instrument, a sounding box for playing the noise from the freeway and the breath of the night wind. He sits in it after the sudden slow day, drinking cold water, letting the night play every song it knows. Everything vibrates, trucks brake for merging traffic, and the sun comes up softly again in the dust.

Life has few expectations, makes no demands, in a town this size. Just the little things, kind words and a gentle touch. So he made her breakfast the way she liked it, waited a moment and went out. Every day the same, and the summer ended and the oranges got ripe. The days got long again and he couldn’t keep her anymore. He offered her food and water with ice. He tried holding tight and letting go. Couldn’t think of a prayer except no and no. Which has never stopped the angels from their work.

He wakes up late and finds the blanket kicked to a heap beside the bed. The sun on the shutters is already hot and the horses in the plaza drink from the fountain, stamp on the stones. Or the players knock their rings in the singing air. He sits naked on the bed and wishes it was night again and not so far from here to where she went. Not so much bright and hazy world to search. Maybe he’ll try the closet where she kept her pretty things, or part the air by the trees like a curtain in the heat.

He could slice oranges and lemons with his Papa’s knife, leave them for the birds, for an offering of his solitude. Bittersweet. And a glass of good cold water.

Creative Commons License
A Glass of Cold Water by Kyle Kimberlin
is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution
-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Pony Rides

The signs out on the county road and on the side of his barn say Pony Rides, but they’re not really ponies. What you have here are donkeys. Most of the kids don’t know the difference. The grown-ups don’t care, so long as the kids are happy. So he can stand on the porch overlooking the barnyard, watching the sun glint off his old windmill, knowing the distinction is pertinent only to God. He is a man without pride, in the midst of humble beasts.

Today he feels tired and sore, like the hot shower wasn’t enough to wake him up and warm his bones. The mug of coffee he grips in both hands is warming them, but as he drinks it in loud slurps, the rest of him aches for the sun to get up and get busy. The damned thing is dawdling in the tops of the cottonwoods, no help at all to a man with things to do.

In the kitchen, he rinses his cup and sets it in the sink. He takes the teaspoon from the counter near the coffeemaker and drops it in the cup, so that it won’t slide down into the disposal and get beat all to hell. These little things matter now. His wife ordered their silverware years ago, from a catalog. Now that she is gone and he is old, he means the set to last the rest of his life. He will buy no more spoons or dishes, towels, sheets, doormats, wallpaper. He is finished with the replacement of things that have any hope of lasting; he buys nothing for the sake of something new.

The radio on the shelf above his spice rack – salt and pepper, basil and thyme – says the day will be sunny with wind soft from the east. The radio was hers as well, redeemed from the Green Stamp Store, years and years ago. It’s held up better than any of their cars. Some things do.

Out in the barn he follows his shadow as it falls ahead of him — cast by sunrise slanting through the big doors — down between the stalls where a dozen animals are awake and waiting. They’re hungry and he feeds them. He always wonders why they are happy with the same food every day. They’re happy to see him too, as he speaks to them, calls each one by name, and rubs their ears as they bend to eat.

In the last two stalls are Sweetpea and Louie, a mare and her colt. Sweetpea has carried the children for years, turning in her circle slow and patient, with love for her burden. Laughter settles on her back like sunlight. But at night she dreams of a field. The grass is green and the man is not there.

He needs to train Louie to walk in a circle steady and calm, to carry children carefully. These animals are bred for the work, but no one has ridden this colt yet. Louie is the only thing new on his place, the one concession to legacy and the years that roll on beyond the trees that border his land.

He opens the gates to the paddock and corral, and lets the animals out of the barn to play in the sun and drink from their trough. He mucks their stalls, spreads fresh hay, and takes the long training lead out to tether the colt to the center pole.

“You and this pole might as well get acquainted now as later. Don’t let it spook you, boy. Soon enough, it’s like the whole world turns in this barnyard. But it’s not a bad life, I think.”

He fills again the cup he left waiting in the sink. He stands drinking his coffee, with cream and sugar, watching Louie test the limits of the rope. Then two men come walking through the gate and up the path from the road. He sets the cup on the porch rail and hurries down from the house, as they enter the corral and untie Louie from the post.

“Hey now, what do you men suppose you’re doing with my donkey there?”

They look up at him. The sun is fully in the barnyard now and one man says, “The Lord has need of him.”

Soon the sun is full and bright, and the man and his animals are warm in the spring air. Sweetpea takes some consolation in his petting of her long ears and stroking of her neck.

“He’ll be back,” he tells her, and the old windmill shudders and turns in the breeze that was promised.


Listen to an audio podcast of this piece:

 Creative Commons License
Pony Rides by Kyle Kimberlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.