Whispers From Your Shoulders

My favorite station is a mix of oldies and jazz instrumentals. I’m not sure what about the combination soothes me, but it could be the flawless way CCR meshes with a Wynton Marsalis. I know it shouldn’t make sense, but it does. For as long as I can remember, my brain has operated this way. Liking things it shouldn’t. Split down the middle. True left brain, right brain type of situation. Except, these brains feel like they’re supposed to be in different bodies. They shouldn’t be together in one skull.


Right on cue, over my left shoulder, I hear his voice. I lower my headphones.

“You thinking about us again?”

From my right shoulder, a gentler, softer voice.

“Leave him alone, Ray.”

“Why do you have to be this way, Art?”

“Be what way?”

“You know.”

Ray sat on my shoulder. “Are you hearing him again? Always trying to protect you, like you can’t protect yourself?” He exhaled a dismissive lip smack and sprayed my cheek with saliva.

“I know you can protect yourself,” Art said. “I’m just here to help.”

“Help?! What have you ever done to help?” Ray stood again.

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t really want to talk right now.”

“What else do you have going on?” Ray asked.

Art interjected. “Let’s just leave him alone, okay?”

“No, really. Where are you going? We’ve been on this bus for too long. Wasn’t your stop back there?”

“No… I just… I just needed to clear my head.”

“Right,” Art said. “And us being here isn’t helping. Ray, let’s go.”

“We can help,” Ray said. “What’s on your mind? Let’s talk it through.”

“I just feel a little lost at the moment. I have no money, no future, and I’m just not sure what I need to do to turn it all around, you know?”

“Well, we can fix all of that for you,” Ray said with an excitement in his voice. “First problem, let’s go rob a bank. Super easy. I think there’s one just up here.”

“Hold on.” It was Art, I could feel him pacing on my shoulder. “We’re not just going to rob a bank.”

“Why not?”

“Well for one, you could get killed. What if they have a gun behind the register?”

“Well then your second problem is solved!” Ray laughed. He always had a dark sense of humor. A smirk ran across my face, too.

“No. Look.” Art leaned in closer. “Robbing a bank isn’t going to solve anything. It’s going to make everything first. On Monday, let’s go talk to your manager about a raise.”

Ray laughed again. “Our man is slinging burgers. Nobody’s going to give him a raise.”

“And that will open up more doors for us. Maybe we can go to some classes and figure out what we want to do, okay?”

“Look, we’re going to rob that bank, get some money, and then go party. Immediate help to solve your problems.”

All I could do was sigh. The two sides of my brain wanted separate things. Robbing a bank sounded exciting, and I could use the money. Besides, who was it going to hurt? The bank? With millions of dollars and billionaire executives? Doubtful. I think most bank employees are trained to just hand over money these days. I doubt anyone would even hesitate. It all sounded so easy, and besides, we were in the “good part” of town now, I bet the bank had a lot of reserves.

But I knew it was wrong. It wasn’t mine. I couldn’t just take it. That would be bad. My mother would scold me for it. Society would always be looking at me sideways. I wouldn’t have earned anything. It would be bad. Right?

“Are we doing this or what?” Ray asked.

“I don’t even have a mask or anything. They’ll see my face.”

“No. We are not doing this.”

“Shut up, Art.”

He turned his focus back to me. “We cannot do this. You know that. This is bad. This isn’t right. This isn’t moral.”

“Moral?” Ray questioned. “You want to take about morals? In this world?”

“I don’t think now is the time for philosophical discussion, Ray.”

“The boss wouldn’t be happy to hear you say that.”

Art sighed in sync with me.

“Hey…” A third voice came from behind. An unfamiliar voice. I turned to find an old man with short hair and faded tattoos across his forehead. “I heard you talking,” he said. “Angels?”

I nodded. Everyone called them something different.

“I got ya,” he said. From beneath his seat, he unveiled a box. It seemed heavy as he lifted it and dropped it on the open seat next to him. “Got a whole bunch of ‘em.” His hot breath smelled like alcohol. He swung the lid of the box open. Inside were a dozen tiny boxes, with silver scrawls across the top. One said ‘Rodrigo.’ Another said ‘Dave.’

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Angels for sale. Or swap. Whatever you want. Sounded like one of yours might be causing you problems.”

I nodded.

“So get a new one.”

“Hey, what’s that?” I could feel Ray walking toward my chest, probably peering over for a better view.

I looked at the old man, flashing some kind of sideways, broken smile. I glanced at the box, and the new possibilities within. I snapped my hand toward my shoulder and grabbed Ray, squeezing probably harder than I should have, as he let out a loud squeal.

“I’ll trade this one,” I said.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Ray said. “You can’t trade me. You can’t do that. Can he do that, Art?” Art remained silent on my other shoulder.

“Which one looks good?” The old man asked.

“I don’t care, just get rid of this one.” I shoved Ray toward the man, who obliged, and grasped the angel between two hands. Ray objected the whole time, but his voice became muffled once in the old man’s hands.

“I think Ollie would be good for you. Go ahead,” he nodded toward the box, “take it.”

I reached over and grabbed the box scribbled with ‘Ollie’ across the top. I opened the box and a blur flew out the top, sounding like a windchime. The blur touched the top of the bus before landing back down on my lap. He was chubby, bald, and was holding a tiny briefcase. The old man crammed Ray into the box, with more objections, closed it, and put him into the larger box, which then disappeared back under his seat.

“Phew,” Ollie said. “That was one hell of a trip. You my new guy?”

I simply nodded.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s get this party started.” He hopped onto my vacant shoulder. “Where we going?”

I could feel the tension fall. I jammed the headphones back into my ears and listened to my weird, beautiful, and unique musical combination as I slumped back into my seat.

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