Dear Tommy: A Short Story

Dear Tommy,

 

It was the summer I wanted to be Hunter Thompson and Tommy got pretty serious with coke. An abusive relationship, he called it. But I never knew who was abusing whom.

It was the summer before college, when drug people were my people. There was this sense we were floating on the same ocean, and everyone else was bustling about on the shore. We could speak to the land dwellers. We could text them, even. But they didn’t feel the vibrations. They weren’t dizzy the way we were dizzy. They weren’t riding the waves, man. 

 

Sweet little Leila caught ADD and we had adderol. We sliced open her pills, crushed the granules and drew lines on Tommy’s cell phone. Leila got first whiff, being the supplier and all. From then on, she was good people. Sweet little Leila grew her brown hair long and pierced her eyebrow. She belonged to it.

We got creative with our addictions. A little of yours, a little of mine, and a little of the stuff nobody should want. We felt like chemists. One line adderol, plus two powder, plus a shot of whatever was around, plus gum that shit and you had a hell of a high. 

It was a hell of summer. I fancied myself a radical. We thought Baltimore was above the influence. Above weed and free love. High, up on a whole other level. I wrote pages and pages about American swine and the uselessness of breathing. Stories that began in Congress and ended in Pizza Hut. Or, more often, didn’t end at all.

 

One night we’re smoking something or other on my porch and Tommy asks what I write about, anyway. He’s leaning against the side of my house, picking at the peeling white paint mindlessly. Lost in it. I can still see him. Deep brown eyes staring off under overgrown dirty blond hair. Strong jaw jutting out, but still tucked away somehow, like he didn’t want to seem too defined. Lips just a little parted, enough to look ready for action but not committed.

“I don’t know.” I say. 

“No, really,” he takes a swig of the cheap Chardonnay we were into back then. “Tell me a story.” 

There’s this twinkle in his eyes, like he’s hungry. Curtis, another guy who belonged to it, nods his head and makes out some kind of encouraging words. He’s a big lumbering guy, with dark frizzy hair that stands up straight, like its been electrocuted.  Even crouched down on the porch, he looks too large. Awkward, like he’s on the wrong planet. I guess we all related to that. I shrug and hit the bowl. 

“Well, there’s this one about this guy,” I hit again. “Buck.”

“I like that name,” Curtis says.

“Let her tell the story,” Tommy whispers harshly. 

“Well,” I start. “Buck’s this circus guy, right. He cuts things, like metal, with, like, rusty scissors.”

Time’s a funny thing for drug people. It’s fast and slow; tides coming in and going out on top of each other, with the force of a monsoon and the size of a ripple after a small pebble falls through the surface of a pond. Sometimes we talked for hours and sometimes just seconds, but it all passed the same. That night, I may have discussed Buck on end or I may have mentioned him. I’ll never know.

“And this circus performer,” I continue. “He lives in this dystopia where Fox News runs the world.”

We laugh. 

“And he decides that the world has gone to shit. And, like, everybody’s got this pain balled up under their ribcages. And so he goes on this journey to find God and the source of pain–the reason it all is the way it is and not better.” I shove my head into my hands. “I don’t know. It’s stupid.”

“Naw, man.” Curtis furrows his eyebrows. “Deep.”

Tommy boots. Dark red with green chunks and a dank, acidic smell. We watch and wait. He finishes.

“Man.” Curtis hits.

“Sorry. Shouldn’t have railed that addie.” Tommy’s eyes are bloodshot, rimmed with red. He looks like a drug addict. It occurs to me he is. We all are. Grunge. Alternative. Kids without a cause–both genesis and crusade. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if we were breathing. Or, for that matter, if we should have been breathing.

“Don’t sweat it.” I shrug. “The dogs will clean it up tomorrow.”

The next morning I let the dogs out and the evidence is gone as easy as eating breakfast. 

 

I always wondered if my father knew. I like to think he didn’t. I like to think he worked long, hard hours as the Red Ginger line cook. I like to think that it tired out his eyes and dulled his mind, so that by the time he stumbled in and dropped down on his bed, he couldn’t figure me out. I like to believe all that so I don’t have to believe he knew and did nothing for me. That he never asked where I was or who with because he never suspected it was all wrong. I like to believe my father was as good a father as circumstances allowed, even if he wasn’t a good father. He’s all the family I have and that means something to me. I loved my father. Of that, I was almost sure.

 

It was the summer we didn’t go places, we showed up. Popped up, out of whatever oblivion we came from. A puff of magic smoke and there we were, sloppy and flopping about–fish out of water. We weren’t land dwellers and when we came to shore, we tried to bring the waves with us. 

So one day or night we show up at Curtis’s place. It’s the kind of decorated formstone row house that line the city streets. Muted purple paint with green trimming and a busted second story left window covered by fraying duct tape. Flanked by identical abandoned shitholes, barely boarded up and home to faceless spotters and rats. A black magic type dream catcher hanging over the door next to an ivory cross. We mixed more than drugs, in those days.

Tommy, Leila and I stumble out of whatever bus got us there and skip down the street, up the uneven concrete stoop steps. We bang on the wooden door–short staccato raps that sound like rhythm to us. 

Curtis answers. He’s wearing black boxers that are too tight and a grey wife beater, with a red stain over his right nipple. Funny, the things you remember.

He stands in the doorway, eyes a hazy shade of half-shut.

“What?” He mumbles, lips barely moving. 

“We came here,” Leila begins, before looking at me inquisitively, “for a reason.”

Suddenly, we can’t remember.

“Come chill with us,” Tommy flashes a stupid smile and puts two thumbs up. 

I chime in, “We’ve got shrooms.”

Leila’s gone silent on us. Shrooms. Pesky things. Sometimes you’re so in it, you can’t escape. And sometimes you’re under water and nothing’s really happening down there. 

“We’ve got shrooms,” I repeat, maybe once, maybe more.

Tommy nods enthusiastically. Curtis just blinks.

“Naw, I’m good.” Real drug people never say no. We’re lost for a moment, but we recover. 

“But, why not?” Tommy asks, stupid smile morphed into a drooping jaw and wide eyes.

“I’m quitting.”

I’m silenced.

“Quitting what?” Tommy asks.

“Everything.” Curtis’s face doesn’t move. “I’m done.”

Leila sits down on the stoop and buries her head in her knees. Tommy gets angry fast.

“You fucking scab. Turncoat traitor.” Angry drug people are unpredictable. Rage can turn violent, or dissolve. Sometimes it fizzles. Sometimes it fans. When you’re living so close to suicide, it doesn’t seem strange to be irrational. Hell, life is irrational. And in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, we didn’t ask to be born in the first place. 

Tommy punches the wall with his fist. Nobody flinches. We’re far beyond that. His outburst leaves a blot of red blood on the flaking purple paint. 

“Chill, man,” Curtis says.

“Bullshit you’re quitting.” Tommy breaks out into manic laughter. “Bull. Shit.” He’s howling like a hyena. He doubles over and tugs at his hair with both hands, blood dripping from his slashed knuckles. “You can’t counter counterculture. It’ll beat the shit out of your fat ass.”

He’s in an uproar.

“Keep it down, man. I’ve got neighbors,” Curtis says. He turns to me. “I keep shaking.”

I look him up and down. Tommy’s still shrieking, but I can’t hear it anymore. 

“You don’t look like you’re shaking,” I retort in a voice that doesn’t sound like mine. It’s high pitched, almost childish. It sounds like I’m begging him to not be shaking. It sounds like I’m shaking.

“I had to drink a little to get to sleep.” He clears his throat. “Whisky helps it.”

Tommy shrinks into a ball next to Leila, clutching his knees to his neck and humming. His face is bright red and blue veins push through his temples. 

“You should get clean,” Curtis says to me. “I don’t get why we turned to it in the first place, really.”

Neither did I, but I don’t say so. I pull my kids down the stoop and we get home somehow. But as the purple line clanks away down the block, I look back and watch Curtis standing in the door through the dirt caked window, his eyes still half shut, and I think I see him shaking. But I dismiss it–probably just the bus vibrations. 

 

We had chemical imbalances to begin with. They gave us drugs to right us, and when the serotonin and dopamine in their prescriptions wasn’t enough, we got our kicks elsewhere. We grew up in a place where the American dream waned and the people were left behind. This wasn’t charm city, but a confused conglomerate attempting to resurrect the dream that was. And when they couldn’t, there was always a different dream calling from the shadows, lurking behind the construction sites and grant money that never went to where it should. The city had chemical imbalances to begin with. We righted ourselves because we couldn’t right the streets. And who could blame us for that?

 

One night I found myself sucking Tommy’s dick behind the concrete ruins of one of Baltimore’s industrial era masterpieces. The kind of place that used to bustle, and now just sits there for kids to graffiti and bums to pee on. I’m not sure why it happened there, or how, but we both knew it would someday. I guess that moment felt as good as we supposed any other would. 

He finishes and I get up off my knees, wiping my mouth with my shirt. It’s dark and we’re coked out. Jitters. Heart beating fast. Feverish. Unsure if it’s happening, or just dream. Still, unsure.

We stand there, Tommy’s pants wrapped around his feet. I can’t stop swaying back and forth, but I think it’s in my head. Tommy doesn’t seem to notice. I sniff and smell chemicals and harbor winds. Cum and blood. My nose is bleeding.

Tommy jerks his hand towards my face and I flinch, but he’s just wiping the blood away. 

“It hurts,” I whisper.

“Just a dream within a dream,” he whispers back, an allusion to something we read a long time ago. 

“I’m in the red,” I stutter hoarsely, breathing uneven. “We’re in the red, you know.”

He nods. We lock eyes.

“I love you,” He mouths, barely audible.

I don’t love him. I don’t know if love is even real. Sometimes I think it’s just some great conspiracy used by the poets to sell books. I wasn’t radical. I was broken.

“Do you really believe that?” I ask. 

Tears drip from his eyes, staggered. He’s not crying, so much as dripping. It occurs to me that that’s what we’re doing: dripping. Dripping into waves. Into nothing.  Ruins that bustle no more. And the vibrations are an illusion. Hollow.

“No.” His eyes look through me. “No, but I wish I did.”

 

It’s a thing rare to get straight in this town. For most, the old factories that frame the city mutate into concrete catacombs, where the ghost of the great American dream mingles with the souls of people who died belonging to it. People who died because they belonged to it. 

Leila straightened out, but we all knew she would. She was a swimmer, even if she did belong to it. Swimmers are a slippery bunch. You can count on them to dive to shore when the sharks come around. She was in it for the thrill, for bucking her parents, for doing something stupid the summer before college. She joined a sorority and learned to do coke socially. She drifted to shore, and I doubt she’s looked back with anything but amused nonchalance. 

Curtis went on to work at the same manufacturing plant his father did. I hear he’s something of an alcoholic, but in an acceptable way. A few beers every night with the boys and then home to the girlfriend and son, who will grow up, experiment with drugs, and work at the same manufacturing plant someday if it stays open. If not, he’ll find another one just like it. That’s American engineering at its best. 

Leila and Curtis weren’t like me and Tommy. We were doomed by the drugs inside us, by the feelings that stirred and twisted and tortured us. We did drugs to keep from killing ourselves some other terrible way. But it doesn’t really matter, why I was the way I was, or Tommy, or Leila, or Curtis. We spent that summer together in the red, on the waves. And that’s got to mean something. God, I hope it means something.

Tommy moved to California that Fall and I haven’t heard from him since. Sometimes I look for him on my computer keyboard. I search for his face in the blank documents on my screen. I write about lost men, looking for answers in places that don’t have them. Sometimes I think I find him in sentences about longing and apathy, but then I lose him. A fleeting silhouette of the boy I once knew, I love him now more than I thought I ever could. And for that, I hope he’s dead somewhere, because wherever he is, he’s not clean. 

Then there’s me. I went to college and my father kept on pretending everything was alright, but it wasn’t. I wasn’t alright. One morning I woke up and felt done in. Beaten. Bushwhacked by my intolerable habit of breathing. So I did something about it. But that something didn’t work and when I woke up I was told I could make myself a better life. Put a little polish on the old breathing act. 

So, I did. And I shook like Curtis. And I booted like Tommy. And I went silent like Leila. And I found clarity, and all of that. And it hurt, and it still does, and sometimes I wonder if it’s better this way. There’s a song by Bright Eyes about drugs. I think about it a lot. 

 

I wouldn’t recommend it

But it is one way to live.

Cause what is so simple by the moonlight

By the morning never is.

 

He’s strumming my soul right there. In the words of Billy Joel, another poet, And so it goes, and Tommy, you’re the only one who knows. I thank you for understanding, even if this whole nostalgic explanation makes no sense at all. Knowing you existed, that another person on this planet has felt the red dizzy them up and take hold, makes it so much better. Thank you, Tommy. That’s what I want to say. That’s all.

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An Artist Lost: A Short Allegory of Sorts

ImageAnd when she closed her eyes, she liked to believe the world was cloudless and all the people were holding hands in lines around and through and under each other, atop the crust of the earth. And there was enough tension in their grasps that no one fell into the water, or off the vertical ledges, but all stood tall, feet grazing the skin of the planet, yet none so heavily that he or she was tied to it. And with the smallest of force, they would gingerly push in one direction, and the lines would move around and through and under each other, each person smiling as he or she passed another, remarking upon the weather, or the economy, or some such small talk. 

And in the middle of this perfect interwoven tapestry of people holding hands and making small talk, she was dancing around the world, between her sister and brother, feet just barely skimming the skin of the planet. And she was happy with this cloudless world, where everyone and everything fit into each other, constantly moving towards new climates and new economies. 

But in the midst of her euphoria, the image turned to nightmare and her mind wandered from where she wished it to go, and suddenly the clouds overtook the sky and all was lost in a deep descending fog and there were no places to run to. And the talk turned to debate about religion and war and the people clutched each others hands like vultures with their bounty, violently jerking the line this way and that, so that her feet was dragged through the tough terrain in a barren desert. And her brother and sister, no longer smiling, turned to her with ashen faces and squeezed her hand, demanding she pull her weight; demanding she choose a religion and support the war and push the line forward and backward and through and under. 

And she tried–God how she tried–but her hands hurt and she couldn’t stand herself up far enough to push properly, and the talk of God and death made her head hurt and she found herself pulling her hands away and raising them to her head and crawling into a ball in the crevices of a desert. And then the lines broke down and everyone went off to their own deserts and learned a new trade and forgot about the world that was, because life had moved in a new direction. And she was alone in a hostile climate, where the economy was always down.

And with the nightmare past, she opened her eyes and searched the faces of her brother and sister, father and mother, and found ash and clouds. And somewhere in the labyrinthian tumble of life, she grew up. And the story kept going, and growing, and never stopped or waited or even hesitated, but she learned to take up a new trade and left such fantasies behind. 

Another artist lost to reality.

God in Goodwater: A Short Story

So, this one’s a little on the darker side of the fiction genre spectrum. I think I’m a little too obsessed with the American southern gothic aesthetic lately. And I’ve probably watched too many bad movies. But here’s my attempt to imagine the unimaginable in a psychoanalytical fashion (if that makes any sense. at all). It’s short. Enjoy.

 

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Joe said, “Let’s talk about how you feel,” but I didn’t really feel anything, so he learned to let it go. Clinks the ice in his cup and grits his teeth a lot. Little gestures that aren’t grimaces, but mean the same thing. I never pay much attention to his condition. It’s his business, anyhow.

We spend Friday nights at the football field, watching Curtis dive and fumble. He’s too big to be quick and too dumb to be precise. Sweet kid. Bad brain. But I never criticize. It wouldn’t help. Besides, he’s Joe’s brother, and that means something to Joe.

Saturday is for sleeping in and getting burgers at Gilly’s with the old gang. The construction crew’s heavy lifters and their women. Townies who have no interest in the great wide yonder. We can’t stay gone from this place, anyhow. It isn’t the kind of ride you get to quit early. Reverend made that real clear, to me anyway. The others just kind of know it from the way he flicks his eyes during sermon, or grasps their shoulders. He has claws for hands, that one. 

I fell in love with Reverend when I was a little girl. I wore this yellow dress with white lace trim to his first service and when Jerry went to shake his hand, Reverend said I was lovely. I made Mama wash that dress every week, hoping he’d say it again. He never did and I learned not to love him, but I still liked the tone of his voice on Sundays and the way he tilted left when he meant something other than what he was saying. He’s small town that way.

When I told Jerry I was in trouble, he sent me to Reverend. Jerry always said that my father was the Lord, since I didn’t have a real one and all. This was a father’s chore, and Reverend was the closest thing. 

“What will he think of you?” Jerry asked, not really a question but more a gasp. 

“I dunno.” I’ve never known how to give men what they want, so I just handed Mama a tissue. She was sitting in her lilac chair wondering where we all went wrong and letting Jerry do the talking. Jerry always does the talking, even if he doesn’t want to be my father.

Joe said I was too clever to let a thing like this ruin me. “You could do anything at all, you know,” he said. He’s like that. Eyes on the highway. 

I never asked Joe to stay. I didn’t expect him to, either. He wanted to spread the gospels. He’s got a good path ahead of him here, but a part of me is still waiting for him to up and bolt one of these hot summer nights. Ride out into the sunrise or something. I wouldn’t resent him. It’d just be a little harder, that’s all.

I wouldn’t call my life evil, but sometimes I play with the word. Dance it around on the tip of my tongue. Reverend calls it holy, but I’ve read the Good Book enough to know the difference. I don’t say so, though. I let him think I follow his version of the scripture. He’s got claws for hands, that one, but I never let them sink too deep into my shoulders. Some folks got it in their heads he’s the second coming, and he likes it that way. Sure, I kiss his feet with the rest, but I cross my fingers when I do it. I have my reasons.

Monday nights Joe makes me dinner. We live in a little trailer on Rt One. A mile south of the Church and a half mile north of Mama and Jerry. It’s not much, but after three years we’ve made it our home. Joe does these watercolors and I hang them around the place. When we moved in, Reverend bought us a nice crucifix for the kitchen. 

“Next time you feel like cussing ‘cause you burned yourself on the stovetop, just look on up at the Savior and remember His pain,” he’d said. “That’ll put the Fear in ya.” Reverend likes talking about the Fear. 

Tuesday nights we go to Meeting at the church with everybody. We get dressed up really nice and hug the neighbors. Reverend stands at the door shaking hands and clawing, clawing, clawing. Joe’s as hooked as any of them.

Reverend brought the New Genesis to Goodwater the Sunday I wore my yellow dress. I suppose folks were looking for something to believe in after Pastor Daniel passed, or maybe even before. Something more than Adam and Eve. Folks wanted something to do, other than watch brothers play football and get burgers at Gilly’s. Reverend breathed in the stagnant air, heavy with restlessness, and stirred. Plunged his talons in easy enough. He was small town and people liked that, even if he was from away. 

Wednesday nights the construction crew works and I stay home. Joe likes the work. He’s a farmer, like his father, but he knows fire well enough. The men look up to him, and I think Reverend plans to make Joe his assistant pastor one of these days. A born leader, my man. A right disciple, even if he did get me in trouble. 

Reverend never blamed us. That night I knocked on his door I half expected him to send me to the Father. He didn’t. He just clawed, clawed, clawed. 

Thursday nights I spend with Reverend. Folks in town see it as right and Joe agrees. I am cleansed. But I never feel cleansed. I figure that’s why I don’t believe it the way the others do. They get to praise Jesus and feel pure, while I get dirty. And that’s what it all is, if it isn’t evil. Filthy. But I never say so, because I don’t say anything at all. 

It’s been this way since that first time. I screamed and cried and cursed, and Reverend said the devil had his hold on me. But I’d know the devil if I saw him, and Paxton wasn’t the devil. He had the face of the angels, and I like to think he’s among them now. I like to think he can’t see me from up there–can’t see Goodwater at all. There’s no God in Goodwater. Just the New Genesis and Reverend’s claws.

Friday nights we spend at the football field and Saturdays we go to Gilly’s. That’s life in a small backwater town where Reverend talks about the Fear and young girls get cleansed when they get in trouble. 

Sundays we dress in white and have ourselves a ceremony. It isn’t always exciting, but folks say they feel the Lord in the fire and taste him in the flesh. They sure drink a lot of him, but Reverend says that’s the way it should be. And what Reverend says is what the Lord commands. 

Jesus fed a mob with bread and fish. Reverend fed Goodwater with the Fear and Paxton. 

“Born in the blood of the innocent and struck down by the fire of the righteous,” he’d screamed over my wailing. “The devil shall be expelled and the children released from his charge,” and they clawed Paxton from my arms and roasted his body on the burning cross Joe built and Joe said, “Let’s talk about how you feel,” but how could I feel anything ever again? 

Eventual: a short story

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The idea of dying broke on her too suddenly and killed her. Her mother, ever the watchful guardian, had been careful to keep it from her for fear of the weak heart. As the girl’s health declined, the task of explaining the Eventual was deemed irrelevant and the girl went on dying unaware.

Great pains were taken to shield her. There would be no free exploring of her surroundings. All trips required accompaniment, for often in that place the dead were taken away through  hallways. If by chance she might see one, it was promptly explained the canvas covered body, with a hand or toe sticking out of the cloth shroud, was only sleeping. And so she never learned of dying.

Lacking strength, the girl often felt a sense of breathlessness, which she attributed to her condition. At times, she couldn’t breath at all and the doctors puzzled at her seemingly arbitrary attacks. As a young child she couldn’t vocalise her thoughts, having nothing to compare the feelings with, but it was the sensation of suffocating or drowning. 

She further believed that she was the only child in the world, having never seen another. She lived so shortly and changed so little in appearance, she did not understand that children grow. She was encouraged to believe that one day the illness would leave her, but she didn’t know what its absence would mean. The world outside her walls was mysterious, more unknown than the eventual was to her mother.

Having no peer company nor media (her mother was afraid she might learn of the Eventual) she was given poetry carefully screened for mention of death. In this medium of words, the girl found solace and comfort. She had never drowned, but she understood what the poet described when his hero struggled against the overbearing sea. She didn’t know why the hero feared drowning so, past it being unpleasant, but she feared it, too. 

Toward the end, she took to writing her own poetry. She had never seen nature save the goldfish on her windowsill and the weekly flowers, but she could write in imitation of her favorite poems, speaking of beauty she had never witnessed. Despite her age and isolation, she wrote movingly.

One day she wrote of the sunrise, a spectacle she had witnessed through her window. When finished, the desire to see the sunset overtook her. Her mother had never heard the child ask for anything with such ardor and passion, and although a worrisome woman, pleaded for her daughter’s wish. And so, one afternoon, the girl was taken to the other side of the building to watch the sunset. And there she felt a bliss which she would try to recreated until she was introduced to death.

The idea of death, when it came, made sense to her. Her life, always a breath away from the Eventual, was clawed by a the intuition that knowledge was missing. She always felt that there was something not being told to her, something she wasn’t permitted to understand. When it was revealed, she found what those who already know can never find. 

Waking feverishly in the warm bed she glanced at the windowsill soaked in the rays of the early morning sun. The heart monitor beeped strongly and outside the closed doors, the girl could hear the night workers hustle home as the morning staff arrived. Breakfast would come in an hour. Then her mother. Then the doctors. Then lunch. Then treatment.

She knew the treatment to be “experimental.” There were no guarantees, but she could be sure that the pain would be immense. Her mother, eyes wrinkled in the corners, coarse brown hair frayed at the ends and grey at the roots, would commend her bravery. 

“My little trooper,” she would whisper before kissing the girl’s head gently. Her mother would smile as she pulled away, and the nurses would take the little girl to a room where everything was white and smelled of cleanliness. 

Not today.

The girl felt a sense of calm that morning, awake a full hour early. She felt herself engulfed by the sunlight, lifted slightly from the bed. She rubbed her fingers together, sensing the distance between molecules, the distances between herself and everything else.

She looked around the room, eyes open. It was warm and glowing, a celestial chamber apart from everything outside the window, outside the door. She smiled. And then, while looking about her room, her eyes fell on the fish bowl, ruddy slime building on its walls, murky water still, goldfish belly-up. Suddenly, with no need for prompting, the girl knew the goldfish wasn’t sleeping.

The idea of dying broke on her too suddenly and, some may contest, killed her. The heart monitor broke into a single, screaming pitch sending the attendants running in a flurry of needles and electric energy. The doctors tried to revive her, but death would not relent. The girl’s mother was heartbroken, but would later admit she was glad her trooper was in a better place. None would know that a nanosecond before dying, when the realization first hit her heart, the girl not only understood death–she understood the sunrise’s glow, the breeze, the birds, the poems. The girl stopped drowning and smiled. There, in that room, she found for the first time in her life, there was no pain. 

To all those high brows: GET YOUR BROWS BACK WHERE THEY BELONG

Recently I had a friend go on a rant against blogging as some kind of mutation of the writing art form. I disagreed. Quite strongly. Blogging gives a platform to share, be inspired, and collaborate. You don’t need a degree to produce something incredible. You don’t need to be published to be validated. And you certainly don’t need to spell correctly to say what you want to say. The whole situation reminded me how much I dislike high brow literary folk. So, here’s a little satire. My not-so-passive aggressive response. Enjoy.

High Brow Buffoons

Tommy Tundra liked Sally Sandra, but alliteration felt out of place off the page and he couldn’t quite convince himself it wasn’t all a faze—a healthy experiment with slant rhyme and unmetered timing.

So he called a guy. You know the guy. The one with the answers and a preference for endings that fit the sentence. The one know knows where semicolons go, unlike the rest of us; unlikable, but useful.

The guy answered the phone because he’s always home, gazing out windows and rubbing his chin stubble, troubled. He has a lot on his mind because he puts a lot of stuff there.

So, Tommy asked the guy if it was alright to like something trite and the guy took the query seriously, as he was taught to do in coffee shops and independent movies.

“I’ll get back to you,” he said. Keep them in anticipation, waiting and patient so the belated response is treasured, measured, and taken without a spoon full of sugar or any such helpful balance. The guy had many talents, mostly dicking around.

Tommy Tundra waited and Sally Sandra faded into cremated pages, killed darlings floating on the waves.

And then the guy called Tommy.

“I’ve considered your query most seriously,” he commenced, dancing the tip of his tongue on the receiver, hoping to be put on speaker and heard louder, farther, everywhere.

“And?” Tommy was no wordsmith, but a regular man trying to understand the intricacies of diction and alliteration and love, as if the three were one.

“And, no.” The guy replied. “Your brow is too low, Tommy. Swing ‘em up high and choose someone more exotic.” Toxic, dialect didn’t die but got appropriated into being insightful.

“Alright.”

And that was that. Tommy moved on and Sally never knew she was a muse for a day, or two. She grew her auburn hair long and started smoking cowboy killers while Tommy learned to stare out windows and rub his chin stubble, troubled and faking it until the end.

Isn’t it sad to think they were soul mates?

Humanity may, in fact, be doomed.

Sex and Livestock: A Short Story

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I went to school in Baltimore and it’s a very strange city. It’s hard to describe, really. I’ve been away for a while, so here’s a very short something/nothing from my Baltimore days. More unkilled darlings.

We’re drunk enough to think it’s the end of the world. Run around like chickens with our balls cut off. Jack hollers something about circumcision. Wrong operation, but now he’s committed. Goes for the only sharp knife I own, but Dan’s quicker. Throws the blade out the window and doesn’t look to see if it skewered anybody down there. Jack laughs and they argue about genitalia. Boys and their dicks. I never quite got it, myself.

The rum’s gone. We didn’t have rum, but we still lament. The rum’s come to represent the handle of vodka we killed. Drew warrior lines under our eyes with my red lipstick and slaughtered that nail polish remover. And now we’re drunk enough to think we need more. Drunk enough to think the bottom of the bottle is the end of the world. We’re making our own Mayan calender tonight, and it’s run on the consumption of alcohol. We’re more realistic than those fire-dancers. We get it.

We get it in our heads that going out’s a good idea. Never mind the hour or the rain. This is the decent part of town, anyhow. We want to breathe God’s air before the apocalypse. Smell the heavy, stagnant odor of Baltimore. A little of yesteryear’s metallic fragrance with the hint of homeless men’s pee. Great stuff. We want to scrape our knuckles on the formstone rowhouses. But mostly, we want to find a liquor store and reload.

We stumble down eight flights of steps. We find that friends who stumble together, fall together. Warrior wounds, we say. Jack’s got a winner. Blood oozes out a slash above his right eyebrow. He puffs out his chest and struts. Dan pushes him and we race out of the building.

We never get to a liquor store, obviously. Too young and stupid. Jack says the metal benches are sparkling in the streetlamp light and lies down. He wants to shine, he says. Dan doesn’t pay him much attention. He always let Jack have the spotlight.

I see headlights in the distance. I’m not a smell-the-roses kind of girl, but tonight I’m feeling philosophical. Blame it on the alcohol, or the indie movies, or maybe just my instinct of stupid curiosity, but I want to get it. I want to dance with fire.

So I slip my shoes off. The road is wet and I feel the dirt crumble under my soles. The headlights are twirling towards me fast. I stop breathing for a moment. Dan says something about getting out of the way. Even Jack chimes in with a look out, or what the fuck! Noise. They don’t understand. The rum’s gone.

I close my eyes. My body tenses. More stupid instinct. My eyelids turn orange before I go down. Slam my head on the pavement and lose the air in my lungs. A great pressure all over. I think it’s happened. The apocalypse. The rapture. Whatever. But my eyes open and Dan’s on top of me, and not the way he wants to be. His warpaint has smudged, deranged clown style. Jack runs over and he pulls us both off the road. I see taillights dim into the distance.

One of them demands an explanation. I ask why the chicken crossed the road. They don’t know. Of course they don’t know.

“Because his balls were cut off!”

They call me a drunk idiot and we get the hell home. Keep on living, and such. Reload the alcohol cabinet and the boys keep comparing dick sizes until I pick one of them. Sex and livestock: The foundation of an adventure. It’s always the same story with these types.

The Road: A Short Story

Here’s an oldie I wrote after watching La Strada. Strange place for inspiration, but we take it where we get it, no?

The Road

“So, what was she on about?”

“Some of that female bullshit. She goes, ‘You can’t tell me what to do. I’m like the wind.’” Don pulls on his collar. “So I go, ‘Alright bitch, you’re a fuckin’ tornado. So, why don’t you make like the wind and blow me.’”

They all laugh. One asks, “What’d she do?”

“Bitch got on her knees.” The men enter an uproar. Knee slapping. Gasping. Snorting up mucus in the back of their throats and swallowing it down into their stomachs. The lights flicker.

“Generator’s strugglin’.” Don wipes at the brown, crusty stubble on his chin, still smiling. “Lizzie! Lizzie, get down here!”

I come when I’m called.

“Lizzie, go out and check the gages, huh?” He puts it like a question, but it isn’t. The men at the poker table eye me.

“There’s a storm on,” I say. There’s a fucking nor’easter on, but I don’t make it a dramatic thing.

“What’d you say, girl?”

“Nothin’.” It’s a show, but I’ve never been one to heckle. I play subservience the way men play poker. A little luck and a blank face go a long way.

I want to be an actress. Not one of those life insurance salesmen. I’m going to act on stages that aren’t Don’s basement poker game. I’m going to say the words of Shakespeare and whoever else is great, and I’m going to move people. To tears, to laughter, to the edges of their fancy, red velvet seats. And when I’ve moved enough people, I will never have to check the gages on a generator again. And I’ll have Don killed some terribly bloody way. The kind of way that would make the nine o’clock news, if he was somebody worth caring about.

The men in the basement stay all night, smoking cigars and other things and talking about attractive gusts that have blown their ways. I sit at the top of the stairs and listen. By the time the sun rises behind the hazy storm clouds, they’re all down, drowning in their own drool. I get sick thinking on it.

We get thirteen channels. When I was fourteen, I thought Don’s shitty twelve inch was magic. I would sit at the kitchen table for hours watching the fuzzy picture, face so close to the monitor I could feel the airwaves in the back of my skull. I watched talk shows and sitcoms and soap operas and even commercials. Now, the thought of life insurance jingles makes me want to puke. I’m disenchanted with the thing. If Don ever dies, I’ll take a hatchet to it. Really make sparks fly.

I flick the thing on anyway. The only channel worth my time is TCM. Black and white beauty. Soft hues and fat little men who squeak after sweet talking ladies. The kind of woman that only existed before tv went color. When I’m on the stage, I’ll curl my hair and I’ll wear gloves and I’ll be in all black and white. I’ll be a lady, true and proper. I doze off dreaming it, head in my hands on the table.

I wake up cold. Shivering. The tv’s gone static on me. I turn it off. My hands are pale and cracked and I don’t feel quite right. Out the window, I see the snow has stopped, but hell if it doesn’t feel like the arctic in the house. I stand up stiffly and my head feels heavy.

I fetch firewood and build a teepee, just like Don taught me. I listen for the men, but they must still be down. It’s almost cozy, but I’m feeling pains like I’m starving. There’s some squirrel meat almost gone rotten in the fridge, but Don doesn’t like me touching the food. I fall back asleep. Maybe it’s the cold or just god willing, but I do it.

I wake up in the middle of the night, fireplace dead and blackened. I’m still shivering and my brain is on fire. I tip toe to the stairs and crack open the door, much heavier than it should be. That’s when I hear it. Scratching and shuffling. A hushed gurgle. Sounds I take for waking, but aren’t quite right.

I’m not well. I was born broken, my Momma said. Skinny, weak, with bad breathing and a bad face. I was meant for the factory, or maybe just tied up in the basement. Louisa used to say I was lucky I’d die before they made me work. Lucky I’d die first. She was wrong, of course. Louisa died in the factory fire when I was twelve and Momma cried for a month. We kids got used to going hungry until Don the Medicine Man rode through town. Momma said I was the luckiest girl in the world, him taking me on as ugly as I am. But I know what Louisa would have said. She would have told me to run, because he was just keeping me alive. And hell if that wasn’t just terrible.

Sure I hate it all, but as I take that first step down the stairs, I get to thinking I don’t want to die. I feel that old fever burning through and I can’t get enough air to cool it, as cold as I am. I swallow down the urge to faint and hear a cry. Every step beats into my lungs. There’s laughter, but not the good kind. Mute, like nothing’s funny at all.

It’s dark, black. The lights are out and my eyes water with smoke. I get down enough on the stairs and see three silhouetted figures, red tipped cigars burning in their mouths. And there tied to the table is another figure, a bright lamp shining right on him while the vultures circle round. I reach the bottom step and stop. Maybe I can’t move, maybe I don’t want to. I fall. They see that and suddenly they’re towering over me.

“What’s this?” one grumbles.

“It’s that girl he keeps,” another answers. Their faces blur a thousand miles above me.

“A man like that got no business keeping a thing like this.”

“What we gonna do with her?”

“She looks like she ain’t been fed for days.”

“It wouldn’t be no surprise.”

“Hey, girl,” the biggest one squats down next to me and brushes the hair off my forehead. “Damn, she’s burning up!”
“What we gonna do with her?”

The biggest one picks me up in his arms and walks me to the poker table. I don’t want to see, but all I can manage is a whimper. Helpless. Don’s strapped down, bleeding into the playing cards and barely breathing. Face, a swirl of blue and red bright under the harsh lamp. Helpless.

“Don, what business you got with a thing like this?” The biggest ones asks. Don gurgles and coughs up blood. “Well go on and answer, man.”

“She my wife.” Don doesn’t so much talk as mumble.

“Young taste.”

“Leave her lone. She belongs to me.”

“Oh, is that right?” He lies me on the table next to Don and I feel blood, still warm, soak into my clothes. “That right, girl?”

“Yessir,” I whisper.

“She belongs to me. I paid for her fair.” Don says.

“How much he pay?” The other men are around now. One’s shaking his head, like he don’t quite understand what he’s seeing. I don’t like him for that. They’re the ones who put us here.

Don answers. “Five hundred dollars.” He swallows down blood. “All fair.”

“Do you think that’s fair, kid?” The biggest one looks at me and I realize he’s got these blue eyes, almost nice.

“She’s sick. Lemme up to fix her,” Don says, a little stronger. “She ain’t right. She needs her medicine. Look at her.”

“Oh, I’m looking, Don.” He is looking, but I can’t tell if I like the way he’s doing it. “You know what I see?”

“You lay one fucking hand on her and I swear it, I’ll–” Don coughs and blood comes out of his mouth. All the men shuffle uneasy, except the biggest one. He just keeps looking.

“Come off it. I’m not sick as you is.” And now he’s looking at Don, like he’s got a bad taste on his tongue. He’s looking at Don like he wants to kill him, and just like that I don’t want him to. Because Don’s good to me, when nobody’s watching. Don kept me alive, even if death’s better. Don paid his five hundred dollars, all fair.

“Please leave us lone,” I whisper. “We ain’t done nothing.”

“Would you look at that! Girl’s gone and stuck her head out for you, Don. I suppose we all have some sort of purpose in life.” The biggest one laughs a little. “But girl, this man’s done me wrong. And a when a man does another man wrong, he’s got to pay. Don’t that sound all fair?”

“Please leave him lone.” I can’t breathe. The yellow light’s shining right into my eyes and it stings.

“Joe, maybe we should let him fix the kid?” One of the men says. Joe doesn’t move, just keeps staring down into us.

“You ain’t a good man, Don. And if you ever try to take money from me or my kin again, I’ll skin you alive.” He leans down, casting a shadow. “Feed her something.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out twenty dollars. Stuffs the money in my hand and the other men slash the ropes holding Don down. They walk up the stairs, leave, and I never see them again. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to really dying, and I don’t know just how lucky I am.

I want to be an actress. Someday I’ll leave this house out in the woods and go somewhere away from the snow. Maybe I’ll find Mamma and the kids, but probably not. They got their five hundred dollars out of me, all fair.

Don took Joe’s money and put it toward a new poker table. Fixed me right with a lot of herbs and never said that I saved his life. He isn’t one for thank you. That’s alright by me. I know my place. We all need someone to love and be loved by. I got Don, and maybe it isn’t black and white, but I suppose it’s real. I’m like that woman from his story. Never mind that she probably isn’t real. I’m like the wind, just passing through the cracks and freezing. And someday the wind will stop blowing. Be it luck or because God’s fair, the wind got to stop blowing.

Mush: A Short Story

I’ve recently posted some pretty heavy stuff from my life and I’m in danger of making my blog a bit of a bummer. So, here’s a cutesy little piece about killing bugs to lighten the mood. Thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive. This blogosphere is pretty neat stuff…

 

MUSH

 

I’m bringin’ home my baby bumblebee. Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?”

“Whatcha doin’?”

Ouch, it stung me!

“Whatcha singin’?”

I’m squishin’ up my baby bumblebee. Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?”

“Whatcha got?”

“It’s dead!” She laughs. Her cheeks redden.

“What’s dead?”

“The buuuuug.” She draws out the word, spraying saliva into the air. 

“I like it.” 

“You want it?”

“Are you sure it’s dead?”

“Uh huh.”

“Ok.”

The bug has become putty in her palm. She uses her finger to slide the mush onto Jeremy’s hand. 

“It’s slimy.” He giggles.

“And fuzzy!” 

They giggle together, pressing the mush between their fingers. 

“It’s all over me!” He lifts his hand toward the sun.

“It feels like jello.”

“Hmm.”

They stand for a moment, starring at the mush.

He raises his hand to his lips. Her eyes widen. His lips part. She gasps. His tongue extends out. Her mouth opens. A breeze blows. Tongue touches mush. 

“It don’t taste like jello!”

Laughter echoes through the playground. The boy’s face contorts. He spits and giggles. She falls onto the pavement. They can’t stop laughing. 

He stops laughing and looks into her eyes. She stops laughing, too. 

“I like mush,” he says.

“Me, too! I like dead bugs, too.”

“I kinda like something else, too.” He shuffles his feet, kicking up dust clouds.

“Whatcha like?”

“I don’t wanna say.”

“Can we smush it?” 

“Naw. We can’t smush it.”

She looks down and rubs her hand against the pavement, wiping off the mush. 

“Oh. I like to smush things.”

He sits down. She keeps wiping her hand. He stares at his mush.

“I like somethin’ with gold hair.”

“Gold hair?”

“Uh huh. That’s what my mom says it has. Gold hair.”

“Gold hair?”

“Uh huh.” She looks up.

“You wanna know what I like?”

“You sure you can’t smush it?”

“No!” He looks away. “I don’t wanna smush it!”

“Why not?”

“I don’t wanna kill it!”

“Well that’s no fun!”

“It’s lots of fun!”

“It don’t sound fun to me.”

“You don’t know nothin’!”

“Do to!”

“Do not!”

“Do to!”
“Well, I don’t like it no more, so there!”

“Fine!”

“Fine!”

He gets up and walks toward the school. A line has formed. He joins it. The bell rings. She jumps up and follows. Everyone goes inside. He doesn’t wash his hand for days. 

Lunar Landings: A Poem of Sorts

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I remember him blue balled and too tall, a tool in a belt full of Adderall, the day all the lacy underwire bras were on sale at the lingerie shop. I said let’s talk, but not anything real. Let’s talk stocks. Weather and pop culture. Just keep blabbering, baby, don’t stop. So we talked about fuck all and love and stuff we didn’t want. I didn’t want him and that was enough. I didn’t like confiding and he couldn’t listen. Shit if we weren’t just fishing for reasons to make a connection and separate it from the other ill-fated selections we carried as facebook friends and nothing more. Whoever said friendship lasts forever never clicked UNFRIEND.

 

We didn’t unfriend. We didn’t unlike. We didn’t ignite or fight or fuck or die. We continued existing even after the sale switched from lace to silk. It was based on an understanding that the lunar landing was more than a conspiracy. It was hope. And that meant something.

 

Should I have loved him? Should I have blocked his cock and instant chat? Arteries clogged by fat, the heartburn keeps coming back and who am I to argue against that?

 

Blue balled and too tall, that’s how I knew you. I was a whore in a lingerie store with laced bras and cigarettes. Wondering if it was over yet. Still wondering if it’s over yet.

Some Untitled Flash Fiction

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They say a lot of things she wishes were true. Maria’s sitting cross-legged in her two-car garage smoking dope. John’s suffocating a whorehouse downtown with his problems. The ice dams on the roof broke through the shingles and now the kitchen wallpaper is peeling. Gardinias in Bloom. That’s what Home Depot called it. Maria liked the green and white colors and John never cared. He certainly doesn’t now and she doesn’t blame him–not for leaving, anyway. It wouldn’t matter if she did care. He left and they both feel left behind. She watches the smoke spiral off into oblivion. It’s just another play-dough house crumbling in on itself. Just another baby who died and left its parents blazing and fucking and fucked up. It’s a quick snap shot fraying at the edges and if they say it doesn’t hurt anymore, maybe at least it doesn’t hurt so bad.