Monday, July 25, 2011

The drunken pencil.

      A man named John wakes up.  It is Monday morning.  His eyes and throat burn with regret.  There is a film of bourbon sweat on his forehead and upper lip.  His forehead is wrinkled and creased with age.  John is 42 years old.
     John woke up because the alarm woke him up.  He takes a shower because otherwise people will view him with contempt and snicker behind his back.  It doesn't matter what John does for a living.  The only thing that does matter is that he hates it.  He loathes it.  It is a parasite sucking the very hope from his shriveled heart.  Every day John goes to work and every day he smiles and agrees with something which, in his soul, he thinks is repugnant and devoid of value.
     John has car payments to make and his student loans never seem to disappear no matter how often he wishes that they would.
     Sometimes John talks to women.  In fact, he is relatively certain that he could have a girlfriend if he really wanted one.  There is just some block.  Something that prevents him from pursuing the matter.  He is like a bird dog that is too old to hunt.  John is only 42 years old.
     Beer cans collect beside John's stove.  He is ashamed of them, but he also doesn't care.  They make him drunk enough to tolerate the banality of his existence in the world.  Sometimes John thinks about the past.  When he does he usually thinks about third grade.  There was a girl in third grade that John loved more than he has ever loved anyone or anything since.  Her name was Rachel and she had hair that fell in soft waves and curled around her face.
     In third grade, John was the best artist in his class.  Everyone agreed.  He was neat and orderly with his lines, allowing them to fall onto the paper using his hand muscles only to guide their descent.  John flew threw his drawings.  When he was holding a pencil he felt free.
     Throughout the rest of John's educational career he got by on his ability to bullshit and the fact that artists were considered different.  He was allowed certain freedoms that he did not appreciate.  John thinks of this sometimes when he is on his fourth or fifth beer.  Sometimes he even picks up his pencil, but he can never think of anything to draw.


My stomach turned as I felt the bat sink into the
softness of Anthony's skull.  I had expected it to be
harder.  It wasn't hard at all.  I thought it would
feel like hitting a wooden block.  It felt more like a
watermelon.  Everything slowed down for a second after
the initial impact.  I watched his legs crumple under
him and he fell like a shadow.  Like all the air had
been let out of him.  He fell in rhythm with the
churning of my stomach.  There was a sickness inside
me.  I felt the echoes of the blow.  Felt them in my
spine.  Anthony lay where he fell.

I looked around me.  Nothing.  No one.  It was dark
and the night was thick with fog.  I reached numb
fingers into Anthony's pockets and found little.  A
few dollars crumpled in the pocket of his jacket.  His
cell phone.  His inhaler.  I took the money and the
phone and then I started to run.  Everything was still
too slow.  My thoughts.  My feet.  I wanted to speed
them up.  I ran for what seemed like hours and then I
slumped against the wall.  I wondered if Anthony was
dead.  When I had first thought of it, after school,
it seemed harmless enough.  I would hit Anthony with
the bat and that would be enough.  He would know that
you shouldn't mess with people you don't know anything
about.  Now that I'd heard the sound.  Now that it was
locked inside me, rattling through my body, it seemed
a lot more complicated.  I turned my head to the
side and the vomit erupted from me.  Even when it was
gone I couldn't stop.  I felt my body trying to push
it all out of me.  Then I realized
that I was crying.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


            Frank was in the backyard tending to the nightcrawlers while the rest of the family cleaned the dishes.  It was three in the kitchen.  Mom, Dad, and me.  Frank was on nightcrawler duty because he called Doris the Whoris a cunt.  Doris was one of our neighbors.  I didn’t know what a cunt was at the time.  Or what a whoris was.  All I knew was Doris liked to wear her red and black bikini all the time.  She liked to drink beer.  She made my Dad blush.  And my mom hated her.
            I was just glad to have a night away from the worms.  Usually it was something Frank and I did together.  He was 16, eight years older than me, and he spoke in a language I didn’t understand.  It was all ‘shit’, ‘pussy’, ‘fuck’, ‘cocksucker’.  I didn’t know what they meant, but I liked the sound of them and I knew better than to ask Mom or Dad.  I didn’t like the word ‘cunt’.  Mom and Dad were yukking it up while I dried the dishes, and I rolled the word around in my mouth, enough to realize I didn’t like the feel of it.  It seemed to be rough on every edge.  I knew it was a dirty thing to call Doris.  So, I was mad.  I liked Doris a lot.
            The reason I liked Doris was because she was unlike any woman I had ever met.  She wasn’t what you would call pretty.  She was certainly lumpy.  She was soft and nice, and she always smelled like straw.  She’d always invite me over for a glass of tea when I passed her house.  She even showed me her boobs once which made me feel strange.  She was mad about some complaint from a neighbor.  “For shits sake, they’re just tits!”  And then they were right there and I felt funny and Doris laughed.  “Honey, you blush like that, you’re gonna make me change my ways.”
            My mom didn’t like me to hang out with Doris.  None of the moms in the neighborhood liked it, but we were there all the time.  She was the kind of woman that children feel safe around.  I heard my parents arguing about it one time.  I couldn’t make out the words at first, just the name.  Then I heard my dad shout: “Jesus Christ, Arlene.  You know them boys down the way fucked her up so she can’t have none of her own.  Have a heart.”
            It had never occurred to me that any woman could be incapable of having kids.  I told Frank about it, but he already knew.  I guess everyone knew but me.  I was too young to watch the news.  But after that I was more careful about spending time with Doris.  I walked by more often.  I let her hug me a little longer.  I knew what it felt like to want something you couldn’t have.  I knew that feeling all too well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Blood -a Response to Clicking Heels by Ryan Novack-

            The blood was thick in his eyes.  Warm.  Slick to the touch…like motor oil.  His Dad’s suede jacket was ruined.  For some reason this affected him more than the smoking wreckage of the mini-van. 
            Was everyone OK?  That was the first thing.  That was everything.  And everyone was.  Battered.  Broken glasses.  A cut knee like a crescent moon.  The twisted metal had shaved half of his head and there was the blood, but it was OK.  His arm burned.  His back was numb.  OK.
            He wished he was dead.  It was stupid.  But he couldn’t help it.  He could still hear the screams.  He knew he would always hear the screams.  See the sparks.  See the center divider rocketing toward his face.  Always live in the slow motion nightmare that had just unfolded without his permission.
            That was the worst part.  Without his fucking permission.  It had all happened so goddamn fast.  And there was one person who could have stopped it.  Fixed it.  And he knew who that person was.  And he knew that everyone else knew who that person was. 
            He was dizzy.  He checked on his friends and then he sat down and started vomiting.  And then there were lights.  So fucking bright.  And police.  And paramedics.  And they were all very kind.  And they spoke in calm voices.  And he hated them for it. 
            And then there was the board.  Strapped down.  News camera in his face.  White spotlight.  He was not a violent person, but he would have given anything to beat that reporter with his camera.  Blood still in his eyes.  And grit.  Broken glass, they said.  He had already rubbed it in. 
            Rub it in.  He knew that everyone would rub it in.  He had no disillusions about the ugliness of the world.  It did not surprise him when he returned to school half-scalped and the first girl he saw said, “So, I heard you tried to kill all your friends this weekend?”
            But we are not there yet.  Cops.  Drinking?  No.  He had never been really drunk.  Not yet.  But, by god, it was coming.  Years of it.  He asked the cop if they would get in trouble for the cigars in the van.  The cop gave him a long sad look he would not understand for twenty years. 
            Is it impossible to lift someone into an ambulance gently?  It must be.  It must always be whack, thud, slam.  More soft voices.  Going to the hospital.  Call your parents.  Oh, god, please don’t call my parents. 
            He was lying on his back when they came to pick him up.  Everyone else had been released with minor injuries.  His were more severe, but not severe enough to keep him in the hospital where he was safe.  There was no talking on the way home.  His mom tried to help him as he stood, hands braced against the sink.  Trying to get all the glass out of his hair and eyes.  Dad put a stop to that.  He spent the night lying in bed, bloody, spinning, wondering if he was alive and hoping he wasn’t.  He would spend many nights like that, years, before he realized that there wasn’t any penance that needed to be paid