Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What the silence left...

It was like that shock after a shotgun blast. The whole world was offended by the noise. All the parts of it that he could see. He did like everyone else, he looked around with ringing ears wondering what, where? He was still reasoning it out when he found himself on the ground, tangled, suddenly with an extra set of arms and legs.

The boy stood up fast, but the man grabbed his ankle and pulled him back down.

"Let me go, mister."

"What was that noise? Why are you running?"

The boy considered his options. He decided, for once, that honesty was the best policy.

"I just put an M-80 in the mailbox on 7th."

The man swallowed these words slowly. He mulled them over in his mind. He choked them forward, tasting the bile. Hearing strong words and looking at the boy, scared.

"You gonna do it again?"

"Never. I didn't..."

"Run. I won't tell them anything."

The boy stared at him with his head cocked. He was on the lookout for traps of all kinds.


"I used to be an asshole, too. Stop blowing shit up. Deal?"

The boy started to run as he threw a grunt over his shoulder. He stopped, turning to look at the man.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. You'll get a chance to repay the debt someday. Take it."

The boy took off into a vacant lot and it wasn't forty seconds later that sirens came screaming through the neighborhood. An officer screeched to a halt beside him and asked him what he knew. Jim felt the delicious sweetness of the words on his tongue.

"Don't know a thing. You guys been shooting?"

The cop roared away from the curb and the man chuckled to himself. Something about that boy seemed familiar. It wasn't the boy, though. It was the whole idea of being a boy - some cliche he thought he'd lost. He imagined the boy sprinting through side streets, looking for a place to hide, and he could almost feel the wind snatching laughter from his lungs as he ran.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Spinner

The old man stood silently by the edge of the water. His eyes were squinting into the nigh-set sun. He was almost motionless, and the animals had taken him for one of their own. They did not fear him. He was like a tree stump. His body did not move when he made a cast. A quick flick of the wrist sent his small spinner tumbling low across the still water. Occasionally, a swallow would dip to the flying lure and the old man would smile.

There were times when the rhythm of casting could take him back in time. Decades passed in seconds. Sometimes, he would catch himself turning to look for Tommy. Then he would remember, and he would feel foolish on top of feeling the pain. He'd hear the voice of the preacher saying how it wasn't right for a child to die before their parents. He recalled being so angry when the red-faced man had said it. Now he knew that, cliche or not, it was the absolute truth.

He blinked back a tear and flicked the spinner toward a weed bed, skirting it just above the vegetation. Years and years. He could see the bottom of the lake in his mind. It was part of him.

He'd loved fishing with Tommy. That kid. God had put a lot of pepper in that kid. He was hell on wheels from the time he'd learned to walk. The folks at school had all kinds of fancy names for it, but he knew it was simpler than that: he was a boy. A boy who didn't like school.

Sometimes, he'd called his son "All or Nothing" because that's what he was. He was a passionate boy who lived by extremes. It made him hard to deal with, but there was a fire in him that was a pleasure to see. And he had been a good fisherman. He was relaxed at the lake. The sun melted the chip on his shoulder.

The old man was crushed, and was inexplicably embarrassed, remembering the morning Tommy died. Or maybe he'd died in the night. Regardless, he was dead when his father had tried to wake him. Shaking the boy gently. Then more roughly. Then with tears in his eyes. He didn't stop until the doctor had given him that shot. And, though he knew it was stupid, it shamed him. He couldn't accept that his little boy, though no longer little, was gone from the world.

He paused his retrieval when he knew the lure was right over a submerged log. He couldn't see it, but he knew it was there. And then there as a tug on the line and the old man set the hook. He added the crappie to the others in his cooler and took the spinner off. Before putting it in the empty chaw tin he kept in his back pocket, he took a close look at it. The paint was chipped. Gone, really. It was a battered wood color now. The golden spinner blade was still shiny. He watched it flop in the breeze, glinting like a little piece of magic. He held the lure in his hand and thought. How long? How many times had the little piece of wood, feather, and metal provided his dinner?

He couldn't look away. There was a memory tickling the edges of his mind. He wanted to think that this was the same lure, but he wasn't sure. It didn't matter. He smiled. He looked up the bank to the deep water Tommy had loved. He closed his fist around the lure and felt a slither of blood eke between his fingers. He looked at it and chuckled, rinsed his hand in the water. He put the lure away. And then he broke down his rod and ended another afternoon fishing the same way he had for over fifty years now. He stood perfectly still and absorbed it all. He watched the herons loop in a lazy sky. He heard the red-winged blackbird call. He could hear an osprey shrieking and there was an otter playing in the weeds, taking long strings of green to places unknown, even to the old man. He looked at the light dance on the water and smiled.

"Goodnight, son."

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Break

You weren't there. You don't know anything about it. You know what you've heard and the stories you've been told and you think that suffices. Like you're some kind of witness by association. That's not the way it works.

See, I saw the whole thing. And you can spin it any way you want.I don't give a shit, but I'm done...alright. Just fucking stop it.

I'll tell you one more time. I hadn't spoken to her in months. I was worried. I drove all fucking night and showed up to a dark house and locked doors. I went around back and jimmied the sliding door. The smell inside was awful. Hard to describe. Spoilt milk and cigarettes and that taste you get when a tooth goes bad.

I covered my face with my bandana and went inside, expecting to find a dead body. What I didn't expect to find was my little sister, sitting in the middle of a dark room, covered in her own shit, mumbling to herself.

You know what it's like to see something like that? It's cold and she's naked and just...covered with it. She looks at me and doesn't see. There isn't even a flicker of recognition. My heart burned.

I picked her up and said soft things while I dragged her to the bathroom. I got her cleaned up. Then I made the call. The white coats came soon. I'd make the call again.

You're embarrassed for the family? Are you fucking crazy? Be embarrassed for yourself. Think about the reasons you care more about your reputation than your daughter, and then be ashamed.

And stop going to the hospital. She doesn't want you there. No one does.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Excerpt from 'Joe Café'

The sun was not up, but there was a glow through the morning mist.  It was already getting warm.  Michael ran his thumb up the cork handle of the fly rod.  It was an absentminded gesture.  Like stroking the stubble on one’s chin.  It was comforting and it was sensual.  He pulled out line and heard the ripping sound of the reel.  Without really thinking about it, he cast back and let the fly drop right into the center of a dark, quiet hole.  He watched it sit on the water.  The line lay perfectly, almost invisible.
            The state cops had given up on the letter…the whole thing.  Not a decent print.  Nothing.  Michael knew he had to give up, but he couldn’t help thinking that it was his fault.  His job to guard the town.  His job to keep innocent friends from becoming targets and then bloody mannequins.  He saw that his fly was sinking and did a few dry casts before putting it six inches from where it had been.  He tried to stop his mind, but couldn’t.  He pulled out the flask and downed it in one gulp.  Recast.  
            Suddenly he was back in time.  Something he hadn’t thought about in years.  There was a girl in his class named Anna.  They were sixteen.  She had a hopeless and obvious crush on Michael.  She had indentations in the sides of her head and she was slow.  That’s what they called it then: slow.  He was always nice to her.  He knew it encouraged the crush, but she had enough kids throwing shit at her.  She was the butt of enough jokes.
            It was a Friday afternoon.  He was passing the gym and he heard laughing.  He looked inside and saw two kids he didn’t know very well…one was a new student, a pudgy, shifty kid.  They were standing on either side of her.  They were throwing her shirt over her head and she was jumping for it and laughing.  She was not wearing a bra.  Her breasts were large and Michael was ashamed to be looking.  That was the first thought, but it was followed almost instantaneously by blinding rage.  One of them reached out and savagely grabbed a bouncing tit.  Anna screamed, and then he was walking.  If you could call it walking.  It wasn’t a run, but it was like the earth was pushing his feet forward.  He was momentum.  He covered the distance quickly and his rage grew with every step. 
            The two boys turned at the last second.  Their eyes were wide and their expressions confused.  Michael’s first punch destroyed the bigger one’s nose.  His second punch caught the wiry one in the throat and he went down making mud noises.  Michael kicked and kicked.  Things began to get blurry.  He was crying.  Then her hand was on his.
            “It’s Ok, Michael.”
            He panted.  Blinked.  Couldn’t talk.
            “Michael.  We were just playing.  Don’t be mad, Michael.”
            He looked at her innocent face.  Pink cheeks and childish smile.  He looked at the boys on the floor.  He realized they were hurt badly and recoiled in shock.  He wondered what he should do.  He knew they would never tell.  He shuddered.  He looked down at them squirming in their blood. 
            “If I ever…if anything like this ever…if I fucking…you evil motherfuckers…you evil, goddamn motherfuckers…”
            He was crying again and Anna was pulling on his arm.  He shook his head fast to clear it and saw stars behind his eyes.
            He walked her home and managed to calm down enough to speak.  He told her that she shouldn’t let boys see those parts of her.  She didn’t seem to understand, but she promised she would “be good”.  Her house was small and dingy.  All the windows were open.  It was hot.  Screen door flapping in the breeze.  He saw a man in an easy chair with a bottle beside him.  Anna ran to the door and waved.  Michael heard the man’s voice.  Harsh. 
            Then it was gone.  He was staring at the fly, which was just beginning to sink.  He blinked his eyes and the pool exploded.  He tried to set the hook, but he was too late.  He leaned the rod against a tree and sat down heavily.

Available here in the US and here in the UK.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No Take-Backs

It was almost as if I could watch the words leave your mouth, round and proud and pulsing. I wanted to shove them back in, but I'm not that kind of guy. It was unfair, a stab from the dark of frustration and fear. It was an attack. I felt the sting, and the parsing of explanations did little to resolve the issue. There are some things you hear that you will never forget hearing. So be it. But don't try and tell me I heard it wrong.

So, I lay in the dark as the stench of awkward silence settled around us. It wasn't a martyr thing. I wasn't getting any joy out of it. I knew I was right. You knew I was right. I still heard it. It doesn't matter. It's in there now, with the other snippets I hear. They go back past my earliest memories. I can't remember a lot of what happened to me when I was a kid. But there are a dozen or so statements that I will never forget. What can I say? I'm a word guy.

I've said a lot of stupid shit in my life. I'll own that. This isn't an exclusive club. We are a fickle breed, humans, lovers. We say things that hurt each other. We get angry. It is the way you deal with the fallout that matters. For instance, why are you yelling at me right after you apologized? That's not how apologies work.

There can be a million apologies and I know you didn't mean it, but unless you're planning some electroshock therapy (which I might be down with), the words are in there. And if there is one thing my brain likes to play with, it is words. 

I sit here now, gentle hum of traffic thrum from the outside. Birds calling tentatively in that way they have before it rains. I look around me and see all the things that I have tethered myself to. I am not a hoarder, but I empathize.

So, there's no real point to this story except that this story is everything. Because this story is erosion. Because one asshole thing you say can ring in my ears for years and years. And you can claim culpability; you can take it back a thousand times. But, really, you can't. You think I'm just being stubborn, but I wish I could forget. A lot of things. I just can't.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


The match dove toward the sidewalk, a smoking rocket, a NASA nightmare. He pulled the nicotine deep into his lungs, and he felt time slow down. Just a hair. So little, he barely noticed, but enough. Just enough.

The rust red, crumbling bricks shimmered in the sun. He lit another cigarette. There was no point in postponing it. He just didn't want to hear it. Even if he already knew. It was like they had to rub it in. He knew she was dead, he didn't need some slick city doctor to tell him that.

He had half a mind to just get up and leave. But there was probably some paperwork to fill out. He stubbed the cigarette out on the heel of his shoe and threw the butt in the nearest trash can.

He saw the doctor coming, and he saw his practiced look of concern, and he felt a little sick inside. Not because she was dead, but because he'd have to hear the words come out of some asshole kid's mouth.

"Sir, I'm so sorry to tell you that your wife has passed."

"Yes, sir. I know she has."

The doctor cocked his head to the side and with his round glasses he looked just like an owl. Bud chuckled.

"Sir, would you like to speak to one of our counselors?"

"Nope. Want to go home."

"Sir, I think you're in shock."

"Nope again, son. I'm not in shock. My wife is dead. I know that. Now I'd like to go home and get to work. I've been neglecting the tomatoes."

"Sir, these things can be unexpected, even when..."

"Listen, boy. Don't talk. Just listen. I know my wife is dead. She's been dying for five years. This is neither a shock, nor a disaster. It's a blessing if you ask me. I loved that woman. And I don't know what they teach you in college, but I don't appreciate your tone. You did your job, now move on."

"Sir, anger is a natural reaction..."

"Listen, boy. I ain't angry. I ain't happy, but I am something close to it. Do you know what it's like to watch the woman you love die? Do you know what it's like to have the woman you love die and have some snotnose kid insinuating you aren't grieving right?"


"Jesus, son. I thought doctors were supposed to be smart?"

The doctor's eyes flashed and Bud cocked his head to the side like they were mirror images.

"Well, you go take care of your tomatoes then, sir. If's that's what is important to you right now..."

Bud's old, busted fingers wound themselves up in the boy's lab coat. Bud pushed him up against the wall. His face was inches away from the owl glasses.

"Listen to me, you son of a bitch. I don't like tomatoes. I never fucking liked tomatoes. But my wife loved them. And if those plants die, I'm going to come back here and kick every inch of your pretentious, ivy-league ass for delaying me. Do you understand now?"

The doctor looked down at his shoes.

"I understand."

"Good, then I'm going home. I'll come back tommorow and fill out any paperwork you got. Today, I need to water them tomatoes. Never do to let 'em die."

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Girls

The pictures are the hardest part to explain. I don't care, but I know it bothers my kids. I don't know what to do about that.

The worst part is that it seems creepy. Perverted. I get that. It's not. But I'll never convince anyone different.

Roxie died when the kids were grown. I loved that woman with my whole damn heart for forty years. Every inch of it. When she died...it was an ugliness. I don't want to talk about it.

The first mannequin was a whim. I saw her sticking out of the dumpster like a lawn dart. I got her home and cleaned her off, and then I didn't know what the hell to do, so I kept going. I bought her a wig and put some of Roxie's old clothes on her. That bothered me, though, so we went shopping.

That's the thing, see? That's the fucking problem. I remember that trip to the store and the snickering clerks, and I dressed her in the changing room with tears in my eyes. I bought her clothes that I thought were tastefully understated. No lingerie. Nothing like that. There is nothing sexual about it.

The clerks bothered me, but I didn't care too much then, and I dont give a shit when I take one of the girls shopping now. My wife is dead. There's not a lot I care about. But I did...and do...care about my kids. And it hurts me that they think their old man is insane. Although maybe I am.

So, Claire was the first. I changed her outfit every day. I brushed her wig and got her looking pretty. Then, I'd put her in the chair by the window. And things got better. I swear they did, and I know it don't make a lot of sense, but I'm too old to care 'why'. I liked brushing the wig. I liked seeing her sitting in the sun, the soft rays snaking through her auburn hair. It was company. And hell, I knew it was weird, but it helped. The kids, Jesus. They sat me down one day. Dad, we're worried. Dad, it's perverse. Dad, it's not right. And I smiled and reminded them that I had been very understanding of their quirks their whole lives. They think it's about sex. It's not. It's about loneliness.

Jamie was next. She was a dark-skinned black woman. Beautiful. She cried out for different clothes. She had a different personality. I'm not crazy. I know they're not real. She didn't say anything. But Jamie would have looked foolish wearing clothes that belonged to someone else.

Next was Melissa, a slim asian. Then Mandy, Jenny, Marcia. That was it for a while. Mandy, Jenny, and Marcia were all white women. Most mannequins are white. I'm not a racist.

The kids didn't like having them at the house when they visited. The grandkids loved them. Kid's do that. I mean, what are they but giant dolls? The first family portrait was the first big wedge. Dad, you are NOT putting your 'friends' in our family portrait. Hours, we argued. Me saying they were family to me. Knowing they weren't. Not understanding how to explain it. Just knowing if they weren't good enough to be in the picture, then the picture didn't need me either.

My son actually suggested I buy a three thousand dollar sex doll. He said he'd buy it for me, which is stupid because I got money. I told him again. It ain't about sex. He slammed the door on the way out. So hard it knocked some of his mother's porcelain off the mantle. I called him and told him he'd scared my girls just to piss him off.

Then the girls and I sat on the porch and had a drink. I had a drink, they sat there. They didn't do shit except look nice and pretty - like a field of wildflowers. Splashes of color all around me. The neighbors gawk, but I don't care what they think.

We're a big family now. There are twenty girls in all. Dressing them and fussing with them takes up a good bit of my day. When we all get to setting down, it's usually about time to start thinking about dinner. It kills time; I see that. I talk to them. I'll admit that. But it's like how you talk to yourself when you're whittling. I kiss them all goodnight. That's a little strange, granted, but I've sure kissed weirder things.