Friday, November 29, 2013

2 minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have ONE minute. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

Sometimes I wonder how much of me is me. How much of me is a patchwork of anecdotes I've heard, books I've read ... things that I have forgotten did not belong to me. I think we are all like this. Maybe that is the reality of the collective unconscious. We are all feeding off each other's first day of school stories. First love stories. The elemental stories that define the miasma of life. Its glory and its decadent oblivion. Sadness. The bite of joy on a cold winter morning. We are all deep in it. We all share it. Some of us put it into words. Some pictures. Some people build vast machines that I can't begin to comprehend. I like words, myself.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


It wasn't that he found it. He'd known where it was for years, hidden beneath piles of attic treasure. He'd put it there himself. No, it was his decision to climb the ladder, find it, hold it. That was was the thing. That was what he said when his wife got home. Hold this for a few minutes. She was upset. Get that away from me! And he'd stood, it seemed like hours, wondering why he couldn't let it go.

He didn't know why he had finally decided to exhume the thing, but it was done. Dinner was a bland, vast silence. After dinner was no better. He listened to her night time sounds. Water running. Tooth brush bristles. Still, he sat in the living room. He couldn't put it down.

There are some things that hurt so badly that they transcend pain. They are too big to process. Then, there are the small triumphs. The occasional true victory. All these things spice up the routine. And without the spice, things get simple. Simple is not always good. Sometimes it is merely simple.

He turned it in his hands, and his mind went blank. The room was now near-dark. His wife was snoring softly. Shadows flitted around corners. He had that uncomfortable feeling that things were darting right in front of his face. That he was missing them, whatever they were.

He stood and looked out the window, turning it slowly. Feeling the scuffed edges. His focus shifted between the street and his reflection. The street was quiet, festooned with old fast food bags and cigarette butts. He was him. Thin. Everything was thin. Thin hair, thin arms ... his face was painfully thin. It wasn't his fault. Food didn't taste the same as it used to.

He was lonely ... lonely in a way that he could not explain, even to her. He was lonely at parties, with his friends, in his wife's embrace. He knew it. He tried to fix it. Internal monologue that was so loud he was sure everyone could hear: She's your wife! She loves you. She's holding you. You're supposed to feel comfort! You're supposed to feel fucking something! 

He played his role. Sometimes, he caught himself chuckling at jokes he hadn't heard. He agreed with everything that was said to him because the words took too long. They could never catch up with his pre-emptive self-loathing. So, he nodded. Right. Right. Certainly. Yes, yes. Never understanding.

It was time to sleep. He knew that. He had to work in the morning. But he could work tired, bleary-eyed, sometimes fatigue made the day go faster. Sometimes it didn't matter. Most of the time it didn't matter.

He couldn't even walk down the street. Strangers' innocent glances became assaults, insinuations, sly winks, looks of pity. Don't look at me! You don't know. Let me explain it to you so this will all make sense. So you will suck that look of sadness back inside your face. There was no point in explaining something he himself did not understand. He knew that.

When the phone rang, he jumped. Finally. He had known ... there was a reason that he'd gone spelunking in the attic. He reached for the phone with shaking hands. He knew that the person on the other end of the line would make it all sensible again. His hello wavered slightly, a gut-shot deer trembling before the fall. Is Michael there? A woman's voice. He didn't know what to say. He said nothing. Hello? Hello? I'm sorry, I must have the wrong number. 

The phone clicked to the dial tone and still he stared at it, gripped it with all his might. Wrong number? Wrong fucking number? You were supposed to explain. The phone never rings and tonight of all nights ... damn. Damn, damn, damn.

He wondered what a "man" would have done with all this. That was drilled so far into his brain. His father, long dead. Broken leg? Be a man. Broken heart? Be a man. Failure, ache, longing, pain? Be a fucking man, Nancy! But he wasn't a man. Not the kind of man his father had wanted him to be. He was a man, perhaps, in gender only. Or, as he had long suspected, his father had merely simplified the rule book. He'd taken a different approach. He had never told his son to be a man and, perhaps, it would have made a difference. He had his doubts.

The phone was still ringing in his ears as he slowly scanned the apartment. Everything was bright, crisp, defined. Even through the haze of half-light. It wasn't right. Was he drunk? He hadn't had a drink in years. What was it? A stroke? A hallucination? He blinked hard, letting his eyes rest in the closed position. When he opened them again, the room was back to normal. The pounding in his chest settled to a trot.

He realized that he was still holding it. Where would he put it? The mantle? The dining room table? He scouted places of honor inside small, dark rooms ... places where it could finally rest ... his hands began to shake again, and he was afraid he would drop it. And with the fear came the knowledge of his folly. It had been in the attic for a reason.

He climbed the fold-down ladder carefully, one hand on the rungs. He pulled the ball-chain, and angry light fell on boxes of Christmas decorations. His fishing gear. Her sewing machine. Piles of clothes and mystery. Things they hadn't touched in years. With a wavering confusion, he put it back where he'd found it. He walked slowly down the ladder and then to the garage where he grabbed his hammer and four long nails. The pounding sound woke his wife. He did not know this.

He brushed his teeth and washed his face. The harsh light of the bathroom made him feel silly, romantic, foolish, ashamed, angry. He turned the light off and pissed in the dark.

He climbed into the bed. He had never understood why the bed had to be so high. It was something he used to give her grief about: the high bed, the fancy pillows that they weren't allowed to actually use - he had stopped hassling her years ago. She wanted a tall bed with fancy pillows. A bed that always looked 'bed and breakfast' sharp. Maybe it was the one thing she could control. He didn't fault her for it. He did not try to make her feel small.

She was asleep on her side. He thought so, at least. He curled around the back of her, his arm draped across her hip. He felt her move slightly, an adjustment that, somehow, made for a closer fit. Did you put it away? He didn't have to answer. What were you hammering? There was no need to answer that one either. He knew she knew.

He kissed her gently on the back of her neck. He held her close until her breathing was slow and regular, plodding. He held her while she dreamt, sometimes lashing out with her arms ... sleep fighting. He held her until the sun wiggled through the curtain. The curtain that matched the pillows.

She woke, but she did not move. And neither did he. They stayed together. What else was there to do, really? Just hold on and hope that holding on is enough. They did not go to work that day. They did not speak. The words had been spoken a million times before. He thought about the attic door. The nails smartly embedded in the old, dry wood. He wondered how long he would be able to keep his promise. The one he'd broken so many times. Let bygones be bygones. He didn't know if it was possible, but he would try.

Friday, November 22, 2013

One minute. GO!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have ONE minute. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

Sometimes I take a vacation outside. Strange place, that. Lots of people. Trees that reach toward an endless sky. Smells are different out there. I find myself wondering what the world smells like to a dog. Either wonderful or horrible. Has to be.

I am not a dog. I will taste wind. I will feel the falling sun, catch it on my shoulders. Fuck Atlas. He can keep the earth.

Friday, November 15, 2013

5 Minutes. GO!

Hey, writer-type folks. Every Friday we do a fun free write. Basically, you can write whatever you want in the comments section. You have 5 minutes. Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So tell a friend. If you have one. If not, tell your enemies. 

His fingers bent in odd directions, splayed on the felt that was, at one time, green. Now it was a patchwork quilt. There were cigarette burns and livid splotches of angry brown. There were sticky spots where the eight ball sometimes just stopped. And it pissed us all off, it pissed him off most of all.

He never said anything. He'd just put his quarter on the table. He was a rich dude, see? It wasn't a rich dude bar. It was a bar for tweakers and drunks and all the riff-raff that washed down from the nice, wood-stained bars up the street.

I only played him once. Or I should say, he only played me once. The game was over so fast I barely blinked. I ground my butt on the floor and went and got him his drink. He drank wine and the bartenders were always pissed. But he paid six bucks for his glass of Gallo and we paid a buck twenty five for pints of piss. It worked.

The day the bar burned down, no one really gave a shit. There were other bars. Plenty of other bars. No one was hurt. It didn't matter. No one was invested.

And then one day, the bar was rebuilt. No one knew how. Not until we went inside and saw the brand new, splotched and burned pool tables. Not until we saw the cigarette butts on the floor. We wondered for a while. How much money had it taken? How long to collect the butts. How artistic the pool table spills?

He never talked about it. He hit that cue ball and drank his wine and never mentioned the fire. Not once.

Friday, November 8, 2013

3 Minutes. Go!

It's FLASH FICTION FRIDAY again. Basically, all writers are invited to do a free write for five minutes in the comments section. It is definitely more fun when we have thirty people playing instead of five, so tell a friend (and have a lovely weekend from the folk at ;)

How do you judge a good man when he's done wrong? So much tragedy can spill from a simple mistake. But that only gets you so far. You can wrap yourself in "there but for the graces of God's," but, really, you're just terrified that things like this go down. It makes your skin itch. It makes your eyes feel gritty.

I imagine the smell of terror. It certainly has a smell, and it speaks to us like Pheromones  I close my eyes and flex the muscles in my legs. I put my fist in my teeth to stop the shaking.  I don't have any simple answers for you. Them? Broken. Done. Everybody. And there are years ahead, years that will unfold with everyone looking for a better answer than, "what a terrible thing," and failing. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Accident

I hear it, even in empty rooms. I will always hear it. I will always grit my teeth and curl my toes inside my shoes, cringing. 

I can no longer remember sharp images. Everything has blurred itself into a frightful oblivion. I never thought anything could be worse than seeing it. I was wrong. Knowing that it is all still in there, somewhere ... that I am denied access. It is a warm, creeping anxiety.

I taste the blood. I still smell the burning.

My body remembers. The shock. Thrown ragged. My body is reminded by the pain. The pain will never go away.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Finally Bagged One

When I was young, the woods were my playground. I fished, burned things, made slingshots and bows. I used my scout knife to whittle absurdly sharp arrows that flew sideways and broke with astonishing ease. Which was cool. Because I liked whittling arrows.

I was a strange kid, which is kind of like saying 'I am a person who eats food', but it is true. I was a strange kid. I wanted, more than anything, to be rooted to a place. To not move all the time. And yet I was obsessed with birds. So, perhaps I just wanted to be untethered, but led by my own capriciousness, not the whim of the United States Government. 

I read about birds obsessively. I spent hours looking through my mom's old field guides and I looked for hawks everywhere I went. And I always saw them first. And my folks called me 'eagle eye'. And they were right. 

Raptors were my favorite. I stared at glossy pictures for hours. I can't remember what I thought about when I looked at the birds. Maybe I thought about nothing, which would certainly have been a relief. In hindsight, I worshipped hawks. They were beautiful, but strong. They were agile, but deadly. They were free to fly wherever they wanted, soaring on updrafts. They did not worry about where they would be moving next. They did not need friends. They were probably the closest thing to being free that my mind could comprehend at six years old. They were my heroes.

As I got older, I got better at making bows. I learned to make thicker arrows that flew straight because I notched feathers into the butt ends. When I was ten or so, I asked Santa Claus for a real bow. A compound bow that would send arrows into the heavens, straight and fast, plunging back to earth like a Peregrine Falcon.

My Dad bought me a BB gun. I don't know why. I really wanted a bow, but I was not disappointed for long. I was too young to understand that guns could be anything other than fun. And I was a good shot. Eagle eye, they called me, remember? I made a shooting range in our garage and it was a good BB gun. Pretty soon, I could shoot the flame off a candle. 

My sister was older than I was and she did not want to fly; she wanted to find a book that never ended. A wonderful book that would stay with her, day after day. Year after year. She did not understand that her spastic brother, four years junior, just wanted to talk to someone. She was the only one who was experiencing anything close to what I felt. But she did not want to talk. She wanted to read and to be left alone.

There were many things that I considered a game that my sister did not. I wanted someone to play with. She did not. I wanted someone to tell me that it sucked that we had to move so much. She wouldn't. I was annoying. She knew how to stop it. Fast. My stomach still clenches when I think about it. 

I loved the gun. I loved the gun because I was a good shot. I loved the gun in that way young boys have of imagining things that will never be. Things that I didn't even want. Things I thought I should want. 

I shot through BBs by the hundred. I also clipped Q-tips in half so I could shoot the gun inside. Tamped down the end of the barrel, ten pumps, that Q-tip would fly a good twenty feet. And it would fly straight, especially when wetted with Juicy Fruit spit. 

So, I shot Q-tips at my sister. It wasn't a cool thing to do. It didn't hurt, but it violated a lot of things. It involved pointing a gun at my sister. It was wasteful. It was immature. It was everything that I was not supposed to be. It was careless.

I don't think my sister ever said anything because I don't remember getting in trouble, and I still have the gun. It would have been taken. No doubt. I don't know why my sister didn't tell anyone. Maybe for the same reason I never said that every argument ended with me in the fetal position crying, the ache inside me spreading.

Things escalate. That would be a pretty good subtitle for the autobiography I will never write. The story of JD Mader - "Things Escalate". 

I never had a pet when I was a kid and I didn't really like animals without wings. I mean, I didn't dislike them, but I also didn't feel bad shooting my neighbor's cat in the ass. One pump. Cat took off like a bottle rocket. I never would have hurt an animal. I shot myself point blank with one pump all the time. In the foot. The stomach. Sometimes the temple. The eyelid, once. I knew the cat would be fine. It's not one of my prouder moments, but I wasn't one of those kids who tortured animals. There was enough torture going around.

I don't remember when I started shooting at the grackles and black birds that sat in the top of pine trees, level with my bedroom window on the second floor. I shot at them with Q-tips and they rarely moved. Sometimes, I would get close enough that they would flap away, indignant. I only did this when my parents were gone. I'd smoke cigarettes on the roof and shoot Q-tips out my window. 

I have no idea what compelled me to load the gun with BBs. I suppose, since I had never come close with a Q-tip ... maybe I didn't make the connection. Maybe the candle flames had been snuffed in my mind as they had been in the garage. All I know is that, one day, I loaded the BB gun, pumped it ten times, aimed at a black bird high in the tree and barely visible - an impossible shot - and I pulled the trigger. Just as I had been taught to do. Just how I'd practiced. I held my breath with one eye closed and gently squeezed.

When the bird fell, I was dumfounded. It spiraled to earth like the ducks on Duck Hunt. My heart stopped. I dropped the gun and ran to the yard as fast as I could. The bird was still alive. I had hit it in the eye, and it was bloody, gasping. Suddenly, the boy that I thought I was evaporated. Because the boy that I thought I was would never have shot a bird. And if he did, and it didn't die, he would have put it out of its misery. Like a man.

The boy that I was did something I will never forgive him for. He ran inside and got two plastic bags. He put the bird in the bags. He watched it open and close its beak, making intricate patterns in the blood that smeared the inside of the plastic. 

The bird wouldn't die. 

I didn't know what to do. The gun was upstairs. I was in the yard, tears streaming down my face, a dying bird suffocating in my hand. I remember thinking how beautiful the ink black feathers were. 

I dug in the dirt with my hands, frantic. I tore my fingernails and pulled roots and stones from beneath my mother's favorite bush. I put the bird inside the grave, still alive when I put it in the ground. Still alive when I scooped handfuls of dirt on it. Still alive when I went upstairs and washed my hands and put the BB gun in the back of my closet. I knew I would not get caught and that was the worst part. 

I know the bird died eventually, but in my mind, it will always be under eight inches of dirt, gasping, eyeless, with it's head pressed against bloody Zip-Lock.