Friday, February 3, 2017

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.

There is no sadness in it - merely a sense of resignation. It wears on you like water; you can shake it off, but in the long run it will wear you down. Carve canyons through the softer parts of you. So, listen to the rain and try to just breathe. You will be sick, inside and out. You will suffer, and there will be no dignity in the suffering. You will be human, and sometimes you will not be able to rise to the occasion.

You crinkle your nose, repelled by the smell. You cross streets to avoid confrontation. You are in the fallout bunker of your mind, silently tallying canned goods. You can never be too prepared. You can never be fully ready. You have to accept these things. This is no time for giving yourself the benefit of the doubt.

Slogging through the rain, you will chuckle and shake your head. Try to tell stories to folks long dead. You can't help yourself - you grant yourself these superstitions. It's only fair. Things are complicated, and you need to find some kind of grip. 


You're slipping.

The darkness surrounds you, but you don't make a sound. You hang your head just a little bit lower. Your neck hurts just a little bit more. You move slower. You wonder where the real you went. All of this is a waste of time. The train is being driven by a blind conductor. Or maybe he can see? Just has blinders on? You'll have to ride it out to know for sure, so suck it up buttercup.

The poison is no worse than the cure.


#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...

94 comments:

  1. Profound and poetic. Time does erode the softer parts, Life does it's best to wear you down. So here's to survival in the best means possible. A waste of time? I hope not, for all of us. Breaking and broken people write beautiful prose and poetry.

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    1. I think you must be inside my head... there is a point, after wandering among madness for so long, I wonder if my perception is skewed and it is I who am mad... thanks for capturing that... and letting me know I am not alone.

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    2. Wow. Marvelous. I love this line: "You are in the fallout bunker of your mind, silently tallying canned goods."

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    3. That Last line...and all the ones that came before it...Life in the post-truth era...

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    4. Yeah, this captures *that* moment succinctly and eloquently. Or *this* moment.

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  2. Wrote 5K over the last two evenings for an anthology coming out in April. This is a part of it I wanted to share. I call it Unmasked.

    The dream started much as her visualization had. A three-quarter moon held in the sky. The sound of waves crashing, coming into view as she moved out of the copse of trees and onto the beach. The sand was warm on her feet, between her toes but gradually growing cooler as she neared the water. She was dressed in a long white skirt and a pale blue tank that laced up the front, a shawl about her shoulders to brace her from the slight chill of the night. She walked to the water’s edge and just stood there for a time, drinking in the sight. The ocean always relaxed and rejuvenated her. The way the moon’s reflection on the water rippled and shimmered. She wished for someone to share the walk with her. A hand to hold, lips to kiss hers, strong arms to enfold her as the ocean ebbed and flowed in front of them.

    With a sigh, she turned to retrace her steps, and in the way of dreams found it not odd at all that she had no clue of her destination. She was just about to enter the tree-line when she caught a glimpse of movement. She squinted her eyes but saw nothing and so once again took a step towards the trees. This time she heard a dry branch crack and so her heart sped up, knowing she was no longer alone.

    She picked up her pace, disappearing into the dark of the woods. Not much of the moon could get through the dense overhead of the treetops. Her skirt caught on stray twigs on the ground and pine needles poked at her tender feet but still she rushed ahead. She stumbled over a dried limb in her hurry but kept from falling by thrusting a hand out and finding a tree to hold. The bark scrapped her palm but far better that then taking a complete fall or twisting an ankle. Breathing heavily, she leaned back against the tree. Hard to examine the damage done to her hand but she brushed what debris off she could. It would need to be looked at as it already had begun to burn and itch. Annoyed with herself, she’d just reached down to pull up the shawl that had slid to the crook of her elbow when she heard the loud crack of a limb directly behind her.

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    1. A romantic cliff-hanger! Well done!

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    2. Yeah! What happens!?! There is so much poetry in here. Assonance for days. ;)

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  4. A pale attempt to show my gratitude to such an incredible group of people. Support and inspiration that is priceless...

    She sat and stared at the screen, playing over again what she'd just read. Heartbreaking, and bringing back some memories that had long been buried. She shed a few tears, took a deep breath and realized that she'd had a cathartic moment. That there was someone else out there in the world that understood her pain. And while she was sad that they too had experienced such a somber and emotional ordeal, it made the world feel a little less lonely.

    She went on to the next, and this one had her laughing, the endorphin rush easing the tightness in her chest that remained from earlier. Charmed, delighted in the lines and flow as she progressed. A sense of camaraderie as she took these words in, felt them suffusing, a slow and steady warmth that rolled through her. A comfort as she read the last lines and sat back, a steady glow of peace spreading outward. A few tears of laughter replaced the ones that had been shed just moments ago.

    Enthralled now, she began another. Such beauty in the words, such pathos for the human condition that she read it again. And then a third time. Struck by the lyrical quality, seduced by the sweep of emotions as they galvanized in her mind. She could see the picture painted so very clearly in the mind's eye. She closed her eyes to better savor the words. Haunting in their quality. She wanted more and so she opened her eyes once again to see what came next.

    Story after story flowed and affected her. Some enchanting, some thought provoking, all dazzling in their richness. What a treasure trove she'd found; a remarkable array of works. Amassed by those who clearly had a love of the written word, who carefully and lovingly crafted each word, each sentence. She'd be letting them tell her their stories for a very long time to come.

    She finished the last offering and sat back. They may only go two minutes, but the stories and the messages contained therein would be lingering with her for a very long time to come.
    -Tamara McLanahan

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    1. Ah, what a delightful homage! What a wonderful, motley crew we all are!

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    2. This should be the Foreword for the Friday Flash anthology! :)

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    3. Indeed. I love this. And the gratitude is mutual. :)

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  5. Too often I wonder what would have happened if we did. Did happen, that is. Would we be as miserable as we've become all these years since we had that chance?

    Or would we be the devotees of the arts we imagined ourselves to be? Accepted at an eclectic array of concerts, theatre productions and the occasional reading. Reviled by our respective families. The occasionally still carnal companions, heating the sheets as we did twenty years ago, only now beneath these snowy roofs housing imagined memories that I'm pretty sure only I have.

    Maybe I can’t stop wondering because, even after she told me to go to hell five years ago, she still contacts me from out of the blue, sending me these cryptic little emails about some song or artist she just discovered. Ones that I've been listening to for these same five years.

    When I one day expressed my love for her, unable to contain it any longer, she said, "I never knew. Why didn't you ever tell me this before now?" That "now" being her time with her lover that she left her husband for. The message, I guessed, was that it could have been me.

    But I always was the one who followed the rules back then, swallowing my fantasies, pushing them down, down, until they drowned in the dark well we altar boys hide on the dark sides of our hearts. But new dreams always seemed to take their place.

    So now her lover's gone and so, almost, am I. You can tell I've lost too much to age and duty to make another attempt for that special misery that's scarred me for twenty-some years. Besides, she's often said I'd never be happy with her, that she's a bad person who life's deigned will never find permanent happiness. Or even true happiness if just for some indeterminable moment.

    And then she'd melt away into those shadows that time throws, with the sun of truth to its back. The ones that surround me in this lonely bed. The ones upon which I draw her portrait at night in this black ink.

    But along comes another email. Another no-look, behind-the-back pass designed either to hit me in the face with her anger because there's no one else to pass it to, or at my feet, entangling them into another headlong fall. I'm ever tripping over our shadows.

    You'd think I'd know better by now not to play that game. I mean she readily admitted to being a cheat. But over these last ten, twenty years I realized she was a recidivist thief, too. Time and again, she's stolen my heart. But what else should I expect, abetting her as I do, always leaving it hanging out there for her like that?

    The nagging question remains why she insists on always giving it back to me only to steal it again, each time returning it more busted and beaten than the last.

    I guess she's a vandal, too.

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    1. This is really strong, my friend. You've taken a near-universal experience and brought it to an extremely personal level. The metaphors are perfect, and this one haunts me: "I'm ever tripping over our shadows." Well done.

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    2. Extraordinary piece about those kinds of love affairs that always exist somewhere between passion and a Mexican standoff! I LOVED IT!

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    3. This is gut wrenching, visceral and raw. It reminds me of the mystery of who ever came up with the idea that "it's better to have loved and lost..." Although we'd like it otherwise, Love is not always kind. A stunning piece. Thank you.

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    4. Boy, do I get this, yet sure wish I didn't. ;) I was gonna pick Leland's line, but equally good are the "shadows that time throws, with the sun of truth to its back."

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    5. Man, I get this, too. And Leland took my favorite line, too. I also love "recidivist thief" - I love this whole piece. Mad power.

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  6. Both saint and sinner,
    I walk this earth.
    Blessed with each sunrise,
    Long cursed from birth.
    My demons stalk me,
    My angels sing.
    Soul mired in sorrow
    Heart taking wing.
    Into this maelstrom
    I struggle to keep,
    My eyes wide open
    My mind asleep.
    The joys I suffer,
    The pain held dear,
    A dark cloud hovers,
    Sunshine rays near.
    With each new dreaming,
    While fast awake.
    A new wound suffered.
    A new lust slaked.
    But one day ending,
    If it be soon,
    One last new sunrise,
    Darkness a boon.

    -Tamara McLanahan

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    1. Not easy to maintain that rhythm, with such short lines. Nice job managing it!

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    2. Agreed. Super tight. No cracks.

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  7. Believe it or not, this is a time travel tale. Sort of. And there's almost certainly more to come.
    ________________________

    It was nineteen-sixty-nine, give or take. When the man in the marketplace began raving, it wasn't a market day, so there weren't many witnesses. One of the shopkeepers at Simpkin and James came out to hear the racket, the mammalian humus gist of cheese and coffee coiling in his wake, bitter and comforting. Scattered bystanders stood white-faced while the man screamed about impossible things.

    ***

    A red maple leaf flapping in a high wind. Twilight and the night itself shuddering. The drift bank of snow up to our roof. A naked woman materializes from the sodium overheads on an Arctic outflow prairie backroad, and Shelby takes her in, wrapping her in blankets and massaging her limbs with vigour. Cracking the seal on a twenty-sixer of Crown Royal, I daren't even approach her. She is like a witch to me, or a wraith. Ought to be dead. No one can last more than ten seconds in a Saskatchewan blizzard, 'specially not naked. Yet Shelby helps her. Women. FFS. I don't know what to say about that.

    Then I remember the screech I stowed after Bo McGuigan stopped by here last summer and left his Newfie gifts I damn near forgot about.

    ***

    "It's gonna matter! It's gonna matter!" the man kept shrieking. He looked like an accountant, a civil servant. No special marker, nothing to distinguish him. His soft tan coat was long, and he wore dark pressed trousers and patent leather shoes, no hat.

    Someone approached him to reason with him. We could hear "Mrs. Robinson" from a radio. The marketplace, a square, with its town hall on one corner and a bakery diagonal, the Midland bank on the other and a chemist facing, held its breath.

    ***

    The ends of her fingers are black, but she clasps the mickey of screech and upends it. I am mesmerized by the workings of her throat. I fucking love this country. All of it. Roots. Hope. Oka. Moose Jaw. Crosby's overtime winner. Timbits. Merritt. Meech Lake. The Hip's last tour. Kamloops. Solitudes. Massacres. Bobcaygeon. We kiss all refugees. We kiss our own syrupy asses while Harper and now Trump fuck us over.

    "We should call the hospital." Shelby's eyes are wide-grey and frankly lovely.

    "Girlfriend, we could call the hospital and report an ongoing massacre at Wounded motherlovin' Knee and they wouldn't react right now. This is some badass weather, and lots of folks are trapped and hurt and maybe dying. We need to deal with this by our ownselves, I feel."

    "She's frostbit, though."

    "Yeah, she is that."

    ***

    He just laughed. Told them it still mattered and laughed. Winked, even, as he was led away, to a quiet acreage on the edge of town where questions could be put.

    "You Brits. Living in the heart of fuckin' midlothian and dancin' down Petticoat Lane. Who the actual fuck do you think you are?"

    "The bigger question right now is who you are, sir."

    "If I told you, you'd think me insane."

    "We already do. So tell."

    "Okay. Fair. I'm from your future. The year 2017, to be precise."

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    1. An eerie story, told in your usual and unusual beautiful language... If only we'd been warned...

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    2. Oh. I love your words. Please, let there be more.

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    3. YES! YES! MORE! Especially appealing is, I think, framing this particular present in this way. It's WAY easier to handle seen through the lens of time travel! Bravo!

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    4. Hopefully I'll find some way to finish this and post it to my blog later. And yes, it softens the blow a little, Teresa. You're so right.

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    5. Man, this is dope piece. Such precision. I really like the structure, too. Works really well.

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    6. Here's the finished version, my good friends, that I turned into a massive gimmick. Title: Nineteen Sixty Nine. Word count: 1969.

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  8. As dentists go, he is a rock star. He has offices in Hollywood and in Manhattan. Those who fear pain know he is some sort of magician. Even root canals are a breeze, and recovery is speedy and uncomplicated.

    He has repaired the smiles of half the actors on television, bleached the tobacco stains from music stars, and replaced the snaggle-toothed grins of would-be politicians. And they tell their friends, who tell their friends.

    His own perfect smile hides a secret. He is in pain. He has a rare brain disorder that interprets the signals from his nerves as pain, even if those signals should convey joy or arousal or heat or cold. He tells no one of this disorder, of this imperfection. He diagnosed it himself, and he treats it himself, with an array of drugs easily available to dentists.

    The pain is why he became a dentist. The nerves in teeth can only sense warmth, cold, and pain. He knows exactly how deep to drill; a millimeter more and the patient will feel what he feels every minute of every day.

    He is single. His sexual partners are excited, confused, and ultimately exhausted by his relentless exploration of the thin line between pleasure and pain even in bed. They leave and are replaced readily.

    He has noticed something else, something recent, that sometimes the pain turns to anger; a high-minded anger that some might call a desire for justice, but anger nonetheless. He has not yet found a prescription for this complication.

    His renown is such that they brought him and his equipment to this city on a private jet, to this mansion in unmarked vans, into this room with heavy drapes. When all is ready, he nods, and the bodyguard leaves the room. Fifteen minutes later, the door opens. He does not offer his hand to his patient; he wants no risk of transmission of germs. Instead he bows.

    “An honor to serve you, Mr. President.”

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    1. I love this so much. I always knew there was a reason to be afraid of dentists...

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    2. I love it. Let that desire for justice be ignited! :)

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    3. Awesome. And FUCK dentists. 5 years ago a dentist did a root canal on my tooth. THE WRONG TOOTH! I haven't been back.

      Seriously cool piece, though.

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  9. (I did this one a few weeks ago, and can't remember if I posted it or not... so I'm taking a chance that I didn't. If I did, think of it as an encore performance.)

    Working on a metal roof in Colorado sun in July is, well, it's like working on a hot tin roof. My temperature was not lowered by the way the guy I hired to help me looked in his jeans, but I tried not to stare. Tried. Both of us were sweating as we screwed down the big sheets of steel. The back of his shirt grew wet from his perspiration. And I was sweating for different reasons.

    When you move to the country as a single gay guy, well, you figure you're gonna have to go slowly to get the lay of the land, so to speak. Keep your mouth shut until you discern who might be friendly and who might be a redneck. My helper had identified himself as a redneck by the Confederate battle flag on his bumper and by more than a few of his comments.

    Yep, this was a time for me to practice being the strong silent type.

    "It's okay, you know," he said, snapping me out of my thoughts.

    "Yeah, the roof looks great!"

    He looked over his shoulder, head kinda tilted like when a dog looks at you, wondering what the hell you're talking about. Then he smiled, with his tobacco-stained teeth and his oh-so-blue eyes. "I meant it's okay to look."

    I didn't have to pretend I didn't know what he meant, because I didn't. "Huh?"

    "You've been looking at me like a coyote looks at a squirming rabbit for the last couple of days. I don't mind it. You don't have to pretend."

    I couldn't think of a response, so I nonsequitured into "I'm gonna get a bottle of water, you want one?"

    He kept smiling and I made my way to the ladder. I just hit the ground when I heard him coming down, too. And yeah, I looked at the seat of those jeans coming down before I grabbed two bottles from the cooler.

    He took one. "You're not the first queer I've seen."

    My eyes wanted to stare at the ground, but I forced a look at his face, trying to read the words he wasn't saying.

    He sat on his haunches in the scant shade of the building. "Look, I spent some time locked up. You meet all types in prison."

    Great, I'd hired a con, well, a former convict.

    "I kinda take it a compliment, you staring at my ass the way you do." Still smiling. Eyes practically twinkling.

    The seconds ticked by, and then my own smart ass inspired me. "Well, then, you're welcome." I waited for him to jump to his feet or to laugh.

    Then he stood up slow and laughed, and put his hand on my shoulder. "We oughta get that last panel up there. I hear the boss can be a real hard ass if we don't get the work done on time."

    He went up the ladder first, and I found the guts to openly appreciate Mr. Levi Strauss's signature and he looked over his shoulder, smiling again.

    That day I learned an important lesson. Don't judge a book by its cover. Two lessons, really. Some rednecks look even better out of their jeans than in them.

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    1. Nice Job! All too often our own judgments call the shots, when it isn't what we thought at all!

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    2. Ha, I love the whole thing, but I especially love that you verbed non sequitur!

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    3. ha! that felt sacrilegious, but fuck that Thanks for the kind words.

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  10. (Um. I have no explanation for this.)

    In the back of your desk drawer, folded in half, then quarters, then eighths, then tucked between the unread pages of your Tiny Orange Book, is your list. It contains all the things you’ll do when you’re allowed to leave your house again. On damp, melancholy days like this one, fog rising from the ground in small, accusatory fingers, you make hot tea and retrieve the list. After you were released from prison with your prescription for antidepressants in one hand and the Tiny Orange Book in the other, a neighbor who had been a psychologist in the old days wrote the list for you as a form of therapy. She said that it might be too overwhelming to look at all the items in one gulp, but on bad days, like this one, when the electronic anklet felt as heavy as a battleship anchor, it could help to choose one item at random and just daydream about it for a while.

    You close your eyes and run a finger down the page. Stop. Open your eyes. You’ve chosen “make someone laugh.” Your stomach sinks toward your shoes. You have lost the will to laugh yourself; how are you supposed to make someone else do it?

    But somewhere in your mostly-functioning moral compass, you know it would be cheating to choose something else. You close your eyes and think of things that used to be funny. One by one you reject them, because they’ve all been outlawed. Satire on television, political cartoons, stand-up comedy. You have vague memories of being on a stage, saying things, hearing the sound of laughter. But since the hospital, you don’t remember the things you used to say. For some reason, you remember how it made you feel, though. It made you feel good. It made you feel like you were lifting some of the troubles off other people’s backs. People applauded, and when you got off the stage you got money and an invitation to do it again another night, or someplace else.

    As the fragments of memory ping around in your mind, you get angry. You start to recognize the emotion as heat rushing into your face, your shoulder muscles tightening, a churning in your gut. In the hospital they gave you a chart that showed different emotions, and a guide to how to let them flow through your body and release them.

    But this one sticks. It sticks in your brain like Velcro. You remember loving this thing you did on stage and are angry that you can no longer do it.

    The anger fuels you. You storm around the house, finding as many small objects as you can—salt and pepper shakers, candlestick holders, coffee mugs—and line them up on the fireplace mantel. If the anger came back to you, maybe the brambles of that emotion could rummage through what’s left of your memory and eventually the words that were funny would stick to that, too.

    You pace in front of your “audience” and just spew out random words that pop into your mouth. It’s all nonsense, like “Candlewax bumblebee went to the circus can you hear me now making America great again we’re winning so bigly now I got the best generals, just the most amazingly best, yadda, yadda, yadda…”

    You go for another few minutes, some muscle memory telling you that was called a “set” back then, and then something strange is happening to your face. You’re smiling. The muscles feel tight and strained and you pat a hand to your face to touch it, and then you rush to the mirror and see that yes. Yes. You are smiling. And just the fact of that, and the set of words that are now mingling around on the tip of your tongue that you remember once being a joke, makes you laugh. A tiny chuckle at first. Then bigger and bigger.

    It was only an itch at your ankle at first. Then a jolt. Then you collapse to the floor, twitching and writhing. Your smile freezes into a grimace of pain. Then your body. As the light at the edges of your vision begin to dim, these words fly through your mind: “A priest, a rabbi, and Donald Trump walk into a bar…”

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    1. Ohhhhhh.... wherever it came from, I'm glad you listened! I was completely inside the narrator's head... or the narrator was in mine. Second person for the win!

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    2. Awesome piece, Laurie. It's the worst part, feeling like fun has been outlawed. But NOT yet, Dammit! Not yet! That's the best part!

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    3. Wow. Orwellian springs to mind. This is amazing, Laurie.

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    4. This IS amazing. And there is no explanation needed for awesome writing. You can quote me on that.

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  11. I was nobody before the war, and I am nobody still. In the days before the war, we argued and discussed beautiful things, words, colors, nuance. Now, we argue over how much food each survivor gets, and we critique hunting skills. Mostly in grunts.
    There were those who said starving artists were the most creative, suffering for their art. They were wrong. We all starve now.

    The part of me that was once a writer still thrills when I hear the sound of pages being turned. And I cringe when I hear the pages being torn from the books to start the fires which cook our meals.

    This is my week of extra rations. I am determined to enjoy it, even as I know what it means. It is a relief to be freed of the gathering of nuts and berries and twigs and firewood. In my mind, I begin a novel. If only I had a pen.

    And at the end of the week, our rag tag tribe will do what societies have always done to artists. They will kill me, eat me, and spit out skeletal parts, pretending that those were all that there was to me, forgetting all the soft parts, all the parts that filled the holes between the bones.

    What I would give for a book of Ginsberg's poetry right now.

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    1. Aww hell, Leland...Keep in mind my father's staunch advice when I first entered the world of corporate publishing, circa 1979. "look at it this way, Babe. They can kill you, but they really can't EAT you!"

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    2. Chilling stuff, Leland. Feels like everyone's joining me on the post-apocalyptic highway these days. That's probably not a good thing.

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    3. Woah. I was just thinking something VERY similar to this yesterday.

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  12. 2 parter again. I got started and couldn't quit...

    LillyAnne Bussey taught the Enlightenment class at Whole Foods. I first met her one day down by the dumpsters in back of the store where some of us employees take our smoke breaks. Now, don’t get me wrong, the company’s got a pretty strict anti-tobacco policy on paper, but it doesn’t take you very long to figure out it’s a lot like their dessert policy. What I mean is, you need to take a good look at the folks who shop there sometime. They have their carts all loaded up with stuff like organic quinoa and whole wheat spaghetti and super food blueberries; protein powder and vitamins and tofu and kale juice then, bam! They see that dessert section right down near the cash registers and they are goners. You can’t blame them, either. Merchandising does it on purpose. That bakery case is supposed to seem like a reward for all the hard work of staying healthy. It works, too. But I ain’t here to judge, just to collect a paycheck.
    So anyway, we have what you might call a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of policy about the cigarettes. Just don’t stand out front where the customers can see. Anyway, that particular day, LillyAnne comes hustling out of her morning session looking as pissed as could be. It was pretty unusual, her being all spiritual and enlightened and everything. She must have been pushing sixty, but she’d had some work done. Just enough, not too much. And I really do have to admire whoever did it. Not that I know much about any of that. But here at Whole Foods, you get to where you can spot it. It ain’t all about the yoga and being gluten free, if you get my drift.
    LillyAnne had got a real reputation and a whole bunch of what you might call fans who came to hear her talk about how to live your personal Truth and also her near death experience a few years back which had changed her perspective considerably. You couldn’t blame ‘em. All you have to do is look around the store to see that in addition to the Botox look, there’s what I would call a disproportionate number who look like they’re fairly close to the near death sort of experience themselves, so you couldn’t exactly blame them for being curious. Though like I say, I ain’t here to judge.
    But I was kind of surprised when instead of her usual Marlboro, LillyAnne pulls a big old blunt from that fancy cigarette case she has and fires it up. Something must’ve showed on my face because once she’s got her lungs full she raises her eyebrow at me and passes it over.
    I wasn’t going to indulge, but the truth is, I hadn’t been having my best day on the job, either. Some toddler had snatched a sample of something when his momma was on her cell phone and started puking all over aisle three because whatever he’d sampled had been near a peanut at some point and he was allergic. But she was screaming and threatening to sue ‘cause she’d left her Epi-pen in the car and the manager’s dialing 911 so the kid doesn’t go anaphylactic. It all turned out okay, because like, eight other customers came rushing up with their pens, while one guy kept yelling about Ebola. But once the crisis was over, we still had to clean up the kid barf. Here at Whole Foods, they’re pretty sensitive about things like that.
    So you better believe I took that doobie. I had four hours left on my shift and I was already up to my neck with some of them and up to my knees with the rest.
    “Medicinal, “ she says as I pass it back.
    I couldn’t answer right away. I was distracted by the blue of the dumpster. “No shit.“
    She inhaled again, staring out past the parking lot. “You ever think about God, Brenda?”

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  13. I shrugged, then did it again because it felt funny, like something had come loose across my shoulders. “Not much,” I told her.
    Her eyes were fixed on a scraggly patch of trees the city had planted between strip malls to break up the monotony. And the sun was sinking slowly, changing the light and spitting it back at us in a million different fragments of pink and gold. I inhaled again.
    “I do,” she said, a little sadly. “All the time. I tell people all kinds of things about what God is, but I don’t really know, you know?”
    The sounds of the cars on the frontage road was like an ocean, soft and soothing and strange. I meant to say something else, but what came out instead was, “God is a paintbrush.”
    “The fuck?”
    “But he’s like, what do you call ‘em? Impressionist. He ain’t in the details, we just think he is.”
    She turned to me and smiled. And there she was, this beautiful, pushing sixty bottle blonde, looking for all the world like Lana Turner was her guardian angel.
    “That’s what I mean! Here I am, spending all my time telling my Truth, ever seeking my eternal self. And there you are, you don’t even have to look! You’ve known it all along, haven’t you?”
    “Now religion, that’s something else. Religion is like—I dunno—one of those vegan cheesecakes, you know what I mean? You want to believe it’s good for you, you want to believe it’s real. And maybe even you convince yourself. And that’s okay, like what you do in those classes. It probably won’t kill you or any body else. But that don’t make it cheesecake is all.”
    LillyAnne snorted back a giggle, then fell on my neck. “I LOVE YOU!” she yelled. “YOU, BRENDA! YOU are the answer to all my prayers!”
    I peeled her off just as a voice came over the loudspeaker that all employees were to report to their stations, due to a hostage situation in customer service. “Ma’am? I got to go. Break’s over. You okay?”
    She nodded and wiped at her eyes. “I love you, Brenda, “ she said again. “Run some cold water over your wrists when you go back in. It’ll help.”
    “Brenda?” She called again as I walked away.
    I turned around, seeing her back lit in the shimmering light. “I love you too, LillyAnne.” I told her. “Let’s don’t make it weird, okay?”

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    1. Oh God, this is awesome! Are you working on a collection of these? Like Notes from Botox Central or something? Because you have the voice for it, and this story is a great one! I wanna know more about Brenda!

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    2. Yeah, funny that Leland mentions "voice," as this one is so effortlessly spot-on.

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    3. You pretty much nail the voice every time. I don't know if I'd call a blunt a doobie, but... ;)

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    4. Sorry, I had to do research...I clearly don't know my blunts from me doobies...but then again, never was that kind of girl. Now, if you wanna talk cocaine? I could tell you stories...Mercifully, I am older and wiser than that now...
      And yes, putting together a collection. No time like the present. I call it, "Diversity."

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  14. Two Parts, if I may...

    Needless to say, they didn’t knock.

    “Stay where you are. On your knees with your hands on your head,” the biggest one said.

    “This is my home. What are you doing? What do you want?” I said as two more pushed me to the floor.

    “You know exactly what we’re after, man. Where are they?” the big one said towering over me, his knee bumping my left eye.

    “Where are who? Why are you doing this?” I said, wincing as his two partners wrenched my shoulders. I knew who they were and what they were after.

    “The books, man. Where are the goddamn books? Our informant ID’d you as a subversive and told us you had a fucking library here. Hundreds, she said. Now where are they?”

    It came to this as I’d predicted after He Who Shall Not Be Named was elected our leader and then turned everything over, spilling our constitutional rights onto the floor and, in essence, burning them. We no longer could peacefully gather to discuss, let alone debate, the state of affairs in which our land now found itself. Besides, you never knew who of the people you talked with might be one of their informants.
    Within just a few months of taking power, HWSNBN ordered all news organizations to cease operations except for his sycophantic bootlicks at the renamed Supreme Network. He also shuttered all newspapers, except for The Truth and Our Democracy, now our two national newspapers. He had his cyber-cops monitoring all online interaction, again causing fear, anger and doubt among the half of the citizenry who voted for the other side. The First Amendment—marketed by the government as The Worst Amendment, a true threat to national security—was stricken from the Constitution by executive order. And everyone just watched.

    Next came book banning, kowtowing to the conservative religious zealots instrumental in getting the Supreme Commander elected. That part was easy, just emptying Libraries, bookstores and even schools of everything from Huckleberry Finn to To Kill a Mockingbird, Dr. Seuss to, of course, Fahrenheit 451.

    With the precedent set, the government decided to remove other sources of education, entertainment and enlightenment from the public. Anything not given an imprimatur by HWSNBN was taken from the owner and destroyed.

    I was a teacher, a writer of children’s books teaching youngsters to respect one another, always keep an open mind about someone and not base our opinions on the way they look, speak or pray. Yeah, I was one of their subversives.

    “One more time, man. Where are you hiding the books?” the big one shouted in my ear, spritzing it with spit when he pronounced the evil word. The click of his pistol hammer cocking may have been the loudest sound I ever heard.

    “They’re gone, all gone,” I said.

    “You lyin’ son of a bitch. I’m counting to three and you better come clean or I’ll blow your faggot brains all over your nice baby blue carpet. Guys, who in their right mind would have a baby blue carpet in their place?” He laughed the laugh of someone who knew not of freedoms other than his now-inalienable rights to bully, beat and burn.

    “I gave some away and destroyed the rest,” I said, half-expecting the next sound I heard, a blast, to be my last.

    “Search this place, Lou. Who’d you give ‘em to, author?” He stretched that last word out like it was a vile taffy.

    “The school libraries in Beekmantown and Green Island. They had so little to offer their kids and…”

    He swung the barrel of his pistol against my cheek, I saw a flash and down I went. But I was still alive.

    Cont.

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  15. “You want any more of that, you’ll stop bullshitting us and tell us where they are. The next time I pull the trigger.”

    “I’m telling you the truth. Then other books, my collection of histories and classics, I destroyed them with the dignity they deserved. Instead of the brutish methods you…”
    The pistol swung again, this time a roar accompanied the flash. But again I was still alive. I reeled in pain and disorientation from the discharge by my ear as the bullet destroyed the glass door in the empty bookcase behind me.

    “Last chance, asshole. Next time, right in your ear,” the big one said, and I was fairly sure he meant it. I could see that from the barely contained manic anger in his piglike eyes peering from above the black mask covering the lower half of his face.

    “There’s nothing in the basement, attic or shed out back,” the one called Lou said as he reentered what was until a fortnight before my study.

    “I’m not lying,” I said above the pounding ring in my right ear. They’re all gone.”

    “Computer. Where’s your goddamn computer, faggot,” the big one shouted into my left ear.

    “One of your colleagues visited me last week and confiscated it at the behest of your informant across the street. The one who used to spend her days listening to talk radio and watching me from behind her curtains,” I said, preparing for the next blow.

    “Is that so… You got any other devices you can use to spread your subversive lies with, writer boy?” the one called Lou asked.

    “No, your people are quite…thorough.” I had five manuscripts on that computer and another two on my old iPad, which now were chewed up bits of plastic, glass and magnetic inspiration in some government scrap pile.

    The one holding me released his grip and I once again fell to the floor.

    “All right, Andrews, we’ll be leaving now. But recognize this is only a warning. We’re keeping you under surveillance on the regular. If you so much as shit we’ll know what color. You get me? I shoulda taken that shot when I had the chance. You elites sicken me,” the big one said, giving me one more punch in the head.

    And then they were gone.

    That night, after cleaning up the mess as best I could, certain the blood would always be a reminder of that day, I went to the basement and made sure the curtains were shut tightly. With my penlight, I found the drain in the floor and unscrewed its cover.
    Reaching into the pipe, I snagged the hook in the wire from which I’d suspended the plastic bag and pulled it up into the tiny circle of light. My Kindle hadn't been dislodged in the search. I removed it from the bag and carried up into my darkened study, where I had digitized my library and transferred all my books to this glorious instrument.

    I thumbed through the virtual pages and found the volume I was searching for. I tapped it open and selected the words from March, 1861 and read them as I had many nights since the election and division of our nation. They gave me hope, as they will so many of us, even those who merely watched while all this happened. The words once again told me:

    We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

    The next morning the big guy broke in, kicked open my bedroom door and saw my Kindle on the nightstand. You don’t really hear the shot, do you, Mr. Lincoln?

    Some people don’t have better angels. Some maybe don’t have angels at all.

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    1. Welp. Better to tell it as a story than the truth, Joe. And it's a good one.

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    2. This is chilling. A harrowing glimpse into a future which should not ever be but unfortunately could all too easily come to pass. Just please, not in my lifetime, not in our children's lifetimes.

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    3. Yeah, I know people say this all the time, but no lie—at one point in this story, I forgot to breathe.

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    4. Damn. That's all I got. I'm with Antrobus again. I think it's from lack of oxygen. "The click of his pistol hammer cocking may have been the loudest sound I ever heard." - so simple and perfect

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    5. Terrifying and frighteningly true. The Lincoln references are oh so perfect... I pray you are not a prophet... it's scary enough as fiction. Well done!

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  16. You're such a pretty little liar - honey, it sets my soul on fire. Makes me quiver, you're so clever. Hold on, let me grab my cleaver. Respect is such a spurious notion. Take the goblet, drink the potion? No thanks. That's not what I learned. See, if you want respect, it's got to be earned.

    Think about all the times you've felt that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. It's hard to look at you the way your skin shines. Shit, that's a lot of oil. I guess it comes with the riches, spoiled.

    I don't have time to tell you how to be a human being. And it's not my job. You got broken. We all got robbed. But Cool Hand Luke was right about many things. It doesn't make it OK to say you're just doing your job, man. And it ain't about me, darling. It's about these big, heavy rings.

    Duck motherfucker.

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  17. Another two-parter... Part One

    “I’m bored,” Pamela said, eyes rolling skyward, drawing the word out to six or seven syllables. “What do you have to do around here?”

    Stacy’s palms began to sweat. She never thought Pamela Fairchild—never called Pammy or Pam—would ever want to come home with her to play after school, let alone speak with her.

    “I don’t—”

    Pamela’s smile made Stacy even more fearful. “Does your mother have any nice jewelry?”

    She did, but Mom told her not to—wait, why was Pamela starting to leave? “Yes! Of course she does. It’s really really pretty.”

    And then they were both walking down the hall to her parents’ bedroom. Stacy hoped Pamela couldn’t hear the chatter in her teeth or see the shaking in her knees. “Take care with the butterflies,” her mother had said. “They’re very fragile and expensive.”

    Like she had a radar for precious things, Pamela made a beeline straight for her mother’s vanity and the jewelry box. She pressed the button and the metal latch snapped up with metallic clink.

    Pamela gasped, and just the sound of knowing the most popular girl in the class saw something impressive in her house filled Stacy with pride. And yes, still a little fear.

    It probably couldn’t hurt. As long as she was careful. Stacy picked up one of the butterflies and placed it on Pamela’s open palm. She’d seen it so many times, but she couldn’t help but admire it again. The wings were made of crystals, all different shades of blue, and the teeth that held the comb in place were gold. She knew it wasn’t real gold, but they were just as shiny as the real thing.

    “Can I wear it?” Pamela said. But she was already sticking it into her hair, above her left ear. “Now, you wear the other one,” the girl said. “Then we can be butterfly twins!”

    Butterfly twins! Stacy felt happy from her toes all the way up to the tip of her head. She carefully worked the comb into her unruly auburn curls. It stuck pretty easily, and Pamela smiled, and they began fluttering around the house pretending to be butterflies.

    Then Stacy heard a muffled voice. At first she thought one of her parents had come home, but she hadn’t heard a car or the door open. Then she thought someone had left the radio or the TV on, but that wasn’t where the voices were coming from, either.

    It was saying “Five nine one reporting. Five nine three, do you read?”

    When she realized it was coming from the butterfly, Stacy skittered to a halt, her socked feet sliding on the wood floor. Pamela nearly crashed right into her. “Are you nuts?” Pamela said. “What’s wrong with you!”

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  18. Part Two...

    Stacy stuck out her palm. “Give me the butterfly.”

    “What? No. I like it. We’re butterfly friends now. I get to keep it.”

    “No.” Stacy’s voice quavered. She yanked the other butterfly out of her own hair and closed her fist over it. “You have to give it back now.”

    “Will not will not will not!” She giggled and started running for the door.

    “Pamela!” Stacy took off after her. “Give it back!”

    “No give backs!” she called over her shoulder, blond hair flying. “You gave it to me! That means it’s a present and I get to keep it. Sucker sucker sucker!”

    Pamela was not only the most popular girl in their class, she was also the fastest. Stacy ran and ran until her legs started aching, and she stumbled to a stop. At least she had one of the butterflies safe in her hand. Her breathing was noisy and her heart hammered away in her ears, so she didn’t hear the approaching footsteps, but she felt the sting of something hard and pointy bite into her neck.

    “There!” It was Pamela. “There’s your stupid butterfly, you stupid baby. I don’t want to be friends with you anymore!”

    As she watched Pamela run off, she sniffed up a few tears, and examined the butterflies to make sure neither had been hurt. The crystals were all still in place, and the audio device was unharmed. As promised the design was brilliant, keyed only to respond when it recognized Stacy’s DNA.

    She tucked both butterflies into her hair, one above each ear to keep them safe, and started walking back toward the house. She tugged in a deep breath, let it out, and said, “Five nine three reporting. Come in, five nine one.”

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    1. SO COOL! Where does it go? I feel like there's more happening...or I want it to!

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    2. Oh my. So many questions. Very nicely done to draw us in, leave us wanting more.

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    3. This is AWESOME. And yes, what they said.

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  19. The cape was made out of a salvaged trash bag - one of those big ones for raked-up leaves. Didn't matter. Didn't matter that the Batman suit was made of pajama softness. He was fierce. That's what mattered. You gotta believe that. This wasn't some kid playing at greatness. He WAS great. Small, thin - didn't matter. No one pulled capers on his watch.

    I knew him, see? That's the thing. I was a little older, but I admired him. My folks said he was sick, and I said he looked plenty healthy to me. Just skinny. They said it was a special kind of sick. Didn't matter, I swear.

    You should have seen him run. Like a spooked horse. Flailing power all over the place. He should have tripped and fallen. Laces on his sneakers always untied and people always pointing it out to him. He'd smile. He knew it didn't matter. Not one bit.

    I didn't know what to do when they told me he was dead. Because I knew. Batman doesn't die. That's not the way it works. I wanted to tell them at the service. Go ahead and sing. He may be dead, but here's the thing. You can't kill someone like that. Weird disease or not. They thought I was twisted because I didn't cry. Everyone else did. I couldn't stop laughing. 'Cause I knew.

    It didn't matter. There are Gothams everywhere. Even up there.

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    1. "There are Gothams everywhere." My God, that's beautiful, and true, and sad. You made me cry in just five paragraphs.

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  20. I don't know when it's going to happen, but I'm gonna fuck you up. They're going to have to call surgeons to separate my splintered fingers from the gaping maw of your blood-flooded face. And I may never play guitar again, but I'm going to win. And you're going to end up with a face made of ass skin, Ace.

    It's gonna hurt me, and I can't wait. It's going to be beautiful - like the scars on my arms. The pain is going to be golden, warm freedom. You're going to find out what 40 years of pent up pacifism feels like. I'm going to find out, too. And you may land a punch, but I'm gonna keep going until my fingernails go through you. Until your organs twitch in my mouth.

    I'm gonna make your entrails into a Christmas wreath. Bring it out every winter with my busted hands. We'll all stand around it and sing carols while you drink egg nog through a straw. And I'm gonna tell your wife about all the whores you saw.

    See, the problem with being a lying, abusive piece of shit is that it gives people power over you. I know your secrets. Me? I don't have any secrets. So, have at it. I'm gonna break you in half and then brag about it.

    You better hope they pull me off in time. I'll take one of those long fluorescent light bulbs and shove it up your ass. Then I'll kick it until your insides glitter with broken glass. I'll kiss you and bite your tongue off. Swallow it, so your lies will live inside me.

    Where I can play with them.

    There's your fucking requiem.

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    1. Sing it! Those incandescent rage blues. I love it.

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  21. t's just the same old bullshit
    They're not making some new kind,
    A state of denial
    a Passing trial, heard not with heart, but in the mind.


    It's just the same old sales pitch, the itch to get yours before they do,
    Keep your ass covered, your outrage smothered
    That paints us into the nearest,tiny corner and whispers
    I can't be me and you can't be you.
    I am not more subversive than I was yesterday
    And the bottom line?
    The message trying? To penetrate the lies and fear and hate? Neither is them, and neither are you.
    You can try to convince us, over and over there’s got to be a loser and a winner to win.
    But it ain't the way it works, folks. We've been practicing our art. Telling our stories, and sharing our dreams in way that doesn't make no speeches; it's all about going back to where we start. Nobody's been sentenced to any kind of Gulag; nobody's going back to Square one.
    Sign your petitions, and laugh at the jokes, be fearless and frantic and throw off the yoke of oppression that says that you’ve already lost to a leader who says that now he’s the boss.
    Laugh and shout and dance and love
    Write your story and
    Burn his effigy
    While he’s been chasing a few bucks we've been practiced our craft
    We tell our stories and know he’s never meant to last.
    Prsidents don’t change the light bulbs; we, the people do. Ans sometimes we gotta remind ourselves that you can be me and I can be you.
    Truth is never, ever about the propaganda
    Truth is the story we write from the heart

    In the end it’s not always about the words.
    Truth is the sound you hear with your heart.
    That is our gift
    That is our art

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  22. It took a while, but coming out of the closet was like a tremendous weight lifting off Brian’s shoulders. That relief, however, was accompanied by no small amount of guilt and self-recrimination: “Christ, I used to be such an asshole!”, he found himself thinking, nearly every day, any time he was reminded of his past. He wasn’t even totally sure where he stood: the big stumbling block was admitting to himself that he wasn’t arrow-straight, that he was into dudes, at all. It did seem ironic that, like so many other homeless and squatting youths, he was queer, but it was only after admitting it to himself that he started to get himself together.

    Aside from his long hair, he was still pretty butch: he identified as ‘queer’, more specifically bisexual, and made it no secret that he was still fond of the ladies. He facetiously described himself as “a beer-guzzling hockey-loving Canadian white trash metalhead, who happens to be bi”, and even considered going back to Vancouver and dealing with the fact that the province of British Columbia probably had a warrant for his arrest.

    But he stayed in California, because why put himself through that? His squatter pals seemed pretty unsurprised. “Yeah, no shit? Dude, we knew. You’re queer as fuck. If we didn’t think you were acting like that because you were just grappling with some heavy personal shit like that, you would be dead already.” And Brian knew what they meant: times when he got beat up for acting out of pocket, but they let him live. That was saying something, in itself: the clique of hard-bitten partisans he lived with, they were known to kill motherfuckers. His pal Timmy, that scruffy desert kid, once beat the shit out of him for mistreating a cat; in hindsight, knowing what Tim was like, he was lucky to not get killed. Tim was definitely the kind of dude who would kick your teeth out over a cat.

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    1. The voice is so clear and spot on. Well in.

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  23. Her life was so short compared to most of us who knew her, or thought we did. She suffered as any teenager suffers. Parents and teachers and friends only think they knew what she was going through, but how could they?

    Were they with her every single moment of every day? No.

    Did they hear the harsh words spoken to her by people she should have been able to trust when no one else was around? No.

    Did they know who touched her in ways she didn't appreciate when no one else was there to see? No.

    Did they feel the small stone that got into her shoe during gym, or the poking of the underwire into her soft breast at that ceremony, or the pull of tangles in her hair when she brushed it? Not really.

    Oh, they may have felt similar things, even at similar times in their lives, but never exactly as she did.

    When any of us said to her, "If you need to talk, come to me," we know she heard the words, but did she really trust any of us that deeply? To speak of the things most deeply felt is to open oneself up to pain, to ridicule, to hopelessness, no matter how well meaning the listener. She had learned that already.

    She was intelligent, remarkably so. She knew thing sthat surprised a lot of grown ups, and so much more that she never spoke of.

    She made up her own mind when the time came. She propcured the weapon in spite of her tender age. She made use of it in the way she chose.

    Now we stare blankly at one another with tears in our eyes and aches in our hearts wondering, "Why?" like the idiots we are.

    Was it depression, or was it actually protest? We will never be enlightened.

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    1. This truly breaks my heart. And it's so respectful to young people. Bless you for this.

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    2. Absolutely heartbreaking, and so much truth... listening to our youth is one of the ways we can gain most wisdom, and an action we all too often forget. Thank you for this.

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    3. I completely agree with DA and Leland. Delicate prose that bleeds truth.

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    4. I just wish it hadn't taken a sixteen year-old girl's life to pull it out of me. She was a friend of the family.

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