Some people believe that when you die you come back as something else. Maybe you come back and everything starts over again. Maybe you end up on some cosmic game show or you reread a novel you hate/love for eternity. Like Gatsby. Nothing but Gatsby.
Maybe when you huff video head cleaner you see other universes. Maybe you burn synapses. Whatever you do, it's temporary. Just enjoy the sounds. Get on the ride.
Maybe every time you jizz a baby dies. That would be fucked up, but it would ease some of our environmental issues. I didn't think that; you thought that.
Maybe there's change in the couch cushions. Been a while since I checked - probably since the last time I was short on beer money. I don't harass the furniture anymore.
Let me open a door. Bring a sweater; it's chilly.
There is a white carpet in the center of a dark, blood-red room. Strip club red. The carpet is smooth, ironed. In the center of the carpet there is a pool of dark liquid. You can't tell what color it is, and you're afraid to find out. The puddle holds lies and betrayals and disappointment. The puddle is filled with broken dolls and deflated balls, and you're fucking terrified.
You tell yourself it's nothing, but you don't know. You try to think about something nice - a summer afternoon that you didn't fuck up by drinking. The first time you kissed someone and your teeth clicked and you laughed. You end up sitting in the corner, arms around your knees, muttering to yourself: they won't get inside if you don't let them. They won't let you inside if you don't get them. They'll never understand why you can't stand the sound of metal scraping. Your teeth ache. You become infantile.
Wow. You scared the hell out of me with this one... as a great writer once told me, "Get out of my nightmares."ReplyDelete
How wonderfully creepy.Delete
Love this piece so much. I literally felt increasingly cold as I read it.Delete
[Not a drop of fiction in this...]ReplyDelete
This is Colorado’s San Luis Valley, home to the world’s only UFO watch tower, to an alligator farm, to hot springs, frozen waterfalls, and a desert that gets less than eight inches of rain a year. And wind that carries dust and cold and heat, and sometimes gravel. Sand dunes that soar to the sky.
Cattle mutilations happen here. We have an honest-to-god alligator farm. There are rumors of lost gold mines and truths about people who have spent their lives looking for them. People die on mountains that are more than 14,000 feet above sea level.
We are poor here, in terms of financial wealth, but rich in history. The Utes came here. The trappers, the potato farmers, the Catholic missionaries and priests, the Mormons, the Amish, and a few Lutherans and Episcopalians, too. There is a village that boasts more than two dozen spiritual communities.
Rattlesnakes lie in wait, in the shade, because at a mile and a half above sea level, the sun is too hot for them. Deer and elk wander the streets with students. Porcupines, skunks, kangaroo mice, chipmunks, voles, moles, badgers, all hide in plain sight of the unwary.
And there are unspeakable beings, beings witnessed by many but spoken of by few. Thunderbirds in the sky with wings that stretch a mile or more. Beings that suck the blood from cattle as they stand in the field. Things that suck the soul from a body, leaving the body alive, but not aware.
Ghosts walk here, in a fort that was home to Buffalo soldiers, the first dark skinned humans the Utes had ever seen. Ghosts haunt some of the churches, too, hovering above the altars.
The Rio Grande is born here. A tiny creek will find its way to the ocean. Along the way, it will flood and it will slow to a trickle, some years drying up completely, giving its all to the towns that dot its banks.
There are eagles, hawks, and owls that call outside my windows at night. There are other cries, too. The mountain lion screams like a woman in danger, hoping to lure you to her lair.
At night, some few of us brave the dark, to see the Milky Way stretch from horizon to horizon, but we are always listening, always aware that each night might be the last.
And some of us see the sunrises and sunsets, when God becomes a five-year-old gone mad with the love of color and spills it everywhere.
Beware of the San Luis Valley of Colorado. It calls to some haunted few like a Siren, and when you hear, no matter how far or fast you walk or drive or fly, you can never really leave.
This is so sumptuous and rich. What a magical, enduring place. And this sounds like the introduction to something. Hmm...Delete
Brilliant. I love this, Leland. I've heard that sound of a mating cougar, and it really does sound like a woman being murdered. And what is with rattlesnakes? They hang out in deserts yet hide in shade. They should make their damn minds up.Delete
I've probably asked you this before, but have you ever read McCarthy's Blood Meridian? I ask because I know you'd love his descriptions of landscape.
I agree with Laurie. This needs to keep going. It's brilliant. Mystical and lush and pure. And the love and need of the place come through perfectly.Delete
Here, where the forest unfurls like a rug almost to the rose-gold beach, is where it all started. Where the eagle cries amid cobalt thermals like something abandoned. Forgone yet freed.
“You’re a warrior. But are you my warrior?”
The sky crackles like a death-throe radio. Old limbs dislocate at the first hesitant storm. Something in the trees aches to emerge. Don’t let it. Please don’t fucking let it.
Caffeine is masculine; tannin feminine. The latter leaves less residue, less darkness on the tongue, is cleaner.
I am a man, so I wake and make coffee, and Annalise smiles at me, still partway gripped by her dreamworld.
“I’m glad you came back,” she says.
Rather than answer I take great pelican gulps of my coffee though it’s too hot and I know my tongue will pain me for days.
Birdland is our purgatory.
Neglect the equivalent of abuse. Indifference as keen a weapon as hate.
Please don’t tell me about your dream, I think.
Against the window a ruby-throated hummingbird flits its quantum dance. There. Not there. Vertical. Tiny needle aloft. There again. Not there. Someplace else in an instant. The only clue to its trickery the vague blur at its shimmering sides. If this is the Matrix, hummingbirds are its emissaries.
Once looked at, a bird; unseen, some other thing.
“We should hang more nectar.”
I can’t recall later which of us said that. Since kindness was its source, I like to think it was me, but I’m likely wrong in my usual random way. I don’t know about yours, but in my universe God indeed plays dice.
Someone knocks at our door, and I’m startled out of something more than the mere moment; it’s as if I’m flipped from one dark tale into another, if not darker then less knowable.
A tight voice from outside, a sexless shadow beyond the sheer curtain and frosted glass. “I know you’re home!”
Unbreathing, we out-wait the interloper, and after a while I go out back and in the bloody dripping yolk of a sunset kick a deflated soccer ball against the darkening house, over and over, again and again, volleys and half-volleys, inside of the foot unswerving passes, outside skewed bananas, until I’m filled with hubris and start to juggle it unselfconsciously, a possessed marionette, soon surpassing my own record of fifty and finally overdoing it around seventy-five and dropping it in the talcum-fine dirt at eighty-one. Incensed I didn’t make a hundred. While the cowl of night drapes all, scowling, indifferent.
“Come inside. I made dinner,” she calls. “The eagle has left.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not like this. The hummingbirds are absent, and I go inside to eat.
Her tender care is like a razor, and I am her strop.
“The neighbours have gone, I think,” Annalise says over dinner. She has made a perfect pho with nut-rich fungus and something dark as green can be.
“I only want to eat,” I say ungratefully, and think for a moment I might be a bad man.
“Then eat,” she says.
Silence should follow, but it doesn’t. Slurping and sighing follow.
Then, as if on cue, breaking news on CNN violates our intimacy to inform us of possible terror attacks in a scattering of cities. Confusion and mayhem, panicked crowds, global howls.
We look across a clean marble surface into each other’s eyes. I think I reach for her hands first, but it honestly doesn’t matter.
Fingers knitted, we talk. About what we’d ask for if granted three wishes (I insist we should ask for infinite wishes; she thinks that’s finagling). About the long chalk ghostlike faces near Dover, England. About the skeletal grip of someone dying. About the faultless imploring eyes of children fighting cancer. About this amazing thing: do we love our pets in ways we don’t love each other? Is that question even framed right? How honest can we be? Do we privilege our antic species at every juncture? Even when we’re genociding? Is MAGAlomaniac a word? If not, should it be? Can dreams come literally true? Even if they feature Nazi dryads giving blissful head to supine unicorns? Even if they narrate our appalling triumphs? Even if they highlight our equally shabby fiascos?
What gears have slipped so badly in the machinery of the world that all this is the upshot?
I say to her, “We should head inland.”
“I’ll go pack some stuff,” she says. Her brimful ass, swaying as she climbs the staircase, is the best thing I’ve ever seen.
While I wait, a shadow returns and looms at the door. It hefts something heavy in its hand. It weighs at least fifty hummingbirds, probably more, and part of me knows we almost made it.
(The thing in the trees parts the curtains. It’s like unspeakable sex.)
And almost is another word for heartbreak.
Wow, wow, wow. The imagery, the words, the pain... I am left nearly speechless and breathless. I will come back and read this again, and perhaps again after that. I know no higher compliment.Delete
Oh... Leland said what I was thinking. And I want to read it again. So much beauty and pain. The hummingbird. That is such a stellar through-line.Delete
Yup. The hummingbird and the soccer ball and the questioning section. Damn dude. It's all so good. I think you should submit this to the NYer. Easy online submission. What's to lose.Delete
*Eagle cries always makes me think of that lame ass 80s song, but that just might be me. Deadly words.
He stayed awake late that night. He watched the fog roll in, illumined by the moon. The dogs snored. He opened the door as quietly as he could, and he stepped out, without a coat.ReplyDelete
Foolish. It was 19 degrees.
He didn’t care.
He walked with the confidence of a man who knows a place not only by sight, but by the feel of the ground beneath his feet. That stone, that ice, that stick told him where he was. An inner guidance system.
He walked to the creek, a good hundred yards. Halfway there, he looked over his shoulder and couldn’t see the house. Still he walked..
The ice bubbles, formed by the freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw of the last few days, cracked beneath his feet. There were no other sounds. No coyote song, no birds twittering, even the owl seemed to have taken the night off.
And then he stopped at the edge of the creek bank. He closed his eyes and imagined the sound of water, the sound of spring,the sound of water from springs. He inhaled the cold air. It was clean. A hint of sage, from the sagebrush that hid beneath the snow and ice, but nothing else.
In his mind, he heard the buzz of summer cicadas, smelled the smoke of forest fires, heard the rustle of leaves falling from autumn trees, leaves decaying in piles before winter winds scattered them.
He knew, one day, all of this would be gone. Smothered beneath the mass of people. There would be chemical scents, downy soft, air fresheners claiming to smell of the forest, auto exhaust. Human excrement.
But for now, but for now, he was with this place, in this magical time.
When at last he noticed the cold, he turned to go home.
The tear that rolled down his cheek did not freeze.
Brother, this one aches with beauty. It's like having someone strangle your heart. I love how you can create these amazing moods with such subtlety.Delete
In the evening she told me her name was Kahwihta. And when I asked how many in her basket, with what I figured was a universal kind of gesture, she held up two hands and shook all the fingers, then one hand with the thumb and first finger extended.
“Tékeni iawén:re,” she said, which I guess meant a dozen.
“Well, now, that’s enough apples to make a fine pie,” I said. But I was sure flour and cinnamon were in short supply here near Ta-ra-jo-rees, the village of the Turtle Clan. I was camped on the south shore of their River Flowing Around the Mountain. We call it the Mohawk.
I’d been surveying there in the wilderness for three weeks. The geography was perfect for one supporting grazing and farming, which is what Mister Proctor, the land speculator, had sent me to assay.
Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s agent among these people, had warned me off, lest I incur a deadly suspicion among his charges. I believe he was trying to keep this land for his own devices, since he has become almost one of the natives and keeps a Mohawk woman, who he calls his wife.
And if she looks anything like Kahwihta, I can understand why.
With what pieces of the language I’d learned, I said, “Konnòn:we’s,” which I think meant “I like you.” Since she dropped her head and giggled behind her hand, I surmised I must have said the right thing. So I reckoned I might as well try to be more like Johnson.
“Kwah tokén:'en sén:ta’wh?” I said, which I believed meant to have a good sleep. I pointed at her and then to myself and then the soft fur robe on the floor of my tent.
Kahwihta giggled again and laid down, which surprised and encouraged me in a very fine manner. I was hoping the language of love was as universal as the poets say. I laid down next to her and pulled the robe over us. In the light from my campfire through the canvas, her skin glowed like polished bronze.
Kahwihta turned toward me and repeated, “Kwah tokén:'en sén:ta’wh.” After that, I remember nothing of the night.
Next I know, I am waking, waking with this vicious pain behind my head, lying there in the open beneath the trees. My tent is gone, as well as my gun, powder and lead, surveying instruments, maps, ledgers, drawing tools, everything. Well, not quite everything.
I still had the clothes on my back and my knife. And there on the robe next to me were seven red apples. I surmised Kahwihta must have felt some remorse that probably one of her brothers entered the tent and tried to crush my skull with his warclub. That he failed was scant comfort in light of the bloody, swollen gash on the back of my head.
I stumbled to my feet and felt a dizziness like I’d not known before. Thereafter I fell to my knees and spewed my previous day's victuals on the ground next to me.
I felt it wise to leave behind, in greatest haste, the village of Ta-ra-jo-rees as best I could, lest Kahwihta’s brothers returned to take my clothes and life, too. So I gathered up my robe, tying within it the six apples of regret left by the comely Kahwihta. I then crawled on my hands and knees, like some beast of the wild, into the dense forest surrounding me.
It took me four days and every apple to reach Fort Hunter to the north by east.
I should be quite grateful to Kahwihta, for I’m sure it was through her intercession that I am here today to tell my story of that verdant valley and the beautiful Mohawk girl. I blame myself, my arrogance and my poor language skills for all of this: my failed mission, the loss of my gun and the tools of my profession. and my near-death.
You see, one of the old scouts at Fort Hunter told me what Kahwihta means in the Mohawk tongue. It means She Takes it With Her.
Absolutely magical and so very deftly told. You write with a confidence I envy, even in the words of another century. Well done!Delete
I agree. I've been rereading a bunch of Elmore Leonard's western stuff too, and you make him look like a hack.Delete
This was a Christmas unlike any Skyler Van ever experienced, so far removed from the small tree in the three-bedroom ranch back in Bethlehem, outside Albany. She had no memories with which to compare the way her boyfriend, Schuyler Hewson and his family made their season jolly.
But one memory the Hewson’s celebration triggered sent Skyler to the back of their living room, with its red-flocked wallpaper, glittering eight-foot spruce and huge hewn-stone fireplace with its embroidered Christmas stockings. One of them read “Skyler.”
But she couldn’t stand there with the Hewsons next to the warming glow of their roaring Christmas fire. The pungent aroma of the burning kindling, dusted with a pinch of some sort of evergreen incense, the tang of which Schuyler said tasted of Christmas, tasted of something quite the opposite to her.
“You feeling okay, Sky?” her boyfriend asked, putting his arm around her shoulder.
“I think I might need some air, Schuyler. Maybe that punch of your grandmother’s was a little too potent for me after all.”
“Well, it’s been know to grow hair on your chest. But don’t tell my sister I just revealed her big secret,” he replied with a grin.
That grin was one of the things that drew Skyler to her now-boyfriend in the first place. That and his sense of humor and confidence.
They’d met a year before at the Starbucks on campus, each grabbing for the same cup when the barista called, “Sky-ler? Double-shot, skinny, eggnog latte, cinnamon, no nutmeg.”
Truth is, Schuyler never saw her there, since she barely came up to his armpit in height. And that's where her arm came from--her left, his right. Each suffered from morning blindness and deafness until they had dipped into the mountain-grown elixir some unknown Incan god gifted the Western Hemisphere.
She was an Asian girl in a knit cap and scarf. And she looked up at him and said, “I believe that’s my coffee”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s my name and the drink I ordered.
That’s when the other barista walked over and called, ““Sky-ler? Double-shot, skinny, eggnog latte, cinnamon, no nutmeg.”
They each looked at the cup in their hands, then the one on the counter, then back at one another and then laughed.
“Here,” Schuyler said. “This is a coincidence for the ages.”
“Yeah,” she said. “The fact the names are the same is one thing, but who the heck orders the exact same oddball espresso drink as I do.”
“I guess I do. By the way I’m…”
“Schuyler, I’d imagine,” she said.
“And so are you, I gather. I haven’t seen you around here before.”
“Well, since your eyes are way up there and your attention is even further up, I imagine I could be pretty hard to see down here,” Skyler said.
“You in a hurry? Anyone with our particular tastes in Starbucks drinks maybe should see what else they have in common.”
“Not today, but I’ll be here tomorrow and I won’t have a class until 10:30. Maybe then.”
“Great. I’m looking forward to it, Skyler…?” The vacant name holder hung in the air by its interrogation mark.
“Van. Skyler Van. And you’re…?” she said, hangin out her own opening.
“Hewson. Schuyler Hewson.”
And, starting the next day, that was that as far as their relationship budding up to and including that Christmas Day. From eggnog lattes, to Pink Drinks, to Pumpkin Spice and back to eggnog. But they loved those Pink Drinks…both with a little cinnamon.
“What’s the matter, Sky? You look so sad. I thought bringing you here to celebrate with us might make you happy, We do put on quite the ostentatious show, I grant you, but the spirit is universal,” Schuyler said.
“Oh, it’s been wonderful. Look, I’m even wearing Christmas lights, for Christ’s sake,” Skyler said, fingering the necklace of bulbs she wore.
“True, you make a very cute little tree. Much cuter than that behemoth in the living room.”
“Why thank you…I think,” Skyler said with a weak grin.
“Aw, man. You’re not feeling well, are you? I told Mom not to have the cook put so much pineapple, brown sugar, clove and ginger on the ham. Non-Hewsons might find that a little too much for their stomachs. Plus that damn punch. Ya see, that Manischewitz wine my grandfather slipped us when we were eight or ten was the gateway drug to this bacchanal…”
“No, Schuyler, I just felt….uncomfortable by the fire, that;that’s all.”
“Oh, yeah, the old man really builds that bad boy high, doesn’t he. I always wondered how the ell Santa was going to make it down the chimney with that thing going all night. Poor son a bitch would end up barbecued and…”
“Schuyler, stop,” Skyler cried, her voice cracking like the logs in the Hewson hearth.
“What? Did I say something wrong? I’m sorry, my family and Christmas can be pretty overwhelm…”
“No, Schuyler. It’s not your family, nor the ham, nor the punch. It’s my family that’s putting this sickening taste in my mouth.”
“You mean the cultural difference? I thought Buddhists didn’t mind celebrating Christmas. Think Jesus was some kind of Bodhisattva or whatever,” Schuyler said.
“No, that’s not it, either. We even have a Christmas tree back home in Albany. It’s another thing I don’t talk about, so…”
C’mon, Sky. I thought we had a deal. If I did something to overstep my bounds with your Vietnamese culture or religion, you’d let me know so I could do better,” Schuyler said, pulling his girlfriend closer.
“I…I don’t know if I can this time, hon,” Skyler said. A tear clinging to the corner of her eye.
“Help me make it better, Sky. Really. Was it something I said?”
“Well, I’m sorry, whatever it was. But unless you tell me, I can make the same mistake twice. I never want to upset you like this again.”
“It really is the fire.”
“Like I said. The old man, he..”
“Not your father, Schuyler. My grandmother,” Skyler said with a sob.
“I don’t get it. Your grandmother died. Back in Vietnam you told me.”
“It’s how she died. And you said about the fire and Santa and the image was just too much. My family still can’t take the whole sensory panoply of a fireplace, a bonfire, even fireworks.”
“Oh, man. You mean she was killed by an explosion or in a fire?”
“No, Schuyler. She WAS the fire,” Skyler said, trembling in Schuyler arms.
“Was the fire? How does somebody… Oh! You don’t mean…”
“Yes, I’m afraid I do. After my grandfather was killed in the war, she became even more devoutly Buddhist, especially when my dad came here to go to Cal. So he wasn’t there to help her until just before she and a few nuns sat in the street and…”
“Holy shit. Sky, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“Who could? Who really could understand how grief and faith and protest can intersect in such self-inflicted horror on a street corner in Hué?” Skyler said. She looked up into Schuyler’s eyes.
“No. I’m afraid I have no sense of that, I’m sorry. How can I help you, Sky?”
“Just hold me. It’s freakin’ cold out here. I don’t think I can go back in your living room for a while. You think your parents think I’m some kind of Asian punk weirdo?”
“No, of course not. And screw them if they did. What do you say we go back inside to the kitchen and have something to drink to help wash that taste out of your mouth? No punch. Maybe I can make an eggnog latte?” Schuyler said with a grin.
“Okay. But how about a strawberry smoothie? Christmas is over anyway. And can you come to Albany for New Year’s? I think this is going to be Năm của kẻ si tình,” Skyler said and hugged her boyfriend close.
“What’s that mean, said the willing-to-learn-Vietnamese half-Jewish boy,” Schuyler said as they headed toward the back door.
“Year of the Love Birds. Love you, Schuyler.”
“Anh yêu em, Sky. Told you I was willing.”
Oh dear, this is gonna get longer...Be patient with me.ReplyDelete
The whole thing started the day we moved in. The U haul we’d brought the basics in broke down that morning. The moving company hadn’t showed up with any furniture and wasn’t answering my texts, and the six steps that led to an elevated kitchen from the sunken living room that had looked so good on the internet presented a whole new set of practical problems you just don’t think about until you find yourself moving 50-pound boxes.
So we’d both had pretty much had it by 11:30 and were trying to find a place to perch on the breakfast bar with some Starbucks and Taco Bell when the doorbell rang. “It’s open!” I yelled.
The front door swung inward and a plump little woman in Bermudas and a cardigan peered cautiously around.
“Up here!” I shouted, waving in her general direction.
She hustled forward and mounted the stairs. I couldn’t help but notice how her Keds matched her cardigan and even her lipstick. Cute. All plump and pink and white. Like a little angel with a weight problem. “How do!” she cried out. “Are you the Philipses? I’m Cindy. Cindy Sampson. Of the Homeowners association here in Otter Creek.”
“Victor, “ said Victor, extending his hand. “This here’s Izzy.” He slid off his stool and invited her to sit. He’s pretty down with all the social graces, Victor is. Until you get to know him better.
For some reason, she blushed. Or maybe it was just the exertion of the stairs. There was a little sheen of sweat shining through her face powder. Coty cornsilk, alabaster. My mom wore that stuff for 50 years. I’d know it anywhere.
“I’ve brought you your Welcome Manual.” She said. “Just to help you get a feel for the neighborhood.”
I picked up the pamphlet she slid toward me. The two words together somehow rubbed me wrong. A welcome is a welcome, right? It shouldn’t have to come with directions. How passive aggressive was that?
I flipped through the pages, ‘Do’s and Don’ts for Common Areas’ caught my attention. There was a picture of a woman in a bikini by the pool with a big red circle and a slash through it. Same went for canned soda, live chickens and a flower box of petunias. I stared back up at Cindy. Not sure if my mind was working right.“No petunias?”
She smiled. “Oh, don’t worry too much about that one, that’s just Dolly Foster. She’s president of the HOA now and insisted on the ban, on account of her allergies. Tell me, Izzy. Can we expect you at the church fellowship this weekend?”
“Church?”I glanced at Victor, now sulking over his coffee and playing dumb.
Cindy nodded emphatically. “Well, not in the church proper of course. The women need to stay outside, but we can gather in the fellowship hall where they have the speaker system. It’s just down the road there, at the end of Blackberry Lane.”
I shook my head a little. “Huh? No women? Is this like the Stepford wives or something?”
“Izzy---“ Victor growled.
“We’re Mormons dear. The church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Didn’t you know? Most of Otter Creek is.” She counted off on her fingers. “Blackberry Lane, Juniper Trail, Blueberry Pass, Raspberry Circle and Citrus Avenue. Of, course, we’re not allowed to ask if you’ve accepted the Lord Jesus into your heart when you apply for a property; that would be discrimination. But we always—encourage. Just the same.”
I had a sudden vision of my future. With a whole parade of Sunday mornings spinning out before me, peopled with the unflappable smiles of white- shirted, black tied missionaries, seeking access to my immortal soul. I got to my feet.
Now, here is the point where Victor insists I started the whole thing. And maybe that’s true, but I couldn’t help myself. I was already a little punchy from all the moving. And maybe I should point out that while I am by no means a compulsive liar, I am sometimes what might be termed an impulsive one. Victor shot me that real sad look he gets when he knows I’m gonna say something I shouldn’t.
“Oh thank you Candy” I purred. “But I don’t think so. We’re Wiccan.”
Candy blinked a few times. “You mean, like witches?”
“ Oh hell no! We just practice a little magic now and again. Cast a few spells. Worship nature. The Moon Goddess, all that. Etcetera.”
“Nature,” Candy was beginning to fidget.
“Yeah, you know, like pagans.”
“Oh my… “
“But you won’t have to worry.” I assured her. “Our coven only celebrates the usual holidays, Belthane, Samhain, the Solstices. And we’re hardly ever in the nude anymore. Not since Meadow Swarzinski caught pneumonia in the last drum circle.”
Victor got to his feet and pulled out his phone. He flashed a fake smile in Cindy’s direction. “Sorry, have to take this.” To me he said, “You know what they say Izzy.”
I fake smiled him back. “What’s that, sweetums?’
“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Which is, of course where things took a turn for what might be called the worse.
Lol... this is delightful. I always love your characters!Delete
100% agree. I don't know anyone who can establish character familiarity/empathy as quickly as you. Your people leap of the page.Delete
I got soul blisters on my feet, son. That yellow ball sky. That blue forever. Fuck, man, I've seen it all or done it all. Most of it weren't worth doing. I guess you don't know til you try.ReplyDelete
I got callouses on my frontal lobe. Like someone took sandpaper to the whole fucking works - buff that shit out. Don't matter. Brains splatter. You put that black egg in there? Man, that'll rattle you all up inside. Come out looking like old spaghetti.
My eyes are blinded by the echoes of prism dances. Second glances. I have strobe light of the mind, man. I can see you and see through you and ... yeah, I'll do me. You'll do you.
What it do?
I got to iron the wrinkles out of my eyes, separate the facts from the lies. My body went to church a lot and all I got was this damn persecution complex. Agony. Guilt nexus. Complexes. I'd put my hands on you, but I don't think I'd like the way you feel.
Neck flexes. Snap!
Whoa, the rhythm and the rhymes... and when we got to black eggs, Dr. Seuss entered my brain and I wondered what he’d do with black eggs and ham.Delete
She was supposed to have been home by now. Done with all this. That was the deal. He’d made dinner, fed the kids, took care of the dogs, the cats, the dishes, the laundry, the playdates, the bills…keeping himself active now to stem the barrage of disaster scenarios. Accidents and phones dead and emergency rooms and…
He took a deep breath. Two. Three. Four. Checked his phone again to make sure he hadn’t missed her. Some accident of interstellar space keeping her voice from its landing pad, some defect in the system. Once he had two voice mails and the little button on his phone never told him.
Nope. Nothing. A low rumble started from far away. He felt it in his fingertips, pressed against the countertop. The rattle in the windows pounding in his heart.
“Dad. Dad!” Mark, all of seven, came barreling in, hair askew, eyes wild. “Dad. It’s one of those big planes. I can tell by the lights! Come see!”
A fifth breath. He’d been hearing more and more of those engines shaking the house. Cargo planes from the air force base, an hour away. Headed god knows where with how much killing power.
Then he went outside with his son. A clear, cold night. Stars twinkling. The sort of night that she’d written poems about, before she took on this new assignment… Before she tore a hole in the tapestry of their everyday. Before terrible meals and unmade beds and lonely nights. So many lonely nights. He knew that this was the deal. Didn’t mean he liked it. Didn’t mean he hadn’t had the occasional fantasy of driving to Washington and punching a few politicians in the face.
“Dad!” Mark was shouting, pointing up.
He’d never seen lights move that slowly across the sky. Hovering. Taking one last, long glimpse at what its passengers would be leaving behind.
“I think it’s a Galaxy!” Mark waved. As if the people on board could see him. “Like the one Mom was in! Dad. You think she’ll come back in one, too? Maybe this time we can see it?”
His throat tightened. His hand landed on Mark’s thin, twitchy shoulder. “Yeah. Maybe. We’ll see. Let’s go in now, son. Cold out here.”
He went back to busy work, diverting his attention. Long ago he’d stopped watching the news. He didn’t want to know what had exploded where. “Just keep in touch when you can,” he’d said, mustering all his energy to quash some Y chromosome throwback—or voice of his father—telling her that her place was with them. Not in some godforsaken country doing thankless work for ungrateful leaders, where every day could be her last.
“I have to try,” she’d said. A near-death experience shining a new light in her eyes, as bright as the stars she wrote about. “I have skills they need. Getting girls into schools. Teaching them to read, to have a chance to improve their lives. I have to serve.”
“But couldn’t you do that here? Somewhere safe?”
She laughed, a soft laugh, pressing a cool hand to his cheek. A strong hand, one that had held babies through sickness and health, through joy and pain. Yet tender enough to calm his greatest fears.
She couldn’t calm this one. It would have been so easy: don’t go.
He’d reasoned, he’d fumed, he’d tried so many ways to get her to see things from his point of view. But in the end gave up the fight. Because he eventually realized that when she came home—and he wouldn’t even allow “if” into his head—he wanted her to come home to him.
Three months, she’d said. That was what she’d signed on for. Six months ago.
He put the kids to bed, watched something unremarkable on television, put a leash on the dog for one last, quick walk.
Half a block later, under a canopy of stars and silence, his phone rang.
It was her. His blood pressure dropped twenty points just hearing her voice, hearing her tell him about the work she’d done, the lives she’d bettered. He held his tongue each time he thought “what about our lives?” But then he saw a shooting star. Making a silent wish on it like his mother always told him. Wishing he could make peace with her decision.
“Honey, you still there?”
“Uh. Yeah. Sorry.” The connection was bad. Why did she sound so flat?
“I said, is next Tuesday good? Around six?”
“Good. Good for…?” Damn. So self-involved, so absorbed with how this was making his life a holy mess that he didn’t…
“For meeting me at the base. They’re done with me. I’m coming home. Or would you prefer I call an Uber?”
“Wait. Done with you?”
The pause broke his heart a little. In it, he imagined a frown, a shrug. A brave face. “No money, no nonessential services.”
Those fucking bastards. “They can’t just…”
“Yeah.” The sound this time was a definite sigh. “They can.”
His Y chromosome went into overdrive. “We’ll find you something else. Some other way you can help. There are plenty of girls here, poor neighborhoods, schools that need help…”
Was that a laugh? It was a soft laugh, a little sad, but it made him stop. And smile.
“Whoa, cowboy,” she said. “I want to talk about that, I want to talk about all of it, but let’s wait until I get home, okay?”
“Yeah.” His voice broke. He cleared his throat. “We’ll do that, yeah.”
And after they ended the call, he petted his patient dog’s soft ears, and the two of them finished their walk silently, gratefully, under the dome of stars.
So beautiful... so painful... so timely. I hope she makes it home safely, and I hope her alleged superiors someday recognize what they've done. Really well done. Thank you.Delete
Wow. Totally agree. The dialogue is so on point, too. There's something so SOLID in the way you write - puts readers at ease, it's am amazing skill. Heart. And yeah, pain.Delete