I handed you the book, like, hey, here is something I care about – something that’s important to me. You took the olive branch and stuck it in my eye. You belly laughed about it. What a fucking nerd.
I tried to think what you cared about. What sung inside you with such beauty and delicacy that it HAD to be shared. And I thought, if there isn’t something … Jesus. If’s there’s not a book you love or a show you worship or a song that touched you, well, hell, that’s so sad.
And then I felt like you wanted me to cry, but I was too sad to cry. I was empathizing with your meek, passionless life. Too cool to care. You should listen to Ian McKay. He was a blowhard, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right.
So, I tucked my nerdy trump card and skated. Back home where my big Sis waited. And he’d called her. Told her what I’d done. Super freaking nerd shit. Your brother is such a dork. How could anyone care so much about something so retarded?
We were sad for him together. As sad as you can be for an insecure pile of clichés and self aggrandizement. He’s a lawyer now.
Still don’t care about shit.
She was a little older than me, and she smelled like cinnamon gum. She smoked cigarettes while she waited for the bus. My friends and I broke stuff. She stood to the side and smoked cigarettes.
One day she sat beside me on the bus, and I swear I died. My heart exploded. Our knees touched and I felt a shock. Literally. That’s not just lazy writing.
Long, blonde hair. The only blonde I’ve ever loved except family.
She was nice in a detached way. I thought she must have been 27 really and there to observe the middle school boys in their natural environment. Laughing hyenas. She was worldly, which is a cliché, but screw you. I’m trying to be honest. I’m trying to be open. What are you trying?
I was 115 pounds of straight nervous heart attack. I was writing stories in my head, and they were all about her.
The day I decided I loved her completely was one of the last times I saw her. School ended. She never came back. I’m 42 and I don’t regret much, but if I could go back I would have kissed her. Asked her out. Asked her to marry me in a sketchy cult ceremony.
She would have said no. And it would have been amazing.
Daddy’s hands were black, but his chest shone like a beacon. Like a man whose job it was to guide ships in during a storm. His face was grey. White on Sundays. Black at the end of the day. He smoked unfiltered cigarettes and coughed. He sang songs in the choir. He made homemade ice cream, and he liked to fish.
His anger was righteousness, like God was pissed. When he was happy, he was a pal. When he was down in the mine, he never watched the canary. He didn’t think like that.
When Ma died, he shattered. He lived in the mine and at the rail, drinking rye whiskey and telling bullshit stories and bragging how he had the best job on earth. He pulled his paycheck from the earth. He tapped it out with hammers and a chisel. He fucking breathed it inside of him. It killed him. He’s dead.
Coal raised me. Every bite I ate was black. Every pair of shoes left black grit on my soul. I did not brag about Daddy’s job. Everyone had a daddy worked in the mine. He was nothing special.
Nowadays, I sit on the big rock at the Y in the trout stream, and I think about him. Cigars, rough hands. Skin always cracking. He could never get clean. And I think. That’s it, man. That’s it right there. The poor bastard could never get clean. Not even when he tried.
Awesome start! I love the way you paint such pictures with so few words.ReplyDelete
This makes me want to go buy a cigar and find a man of the earth. Great piece.Delete
Welcome back, Mr. Mader. Great piece, and so many indelible images.Delete
I can never get enough fiction about miners; that's one hell of a character sketch (though sketch doesn't feel adequate. It's a full-on painting.Delete
Love your writing, my friend.
Glad always to read your work... it shines light in places that are too dark. The coal miner's son touched my heart... and so did the crush on the lady who smelled of cinnamon.Delete
It was a little thing, completely unimportant, completely unnoticed by anyone but her. But in her eyes, it was grand. Vast. All-consuming. It bit down and wouldn’t let go, the emotional equivalent of a moray eel.ReplyDelete
A week forward or back, and she might not have been affected by it. A different week, a different day, a different hour, even, and she might have been able to shrug it off, if she even noticed it at all. But today it loomed large and dark, blotting out the bright blue sky.
It made her want things, unhealthy things. It made her want to claw at her own skin, to try to force her mind to focus on something else. It made her want to beat her fists against something pliable, fragile, something that would conform to the shape of her curled fingers…or give way beneath them. It made her want to crawl into a bottle, or crawl into bed and pull the covers over her head and stay there for a day or ten.
But she’d faced this demon before. Many times. The first time – the first hundred times – she hadn’t even know the demon’s name. But she did, now, and it robbed the thing of a great deal of its power. Or maybe it was just time and experience that had done that. Yes, she knew the demon well, and even though familiarity hadn’t given her the magical ability to keep it from blotting out the sun, somewhere along the way, she’d learned that a simple flashlight would let her see her way through.
I love the emotions this evokes.Delete
I love the beating heart of this, and I know the feeling. Keep shining that flashlight.Delete
What they said^ Plus, I love how it's unnerving at first but resolves itself into something more manageable.Delete
A beautiful illustration of the power of naming a demon... and lighting candles and flashlights. Well told!Delete
He carried the box over to the hole; tears streamed quietly down his cheeks.ReplyDelete
Real men didn't cry. That's what his dad said, usually after belting him for spilling his beer.
He wiped his eyes.
Real men didn't cry, but sometimes the little boys inside them did.
It was a big box, but it wasn't heavy.
Mac had gotten pretty scrawny over the last couple months.
He'd joked with Mary that they'd save money on dogfood.
Funny. He didn't know how funny it wasn't.
He found him this morning, lying on that old saddle blanket under the porch swing. Sleeping like always. Like always, but his ears didn't cock when his boots approached and his chest didn't rise up and down with the sigh that meant it was time to get up.
He dropped to his knees, his heart breaking.
“No...” It was almost a whisper.
“No...” A little louder this time.
Mac was the best dog. It wasn’t always true, but he'd remember him that way.
Mac loved getting into the chicken pen. He wouldn't hurt them, more like herded them. It was the darnedest thing to watch him move the hens across the yard and back again.
He couldn't keep a straight face when he went out to “scold” the dog, not with that goofy grin looking up at him. Over the years Mac got into all kinds of mischief, but he rarely got into trouble for it.
“That damn smile.”
A flood of memories rushed into his heart.
“He was a good boy.”
He looked down at his hands. They were trembling.
He picked up the shovel and dropped dirt into the hole; tears falling down his face again as he buried his best friend and said goodbye.
Thirteen years wasn't enough. not nearly enough.
</3 All the feels. So much great and truth in so few words.Delete
You definitely made me miss my dog, Butch. Great job!Delete
Oh. You're killing me. This is such a strong piece.Delete
You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn't fully relate to this. The downside of our love for those furry friends whose lives are so heartbreakingly short.Delete
Thanks guys! You're right David, too short.Delete
Beautifully sad. And all dogs are the best dog.Delete
The masonry and wood in the basement smelled like decades of everything it had absorbed: corned beef curing in stainless steel bins, cucumbers pickling in barrels, even the German and Yiddish and Russian and Polish words that had been spoken here, as the newer immigrants in Williamsburg supplanted the old.ReplyDelete
Eli’s first trip to the basement was as etched into his memory as the hash marks on the support beams. “See those, boychik?” his father had said. “This is where I keep track of employees that don’t work out so well.”
Pop had been smiling when he said it, so it was probably a lie; nobody knew the real answer. Eli eventually surmised that the marks most likely represented a mundane system of accounting: how many rounds of pastrami, how many pounds of kosher salt, how much black pepper.
He ran a finger over a segment of them, ticked off like days a man might count his prison sentence.
Eli had never counted.
He swiveled toward his granddaughter. “Yes, Miriam?”
“I’m so hungry for Chinese food and this place is giving me the creeps. Can we please go back up to our table soon?”
“Yes. Very soon.” He peered up along the tops of the walls. It didn’t look much different, except for some new wiring. Telephone. Cable. All the modern conveniences. He took another deep inhale of the literal melting pot the space had become. “You know, I found it immensely comforting to be down here when I was your age.”
“Why, because you could hide from Papa Abramowitz?”
He grinned. Remembering all the hours he’d spent here. “Your great-grandfather was a pussycat. No. It wasn’t like that. I liked that it was quiet. I liked when we were working down here, just the two of us. He was so busy running the restaurant that this was sometimes the only time we spent alone together.”
Still with her arms hugged around her skinny middle, she picked her way over, through what was now extra cases of paper take-out containers and soy sauce packets. She stopped a few feet away from him. How much of her mother, her grandmother he could see in her face.
“That sounds nice,” she said. “I wish I could work like that with my dad. Well. I can’t paint like he can. But, you know. Help with stuff. Buy new brushes and write in the little book which paintings he’s sold.”
So serious, my little Miriam. He was thrilled that she agreed to this weekend together. Soon she would be of an age not to be caught dead wandering around Brooklyn with an old man. Eli plucked his hat off his head and plopped it onto hers; she tilted it at a jaunty angle and made a movie star face at him, which always made him laugh.
“But let me ask you something, mein aynikl. Did you ever ask if you could?”
Her gaze dropped to the concrete floor. Then she peered up at him. “Did you ask Papa Abramowitz?”
“Ask! There was no asking back then. It was the family business. We just did.”
“But we have a family business.”
“Yes. I suppose you do.”
She took off his hat and smooshed it back on his head. “I’ll ask him. I’ll ask him when we get home. But please. Please, please, can we go upstairs and eat now?”
“Go on.” He pressed a hand to her thin shoulder. “I’ll be right behind you.” He had a feeling he would never see this place again, and, unlike the last time he’d left, he wanted to say a proper goodbye.
The emotion you put into everything you do amazes me. You manage to get a ton of sweetness and longing out of so few words.Delete
You've made me homesick for something I never had. Well done.Delete
Yes, the others said it. It's so vividly rendered.Delete
So gorgeous and rich... and I can smell and hear those walls... what a gift you have for storytelling.Delete
I don't feel like I once did. I don't expect everything to be handed to me, but I also don't assume it will all go to shit. I don't take things for granted anymore. If you don't work at your skills you get rusty.ReplyDelete
I was rusty. And I was up against the best. Or the worst. Whatever.
Five years. It had been five long years since I'd trained or fought anything. Now the demon charged me, and there was nowhere to run. I grabbed the useless cross around my neck and prayed for the first time in an age. That wouldn't save me either. If I died I would go to hell. Then I took a deep breath and reached for the small staff. Emerald had mocked it. Called it a wand. I got the nickname Hermione because of that damn staff, but it worked. That is, it would work if I believed in it. I hoped.
I pointed the staff at the charging brute and shouted a spell that had failed me the last time I'd tried to use it. Heavenly fire shot from the wood, straight at the monster.
It was almost enough. I almost stopped him. The story almost had a happy ending. But in the end the damn demon was too powerful. He killed me. It was brutal and painful and gross. It was all of those things you expect death by mauling to be and then some.
So now I have no body. Well, I have a body, but no one can see it. My kids walk through me all the time. My husband and friends talk about me like I'm not in the room...because to them I'm not. Emerald is here, at least. We chill out together. Get it? Chill out? I slay me, sometimes.
Turns out there is life after death. It's not even lonely. I've met a few other ghosts. They're not bad spirits. We taunt the demons and vampires and poltergeists around the city. Draw them away from unsuspecting victims when we can.
But, late at night, lying beside my husband as he cries himself to sleep, I can't help thinking about what would have happened if I'd had a little more confidence in myself.
Took a turn I wasn't expecting. Grim and painful little story.Delete
What she said. But I want to know more about this character!Delete
I love that slightly surprising final sentence. That muted regret.Delete
They say the full moon brings madness. Luna, lunar, lunatic. Would that the madness of the world were confined to one day a month.ReplyDelete
But my madness, my very own madness is. You don’t know what it’s like. To chain myself up, before sunset on that day. Did you know the sun sets at the same time the full moon rises? Every other day of the month, the moon rises earlier or later than the sunset, but at the full moon, its rise is simultaneous with the sunset.
The powers of the moon — and my own — are strongest then. Every canine knows this. You’ve heard the wolves cry, the coyotes howl. The light makes it easier to see what we wish to kill.
We do not kill for killing’s sake. Only humans — full blood humans — are so mad as to do this.
We kill for food, my canine brethren and I. For food and for protection. And occasionally for love, or for love’s loss.
Why am I telling you this? Surely you wonder if the madness has already seeped into my mind, though the sun is still above the horizon. Surely you wonder if what I tell you is true.
I swear to you, it is.
Do you remember last week? When you were driving — far too fast — on one of the many backroads of this county? When you cursed the stray dog that ran in front of your car and caused so much damage to your bumper?
That was no cur. It was my beloved.
And this night, this night of the full moon, I will not be in chains.
I’ll even give you a head start.
Oh, my heart. Great ending. You made me think of a news story I read this week, about a hit-and-run driver who killed a dog while his human was walking him. And the love that dog gave.Delete
My kind of story! :) Love it, Leland.Delete
A master of sticking the ending. Love the description and emotion.ReplyDelete
Damn, that's beautiful and terrifying.ReplyDelete
She reappeared after a decade and a half in a cloud of dust straddling a dirt bike over the desert hardpan. Arabella, above the scrub. Seconds after I realized who she was, how rapidly I recognized the vacuum she’d left. Those endless curves, her body a mobius strip of sensuality. Her kohl-marked eyes, her gathered haunches. Her wits. Her ferocity. Always poised. Home again. My favourite ever psychopath.ReplyDelete
My arms, my legs are gates. Friends walk in; I can’t help it. Fucking Abby and fucking Amy.
Afterward, we talked.
“How do you do that?” she wanted to know.
“That thing with your face. That empathy thing.”
“…” Because sometimes words are stupid.
“People always buy it. I wanna learn that.”
“Uh. Yeah. You want to be me.”
“Hmm. Maybe. But without the lame parts.”
“And which are those?”
“Don’t make me say it, Amy girl. You already know.”
No matter how much I ached to put a bullet through her, I knew I couldn’t. How I wished she’d stayed away forever. How grateful I was she’d returned. Abby. My prodigal bitch.
Time to trace our story...
I'm intrigued. I like how minimalist this is, and yet you get the salient points across. One of my favorite lines: "That thing with your face. That empathy thing."Delete
Please say there's more.Delete
Erin, I hope so! Not yet, but when more story appears in my head (I have a couple ideas). :)Delete
There’s a look a man gets when he’s imprisoned. When he’s been kept apart in a place where he has no options, no friends, no one he can trust or even love implicitly. It’s a look that is so dark and downcast it seems apocryphal. Like nothing, no where could be that bad. It keeps his hands clenched and his nostrils flared and hardens his jaw but mostly it pours like lava out of his eyes. It’s a burning hurt there is no passing through or around. It just aches. It doesn’t just make him sad, it makes him dead — deep inside. Gone… like he’s not even there at all.ReplyDelete
I wouldn’t ever say that my life experiences were comparable to that form of captivity. I don’t have the hubris to say that I’ve lived my life like an incarcerated man. But I do recognize the look. The hopelessness. I saw it sometimes when I looked in the mirror. I felt it too when ever I dared allow myself to think about how much I lost when I lost you.
It sure felt like living in a cage. And even though I’ve work impossibly hard to rebuild my life. Even though my hopes and dreams have inexplicably come back to me, the cage is still there. It will always be there because I’ve loved you, and only you from the moment I first saw you surrounded by cherry blossoms, eating apple sauce, and smiling at me. You are the only one who can set me free. You’ve are the only key to my happiness.
And I want out. Now or never.
I love how ominous this is. And that description in the first paragraph!Delete
Lilly Anne Witherspoon-Smith was just like the rest of us, really. All blonde hair and big blue eyes. We attended cottilion and the Junior League and had our sad-ass debutante balls, urged to look for a husband by the time we were 14. I figure everything would have gone on just as usual for girls like we were, except that Lilly Anne was distinguished by a little more money and being a Witherspoon. A good family. The kind that had the last house on Main street with the big plantation columns, tucked between the ones that were now just funeral homes and lawyer's offices.You know what I mean.
You couldn't blame her and her folks for believing she was a little bit better, because maybe she was. I only know the trouble started when she got mixed up, first, with that new Megachurch out on the highway and second, when that TV pastor they had started telling the brethren they needed to get tested for their DNA. I couldn’t say as I ever really clicked with that crowd. Only attended services there a few times. I figure anybody preaching the word of God needs at least a chance at a hearing, but Daddy didn’t feel the same way at all. Said he wanted nothing to do with them corporate Christians and I can’t say as I blame him, given what happened to Lilly Anne.
She was real tight with the reverend over there, who called himself Mickey D. He always wore designer sunglasses to the service, claiming the stage lights bothered his eyes, but I reckon it was vanity more than not, and he favored the kinds of suits a person rarely sees outside of Las Vegas or Congress. But he got popular quick all right, preaching a kind of mishmashed gospel that was part old time, part New Age and mostly bullshit. There’s a whole lot of folks in this town like to think they’re better than some, but when you go beyond God loves you and Jesus saves and start telling ordinary humans God is within you and you ARE god, well then, there are going to be problems.
From what I hear, it started one Sunday when there was a big show of worship rock to fire up the crowd and then he took the pulpit and started preaching about as righteous patriots, each and every one of the brethren should send off and get their DNA tested from Legacy Inc. I thought it was kind of peculiar myself, but I just figured he owned stock in the company and besides, nothing had turned ugly yet. But a lot of people did just like he told ‘em, including Lily Anne, and before long, she got her results back and started to become unglued.
She was approaching her change of life by that time which, as any woman knows can make you a little bit crazy, but in Lily Anne’s case, it seems her DNA was about a quarter Iberian and she had a whole slew of blood relatives down in Puerto Rico. It was a piece of news that shook her, she said, to her very foundations, the Witherspoons having been previously thought to hail from England or Scotland or someplace. Which they still were, of course, but that didn’t explain the Puerto Rican in the woodpile, either.
So I found her at Kroger’s awhile after and she looked like hell. Eyes all red-rimmed from crying, hair a mess, not her usual self at all. She was over by the paper products, sniffling and carrying on, having already ripped open a box of Kleenex even before she checked out.
“Lilly Anne, “I asked her. “Honey, you awright? Somebody die?”
Once she registered who I was, she reached out and grabbed my arm like it was a lifeline and she was drowning. “Zelda, Zelda—“ she began, then rummaged around in her handbag to pull out her letter from Legacy Inc. “I just know I can confide in you. Where is this place? Iberia. Where is that?”
I glanced at the paper and only managed to raise one eyebrow. I guess she figured she could count on my discretion. Not to mention I might actually know. I teach fifth grade Geography over at the middle school, so after thinking about it for a little, I googled it on my phone just to make sure and showed her the map.
She drew back a little in horror. “It ain’t—Africa. Is it?”
“Naw, Lilly Anne. It’s more like around, Spain? Portugal. In there.” Just means you got a Spaniard or somebody for a relative. Not far back, though, considering all the kin in Puerto Rico.
Her tears started afresh. “Oh, sweet baby Jesus in a carpenter’s dress, Zelda. I’m practically a Mexican! What are people gonna say? The Reverend is real big on racial purity. Making America for Americans.”
Now it was my turn to back off a couple of steps. Things aren’t about to get better when folks start throwing phrases like that around. So I just pasted on a big fake smile and said, “Why don’t you maybe ask your Momma? I mean, Latin lovers were all the fashion back in the day. You know, Lucy and Desi and all that.”
I don’t know if she ever did work up the chops to ask Julia Witherspoon what might have transpired, but I’m pretty sure if she did, Julia never said. You don’t get to lording your social superiority over everybody down at the Junior League by giving up your youthful indiscretions.
But that was when things took an even more unexpected turn.
The whole Puerto Rican thing might have died a peaceful death if she had let it go, but instead Lilly Anne got more and more obsessed about the DNA thing. I mean, if she couldn’t trust who she was, how was she supposed to trust anybody else? So she made her husband, Bob Smith send off for his, too, needing to make sure his people really were from Kentucky and if that dark curly hair of his ran in his whole family.
I guess I should mention that Bob Smith always made me a little uneasy. He was always the silent type, but there was more to it than that. Like he never really fully occupied the space he was in. And even when he did manage to get into a conversation, you felt like you’d been snuck up on.
So when his findings came back ten percent Welsh and 90 percent unidentifiable, they naturally thought it was some kind of mistake. Even Legacy Inc offered a do-over, with a bigger sample so, they cut off one of them curls and sent that on. Same results. Lilly Anne was beside herself. Long story short, it went on for months. Five more rounds of tests and funky DNA. The last time it happened, the company sent a certified letter and a release form asking them never to return or disclose their results to anyone. That’s when old man Witherspoon stepped in and sued them for five million.
They settled out of court, of course, I don’t know for how much, but you can be sure it was plenty. Witherspoons could afford the good lawyers. But even at that, Lilly Anne wasn’t about to let it go. I belong to the school of thinking that likes to let a sleeping dog stay right where they are, but not her. They say the following Sunday, there at the megachurch, she marched right up to testify and vindicate herself damn near started a riot. She said the DNA didn’t matter and that Mickie D had prostituted their faith and forced them into enmity with his talk of Americans and racial purity. That he had turned brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor, and all in the name of the Lord. She pleaded with them to depart from a path of division and exclusion when each and every one of them was created in the image and likeness of God and Jesus had already saved them all. She even confessed to be part Puerto Rican, though she never did say about Bob. Didn’t matter. Word had got out by then. It always does.
The hell of it being, she didn’t change one single mind. The irony being, I guess, that to a lot of them folks, she’d always had it easy and since word had gotten out about Bob Smith and the settlement, all anybody could see was whatever they wanted to. And not a damn one of them knew the difference between knowing God’s will and their own.
That night a mob of them in feed caps went by that big house on Main street and burned a cross on the front lawn, along with a giant rubber ET action figure and a pretty good replica of the starship[ Enterprise dangling from the arms. Probably thought they were being funny, but it wasn’t. Not to me anyhow. Especially when I saw they’d spray painted them grand white columns of that plantation house with two words: Illegal Aliens.
They packed up and left after that and I can’t blame them. Would have myself, except I have school to teach. Down at the Junior League, some say they went to Portugal, some say they retired over to Costa Rica. Doesn’t really matter; they had enough money to go wherever they pleased, live how they wanted. Like America is supposed to be.
I just hope, wherever they are, they’re welcome.