The alleyway is dark and stained, but the air is still – you are leaning, shoulder against cement, smiling like you’ve got a secret. The graffiti pulses in the moonlight. The stench of humans surrounds you, clogging your throat. This is where souls go to die. Among dirty syringes and broken bottles, the meek make a mockery of scripture. Feral cats claw at the scraps of trash, claw at each other. There is the silence of everything. Traffic and fights and yelling and sirens. There is no expectation of privacy here, and people do not go here to hide. They come to do things that make them feel hidden, lost in the tumult of mediocre dirtbag. You are just passing through, temporary dirtbag. You will not get lost in the alley. This does not make you superior, it makes you complicit. And lucky. Therebutfore the grace of something.
I don’t know where Kiggie went.
There are lights father up the beach, lights behind the dunes – lighters flick on and off, blasting sparks into the sky.
No Kiggie. Where the hell did he go? Why the hell does he always do shit like this? This is the last time, left to wander among strangers as the grunion run...
Silver flashes in the shallow water. Moonlight trapped in brine. It’s apocalyptic and exciting. It’s a smile tearing itself across your face.
Where the hell is that kid? What is wrong with him anyway?
But then he’s back grinning and what can you say? I mean, there’s lots to say, but the grunion wait for no man. No boy. No manboy.
I don’t know about you, but it’s not so bad – the salt in the air and the sound of the waves.
The flashes of silver fish in the moonlight.
It’ll keep you alive. Sort of. It will keep you alive, but you will be made of salt. Salt will replace your blood. But you will save money. And you will not die. You might die ... after a while. Just make sure that any opportunity to eat free food is an opportunity to cram diversity into your diet. Eat fifty carrots. The little ones. Not the big ones. You will regret it if you do. Do not eat free Ramen, you have ramen at home. Do not share your Ramen with your roommates because then you’re not even saving money and you could be eating a burrito. Your ramen can be stored anywhere, but the shelf in the closet is the prime space. The garage. The roomrage. You can add pasta sauce instead of the sauce packet if you cop some. Hint: People often throw away sauce jars with a serving left. Sometimes more. Ramen has become your master. Bow to ramen. You are now one of the salt people. Soon, you can be their king.
(prompts provided by a student)
I love these short takes. Especially ramen. Having lived on it. Bow to ramen.ReplyDelete
I love them too, and my fave is the alley. The alliteration of “meek make a mockery”Delete
Dan creates these sketches so well. These are like successive twists of a kaleidoscope, re-framing the elements each time to make the unfamiliar real.Delete
Sketches is a great word. They're also like capsules. I felt that street in the first one. I felt everything.Delete
The rain fell steadily, coating the upended wheelbarrow like a candy apple, soaking the boxes of bulbs she’d just purchased from the yard store and the row of earth half unearthed in the garden. Building a garden had seemed like such a good idea at first, an industry to turn her anger and grief into action. And, hopefully, tomatoes. But the soil was rockier than she thought. The work harder. The rain more than the brief sprinkles the weather forecast had promised. As it escalated from mist to pin dots on her sweatshirt to dime-sized splatters, she continued biting at the dirt with her trowel, gritting her teeth with each rock that pinged against the metal. Her jaw began to ache with the effort, and even that could not get her to stop. If not now, when? If not now, with the soil softened by the rain and the time allotted and the intention screwed down in her mind, when would she have the energy to surmount her inertia? She hated that mental picture of herself, melting into the fabric of her easy chair, coffee growing cold, tears drying on her face, the deafening silence all around her that no music or television show could chase away. All that played on that idiot box was the same story, over and over. Her husband. Her husband the hero. Thoughts and prayers. For a while. Until he was forgotten, their thoughts and prayers transferred elsewhere.ReplyDelete
He would have wanted her to put in a garden.
He would have wanted her to find some way to be happy.
He would have wanted her to raise their child.
Her hand went to the small roundness of her abdomen, and the memory made her chest ache, too. She’d just gotten the news from her doctor. She thought to surprise him at school, tell him and his twenty-eight fourth-graders that they were having a girl. He loved surprises, loved having fun with his students. So she’d brought balloons, cupcakes from the bakery. She still couldn’t look at a cupcake without seeing the box of them crushed on the floor by children’s running feet. Cream-cheese icing and red velvet crumbs everywhere. Couldn’t stop hearing the pop-pop as the balloons exploded like a twisted carnival game.
He’d thrown himself in front of her to stop the bullet and the shooter. Her husband the hero. The male tech at the ER said that to her. That her baby was fine, and her husband was a hero. The female techs said no such thing. They knew. He had been brave, yes, and it had cost him his life, but nothing would ever be fine.
She tipped her head back and let the rain fall on her face and in her open mouth. She tried to trick herself into thinking that it tasted like fresh tomatoes, and kept digging.
Heartbreaking and well told... the red velvet cupcakes are perfect as a reflection or metaphor for blood.Delete
You've such a refined certain focus on your characters' points of view that the reader slips into their minds with ease. There are no barriers to your narrative here. It's an immediate and full immersion from the first sentence on.Delete
Laurie, to my eternal shame I might well be the last one to come to this realization, but your writing is almost always about somebody obsessed, digging below the surface of that obsession, searching not only for the whys but for the what nows.Delete
Do you know pain? Do you know where to find it? Follow the hoofbeats on dry grasses. Follow the sun’s arc.ReplyDelete
On the day he became a man, he found her drenched in blood and viscera, the cavernous wound across her midriff a silent, dripping howl at the world’s indifference, and she told him they’d cut her baby out and macheted it in two. He asked why they’d spared her, and she couldn’t tell him. After he sutured her together again, or her body at least, she cried for days, and a small part of that was the hard blunt urge of her engorged breasts, the desperate milk of which she convinced him to suck. Not as a sexual act, she insisted, but a pragmatic one. He meant to agree, and on one level he surely did, but soon the daily ritual of her motherhood expressed into his acclimatizing mouth was quite literally a sweet arousal. She was almost twice his age. Thus was their baffling and atypical bond established.
But one day they had to leave the shack and join the convulsing world maddened in its throes.
The throng of bison boiled across the plains like dark suds; blinking, stumbling, sometimes gasping, the man and the woman followed their simmering decadeslong passage into an evensong.
Then reached the silver shimmer of the coastal sweep, frail as eggshell.
We think we’re lonely. Want to know what lonely is? We think it’s when someone won’t hear us, when our words fall dry on quieted plains. Yeah, it’s that. We think it’s when we’re misunderstood, misconstrued. Sure. It’s also that. We think it’s when we’ve suffered shame in public, abandoned, no ally in sight. Yeah, it’s that too. We think it’s when we’re strung from a tree and spit on, without a friend in close. Uh-huh. That too. We think it’s the whistleblower’s fear, the revolutionary’s grail, the dissident’s rage, all quelled by tyrant malice and worse, the silent savagery of indifference. Which it surely is. We think it the panic of doom in the great brimming eye of the wounded straggler as the zealous pride closes in. The shear of the desert hawk oblique to the hot wind. The last distraught arrival at the site, ribcage like bellows, as the final liftoff launches forlorn above. The last white bear lurching on the only unmelted floe. The last bee spiralling clumsily down like the double-helix undone. All of which it is. But when I say lonely I mean the impossible and pitiless interim between the brief age of life and the eventual relentless stretch of each atom and its subatomic parts into an unimaginably vast abyssal chasm spanning the entirety of what is and what will ever be, space itself expanding to a point that light can no longer be shared between points, so all the particles ever created drift alone and unencountered, no hope of warmth, or hope of even a glimmer of a friend, no hope of anything, no hope even of hope. Not the end, but the end of end, the loveless eternal void, the almost-nothing cruel enough to not quite ever be fully nothing.
The pair, hollowed out and Oedipal, stand like stormstruck trees at the cliff edge and watch the vexed and undead ocean heave with blind grey malevolence as one by one the stars are doused, all light and tide withdraws, the last things seen on this or any other world two scorched and doting human hands entwined, love’s final say.
Wow. Just wow.Delete
Exactly, Leland. This is a miniature epic, nothing less than that.Delete
Just...holy cats, wow.Delete
I was joking with another friend about how this is so bleak they need to name a street in the West Village after it. Bleek, bleecker, bleeckest.Delete
His name is Tanner. His eyes, when you can see them, are olive drab mixed with a little blue. Usually, though, they’re squinted, from all the time he’s spent under desert suns.ReplyDelete
His ears stick out, from all the times his daddy pulled them when he was growing up. “Can’t you hear me?” his daddy used to ask as he pulled, sometimes as punishment, sometimes as a joke.
His lips are chapped, and there are no dimples in his cheeks. He does not smile. Hasn’t since he turned eighteen and signed up to be a Marine. Enough killing wipes the smile off your face, unless you’re a psychotic, and Tanner is not that. When Tanner smiles, it is with his eyes. Only a sparkle, and you have to be paying attention to see it.
His chin juts out. Not from stubbornness but from determination. “Tenacity,” he calls it.
His neck would look oversized on a man with a lesser body, but on Tanner it looks like a tree trunk holding a bust of Antinous, a tree planted in muscular and wide shoulders, shoulders that sit atop the mountains of his pecs.
And that is as much of Tanner’s anatomical geography as we will discuss in public. Not that he’s shy, but he likes to believe he is just a “regular guy,” as he puts it. Thank the gods for regular guys, and send more of ‘em, I always say, at least to the gods who are not jealous.
I know all about Tanner, and Tanner knows all about me. I know the days of the month his eyes flash red. I know what it means when his high and tight hair grows shaggy and long.
There aren’t many gay werewolves. How extraordinary that we two found each other in boot camp, and alive, at that.
This is remarkable and so well written. You've such a deft touch, Leland. You speak softly but with a great certainty in your voice.Delete
Love it! And the beautiful paragraph about his neck. And the twist at the end.Delete
Agreed. Nice shift at the end. Also:Delete
When Tanner smiles, it is with his eyes. Only a sparkle, and you have to be paying attention to see it.
I know this person!
Thank you for the kind words!Delete
Ambrose waited. The burn of the ice against his fingertips focused him. He must act and act quickly, but without deliberation.ReplyDelete
“Open your mouth,” he instructed, knowing she’d obey. He brought the cube toward her face, offering it up with a delicacy that spoke much of his control. He closed his mind to the pain, which would pass when his fingers numbed, concentrating on holding the ice close enough to her cheek so its heat-shadow would caress it. He was an artist, not a charlatan. He was the one who led, not one of those blind followers who purported to practise his methods. They were nothing but imitators, gross manipulators unable to see beyond the physical aspects of his methodology. He’d kept the more esoteric elements of his science secret, making the arcane occult, elevating his techniques in isolation.
He smiled, remembering her name. “Amanda,” he said. “You must trust me. You can only do what I say. The experiences I can bring to you are subtle, but powerful, nonetheless. You will have to work hard to receive the true benefits. You must be like ice yourself; fixing and crystallising your attention. I can only do so much – the rest will be up to you.”
She nodded, promising him her obeisance. Her eyes remained closed, their lids steady, the small muscles controlling them stilled. He prepared himself, imagining the cube to be a brush, its chill bristles reaching out invisibly. There were so many refinements he’d brought to his art that it would be a tragedy to waste it on somebody who was unready or insufficiently sophisticated to appreciate it fully.
“Okay,” he said. “We’ll begin. Now, stick out your tongue for me. But keep it flat, broad and rounded. I’ll need it to be relaxed and soft to start…”
Well. I'm hooked. I need to know what comes next!Delete
Scientifically erotic... if that's not a contradiction. I'm intrigued as well!Delete
Mark, I mean this as a great compliment, obviously, but you are the bastard child of Poe and Lovecraft here in #2mins land.Delete
I'll take that as a compliment, David. I'm hugely flattered to be mentioned positively in conjunction with either of those talents!Delete