Friday, November 18, 2022

2 Minutes. Go!

Sun pours out of the window, lighting the small courtyard in dimpled light. There are trees stretching their arms, and bushes hugging the earth like desperate toddlers. There is a bird bath that birds are scared to visit. They are scared because there is also a black cat who bores easily. He isn't hungry. He doesn't need blood; he needs the chase, and he will find it. Feline magnetism. Magic. 

There is a reflecting pond where koi should swim, and there is a stump that is covered in ivy. Hidden in the folds of the ivy, there are civilizations and worlds. Same can be said for the grass, the mulch, the fallen wooden fence which is so old and weathered that it looks as if it was placed there by God himself. 

Underneath the grass, there are tiny bodies and bigger ones. Seven hamsters, two cats who preceded the black. One was hell on birds, one wasn't. There is a beagle puppy that died young, breaking a young boy's heart, and there is one rabbit who barely lived past Easter. Some more scattered and random. Big enough to be a cow, horse, something with longer legs. 

There is a crumbling shed that is held up by a rusted, red bike. The rubber is rotten, and the spokes twisted. The bike hasn't moved in many, many years. It never moved much when it was new. 

I wish we could say that there is joy in the garden, but the garden is a tableau of lost joy. It is the antithesis of Eden, this garden of despair. Someday, it will be discovered, and people will wonder. They will make assumptions about what they find. Some will be right; some will be wrong. 

Bones tell twisted tales. 

22 comments:

  1. Love it. I look for abandoned places like this to explore and photograph.

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    1. An evocative depiction of what appears to be a pet cemetery (not sematary, thankfully) that seems to threaten something more unsettling still. I love it. A bird bath that birds are scared to visit. That gave me chills.

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    2. That's beautiful. Love it. I also landed hard on the scary birdbath line.

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    3. I've been there. It makes me sad to go back (so to speak), but you describe it so well.

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    4. I love the measured tranquillity you create here, your narrative calm and in contrast to the images you show us. The reader seems remote, dispassionate almost, and it’s as though we’re an omniscient being, watching the traumas unfold. It’s a fascinating piece of writing and it’s totally masterful.

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  2. Faraway from home in some past decade, he found himself in a hotel on Main Street on the Canadian stretch of the Rocky Mountains. Elk like sacred ungulates wandered into town unmolested. Icesprays broke from nearby glaciers, cold unheeded squibs. He alighted from a Greyhound, someone else, some long-gone September afternoon. Bright skies, clean rivers, a cold stealing in behind.

    He accepted a viewless room and closed his eyes, slept an hour. Dreamed:

    The night is urging silence, the shush shush shush of lawn sprinklers a giveaway. Only the occasional dog defies it, a sudden inexplicable bark against the hum of warmth from lawns and gardens rising into the cooling air. Your intaken breath a parody of weather. The offshore eventide breeze sucks westward from the hills, more heat extinguished like stealth.

    When he woke, he came down to a hotel bar that was quiet, a group of young men his own age clustered at one end, a cowboy at the other, and a young woman tending it.

    ***

    Trembling at the tip of a leaf, a jewel of dew quivers with infinity.

    ***

    Then stories happen.

    ***

    An outdoor teagarden with elderly women in floral dresses. A man is to their left. Although he’s not a man; he has a man’s face, stretched over various mechanical contraptions, and his entire body is a riot of steampunk gadgetry, all whirring and moving while the man’s mouth moves. I can read his lips: “Can you hear me?” But we can’t, especially the dainty women to whom he addresses this. After a while, you see his face contort with rage and what looks like agony as he screams, silently, “Please listen to me! Please help me! Please help me!” over and over, his neck skin flapping and stretched between levers and pistons and oiled joints. He thinks they’re ignoring him, but they can’t hear him.

    ***

    So here’s the release, the literal release, and I don’t know what to feel. The clang and clangour of the past, its grime and grimaces, dolour and doom, have coughed me into some future that has hidden in wait all my life for a moment when I’m least robust, least able to shoulder its new weight and keen tangle of angles, drag its ass and its drastic unfathomable mass.

    Where do I go now? I want to buy a newspaper but where? A coffee, perhaps?

    Come find me at the riverbank, activate your turbine scream, your Rickenbacker growl. Is this tide ebbing at last?

    ***

    The road is the night. The yellow lines like grooves under the needle of your car wheels, and the song they make. When as a doe I stepped out entranced by the eyes of your car and was hit a glancing blow, I heard the most melancholy of songs playing in the shimmer of night, in the exhaled breath of a thing we might name “accident,” but is only one small part of the symphony. I staggered, hurt, buckling on stilt legs, and all semblance of story was smeared against the subdued street-lit facades and the glow of neon, stabs of faraway sirens, until I came to you in the sandstone courtyard and you had waited all your unrewarded life for this part of your own keen story where you were avid to help me in order for me to help you.

    You think we’re ignoring you, but we can’t hear you.

    ***

    (I think they’re ignoring me, but they can’t hear me.)

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    1. This is a fun mind-trip. I enjoy the jumps.

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    2. This is almost a companion piece to Dan’s writing. Again, we have the remote omniscient reader, but this time he (or she) is casting their eye largely on the men and women they’re studying. Or at least that’s how it starts. We’re led through various scenarios as the reader watches and listens to the people in this remote bar as they gather around the figurative camp fire and share their stories, aware that the world beyond these walls is wild and that even the weather is savage. You share a disturbing tale of an almost surreal existence and then flip the story about so that we’re no longer sure which world is real. ‘He’ becomes ‘I’ and then we become disorientated and we’re no longer sure whether the nightmare is real.

      This is such a vivid, disturbing tale and I love it.

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  3. There were so many things Yulia wanted to say to her granddaughter, after the true nature of Anya’s “shopping trip” had been revealed, but she couldn’t find the words. At least not the right words. Not words that wouldn’t be callous or cutting about the deception, not even words that would be a comfort—to Anya or herself—about what this mysterious archivist they were going to visit might have found about her history, about Maksym. Shock and anger clouded her mind and perhaps did her the good turn of rendering her speechless. Self-preservation, she decided. Preservation of what might be her only living relative. Her only tie to her history…and, at times, her sanity.

    After their short conversation, Yulia clenched her fists in her lap and pointed her gaze out the window. She watched the highway turn the city into suburbs into exurban farmland then into another city. One she remembered from long ago. Where a cargo plane of cold, starving Ukrainian refugees was met by a fleet of buses that then separated them to what felt like the four corners of the world. She’d made promises to a few to keep in touch, and had not kept any of them. Sometimes she regretted that decision, usually while sitting alone in her rundown apartment and letting her mind ease down the all-too-slippery slope of melancholy, but then she got over it. What did they have in common now except their collective tragedy? Is that what they would talk about until the end of their days? Would she never be allowed to forget?

    “I don’t want this,” Yulia said. “Take me home.”

    “Bubbe. We’re almost there. Look.” She nodded up ahead. “There’s our exit.”

    “Then we can do something else instead. Go to lunch. Walk in the park. Just not—”

    “Please,” Anya said. “Okay. I will make a deal with you. Just meet him. That’s all. Then, if you wish, we can do something else.”

    Yulia sighed, letting that be her agreement. Anya put on her blinker and exited the highway, snaking her little car through a series of ramps and roundabouts, and pulled into a municipal parking lot. Yulia made to pull some change from her purse before she remembered it wasn’t needed—all of that was electronic now. Sometimes it was hard for her to let go of old habits. She still reused teabags and coffee filters and saved the dregs of mustard jars for salad dressings; she still purchased the cheapest cuts of meat, when she allowed herself to buy meat, even when Anya reminded her that while they were by no means rich, thanks to Anya’s paycheck they could buy themselves decent groceries once in a while, and certainly did not have to reuse teabags.

    Still wordless, the two of them exited the car and Anya led her to a fusty little three-story building that had seen better decades. The stone façade was crumbling; the stairs worn in the middle. Yulia could not imagine such a thing as an archive inside, especially not when Anya pulled open the front door and a whiff of must and dampness greeted them.

    “I’m sure it’s climate-controlled where they keep the historical material,” Anya said to Yulia’s frowning face. “I can’t imaging they would allow”—a stoop-shouldered white-haired man in an ill-fitting suit came through an inner door—“oh, hello. Dr. Davidovich?”

    “Yes.” He extended a hand to Anya, who shook it warmly, but when it was offered to Yulia she merely stared until he pulled it back. “Well. I’m glad you could make it.”

    “Thank you, Dr. Davidovich.” Anya said. “Thank you for making the time for us.”

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    1. (Continued)
      “Oh, no.” He pressed a hand to his chest. “It is I who am grateful. And honored. History on a page is just so…uninspiring compared to the actual human experience.”

      Yulia sniffed. “It is as if I am a museum then, is it?”

      He looked to be giving her words serious consideration, and then he smiled enough to just crinkle his eyes. “Well, yes. In a way.”

      “Where are your people from?” Yulia asked.

      A deep blush colored Anya’s cheeks. “What my grandmother meant was—”

      “Originally, from Odessa,” he said. “Then Kyiv after 2014. Then here.”

      “Did you fight?”

      “I was too young for…official service. But big enough to cause trouble.” His next smile was broader but fleeting, and for a moment it made him look like one of the boys Yulia had known back then, the ones who made Molotov cocktails and took potshots at Russian tank tires, shouting “Putin khulyo!” over their shoulders while running away.

      “All right.” Yulia nodded. “Then we can talk.”

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    2. You use the word "revealed" in your opening sentence, along with "couldn't find the words," which is ironic since what you do as well as anyone I've read is reveal some kind of context and backstory without showing us the smoke and mirrors. In other words, you always do "find the words," and they're so subtle we barely notice how seamlessly we've been led into the story.

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    3. Man, I want the rest of this! You have managed to pull off a balanced perspective while letting us see that the character knows she doesn't have a balanced perspective and really doesn't want one.

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    4. Thank you! Working on it. I'm growing to really love these characters.

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    5. And Laurie never fails to create a world filled with hearts. Not the saccharine ones from Hallmark but the ones we experience every day. You’ve an unerring skill at writing from a human point of view, presenting genuine characters in real situations, tempering the stories you write with minutiae that embed us in the lives you’re creating. You’re an incredible storyteller and we can all benefit from reading you each week. Thank you again, Laurie!

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  4. It always amuses me when a big, strong (dumb) man gets into a physical altercation with a smaller usually weaker woman. The man invariably believes that it will be an easy fight to win. Sometimes he's right, but often he...is not.

    Women know that the fight has always been rigged against them. We know there is no such thing as a level playing field or a fair fight, so we don't bother to fight fair. While he is trying to throw a punch or grab our hair, we're bending over to use our head like a battering ram on his solar plexus, or kicking his dangly bits like we're trying for a winning field goal.

    Honestly, we're like that even if the altercation isn't physical. We're not above the low blow if we're in a fight we can't win by fair means, like logic, though we're likely to try the high road first when fists are not involved.


    Yeah, it's always amusing watching a big strong man realize he's got a tiger by the tail. But it's even more amusing when the tiger has a black belt.

    Maybe one day they'll stop underestimating us. And maybe one day fish will learn to ride bicycles.

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    1. This is the first of another pair of well-matched pieces. I feel the pain of the writer, their need to kick back. She seems resigned to the way that the patriarchy acts, believing it’ll never change and that she’ll always suffer from those within it who see their gender as being all-important, not seeing that their inability to admit that there’s a problem is only the start of all that’s wrong. I only wish that we could be more equal and that we could treat each another fairly and without spite. Maybe I'm naive but I still wish it could happen some day.

      But why should a fish learn to ride a bike when it can swim?

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  5. "I'm so tired of the whirlwind. It swirls around me, through me, into and out of me, like some sort of ghostly Tasmanian devil. It kicks up thoughts, memories, feelings, demons, and dewdrops. I feel tired for it. Watching this dervish spin and spit out whatever gets in its way is exhausting. I wonder when it will run out of energy. What happens when it has nothing left? Where does it crash. What would it look like if it slept? But it doesn't. It keeps going and growing and creating turmoil and strife in everything and everyone it touches. A sadistic part of me wonders how something so awful and destructive can be beautiful at certain moments. Is it possible to appreciate something even as you know that it's horrible to feel anything positive about it?" Sophie asked.

    "Are you sure that it is horrible to feel something positive about something?" Elana replied.

    "About that? Maybe," Sophie said. "But I find myself comparing other emotionally abusive people with my dad. They step on their own dicks with it, you know? Their feelings get in the way. Their pride gets in the way. They sabotage themselves all the time. He didn't do that. He knew how to build us up, become important to us. That way when he struck out, his aim was true. He knew what mark to aim for and hit more times than he didn't. They can't hold a candle to him. Don't get me wrong, I think he's a monster, but he was at least good at being a monster. That's sick, that I think that, right?"

    "I don't know that I'd say that," Elena said. "I would say that you are just be honest about something that you have a lot of experience about. It would be worrisome if you wanted to emulate him. But that's not what you're saying. You are just saying that you appreciate that he was good at what he did."

    "I don't want to be like him, but I find myself...noticing. Cataloging. Considering."

    "Do you act on those things that you notice?" Elana asked. "Or do you just notice?"

    "I just notice," Sophie said. "But..."

    "But?"

    "I'm scared," Sophie whispered. "What if he's inside me?"
    She asked this question at a normal volume, but tears started gathering in her eyes.

    "You are the person who makes that decision," Elena said. "He may be inside you, but you still don't have to act on whatever he may have left there. You and I can work to make sure that you don't hurt anyone, if that is what you want."

    "I want it so much," Sophie said. "Tell me how, and I will do it."

    "I'm glad you asked," Elena said. "You should be prepared for what you will encounter during this process."

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    1. This is an interesting and thoughtful premise. There’s a theory, often manifested in reality that suggests that we may manifest a need to abuse others later in life if we suffer it ourselves in our youth. Either the behaviour becomes normalised when we’re suffering it or perhaps we become sufficiently damaged so that we repeat it ourselves, perpetuating the damage into yet another generation. There are so many of us that might do this, many of the sufferers either being insensitive due to normalisation or hyperaware because of the damage done to them. This is a fascinating exploration and it’s so very well written. We should always try to be more conscious of how we treat the people we meet.

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  6. All Hail:

    The glow cloud rained down fish and quail. The small birds were ready-roasted, their torsos plucked and boned. The fish were still alive, slipping and squirming as they slid into the grilles of the storm drains. There were no accompanying showers of cutlery. We would have to eat using our hands.

    My friendly scientist – he of the perfect hair – was making annotations on the reporters’ pad he always carried. He was using a sharply pointed pencil, its lead soft and black like a crayon. It left smudges on the paper as he wrote - his words unintelligible to anyone but himself, his personally derived shorthand a cypher no one would ever be able to break.

    “Louis,” he said, pushing his perfect quiff from his brow. “You’ll tell me if this assignment’s making you hungry? I’ve a hankering for the Colonel’s finest, and no time to pay him a call.”

    I shrugged and gave him my characteristic grin. Research always makes him think about his stomach. I suppose it’s because of the increased blood flow to his cerebral cortex.

    Outside, above the nuclear bunkers, it was now raining French fries and grilled Monterey Jack cheese. The mutant rats from the town’s sewers were congregating on the streets in their thousands, squealing as they gorged themselves on California’s finest dairy produce.

    The un-homed and the penniless would be struggling to maintain their grip on the county’s food showers tonight. A starved, three-eyed rodent has its own beliefs on the order of dominance and natural selection.

    Few women (or men) are as savage as a plutonium-enriched scavenger.

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  7. This may be the scariest thing you've written in a while. I'm going to reheat my burrito now. Your fault.

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    1. What can I say, but thank you. And I'm sorry about your burrito. Although, I'm sure they taste better after they've been reheated.

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