Friday, April 14, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

It is the smell of blood. Always. The smell turns my stomach. I don't let on, of course - they would have a field day with that, the boys. Charlie a Nancy. A nonce. A baby. The images didn't bother me - they happened in strobe-light flashes. The screams faded quickly, but the smell never left. I swore I could smell it on my hands, lifting a pint...hands scrubbed pink-clean. 

But the smell.

It is a thick smell; you can feel it entering your lungs, taste it's tackiness on your tongue. 

I drink quickly, trying to wash away the smell. It doesn't work. The blood smell gets mixed up with the bite of the whiskey. Everything gets thick, sodden, swollen. A tick gorged on blood, ready to be smashed into a red-smeared revery. The tick is always feasting. 

Always hungry.

The curtains are blood-red, and they will descend any minute. You will blink your way back into sunshine, and I will slither under the rug, biding my time, choking on the smell in the air.


  1. And now I can smell and taste and see that... like a vampire ashamed of his gluttony...

    1. As much as I loved (in a gross-out sense) the ticks, I especially loved the last sentence. You should write a horror novella, my friend. I say novella because horror rarely works in novel length, and your succinct yet expressive style lends itself to that liminal place between a short story and a novel.

  2. I stood alone in the cool Colorado air tonight and watched the stars fall in slow motion from the skies. All, save one. Venus, goddess of love, remained up there and I could hear her tsk-tsking at all the suitors she’d sent my way and my failure to accept them.

    I thought of you. I thought of the night we camped out in the mountains, and how it rained that night as we were setting up the tent. Not a stick of dry wood to start a campfire.

    Just as we finished setting up the tent, the sky cleared, and we watched the stars. I think it was August. No, I know it was. The meteor showers. The Perseids.

    I hummed “Catch a falling star,” and you sang the words. You were so patient, explaining that they weren’t really stars, and neither was Venus. How I loved your earnestness that night, the night before you found out my minor was in Astronomy. How annoyed you were with me for not telling you until it was daylight.

    Venus was out that night, too.

    When our fatigue caught up with us, after cold sandwiches for dinner, we retreated into the tent. I looked at you with curiosity when you zipped our sleeping bags together. You said you noticed we had matching sleeping bags on the hike up.

    You told me to settle down, it was just a way to stay warm.

    And I knew better than to think anything would happen. I had a boyfriend—I don’t remember his name—back home, and you had Lisa waiting for you.

    We took off our jeans, rolled them into what we hoped might pass for pillows, and crawled in. I remember your smell that night. Sweat and cigarettes and Irish Spring soap.

    You were on your back, your hands behind your head, staring at something invisible above us. I turned off the flashlight, and I stared through the darkness at that same invisible thing.

    Do you remember how we talked that night? Almost free association. Civil rights. Weather. Kerouac. Sunflowers. Ginsberg. Shakespeare. Oscar Wilde. And eventually, Freud.

    I yawned. You yawned, too. The only sound that remained was the wind through the pines.

    You rolled over onto your stomach. I was ready to joke that you were safe, I wouldn’t try anything. And then you put your arm around me.

    And you whispered, “I’m glad we’re friends.”

    And I whispered back, “I’m glad, too.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever slept better than I did that night; never felt safer, never felt less pressure or fewer expectations.

    Two friends went to sleep that night. Two friends woke up side by side in the morning. And Venus blew more wind, vexed at being foiled again.

    I wish I could hug you now. But you were up there with Venus tonight, and she is the jealous sort.

    And I walk the earth alone. One day. One day. Till then, I’ll watch for you in every night sky. Sleep well, my friend.

    1. So gorgeous, tugs all the feels in the best possible way. I felt the chill and the warmth. Thank you, Leland!

    2. This is JD. Man, I already cried once this morning - now, I'm fighting back tears. This is beautiful. I have had similar experiences and I don't think I could write about them as well. The earnest love shines through in every word. Good to see you back!

    3. Yes, it's lovely, an unusual mix of lingering regret and calm acceptance. Of how bittersweet it can be to love on this earth.

  3. Really good scene setting, and a really good cliffhanger at the end.

  4. Driving my car up to Wichita, one of those blue-gold perfect days out on the edge of a lost time.

    Ambushed by beauty, breath driven out, hearing all the slow parts. Memories. Scrawled on a stoop wth my legs pulled in. Day drunk on a street of brass and gauze and floating motes, amazed. Defang me and nobody knows we’re here.

    You, telling me again about that time you met Angelina.

    Me, feverheaded, recalling a dirty tile floor, pale sickly green and up close and impersonal like a blindside gut punch.

    We can barely get out of our heads. When we say the sun came out, we actually mean the clouds parted. We’re lake trout puzzled by air.

    Here on the side of a road listening to residual wisps of tent revival songcraft hovering over the fields. Ready for this? The sweep of traffic brushing our calves. The quiet then the full throat. Your raw voice, its every rasp, meant as an escape hatch but like Amy’s becomes a trap.

    Maybe don’t sing for now.

    Padlock in hand, ever think about how sorrowful a place this is? Featureless rows housing forgotten stuff, abandonments? Long unseen. Yet somehow paid for? If I were God, the first things I’d eliminate from this earth would be storage units. Pallid grey worlds lost beside land borders, anemic and interstitial.

    Placeholders for better times that don’t ever come.

    We ought not mortgage hope.

    Pray for us, my sour candy atheist. My heathen henchwoman. May we scour the margins for sufficient grains of beauty or joy to help balance the psychocosmic scales against the cold adamantine indifference and harrowing cruelties that beset and burden the opposing plate.

    There is no storing such things.

    1. Desolate and beautiful... the scenes are haunting, and so is the conclusion. "We ought not mortgage hope." That will echo in my head today.

    2. Whoa. So many lines echoing. And that last line lands like a punch.

    3. I loved the line Leland pulled and also "Day drunk on a street of brass and gauze and floating motes, amazed." Such pretty rhythm. I've missed reading your stuff. I feel like there is something trying to fight its way out here. - JD

    4. I struggled with that line about hope, not even sure it was grammatical, but it was telling me not to worry and write it anyway. Ha, I love how fiction does that! And Dan, after I read your comment, I realized the line you highlighted was probably influenced by a book I would not have read if not for you: Fante's Ask the Dust.

  5. The beaming maître-d nearly popped his vest buttons rushing to greet Lillian just inside the dining room door. “Mrs. Rosenstein, how good to see you again. Why, you’re looking lovelier than ever.”

    It was a bald-faced lie—she owned a mirror, after all, and could plainly see the toll the last two years had taken on her—but she gifted him a smile and let him kiss her white-gloved hand. “Andre. I hope it’s not too forward of me to arrive so early for my reservation,” she said with a rueful grin, readying the excuse she’d practiced. “My last appointment ended earlier than I expected, and I thought it would be nice to sit here and enjoy the ambiance until my companion arrives.”

    “Of course, Mrs. Rosenstein, of course,” Andre said. He seated her at her usual table, one that gave her a good view of the entrance; she declined his offer of a cocktail although under different circumstances, she would have loved one. No only had she planned to be early for this meeting, a subtle power technique she’d learned from several Hadassah ladies, she wanted to be fully in her right mind when she saw Ida again. Bad enough her bluestocking sister pitied Lillian’s current state—her several letters from Chicago offering help had gone unanswered—but now that Ida had a three-week assignment in New York and threatened to come calling, she could no longer avoid a reunion.

    At least Lillian was relieved that Ida had accepted her offer to meet over lunch at the Plaza. The house in Brooklyn Heights was a wreck—frankly, everything in her life at the moment was a wreck, without a decent maid, with Lou in prison, and her daughter…

    The headache that had been manageable earlier now pulsed behind her eyes. She removed her gloves and pressed a hand to her temple. How she wished she had ordered that cocktail! Well, what could it hurt? As she lifted her gaze to find Andre, she spied a tall, trim and all-too-familiar woman strutting through the door. Five minutes early.

    1. (rest of the story)

      But something was different about her sister. As if her body was acting without her mind’s intervention, Lillian rose to watch Andre greet her, to watch him point the way, to watch her draw closer.

      Ida was the picture of elegance. When previously she no longer gave a whit about the state of her hair or clothing, she now wore an au courant curly bob beneath her stylish hat. Her day suit, with its broad-shouldered jacket and wide belt, could have graced the pages of Vogue. No wonder Ida had so badly wanted to offer Lillian her help! She’d come into money, and now wanted to lord it over her sister whose fortunes had so badly changed. Lillian stiffened, chiding herself for standing, which meant now would have to remain so until Ida reached her table.

      This Ida managed in about three strides, a thin smile of what others might see as compassion forming on her face. The armor-covered words Lillian had practiced for so long flew straight out of her mind as her sister’s long arms enveloped her in a familiar and comforting memory of home. Of their Polish village, of the family dairy, long gone.

      “My goodness”—Ida eased back and took Lillian’s hands—“aren’t you a sight for sore eyes. My poor bubbeleh.”

      Lillian straightened, locking away the memories, and dropped her sister’s hands. Damn her. She was not poor. She was not her sister’s little doll. Lillian pushed out a smile and smoothed the skirt of last season’s suit as she reclaimed her seat and Ida sank into hers. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

      Out of the corner of her eye she saw Andre approach. “May I get you ladies anything?”

      Lillian was still sizing up this new iteration of her sister, squaring it against the red-faced frumpy harridan who’d decried her marriage, her husband, her life. Who’d said that Lou Rosenstein was a terrible man, a goniff, a momzer who’d either be in jail or dead within ten years. At the time Lillian dismissed her sister’s protests as jealousy that Mama and Papa made her a match but couldn’t find anyone for Ida. Maybe Lillian should have listened.

      “Mrs. Rosenstein,” Andre said. “Something from the bar?”

      She shook herself as far back to reality as she felt she could handle at the moment. “Yes, Andre. I’d like a Manhattan, please.”

      Ida smiled at the maître d. “Make it two.”

    2. Okay, I'm ready for more now... this was lovely, and the conflict is going to be delicious. Now *I* want a Manhattan.

    3. Agreed. And super strong characterization. - JD

    4. Yes, I can totally see this unfurling into another novel. As usual with your writing, I'm right there, fully immersed. Sorry to get all technical, but I always love your free indirect discourse; it's so seamless!

  6. I'm intrigued! I felt like a fly on the wall, and now I want to know what happens next.

  7. I agree...super strong build up. Good tension in the exposition. The flow is really smooth, too. Intriguing is the word that came to my mind as well. - JD

  8. I agree with the others. This kind of smooth readability looks easy, but we all know how hard it is, how much practice is needed to get it right like you have here. Bravo.


Please leave comments. Good, bad or ugly. Especially ugly.