Friday, April 21, 2023

2 Minutes. Go!

You lay in bed, thinking: Please let me die. Please let me die. Please let me die. 

Not that you want to die, but the mantra works - calms the riot in the skull. The thoughts that ramp up, then fall to their deaths. Sisyphus except every time he climbs the hill, he jumps off to start again, broken and twisted and scared. 

Some people have brains that are fair. Some people have brains that make excuses for them, that let them go on feeling like they are the victor. Or victim. And some people have brains that are like Guantanamo Bay. Cold. Heartless. Torturous. Unjust. 

This isn't depression. This is your human condition. This is what happens when you dress someone up and shove them through trauma. This is what happens when your brain blames you for everything that goes wrong, even if it is not your fault. Somehow, your brain will make it your fault anyway. 

You get up because laying in bed doesn't feel good. You go to work because being alone with your thoughts, alone with your failures, alone with the dreams you let fall by the wayside ... man, because you had no choice. 

You can't control yourself, how could you expect to control anyone else. Choking on your selfishness. Hiding from the truths you can't accept about yourself. Looking, squint-eyed, into the mirror and making excuses. You are a tree that hides its inside rot. When you fall, everyone will be surprised. They'll say you stood so tall, looked so strong. Never saw it coming. 

Then, they'll get the hatchets and part you out. 


  1. So many arresting metaphors and images: Guantanamo Bay, the tree. There's an inevitability, a kind of doomed rhythm to this. So good.

    1. That floored me. I felt like that tree. I am that tree. Damn.

  2. During and after the ice storm, like new recruits innocent of war, each cryosheathed thing with its precise weakness snapped under the weight of it.

    Soon Riordan found and moved into the valley, beneath summits like the tines of some arcane crown bestowed upon long-storied ones. Cassie, he believed, resided here, and it was his time to find her once more.

    Villagers milled and chinwagged and shaped a tale.

    “Let me stay here among you,” said Cassandra, long grateful. “I will give my all to do justice to your endless hospitality.”

    Their furtive eyes sought one another like stormclouds.

    Riordan was from elsewhere, faraway as abandoned dreams, and when times grow fraught, such doubtful heritage is received less charitably, and accidents are not so much encouraged as accepted. His heart could parody no other, and he welcomed eventide amid the shadows, below the towering range: alpenglow, aureate and rose, the sculpted peaks so astounded in their caul of rarefied air they arrest your breath and incarcerate your heart.

    Pure blare blueshine and incandescent white. Ghost-world phosphorescence.

    “Where is my Cassandra?” he asked of the villagers. “I’ve walked in dire lands and met so many foes I’m weary of it all. Please make this my journey’s end.”

    But the villagers were narrow-eyed; thin of lip and crossed of arms.

    Down in the valley, silent by the well, his own arms outstretched, Riordan tried to greet the paradoxes; the slow dead and the renewed urgency of a reconstituted dread.

    But the village knew. And secrets rarely blink.

    “Riordan!” cried Cassandra, lodged and duped across town, somewhere safely away. “Where are you, my love?”

    He even fancied he heard her, though he could summon no tenable answer.

    They led his scrawny frame to a hidden hotspring, steaming under waxy leaves. Elders made him walk and he did so without rancour, his doomed eyes perfectly even and dry as pages in an obsolete book.

    In the end, he walked willingly into the annihilation pool, the matrix of his skin slow to dissolve, a caul of blood soon belching surfaceward, releasing its charnel reek in the anticipant air.

    Above the surface, a pinkish aerosol mist, his emergent ghost, his blood a vapour, a spurned arraignment, an overlooked indictment in some demented and unremembered court.

    Cassandra, alone both here and also everywhere, waited while days like thunderheads heaped upon themselves along the world’s edge until even she endorsed and abided by her inamorato’s demise.

    1. So beautiful in its tragedy and those WORDS. Damn, Mr. A. I loved the chorus of villagers you kept returning to. Love the shape of this, the images and colors and emotions.

  3. (Maybe this will be part of the next novel.)

    Their drinks arrived, and for a while Lillian couldn’t think of how to start a conversation with the sister she hadn’t seen in years. But after a few long sips of her cocktail—one that Lou always ordered for her; she usually preferred a good red wine—Lillian felt a measure of courage.

    “So.” She smiled, watching Ida enjoy a leisurely taste of a drink that didn’t appear foreign to her. “When did you become a Manhattan girl?”

    “Oh, by and by,” Ida said with a wave of her hand. “Scotch neat is my usual poison, it was an acquired taste I picked up working with so many men, but when in Rome, as they say…”

    “A Manhattan it would be.” Lillian perused her sister more carefully. Elegant coif and hat, new and stylish suit, but no face powder or rouge, and those fingernails were an absolute horror. She held the crystal tumbler with no respect for its worth, the way she’d grip a glass of milk or juice. Something wasn’t adding up. “And how goes the world of working with so many men?” Lillian asked.

    Ida shrugged. “Most of the fellas aren’t so bad. I try not to think much about the rest. It’s the work I love. Setting things in order. There’s something very satisfying about that.”

    Admittedly Lillian didn’t know exactly what her sister did set in order. The last news she’d heard was from letters Mama received and read aloud to her, but she’d been so busy with the house and with Evelyn that it all fell on her ears like so much blah blah blah. This office, that department, the daily humdrum of the elevated train in Chicago. Since Mama’s passing, there’d been the occasional postcard, followed by an obligatory letter, mainly talking about the weather and what was in bloom. It was as if Mama were the only thing holding the two of them together via the thinnest of gossamer threads. Now they were here with nothing left to cling to.

    “What brings you to New York,” Lillian said, “for…three weeks, you said?”

    “Yes.” Ida set down her glass on its lace doily. “A short-term assignment. You’ll find it quite dull, I’m certain.”

    “No, I’m all ears.”

    Ida lifted her eyebrows. “Truly?”

    Lillian wasn’t surprised by her sister’s reaction. When the two sisters lived in New York, most if not all of their arguments stemmed from the basic paths they’d chosen—Lillian’s to be a wife and mother and Ida’s to be anything but. Now with Lillian banging around alone in that big and woefully unkempt house, feeling like a wife and mother in name only, her life felt so small and insignificant. Had it always been so unfulfilling for her, and she’d been too busy to notice? The thought made her simultaneously angry and sad, and she wanted to make that Ida’s fault. Who invited bluestocking Ida here, anyway, to pass judgement about her life? “Who do you think you are” was about to jump off Lillian’s tongue, but she bit it back. This was her favorite restaurant, and Andre had been good to her, and it would not do to cause a scene. She took a steadying breath and smoothed her hands over her skirt and said calmly, “I am admittedly curious about what you find so compelling about the occupation.”

    1. (Part 2)

      Ida appeared to be taking this in, also evaluating the sort of creature her sister had become—the wife of a rich man in a shady business, her Polish accent scrubbed out of her by elocution lessons.

      “That’s exactly it,” Ida finally said. “The curiosity. The work satisfies that longing in me. That it helps the cause of educating women in the sciences is an added bonus. Lord knows we need more women in the field.”

      Now Lillian could recall the blah blah in the letters. Ida held a position at an important university in Chicago. Not teaching, but in some other capacity—she could never remember what.

      “And you’ll be doing that for one of the schools in New York?” Lillian asked.

      “Something like that. Recruiting the best and brightest.” Then Ida’s face softened, and she slid her palm across their table, fingertips inches from Lillian’s. “But I will have some time to myself betwixt and between. Should you need anything.”

      Lillian glared at that hand. I don’t need you, she wanted to say. Wanted to shout. But it was all so hard. Just thinking about going home to that empty house, just thinking about her last visit with Lou in that awful place upstate, and on the way home a terrible, wonderful, guilty thought of running away, of never seeing him again. Could she do it? Like her daughter had, just up and packed a suitcase and got on a train and left?

      “Do you know what you’d like today, ladies?” Andre’s question floated somewhere over her head. “Or do you want more time?”

      More time. Lillian had all the time in the world. Her throat tightened as she tried to answer him, and her mouth wobbled, and silent tears ran down her face. She muttered a few words, fumbled a handkerchief from her pocketbook, dabbing at her eyes, her nose. A cool, familiar hand lighted on her forearm, a soothing voice speaking in Polish: it’s all right, it’s all right, would you like to leave?

      “No,” she said, still hiding behind her monogrammed hankie. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine, goddamn it, stop treating me like…like I’m some pathetic failure! So what! My husband is in jail and my daughter hated us so much she ran away, so what! Is that what you wanted me to say, Ida? You wanted me to admit that you were right about him all along?”

      Silence. Blood rushed up Lillian’s face and pounded in her temples. “Yes,” she said in Polish, her voice baby-girl small behind the handkerchief. “Yes, please, I would like to leave.”

    2. Yes, this does seem to be shaping into something much longer. The characters already feel so real.


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