Monday, December 22, 2008

Divided section of body, draped across the hospital bed.


There were ashes on my cuffs and the hem of her skirt when we left the Community Center, and a dusting of traffic in the road preceding the interstate. When a small boy on a bicycle brushed past on the sidewalk, I gave him a light, untellable push against the shoulder and betwixt that and the child's velocity, his momentum brought him downward and toward the street. I shut out the sounds of the traffic and the shuffling tick-tick-tick of my wife's heels, and listened in the event I might hear a bone in the boy's tiny body shatter. But before the child could collapse upon the street and break something, the bicycle connected instead with a small tree planted just over the lip of the curb, and he was caught in the branches, falling easily to the grassy dirt amidst a tangle of weak wooden limbs and leaves.

My wife held her face in her hands as I helped the boy up to his feet. His expression was simple; confusion creased his brow, under which embarrassment painted the cheeks red.

He thanked me for my assistance, and I told him that one ought to be more careful.

My wife cried as I held the automobile door open and she slipped inside. The hem of her skirt fluttered momentarily in the breeze as she bent. I pushed the door closed, quite softly, letting up once the nearly silent click of the locks coming into place sounded under the blanket hum of cars whirring past on the interstate, and the faint cries of children playing in the meadow across from the Community Center.

On the way to our dinner reservation, I placed my hand on her knee and smiled to her. She smiled back at me, with dried streams of tears sparkling orange and brown on her cheeks in the late afternoon sunlight.

For just a moment she reminded me of her mother.

I squeezed her knee just a touch and smiled again. And as before, she returned the smile, closing one hand over mine as we drove past the bland white boxy structure of the Sheriff's Station, its unassuming deadpan twin the town laundromat, and after that, still squeezing my wife's knee, we passed a small crowd of people cheering wildly as they fought for a better view, assembled like a steaming cloud of brutal glistening and jabbing fists and wide white teeth and flowing spit and shouts on a street corner viewing two ruffians at physical bouts with one another.

The wake had been solemn, and without much emotional bloodletting. People had said hello, then said good-bye, and the womb that had birthed my wife would be interred and that would be that. I pasted a cut-out of her mother's casket face in my mind, propped up alongside a cut-out of my wife as she was now sitting beside me, and they were virtually identical. A shudder creased my body and if not for the steering wheel to get in the way, I might have doubled over inside the drivers seat. My wife, in time, would come to look like her mother. This I pondered, while sifting through the day's events. I had spent the better part of two decades beside this woman. Listening to sobs and watching tears, watching the sun set day after day. And I pictured her on her death bed, repelling me with her bared teeth and bitter words. Blaming me for her sicknesses.

And how I would always remember our first date, so long, long ago. When I took her to the mill after the parade and we kissed in the moonlight without so much as knowing each other's last names.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

With bad eyes you can see just a little.


At some curse, or some speed, I pulled the door wide and almost tumbled into the elevator, crumbling up a small lady with a cane. I righted myself soberly, tossing off the indifference I truly felt with a fake smile that I did genuinely believe might have been worth a thousand dollars if not for the terror of the shock of the end of life's lessons that had weighed heavily on the sagging skins of this terrible old birdlike little lady. She gasped and swung the cane at me, pricking my shins like a lithe little thorny branch in the wind. I was momentarily astounded at the look on her face, which told awkwardly and so assuredly of mistrust and misgivings in spectacular abundance, and then I smirked, ready, so completely ready, to just let go and give her the hardest punch I could muster, right in the mouth. She had no right to hit me with her cane, I reasoned; crazy or old or whatever, she simply hadn't the right to inflict this upon me.

But the urge to strike her was only a passing fancy, as most violence surely is, and I smirked again as she huffed and pressed the same button for the ground floor once and again and over and over. Like singing along to a pleasant old tune drifting out across the room from a small transistor radio, I hummed along to her angry sighs and bobbed my head, entirely unsure about myself but somehow properly composed nevertheless.

When we hit the ground floor and the elevator began to settle, she filled up the doorway of the elevator with her spindly little bone-body and pressed the cane length-wise into the frame like she were expecting a tide of attackers once the door finally opened. But she wasn't meaning to prevent any such entrance. It was my exiting before her that she guarded the doorway against. The rage in me felt hotter than the awful need to let it slide. And so I narrowed my eyes toward the back of her witchy scarecrow head.

The sheer nerve of this son of a bitch old little mummy, I thought.

I could have struck her in the back of the head. Almost - I did feel the fucking urge - I almost spoke into the back of her wiry gray head, "Are you a widow? Are you lonely now that your husband has left you for a much better place than in your old, fractured arms? You are alone, old lady. Alone."

But of course she was. Old fucks like this always were, weren't they? Widows, lonesome crazy widows. Of course they were.

But I let the bell sound, and I stood back while she carried her fragile dusty body out into the lobby of the hotel. And she sure did shuffle slowly. If I doubted for a second the intention in that aged, crippled march, then I was a fool when she turned her head and sneered at me. The nerve. How calculated is the heart when it turns to such mockery of civility?

Suddenly I wished her husband would come back from the dead and hit her in the eye. I wished he would crawl into the lobby, smelling of his grave, and strangle her in front of me and then drag her out to the gutter and let the leaves in the wind cover her.

But I said nothing, only held the dry scentless flower in my hand that I'd plucked from the bedstand and I whisked past her as if she were no more than just another potted plant along the corridor, and I paid the morning's due at the counter.

Carolyn was at the counter. Dressed smartly in her purple hotel blouse, with her name stitched in pink over her small, purposeful breast, igniting in me some kind of minuscule reluctance. Her effortless beauty seemed to sink me. She smiled and typed in my information, accepted the cash and peeled the bills away with fingers so exacting that it was like a spider wrapping up a fly in silk, and once the bills were in the right slots, she smiled approvingly to the open cash drawer and snapped it closed, then looked up and thanked me.

I took my eyes away from her hands, and the name over the breast on her blouse, and the thin, painted lips of her pressed smile, and never felt as cold in my life as I did then, when I realized the barrier of client and hostess would never be crossed.

Behind my back, I stuffed the colorless ill-attended flower into my back pocket where she could never know that it had ever existed, hearing it crumple in dry cracks and raspy scratches.

"Thank you, Carolyn," I muttered, staring blankly into her eyes, filling no void in the ensuing silence. And I stood there for a bit, unalarmed at all, feeling my body lose heat and pressure while my head in turn expanded like a balloon. I closed my eyes for a bit and pictured that decrepit old lady from the elevator and how I prayed for her pain in a hospital bed to be unlike anything another human being had ever suffered, and I passed gently over a thought as to what her dead husband must have been like in his prime, and I pictured him making love to the old lady when she had been in her prime, too, and the motions they would set underneath the brittle, starched woolen coverlet of the hotel bed, like young snakes awaking from womb of the serpent mother.

I smiled to myself, forgiving the old lady her trespasses. Age was awful lonely, after all.

All things must end. So too would I. And Carolyn would be dead one day as well. And the mortician would pop open the buttons of her blouse, take the shirt down past her shoulders and remove the bra, then insert a scalpel blade vertically down her middle and witness the bones of her and the stillborn heart and he would never know the desire that I once had in my little life for this speechless hotel counter girl.

When I opened my eyes, Carolyn was staring at me with distress and confusion, and when she asked very politely, with a properly somber concern, if I was feeling ill today, of course I said yes, and that it was just a mild head cold, but enough to leave me a bit out of sorts of course, and I smiled nervously at her and pretended every bit of the way that it was just a cold. Only a passing cold.

But it's not just a cold. It's a cold life, but not just an affliction that will be passing any time soon. I might stay at the hotel indefinitely. And in sleep might I dream of being the perpetual mortician, and would I too dream of her tonight, on the steel bed, lit up by hard fluorescent lights, saddled dreamily with the task of preparing this beautiful girl for the sleep of eternity.

My cold, loveless hands on her cold, lifeless stomach.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Just your promises and love only.


Not quite naked, I waded out past a thick patch of lily pads. My shoes and socks looked hollow and untouched in a benign clump under a thicket of branches and trash and thorns. The only people out here would have been lost or losing, yet I hid my shoes and the socks because it would not be very safe walking back to the highway barefoot. Brambles and microscopic granules of glass and larger pieces of glass from cracked abandoned bottles would get the best of the wanderer in situations as unlucky as this. Someone fishing might find the shoes and make off with them and that would set off the domino effect and I would lose a leg from the poison barb of a plant, or the appropriated fisherman might land a hook into my skin and I would yelp just as helplessly as a hound.

The water splashed lightly and softly against the lilies and the oasis of the skin ahead of me and I realized my fears were just projections, though. For who would waste time out here on a still autumn night like this? Highway strips aren't prime social spots. Only it's just that I wanted to be here so much that it became impossible not to materialize others feeling the same. I could practically feel some bastard's eyes roving from the road down to the water and wanting to stop, come out to the edge and fish, smoke a cigarette or drink a beer. I could feel them, but they weren't there.

Just projections from dizziness and desire.

Lonely little coves like this are trafficked seldom, actually.

Broken bottles and pieces of steel and sharp slices of plastic were haphazardly strewn about everywhere on account to the water's proximity to the highway. A bridge over un-compromised water is very hard not to toss trash into, and I could testify to that a thousandfold. Shit that shot out from destiny and flight and drive, it littered the horizon from my view here at the edge of the cold, cold water. Forgotten, uncared for crap built up around me in mindless little rot cities. All of this shit and weeds and mud, and my shoes and socks bundled up under some branches, and my sick stomach from the way the flies dug in through my nostrils and stuck to the inside of my throat.

Up to the collar of my shirt in the dark blue water, I began to float out toward her, and then I was paddling lightly, not swimming but just coasting slowly toward the body. Even as slowly as I moved, the motion of my arms and legs caused the surface of the water to ripple, shattering the steel facade of the lilies, lapping against the floating girl's shoulders and breasts and upturned face.

Small tides washed into her mouth and then receded. Surges of fine blue chalky water pumped in and out from between her gaping black well mouth and blue velvet lips.

When I was next to her my heart was pounding, and my breathing acting up exponentially. The water felt frigid, no doubt responding to the cold pulses from the heat of the beautiful corpse. She was a snow volcano, boiling in frost and set to rupture in an ecstasy of cold, lifeless, ex-explosion. I wanted to climb her and look into the mouth of that volcano, into pumped water and the fly nests and the squiggly amoeba or tadpoles and minnows and see down into her black throat and kiss the tissue before it could decompose and become unkissable.

This close, still wading, I could see below the surface of the water, as shimmering reflections of her breasts slid from tiny wave to tiny wave, curling along ripples, overlapping other images of her breasts over and over again as the tiny waves danced across the surface of the water, with the permanent ragged peaks of her nipples hardened like the channel of a stone canyon. Duly, in time, this flesh would too erode and become an expanding canyon. The water would nip at her fibers until it carved rivers through her, and in time she would become tatters of fabric and ruined tangles of algae, weeds and a watery windchime of moldy green bones.

But her eyes.

Awake to the afternoon more so than mine, her eyes sparkled. I could make out soft hues of sky blue, mossy strands of green and shattered fragments of velvet red furiously splintered in her irises. There was a life in her eyes that was alien to me. I swam to her; daunting cave mouth, egg host and fish nest, arctic nipples and blank bloodless bulging eyes.

I held her floating carcass, which collapsed in my arms with the accordion note of a music that was so much like the sigh of a large animal dying that I looked around me, shuddering at the thought of a whale that would now swallow us. Heat and gasses escaped her mouth when I squeezed her tight, disintegrating in the fly-nests and the choked weeds she was caught in. I breathed in but felt no extra desire at sharing her breath; the deterioration in her cells moved my stomach to hitch, but within moments I was accustomed. Because I had to. I could begin to understand this because I felt like I had no choice.

Had she been hit? Had some bastard knocked the life right out of her in a hit-and-run? I pushed her body to the surface and it floated easily. I turned her around, my fingers exploring her cold body, but there were no marks to make an understanding of, no crushed bones. No gashes on the four intact limbs. Where did you go wrong, beautiful? I want to go wrong there too, but back in time, with her, but maybe survive it. Or at least get knocked into the water with my hands on her body, gasping timid little fucked-up stupid breaths, just trying to understand that I was dying with her, certainly not alone, touching her body under the water as we tried to float to safety even as we died.

A lot of garbage. I bet she flailed. She didn't try to save herself, probably. Just probably she bobbed up and down, gasping for lack of breath instead of for fight. Maybe she was dead before she hit the water. Out here, in the middle of nowhere? She might not have been so seemingly walking along after all. Probably someone put her here and that she was long dead. Or maybe she was killed here. No marks on her body that I can see, though.

Mysterious dead angel. Naked as the day she was born.

Suddenly I felt wrong to be so clothed so I took open the buttons of my shirt and undressed underwater as best I could without drowning.

I rested my cheek to hers. Who knows how long she'd been dead and floating here, but she was still soft to the touch. Fate had positioned her here. Some awful fate. There was no joy in her eyes but I wanted to find it for the both of us, if possible in this infested water.

Maybe I would stay with her. I could fall asleep on the raft of her body, and maybe in sleep I would fall under the surface of the water and perish too but never know it was happening. God, I hope not. I couldn't take my eyes from her, but I didn't want to die for her, or die here with her. But then again I didn't know what I needed either. Maybe I needed something right now but did not know it or understand the signs. Such an easy thought, but as an action? Futile. Even if I started to drown I'd wake up for sure, and swim to safety in the twilight. I'd be dry on land before sunlight. But far away from her. I knew I wouldn't have the guts to swim back out after catching my breath. Not while the sun was down.

You can't win, ever. You can't have what you want.

I just wanted to know who she was and why she was floating in the water off the highway. Who hated her so much that they'd do this to her?

Or who loved her enough to? That was an eerie thought indeed. I shuddered under the water, naked as the day I was brought into this world. This poor girl. Her fish house chest, probably swimming with the lives of untold water creatures too small to see in this dimming light. Maybe even spiders had swum into her ears and were spinning nests to lay water eggs and they would grow fat and powerful inside her head while the rest of her body just fell apart under the water. Fishes would nibble at her thighs, breasts and stomach. She'd be food belly and eaten legs, fat food bloated and thick. Birds would take her eyes before the sun could rot them out. All I wanted was to know her a little better.

Who was she and why had she snatched up my heart like this?

In my small life I'd never find an answer. I could kiss her cold lips, but the thought of sharing her mouth with parasites hitched my stomach up again. Unwilling to accept this as plausible, I kissed her anyway, against all odds and parasites. Then, I pushed myself away from her body after kissing her, feeling content, and I floated in front of her with my legs tangled in hers and we both floated on our backs and watched the sky change colors. She was anchored somewhat by a tangle of weeds, so we didn't coast along into deeper water, where the creatures were probably bigger too and more dangerous still. I bet when she was alive she had never done something like this with another person, alive or dead, lazy in the water just looking up and watching the sky. Looking back on it, I hadn't ever done it myself either. Unburdened, floating in the highway run-off of trash and water, I swam with her and watched the sky burn away from orange to gray.

But there was no joy in it. Because I was forcing her dead body to experience this. In a way, forcing myself too. But the fact that she couldn't swim away was a small and cuddled comfort and it was easy to watch the sunset, even though my arms began to hurt and the way the water surrounding her smelled was making me blue in the face. Very cautiously, while still on my back, I lowered my mouth into the water and sipped from it, and swallowed water in sour little soundless gulps, seeing us reflected in the shapes of the clouds. Only up there we looked like doves soaring and not two people floating in the weeds and minnows beside the rush of the highway, one person being dead and the other working harder and harder to support their combined weight on the surface of the water.


Friday, November 14, 2008

With the lights on or off.


I dreamed that I had a thousand hands. Nothing could be taken from me, and nothing could get past me. I had everything. Thin tentacles streamed from my body, puckered with tiny little hands. They grasped and groped, feeling everything in sight with a strength wholly unimaginable. The sensation of this expanded realm of touch pitched my thoughts in every last direction but straight ahead, and I knew that this was what beauty meant after all. Neither smile nor flower meant anything compared to this. Blue skies were shit compared to the thousand hands, feeling everything in sight. More: having everything available but touching nothing significant. There! Perfection.

I groped for hard, flat surfaces, dusts in the air, granules in the floor and the heights of ceilings. To do nothing with everything became the the most worthless and antagonistically real goal I ever threw myself into. In my dream I twisted away from this perfect gift and with one thousand hands failed to touch a single significant surface. I triumphed in the act of avoiding stuff, with the world in my hands six dozen hundred times the hell over.

But then the dream came to a similar conclusion as others. It showed itself as only a dream. No surprises at all.

The regular world was closing in on me and I knew it, could sense it. At the same time I backed away from it, the sheer horror of having to leave the dream drilled into me cold and hard as a nail driven underneath my eyes, trying to pry the lids open forever and keep them open.

Exactly like I thought I might be in real life, I grimaced and pulled faces until the scene before me became a total nightmare. Everyone had their attention on me when at last I opened my eyes. It's not a new scene; this has happened before. Awfully enough, it has. But I still couldn't get used to this shit with people crowding around me. What the fuck, I'm not a circus oddity. Was I glowing? Had I materialized suddenly from thin air? The expressions on these douche bag faces could almost convince me they were seeing some horrific magic trick, complete with a girl sawed in half but then re-assembled; all round eyes, oh-shaped mouths, timid gasps. They were watching me re-assemble, only I wasn't re-assembling. You couldn't tell by these shitty faces, though. I'd really done it this time, I guess.

Everyone in the office stood above me, crowded, gawking at me. When I came to my senses, casting off the disorientation quite unwillingly, I found that I was balled up on the floor by the punchclock. Fetal position, soaked in sweat, nerves shot. This feels worse than the other times, and I have an awful feeling that I'd made quite a spectacle of myself while out cold. Did I talk out loud? Scream? Cry? Who the fuck knows. I wouldn't get any answers from this bunch, that's for sure. It would not be polite. Better to let me deal with it alone. Lord knows I need any more alone-time in my life.

The eyes in these faces bulged fat like reptilian eyes, mouths pursed. Not a smooth face in the throng. I had made a scene, and I would pay for it. Sure as shit, I'd fucked up bad this time.

Gavin was the first to extend a hand, and he stared at that hand -- his own hand -- like the gesture was an act of defiance committed against himself. The fingers splayed weakly at first, unsure, and the palm turned upward, tensely. I pressed my palm into his and the fingers suctioned over mine, tight and clammy and quick, robotic. Gavin pulled me up with no time to spare and I let my body rise with this uncomfortable haste.

Once on my two feet, however, the world seemed a much more harmful place. That's why, I know now, curling into a ball on the floor is that instinctual. The bad parts are justifying themselves to the good parts, and the two talk it over; meanwhile, I'm not being told what's happening, my body's coming to an agreement with my mind that's completely private, excluding me entirely, and I wake up in the middle of the floor at work.

My co-workers attempted to disband, but people were still staring at me, unable to pull themselves away from this. I might have been one of these people too if I weren't so damned stuck in me. Gavin walked me back to my desk, with Lucille taking a portion of the weight of my other side, one hand on my hip and the other at my elbow. Lucille was old enough to be my mother. She looked at me with an expression bordering on speechlessness. Her gray hair suddenly seemed malicious. The wrinkles in her face and the motherly attention paid to seeing me to safety now felt like a hammer. I looked then to Gavin, and he seemed to be taking on the same role. Their help seemed to me like harm. Just softer ways of kicking me in the spine until I cracked and doubled over.

The funny thing is, I know that's a fucking lot of shit. They were good people. They are good people. At least as far as I am concerned. It's my mind that's causing the harm. Not me. My mind. Making its own decisions.

"You're getting worse, Alan," Lucille said to me, very quietly.

"No shit, Alan," Gavin agreed. "You're gonna lose your job if you do this in front of Bralen."

No shit, Gavin, I said to myself without saying a word. But my job was already fucked and I knew it and those gawking faces knew that I knew it. Everyone knew it. Things were getting worse and there apparently was not a thing in the world that I could do to stop it. The only fucking secret here was what the hell was happening to me.

"Joe Bralen's not a bad man but he won't have this, Alan," Lucille said.

No shit, Lucille. No shit.

Back at my desk, I spent the rest of the work day pondering. My job can be replaced. They can replace me, and I can replace the job. But what I can't replace is my sense of self. What the hell is happening to me? I could remember, if vaguely, curling up right in the middle of the goddamned hall. With who knows how many people watching. Curling up into a ball and going to sleep. To nightmare.

Something inside my head is breaking. I'm so lonely I can't take it anymore. When I was younger I could stand being disembodied and I could withstand the trauma of perhaps even hallucinating a little. Back then I could actually skip my medication and I'd feel sick a lot, smash neighborhood items like car windows and mailboxes, and then I would feel a little better. But I no longer have these things. I just have my apartment, and this job. These people.

I'll lose my job and even if I can get another one the very next day, so what? What's that going to do for me? I'm so lonely I can't take it. And my head is on strike; it's defecting. It doesn't want to be sunk with the ship of my body. Smart brain, stupid me.

When I leave work I exit through the back hall and press my fingers into the buttons on the confection machine. Candy bar, chocolate muffin, potato chips, candy bar, spiced almonds, barbecued almonds, barbecued peanuts, more chocolate, a ham salad sandwich. It's like a maze. A rat maze.

I'm not meant to get out, perhaps. Lucille would be gone by now so I can't count on her. Gavin's a good guy but he wouldn't be seen helping me home if a vice presidency in the company were pitched to him for it. Things just got very dangerous. More so because I need this job to keep me regular. I need normalcy, steady hours and steady people. Without Lucille or Gavin or Kilby or Cane or even stout, bitchy Joe Bralen, I might go over the end worse.

My mind is fracturing. Nobody knows the extent of what being lonely can do, not even those who are being done to. It's a mystery door, and you only get to see the prize when you have to. When I have to claim the prize there will not be a room behind me anymore. Didn't I see this happening when I couldn't fucking figure out what I was doing this morning, patting the other end of the mattress like I was looking for someone's leg to hold onto, or an arm or a shoulder? My empty bed is stretching out, growing the way deserts do, only faster, and more visible to the naked eye.

Gavin and Lucille have probably talked about this to the others by now. It's not their fault, it's mine. I'm all alone, you know? Just going out of my mind. I bet it doesn't hurt so badly when you can't see it happening. Or maybe it does. I don't even know how to get home right now, let alone perfect a synopsis for this terrible equation. I can actually feel my body writhing along the floor like an earthworm. It doesn't matter that I'm physically leaning against the soda machine, still as a rooted tree. It doesn't matter because I can feel myself burrowing into the floor because some kind of picture is developing in my head that's pretty far fetched from what's legitimately going on.

It would not surprise me if I don't make it home tonight alive.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The way your teeth strike me.


On a rare day like this, the dirty carpets and the mold on the base of the couch and underneath its cushions meant nothing. I pressed my face flat against the mites and the weave and smelled the carpet at its worst this summer, and it was not just dirt and bugs and the filth of unchecked growth, it was also anger and resentment and refusal. What I'd always despised then appeared to me fresh and blameless. I could stand the roaches and the mold and the dirty bedsheets. The carpet and the awful smell of dirt and rot and sweat and hell was then cloudlike, atmospheric and lordly. Where my body moved it felt there, right there, there was a niche for me. And then another another, and another, until the whole of my existence seemed to fit. And it grew mightily there, becoming easy and I was fluent with it so suddenly.

What's more, the godliness of this desolation dissipated too, and I was left with a nothingness. An evaporated sense of existence that beamed brighter than the sun.

I could understand a whole lot about my life by the state of the carpet. The mold growing on the couch had its own place in my heart. It was a place that I regularly had kept locked up and shunned. But not now. I practically had it in my mouth, shoving the lower part of my face underneath the couch, my arm slithering below in the crack beneath the carpet and the underside of the couch. But I had to be quiet, because there was someone sitting on the couch watching television.

Within an inch of overwhelming disappointment I found the two dollars. At this time I clenched my fist and took note of the greasy bills in my dark hand under the couch and willed myself never to say never. Nobody would ever dare to move this couch, so I knew the cash would still have been there. Didn't even have to touch cockroach eggs either. This was providence. Dead animal providence. The future of providence.

I pulled my arm out, clutching the cash and stood up quietly and left for the garage, picking up my father's axe and slipping out the back door of the garage. Then I went back into the woods and to the animal I had earlier stumbled across, still there breathing a ragged body through, almost dead.

I didn't care what its ailment was, only that it could not run away. And I don't know where the feeling came from, but it was strong. Upon closer inspection, now that I needn't have a worry in the world that it would be gone and that I would not get my chance, I found that it was a deer.

This was grace, I felt. It must be.

It heaved and sucked at the air and its eyes darted fretfully, antagonized and bewildered by my presence. I did not care about the deer, I did not care about saving its life, I did not care about putting it to an easy death to erase its present suffering, I did not care about the implications of my impending actions, I did not care about what it would mean to me afterward, I did not care about my life, I did not care about my death, I did not care about this city, I do not care about sleep or rest or the beads of sweat on my face. I do not believe in fate. I did not even think I could die.

I raised the axe and the deer shook and I started hacking at its body with vigor and relentlessness. I hacked at the deer and tore it to pieces, collecting beads of blood on me to swim with the sweat.

Seasons seemed to pass and then I was hacking at blood pools, bone and earth. The flesh was like muddy oatmeal. The deer was pulp, my shirt soaked with sweat, and the I let the axe fall into the mess before me and I breathed for the first time in my life, and knew truly that this was not a joke, that I was alive and that the world was real. The euphoric charge in me was second to nothing, and my life was second to nothing, and I existed by myself in this world.

I would not bother to clean the axe and return it to my father's tools. I simply would not bother with anything anymore.

That night I slept soundly. The two dollars from under the sofa that I'd stashed for a "rainy day" had paid for candy and soda and a new paperback from the corner store.

I can't fucking wait for tomorrow.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Will you wait for me to get there?


Vivienne hangs her hand over the counter and sighs, and I pull the paper cup my way, intending to fill it with water. I'll probably have more than six cups of water before I leave. Vivienne's eyes look like shovels and I can already feel them digging into me. I haven't even had a chance to try to figure out how to erase this night from my memory yet. But I'm just so hungry. Before school this morning I pulled a paper plate out of the trash bag in the kitchen because I knew there was dried cheddar cheese and maybe some dried out sausages left on it from a microwave meal I couldn't finish because my father was throwing shit like chairs and lamps around the house again and that meant we all had to go to bed. At seven in the morning it tasted just fine, the plasticine cheese and the hard sausage bits. Even through the minty toothpaste taste in my mouth, it was good.

And now I owe Vivienne something. I hate owing people. It takes the whole lunch hour to raise money for a bag of chips by being silly and pretending like asking for change is just a fun thing to do for a soda while waiting for the school bus. The truth was, the school bus could never come late enough. Being at school at the bus port was easy. Being at home with that fucking tornado tossing my whole family around was what was really hard.

"Thanks, Vivienne," I say, honestly grateful for the food I'm taking but embarrassed beyond measure. Without her I wouldn't be able to find food tonight. It makes me mad.

At the other side of the counter the greasy kid with his shirt half-way untucked hands me a packed bag full of enough burgers and fries to last me for days, and he winks. It's not just food enough for tonight, but enough to give to my brothers back home. This could last me for days if I keep it to myself. Blankly, I accept the bag of food and nod, but I'm not responding to him in the way he thinks I am. When he nods back and smiles I know he's fallen for it, and in my heart I sincerely wish for his death.

I look over at Vivienne and wish she were dead too.

The to-go bag is so heavy with food that it brings tears to my eyes and I resent being so poor that this shit food can change my life. A hamburger and some fries. But it does change my life, and I want to kill everyone here for letting this be so easy. I look over at Vivienne, who hasn't taken her eyes off me for a second. What is she thinking? Her father bought her a new car, and as long as she maintains this braindead job, he'll continue to pay for the insurance on it too.

I look down at this bag of food and I feel like there's some kind of great canyon in my life that needs to be filled with something tangible right now before I eat all this food out in the parking lot so that I don't come back in and kill all of these fucking people.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If you don't, or can't.


My arm didn’t fit so well into the sink because the basin was small and cramped, so even bunched up and standing on a stool, it was giving me cramps to hold myself in that position to let the water run over the cut in my skin. It would have been a lot easier to do this in the bathtub, but the tub was broken and the water which poured from the nozzle was pinkish in color and I wouldn’t want that anywhere near an open wound.

If I didn’t get cleaned up soon, I’d get found out and I’d have to explain away something that didn’t happen in the better interest of avoiding talking about what really happened, which would land me in a pretty bad situation, especially in that it could get us in trouble with the landlord again and they might kick us out for good instead of just threatening it.

Someone would be asking questions regardless of how well I avoided the subject, but I just needed to get cleaned up and I hoped I didn’t bleed everywhere in the apartment across the hall. It was the first time I had tried climbing in through the window, and in my haste I cracked my elbow pretty good and sliced my arm open recoiling from it and then fell headlong through the kitchen window and into the bushes outside, one floor down.

My pants were fucked up, my ankle twisted and my arm looked like it might need stitches. The pants could be thrown out and no one would notice. My ankle would get better. But the cut looked bad. I was so scared that I could just barely register the actual pain of it, but I know it looked bad. It wasn’t bleeding too much, though. It was hard to look at it.

If I needed stitches there would be nothing that I could do about this, they would find out, and I would place all of my allowance on it that we would be kicked out of the apartment.

The next morning when I passed by Mrs. Jakob’s door, I could hear them talking inside, her and Mr. Jakob. I heard the word ‘police’ and I ran to school. I think they thought it was a burglar. By the time school was out, their broken kitchen window was replaced, and it was quiet in the complex.

In my bed, I stared at the stains on the ceiling. The apartment above ours had probably been leaking since before I was born. Any day now, some part of the apartment above might fall into mine, right through that ceiling. It might even happen while I slept in my bed, in the night, and I’d never know it happened; the ceiling would finally give way, and the softened plaster and beams or whatever would fail underneath the weight of whatever was in the room above and it would come crashing down and crush me and kill me.

I stared at the stains and thought of Mrs. Jakob.

During the day she cries sometimes, when her husband is out at work. I slid in through the kitchen window to watch her this time, and she had no idea I was there until the little alarm went off on my wristwatch and I panicked and ran. Mrs. Jakob probably didn’t hear my watch go off, because she was in the next room and because the sound of the little alarm was so faint it couldn’t possibly work to wake anyone up from sleep. It was probably better suited as a reminder to a fully-awake person, like if they had something in the oven and were reading a book while dinner was baking.

My arm throbbed and I could barely move it all day, so I held a plastic shopping bag partly filled with ice against it. And just stared at the ceiling, thinking of Mrs. Jakob. She looked really sad to me all the time. Sometimes she winked at me, slowly, smiling a little, like she had some shameful secret and I was supposed to know what it was, or that I did know what it was. It made me feel a little shady, that strange look, and a little afraid, but also a little neat too, in some way I couldn’t know. I certainly wouldn’t mind knowing a secret with her, but I didn’t know one. She just winked at me and every time she did that I grew red in the face.

Part of me knew that I liked her, but the other part of me—the one that always made more sense out of things—would just laugh inside my head and tell me what an idiot I was being. I thought sometimes that maybe she winked at me because she liked me too. But I was in the third grade, that other part of me would say, antagonizing and shrill.

I liked to look at Mrs. Jakob whenever I could. And I did too, through her kitchen window sometimes after school, when she was sitting in the small dining room, crying very softly to herself. It was only just that one time that I went any further and crawled into the house to watch her cry.

Out in the hall, the large gray hound that belonged to another neighbor slinked past me, nosing at Mrs. Jakob’s door, and then it turned around and eyed me suspiciously. I had lately grown very nervous about the dog, and thought that maybe it knew I had broke into Mrs. Jakob’s house and that it knew I was the one who broke the window. We’d get kicked out of the apartment complex if the dog told anyone. I already broke the dryer in the basement and got caught, and I spilled bleach all over another neighbor’s television set during an Easter Egg hunt and the television blinked out and killed the power in the complex for one whole night. My parents had been so embarrassed that we hadn’t been invited to the next party that they have only just barely spoken to me since.

The gray dog sniffed at Mrs. Jakob’s door and eyed me again.

If the dog really knew what I had done then I had to get rid of the dog.

I called this kid Menden over from down the street and offered him five dollars to kill the dog. He said he would do it, though I kind of feared he’d just steal my money. But I had no choice. I gave him the money at school so the dog wouldn’t know it happened, and I told him to come over on a Sunday morning before noon when most of the people in the complex were either sleeping or at church, and I watched out from a crack in the blinds as the kid snuck into the hallway and then, a couple minutes later, snuck back out. At school he told me he hadn’t seen the dog anywhere but I told him that dog isn’t allowed inside the apartments so he’s always roaming the halls if he’s not sleeping in the sunny spots of the fenced-in yard. So Menden came back the next Sunday—at a loss of three more dollars on my part—and since that Sunday morning no one has seen the gray dog anywhere. There are badly-lit pictures of him on half-assed but seemingly earnest photocopied sheets of paper over a telephone number to call if anyone sees him, and these sheets are stapled to telephone poles across the next two streets over. I also gave Menden my lunch at school if he promised not to tell me what he did with the dog or if the dog knew that I had paid for its death.

“It is dead, right, Menden?”

“I thought you didn’t want to know, smartass,” he says to me, eating my lunch.

“That’s right. Forget it, I don’t want to know. The dog’s not coming back, though, seriously?”

The kid looked at me and smiled and told me it might be worth my money just to make sure, and so two weeks later when I could save up another five dollars I gave that to him too.

Within that time my arm got infected and I had to go to the hospital and my father told me that he was going to kill me if I didn’t shape up, and I figured that meant he might send me away to live in a boy’s home, which is how he threatened me every here and there when I acted up or broke something or got caught trying to break something. This time he didn’t even ask me how it happened. He just told me I was in for it if I didn’t wise up. The doctor asked him how I did it, though, and my father said, “Who the fuck knows? The kid’s a goddamned idiot.” I got really scared for a second that they would think my father had done it to me, and the grief that would cause could get us kicked out of the apartment complex for sure; if they thought for a second that my father was beating me up they’d kick him and us out. The doctor told my father to calm down and after they left the room and talked where I couldn’t hear them, I tried to come up with an excuse. My arm wasn’t just cut, it was sliced open. And infected. I couldn’t move my arm so well or the shoulder either. I pictured myself with one arm, like if they had to cut it off. But they only had to clean it and gives me stitches, and I said I broke a window, but didn’t finish with the where or how, and my father squinted his eyes at me and I could see his face getting red, and I knew he wouldn’t hit me, but I also knew that he didn’t like me. And that this was going to get a lot worse at home, and that nobody would ask me what window, or where, because they knew already.

But no one ever said anything. About the window, my arm . . . or anything else.

Mrs. Jakob was sitting down in the basement one afternoon, reading a magazine while waiting for laundry to dry. The new dryer was faster than the old one, which I had broke one day playing inside of it. Somehow I broke it for good and it wouldn’t spin. The landlord told my parents I wasn’t allowed down there anymore. But I went down because I had followed Mrs. Jakob down there, and when I walked in, she winked at me, and I could swear she thought I knew about some kind of secret that she did.

I watched her patiently, for about half an hour, while she sat in a small plastic chair and read from the magazine, turning the pages leisurely, looking up at me every couple of minutes or so, but she didn’t say anything to me, and I didn’t say anything back.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Get-even spiders and wall insects of Mollimore.


In the livingroom. Steven and his sister, and the rifle from their father's bedroom. They only speak to each other when friends are over. At night the wind cuts through sore spots of the screens on the window in Steven's room and sounds like a soft little echo of a siren. His sister's room is cold and the lights are dim because she never changes the bulb. His sister's eyes are closed and her dress is hiked up so she can sit on the couch with her legs crossed. The music from the video game start screen is familiar. They played it earlier. At dinner she put the video game start screen back on after they'd already played it enough, and they both went to the table and they could hear it from the dining room. Their father was always polite, with his shirt tucked in, and he answered the front door with what could maybe have been a sigh of relief most times. His way of speaking had no audible sense of really being there, but he spoke better than most fathers. It wasn't a chore. By turns, his reception could be utterly surprised, or blatantly resigned. There was no authority in it at all. He'd probably invite you in at four in the morning if you just knocked on the door and asked if Steve was home.

Lonesomeness and solitude and complacent isolation has a rather disgusting grace with it if it can settle just underneath the skin and float there in the feeling of thickness in the morning that will always accompany awkward bruises and disorganized remembrances of pulling off shoes and placing them neatly by the side of the bed like they belonged there under regular circumstances. With a magazine open to game clues and some records no one listens to, and a dish of hard candy no one eats but the kid from the spider-infested place three houses down who probably views this as fantastical. A cloud of forgiveness always crawls toward the center of the room when lunch is finally decided upon, or drinks decided upon. Being lonely is like wearing a nice suit because everybody notices it when it comes into the room but they don’t really think about what’s underneath it because it usually doesn’t matter if the suit’s nice enough to subtract from the awkward places of silence in between the jerks singing and the ears pricking. It just doesn’t hardly matter what’s underneath. And it’s great, as is the diameter of a continent. Lonesomeness keeps the body afloat. It looms above the top of the horizon, inking a delicate sky with colorless dark smudges. Thick and uncompromised, somewhat threatening but actionless, not bothering to tell as much, until it wants to descend, closing in the night with a cape that blots out the sunlight but doesn’t keep anything actually hidden. From inside it's all the same, just with a twilight about it that means it didn't matter today either.

Then it breaks up into rain or just drops like a curtain and it’s time for bed. And if the bed’s warm or the blankets just comfortable enough to put a smile across the mouth, that’s just fine as a hug.

She stares at the television screen and he stares at the remote control and the laughter from the program fills the room. He hasn't showered in a week. She pulls his blanket over her knees and watches the shadow of the sunset gradually move from the midsection of the wall, down toward the floor molding. Steve thinks to go outside into the driveway, and his sister might follow. If there's a commotion outside at eleven at night. And in the moonlight, with his shirt off and her dress partially unbuttoned, out on the driveway, it's anybody's guess how long summer really is.

All the world’s beautiful things are like this.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The staples and the cuts in your arm.


I cleared the desk of everything, even the lamp, and set before me a square telephone in the center of the desk, then sat down and pulled the telephone toward me, very cautiously, into my lap. And I called the hospital. They hadn't admitted a girl with no hands.

It was all very curious, and so I dialed for the Sheriff's Station. Similarly, they had not received any reports of a girl found with no hands.

But I saw the girl with my own eyes, spread out calmly, longways on the sidewalk, with her arms placed at either side. In the dark it had looked as if the girl's hands were simply buried in her jeans pockets, and that she were passed out, but the closer I came to her, I could see that if the hands were buried anywhere, they weren't around here, and the girl was not sleeping or passed out, she was bleeding profusely. The supermarket towered over this side of the street in either direction for a block. Across the street, in the empty lot of the closed strip mall, there was nothing, and nobody. There were no hands lying around, bleeding on the concrete.

But the frayed end of her wrists were bleeding everywhere, pooled in the cracks of the sidewalk underneath her, creating stained splotches at the bottom of her t-shirt and the thighs of her jeans.

Nervously, I plunged my own hands deep within the comforting warmth of my dress pants and held my head low, walking away from the girl on the sidewalk.

I stopped in at the all-night bakery for some orange juice and toast, sitting in the corner booth, listening to an older gentleman ruffling the hem of a newspaper at the bar. Steam curled up in delicate dreamy clouds over his cup of coffee. On a small white glass plate next to the cup of coffee was a fork and what looked like crumbles of soft cake, with a little frosting scraped off onto the side of the plate. The two ladies behind the counter of the bakery were actually knitting. From my corner booth by the window I could almost make out the supermarket down the road, but it was kind of blurred by the darkness and the trees that blocked the streetlamps from lighting this view.

It took me nearly an hour to finally go home. When I did, I showered and I thought about the girl with no hands, about bathing her in this bathtub and singeing the ends of her wrists to cauterize them so that she wouldn't be drained of all her blood before the autopsy could be performed. I wondered what the pathologist would make of this situation. I should maybe have tried to talk to her. There could have been a last word on her breath, waiting to be expelled if I just pushed down on her belly a little and parted her lips at the same time. She could have tried to say good-bye, or she could have tried to say no, a failed defensive statement that never quite got out because her body, in shock, had given up too quickly.

And I thought how brave the paramedics would have to be, to wrap her up without crying. They would likely be thinking of the girl's mother; or both her parents, for that matter, and if they were together still, or divorced. They would be thinking of whom in their circle would be responsible for breaking the news to the parents, if either of them could be tracked down at all. Or if they were even still alive.

After a shower I dressed for bed, in a pair of black slacks and a nice shirt that wouldn't look too terribly disheveled in the morning if I were to be tossing about fitfully in sleep, wondering if I should get back up and telephone the hospital, or the Sheriff, to find out if -- or ask when -- someone finally reported (or would report) the dead girl.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

The lines in my hand don't go anywhere.


At the end of the dock road there is a vast horizon of flat sea with an overbearing sky lying prone above it with a sexlessness that confounds me. There is no penetration; it's just the sky above and the sea below, pressed against one another without thought, and it goes on forever in either direction. I look out there and wonder about a couple of things that have lately been weighing heavy on my mind. There's not been work for the past three days since our crew finished early up. The faster and the better you get at things, the money's still the same, so you end up with more free time than you know what to do with.

But I don't get bored. There is too much to look at in this town. Next to the motel there's a graveyard. It's not very expansive, but I felt it would have been rather easy to become lost in the people buried out there if I'd taken the time to read each of their headstones and then really took a moment to think of what it was like when these people were still alive. Some of them I judged by their weak names, while others' names I held in regard for how they rolled off my tongue with a sort of dignity that I didn't enjoy myself when sounding out my own name. I wondered how many of these people I'd not have gotten along too well with, and too, which ones were better than me, or had been anyway. Which of those I might have actually looked up to, admired or even shared of life of friendship with.

By their epitaphs alone to go by, it was impossible to deduct which of these buried sort had grown up minor criminals, or minor peacemakers or unforgivable fuck-ups or unaccountable fuck-ups or humorous, gentle and reliable people. In death they always died too soon, yet gave so much while they were around.

On the other side of the motel was the sea.

I took a mile walk up the coast and down the dock road to where the furthest you can get to sea is paved outward in beams and boards and I nearly lost my balance a few times because the open space was like nothing I had ever experienced back home. The world is so much larger than the town I grew up in. It stretches out into the abyss, like this sea does.

At the very end of the dock I sit at the edge of the wooden rails and hang my legs out over the waves, which are too far below me to touch. People die all the time out there. They sink to the bottom like whales do. Or they float back ashore like whales do, sometimes. I don't know, it's a big place out there. Trying to take it all in without moving my eyes along the horizon from left to right is nearly impossible. I can't even begin to conceive its true volume as a whole from the edge of this little dock, which if cast into the waves would be like a fraction of a splinter stuck into to the skin of the sea.

It's just water, though. I know that. The edge of the world too, maybe. I could drown out there if I started swimming straight out.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

All we ever did was hide.

4 October, 1977 / 5:49pm.

In an effort to control the flow of blood from becoming a problem, I raced across the back lawn behind the church with one hand pressed uncomfortably down the front of my pants so that I could hold a wet kitchen rag against the wound without getting getting my pants damp enough for anyone to notice the spot.

Because of the strain this put on my movement, it looked like I was crippled. A crippled kid charging by the birdbath and small fountain where I could have stopped a bit to rinse out the rag if I'd felt that I had time enough.

It took a bit more energy to hop the fence without ripping my suit or getting it dirty. But once off church property, I kept my hand out from my pants, took off the jacket and button-up so that I wore only the thin white undershirt now and I ran for the market over on the other side of the ravine. Despite the dress shoes, I crossed the moldy log without a problem. If I'd have slipped and fell into the shallow mud of the ravine, that might have been an excuse not to attend the funeral, but it would not have kept me out of trouble, and probably might make it worse. So I was persuaded to do the only thing I possibly could to preserve some kind of anonymity for the next couple hours, and I ducked into the market, swept swiftly through the aisles until I had a small black dish towel, some black thread and a needle, and I stuffed it all into my pocket and just ran for dear life out the the way I came in, through the front door.

I didn't hear a word of protest, though at least five people probably saw me running. They would have no way of knowing what I'd lifted unless they caught me, but I had no intentions of being caught. I only hoped that no one from the church had been there to spot me out.

At an even thousand miles per hour, I doubled around the corner, flew down the sidewalk bordering the store, toward the back lot. Into the small thicket of woods and toward the stump where the bundle of my overclothes were waiting. Without re-dressing I made it back across the log (again, without a single slip), paced unevenly across the lawn again.

But this time I hid in the tall circle of bushes that surrounded all but the entrance of the fountain. There, I pulled my pants off, wiped the sweat from my face with the stolen black dish rag and then tied it around the knife wound on my thigh. Satisfied that I would not be bleeding during the funeral, I then set to mending the hole in my pants where the knife had slid through and ripped it up. I'd never sewn anything up before, so this took the longest. Actually, getting the black thread through the pinhole of the needle took the longest. I pricked my finger a couple dozen times in the process.

By the time I showed up at the chapel, people were just beginning to take their seats. My face felt itchy under the quick rinsing job I'd done in the fountain, probably because of how dirty the water was and the fact that a cat or something had pissed in it.

But I looked clean, well-dressed and I'd caught my breath again.

I knew that the older kids wouldn't saying anything about the fight, at least not during the funeral, and this would all pass slowly and my leg would hurt really bad, but eventually it had to be over and I would be able to go home, put on some jeans and then pretend to go out to play, and I could come home bleeding, finally, and I could say I'd cut myself while playing and then my parents would take me to the hospital and I wouldn't be forced into ratting out the older kids.

And maybe if or when I got a little older, I would get them back later. But probably not. I'd slashed their bike tires last week for no good reason at all and although I think turning the knife on me was a little extreme, I had deserved some of it, and anyway, it could have been a lot worse if I hadn't ran. In fact, when I tried to run in the first place was how I got cut, so maybe it could or couldn't have been worse. They might not have wanted to do anything but scare me and maybe fuck up my suit. It's over now, anyway.

I only hoped that I could get through the damned funeral without anyone noticing. Or before I passed out. My leg throbbed badly by the time I took a seat at the back of the church and curled up in the pew and agonized over the pain while everyone else looked forward and cried for the dead kid in the open casket. His sisters and parents were surrounded by people and they were all being hugged and kissed and paid attention to in ways that made me feel pretty left out.

I'll see you later,