Nostalgia – the Romance of Memory, 26 November 2015

The other day I set up an old Nintendo 64 for my son. It was one of the first gaming consoles to feature (almost) exclusively 3D games, pioneering features common today, things you damn kids will never appreciate. Get off my polygonal lawn, whatever the fuck a tween is! (Whatever it is, I hope it hurts).

You see, I wanted to show my son what I enjoyed as a kid, and hoped to share that excitement with him, the kind of excitementI felt I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. The joy of flipping around and flying and destroying large fucking lizard… reptile… whatever the fuck Bowser is. We booted the game up and started a game, and started playing.

It was quite fun, the familiar sights and sounds. The joy, in some instances in our lives, the way we feel about certain songs and films, we sometimes love it more for the memory of the happiness it once brought, tying it to a prior happiness in a vain

The other day I set up an old Nintendo 64 for my son. It was one of the first gaming consoles to feature (almost) exclusively 3D games, pioneering features common today, things you damn kids will never appreciate. Get off my polygonal lawn, whatever the fuck a tween is! (Whatever it is, I hope it hurts).

You see, I wanted to show my son what I enjoyed as a kid, and hoped to share that excitement with him, the kind of excitementI felt I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. The joy of flipping around and flying and destroying large fucking lizard… reptile… whatever the fuck Bowser is. We booted the game up and started a game, and started playing.

It was quite fun, the familiar sights and sounds. The joy, in some instances in our lives, the way we feel about certain songs and films, we sometimes love it more for the memory of the happiness it once brought, tying it to a prior happiness in a vain attempt to hold on to some measure of it, of the happiness we had as kids.

So when my son showed no interest in Super Mario, I said, Alright god dammit, I’m going to show you the greatest game of all time – The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time, widely considered the best game of all time. And not just back when it came out, but within the last few years, even Watchmojo listed it as the best game of all time – so it really was great, game changing, and revolutionary. So we sat down to play.

The familiar music came on and it touched that special part of the brain, the kind reserved for songs from our childhood, the alphabet song,Mozart and Fur Elise, like Star Wars, the part of our memory that doesn’t judge or evaluate it the way we judge and evaluate as adults.

We’ve got a new Star Wars film coming up, and by all accounts it’ll be pretty awesome. But then the trailer comes out – the first thing that rattled people’s minds was the black stormtrooper. I don’t think there’s any racism in that reaction, at least not for the most part, but the response to a change – a change most of us didn’t like to begin with. And then there’s a lightsaber with a ridiculous little hilt! How stupid! Yet the first Star Wars film had a major character that was basically a walking, unintelligible lump of hair. And the Empire Strikes Back had a green muppet who taught a farm boy how to lift a spaceship with his goddamn mind. But a lightsaber with a hilt? Blasphemy!

Again this is the difference between evaluating things as a child instead of as an adult. And the memory of this happiness is tinged with the memory of an actual happy time, when something new is celebrated for its newness, not because it broke with tradition – and what is nostalgia but the celebration of familiar because of it was once amazing because it was new and different.

And from playing Ocarina of Time with my son – one of my favorite games of all time – I realized that, though it was new to him, it would never mean the same thing to both us. To him, his memory of playing Ocarina of Time will just be time he spent with his dad, who’s 30 years old! Uh! and trying to be cool. And for me, I’ll just have more good memories to associate with that game, as time I got to spend with my son.

 

Pilot for ‘Happy Hour’ – Episode 1, Antigone Girl

‘HAPPY HOUR’ is the working title for a television pilot I’m writing for my friend, Vanessa Martini. a very talented and lovely young actress, producer, and activist. Getting the opportunity to work on this project is surreal, and you can check back every couple of days to see how the Pilot episode is developing. Tell Vanessa how excited you are on Twitter @vanessaluvtini, or congratulate me @SrBrandonNobles – or, I don’t know, have a sandwich.

BEGINNING FIRST DRAFT: 18 NOVEMBER 201
THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS!

HAPPY HOUR
Episode 1 – Antigone Girl

Starring
VANESSA MARTINI
As
Dr. VANESSA TILTON

Written
by
BRANDON K. NOBLES

SCENE 1: THERAPIST’S OFFICE, MID-AFTERNOON, SUNNY DAY.

INT. A WELL LIT DOCTOR’S OFFICE, HOVERING JUST BEHIND AN UNINTELIGIBLE VOICE. WOODEN BOOKSHELVES, FRAMED DEGREES, A POTTED PLANT IN THE CORNERS, STANDING TIFFANY LAMPS, TWO LEATHER RECLINING CHAIRS, AND DR. VANESSA TILTON WAS ON A PROMINENT NAME PLATE.

We see a pair of hands fidgeting  with a bottle of wine, just the hands, small and delicate, turning and turning, mumbling a string of inaudible swears. We hear the pop with an audible pop! and DR. VANESSA TILTON poured a large glass of wine for herself, leaned back, and pressed the call-waiting button on the phone in her office.  The sound of a ringing phone filled her ear, and she tapped her fingers nervously along her desk, anxious and self-conscious, the audition had went really well — she thought — a woman’s voice answers the phone.

INT: CAMERA FACES OPPOSING WALL, SHOWING WHAT IS ON VANESSA’S DESK: A RESUME AND PORTFOLIO, A GLAMOUR SHOT CLIPPED TO A MANILA ENVELOPE.’

WOMAN’S VOICE:
“Sara Corman’s office.”

VANESSA TILTON:
“Sara!”

SARA CORMAN [VANESSA’S AGENT]
“Vanessa?”

VANESSA:
“Yes, it’s me. How are you do…”

SARA:
“Where are you calling from?”

VANESSA:
“I’m at work. you know, that thing adults do between 9 and 5? And what the hell was that? ‘Sara Corman’s office’? You don’t get to do that. It’s your office!  Only wrestlers and dictators talk in the third person.”

SARA:
“I just answer like that out of habit, and it isn’t technically a lie. It is Sara Corman’s off–”

VANESSA:
“Just tell me what happened! Don’t nibble on the conversation.”

Sara:
“What do you mean, ‘nibbling’?”

VANESSA:
“it’s the part of the conversation that takes place just before and right after the actual conversation. Let’s say, you call your roommate. You want her to feed your cat, that’s the conversation, but you don’t go straight to that. You have to nibble in a situation like that. Ask her about her day, what she’d like for dinner, just nibbling along, and then you go to the actual conversation. We’re still in nibble territory, still. Still…”

SARE:
“How do you… even think like that?”

VANESSA:
“Did I get the part, Sara?”

SARA:
“I’m afraid not, Vanessa. Antigone has already been cast.”

VANESSA:
“What did I do wrong? They told me it was a great audition. If it had been bad, they’d have told me it was good!”

Sara:
“They said you were too pretty to play a manly character. I think they’re giving it to a realy, really feminine guy.”

[VANESSA LAUGHS MANIACALY]

VANESSA:
“You’re out of your mind! Out of your mind! Completely batshit! You’re batshit! Do you know how offensive that is? That’s like apologizing to Jim Caviezel, and not letting him play Jesus in Passion of the Christ because ‘He’s just not gay enough to play Jesus.'”

SARA:
“You could always play Antigone’s sister, Ismene.”

VANESSA:
“You know what? Why stop at ‘too pretty’? Why cast a woman at all? We could have CatwomanMan. Ms. Mr. Marvel. I knew I’d have to do a little prep for this role, but I didn’t know I’d need nuts. Apparently, Antigone is jut too strong a  character to be played without nuts. And stop saying “Anti Gone” you asshole! It’s ahn–tih–guh-nee. Antigone. I’ve got an idea, Sara, listen. Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll bring in Matt Damon, to explain it all to me.”

SARE:
“He went to Harvard, you know. Harvard.”

VANESSA:
“So did George Dubya.”

SARA:
“Touche.”

VANESSA:
“Seriously, pitch this: you’ve got a whole room full of guys, a room packed with nothing but nuts, like a bad plane. And they’re talking it through, talking about the play: ‘And ‘Antigone’s just this like, strong independent babe, like no guy ever steps to that, and she’s like No way bruh, you’re not treating my bro like this. And Creon, he’s the bad guy, so we’ll bring in Andy Garcia, you know, ’cause the Greeks descended from the Italians…’

SARA:
There are other roles, Vanessa.”

VANESSA: “‘It’s like, you know, bruh, the hardest part of the creative process, it was going, Okay, wow, we have such a strong female character here, we’re gonna need a guy to play that role. And we’re thinkin’ Chris Hemsworth, then I’m thinkin’ maybe once Thor saves Polyneices’, and finds him a totally chill place to be dead, we’ll get Demi Moore to play the Grave.’

VANESSA TAKES A LARGE DRINK OF WINE, IS SILENT FOR A MOMENT. SHE REFILLS HER GLASS, SIGHING AS THE LAST DROP OF CHABLIS DRIPPED INTO HER GLASS. SHE LOOKED INTO HER GLASS WITH SOMBER, WISTFUL EYES. TIRED OF IT ALL.

SARA:
“You know, you sound a lot more dangerous when you’re quiet.”

VANESSA:
“I know how to get the role, hey. Listen. I’ll just pull a Charlize Theron.”

SARA:
“’Charlize Theron’?”

VANESSA:
“Charlize Theron, you moron. You know, the chick from… What’s that movie?”

SARA:
“Prometheus?”

VANESSA:
“No…”

SARA:
“The Fifth Element?”

VANESSA:
“That’s Milla Jovavich, Sara!”

SARA:
“Forget it, it’s not important.”

VANESSA:
“Now I have to know! You know that feeling, that cabbage like feeling? Something’s right there on the tip of your tongue and yet, just can’t get it out…”

SARA:
“How are you going to ‘Pull a Charlize Theron’? What does that even mean?”

VANESSA:
“She did a movie, about a decade ago. Damn it! what was it called? Anyway, she went from supermodel to a trucker overnight, she gained a little weight, started smoking, and they’ve been throwing fuckin’ Oscars at her ever since. I’ll just give my profile shot to the Internet, invite their wrath, and then I’ll audition again.”

ROGER:
“Why is this so important? You can get other roles.”

VANESSA:
“Because Antigone was my favorite heroine growing up, it’s Sophocles’ best play and not that…”

SARA:
“Is that the guy who wrote the play about the guy banging his mom?”

VANESSA:
“Yes, Sara, that’s the Penguin Classics edition. ‘Oedipus at Colonius, Antigone, and of course, his masterpiece, Motherfucker – the King.”

ANNOUNCEMENT COMES FROM INTERCOM ON VANESSA’S DESK:
FEMALE VOICE (OS):
“Dr. Tilton, you’re 1 o’clock is here.”

VANESSA presses the button:
“Thanks, give me five minutes, then send him in.”

SARA:
“So, what are we going to do about this play?”

VANESSA LOOKED AT HER CLOCK AND THEN HER EMPTY GLASS.

VANESSA:
“Just say, ‘She’s method,’ or tell them I’m a Scientologist. I’ll email you a new picture as soon as my kid leaves.”

ROGER:
“All-right, Neska, I’ll be here.”

VANESSA put the receiver down and the camera changes to her perspective, showing her face for the first time – in a framed mirror across from her desk. Her reflection drinks an absurdly large glass of red wine, and she presses the button again.

VANESSA:
“Send him in.”

A YOUNG TEENAGE CHILD ENTERS THE ROOM. HE IS WEARING OBVIOUSLY UNCOMFORTABLE KHAKI PANTS AND A TUCKED IN SHIRT. VANESSA GOES TO SHAKE HIS HAND, THEN PULLS AWAY QUICKLY. SHE HURRIES BACK TO THE PHONE.

VANESSA:
“Wait a sec, Eric! This is important!”

VANESSA dials her agent’s phone number.

SARA:
Hello?

VANESSA:
“It was Monster!”

HAPPY HOUR
END SCENE 1 – THERAPIST’S OFFICE

The Public Face of Fireflies (A Farce) 18 November 2015

THE PUBLIC FACE OF FIREFLIES:

By BRANDON K. NOBLES

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

1

Mrs. Martha Herington

 

MY FATHER WAS AN ARCHITECT, AND HE THOUGHT LIKE one. He was of the Bernini, Borromini school of thought, working out the higher geometry, making walls bend and breathe and carry you to the more elaborate façade. When he got the contract to build a luxury apartment complex, in downtown San Francisco, I dropped out of college (I was studying the electric impulses between axons and dendrites at Cal Tech) because I knew I’d get a room. I bummed around for a while, taking lots of baths and naps, washing my hands a lot, and playing chess with Fritz, a digital German. He’s German. And it’s nobody’s fault but his own!

It was completed in a remarkably short period of time. You know, a lot of people don’t believe that primitive man could’ve built the pyramids at Giza or Palinkae, so they postulate an extraterrestrial source, alien interference. But after seeing a group of three hundred Mexicans build such an apartment building in a year a half, I think it should be done. And it was magnificent, elegant, subtle, in the most perfect taste: there were four ringed sections, one atop another like white, porcelain tires, and the windows that ran along the circumference in between them were reflective glass, so the contrast was nice; an ivory white next to rings of sunlight reflecting silver.

The center of it the grounds was a courtyard with a pool, which any resident could see from their banister Stonehenge would be child’s play for Julio and Jake. That’s right. One of the engineers was a Mexican man named Jake. I thought that was an anachronism. Then I found that he had a son named Steve. America has ruined a once proud people. Think about it. Have you ever met a Mexican named Jake? Or Steve? Must be aliens. Mexican aliens. Named Jake. And Steve. To their credit, their last name was Giminez, That’s how I like my Mexican names! Without an ‘ez’ it just doesn’t feel right. I call him Julio. First they came for our jobs and now they’re Jake and Steve? This country really has changed. I guess it’s all about adaptation, acclimation. I guess being called Enrique (Julio, Juan, and Enrique are the only three Mexican names in my lexicon,,, Lupe? I don’t know if that’s a Mexican name but I do know there is a pornstar, Little Lupe, and she looks Mexican) instead of Steve could do more to ostracize the child. I imagine the same thing happened when the Spanish decided it was a game of Finders-Keepers (Genocide Edition) when they went to the Americas. They were usually converted to Christianity. And if they refused, they were converted to ash. Herman Cortez gets a lot of credit; but, Francisco Pizzaro was a much, much bigger asshole. He led a holy Crusade in the name of Gold. Can you blame him? It’s pretty! And consider all the things you can do with it. You can hang it on your neck so people can look at it. You can give it to women so they’ll fuck you

The first sign of life outside my new apartment was that of an elderly Victorian lady, well dressed, wearing a most handsome shawl. She was on the other side of the corridor in a heated argument with a member of the staff, my lone friend Charles bearing the brunt of her misplaced rage. My door slammed behind me as I walked onto the balcony. The idea was to wake my friends. Instead the noise brought her wild eyes to bear on me. I saw the veins electric red and much the worse for drink. It was 9am, on a Thursday. Not a holiday. She was wasted. There are no adjectives, no adverbs either, no words by description would serve to convey how wasted that old lady was. She was flammable. She slurred her pauses.

The young attendant, Charles, with masterful poise and delicacy, held his own. When she looked at him, I wondered, to what percentage of probability, had she forgotten what the argument was about, where the young man in the blue suit came from, if he was real, or if he feared death. I imagined his equation was more banal: Thursday, some drunk yells at me. Monday, I get a new TV.

He shrugged off her remonstrance.

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “I understand. Yes ma’am. Trust me, Mrs. Herington, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“See that it does not!” she said.

The reason for the argument, back track thirty minutes: she couldn’t get her television remote to work. She stood there for thirty minutes pointing the damn thing at the TV before throwing it against the wall. Her face was flushed. Exhausted, she sat beside the liquor cabinet to think it over. After a few shots of Crown Royal she called the front desk. This, from what I’ve heard, happened all the time. A bit of discretion was assumed when dealing with Mrs. Herington; she was a wealthy benefactor who owned a lot stock and was, as I’ve said, quite drunk.

Charles, a most charming and discrete young man, was sent to her room to see he could help her rectify the situation. He found her on the floor. And from what I’ve heard, that was not uncommon either. The remote was on the floor across the room. Being the consummate professional he is, Charles identified the problem, changed the batteries, and turned the television on. Successful, he tried to rouse “Mrs. Herington?” he said. “Ma’am?”

“Charles?” an employee called from the hall.

“I’m coming!”

This was the first thing she heard when she came to. She opened her eyes to find a man knelt above her, a man she didn’t recognize—an unknown face. She squinted, trying to bring the blurry face into focus. With no recollection of her call to the front desk, no memory of the reassurance that someone would be around to assist her, she promptly lost her god damn mind..

“It was out of batteries,” he said. “Want to see if it works?”

Big smile.

Her mind recoiled in horror, seeing the blurry object in his hand; it was most suggestive. She crawled away in a fever, full of panic, her buxom chest rising and falling as she yelled. She pulled herself upright with the aid of a leather ottoman. Charles tried to talk. Everything he said was curtly interrupted by more unintelligible screaming. Her yelling and cursing brought Stanley, another employee, into the room. The brief circus brought the upstairs tenants, except Julianne, to their balconies to watch the show.

She didn’t understand the situation at the time, nor did she at any moment throughout the totality of their argument. They finally got things squared away when the situation was addressed in context. The squabble was put to rest. Mrs. Herington regained her composure. She wasn’t to any degree lucid, but she wore the indignant face of understanding. “Would you care to dine?”

“Yes, young mister,” she said. She gave her order and he scribbled it on his pad and bowed, taking leave to bring her lunch.

Her delicate fingers went to her throat, perhaps now hoarse, her mind fatigued, and for a moment, I saw through the public face: I looked at her eyebrows and drooping eyelids, a slightly unfocused melancholy, the face of poignant vulnerability—everything softening the face of a tough old bird, wistful in a certainty, her leathery hands trembling, the fingertips of her white letter gloves looked frayed, her frock old and heroically worn.

She checked the time on a golden pocket watch and took two pills from a small medical box that hung from her neck. It contained the day’s regimen of medication; she dumped two pills into her hand and hailed the midday trolley, which carried certain amenities, and made its rounds before and after lunch. Mrs. Herington hailed the trolley and stuffed a twenty in the young girl’s pocket and poured her drink herself, she ate the olive and with a quick gesture she emptied the entire compliment of medication, two familiar yellow, and vodka in a single shot.

She walked to the nearest window and looked across the road to the children at play in the park. Her pose relapsed, the rigidity of contortion softened, and there was calm. However brief, however fleeting, for a moment… there was calm.

The forever loyal Charles returned with her dinner almost an hour later—her food was never pre-prepared, always served fresh, not reheated.

“Mrs. Herington,” he said.

“Yes?”

She turned around to face him.

“Your dinner,” Charles said. “Is there anything else I can do?”

Big smile.

That same smile—it triggered imagined impressions mistaken for memory as the misfiring neurotransmitters in mind lit up like a pinball machine, the bridge between memory and imagination was obscured; then she remembered the face, the face that leered over her, the same man who tried to take advantage of her—in her room—with that same big smile. Her body shook in terrified spasms, like a wolverine on angel dust was locked in the room with her, and it was that same horror as before yet this time her voice failed her.

She opened the lid—thinking it to be drugged or even lethal—and, upon seeing the steak, the rolls and cutlery, she flipped the tray into the floor and jumped up and down on the food like an incontinent and stubborn child—having not received their desired toy for Christmas or a birthday not nice enough.

Mrs. Herington dug the steak into the floor under her white, ivory colored heels, polished with a bow atop her socks a silk cream colored, lighter shade of white, perfect contrast in the Old country manner.

Those same electric diodes red lit by the fires of confusion returned. Charles backed away and held the black tray as a shield along his forearm. She yelled something in broken English, something that might prick the ear of the most profane of Irish sailors and disappeared into her room. She came out a moment later holding her bonnet to her head with a steady hand. Her pace quickened as she rounded the oval corner and passed me on her way to the EXIT. She opened the door and there were hurried steps on the iron stairs.

Not again, Charles thought.

I yelled across the chasm (the second rung orbited the main stairwell; each apartment opened into the oval corridor): “Think of the TV, Charlie! “I said. “Think of the TV!”

Charles and another employee split up in pursuit, one down the stairs behind her, the other on an intercept course out front. An hour later they found her over tea and reading Sense and Sensibility at a coffee house just down the street. She introduced herself to Charles and his confederate, Stanley, and was courteous, receptive to curtsy; an amicable and charming English lady of character and breeding, on the face of her. She finished the first chapter of her book slid a napkin into the book as an improvised mark and was escorted back to the hotel. Charles went so far as to open her very door. Charles was a consummate professional.

“Nice to meet you, young Sir,” she said. “Good evening!”

 

 

 

 

 

2

Mr. Charles Edward Heron, Jr.

 

Charlie and I had been friends since we met at Oxford; I completed my final honor’s questions, and, when asked what my plans were, I responded that if I only got a second class degree, I would stay at Oxford; if I got a first, I would go to Cambridge. I got a first.

Charlie found himself on the same uneven ground as I, as we both had some clichéd hard-luck cases and each day we drank away, too many dead-end roads to go anywhere in life, just pointless nights, each day the same with nothing to show for it at the end of the night.

Charlie dropped out before taking a degree—his mother being sick. He moved back home to help take care of her.

He cooked and cleaned and helped his mother bathe, helped her use the toilet, and wrapped her stick-figure arms and legs in an old towel and helped her into the living room to watch cartoons with Annie. He took care of his sister, too, hoping that her laughter never died. He conjured up a flight of fancy: a future, finding himself lost in cusp of death the memories of a short life dying and he heard that laugh that Annie left with him so long ago—and in that moment, he heard that laughter that he kept and in hearing it found joy, even in so dark a place, some prison in his mind where he passed away in peace. The dream was gone as fast as it appeared but left him with a smile.

He still remembered that night, the blue flowers wet from the rain and standing there he was a child at heart afraid to lose his mother. The silence was broken only by the murmur of a heart rate monitor a child at heart afraid to lose his mother. The heart monitor broke the silence of the silent hall. The desperation of one moment took his breath away when the irregular beating flat the green seismic shocks an arrow.

In the chaos of the moment doctors in their white coats rushed in with a crash cart and defibrillators. The show, the scene slowed down as attendees ran into the room to save a woman who died a long time ago, when her hair was brown and her cheeks puffy and tinted pink with rogue, smiling with her children in front of a snowman in the sun of a winter day at their house in the country. Charlie remained unflinching still in the hallway with those same wet flowers distant, numb, unable to hear what the doctor was telling him. That machine with the bright green numbers and its collapsing sequence recorded her passage through.

The same disease would five months later take his sister too, his sister Anna—Anna—she was five years old and always wore this one dress that her grandma made and it was blue with lace trimmings and that’s how he saw her in the sunlight on the hill chasing butterflies and laughing, not hooked to machines that showed how short her once happy life would be. He had a voice message on his phone from her and saved it for so long; he hears Annie laughing in the background and she says I want to tell him and she says Charlie I got a new puppy his name is Leo won’t you come by later and see me? I love you!

He drifted in and out of Vodka bottles, anything was not too much a price to pay for the loss of such a girl, no end to rectify it, no hand of God, just the cold and callused hand of an uncaring world that selected against the weak.

I kept a conscious hand on Charlie’s pulse, and, after running into him at a coffee shop downtown, had a chance to talk to him for the first time in years. He looked just like the clean-cut Marine poster type with a square jaw and short cropped hair, while I redefined grunge on a daily basis. He wasn’t up to anything, he said, and looking for a job. I was able to get him down to the hotel and apartment complex. I called Diane—a manager who showed yours truly more tenderness than I can fit into a PG13 story. I told her about him, the whole sad story, and, to my disbelief—she cared. She told me that I ‘better not bring in a junkie’ and since Charles was a hard working professional type—you can tell when a kid had a good father—she hired him right away.

 

 

 

 

3

A Night’s Carouse

 

Charles found me after work, in my little corner of the world, having not moved since he left. It was common for him to stop by and have a few drinks and a laugh. I was on the balcony, smoking a cigarette, reading my favorite piece of old French literature, Phèdre. I thought of Oenone, a character from that queer old tale, every time I looked at the pool below.

Charlie sat across from me and took his jacket off, unbuttoning the cumbersome red employee outfit until he was down to a soaked white t-shirt, sweat beading off his hair and forehead. I got a washcloth from the cooler and tossed it to him. A little water on the face, his cheeks, a cold towel on the back of the neck, he freshened up. He tossed the towel to the side and lit a cigarette.

He recalled the day, from the batteries to the coffee shop, and, having bore the brunt of great personal tragedy as he had, was undeterred by Mrs. Herington’s reproach. He had yet to learn to time Mrs. Herington’s lucidity cycle.

“I’ve bourbon and Coke on ice,” I said. “You don’t have work tomorrow, do you?”

“I don’t know how to thank you for this job,” he said.

“What do you think is wrong with her?” he asked. Do you know what she accused me of?”

“Sexual assault?”

“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head. “With a TV remote.

“Her behavior towards you,” I said, “is unique. She has never given so rough a time to Stanley and hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever been so pressing and so cavalierly with any of the staff.”

So what’s her deal, schizophrenia?”

“There is variation in her mood,” I said, leaning forward, placing my index fingers together. “Variation of mood doesn’t always suggest schizophrenia. If everyone who had different emotions at different times in response to different situations was schizophrenic, there’d be a lot more schizophrenics running around. I’ve seen nothing to suggest this babushka is schizophrenic or even crazy. Not enough data. What are the facts?”

“The first time I got there, she thought I was trying to sexually assault her. Then she placed an order, and, when I delivered it, she threw it into the floor. Then later, the same day, she introduced herself. She ran out of the building, over food. That’s not schizophrenia?”

“After she sent you downstairs,” I replied, “her mood reverted to what I believe was a natural baseline, a stable mood which she is in her element, alone. It is possible; however, that she was perfectly justified in her reactions, considering what she knew or thought she knew what she was responding to. ”

“How is that?”

“Look at the situation from her point of view,” I said. “Let’s take her memory, instead of her mood, in consideration. Take away the memory of her call to the front desk. The next thing she sees is a strange man hovering over her, having invaded her privacy, and asking what she believed to be… sexually suggestive questions. It is not a schizophrenic response. It is a normal response for a woman in that situation in that context. The second time, when she sent you downstairs with a dinner order, she became, as you saw, amicable and hospitable.

“Her mood returned to baseline and I see a normal and austere elderly lady, watching kids play across the street. Then she started shaking. It’s not uncommon for women her age to shake. She has, now this is interesting, a little box that hangs from her necklace. She got two pills out of and chased them with a double vodka—I think I might be in love with this lady—and she seemed pleasant enough. She smiled but there was pain in her eyes. Some memory brought tears to her eyes—it could either be the loss of a child or the loss of a husband, some loved one; or maybe she found the laughing of happy children beautiful, which has happened. She remained lucid and capable and in a natural, baseline mood.

“There is no suggestion of dual personalities. She isn’t demonstrating anything contrary to her baseline mood. You evoked another argument when you brought her meal which, to her knowledge, she hadn’t asked for. Again, it’s normal response to what she sees as another intrusion into her privacy. By her rationale, you were a stranger with a lunch tray full of food she didn’t order. That confused her and she, being a well bred lady of sagacity and cultivation, isn’t angry at you on a conscious level; she is angry at her own confusion. And her frustration found a perfect object of her confusion: you.

“If I’m not too far in my inference so far, I do know one thing. If it’s recent, it could explain the anger and memory loss. Those pills she took; they were round and yellow. I recognize those pills since my youngest brother, Christopher, takes the same medication for anxiety and hypertension. A drug in the benzodiazepine class: Clonazepam—1mg with a meal, and now we’ve got the suspect for her memory blackouts and violent moods. I was taken off Clonazepam when I was first prescribed. Erratic behavior, heart palpitations, anxiety attacks. Ah, to be young again.

“The medication eased my anxiety, but it turned me into an intolerable asshole. How many people in this place will sit down with this woman as a doctor and tell her she should change her medication or stop drinking with it? She’s in her 60’s, man. She should be on better drugs that. I’d put her on Valium for her stress and Soma as a muscle relaxant. And, since she’s old and has suffered enough, I’d put her on morphine and let her float out on a little cloud.

“You know these people, man. High society types. They rub elbows with other rich people because we, us below their social tier, not worthy of having their Armani shoulders rubbed against our no-name t-shirts. They’re used to knowing everything. They’re used to being obliged. They’re used to living in a world of what they understand. When they encounter something they don’t understand, they respond like Christians did to evolution. But that’s just a theory.”

I felt the cold skin creeping up my back.

“Look here Charlie,” I said. “It’s too late to be this sober. You’re off the clock, I know, but this is an emergency. I’m not breaking the emergency glass, but I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you can bring me a gallon of bourbon, two liters of Coke, and a bucket of ice.

My roommates are out, so we can watch Star Trek and take a shot each time someone says or is shot by a phaser.”

“Why don’t you call downstairs and order it?” he asked.

Clever kid.

“Because I don’t want to be sexually assaulted by the staff.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Those turkey neck old ladies, I don’t know what it is…”

“Because they gobble,” I said. “Their neck looks like a scrotum,” I added. “You may have latent homosexuality, Charles. Perhaps you desire your father and wish to kill Mrs. Herington because she’s the only living lady most prominent in your life and thus an unconscious substitution for a mother you’ve never known. I’d see a psychiatrist, you know, get all that worked out.”

He sighed with a slight indignant smile, “They’d probably refer me to somebody just like you,” he said. “I’ll be back with your order, sir.”

“Give me thirty minutes,” I said. Charlie stood at the door, looking back.

Just in case I have to hide my porn” As soon as the door closed behind him I flicked my cigarette into the parking lot below and walked around the oval corridor and knocked on Mrs. Herington’s door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. Herington opened the door. Her dress and hair had been primed as quickly as possible. I asked if she had seen my cat, Nobody. She said no in a congenial way. I asked her if it would be alright if I were to have a look around to, and she obliged, amicable again. She took leave of me with a courteous bow and retired to the powder room, as she called it. I’ll be back in a moment, young man.”

Mrs. Herington was a pristine Victorian lady, out of her element, an ocean between her and where she was raised in Devonshire. She met her American husband in London after World War II. She was a widower, however, since her husband, Walter, was killed on the 37th parallel in Korea. And that same dress she wore, once of the finest fragment, worn away and frayed each day and she wore it, as some sort of gift from her to her the dress let as passed the years advanced and she got older, heavier, no energy to exercises, no need to keep her figure trim.

While she changed I got a brief and cursory glance at her apartment. Her bonnet hung from the coat-rack behind the door as did her shawl. The variety of liquor and liqueur she had was the fulfillment of every college student’s dream when their bottle dried. It is what my locker would look like if I made it to Heaven.

There were several empty glasses between the ottoman and television, all of the same design and make, the same slogan made into each glass: Florida, this side of Paradise. A tacky emblem of a dolphin silhouetted by a red sunset was underneath the text. Her dress was put into the washing machine. She returned dressed simply: an oversized ARMY t-shirt and gray jogging pants.

Mrs. Herington paused at the step before liquor cabinet for nearly twenty minutes before she got a bottle of Brandy—robust and comforting, warm: a perfect combination to ease one into a calm sleep. Her necklace off she held the same two yellow pills in her hand. With a snifter of Brandy she took them both and sat on a giant pillow in the corner, almost the size of a queen sized bed.

I was still on the couch and she hadn’t noticed me. Her eyelids were blackened like the addict or insomniac. Eyes like mine. Addict, check, insomniac, check. The two groups often overlap like this.

That was her fallacy, too old to live the happy life once it was gone, and she held onto that thread until it stretched and broke, and chasing yesterday, the memory when the stars aligned and everything for that one moment perfect for her, and made her life, before and after, worth it for that one moment when the storm of dust coalesced around the memory and where it lay there was a pearl.  What pursuit and in what world could she find another pearl so flawless. Maybe that was her desperation, her helplessness, the road that led her to the alcoholic wasteland.

The pursuit, after that for nothing, when the Holy Grail is found then lost, it cannot be replaced or synthesized. And nothing fills that hole, not drugs, not loves to come nor loves now gone—nothing fills the hole.

Martha had a meal laid out in anticipation; she was to see, for the first time in a year, her husband Walter was to return. When he was late she packed up and down the hall and smoked too many cigarettes, imbibing generous glasses of wine until she saw the clock, past two in the morning. She ran down the steps into the reception hall and lobby and called out for Steve. He put a heavy box of medication down, and looking over the counter and saw Martha coming toward him, hysterical and crying, almost shrieking, “I can’t find Walter, Steve. I need the key to the roof.”

Steve tried to calm her down and had the unfortunate role of being the bearer of bad news, having to tell this woman, every night he worked, that her husband had been dead for fifteen years. Steve tried to calm her down, and each night he had the unfortunate role of being the bearer of bad news, day after day. She took Steve by the arm has he led her up the stairs.

He got her blanket and pillow and an old army jacket, Walter’s in Korea. She sat down in the dining room and was and was quick to fall asleep in that old coat. When she woke, she found herself at the dinner table, with melted candles,

She roused herself with a pot of coffee and once again prepared a lavish meal, with generous amounts of wine, he might be a little late. After her first two glasses, she had to go to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet seat, Patsy Cline in her head. She rose and cleaned herself, fixed her hair in the mirror, and in a flash she saw a young man in a casket, and the rain coming down, then she looked up, and saw her old face in the mirror, and she remembered

Back in the kitchen she poured another glass and pulled out Walter’s chair. She raised her glass to toast the empty chair where sat Walter’s ghost. And the candle burned away and down the flame dwindled until it whispered its departure and released a trail of smoke.  And kitchen she poured another glass, a toast she thought, for Walter’s ghost and trails off into sleep, only for her memories to die, to wake on a vacant beach with no shells upon the shore of memory to find.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was another man who lived alone. He was a bit older than me, but not by much, the busboys called the dude Gonzalez. He was a well fed Puerto Rican guy, early thirties. I think I heard somebody call him Sammy. The guy had a pencil thin mustache and goatee. It cropped his pugnacious face. In passing, I got the impression of a self-important body-builder type—not malevolent, but callus; his skin was almost orange—obsessed with how he looked, you know the type: always in the gym, never in the library. Loud cars, loud bars and dumb women, obnoxious R&B.

You know the type. Out all night, drinking Patron, and not Jose Quervo—it’s just like the New Russian motto: if it costs more, it’s better. They’re both made in the same bathroom south of Mexico. Such a liquid love affair, and I’ve been there. Streetwalkers don’t shake, they crack. They don’t shiver, they shatter.

So I understood this type of man, Sammy. He came in late every night while I was still in the common room and reading. Two hours after the last club closed and he was still sweating, exhausted every night, sweat rolling off him in malodorous torrents, a waterfall inside a soaked yellow shirt, clinging to his chest. The oiliness of his vitreous membrane betrayed his fatigue, as did his sleep schedule. He didn’t ring for coffee or the paper until rather late in the afternoon.

People stopped by, went in and out, a hip and complicated handshake, some new age tribal ritual I would never understand. They waited in the corridor, the loungers and loafers loitered. Yeah, they all want a taste.  I could see them later, laughing like morons, the phonies dance in digital ballrooms with virtual walls and fake dreams fake faces motionless on a placard they held up I’m so lonesome I could cry… That band was an old program. The Avatar of Vishnu to the right, the mirror was a crying child with a theatre mask. Eurydice’s chased Persephone through the Western Lands and Disco Balls a sigh her breath the wind and disappeared into the wall.

Sammy did two stints in the county jail: once for a clumsy burglary that came unhinged when a confederate used his real name within earshot of the home’s matriarch. Sentence was a year, breaking and entering in furtherance of theft. Nine months later and he was out on good behavior. Less than a month later he got into a scuffle at a bar and pulled a gun. The bartender ducked behind the cabinet and rang the police and, occupied with the bartender, Sammy was taken unawares from behind. They confiscated his unregistered .357. When the police got there his face was a blood bruise with two bloodshot eyes. Three year sentence, out in two and a half a free man again, released on his own reconnaissance, hopped a bus downtown, had a few shots of tequila, and called his girlfriend from the bar.

He planned to spend the night with her, tosleep on the couch with his sons. They called him Papa Bear since he was such a massive guy. 6’4” and three hundred pounds. They were up until three in the morning, dancing about and splashing in their plastic pool in front of the television. He saw them, more than once, lick the screen and put their eyes directly on the screen. It unsettled him, and nauseous, he slipped out of the back door with a few beers and a pack of menthols. Lucy, the mother of his kids, lived at the bottom of one of the dead roads. At the top of the hill he saw a four way cross between the dead end roads, where other travelers of the night appeared and disappeared into and out of the fog, some coughing and wiping their nose on their shirt, scratching at their chest until the scratches came off and began to bleed through their dirty shirts, smeared in oil and dirt. He got their life story for a nickel. Could’ve gotten their teeth for a dollar. And it was one of the genuine horrors in his life, one being to see somebody abuse a dog or cat or any sort of animal, and the other being the homeless. It was one aspect of the world that a needle couldn’t drown, the hopeless and the desperate. And the man came up to him and shaking, shivering even, and said:

“I know you think I want a beer or something man but I ain’t like that I’m an honest cat I just need to… I need to get home man. I got to, I got to get home man, get this bus ticket. It’s my moms man my moms she sick man. I been tryin to get a job but they wont nobody give me a job so I’m stuck out here, just tryin’ to make it home man.”

The smell of the man, his desperation, made Sammy puke all over him. It was all liquid—nothing but beer—and it hit the old bum in the face and stained his shirt and he saw him standing there with gray lips confused and he puked again until the bum disappeared into the fog again, on his way to the next sponsor for his drug addiction.

When you stand in the cross-section of the dead roads in the night and foggy as it was that night you felt something unreal, almost like a personality, or the ghosts of all of those who threw themselves over the bridge, he’d hear them there asking him for money and he turned left toward the Baker apartments running, still clinging onto his six pack of Natural Light. With the wind against his back he knew what it felt like to be a piece of trash trapped in the mouth of a tired breeze.

The Baker apartments were the slums that people in ghettos feared they’d end up if they stopped showing up for work. Those one room millhouse squares strewn scattershot across the moor were barely held together shacks, barely keeping out the rain and weather, all of them with buckets throughout the house from where the ceiling leaked. The mire itself was a desolate vision. It seemed to pull each house down an inch each year, another fifty years and it would swallow the porch, pulling the house and tenant down into its mouth—the mire.

The darkness on the other side of dawn descended as the sun came up. Sammy stopped under a streetlight for a cigarette, and waited for the sun to rise. He didn’t want to wake his brother. It was around 9am when he got to his father’s apartment. He stubbed his cigarette out with the heel of his shoe and knocked on the grated, rusted screen door. The television was on and his little brother brought a handful of letters to his older brother and handed him the sentence. “I missed u,” and then another: “Where have u been?” He knelt beside his brother, who jumped into the beanbag in front of the television. He ran his fingers through his hair.  The child turned his head and Sammy proceeded, tickling at his stomach, “You better give me a kiss.” His brother relented. With his brother laughing it was almost easy for Sammy to forget the mausoleum for his mother and sister, both taken by breast cancer. Sammy couldn’t even look at their bedroom doors and he walked toward the kitchen. His little brother with a big smile on his face, skipped along behind him holding his hand. He led him by his hand to cabinet, arranged his letters to say “open.” Sammy opened the cabinet and found a stash of chocolate chip cookies. He grabbed a few for his younger brother and put them on a plate. “Sit down with me for a moment, Alex” Sammy said, “where’s grandpa?” Alex arranged the letters “Back porch, he is sad and don’t talk much anymore.” “Alright Alex,” Sammy said, “I’ve got a mission for you. I want you to draw the last thing you saw in a dream and I’ll check it out when I’m to grandpa.” Alex ran off to get his crayons and colored pencils. The screen door creaked as Sammy opened it, going out onto the back porch. His father Jessie, with his old cowboy had on, sat staring a patch of dead trees left in the wake of some new construction project, making way for some of mini-mall or convenient store. “They’re going to cut down all of the trees, the symbol of our natural heritage. Nothing is sacred anymore.” “Dad,” Sammy said as he walked to stand by the balcony, he could the sheen of white reflected off of his father’s hidden pint of whiskey beneath his rocking chair. “You’re not going to get any better if you keep drinking like this, and how is it going to be if Alex loses you. You need to take your medicine and rest.” His father replied, “I’d rather die doing what I love than live knowing what I can’t have.” “Sooner or later,” Sammy said, “you’ll realize this world is full of people who aren’t you. Who don’t need you or know you, except that little boy, that you can’t stop drinking or feeling sorry for yourself to take care of Alex? Do you want him to be put into a home, like you were? Taken away from his parents? I’m sure you know what that will do to a child. You’re 72 and it still bothers you. Alex doesn’t need to see his father die, he needs to see his father try to live.” “And what’s the lesson, Sammy, are you done preaching?” “The lesson is simple, you drink yourself to death, and you become, to your own son, what your father was to you.”

 

 

I was a mute ghost then, lost in the neon lights, the beams like search lights scattered through the gunshot holes, the ghost whose father crawled off like a roach under fluorescent lights.

The erstwhile Miss Josephine, as far as I’ve ascertained, having been in her room several times in her rooms under a false pretext—I’m down with the busboys—and I ran over her bookshelf, found a typewriter: vintage 1962. Jazz, Louisiana blues, a room of sharp black and white décor. Her bookshelf was attractive. Dickens, Hemingway, Pushkin (The Complete Prose Takes of Aleksandr Sergeyovich Pushkin), Turgenev (the big headed one) and the masters—Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy. And they were dog-eared and yellowed; she read these books, not like the preening intellectual who has these books as affectation, crisp cover and bright white untouched pages.

The girl was into Russian’s. That made my job, as some singing bird of paradise, a bit easier. I dated a Russian once, and my ancestry on my father’s side traces back to what is now the Ukraine. I could speak the language, knw the culture, and that, it would seem, would interest someone with that kind of bookshelf—it impressed me. Get her to come over, have some wine, a lot of wine, and she liked jazz, there was a piano somewhere. So that was the plan: Get her one on one, introduce myself, try to impress her. Let her impress herself.

 

Sketches are what most people write for themselves upon meeting someone else, and usually is more a reflection of themselves than those who they describe in passing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been told, by former teachers, counselors, and sometimes when I talk to myself, I say it’ll be fine, don’t worry serotonin’s running low no self esteem no dope no hope. If I am pretentious enough to take upon myself the truculent classification of extraordinary, it is as true as far as I am able to identify.

The fact that so many people knew me, from my studies, terrified me. It would overshadow everything I’d done or would do in my life. That’s my Waterloo. My family friendly unit shifter. The kid with who taught the monkeys how to talk.* The fear was more of the wanting to discuss my work than it was that some whacko would shoot me for being an affront to God. That wouldn’t be so bad; my novel sales would double.

Roommate was a bit of a misnomer, as I referred to them as colleagues at fancy dinner parties. Akin to a young child, whose mother and father want nothing more for their young child to speak and talk and then, those same loving parents, two months after their child has started talking want to blow their brains out the next time someone mentions the Wiggles.

This was the fallacy of living with other people. Sooner or later, you’ll have to talk to them. And when they talk, you assume, of course, it’s going to be a bit of repartee, nothing too heavy, not in the morning when the coffee’s hot. They talked about ‘human understanding’ in the same sense I would describe as, with evolution as my topic, ‘Preacher understanding.’

If only they could see the rain as though a firefly.

The types of conversations we had are the sort of conversations one normally has with a Jehovah’s Witness. The exception was their alien knowledge of things not yet assumed or even guessed at by human beings. The concepts were beyond a Homo’s understanding. The time of our species is recent on Earth’s calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will henceforth call them monkeys as to associate them with something the layman can understand and see in their minds, the same thing they can’t see when you bring up genus or hominids.

 

 

 

We spent three years together in that small flat, three people (sort of) sitting around letting my laurels pay for cable and the internet. My good friend Rerun loved looking at kittens online. Pie didn’t like anything, that I know of, anyway, and she spent time in the attic, my apartment being on the top floor with a low-ceiling attic between the top. I heard her, up there drilling; I heard hammering and what sounded like a saw. And Rerun doesn’t take much concern when Pie comes down, done with whatever she was working on, and called for Rerun. Rerun told me I should go up to the addict and bid her farewell.

“Her body is about to die,” he expressed. “She’s going to Tania.”

“Wait, what? Don’t tell me monkeys…”

“How many times have I told you we’re not monkeys?

 

 

 

 

“It’s cool, I mean, it’s cool to meet you, man.

You have just met the representation of a human being in another sphere, a sphere where all you his is Chopin’s nocturnes and Brahms cosmic harmony, each note syncing with the movement of the other’s lips, speaking away a polonaise. A nod and a smile, yes, thank you. Nice to meet you too.

When you’re a poor student and it’s raining, they stay their ground. If you were famous and it began to rain, someone would hurry to help you make it through. Look at him, young punk, schlepping his junk and books around that’s all he’s got. The littered street, Mokra no thumbprint on a skyscraper. He needs to wash his hair.

You become a personage, and they get a good view of your public face, the veneer, the surface of someone who mattered. An impoverished and friendless non-entity one moment, then you get a suffix and you’re the news. Then you are the story, a story written by the public, something they write for themselves. Same young man, twenty six, in grad school and poor. Hiding in corners at libraries, big bright lamp leaning over his desk. This is not important. Same kid, thirteen, up all night shaking, those Nembutals, the red red veins glow neon round the sclera. Screaming in the mirror in the morning trying to stop the rattling, just take your medicine and relax, Roger. A mask beside the writing desk is blue and circular. It turns life into a senseless, but worthwhile, relaxation. You can see heaven in your left shoe, God and all his angels on the ceiling if you take enough. No, Roger. You can’t keep them because you take too many. You find another face, adapt, and acclimatize. Straighten up your shirt and comb your hair. Disappear into the crowds of hustling businessmen, people to whom time is a real factor. When your pension is secure, you have no reason to leave-you can have anything-anything-delivered to your home, what then does time do but lie still? A second could be a hundred years. Then there’s everybody in a smart shirt with a meeting at 5 and women carrying briefcases. You are see-through. A numbed and disillusioned child who never knew what growing up entailed, watching everybody in their smart suits and briefcases hurry by. All with important things to do, meetings to attend, hiring, firing, Lobster and caviar.

This presentation holds up when you meet the friends of your friends, the friends of people who talked to you once in college because he didn’t know the difference between a taxidermist and taxonomy. This is my friend, blank blank. Youngest person to win a Nobel prize. What is that like? I mean, like, that kind of situation… I can’t imagine. Where you nervous? I would flip if I had to talk to all those old dudes. She laughs out loud. I’d love to pick apart your brain.

Yes, the cultivated young PhD, not so good looking, but it’s what’s inside (the wallet) counts. I wonder what his life is like, I mean, like…

Three in the afternoon. I wake on the floor with a pen in one hand and an empty bottle of vodka in the other.wakes up with one purpose: to be the presentation of himself. Then the exaggerations get out of hand. People attest to knowing ‘how bright’ you were. Always knew that boy do good. I knew his father (but he didn’t) and he used to live over there behind the mill his dialogue never ends. An endless stack of incoherent words spoken aloud to nobody in the country in a rocking chair. You write stories for the people that you know, as well.         When speaking or making aIt was worse down at the bar, more so than anywhere else, because that’s where people do their advertisements. They give you a brief commercial and you decided if you wanted to test drive the car. People elbowed in to sit by me at bars. “Oh, I’d love to pick apart your mind.” The girl behind the counter, the literary cliché, we’ve all heard it before: the young girl, such ocean colored eyes, perfect hair and blushed with rouge. Her name was Amber. I knew that because the villa was shared by trust-fund brats and other novel characters. The bookish one, looking down at you, eyeglasses on his nose with a copy of Middlemarch. The socialite, always almost drunk and old, wandering around the lobby with a martini and a purse sized yapping dog behind her. Then there was me.

The fact that so many people knew me, from my studies, terrified me. It would overshadow everything I’d done or would do in my life. That’s my Waterloo. My family friendly unit shifter. The kid with who taught the monkeys how to talk.* The fear was more of the wanting to discuss my work than it was that some whacko would shoot me for being an affront to God. That wouldn’t be so bad; my novel sales would double.

Roommate was a bit of a misnomer, as I referred to them as colleagues at fancy dinner parties. Akin to a young child, whose mother and father want nothing more for their young child to speak and talk and then, those same loving parents, two months after their child has started talking want to blow their brains out the next time someone mentions the Wiggles.

This was the fallacy of living with other people. Sooner or later, you’ll have to talk to them. And when they talk, you assume, of course, it’s going to be a bit of repartee, nothing too heavy, not in the morning when the coffee’s hot. They talked about ‘human understanding’ in the same sense I would describe as, with evolution as my topic, ‘Preacher understanding.’

If only they could see the rain as though a firefly.

The types of conversations we had are the sort of conversations one normally has with a Jehovah’s Witness. The exception was their alien knowledge of things not yet assumed or even guessed at by human beings. The concepts were beyond a Homo’s understanding. The time of our species is recent on Earth’s calendar.

 

 

3

NIKOLAI’S CHICKEN

 

Koshka was half asleep when she heard Sebastian’s rapping on her door. She was tired, hung-over, groggy and out of sorts. She got out of bed anyway; Sebastian was emotionally frail and sensitive, and she was as good a friend

She looked at the blinking neon clock with a sigh, went to her dresser, and slipped out of her oversized t-shirt and put on an evening gown. , and tied her robe. She lit a cigarette, tied her robe. Dressed she fumbled in her pocket.

Koshka fumbled in her purse until she found a dime bindle full of cocaine. She poured it on a makeup mirror into three parallel lines. Koshka did one after another until the bag was empty.

Koshka stretched and walked toward the front door, looked out the keyhole, and saw Sebastian standing there with bloodshot eyes. She pushed her hair behind her ears, put on a jovial mask, and unlocked the door.

The dust from Koshka’s walkway lifted with the wind, and Koshka with her bony arms gestured Sebastian in. He sat down on the couch and Koshka sat beside him.

“You look tired,” Koshka said. “Are you out of bourbon, or is it an incremental sort of vice?”

“No,” Sebastian said, still standing, “I was in the garden … I was … I heard something break. There was a broke soup bowl on the floor and a cup. I looked around the house for Elise and Lora … I heard her music box—it’s like this fog is driving me crazy.

“Elise and Lora were in the house when I went to the garden, I heard the broken plate, and when I went back in the house they were gone. I walked through the house like a lost dog yelping for them. Somebody was there. I heard my daughter’s music box but she wasn’t in her room.

“Something there—I heard the sound… I heard a glass break. That’s what it sounded like. So I went into the kitchen and a soup bowl was shattered in the floor. It sounded like it—it could have been a China plate. I heard my daughter up the stairs but I couldn’t find her.

“She wasn’t in her room.  I thought—I hope… I mean I thought she might be here, Please tell me you’ve seen then. Are they in the market? We’re running low on oxygen so I guess they could be there if you haven’t seem them I guess okay I can check there no problem just a short walk you see. Ahem, please tell me. Have you seen her?”

“Sebastian…”

“Have you seen them or not?”

“Why do you do this to yourself, Sebastian? You know…”

“They were there when I went outside Lora was in the… They were there. They were there. Lora… They were there. I’m not crazy. Lora, she was in her bed asleep. I heard her music box. She always winds it when she’s ready to go to sleep. It helps her sleep.”

A look of helpless pity colored Koshka’s eyes. glassed over came the held back tears. For a moment she hesitated. She didn’t know what to say.

“Sebastian,” she said, “You’re not crazy. No one calls you crazy but you. Just sit down for a second. Just relax and sit down. Okay? Just try to relax. Let me put some on some clothes and then I’ll help you look. For now I want you to relax for a minute. Can you do that for me, I’ll help you look, but I want you to relax for just a moment. I have to put some clothes on.”

“Something has been on my mind all day,” Sebastian said.

“What’s that?” Koshka asked, leaning against the back of a couch. “You torment yourself, Sebastian.”

“You know,” Sebastian said, “My uncle Nikolai had a box of chickens when I was young. We lived together in one of those communal flats, you know, where families are assigned to certain jobs and sleep together, share the kitchens and the bathrooms, and my uncle was a farmer. I remember he used to have this box of chickens with a grate on it, so Andreika’s cat wouldn’t eat ‘em.

“I used to hate those chickens. I couldn’t sleep at all. I hated those chickens. I wanted to feed them to the cat. Every night I tried to sleep and they stayed up all night, chirping, squeaking, like nails on a chalkboard. One night I walked through the living room to get something to drink, and I saw that one of the chickens was barely moving.

“Its eyes were open and blinking but it was flat on its stomach. The other chickens walked around, bobbing their heads, not caring, not noticing. I went and told my uncle in his bed that one of the chickens was sick. I asked him if they had enough food and water and he said yeah. I told him that one of them was dying, a white one with a black color, and it didn’t move and it hurt me, a chicken that hurt me. It died, my bird, and it stayed in the black trashbags a few days then threw it away. Whr my chicken died, I cared, and now they’re not so bad, the chirp is lively, and I can sleep. I think about that chicken when I try to sleep.”

Koshka was silent for a minute and then said, “Let me go put some clothes on.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4

SONG OF THE LAST FROGS

 

She disappeared into the bedroom. Under a desk by the bed a fireproof box a combination lock. She had four o2 canisters left, enough to get them to Transia for more. It was a hike, four days at least, but she’d walked it a hundred times before.

Koshka returned from the other room in black pants and a white turtleneck. “It’s cold,” she said. “I don’t know how you can walk around with short sleeves on.”

Koshka gave Sebastian his mask and he slid it over his face.  She did the same. “Are you ready?” she asked.

 

Sebastian put his thumb against the pad by the front door of his home. The door swung open and he and Koshka they walked in. Koshka almost choked on the air inside Sebastian’s house when she took off her mask. The air was thick and toxic—and Sebastian had breathed it in for days. He didn’t seem to notice.

“When’s the last time you emptied out these rooms?” Koshka asked. “I’m surprised it hasn’t killed you.”

“Yesterday,” he said. “I change it every day. Elise hooks up the ventilation to the windows and I secure them outside, to blow the methane into the street. It’s a ritual we go through … It’s not something I’d forget.”

“We really need to get this out of here,” Koshka said.

“If it’s that bad, just keep your mask on,” Sebastian said. “I’m going to check in the basement. If they’re not in there they’re gone.”

Koshka sighed but nonetheless obliged. Sebastian went into the basement.  Sebastian held aloft a Zippo lighter. He walked through the basement. He went in and out of metal shelves until he found a desk in disarray. Everything was in black and white except a worn copy of Swan Song of Paradise, the most revered of books in Menelaos.  was his father’s desk, the most revered of books on Menelaos.

Sebastian swung the beam of light across the room and toward it. On top of the desk was a .45, penthouse magazine, black pens read pens blue pens, lilies in mayonnaise jars. Seb went riding with his father and it was his favorite pistol, squirrel hunting in the Ukraine, drinking vodka and spinning guns.  Under the gun was a copy of The Songs of Dahl—the holiest of books. Sebastian opened the book and looked at the page. It read:

THE LAST FROGS

At the end of summer, all the frogs, having mated, having ensured the next generation, gather on the last day of summer on the river bank and in unison, to mark the passage of a season and the awakening of new winter, they   gathered together to sing.

Koshka broke his concentration rattling around upstairs. Sebastian stuffed the book in his pocket and blew out the lighter. He looked around the room one last time in the dark.

On the other side of another broken lock the oxygen canisters were destroyed, not stolen. The gravel on the broken oxygen turned to ash brushed away from Sebastian’s coat. At the center of the house was a spherical room, on all sides round, a hidden chamber that was blocked by debris—where the there was pure oxygen and soundlessness, thirty minutes a day without ears, without eyes, without senses at all, an essence in the echo room, it doesn’t change or variate. Sebastian’s supply of oxygen he’d stashed away for Winter. Sebastian brushed the debris from his coat and left the basement.

 

 

 

 

I will henceforth call them monkeys as to associate them with something the layman can understand and see in their minds, the same thing they can’t see when you bring up genus or hominids.

From the outside it looked like paradise. The inside wasn’t that bad, more like half of paradise, but still, I grew up with Baptists. Buffalo Bill could’ve been my roommate and would be less annoying, except with all thatf Wild Horses and also putting fat women into wells. I’m sure that’s against the Tower’s policy.

Their first shared insight was that their names, given to them by those same morons at the lab, were not their real names. So, I say, what would you liked to be called, Mortimer, Branny?

These names are ancient. I’ll be you next time. Maybe a human, she laughed. Then we’d be able to have our apartments. I been a beetle and a snake and a rat and had the same name every time. Pi’jo (Pie-zho) and that monkey over there, call him Rerun.

“I’m not a god damn monkey!” Rerun shouted. “”

“This is only his second trip out,” Pie said. “The first time you get recycled, that’s a weird feeling-going through that tunnel and feeling your memories dying, headin to that white light. The memory dissolves when you are born the first time, second time, you feel déjà vu, if you’re the same damn animal, you don’t get to choose”

“Choose what?”

“What animal you’re going to be.”

“Have you ever had a dream, a dream of an open, white space, do you recall-and seeing trains, lots of them going by you?”

“Yeah, when I was younger.”

“You forget the train,” Pi said. “The more rides you take, the easier it is to deal with. You don’t remember the other lives until you’re back in Tania, waiting on the receipt. It’s calm there, in the lobby. When you’re body dies, you’ll get to see it. Those silver trains going by, thousands of them-going one way or another-upward, downward, side to side they go. Don’t worry, Roger. You’re just new, that’s all.

“What do you mean by new?”

Silence.

“If I tell you about it now, while you’re still alive, it will bring you back to life when you die, as the same person, unaware you’re living the same life, again and again… If I take you there, or show you how to get there, it will compromise your place in the wheel. You’ll never get out. You’ll never get to go upstairs.”

“So I’ll be immortal?” I asked.

“In a sense, I suppose,” she replied.

“I’ll think about it.”

 

 

 

We spent three years together in that small flat, three people (sort of) sitting around letting my laurels pay for cable and the internet. My good friend Rerun loved looking at kittens online. Pie didn’t like anything, that I know of, anyway, and she spent time in the attic, my apartment being on the top floor with a low-ceiling attic between the top. I heard her, up there drilling; I heard hammering and what sounded like a saw. And Rerun doesn’t take much concern when Pie comes down, done with whatever she was working on, and called for Rerun. Rerun told me I should go up to the addict and bid her farewell.

“Her body is about to die,” he expressed. “She’s going to Tania.”

“Wait, what? Don’t tell me monkeys…”

“How many times have I told you we’re not monkeys?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a keen sense of evolutionary time. It’s always struck me to think, not of a species and its past, but the evolutionary possibility for their species. Sometimes this train of thought is troubling to take to its logical conclusion. If under the same environmental pressures that shaped the natural selection and emergence of man, one can assume that consciousness of time and history was an evolutionary advantage that helped our species come to the sciences, the arts, and generally try to be good when nobody’s looking. When I think of turkeys, which I invariably do on each Thanksgiving as we’re eating one, I believe that the day the turkeys become conscious, and develop to our level of 20th century understanding and mental ability, I think, with some trepidation, what will the turkey scholars think of Thanksgiving?

To us its an honored tradition going back to just before we decided that these people were Indians, even though we knew within a month they weren’t, and before we separated them into casinos, we one time dined with the peaceful natives. I’m not making a joke out of genocide; I’m implying that one day, if evolutionary selection favors the further development of the turkeys as a species, it is feasible that they may one day write. They may one day have movies starring handsome heartthrob turkeys and females of dazzling plumage and, since they’ll have thumbs in this hypothetical scenario, they can at once desire and with the same hand they can satiate that desire. So it comes to this. What the fuck are the turkeys going to have to say about our Holiday? Will some future turkey be a word-picturer in the manner of our Shakespeare, or Dostoevsky? The point is, the thought of turkeys sharing taxis with people and dining in fancy restaurants is an idea that delights me.

God sayeth prophesy unto the wind that one day his turkeys, with whom their covenant is made, will bring them out of the bondage of labor camps and organ harvesting. Will a turkey one day tell Louis Rich and its board members to let his people go? It will repeat the history of human rights, struggle for turkey equality, drinking from the same fountain. One day we may be able to meet and like disparate turkeys, call them Phil or Aaron instead of dinner. And it will be taboo to fuck them, but, as my father told me as he was dying, ‘Son, you have to promise me…’ I said, ‘Yes, anything father.’ ‘Son,” he said. ’Yes?’ ‘Promise me you’ll be a heathen…’

There are two stories from my life, three actually, that punctuate my essence as a person. When my son was incubating, the host body of the parasite became a pointing finger, an eye on the most private of all functions. It’s when you love yourself, physically, however brief or ultimately disgusting it is, women want to put a spotlight on this behavior. I’m talking about masturbation. It is the world’s first first person shooter. It is a modern adaptation to evolutionary urges, the desire to procreate, that produces the hormones in our bodies that make us want to choke a rubbery one for a few minutes. I was living with this girl and had been for several months. I’m perverted on paper and in my imagination, but in real life, I fake a sense of ease. You can’t let your nemesis know that you know you’re fighting a silent war for sexual gratification. So this is my story. I was working twelve hours a day at a second rate tattoo shop, being the gopher and drawing stupid shit for stupid people, and it takes a lot out of you, having to give a shit and talk to people, it drains you. I got off work and we went to Delaney’s as we always did and walked from bar to bar until they closed. If you’re going to binge drink, you know, for god’s sake have the decency to be thoroughly incorrigible. Anyway, I finally make it home (I stayed and urged my ride to stay as late as possible just so I wouldn’t have to listen to her shit when I got home) and when I did she was sitting up in bed, reading a book. I throw down my bag and sat on the couch adjacent to the bed and lit a cigarette. Finally in the comfort of my own home, I became incensed by the idea that that was what I came home to, a boring bitch who likes crossword puzzles and Maury Povich.

You know what she asked me. I don’t know why it’s imprinted into certain women that what we do is somehow relevant to how we interact with them. So I make up some shit fast enough to satisfy what I think she needs to get out of the conversation and she asks if I want to come to bed, to ‘keep her warm.’ You know what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to crawl in bed, close my eyes, and give her one half-assed mercy fuck. You can’t wash off this kind of shame. I’m not implying that pregnant women should be denied the courtesy of someone having the fortitude to attempt to fuck them without poking the baby’s fucking eye out. So anyway, this is what I think about, I think about fucking her and just thumping my preborn son’s cheek every time I stuck it in her fat ass. So with this in mind, I tried to be a bit more judicial. I tell her that when I finish so and so chapter of some book that I would come to bed. Now this is the part that defines me: once I was sure she was asleep, I masturbated to a video of us fucking.

The other story is about Santa Clause, in a sense, but it’s deeper than that. When I was young, something prickled in me every time reason and science was perverted, or the development of science retarded by outside interests. I was aware of this, that an aura of bullshit and mystique meant so much to people, they had one person bring all the children’s toys–on Earth–in one night, with flying deer. I’ve heard people talk about finding out Santa Clause wasn’t real. I may lack some sort of imagination, but the thought of deer flying was out of the fucking question. Deer don’t fly and it’s impossible to go to every house on Earth in a night.

It astonishes me that people actually once believed in Santa Clause. Some people were skeptics as children, and I’ve found the children less likely to believe in Santa Clause are from non-religious families. Nothing impedes free inquiry, or retards science, as religious institutions. It became a passion in my life, to understand the natural order of the world in the sense that it can either be demonstrated, or otherwise tested, that so in so is true. This is the moment that defined that attitude in me as an older man. My idea was to hide a ‘cam-corder’ as the first, crude home video devices were made. I sat it on the TV stand and covered it with a cloth. The point was to catch my family on tape, giving out the presents, so I could show the other children they were being lied to. But my family found the cam-corder under the towel and had a friend, whom I didn’t know until twenty years later–this man dressed up like Santa Clause for my recording, pulled in our bikes and toys and ate the cookies. I had empirical proof of a lie. The costume, and how blatant it was, pushed me further into doubt. Someone flying around in a sleigh of reindeer would have a ruffled beard, all free-thinking men should know that when magical deer carry mystical men to impossible-for-physics places, looking like the person accused of doing it is in fact evidence against it. If it had been a regular worker type, you know, like a Mexican dragging around boxes of shit for some old white man with a beard, I might have believed it more. The comparison is apt: if you believe in Santa and are a good boy, you are rewarded. If you believe in Jesus and a good Christian, you are rewarded. Jesus is the working man’s Peter Pan, a bearded sage to take them off to neverland so they never have to confront a world without magic, age, or disease, where no one gets old and has to die.

In Future of an Illusion Sigmund Freud suggested that religion is a type of band-aid for the mind of those afraid to die. The thought of biological life having no meaning externally, outside of the meaning you see develop around you, like notes from old friends and your favorite song, but a mechanical, programmed by DNA to survive and replicate meaning, is externally without meaning. If there is no God, instead you use your imagination for the right things and learn how to accrue meaning from real life. People conjure meaning. Meaning and destiny doesn’t need to be transposed, or imprinted on something from an outside force; Hell isn’t some place you go when you die, it’s a conceptualization of what torments you about life and is the thought behind the icons of fear and depictions of torment. If you use your imagination, you can find out that there’s enough hell and heaven here on Earth without needing to codify or invent claims about the possibility of it existing after life and only for the kids who have been good–that’s the schoolyard, kid mentality of ‘Nah, nah, nah-booboo, we have eternity of hedonism while you burn! Hahaha! We are in the only fanclub that matters!

 

 

 

 

Fame for Fame’s Sake: the Idoru Complex – 10 November 2015

Idoru is a book by William Gibson, author of the popular science fiction masterpiece Neuromancer, which is just as endearing as his contributions to the Internet culture – coining the phrase cyberspace and inventing steampunk as we know it. The plot of Ghost in the Shell (and eventually The Matrix) both owe a huge debt to the works of William Gibson. But one of his ideas, just as poignant and relevant as ever, has yet to enter the collected conscience of the culture, despite its relevance to the world we live in.

idoru

The Idoru is a digital persona, an avatar mimicking humanity’s own aspirations for themselves, a projection of our ego’s greatest striving: the aspiration to be known, if for no other reason than being known – where the deeper desire is the appreciation, validation, respect, and love. To be loved is perhaps the greatest aspiration of human beings, and the Idoru Complex is the embodiment of that need and desire.

Rembrandt wipes ass with criticism

Rembrandt is one of the most celebrated and accomplished selfie painters ever, churning out dozens over the course of his career, even painting selfies of other people in his down time (historically known as pictures). Then he painted the Night Watch, one of the most popular paintings in the history of art:

Unintentional dick grabbing shadow hand not withstanding.

Unintentional dick grabbing shadow hand not withstanding.

The Insult:

Despite being universally acclaimed today, unintended dick grabbing shadows not withstanding, it has been suggested that not all of those who commissioned the portrait were satisfied. Not long after, a patron refused to pay for a painting after Rembrandt turned in a less than flattering depiction. He had to sue to recover his money and an arbitration committee was called in to judge the merits of his work. It’s a fair point, considering I had to fucking scan the portrait from a book after I couldn’t find it on Google. 

There's only so much an epic mustache can do when you look like an angry white balloon.

Ladies and gentlemen, a constipated balloon.

The Fuck You

Not long after this humiliation, Rembrandt did a cute little sketch, a sketch depicting what he thought of these shenanigans. First, the un-obliging patron and critics…

critic2

Subtlety wouldn’t be invented for hundreds of years

And the artist…

Asswipe2.jpg.

Asswipe2.jpg.

And there he is, the old majestic bastard, right up front; Rembrandt is literally wiping his ass with their judgment.

Speaking of judgment…

Rothko VS Money

Picasso VS Nazis

Pablo Picasso might be best known in the Western world as that artist who painted shit that could obviously be done by children.

earlypicasso

Fucking amateur.

Yet in his time, he was an absolute revolutionary, painting in manner radically different from that of his dainty-impressionist contemporaries and even inventing a new style of art, predating the Lego movie by what mathematicians call “a shitload of years.” He also painted one of the most confusing and violent depictions of war ever put to canvas: Guernica. After intentionally staying out of politics throughout his career, once the Nazis were within range of the Louvre (and Francisco Goya paintings in particular) Picasso’s rage-boner culminated in Geurnica, which was not only a stand against the war in Europe, but against the Franco regime in the Spanish Civil War.

The most depressing triangle since the Jacked Dorito.

The Fuck You

After a lukewarm reception at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, Picasso was in his studio, doing whatever it is that mad geniuses do while they’re not busy making history, when a couple of future Burn! victims/SS monsters entered his apartment,  where postcards were scattered all over the place depicting Geurnica, Picasso’s representation of the Axis Bombing of the small Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. When one of the officers (read: Fucking Nazi) held up the card and asked: Did you do this?

Picasso replied like some time-traveling John McClain: No, you did.

burn

You know it’s a good burn when you feel sympathy for Nazis. 

Speaking of Nazis…

Next: Rembrandt vs Critics –>

Hawthorne & the Cult of Judgment

In the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prim has a daughter out of wedlock, Pearl.

“For Peril~”9780671510114

And for the Puritan society, for that culture, this is a sin. They were too civilized to burn her at the stake and kill her, they wanted to kill her and make her live with it. So they burned her while she was still alive, forcing her to wear the eponymous Scarlet Letter – ‘A’ for Adultery. (The worst segment in Sesame St. history, if you ask me.)

This type of punishment, this very demeaning sentence, not least of all to Prim, but to an absolute innocent, the child, caters to a culture of judgment, a culture that instructs not through hands’ on education, but through shame and judgment.

The purpose of this public ridicule is a revenge, in this case, a revenge against a woman’s transgressions, despite their not knowing of the situation in its entirety. Because in a culture of encouraged judgment, a psychological condition plays an important role: you are more likely to excuse your own behavior because you know the reasons behind your behavior, if you run a red light, there are justifiable reasons. If someone else does the same, or cuts you off in traffic, may they burn in hell. And there is another issue: confirmation bias. It is the tendency to seek out that which reinforces what you already believe while at the same time avoiding anything that might contradict those beliefs, even to the extent that contradictory proof will only solidify your position further.

After Hester is lettered, put on display for all to see – for the old to pity, for the young to fear themselves and their own desire – it is to the sole benefit of a culture too busy judging a Rembrandt to learn to paint. There’s a large audience for popular criticism, the criticism of film, music, and literature, and people. Yes, people. That thing you are. Self bias doesn’t extend to other people. Why, that’d be crazy. But they have a word for that: empathy. The excuses we make for ourselves are excuses we’d never accept from somebody else.

There are different types of judgment, to be fair, and not all judgment is vindictive. Literary criticism is more explanatory than dismissive in most cases, looking to expand upon the story’s merits rather than burn it for its flaws. I see the appeal: understanding is hard. It takes time. And burning is easy and fun. Whereas literary criticism and traditional film criticism expand on the story to show its relevance and applicability, this is in furtherance of teaching and preserving the intellectual culture of humanity.

With dismissive criticism, it makes it easy for someone without time or ability to create and contribute, even if it’s only to the detriment of harder working people. only to join the dehumanized spectators on the sidelines, never a part of the defense or prosecution, with nothing to lose, contributing only to the chorus of other blunt and feeble instruments without losing the delusion that they could make music, much better in fact, if they tried. Not trying is how you fail without doing anything, and it’s easier to redirect that judgment, to focus it on someone who did try. By distance and cynicism are the jaded excused, only by themselves, for those like them, without empathy, are making similar excuses, and those excuses don’t apply to other people. 

Hawthorne makes less of a case for the removal of Hester’s scarlet letter than advocate a world where there’s no hunger for this kind of public disgrace.  as all who live fall short of their goals, fuck up, make mistakes, some large, some small, and the encouragement of lettering doesn’t stop more people from failing, it stops more people from trying.

Arthur Miller touched on many of the same themes in The Crucible: 

“Ours is a divided empire in which certain ideas and actions are of God, then their opposite are of Lucifer. A political party is equated with a moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.”

This was an injunction to share more and hide less, a call to mpathy, to understand a shared humanity, to use a gray approach when considering people, not thinking of things in good and evil, wholly so, or black and white, guilty and non-guilty, implying that you are purely and only one or the other. It’s easy, I get it, to understand contrasting ideas when using exaggerated, extreme examples but it comes at the cost of subtlety and nuance (two endangered species of bird found in French Polynesia.)

the-crucible-nooses-hand

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a similar tale, another warning against public condemnation and judgment, in instance using the same political machinery to brand someone with a scarlet letter. Miller’s allegory is a treatise on the morality of society’s collective need to see someone hurt, to stab someone solely to see their blood, not for justice or in furtherance of truth, not truth, but a revenge against their difference, a poison, to make someone’s name synonymous with their mistake, like Hester’s A – by the end of the story it changes from a totem of shame to be angel, to the young women she seeks to help and angel, even.

What starts as political opposition becomes, through manipulation, a moral, emotional opposition. This allows an issue to be addressed in the easiest but least appropriate manner: emotionally and personally. When you treat one set of people as inherently better people, how kindly then should those less fortunate be treated, those with the disadvantage only of having been born different, or different by choice? They become morally repugnant, and as such the process of judgment becomes not only a necessity but moral, even righteous. A sense of pride, a sense of responsibility – the responsibility to judge. Whenever you pull a scab off someone’s wound and point a camera at it, you’re embroidering a Scarlet Letter,

Hawthorne’s novel is as relevant now as it was when it was released and is a poignant, profound reminded of the nobility of humility in the face of criticism and dismissiveness, slander and shaming. Though we may not see another’s heart, nor others ours, surely if we only looked for scarlet letters, through confirmation bias and osmosis, we’d find one in everybody, and place it on them publicly and forever, as Hester’s gravestone is emblazoned with that same A that marked her shame, to remind the living, in perpetuity, the penalty of making a mistake. There’s a scarlet letter for every mistake you can name, but keep in mind, in the court of history, the jury is on trial, and the world is not full of bit players only, extras with varying degrees of plot and development, but full of tars, all the lead character. Don’t be the antagonist. be the person who shows up when the screenwriters have no other way to move forward.

4 Artists Whose Greatest Works Were Thinly Veiled Fuck Yous

When you hear the name Rembrandt, what comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you imagine mustachioed merchants looking all pious and respectable and shit. His work is among the most influential and renowned in history. But in his lifetime, he was just a dude, and when a patron refused to pay for a commissioned portrait, he reacted like most dudes would act today, with the 17th century Dutch equivalent of Photoshopping dicks on his face:

This is what Rembrandt thinks of your criticism, assholes.

This is what Rembrandt thinks of your criticism, assholes.

As it turns out, history is full of artists whose greatest works are superbly crafted middle fingers.  For example…

5 Gian Lorenzo Bernini Drives a Rival to Suicide with a Nun Orgasm

Looking into his eyes may cause unexpected pregnancies in fertile women.

Looking into his eyes may cause unexpected pregnancies in fertile women.

Whenever you think about Roman architecture, you probably think of lots of immaculately chiseled dicks. And Gian Lorenzo Bernini, known as the God damn Cavaliere. is just as responsible as anyone for the aesthetic of 17th century Rome and, by extension, so many dicks. His most famous work is The Ecstasy of St Teresa, which you may notice is a freaking nun in the middle of an orgasm.

“Nun orgasm” is a Google search you don’t live down.

But it wasn’t all chiseled dicks and nun orgasms for the Cavaliere. Bernini had a Mozart / Salieri relationship with another prominent architect, Francesco Borromini. And, like an Italian precursor to Walt Disney, Bernini didn’t always credit those who worked for him or on his various projects. When Bernini planned two bell towers for St. Peter’s Basilica, his largest and most ambitious project, he didn’t bother consulting Borromini, the more accomplished architect. Within weeks cracks began to appear on the base of the right tower and started spreading. When it was discovered that the towers were built on boggy ass swamp ground, and the damage spread to the facade, the decision was made to take them down. Truly, the biggest embarrassment ever to befall a Cavalier.

Not the first time a Cavalier would fail on the biggest stage imaginable.

Almost.

The Fuck You

For a while there, things got pretty rough for Bernini: he caught his brother having an affair with his mistress and reacted like any reasonable adult: he tried to kill his brother and slashed his mistress’s face up, like a less ridiculous version of that fucking stupid scene in Hannibal. You know the saying: when life gives you lemons, cut a bitch. And yet, despite the little setback of attempted murder and assault, Bernini would eventually triumph, proving once and for all that, Fuck you, Borromini.

Cut it out, marble!

Borromini would later commit suicide, after a lifetime of depression and insecurity. Here’s a parallel: imagine that that guy from college, you know the one, the one you compete with and embarrassingly compare your success with. Now, let’s say, you turn in Twilight: Eclipse as your English project. And he responds by turning in The OdysseyHamlet, and just for good measure, he fucks your dad. What would you do? Exactly.

Go fuck yourself!

Fuck your deeply ingrained feelings of doubt and inadequacy!

Speaking of assholes…

Next: Picasso VS the Nazis  –>

The Silent Circle, short story – 2 November 2015

There are times in life when all you can do is walk. Arriving home, that’s all that I could do. Just walk, just think, watching ants crawl over the stones that led to the porch. Thinking leads to nothing but trouble and I felt that trouble coming on when I found Bullet asleep in front of the sliding glass door that led into the kitchen. When I stumbled over one of the loose rocks, he roused a bit, grumbled, and licked his gums. Within a minute, he had drifted back into sleep.

     I threw my keys on the kitchen table, locked the sliding glass door, and then prepared Bullet’s food. To fix his food, I normally fill a bowl of dry food and then run water on it, stir it, then spoon each bite into his mouth, rub his throat, to help him swallow it. That night the pantry looked empty, barren in each cabinet and cupboard. His food was gone. The implications made me shudder as I passed into the living room. Grandmother sat in front of the antique television with crocheting needles. Under her breath she conversed with my Grandfather’s portrait on the wall behind her. In the corner a small fire tapered off in the dark, embers faded when the hollow logs burnt and charred. As always the room was stale and close, full of antique cabinets and dresser drawers with antique candelabras atop them. Inside each a dying candle flickered. There was another single candle burner in front of me on the coffee table, making my grandmother look like a frail, skeleton type figure, a flower on the day before winter.

     “Where’s Bullet’s food, grandmother?” I asked. “I’m about to go to sleep and I thought I’d feed him first. He seems quite fond of food.”

     “I done threw all that food away boy,” she said. “Can’t ya see the poor old dog is sufferin’? I don’t want him to suffer no more. Tomorrow we takin’ him to town to the vet so they can put him down. He won’t suffer no more.”

     The twinge, that needled type of numb feeling, went through my arms, my chest. I sat on the couch opposite of her, beyond the reach of the fireplace’s last embers. “So,” I mumbled, “you’re going to murder your dog? What good will that do? That won’t end his suffering; it will end yours. What’s it going to help to have him killed? There might be some more food in the pantry. I’ll find something for him.”

     “We gone have him cremated,” she said, nodding. “After we put him to sleep, that is. We picked him out one of them bottles too, those gold bottles. He’s gone be so pretty in his new bottle. It’s made out of gold.”

     “Why do you soften the language like that?” I asked. “You’re not going to ‘put him to sleep’ and ‘have him cremated.’ You’re going to murder him and then you’re going to set him on fire. Does it sound as humane when you use the right language? It’s not fair. Let nature run its course.”

     “They have some kind of special at the vet,” she said. “If you put two animals to sleep, you get a discount on the third. Ain’t that a good deal?”

     “I’m not even going to reply to that shit.”

     “I was readin’ some letters ya father sent me from across the ocean,” she said after a brief pause. “They all from your daddy. Never any from your mama, though. She sure was a pretty woman. Look,” she raised her bony finger to point across the room to a dresser on which a leather bundle rested. “Some of the letters your daddy sent. He sure was proud of you.”

     “When are you taking Bullet to the vet?” I asked.

     “Sometime after supper, I suppose,” grandma answered. “After I get my hair done.”

     “I have to go into town tomorrow for some groceries and notebook for school before it starts. I can drop him off on my way. He can ride in the camper on the back of my truck. That way you won’t have to go out in the cold.”

     “That ‘a be fine, I reckon. But you best go to sleep tonight, Roger. School ‘a start soon, and if you don’t get some rest how you gone be able to get them kinda grades your daddy knew you could get? He always said you was a smart boy, smart as a whip. Your grandpa was smart too. So was your daddy. He had a lot of problems, but he did love you. After the accident with your mama, his mind started going. Understand what I’m saying?”

     “Understand?” I laughed. “He was cruel to me and he got what he deserved. If my mother hadn’t done it, I would’ve done it myself. I wish none of this would have happened because my mother had to suffer for the crimes of someone else. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay there forever.”

     “It broke his heart to leave you, Roger. It broke that old man’s heart. His mind was going. It started when his father died, and being in that war, getting in that land mine accident, and all of that sure made it worse. But once your mama shot that girl, he knew he had to leave. At the time he thought it was best for you. It broke his heart when he saw your mama with that rope around her neck.”

     “What do you mean?” I asked. “He didn’t leave! You think he would abandon me just to hang out with his fishing buddies? Am I that big of a disappointment or a let down? He got what he deserved. He wouldn’t just abandon me; he enjoyed being cruel to me, but he would never have left me like that. He didn’t disappear. Not with a woman, a man, nothing. He got what he deserved.”

     Grandmother shrugged and then nodded off to sleep. Snatching the bundle of letters, I grabbed Bullet’s collar. After getting his food down, I went to the front door with him behind me, wobbling on his last legs, panting as he hobbled along. I lugged him into the camper of my truck. I mixed some more food, what little I had in my truck, and spoon fed small mouthfuls into his toothless gape. He gummed it down as I rubbed his wrinkled neck to help him swallow. I wiped the food off his mouth, dislodging a little that had sprinkled into his whiskers. He went to sleep in the back of the truck, having been fed, and I crawled through the camper into the front seat. By the time we reached the end of the road, Bullet was snoring loudly in the backseat. With a flick of a small control panel, the silence disappeared, replaced by the tranquil sounds of Schubert.

     At the end of the turnaround, I parked my truck near a path that led to a small river. I helped Bullet out of the back, saying, “Come on, man. Just a little ways to go now.” Placing him on the ground, I closed the camper. I connected his leash and collar. His wrinkles looked thicker than they had in the glow of my headlights, his limpid eyes a glowing flicker in which the headlights reflected a tiny spark. His legs wobbled as I led him behind me, to the center of the gravel circle. The end of the road was a barren circle of gravel, covered in empty packs of cigarettes, torn slips of paper, beer bottles, and papers that drifted in silent circles with the wind. A thick forest surrounded the turnaround. Off to the right a trail to a small pond tapered into the high grass, and beyond the trees I heard the trickling sounds of water, calm as the mind of Buddha when Mara approached him deep inside his mind. I went through all of my studies in Buddhism, in an attempt to ‘take out the poisoned arrow’ as Buddha once put it to the intellectual Malunkyaputra. But as the dog walked on, breathing heavy and too tired, the arrow twitched inside my chest.

     “Come on,” I urged. “Please. You just have to walk a little bit. It’s not too far now. They want to set you on fire, buddy. I’m not going to let them do that. I respect you, buddy. You don’t deserve to die.”

     With the song that I had hummed for my mother, when our outstretched fingers touched in the hallway of that Syrian prison, I rubbed his fleshy pink stomach. It had helped in the past, to numb, not to deal, but to tolerate the laws of life and nature. It was failing, and I knew it; not even the songs of Galilee could help me leave a dog to die in the woods alone. In my head, the same familiar procession of broken images came and went, my cats, my birds, my mother, and my father, in a continuous procession of dim shapes, like shadows behind a dingy glass, small at the end and beginning of each procession, but high up on the wall in the middle, coming into focus.

     Bullet fell to his stomach, closed his eyes, and I knelt beside him in the loose gravel. Puffs of dust roused as he breathed against the dirt. I sat his food bowl in front of his wrinkled face. His eyes remained closed as I went to get another bowl for water along with his bag of food. With the bowl of water full, filled with some tap water I’d brought in a bottle, I sat beside him again. His hind legs twitched a bit. His spotted head with isolated tufts of hair lilted as he rolled onto his back, as though to stare up to the stars. For a moment I remained there with him, pointing out constellations in the sky to him, telling him about the history of the universe as revealed by man. I spent half an hour comforting him on his death, on the meaning of his limited life, but it seemed as though I was never trying to convince him. It seemed as though I was trying to convince myself. And I failed, as I had before, to make sense of anything. With that lump in my chest, I left him there, in the middle of the turnaround, and went back to my truck.

     I sat there for a moment with my eyes transfixed on Bullet’s red figure, glowing in the glare of my dull brake lights. Inside the car, the hum of the engine pulsed under the seat. Other than that, it was silent, and I sat there in the dark with Bullet’s dying body behind me, glowing red in the glare. After an hour of sitting there, in constant torment, I left him there. Alone in the sand, cold, and hungry as I had been for so long in Galilee. The same tufts of smoke gathered around his nostrils as he struggled to breathe, took heavy breaths, then rolled onto his back again for one last look up to the stars, the likes of which he’d never see again, a beauty that would disappear for him forever. Did he ever know what sucked the energy from him and made his legs lame and lazy, that which turned his bones to dust? He would never know he lived. He’d never know the feeling of being again. That saddened me more than anything, I think; I realized that he would never even know he lived. That’s what hurt the most. It’s not fair; I remember thinking, parked at the end of the dirt road. I pictured the little glow in Bullet’s eyes, and in my mind, even then, I gleamed what it would be that I would dedicate my life to. My mind strayed forward to a time when I too began to become frail, to wither, to see the same winter that the flowers see before they fade. I thought to when I’d take the same lonely walk that Bullet would take to the stream and underbrush before he died, if he made it through the woods at all.

     I never went back to that road, probably because I feared I’d see Nature’s Garbage Men on the scene, waiting for their chance to eat, as they had for Casey, as they had for my father. Bullet never knew what took him from this world, but I thought then it was not the hand of god, but the invisible hands of time, the hours. The hours took him. That was a scary thought, to me as a young man, to think of time as such a heartless killer.

     How much had the hours taken? I wondered. Sammy, mother, father, Entae, Hiroshima, Pompeii, Julius Caesar, and the other countless billion ghosts that now inhabited the earth. Those same hours had me by the throat, dragging me from one place to another regardless of how much dust I kicked up. There was no control, no antidote, no way to sever the leash on which we’re taken to the landfill, where everything else is taken to the past, the boulevard of bones and broken images. How much had they taken? The hours like giant dump trucks, lugging everything to landfills of years of wars and dead presidents, the renaissance, the revolutions, and all the deaths and guillotines and tyrants, leaders who in the end rest with the commoners beneath the surface of the Earth. They take emperors and peasants, all to the same place. Together in the end, time does not discriminate.

     On the way home, as the dark trees that lined those roads swept by, I saw myself as Bullet, on all fours, crawling around in a puddle of dirt and dust, toothless, walking in circles, just waiting around to die. What else was there? My chest went cold. I filled my pipe again, as I had grown accustomed to doing, with the gun firmly in my mouth. Those blacktopped roads were lonely that night, and the only pedestrians of night that came out were solitary deer that sometimes fledged the lip of the roads before going back into the woods. The roads and trees kept me company along with streetlights and disconnected telephone cables that hovered above the trees. A disk of classical guitar music forced that terrible silence out. Nothing is more terrible than the infinite sound of silence. Human life is temporary, but silence lasts forever.

     When I walked into the attic, to put Bullet’s collar away for good, I ran across a pile of paintings, all of them my own, snacked in neat order and preserved by a thin film. A fish bowl sat on top of them, with stagnant water in it. An address had been scribbled on the under side of it in a thick black marker. I wondered what it was for, if it was for anything.

Windmills in a Broken Breeze, short story – 1 November 2015

This short is taken from two chapters of my novel Songs of Galilee,  with the intent of making it available in The Library of Babel short story collection.

I moved to the American south, South Carolina to be exact, in 2244, at the age of twenty two. I lived with my grandmother for a while, and spent most of my time in seedy liquor bars with overweight truckers watching pool and wrestling on television and arguing over politics. The local colleges didn’t seem to offer much, but I’d suppose that college has very little to do with learning.

     The first thing I noticed was the air in America. It had a different taste to it, like stale water. American air is different than any air on Earth. Another thing I noticed was the abundance of billboard signs.

     When I moved to the outskirts of a small upstate town, Newberry, South Carolina, I lived in the middle of Sumter National forest, beside Lake Murray. Thick pines surrounded the house, blanketing it from the noise of industry and automobiles. It was a small town beside a lake, like my home by Galilee, but it didn’t sound the same. It was off-key; the songs rang out atonal, mixed with the hum of boat engines. Fishermen on Lake Murray eschewed sails and paddles in favor of the electronic motors and yachts. They said very little to me when I approached them on the shore for information about local plant and animal life. They weren’t rude or anything. It just seemed as though they didn’t know. They were good people, simple and pure, and reminded me of my mother in their quiet routines.

     Main Street had a few small stores: auto repair, a Chinese restaurant that the locals called “The China Place,” a drug store, a drab tennis court and basketball court by an abandoned gym with boarded up doors. An old white church hovered above the planted palms at the end of the street. It was the first time I had seen a church. I had heard of them, of course, and their general purpose, but had never seen one. I made a note to check it out, but for the most part, I stayed out of town. People didn’t concern me anymore in America than they had by Lake Galilee.

     The alien woods were delightful. Birds sang different songs, and different animals prowled the underbrush. Animals I had never seen: possums, different birds, white tailed deer, raccoons, cats, and wild dogs. I fed them and enjoyed their company, but it was a long time before I met my first friend: a fifteen year old girl named Casey who dated my great-aunt’s grandson, Daniel. I spent most of my time with him, playing video games, smoking cigarettes, and getting drunk. He lived with his grandmother. He had been adopted at age twelve after his real father hung himself over a car payment.

     She was only fourteen. Daniel was a few years younger than me, at eighteen, but that didn’t seem to matter to him or her. They started dating and almost all of my time was spent with them that summer, before I met Chris, who would introduce me to Elise. We watched television, got stoned, and played video games. We were kids.

     They started spending more and more time together and wanted privacy. I understood. I didn’t want to annoy them, so I decided to spend less time around them. Behind his house a small stream ran by a basketball goal without a net, so I sat there in the evenings by the brook with a drawing pad. There were occasions when we’d go to the movies together, but those were few.

     I still talked to Casey when she came into the bar where her father worked. She was always friendly with me, but I could tell they were in love. He was the first man she had ever slept with and she vice versa. They had the rare kind of love, the rare type, the type that’s real, and pure. They spent a lot of time dancing in his living room to old Patsy Cline records.

     When walking through the woods, we always had to jump over that little stream behind his house. Casey’s ankles were always sore from it, a car wreck as a child I believe, so Daniel and I decided to make a bridge so she could walk across it. We found an abandoned junk pile in the woods, full of old washing machines, stoves, toilet seats, and broken down cars. We went through the piles for a few hours until we found something we could use: an old car door could be the bridge.

     We went back to Daniel’s before evening’s blanket fell to find screwdrivers so we could pry the door from the old car. It was an old thing, orange tinted, with paint stripped off the side. With his big tool box, we hacked our way through the tall grass to make it back to where the old car was. We took the hinges off, unscrewed the bolts that held it in place, and pulled it into the grass. It was tiring work. We sat there as the night crept in with sweat on our foreheads and cigarettes in our mouths. The discussion went from how to make the bridge, how much we’d like to fuck some of the young girls in town (I didn’t really want to fuck anything, honestly), and how drunk we were going to get. Of course we wasted time. It made us happy to waste our lives. We were good at it. We had online gaming clubs, chess sets, and exotic magazines. We had a secret handshake that only we three knew. To us the shake became a symbol of inclusion for three people of whom the world thought very little.

     We invited her over the following Friday to check out the bridge. She wore short shorts with frayed ends, a tucked in polka dotted shirt, and her curly hair in innocent looking pigtails. She smiled when she saw it. She walked back and forth across it, jumping lithely. She was happy. Embracing Daniel, she told him her young girl thanks and you shouldn’t have. Daniel looked over at me with a shrug. I shook my head. I didn’t want her to know I helped; it was his glory, and I didn’t want to come between them. I wanted them to like me. They did.

     It was after five that Thursday when she parked her bicycle outside the bar. The bells chimed on the door as they swung open. Light from the street outside filled the darkness of the bar for a moment, and then faded as the door swung shut. She ran to her father, embraced him as he dried a glass, and kissed him on his wrinkled cheek. He could tell she wanted something. Father’s can always tell when their children are strangely kind. She got some money from him and told me to come by the night after to watch a scary movie. I lied and said I’d already made plans to see a new movie that came out. Sounding sad, she protested that she wanted to see me before she started working at the local grill. They would go to the movies with me. Their new found enthusiasm forced me to find a movie to go to.

     I showed up at seven or so. Daniel said he didn’t have the money to go that week. He said that if I waited until he got his check, he’d pay for my way and we’d all go together. Instead he suggested I spend the night with them and watch the scary movie.

     It was three in the morning when his grandmother, a paranoid old lady with too many superstitions, shuffled into the living room. I was sitting on the loveseat; they sat together, cuddled on the couch. She asked if we heard anything outside. A prowler had been seen in the neighborhood, she tells us. She suspects that he’s trying to get in the backdoor and tells us to listen out, lock the door, and stay inside. After that, she scowled at us and closed her bedroom door. We heard her digging around in her bureau drawers for a while, but she finally went to sleep.

     As planned, the next weekend we met to go together to the movies in Union, South Carolina at a tiny little theatre with sticky floors and raucous audiences. Casey didn’t feel good that day and protested when I begged and begged and begged some more for her to come over to Daniel’s to go to the movies with us. She didn’t want Daniel to pay her way, she said. Her head hurt, she said. My persistence finally paid off and she showed up in her mother’s jeep, kissed her mother goodbye, and walked up the walkway with her head in her hands. Daniel lived just short of a block from my grandmother’s house on the lake, so I met them there at eight in my best clothes.

     Casey sat on the couch with her face in her hands when I came in with a pink cloth over her face, made of silk; it reminded me of the dancing girl’s in Syria with their silken veils. Daniel was in the bathroom shaving, so I went in to ask him if Casey still felt bad. He ran the electric razor along his chin, lining up his newly forming goatee, and told me that she still had a bad headache. Though she had a headache, she still planned to go because she promised me. I went into the living room to talk to her while Daniel finished dabbing on bits of aftershave that I couldn’t smell.

     I sat beside her on the couch. Daniel came in the room with an old shotgun slung over his shoulders. That old gun was never loaded. We used it to pretend to be hunters sometimes in the fields behind his grandmother’s house. It was never loaded and we doubted that it even worked. He sat down in front of her with the shotgun in his lap. We didn’t think anything about it. He always threatened us with it in jest. It didn’t work. Why should we be afraid of it?

     Casey sighed a tired sort of sigh, and reclined on the couch with the cloth over her face. It glowed a hollow pink because of an antique lamp in the corner. It gave off a dingy sort of light, yellow and muted. He put the shotgun beside the couch, put on his shoes. He ran a comb through his hair, saying, “Casey, you still got that headache?” she groaned behind the cloth. She got it from his grandmother’s sewing table in the dining room. Daniel sighed and turned on the television.

     “You sure you wanna see the movie tonight, shithead?” he asked. “We can always go next week. I could take Casey home now so she can get some sleep. You know she ‘a be cranky if we don’t let her sleep.”

     Casey laughed. The air of her breath made the cloth float above her face a moment.

     “We have to go tonight if we want to see that movie,” I said. “It won’t be playing next weekend.”

     He buckled his belt with a sigh, but doesn’t lose his smile. I could tell he was concerned about Casey’s headache. She had frequent migraines because of the car wreck in her early childhood. It had shattered all of her front teeth and broken the bones in her ankles. Only the pain remained. The pain and the memory of it followed her around like a shadow. If you didn’t know any better, though, you could never guess that she wore false teeth. She sat there groaning on the couch beside me. In my head I could see her car slamming against the milk truck, sending her forward into the dash, shattering her teeth like a wicker basket against the hard plastic upholstery. Daniel rises, drawing me from my imagination, inside my head the image shrivels up; he grabs his car keys and shifts through the dim light of the small living room like a shadow. Patsy Cline played on the television, the music channel for golden oldies that they always danced to. Her sweet voice sang such sublime melodies, so quietly in the yellow glow.

     “Casey, you want a Tylenol or somethin’? Maybe a drink of water?”

     “I already took four already,” she said.

     “I’ve already taken would be a better sentence,” I said. “’Already took’ just sounds wrong.

     Daniel laughed and hoisted the shotgun against his shoulder, putting aside an unfinished origami windmill he had been working on for Casey. This was what brought her to him in the beginning, his flare for origami. He made her frogs, turtles, planes, and roses. That one would have to be finished later. With his origami secure on the stand beside the chair, he pointed the shotgun at her head. “This will help a headache,” he says, and pulls the trigger.

     The gun worked. It took me a few moments to realize what happened. The living room was full of smoke, above the couch where Casey twitched the smoke alarm went off, marring the beautiful music on the television, and a terrible ringing filled my ears. The gun had worked. Drops of blood dripped off my face as I sat there dumbfounded, trying to see Casey through the smoke.

     Daniel panicked. He dropped the shotgun and ran to the couch. Daniel grabbed Casey by both sides of her face and lifted it to his own. Bubbles of blood trickled from her mouth. The left side of her face was splattered against the dingy couch behind her and the little pink veil above her face was torn to pieces. He started giving her mouth to mouth and each time he pushed on her stomach more blood bubbled from her mouth. He shakes her and shakes her and screams for me to call an ambulance.

     I ran into the other room to find the phone. My ears were still ringing when the operator picked up. I could see her little feet kicking against the floor when I leaned into the other room. On the other end of the phone, a burly sounding woman assured me that help was on the way. We should keep talking to her, feel her hands, and make sure she didn’t gag on her own blood. I ran back into the living room. Her feet thrashed against the floor and made soft thuds against the carpet. The ends of her fingers twitched a moment, and then they stopped. Her arm fell limp across her face.

     Five minutes later the ambulance shows up with the police because a neighbor called about the gunshot. They found me in the bathroom vomiting, Daniel still in the living room trying to give her mouth to mouth. His face was covered in drying blood, around his mouth like a clown would paint his face. They pull him away and take him outside, four or five of them together, and slam him against the cop car. It took them a good bit of time since he fought them off to run back in the house to her. I stood there in the bathroom doorway. The shotgun smoke had settled and the smoke alarm had been turned off, but the same song played on the television. It was surreal to see a person die. It’s not the same to see it in a film. Her mother showed up before they carried her body out of the living room. I had never seen a woman lose her control so fast. In the doorway she stood a moment shaking, with urine running down her legs, and then she rushed into the dim light of the room to find Casey silent under the yellow lamp. Her now pale body had fallen over the arm of the couch in front of the television where the glowing notes of the sad song, sung so many years ago, scrolled over the side of her face.

     I sat face down on the sidewalk when they brought her stretcher out. She was zipped up in a long black bag. Daniel starts after her again, punching one of the police officers, and they throw him to the ground and cuff him. He hears the squeaking wheels as they wheel her to the ambulance behind the cop car. That’s when he realized that his Casey was dead. She was gone. She was inside that zipped up bag and she was gone. Daniel slammed his face against the police car repeatedly, then fell onto his knees behind the cop car, and slammed his face against the cement until they managed to pull him into the backseat. They took him to county and charged him for murder in the first degree.

They questioned me about what happened. Had they ever talked to my mother, they probably would’ve decided against asking me anything.

     “Where you from, towel head?” asked the first cop. I didn’t respond, as towel head wasn’t my name.

     “You got a name or don’t you?” asked the second cop.  They both had the same sort of beard, overlapping gut, and shifty eyed glance. This is apparent in larger primates.

     “Tell us where you from or you goin’ to spend the night.”

     “I grew up on the Sea of Galilee,” I said.

     “Whar’s dat?” the first cop asked. “Some sort ‘a towel head village?”

     They laughed amongst themselves a moment, then swung their guts to face me again.

     “It’s where Jesus walked on water,” I said. “Don’t you love Jesus?”

     “Jesus is our lord and saver,” said the second cop.

     “Welp, it’s not nice to call Jesus a towel head,” I laughed.

     “You blasphemer!” they yelled in chorus.

     “You’re the one who called me a towel head,” I said. “I assumed that was a racial slur, and since I’m the same ethnicity of your lord and ‘saver,’ whatever that means, it is a slur against Jesus to call me a towel head.  Now, don’t you boys have something to say?”

     Their pleasant smiles had dripped away.

     “What?” their eyes seemed to say.

     “Tell Jesus you’re sorry,” I said. “What are your names?”

     “My name’s Jeremiah,” the fatter of the two fat men said, “and this is Kent.”

     “Well, Jeremiah and Kent, it’s not nice to call Jesus a towel head, is it?”

     “No, sir,” they said.

     “Now tell Jesus you’re sorry.”

     “We’re sorry Jesus.”

     “Good boys,” I said. “Anything you’d like to ask me now that we know I’m not a stereotype?”

     “What’s yer name, mister?” Kent asked. “We could get ye some cawfee.”

     “My name is Roger,” I said, “I don’t drink coffee; it makes me tense up.”

     “Then can we get ya somethin’ else to drink?” Kent asked. Jeremiah was on the phone lying to his wife. Maybe these guys were all right after all.

     “Vodka,” I said.

     “We don’t have any vodka,” Kent said.

     “Then I don’t want anything.”

     After pursuing my opinions for an hour or so, they agreed to find a bottle of orange juice and some vodka for me. I tell them that from what I knew, Daniel had never even slept with another girl. He would never have hurt her, I said. He was too meek and passive, eager to please, and never seemed to have any sort of aggression in him.  I told them that we’d all played with that gun before… in one way or another. It had never been loaded around us. We didn’t even think it would work.

     If not for that girl, Daniel would have never gone to work at a warehouse distribution factory just so he could buy her cheap jewelry and second rate clothes. He never hurt her or raised his voice at her. They thanked me for my time, had me sign my confessional release forms, and helped me to my feet. I stumbled out of the door as Casey’s mother strolled in. Tears and mascara snakes ran down her face, stained her lips, which twitched at the corners when uncovered by her knotted handkerchief.

     They try him for murder at first. Then Casey’s mother testified on his behalf. The trial was a matter of formality. Daniel’s lawyers convinced him to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a plea bargain that would have been impossible had Casey’s mother refused to testify on Daniel’s behalf. She told the judge and jury that Daniel loved her daughter. That he just wanted to do anything that could make her happy. But how did the gun get loaded? The prosecution wanted to know. Casey’s father was not as forgiving as her mother. All he saw was his fourteen year old little angel headed for a hole in the ground.

     His senile grandmother—hard of hearing, going deaf—loaded the gun the night before because she thought she heard prowlers picking at the mesh screen of the door on her back porch. The prowler later turned out to be a starving cat. I took her to my home on the lake and named her Galilee. She would be the waves to me, my comfort in America.

     Daniel was sentenced to five years in prison, suspended to three, with ten years of probation.

     They left the couch, on which lay Casey’s drying life blood, out on the side of the road for weeks to wait for when the garbage men would come to take it away. The pale cushions, once bland yellow stitched with white, had blood red stains on the side where Casey sat. Buzzards often sat atop the telephone pole and streetlights in front of the house, drawn in by the false promise of a meal.

     I baked a cake for Daniel on his nineteenth birthday. Prison officials received me in the main lobby to search me for contraband before allowing me in the visitor’s hall, spotted with circular tables and plastic chairs. After they cleared my wallet, cigarettes, and cake, a female guard waved me into the bright room where scruffy prisoners talked to their loved ones and children. Daniel had his head propped on the butt of his palm, staring at the chef’s behind a buffet table on the far side of the room.

     He wore the typical orange jumpsuit, with one black stripe around the cuff to signal his prison job where he helped load heavy equipment in and out of the textiles factories where the prisons made socks. A purple welt stuck to the side of his face like he’d been hit by something. Behind the bruise his eye was swollen shut.

     For a moment he stared at his cake. I had designed it to look like his favorite singer, Patsy Cline. Because of such protest, they allowed me to put a candle on his cake. The candles burned away in front of him.

     “I can’t believe you got that cake in here,” he said at last. “They normally don’t allow food in the visitor’s area.”

     “They must be afraid it’ll taste good,” I said. “Murderers they can handle. Rapists, pedophiles, and bank robbers are fine. But damn if they’ll let a cake come in here. Maybe their no tolerance policy applies to baked goods, too.”

      He smiled a silent smile, no teeth, just a small curling of his chapped lips. Stubby hairs grew thick under his chin, wrapped around his face up to his ears. Casey’s poorly inked initials lined the under side of his left wrist. It took some courage, but I finally asked what happened to that pretty kisser of his. He paused a moment while the candles burnt down before his face.

     “How you holding up?” I asked.

     “This is a prison, Roger,” he said. “This isn’t a weekend in Cancun. People will kill you here. Dying is a lot worse than being overcharged for a beachside hotel room.”

     “What happened to your face? That isn’t a friendly looking bruise, paison.”

     “I was in the shower,” he said. “I’d just finished washing my hair and some people came in. I thought those cats were my friends. How could they hurt me? Next thing I know, a combination lock, stolen from one of the bathroom lockers. Guy taps on my shoulder. I turn around and try to ask what he wants. That’s when he swung the lock into the side of my face.”

     “Behind you,” he said. “It’s time to go, Roger. It’s time to go.”

     “Wait,” I said. “You forgot to make a wish.”

     The candle flames had dwindled to little more than sparks. He leaned down again, his face in front of them; eyes closed, he blew them out. Small trails of smoke went into the air as he rose to his feet.

     “Hey,” I called as he walked away, gray cap in hand. “Do you remember our secret handshake?”

     He paused a moment, stopping in his tracks. “Yeah, Roger,” he said. “I remember.”

     He extended his hand and walked toward as the times over alarm bell sounded on the high-treble PA system. “If you ever get the time, put some flowers on her grave. But no tulips; she’s allergic to them.”

     I nodded and walked away. Upset criminals bid farewell to crying children with extended arms, reaching out for their father locked away. In defeated lines they tromped off for their tiny cages. That was the last time I got to see my brother. One of the prison guard’s came to escort him away. I sat at the table for a moment alone, to think, to collect myself and give my nerves a chance to relax. To my surprise, Daniel hurried back to my table. He ran his hands in his pockets. As his fingers thumbed the paper edges of his surprise, he smiled. He smiled and placed his origami windmill on the table.

     “Finish it,” he said. “I can’t do it.”

     He disappeared into a locked door on the other side of the room.

2 / One Last Dance

Sometimes I dream of them. The blood on his face always reminds me of clown paint around his lips. Things are different in those dreams. It always comes back to the movie. But in some dreams I call to tell her that I have a headache too, and that we’ll stay home. It is okay, I would say. We could wait on the film to come out in stores. She always tells me thanks, tells me I’m a good friend, and I tell her to sleep well; Daniel and I will visit when she feels better. Afterwards, I go to Daniel’s. His old grandmother shuffles through the living room, dragging her feet in purple slippers, and tells me Daniel is getting ready to go to the movies.

     I must make up my mind today. What to have, what to hold—

     He comes out of the bathroom to the same sort of music they played at the orphanage at lunch. Clown paint covers his face. His eyes are darkened with the same color that showed up when they slammed his face in. He tells me that since Casey is at home sick, and we wouldn’t be going to the movies, he had something he wanted to show me.

     After numerous promises, he leads me into his grandmother’s bedroom. There’s a giant unmade bed in the center of the room with flannel quilts and lint covered throw pillows. A bureau drawer is to one side, with a television on it, bunny-ears and everything, and a dresser at the foot of the bed rises to the ceiling with a giant mirror. Daniel kneels before the mirror, digs around in the clothes for a bit, and then takes out a music box. From the looks of it, it seems to have cost him thousands of dollars. Inside the music box, beside the ballerina’s feet, a golden ring, plain-looking but exquisite, gleamed in the yellow room. Thousand bucks, he tells me. The low music of the box rolls out, high pitched and soft, a Chinese melody.

     A poor man’s roses or a rich man’s gold.

     It’ll be worth it, he says. I’m going to marry that girl and give her the world, he says: fancy clothes, jewelry, and cars. Then there’s the wedding present. It’s an antique jukebox, almost two centuries old. It’s stocked with Patsy Cline, Casey’s favorite singer.

     One’s as wealthy as a king inside a palace. Though he’s callous and he’s cold.

     Five children, he says. Three boys, and two girls, and the oldest boy will be Daniel, Jr. The youngest one will be named Roger. It wouldn’t even have happened if not for me, he says. All of his children will owe their lives to me. Then there’s music in the other room, always the same: low like the ballerina’s song. Daniel doesn’t hear it. I rush into the other room. Casey’s sitting on the couch, now dead for years; her pink socks have frayed, unraveled on her feet. Her eyes are hollowed out and black. I turn around and Daniel’s there, wearing the clown paint again. Daniel looks at her and tells me he always wanted to take her to ballroom dancing lessons, or just take her out to dance, but he never could afford them. In the living room she rises from the couch, with her arms in the air, and spins around on her tiptoes, like she’s in that music box. Each time her face swings by me, the left side, above the eye, is empty. But she can still dance.

     He may learn to give his heart for love. Instead of buyin’ it with gold.

Daniel goes into the living room. He asks her to dance. The side of her head is normal again, regenerated, and then things go in reverse. She falls to the couch. That piece of cloth is hanging on her face again. I’m gone, but I’m watching it happen. She tells him that since I never showed up, they should lay down a while. Maybe watch some television, or listen to some music.

     Then the poor man’s roses, and the thrill of when we kiss—

     He says that’s fine by him, but why not dance a little first? He dusts off an old time Patsy Cline record for the jukebox, moves the boxes out of the center of the living room, and extends his hand. She grabs it. He hoists her to her feet. Just me and you, he says, taking her hands, and don’t worry about Roger. We can always go to the movies. We’ve got all our lives. Are you worried about Roger? I’m sure he just got lost in the woods. He does that a lot. Who knows what that boy is looking for? But don’t worry, you know Roger. He’ll come around. He always does. And he won’t be mad about the movies. He’ll understand. He’s a smart fella.

     Will be memoirs of paradise, that I’ll never miss.

     In the corner, the yellow colored lamp gets brighter, and then shines in the center of the room. They walk there together. Time goes by, lots of time. Sol rises, Sol sets, and they stay together, never moving. Her head is propped against his shoulder. They dance around the center of the room as their faces age. Casey turns into a beautiful woman. Daniel’s face gets harrier. The goatee he always wanted is trimmed and proper on his face. A big beer belly hangs over his leather belt. Pictures of children line the room. The children smile and laugh, and run in and out of the living room as they dance together. They pull little wagons behind them, full of toys and tiny racecars, but Casey doesn’t hear them. Her head is on Daniel’s shoulder. Patsy Cline sings on the stereo. Everything is fine.

     Their children began to grow as well. They come into the room with dolls and puppies. They ask mommy to come and play, or daddy to go fishing, or ask daddy to fix their toy airplanes. Daniel laughs and asks them if he can have one more dance. One more dance, and he’ll fix anything. He’ll read their favorite stories, about knights and dragons and the boogeyman, and everything will be fine.

     They have their entire lives. It will only take a moment, and then they can sleep their happy dreams. They’ll throw the baseball after school, and Casey will braid her daughter’s hair. They smile and run into the other room. In their beds they wait for their parents to come to them.

     And yet the hand that brings the rose tonight,

     The world grows up around them. Casey’s long black hair begins to fray. It turns gray, wire-like, and tangles at the end. Daniel gets wrinkles under his eyes. Gray spots crop up in his beard. They dance as they did in life, in the center of the room, in the same circles for eternity. They never move and the record never skips. I’m never there to bother them. I’m outside with my face against the window, looking in.

     Is the hand that I will hold.

      Then I wake up and remember the couch and how it looked on the curb, with the restless buzzards above it squawking. I remember trying to scare them off with twigs and sticks. There were occasions when I could scare them off, but they always came back. They waited for their meal. That’s all the lifeblood of the young girl signified to them: a meal.

     For the rose of love means more to me,

      In the end, they hauled the couch off to the dumps on the outskirts of town. Every time I passed it, I realized there’d be no more dancing. Daniel was in prison, Casey in the ground, and all that survived their brief lives together was a rose on a plot of grass, in front of a rock at the cemetery. That’s all there would ever be. They had their dance, their time together, and I had an incomplete origami windmill to finish.

     More than any rich man’s gold.

The Devil’s Projector, short story – 1 November 2015

This short is taken from Act II of The Chameleon Mirror, The Thief of Thursday.

A group of men and women in sharp business suits sat in semi-circle round a dusty old computer. All-star black. I sit at the head of the table and a man to my right introduces himself and the rest of the group. There’s a television at the end of the table opposite to me. The eldest man on the left stood beside the AV setup, and ran a clip. Static filled the screen then freckles of white skin appeared then light hair curled, then a white shirt and dress, white socks and shoes. A tennis-racket tea-set popped into view and Willow, sweet Willow, an imaginary friend they said. But kind and her hair was white and stringy. Old Willow miss Willow was with’ring steadfast waving like the others blades of fluff among the mast. She went away, this friend, now renting a spot in my heart and imagination.

 There’s no freak genius just some demons that speak English, target evangelical snakeslingers in four seasons for four reasons snapping snakes stealing souls and they say,

AMEN.

            Hallelujah!

 I pulled out of the tape. That’s what it was. A media device, a recording, a moment at Moncrief, no was it An’mien? And the old man said,  “Accept or take another?”  The others looked at me.

            I looked up and down and the iron frowns returned like stone.

            Monotone,

 “You can make a choice to take one moment into the lord’s paradise, or take all memory, all moments, and entire the world of fire.’  “Another,” the man beside the screen said.

 I felt him say Amen? Ahm-myeen, his name. I’d never heard a name like that.  The screen pans back from the nose of a dog, and my sister is in diapers patting him on the head, old Traveler. A collie with a mane of white, a prize to be sure. And his eyes. The light amber brown touched orange burst into focus like a little sun the size of a ladybug.

            Mama?

            Yes Renny, miss bo, what are you doing?

            She walked through the TV into the room, in that red kimona.

            Let me look at you.

 She turned my eyes to hers those almond browns and looked into mine. She smiled. My Wenny, my Lenny, miss bo! My how you’ve grown! You think your hair is short enough? She smiled and thumped me on the head. Then placed her hand on the side of my cheek. I don’t care what your father says. It looks great. You look wonderful miss Bo, Mrs Brisbois!

 I snapped out of it realizing that somehow I had been into the screen. They let me know, if I didn’t choose one thought or memory or idea that is meant for me could potentially trap me like a genie in a bottle here, inside that screen, stuck in a memory that happened to keep me from slipping out. Each tape they played, it had a song. Bang bang, you shot me all along! My father played the piano, wrote poems and violins. I sat on his lap and he listen here, this is how we’ll us both, Mama too, we’ll sneak off into heaven and take the thief Lain when we do!

 Listen, father said. They may never bring it up. You’re my daughter, a Brisbois like my son. Your mother is difficult, you know. She’s so lovely, so lovely and I love her, but she has a more, strict set of social codes. You know? Don’t keep me here!

 I was back in the seat. The tears swelling in my eyes. Surprisingly, I’d been in the rest of that scene, and how hard it was to stay there as I lived to hear him say it. And it dinged off inside the room, making it impossible to flee.

 Your mother thinks that since we weren’t married proper, that they’d deny you that theatre. Well, we’re not barbarians, and honor can be here won by women and men, bastards and bastard kings. Don’t ever think that since these Greeks couldn’t claim their daughter she’s put as special as you are my bo, Lenny my star. Don’t believe them, not ever that, you’re less because you’re this or that. I tried to strain to pull away but the glass around me kept me in and for the first time in that world I could tell it was a light-show ran by little men, shaped so roundly paper-thin. The words were falling down the screen, through which those who held me must have seen.

 This world is as much yours as mine. Renette, Renette! If you’re ever anyone’s be theirs by your choices. For university to Scottish pubs. Demand and earn respect and it’s yours. Your mother has a different way, you know. Because you’re so so pretty little Bo. But you’re more than pretty. You’re my viking girl. And you’ll be Frey in the Christmas play, and Loki he’ll fall mad for you.

 And there was Lain outside the screen. Hundreds of feet tall so it seemed. Looking at me as the words crawled up the wall in waltzing spirals to the beat of an automatic clock set on repeat. I jumped from one word curious, to another frightened, breathless, overwhelmed and rest.

            Outside the screen again, the people looked to me,

            “Choose,” they said, “One memory. One for heaven, hell for three.”

            I asked by impulse, “What about all?”        “This room, this here?”

            A man with a dignified voice said.

 “This place is between two others, you know by the wrong name. One requires you let go, and so pain goes along. The other lets you keep your pain with your forever alone.”

            “And if I stayed here?”

            The choir gasped, each one except that same man.           “Don’t you know where you are, my Bo?”              She knew as soon as he called her Bo.

            “Brisbois,” he said. “My Joan of Arc. Empress of Arcadia, Queen of the Isles and March.”

 The others had left and with that man, the well-dressed older fellow running these scenes he threw on the screen behind his fingers like playing cards. The thought, I thought, that we’ll all die, it vexes us sometimes in life. For some more so than someone else. It’s still more near a nightmare than a dream to realize you’re in Hell, and getting out requires a choice: To take the anguish and the noise, but every photo ever done, every memory, everyone. Lain and Cammy, Russeau and Jon, my mother, Yes! Mme Nanty… It’s time for you to go on.

            The second tape

I was pulled into the screen. I was dressed up dressed like Cleopatra. I must’ve been 9. In America, it was fun. That’s where I met Lain. He was a big fish in a small pond and we walked around the neighborhood. It must have been 99, maybe. His half-brother Gilbert, four years younger, had been in an accident and he was at that dumb parade. This was a small town, where Lain came from. Every year they had a carnival. Setup like a cheap and temporary fair. A tilt-a-whirl, and gravity pulled him against me on that ride with Maddie. He was in central park I think it was during lunch. I watched him playing chess as I walked up. Nobody was there. So I asked if I could play when he finished. Yes, he said. I’m done. Do you want to go first?

 He looked at me. Lain, god fucking fogasfk. You lose them. We lose them all. What picture do you take then, if to preserve yourself at the expense of all else? Defeat it. Change that. Make them immortal somehow.

 The man smiled in a unique way, seeing her self as her body turned grey. I was behind the scene then, lifted up, drained into the background as I watched them in a cup. “Choose one memory, go up; or take all with you down.”  Another choice, the voice whose owner I had been.

            The man, that demon, that angel, whatever he was, smiled again. He loved her it seemed. And it was unique. He spoke with warmth, while once so cold, distant but now closer.

 “A third choice?” he smiled. “Only for you, my Bo. You can stay here with me, and watch the show. You don’t have to take one, not for heaven, nor purgatory with all, stay in hell where you belong.”

            But I can watch these tapes? I said. Much more confident was I in death.

 “With me, you can watch for eternity. You can go inside that dream machine. I’ll be here by the setup here, as new clients come and finally clear, you can come back into this

little room, I’ll join you in the afternoon. I’ll leave the tapes beside your bed.”

            “I want each scene of me and Dad.”

            “Okay,” the friendly devil said. He’s not as bad as you’d think.

 A moment passed. He saw that then, I wanted to see the screen. My dad again, he threw the card. It stuck to the glassware then a wire brought the sound out of a fiddle. The devil went down to Georgia!”  Did you get his soul?

            The devil said, “You may not know,

            “I may have lost that sole, that one show,     But I met him again fifty years on,         He chose the banjo and moved on.       He took that memory with him,       Into the highest highs of H’en.

            “Do some take all to purgatory?”

 “The poets,” said he, “Romantics that have somehow turned it upside down and made the smiley face a frown. I thought you would, you’d take them all, and suffer with them, forever, just to hold onto a boxful of ghosts.”

 Renette had stopped listening to him talk He’s – he’s I came to myself. The devil has a dark side like everyone else. As for Renette’s, she made a gamble on the bet that the devil, if indeed he were, had thought of no such thing as mirth. Each time he laughed he weakened; Renette didn’t need the treats above, with a digital scrapbook and the world; in her way it was the greatest thing she thought a man or anyone could in the most unlikely dreams: she tricked the devil with the magic word and made him say please. And when he realized the lies, the deceit, he laughed to know that he’d been beat.

 I heard the snap of fingers. He stood before me then. Behind him was a whirling hurricane, hurrying towards a wall of flame. The devil bellowed (yellow!)

            Lane!

 Oh dear, I felt it in my bones. And bones he was and strung along. Whispy, thin as a sheet of paper, and he’d written on it in his blood. Even in hell, misunderstood; he could spell and work but just as good, a suicide floated in the woods and woods he liked; he’d been without them all his life. He floated down and saw me, frowning – more sorrowful than man I’d seen in hell while I’d descend. Leaving the video room again.

 I walked into fire expecting flame but found instead more a cool lake, the embers more like little eddys scribbled in and golden, electric to the touch. I could tell however, despite how heavenly my Hell, Lain looked like Hell in his.

            Lane said, go into the TV, meet me there. I’ll get you out of here and we’ll go South.

            Why not to heaven?

            I know a cooler place.

            “Where is cooler than heaven?”

            “I don’t know, your place?”

            “My place is a mess!”

            “It’s better than hell.”

            The Devil changed the TV channel.

 The props rose behind a cabin, a wooden shed. A boat was in there, and a young boy was washing one side of it. It was filthy; he’d covered it in swaths of paint. Hypnosis, madame butterfly was on. Lain, sweet Lain. He’s about 15 hear, and he has that stupid hair-cut but he’s tall. Thinks he’s the smartest man in the world. He crosses his eyes just to make me laugh and ruins such a good photo of him. I can hear him talk, his voice picking different accents. He chewed on words when he got nervous.

            I’m Renette! I said.

            You are French? He asked. We’d never met.        Yes, I say. I couldn’t help but laugh.

            Before I could respond he’d asked,            ‘What’s your last name, hyphens?’             ‘Renette Brisbois,’ I say.

            “Nice to meet you M Brisbois,” in that accent. Articulate devil, even then.

            “And you Monsieur …?”

            “Lain.”

            “Alain…” I fidgeted. Fuck!

            ‘Yes, I go by Lane. Charles is my first name. Charles Pinon.”

            “Would you rather me call you Lane or Charles?”

            “Whichever you’d like, mademoiselle.”

            “Okay then,” squeak squeak. “What do you do for fun?”

            “I write.”

            “I write too!”

            And we were friends. All writers I think are friends, even when they hate each other.   ‘Where does Brisbois come from?’ he asked. ‘Is it a family name?’

 ‘No,’ I said. ‘It was a chosen name my mother used to hide my parentage from her husband.’ I wanted to cry. No bastard’s happy to be one.

            ‘Did you know your dad?’

            ‘Just from dreams. You?’

            ‘From my stories.”

            “Oh, these stories again…’ I was out of my mind!  ‘Would you like me to tell you a story?’  It’s weird to be intimidated by a child.

            ‘Sure,’ I said. I felt like an idiot.        ‘You’re fine,’ he said. ‘I’d love to.’        ‘Okay,’ so silly.

            ‘What kind of story would you like to hear?’

            ‘A true story!’

            ‘About?’

            ‘Tell me about the last woman you loved.”

 He seemed shocked. Not unawares, but surprised I’d said it. His smile turned into a happier expression. ‘I’d love to,’ he says. ‘Enjoy.’

 ‘Once in Istanbul a mother named Terrha gave birth to a conjoined set of twins. Siamese twins, some call them. The child was unique and beautiful, two girls—two girl heads, that is. Sersia controlled everything, and Lera felt everything, the prick of needles, the warmth of Sersia’s body, but she could not move, not a single hand, and so her head traveled around Sersia’s body, at the whim of what she chose.

 She chose to bash a sailor’s brains in with an old Clam shell. The conjoined head screams for her to stop. The adrenaline shoots through her skin but she can’t make the body stop destroying that sailor’s face. And we were arrested. She asked me to lie, to say he tried to take her by force. But she wouldn’t. So they go to court and Sersia pleaded not guilty, but her sister, though innocent, pleaded guilty. The jury was left to the decide to question: is it worse to let go one murderer to preserve the life of the innocent or punish a crime at the expense of the innocent and by that commit a crime against the innocent?  The jury came back unanimous.   You are the jury. Work this out.”  What a strange child!

            “Is there a right answer?” I asked.               “Yes,” he said.     “Ethically?”

            “Scientifically.”

 He never told me. He said some questions are really answers to an unspoken question posed by the Earth, curious about itself.

            “Tell me one of your stories,” he said.

            “I don’t write stories,” I said. “Just poems.”

            “Can I hear one?”

            “Sure,” confident? Nailed it.

            Nothing lasts forever

Long live the Queen! or not …

Each daughter did their duty

Raising their siblings, all Cindarellas,

No offspring of their own;

At their core, in every child, Was a desire for the throne.

So when the queen was found,

Asleep,

Dead on her satin pillow,

The Royal Guard was pulled apart,

And Regicide! Declared …

Executed were the guardians Each one that wasn’t there.

And so each dreaming Cindarella,

One by one,

Was prepared for the chair.

The peasants and the people of the kingdom weren’t told

That queen Muriel, beloved by young and old,

Had been found without her crown

Her skin already cold, And each day the same parade The same charade portrayed:

A daughter in disguise was taken by The road most taken by the Queen

By the gardens and the markets

She waved from her dark veil

How sweet it was, thought Elanore,

To be so loved, adored;

Each blessing and each tailored

Dressing

Warmed her to the thought:

That the veil may fall, it fell;

And so she took the throne.

Seeing this new Queen, her being, So young and before unseen,

The peasants riot in the streets.

Elanore burned in effigy,

From sea to sea,

From caves and towns, The hecklers in the streets demanded Elanore renounce the crown.

So her retinue of guards

And staff of sycophants,

Prepped an announcement disavowing Any desire to remain:

Though Elanore refused, and more,

Had each traitor slain;

First her guards and then her brothers,

Then her sisters, so becoming, More feared than loved but, It’s enough:

More like her mother she’d become.  Rebellions rose, and frequently
She made examples in the street: Executions, martyrdom;

Baptizing heathens in their blood.

Each shadow she thought had a plan,

Each whispering servant, each stage-hand, All she thought had the desire,
To see her overthrown:
She’d take them with her,
Each advisor:

Would burn like them all
The Fire:

It starts with the smallest town,

And spread without control

Unbound

Through cities and forests like driftwood

Razed

Until Elanore herself went out
Like so many in the flame.

The Hanger and the Hanged, short story – 1 November 2015

Adina Manwell was arrested for first degree murder two months before I graduated. The body, when exhumed, didn’t seem entirely together. Prominent bones were missing. Some of the investigators even believed that the body shape suggested a female. Had it not been for my mother’s plea of guilty, they wouldn’t have been able to prosecute her. She seemed ready to be thrown in jail. She spent three weeks at the Davashar Memorial prison. The Davashar Disaster took place in the late twenty-second century when a military cargo plane crashed into a school carrying highly volatile explosives. They built a prison in honor of the victims.

     Her brief stay in the Davashar prison was quiet and uneventful, but she was soon transferred to a maximum security prison in Golan Heights. Everybody agreed that her case was a classic case of retaliation against an abusive, alcoholic husband. After years of abuse, it was assumed; mother murdered her husband Herman Luther Manwell, Jr., and buried him under tiger lilies. How did her son not notice the overwhelming stench coming from under the house? How did he not notice the pungent strands of spray-on odor-be-gone and potpourri? These questions had to be cleared up with the authorities so they’d stop pursuing the theory that I allowed it to take place and refused to testify or inform on my mother. Dr. Salas had to testify on my behalf at the hearing.

     “Roger was born without a sense of smell,” he said. “He’s never smelled anything and never will.”

     Mother Earth was blind for millions of years before the first animal became capable of vision and, from what I’ve heard of odor, I consider it a blessing. When those ran down detectives asked to hear my side of the story, they had expressly ignored my mother’s cautions against trying to speak with me. Letters in my mother’s hand had found me, in which I was encouraged not to “run my mouth.”

     I sat in the detective’s office with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. The room was bare, sparsely furnished, with a desk covered in papers in front of me, behind it a plush red chair, behind which was a window. Bookshelves lined the sides of the room. A violin shaped clock ticked on the wall beside mounted degrees in law.

     A man in a brown business suit came in and locked the door behind him. He handed me a steaming cup of coffee. I refused it with a wave of my hand. He sat a rubber bound folder on the desk, propped up his feet on the desk and put his hands behind his head.

     “Well,” he said, thumbing at his mustache, “tell me what you can.”

     “Would you arrest someone for eating olives?” I asked.

     A thick eyebrow rose. “Excuse me?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

     “Would you arrest a man for jerking off in his wife’s coffee?”

     “Wait a minute…”

     “Just answer.”

     “No,” he said with a sigh, taking his feet of his desk, leaning forward. “I don’t agree with it though. Jerking off in your wife’s coffee is never good.”

     “So why is my mother under arrest?”

     “I think murder and jerking off in coffee are two very different things,” the detective said. “I don’t see what you’re saying.”

     “Well, that’s because you’re a moron. But that’s fine with me, I’m sure you have a good life. The connection is clear. Both actions serve the same base motives.”

      “How dare you insult me in my own office!” he yelled. “How dare you!”

     “I’m not the type of person that looks at a turd and tells you it’s a rose. I look at you and see a turd. So I tell you. We’re not here to talk about you, though. Now be a good boy and take my testimony.”

     “Go ahead,” he mumbled. A pencil in his left hand seemed about to break.

     “Natural instincts. Jerking off services a base desire for sexual release, right?”

     “Yes,” the now wounded looking detective agreed. “I guess.”

     “To protect yourself, is that a natural instinct?”

     He stared a moment. Then he shrugged, and turned, flicking off his telephone.

     “It’s instinct to preserve your life. Every organism is biologically bound by instinct and inclination to protect their own life. Every creature has this drive. Would you accuse a lion of murder if he killed a lion that was trying to kill him? Would you arrest someone if they took a life to protect their own? It’s stupid. It’s in your DNA. My mother knew this. Every animal on Earth has the natural desire to live, except maybe the Germans, and to arrest my mother for defending her life is a mockery of justice. When a cat is cornered, the cat will strike. There’s nothing to think about. This isn’t a moral issue. It’s a survival issue. It was her, or him, and she chose to save her life. She had to preserve herself.”

     “You’re trying to defend the murder of your father,” the man said. “How can you defend that? Something is wrong with your head.”

     “Yeah,” I said. “I use it. That’s the problem with you fuckers. None of you use your brains. She knew that sooner or later he would end up killing her. He was a drunk, an invalid, and a terrible father. He hit her. He choked her. And you’re putting her on trial? You’re a real cracker jack group of fuckers. Is it a capital crime to defend your life? Hey, you, yeah, you tubby, listen to me. There will be more donuts. Speaking of, would you put a man on trial for eating? That’s the same thing you’re doing to my mother.”

     “Sir!” the man stammered. “Eating is a lot different than bludgeoning someone to death with a statue.”

     “It’s a bust,” I said.

     “What?” he asked.

     “It’s a bust, not a statue.”

     “All right…”

     “You’re right, though,” I said, leaning back with another cigarette. “Eating is a lot different than bludgeoning someone to death with a bust. But in this instance, both actions serve the same purpose. People eat to survive. Some eat because they enjoy it, like you. Don’t look at me like that. You’re fat, it’s cool. We all have problems. Look, if I swore against food, would I survive? No. You have two choices. You can eat, or you can die. Look at it like a train track. You can walk one way, to live, and the other way, to die. You eat or you die. There are no exits. No detours. You eat, or die. In her situation, she had to fight, or die. This hearing is a pot of camel pussy and you people are retarded.”

     “Sir,” the inspector protested, “I’m not allowed to strike you until you’re in custody. Remember that.”

     “Noted.”

     “Anyway,” he shuffled through papers, “have you ever considered that it might not be your father? All of the teeth were missing, and due to the advanced state of decay, seems like years, there was no way to make any definite analysis on the body. A coating of some sort of chemical on the bones makes it impossible to trace back to anyone specific. It could be your father, or it could be a fisherman that docked just to buy goods in town. Your mother has murdered someone and claims that it’s her husband. We can’t even tell if it’s a male or female. Is it possible that it could be someone else? Did your father ever disappear for long periods of time?”

     “Yeah,” I replied. “But not for years. And he always came to dinner when mother made peppered chicken.”

     “Did your mother ever directly state to you that it was your father under that house?”

     “No, but that was my father under there. He wouldn’t just abandon us for no reason, not for years. Sure he was a drunk and pretty much worthless, but he liked watching his game shows. He liked his bed. He was a bad father, but he wouldn’t leave us unless something happened to him. Why are we even talking about this? She confessed! She admitted it. She signed a confession. What more do you want? She’s going to be killed to satisfy some primitive sense of revenge for defending herself and you people are squabbling over the skeleton. This is a fucking mockery of justice. A mockery. You have children don’t you?”

     “Yeah…”

     “I hope they’re hit by trains.”

     “Wait one minute,” he tried. “If you…”

     “Why are we still here?” I asked. “Are you people that stupid? If she hadn’t done something, she would have died. I know that. You are putting her on trial for protecting her life. Do you have your recorder on?”

     The man shook his head.

     “Turn it on.”

     With a quiet click a recording instrument came on.

     “You might as well put her on trial for breathing. Don’t get me wrong. I’m against murder. Sure, it’s entertaining. But it does us little good as a species. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary. What do you do when someone in your brave military splatters someone’s brains at one hundred yards? You give him a medal. And for an old woman that tries to fight for her life? You give her the gallows.”

     “Sir…”

     “No, shut up. Some old woman is sitting on a bicycle in the woods of Tibet and you blow her head off with a T-Z01 automatic and nobody says a word. People eat their ice cream and read the papers. Nothing! I saw those pictures of that stringy haired old woman too. She didn’t have a jaw, but she lived. What happened to the man that shot her? Honorable discharge due to combat fatigue. Now you’re going to hang my mother for self defense. That’s retarded. If my mother is put to death, I’ll set this fucking building on fire. You, fat ass, look at me. I will set this god damn building on fire if something happens to my mother.”

     “Murder is a capital crime,” he said. “The sentence is death.”

     “No matter what?” I asked. “No matter the motive, murder is a capital crime and the sentence is death?”

     “Yes, sir. There are no exceptions.”

     “Who’s going to hang the man that hangs my mother? Who’s going to kill the killer, hang the hanger?”

     “What do you mean?”

     “It’s just like in that story ‘The Hanger and the Hanged’ by Oren Henschel, my uncle. It’s a philosophical satire originally published in Hebrew.” I looked at the two other men who stood against the wall in suits, holding cups of coffee. “Any of you ever read it?”

     The gathered men shook their heads, looked around at one another, and shrugged.

     “The first page, a paltry list of ancient origin: the Ten Commandments. In the story, a young man, a young man that owns a simple fruit stand, commits an act of blasphemy and is overheard by a clergyman exclaiming, “God damn!” The society in which he lived followed the bible law for law, no exceptions; so it was assumed that he was atheist. Only an atheist in a purely Christian society would take the Lord’s name in vain. So, he was considered an atheist; atheism was a crime against God. And, seeing as how God couldn’t enforce the punishment for his broken rules, the sin was punishable by death. Because he was a blasphemer, and assumed atheist, they destroyed his fruit stand, put him in a dark prison, and finally hanged him. They murdered him for breaking the rules of god. But, in this act of punishment, they commit murder–another act of blasphemy and direct violation of the Ten Commandments.”

     “Got what he deserved,” the bald man against the wall said. “He broke the rules. Breaking the rules has consequences, Roger. One day, you’ll learn that.”

     “That’s not the end of the story, retards. Don’t you see the paradox?”

     They glared at me a moment. The mustached man at the end of the table glanced at his watch, sighing, and asked, “What’s a ‘paradox’?”

     “For breaking a commandment they kill him. Isn’t thou shalt not kill a commandment as well? Yes it is. A townsman brings this news to father abbot of the church’s main administration building. This is a fictional town, mind you; the town of Bali, a fictional city that exists far in the future after Antarctica has unfrozen, allowing people to colonize and explore the region. Of course, the missionaries are first to go in and set up the town of Bali: the ideal world for Christians. Evolution wasn’t taught in schools; women are subservient; homosexuals are stoned to death; heretics are burnt at the stake; women can’t leave home on their periods; the Earth was only thousands of years old; Genesis was literal fact. Every rule was followed. It was the realization of what every Christian strived for.

     “This townsman is an archaeologist that digs on the other side of one of the unfrozen mountains. Now, Bali only came about after hundreds of years to exist as a perfect society for Christians. They weeded out all literature they found unholy, all television, and all the music. The clerical administration controlled everything. The archaeologist had moved there to live in the town of Bali in the perfect Christian society. Then, at a council meeting, he asks why the young fruit salesman was put to death.

     “They tell him that he was hanged because he broke a commandment. The archaeologist asks them if thou shalt not kill is a commandment. They tell him it is. He points out to the clerical council that the hanger broke the commandment of thou shalt not kill and thus had to be put to death. The council deliberates and reconvenes. Their ruling is final: the man at the gallows pole had to be put to death for breaking a commandment. By putting the atheist to death, the executioner broke a commandment, and thusly had to die as well. So they hang him, the hanger, for murder because he killed the atheist. Then the man that hung the executioner is put to death for hanging the man that hanged the atheist. The man that hung the man that hung the atheist is then put to death for breaking the commandment. One by one, in a long line, the entire society lines up behind the gallows pole. All of them kill and are put to death when they finished. It repeats. The hanger hangs and then is hanged. It repeats until the entire civilization is destroyed. The archaeologist, at the end, kills himself for killing the last person.”

     They looked around a moment. The mustached man behind the desk said, “Murder is a crime. The only person guilty of murder was the man who killed on behalf of himself. The other men killed on behalf of God. You’re only a teenager. I wouldn’t expect you to understand. The Bible says obey the law of the land.”

     “What if the law of the land was to burn bibles as it was during the Italian civil war against Rome by the lower regions and Sicily? Should that ‘law of the land’ be obeyed? Stop being a moron.”

     “Well,” he stammered, “that’s different. You twist words around. You speak too quickly; stop trying to deliberately confuse us.”

     “All of my words are pronounced clearly,” I said. “Is it my fault you have trouble keeping up?”

     I felt a hand on my shoulder from behind. The only man that seemed to listen to me, with a bald head, graying spots of hair above his ears, spoke in calm, soft words. “You’re a clever young man, Roger. You’re just misguided. I don’t deny your intelligence. I deny your cause. You’re just going to get yourself arrested.”

     Sweat beaded off my forehead. I understood then: I couldn’t talk my mother out of prison. But I kept trying.

     “It’s nature,” I said, about to cry. “Is it not nature to preserve oneself? It has nothing to do with morals or ethic when there’s a knife to your throat. How was she supposed to react? A cornered cat will scratch. You people are ridiculous. You’re going to kill a sweet woman just for defending herself against a drunk? Fuck you people. I’ll see that your children are sodomized for this.”

     Two weeks in jail.

     Time well spent.

My mother was in the cell across from mine. I sat there under a ragged fan, back against a cement wall, a clock behind me hung on a nail. A yellow mattress was on the floor beside the toilet, an aluminum circle, and that’s it.

     At night my mother poked her sobbing face between the bars and reached to try to take my hand. We were always a few inches too far away to hold one another. Shadows of policemen walked the walls from one end to the other, small at first, and then grew larger as they passed through the exercise yard door. If I had known that night would be the last time I’d hear my mother, I might have thought of something better to say.

     The long shadow of a yawning guard stretched across the dull gray corridor. A torch hung beside my mother’s cell, to the right, casting little shadows around the hollows that were once her lively eyes, now dull, listless, and spotted with one troubled wrinkle after another. The guard coughed, shuffled his keys, and the shadow, with a small echo from a creaking door, dwindled to the shadow of a mouse and disappeared. The door slammed shut.

     “Roger,” mother whispered, “you’ve turned into such a handsome man. Look at how you’ve grown. Those shoes don’t fit, do they? The ones you got two weeks ago?”

     “No, mama,” I said. “I sold them in the market.”

     “For olives or for cigarettes?” mother laughed an uneasy laugh, a tired heave. “I’ve never known someone to eat so many olives. Did you sell your shoes just for olives?”

     I was crying then. “Yeah, mama,” I said. “Just for some olives.”

     She reclined against the cement wall behind her. Her eyes were hidden by the dark; the torch lit her body only to her neck. Her arms had grown pale, spotted with veins, and her tired hair hung listless around her bony shoulders. I heard her sigh. Her black hair spilled into the light as she cupped her face inside her hands.

     “Remember that toy duck your father brought from Israel for you?” she asked. “I’ll never forget that. We put you in the shower, and you had to be only two or three years old. You ran through the house as naked as the way you were born. I said ‘what’s wrong, Roger?’ You said, ‘the duck is going to drown!’ Oh, man! I don’t think I’ve ever laughed that hard, before or after. Those were funny times, better times, when it was alright to laugh, or smile.”

     “Why did you confess?” I asked. I gripped the rusted bars, leaned into the corridor. “Why did you confess, mama? Why?”

     “Remember that baseball glove your uncle Matthias got you for your tenth birthday?” she asked. “You looked so funny trying to put it on. Your uncle Oren kept saying, ‘but, ya putting it on ze wrong hand, boy!’ Oh, that was funny!”

     “Yeah! He bought me a right handed glove, the kind that goes on your left hand so you can throw with your right hand. I guess he just assumed I was right handed.”

     “You and your uncle Oren are the only lefties in the family, I think. You sound like him sometimes, you know. That man never shuts up. He’s a clever man.”

     “You have pictures of me with that bulky glove pushed down on the wrong hand, don’t you?” I kept laughing, but it hurt.

     “We’ve got it on video. You stood there on the porch, thanking him, trying to smile. Then you threw it down and said, ‘there appears to be a malfunction with the baseball glove.’ Your father nearly died laughing when came through the living room. He put down his beer. ‘I don’t think the glove fits,’ I remember him saying. Oh it’s so funny. I’ll never forget about that.”

     “Sometimes one happy memory is all you have,” I said. “I don’t think of that event like you do. I’ll never forget how stupid I felt standing in the bathroom with that god damn…”

     “Roger! Don’t you curse.”

     “…You could have left ‘you’ out of that sentence and it would’ve been fine,” I said.

     She glared at me.

     “Now isn’t the time to be a smart ass,” she said.

     “I’m sorry, that glove. You knew it was a right handed glove, didn’t you? You told uncle to get it just to trick me, didn’t you? You kept laughing at me. I thought I just couldn’t figure it out, like I am with trash bags and microwaves.”

     Mother laughed so hard that tears had crept into her eyes. “I’ve never understood you, Roger. How in the world you learn things, so many things, but you get confused as to how to work a microwave. Remember when you first tried to figure out a straw? That’s my dim little Roger. So smart he can’t figure out how to work a trash bag. Ha-ha.” She smiled the kind of smile that only sad mothers can use. “My little Roger isn’t so little anymore. How tall are you? 6’8”? Your dad would be so pissed if he saw how tall you were. He’s always been so short.”

     “Why did you confess, mama? Please, tell them you didn’t do it. They don’t know if the skeleton is from a man or woman. All they have is his stained shirt, a partial skeleton, evidence of attempting to cover up a smell, and your confession. Why did you confess? Why?”

     She just smiled. Those tiny tears, like droplets of rain, swelled in the corners of her eyes. She reached from the cell again, easing her face into the faint light of the torch, and stretched her hand as far as she could. I did the same. She strained and I strained until the tips of our middle fingers touched for a slight moment, just a moment, and I still remember how cold her fingers were. She kissed her palm and held up her hand. She rose from the floor and walked with her head down to the yellowed cot in her cell. The yellow mattress squeaked when she lay down.

     From the dark, with only her toes visible, painted with homemade rings around them, she began to hum that constant song for me.

     “I always wanted three children,” she said, “but you were more than enough for me. Roger, do you remember our song? The one we hummed before all this bad stuff happened? When we could laugh. Can you hum the song?”

     “Yes, mama, I can still hum it.”

     “Then hum it for me so I can go to sleep,” she said. “It has always calmed me down.”

     “Yes, mama,” I said. “Mama…” I paused. “Please don’t go to sleep. I want to talk to you. Just one more minute, please? One minute. Then I’ll sing.”

     “Did you brush your teeth?”

     “Yes, mama.”

     “Did you comb your hair?”

     “Not yet.”

     “Goodnight, Roger. I love you. But don’t forget to comb your hair. ”

     “I love you too, mother.”

     “Smile Roger,” she said. “Never forget how to laugh, and never forget to comb your hair.”

     I was silent.

     “C’est la vie,” mother whispered. “C’est la vie.”

     And the minutes from the clock went too fast as I hummed those songs for her. Most people feel that prison time is slow, that it plods along indifferent to their boredom, but not when the clock is ticking on the life of a family member; nothing seems to keep that dreaded hour away. That clock ticked a steady rhythm behind me; the shadows walked up and down the hall, small at first, then large on the gray walls ceilings; quiet rats scurried under the beds; mother’s calm breathing came from her cell to mine; and through all of this, in concert with this, I hummed. It was all that was left for me to do. I combed my hair. I brushed my teeth. I plastered on a fake smile that she couldn’t see through the night.

     And I hummed for her. I hummed for her those songs she often sang to Galilee. During the night, when the rats had gone quiet, when the stalking shadows of the guardsmen had faded, my mother began to sing. She sang in her sleep until the sun woke up.

The Magician’s Foot, short story – 2006

This is a vignette from my novel Songs of Galilee, which I am considering for publication along with my more recent short stories in the collection The Library of Babel, slated for an early 2016 release.

People would be more thankful for their parents if they were forced to live in one of those places. My father’s drunken blabbering cut me off from my mother for half a year. I was placed in an orphanage.

     Orphanages aren’t as bad as you’ve read about. In fact, they’re much, much worse.

     Three days before I left, mother and I visited a pound for stray dogs. Mother needed something to look after while I was gone. They were always too fat, too skinny, or too mangy looking. Some were the wrong colors, some had too much hair, and some didn’t have enough. Those appeasing puppies in small cages had the same hopeful wistfulness in their eyes the orphans did.

     I still remember my bunk mate, my bunky, as the other orphans said. His name was Adrian. His mother had been raped by an American G.I. during the war. Her parents shunned the child. He was a bastard and his father was nowhere to be found. His mother didn’t even know his father’s name. Adrian had been in the orphanage for thirteen years. And since he had harelip it was doubtful he’d ever be adopted.

     Our bunkies were our bunk partners. We had to follow them all around when we first arrived. They showed us the bathrooms, the playrooms, told us where to eat, and where to sleep. They taught the newcomers all the rules and procedures. They gave us tips on how to act when the Maybe’s arrived. Our hair had to be combed. Our teeth had to be white and our posture had to be upright if we wanted to leave, if we wanted to be loved. We had to wag our tails just right, and look just the way they wanted us to, just like those longing dogs at the pound.

     Whenever it was time for lunch we had to find our bunky. At lunchtime they played this horrible circus sounding music I still hear when I close my eyes. I imagine the faces of all those people who led me down long corridors, a part of a miserable carousel of melancholy kids.

     Those administrators showed no emotions toward us. They were spectral and almost always elsewhere. Insomnia had her hands around my throat. I could never sleep. I just laid there in the dark. I listened to all the other children tossing and turning and crying. Some cried all night. No one came to pacify the terrified and wounded children. No one ever came to tell us those it’s gonna be okay type lies. No one ever came. We were God’s forgotten children. I began to have nightmares. I often dreamed I was a louse, trapped on a free child’s head, whose parents loved and sang to him every night when his light, the sun, went out. A thousand terrified lice would shout.

     There were no doors to our sleeping rooms. I could see shadows on the wall as someone walked through the mess hall at night.

     An administration building stood in front of the orphanage. Through it you came into the main mess hall. From the main mess hall you could enter into any of the other door less rooms, which included our bedrooms, playrooms, and morning classes.

     I don’t know what those other things were, but they weren’t children. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t play. They just waited. They always talked about how good things would be when they were adopted, especially the older the older kids, but once they turned fifteen, or sixteen years old, they stopped hoping out loud.

     My parents weren’t allowed to visit me because of a strict policy involving the kids. Their reason being the other children would be jealous and it would cause trouble.

     Most of the children thought they’d been put away for doing something wrong. Even my bunky Adrian believed it. He thought they’d put him away for the same reason his real father never wanted to see him. He once told me his father would come when he found out how smart he was. He practiced magic in the playrooms. Before I left we had a magic show. He allowed me to be his assistant.

     We sat up a small stage with a paper background covered in neon stars in the main hall. The orphanage borrowed chairs from a local church so all of the kids would have a seat. Their enthusiasm and help was strained, and false, and their intent was a matter of business.  Occupied kids are easier to deal with than lonely crying kids.

     I designed the background with markers and crayons. I helped a few kids sat up a long piece of plywood on bricks. We covered the rough wood with a sheet of old carpet, royal blue, almost black, with rat holes in it. All of the older kids laughed. They said they wouldn’t waste their time on such stupidity, card tricks, and rabbits in hats. Adrian and I wanted to give them a show.

     After some thought, I figured out a way to perform a levitation trick. That would entertain them. We found a block of wood and sized it to be smaller than his foot. It was small enough not to be seen when he stood on it, and small enough to fit under his pants leg, tucked into his sock. The sides of the block were painted the same royal blue of the ravaged floor where Adrian would perform the trick. The block would be invisible under scrutiny from where we placed the chairs.

     Adrian stored the block inside his trouser leg until he was ready. I made advertisements for the event, alluding to his levitation, and placed them all over the orphanage. There would be card tricks for the younger children disappearing coins, and he’d saw me in half, of course, employing the usage of false legs wearing the same baggy pants as me. The older kids laughed when he tried his card tricks on the younger kids, elbowed each other, and giggled when he showed them their card. Then came time for his levitation.

     The lights went up. I stood in front of the small group of orphans and announced that without help, or strings, Adrian would levitate from the ground. With their attention turned to me, Adrian bent over to pretend to tie his shoe. He placed the block on the stage and hid it beside his shoe. The older kids stood at the back of the room, unable to see it.

     With everything ready, a broad smile on Adrian’s face, I lifted him into the air, onto the box.

     Gasps came from around the room. Even the teachers had no idea how we pulled it off. It wasn’t noticeable at all. Nobody could tell. Just to show them no strings were used, I waved my hands above his head. “As you can see,” I said, “there are no strings, no steps, no levers, nothing.”

     The tin sound of clapping orphans filled the room. Adrian bowed and the stage faded into black.

A Spot in the Sun, short story – 1 November 2015

This is a vignette from my novel Songs of Galilee, slated to be published in my upcoming short story collection The Library of Babel.

1

It had started raining before we got home from the hospital and, since mother was avoiding my dad, we parked further from the house than usual, because the truck ran out of gas, and had to run to the house with phonebooks over our head. Because we parked further down the driveway, to both sides thick shrubbery lined the roads. Mother forgot her sewing purse, where she had picked up one of the soapstone angels her father had carved, and told me to go and fetch it. I slung it over my shoulder, slammed the door, and went to turn back toward the house. And that’s when I heard her.

The faint meow came from under the truck. I ran in the house to get my mother. She had told the doctor that I sometimes saw things and heard things that weren’t there, visions, hallucinations, and he said it was a good idea for me to get confirmation on things I saw which could be ambiguous. Mother followed me to the truck with a black umbrella over her shoulder.

“Do you hear it?” I asked. She nodded, twirling the black umbrella over on her shoulder. I got on my hands and knees, crawling in the soft mud under the truck. Mud and dirt gathered on the knees of my jeans. A tiny shadow figure bobbed beside my father’s tire. Her little tail curled around her legs and she sat there shaking. Rib bones jutted outward from her stomach. Her little eyes, a bright yellow-green color, seemed frightened when I reached for her. It seemed like she might’ve been hit by a car.

Whenever I see a cat that’s been hit by a car, I try to get them out of the road to find somewhere to bury them. I always have, and the backyard of every home I’ve lived in is full of dead cats I’ve picked up off the highways. Then, under the edge of that truck, I felt the sad feeling that I’d have to bury her. It’d be indecent to let her spoil in the road until the flies came for her, until cars had ravaged her completely. This is disrespectful to me and always has been.

And there, under my father’s truck, sat a tiny little calico cat. She had a white belly, orange and white stripes on her back, and spots of beige and black on her face. Black and white stripes circled her tail and the end of her tail was white.

Had my mother not insisted I go to the doctor, we might have never found her and she certainly would have died, just like the thousands of other cats we often seen dead on the dirt roads which led to town. She was hungry, shivering, huddled in fear under a strange truck, not knowing where she was or if she’d live to see another bowl of food.

She was a wee baby cat. I kept saying, “Come on kitty. Come on baby. I’m not going to hurt you. Who’s a pretty kitty? You’re going to be fine now. I’ll take care of you.”

After coaxing her for a little while, still in the slanting rain, she crawled into a towel and we took her into the house to find some food. There was left over peppered chicken in the microwave, so we put it on a paper plate and stood there to watch her eat. Herman was gone when we got there, but we knew he’d show up soon; he never fished in the rain. But he always sat on the porch and listened to old Hank Williams when it did. By the time the rain slacked, she was eating quickly, and when she finished her second bowl, I scooped her into my arms, rubbed her wee little head, and said, “It’s going to be alright. I have you now.”

My mother encouraged keeping her. My father, completely out of character, even supported keeping the frightened kitten—as long as we didn’t let her come inside. When she came near my father, he always shied away from her. He was never mean to her, but it seemed as though he didn’t like being around her. So we fed her on the patio and brought her in when father was out. He didn’t spend much time at home at that point, anyway. Mother was sure he had shacked up with some woman in either Israel or Syria.

She started to come around more often and we fed her every time we heard her little feet tinkling across our wooden porch. Mother spent one afternoon looking through the couch cushions in the living room for change to buy her a little collar in town with a bell on it.

“We’ll be able to hear her when she comes,” mother explained.

After a couple of weeks, we named her Bell and she became our cat.

She was timid, though prissy and sometimes hyper, but we knew she loved us. There was no question about it. I tried to teach her how to use the toilet, how to speak, and how to color. She never learned, but I figured if I kept at it, she would learn sooner or later. She spent most of her time prowling around under the deck behind the house or looking for rats in the boat shed. My mother and I loved her.

There were very few moments when she didn’t follow us when we made our morning rounds. We loved her with the real type of love, the type not based on convenience or profit, but with the real kind. Love comes in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes it’s a towel to wrap a starving cat in. Sometimes it’s a brand new television for Christmas. Real love exists when there is no advantage, no convenience or profit, just the feeling. That’s the kind of love we had for our Bell. And that’s the love we had for her daughter, the runt of the litter, Entae.

We had Bell for a year before she had her first and only litter of kittens. Five of them: two yellow tabbies, a black and white one with yellow feet, a solid black one with white feet, and the runt: a tiny black kitty with one little white spot beside her nose and a pale white belly.

We named her Entae.

2

My mother loved her at first sight and picked her to be the one of the litter to keep inside. The others we took to town in a big wicker basket to give them to anyone willing to provide a good home. Most of them eventually made their way through the hills and back to our front porch.

The kitty never showed hostility, never bit or scratched or hissed at anyone. She was forever impassive; a stranger, whom she had never met, could scoop her up and pet her and she’d never try to run away. She’d just recline her head, arch her little black lips into what I always thought was a smile, and purr. She never meowed or whined as a baby. For a while we even thought she was mute, but we loved our Entae. We loved her ridiculously.

I remember the first time I saw her jump from the ground to our porch, bypassing all five steps. It had to have been five feet or so. It amazed me. When did she go from a runt with scrunched together eyes to an animal so alive, so agile? What made her walk?

The scariest dream I’ve ever had involved Entae. I remember waking up with my pajamas clinging to my sweating chest, and my hair was damp against my face.

In the dream, Entae followed behind me as we walked the shore. We were collecting seashells, something I did all the time, and she was helping me collect them. She would sniff them out, so to speak, and I’d toss them in my jar. One of the seashells wouldn’t come up. Entae pawed at it, scratched, even tried to dig. It wouldn’t come up. I put down my jar, squatted, and pulled as hard as I could. When it finally came up, the sea drained like a bathtub and a giant jar swooped out of the sky. We were trapped inside a giant jar with nothing but a little bit of sand. Strange creatures shook the glass, pressed their strange faces against it. We couldn’t breathe. We slammed our fists against the glass walls, but they made no sound. A blurred figure approached the jar, with a muffled gray light swarming behind it, and peered into it through the side. It said something, and then pulled up a chair in front of us. It stayed there long enough to draw a picture. The shadow showed us the picture, wrote our names under it, and walked away.

3

I woke up screaming when Entae keeled over in the sand. Her little legs went limp. She collapsed onto her stomach and slid down the hill. I tried to scream but there was no use. Nothing could hear us. I was trapped inside a jar.

Nothing had ever, or has ever since, scared me as much as that useless feeling, that futile screaming while suffocating.

When I woke, I ran down stairs to see if Entae was still there. Mother must’ve let her out during the night, since her bedroom was downstairs, because she was asleep on an old parasol on our front porch. I walked over to her and knelt beside her. She meowed. I stroked her head and she rolled onto her back, mumbling, “brrrow.” I smiled. My cat was still alive.

Every morning, the first thought on my mind was finding Entae. I’d bring her into the house every morning, take her upstairs to my room, and we’d go back to sleep together. It got to the point where I couldn’t sleep unless I had my face pressed against her furry back. It calmed me. Having Entae made me smile.

By the time her mother disappeared, and all of the other cats had been killed or had left, we were left with just her. Father rarely ever spent time at home other than to eat and leave back out. He claimed to be saving money to move us to America. It’d show grandmother he had made something of himself, he said. And the look on her face when she realized she’d turned her back on the winning ticket would make it all worthwhile. Entae was all we really had.

When she still stayed outside, she got lost in a storm one night and found her way to town. A neighbor brought her back to us. Her back was torn in half, blood was caught in the little white spot beside her nose, and she looked like she was dying. My entire body went numb. My chest pounded and my heart palpitated. Adrenaline flooded my blood as panic closed in around me. I imagined the cloth I kept over the jars to try to catch the life before it left, and wondered what I’d do when Entae died.

The man who brought her to us said he’d been hanging clothes behind his house when she got into his dog pen. Probably looking for some water, he said. His dog, a hunting dog used to track deer, attacked her when she got in the pen. He ripped her stomach open in the process and damn near killed her.

The kind old man saw her being swung back and forth in the dogs jaws, jumped the fence, opened the cage, and pulled her out of the dog’s mouth. She never tried to scratch him, never hissed, but went into his arms in the same passive manner she always went.

We were always grateful to that man. We invited him to dinner. Mother made him cholent, peppered steak, and cabbage soup. He gave us four more years to spend with her. Four years I’ve cherished more than anything in my life.

We wrapped her in a towel. Mother called a veterinarian across the way, on the other side of the village. He told us to come on and he’d have a look at her. Herman was away at sea, had been for days, so we took his truck into town with Entae wrapped in a towel, draped across my lap. Blood seeped from her stomach onto the towel, dark red blood that made my stomach sink. This was probably the first time I had ever felt true despair. Mother had to give me a pill to stop that horrible heart-attack panicked feeling that became increasingly frequent. Anxiety became severe.

The ride seemed to take forever. When we arrived, the vet told my mother Entae would probably die. It’d be best just to put her to sleep—a term I didn’t understand at the time. Mother refused. The man said it would cost nearly a thousand dollars if we put her in the hospital for the weekend. Mother said she would petition Uncle Oren for the money if she had to. The vet recommended several things, but mother said: “Do whatever you have to do. I don’t care what it costs. We want our cat alive.”

My mother was always stressed over the price of things. She made most of my clothes herself to save money, made our blankets, quilts, and grew what vegetables she could in our garden. But this was one time when mother didn’t seem to care about money. She believed what I believed then, and I believe now: a living thing is more important than money.

We waited in the parking the entire weekend. The vets came in on Monday, after checking in only a few times during the weekend, and told us she was still alive. Miraculously, she was alive. She’d never be able to have kittens. She’d always walk with a limp, like a jaguar stalking prey, but she was alive. For better or for worse, she was alive.

I’ve always thought the most telling thing about Entae’s character was she didn’t claw or bite or scratch the man who saved her. She never clawed or scratched anybody. If any of the sailors or fisherman who docked near our home saw her behind me as I walked the shore, they’d pet her and play with her, and she never ran away. She rolled over on her back, now exposing a scarred stomach, so they could rub her tummy. Even after the accident, anyone could pick her up and play with her. She was Gandhi trapped in a cat’s body.

Other than her belly, she was almost unchanged by the attack. The only other change took place in the way in which she meowed. They came out in broken spurts of “brow, brow, and brrrrrrow” and sounded like a little squirrel.

We spoiled her as much as a cat could be spoiled. It was ridiculous. If you wanted to feed her a piece of ham, you couldn’t just place it on the floor. She wouldn’t touch it. She’d look at the ham, back at you, to the ham, then to you again. You’d actually have to pick it up, tear off tiny pieces for her, and hold it while she ate. If you wouldn’t hold it for her, she wouldn’t eat it. Other than that, we were convinced she was Italian.

She loved spicy food. Hot wings, lasagna, and spaghetti were her favorites. She wouldn’t eat anything else mother cooked. She hated plain potato chips and would flatly refuse them if my mother offered, or if I offered, but she would accept them if a stranger did. She liked ham and turkey, but only the thin sliced kind. She wouldn’t eat baloney.

We spent every night together in my room, sprawled out on my bed. She purred beside me as I rubbed her head. I would read and she would watch the tiny television I’d brought from the attic. She liked nature programs. Even though I never liked television (I liked westerns) I’d watch with her. And this is how we spent our time together. When she got tired, she’d crawl onto my chest and go to sleep. At seven in the morning, she’d go to the door and wait for me to let her out. She’d go to the bathroom, never in our yard, but in a neighbor’s yard over the hill, and then she’d come back in to go back to sleep.

The funniest thing about her, which no one ever really believes, is her choice in bathrooms. I’ve always told my friends about this. She never used a litter box. Not once. When she had to go to the bathroom, she would go to the front door and wait. We’d let her out, and she’d disappear over the hill. Later we found out that, all that time, she’d been going to the bathroom in the yard where the dog had once attacked her. Never in our backyard, but about twenty feet away from where the dog once was. He never cared, and when he came to dinner he laughed about it with us. He had even taken the time to buy an umbrella for her to sleep on whenever she got tired near his home.

I never just walked passed her. If I saw her, I had to stop and pet her and kiss her on the forehead and tell her I loved her. I really believe I did. She was my friend, a real friend, a real friend who could feel and love. It’s pathetic isn’t it? It’s pathetic to think of a grown man who still cries about a cat, isn’t it?

But I loved her, and I still love her. I guess I miss my friend.

4

More than anything, she was fond of long hikes in the woods behind our house. She’d spend all morning in the high grass behind our deck, chasing grasshoppers in the fields, or fishing moles out from under the boathouse. Her favorite place had to be the porch where she slept on an old umbrella, a tiny black parasol with broken wires, or under an old pear tree she would one day be buried under, any place with a good amount of shade. That’s what she always went looking for. Four years together at last came to its end—as all great things do.

I remember the last time I saw her alive. I’d stayed up all night with her in my room upstairs. I worked on a drawing of her, sleeping in a cowboy hat, and she explored the nooks and crannies of my room. Seven rolled around and, as usual, she was at the door, waiting on someone to let her out.  I knelt in front of her at the door, patted her on the head, and said, “Be good.” I kissed her forehead. She ran onto the porch, stopped for a moment to clean herself, and then pranced down the steps.

And I never saw her alive again.

5

When I awoke in the evening, my mother told me she was gone. She had tears in her coal colored eyes. My father had returned. Together they had walked through every street in town and shouted her name. Even friends of my father began to help us look through the woods. When night came a small group of fishermen came to help look for her. All had flashlights, and we all walked, crying out, “Entae! Here kitty, kitty, kitty!”

I walked down every street in town. No sign of her. We couldn’t find her. I had that sick feeling in my throat, the kind of feeling that tells you that something is wrong. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t swallow.

At three in the morning, I slid out the sliding glass patio door, sneaked out the screen door on the patio, and down the back steps that led into the tomato garden. I called her for thirty minutes or so, rattling her food bowl and throwing pieces of ham around the porch and walkway. No sign of her. At five my mother and I went out again. She had her sleeping gown on, tied around the front, and held it closed as she walked. It was obvious that something was wrong; even when she wouldn’t come to me, Entae always came to mother. No matter what the situation, Entae always came to mother. I must admit a certain jealousy over this, because I certainly spent more time with her and showed her more affection.

I called again at seven. My father had exhausted himself and was asleep on the swing in front of our house with his cap pulled over his face. Sunlight had just started to ripple across the water, and the early birds were hovering in the air and singing, but there was no sign of our cat, no sign of her sly little gimp or strange meow, no sign of our friend.

For the next hour I sat in my room with a nervous numbness in my chest. I rocked back and forth on the edge of my bed. Just as I started out the front door again, mother grabbed me by the arm, emerging from the living room. She told me she had found her. Tears stained her face. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was frayed at the ends. Mascara ran under her eyes. Her bottom lip was twitching.

She had found her dead behind the house, behind the deck, in the high grass, where she often went for shade.

It’s the saddest thing I can remember feeling. To picture such a beautiful thing, alive and moving, vital, animate—now so hard and cold, lifeless. The dream of Entae in the jar came back to me, played out in my head, and the thump of my heart beat savage against my chest. It was as though someone was thumping the jar again when my heart started skipping on beats. I had never cried so hard in my life, and have yet to cry that hard again. Mother stood beside me with a towel at the front door. It was Entae’s towel, unwashed and stained, her favorite slip of fabric to sleep on in the bathroom when the hampers were full.

Mother took her time to be extra gentle with her as she hoisted her lifeless little body from the ground. Together we dug a hole in front of a small stump, under a pear tree—a place she often slept when it got hot. My face was buried in my mother’s morning gown when she sat the towel in the hole. I went to my room to find the soapstone angel my mother gave to me the day we found Bell, Entae’s mother. I put the ivory colored hand carved angel on the stump above Entae’s grave.

When I walked by the recliner in the living room, and saw she wasn’t there, it hit me again. A sick feeling, empty and surreal, came over me again. Entae was gone. Everything felt wrong. She was supposed to be curled up in her little ball, asleep and hurting no one. Thinking about this as I write, I can remember that sick feeling I got in my chest.

I spent the next three hours sobbing uncontrollably. Mother made no effort to console me, as she herself sat in the kitchen over a steaming cup of coffee with a vacant look in her eyes. She was just a cat, after all. Right?

I cleaned her water bowl and took it into my room. Every time I look at it, I see my little girl with dirt caked under her little nose, those little eyes, and her tail no longer bobs above the grass as it did when she went exploring. And then I hear those strange meows. It hits me again, and I feel the absence of her. It’s only grown larger over the years. That was an entire life ago, it seems, but it hits me, and it still hurts.

It hurts because it’s my fault. Had I not let her out, and kept her as I often did, she wouldn’t be cold and alone in a little hole right now with just a soapstone angel to look over her grave. Sometimes I put pieces of bread on her grave just so the birds would come, so she wouldn’t be alone. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give just to pet her under her little chin again like she enjoyed so much, or kiss her little forehead and tell her I love her. And I did love her. I do love her. I loved her as much as anything I’ve ever loved.

Every single day I woke with nothing but my kitty on my mind. I went to the front door every day to find her. Every single day for all those years I had the chance to share a little bit of my life with her. Had I only cherished it then as I do now. Now she’s gone. She’s gone and all my tears won’t bring her from the ground.

6

I’ve always believed every human has done something in his or her life to make them guilty of a crime. I’ve done things to deserve to die. I’ve done ill-natured, spiteful, cruel, and ill-intentioned things. Maybe I’ve done things that make me deserve to be buried behind our deck. But Entae didn’t deserve to die. She didn’t deserve it.

I remembered what my mother told me of Heaven. I spent a long time wondering if Entae went—and if I’d see her when I got to go. But human beings are the only animals who think they’re going to heaven and the only animals that don’t deserve it.

You can say she was just a cat, or that I should probably stop whining about it. But she wasn’t just a cat to me. She filled the gap in our family left by my father and we loved her. And we missed her then as much as I miss her now.

Before I left Golan Beach, and the Sea of Galilee, I remember standing there in the shade we buried her in, under a long row of dead apple trees. I looked at the little cross I made her, the little soapstone angel, and I wanted to pull my teeth out. She was in the ground, cold and in a dark place, wet and in a wet ground where I could never dry her off. She was alone down there and hungry. Maybe she’d like some lasagna, or some hot fries. If I would’ve had one wish, it would’ve been a bowl of lasagna for her as I stood above her grave.

We loved that cat. We always will.

If I could talk to her now, what would I say? I’d say this:

Rest, Entae, like you did on the umbrella on our porch, in my closet, or at the foot of my bed. Rest like you did under the pear tree when the summer heat came in full force. Rest like you did at the foot of mother’s bed when father was out at sea. On the day I sat the toy boat out to see, on which a candle burned, I wrote a small poem for her. I called it Entae’s Song, and I buried it. I didn’t know where to mail it.

Wherever she is, in the ground or in the sky, I hope she found some shade.