A Viable Option
It’s a common misconception that during free-fall, the human body will give out and go unconscious before the inevitable impact. Most often than not, you will be painfully aware of every second until the body connects with the water and crumbles, breaking every major bone, snapping the neck and spine, leaving the incapacitated victim to slowly drown in the forty degree harbor if you’re not one of the few lucky enough to simply die upon collision with the beautiful, blue death that a mere four seconds ago waited dutifully at 250 feet below you before taking the 75 mile an hour plunge into black certainty. There had been 1,600 before him since the Golden Gate Bridge’s opening in 1937, not including the handful that decided they had made a terrible mistake mid-flight and somehow survived to become paraplegics, or at the least, just as fucked up as they had always been before their ill-fated and miscalculated jump into the San Francisco Bay. That’s not to say that many of the other 1,600 dead didn’t also decide they had made a terrible mistake mid-flight, but of course they didn’t stick around to let anyone know that.
These were among the scattered thoughts floating through his head as he hung unmercilessly over the red guardrail at three in the afternoon on a Saturday, flirting with his palpable fear of heights. The cool sea air smelled of sweet salt and urban decay as it gently rocked him back and forth on his unsteady perch every time the breeze came in again. The rumbling of passing vehicles, ignorant to his pre-meditated misdeed, softly shook the thick metal underneath his feet every few moments, but he told himself he didn’t mind the attention or lack thereof; it only brought him back into focus of why he was willingly at the edge of the plank that day. He had planned on it for weeks, but it had been characteristically cloudy for a long while, and he wished to look into the sun as he did it. Truly, it was a beautiful day out, and he saw no better way to spend the afternoon.
Passersby would walk past obliviously or shoot an uncomfortable glance at him, wondering what this disheveled young man was doing in such a dangerous place, before dismissing him as if he had already been cemented into his fate. Part of him was still uncertain, and wished for nothing more than to be stopped before he resigned to his plans. His heart would jump and skip a beat with every set of eyes that made contact with his, as he secretly hoped for someone to save him from his childish decision, but none did. This only really proved to be more of a reason to do it, and with each passerby that ignored him, the fire under his ass would grow and burn with a stubborn intensity, screaming at him through the spitting flames to be cooled by the deep body of freezing water that stared back at him from below. He spit over the side and watched the wad of saliva slowly fly down into the murky depths, counting the seconds with Mississippis. It came out to more than four seconds until contact. This worried him. He had read it took four. Maybe a human body would drop faster; maybe it was just the wind.
He had tried drinking himself to death for the past two years but it was taking too long. Knives were too sharp and messy, guns were too expensive, and no doctor in his right mind would prescribe him anything that he could overdose on. He had cried wolf so many times at this point that no one took him seriously anymore. He had crashed the family car into a tree three months earlier, but survived after rolling three times into a ditch and played it off as an innocent mistake in order to avoid going to a treatment facility, and thus have to face his problems directly.
The wind was picking up and the clouds were moving overhead at a quick pace; big, fluffy cumulus clouds that perforated the perfect light blue of the sky. The sun hung overhead and lit up every scar and freckle on his pale, exposed skin with an orange glow. His eyes fixed on a colony of sea lions lying about on a dock about a half-mile out from the bridge. Two were happily barking and diving in and out of the water together near the rest of the group. A young couple walked past behind him as he watched the animals far below.
He turned around to meet the noise, spat out by the young man as his girlfriend hung onto his arm.
“Hey, fella! If you’re gonna do it, do it! I’m sure it’ll work out just fine!”
The young man’s girlfriend stifled an embarrassed laugh and half-seriously scolded him before hurrying him forward. “Howard, that’s not nice! Leave him alone.”
That’s it? That’s all she had to say? Did no one care about a human life anymore? Was it overpopulation, lack of empathy brought on by the anti-social, computer-age mindset, reality television? What had happened to people? This interaction proved to be incredibly embarrassing. He had expected someone, anyone to care that he was about to end his own life in broad daylight. Where was the attention he craved before his last moments? Where was the regret in that young man’s voice, in his eyes? Did he really not care? This whole plan was beginning to feel quite lackluster and anticlimactic.
He leaned back against the metal guardrail and reached into his breast pocket for his last cigarette, reached into his jeans pocket for his lighter, lit up. Well, it seemed he had all the time in the world to make his decision. He figured it would be a lot easier. Things change when you find yourself looking into its face; death’s face. He was going to do it, sure he was. He just needed to step back and breathe, get himself prepared. A car rushed by and shook the bridge underneath, knocking him off his footing momentarily. The blue Bic lighter shook loose from his hand and plummeted into the bay. Five seconds. The sea lions had all jumped into the water and swam to a different area of the harbor where he couldn’t see. White puffs of smoke disappeared into the gusts of wind overhead as he crossed his eyes to focus on the red cherry at the end of the Marlboro just below his crooked nose. He couldn’t remember how long he had been hanging on the edge of the bridge. 1,600 people, 75 miles an hour upon impact; four second drop, maybe five. He repeated the facts over and over in his head as he sucked down the last of the cigarette hanging between his lips at an angle. Okay, just do it. Listen to that asshole, just do it. You’re ready, okay, now do it. He shuffled uncertainly towards the edge of the bridge until his toes were hanging over the bay, his arms wrapped around the guardrail behind him to maintain his balance. He spit out the butt of the burnt out cigarette and took in a deep breath, closing his eyes as he took in the scent of the sweet salt air one last time. He wished he could see the sea lions. Okay, okay, one...two...three...
“Hey, whoa man! Are you crazy? What the hell are you doing?”
A sharp voice echoed inside his closed eyes as a large hand firmly grabbed onto the back of his shirt and yanked him backwards.
“Hey, are you listening? I said what in the hell are you doing?”
This caught him off guard, as he wasn’t expecting someone to so directly intervene, especially at the moment of truth. He spun around, still in the firm grasp of the unfamiliar man behind him. He was an older man, skin worn and wrinkled like thick leather. A pair of circular glasses sat at the edge of his nose, and long brown hair hung down around his shoulders in a way that he found almost feminine, but from him emanated a powerful air of unmistakable masculinity. His eyes were large and acutely aware, focused squarely on him with an urgency that for some reason struck a fear into him, causing him to feel shameful of being caught in such a compromising position.
“Well, I was planning on jumping.”
A jolt of surprise surged through his body, uncertain of why he had just been so honest with this stranger when he could have played it off like he had so many times before when he lost the nerve to follow through.
“Jumping? Now, why would you go and do that?”
The man showed no sign of anger or surprise, instead appearing to be genuinely interested why. His lips formed a crooked smile as he spoke, his eyes full of warmth. His hand still grasped firmly onto his shirt, letting him know fully well that he wasn’t going anywhere until he provided an answer. But the truth was, he didn’t have one.
“It just...seemed like a good idea.”
He immediately felt sheepish because of his lack of a decent explanation. He could have come up with something, some excuse that he had used in the past to justify his suicidal tendencies, but something about this old man clinging onto him almost lovingly made him unable to lie.
“A good idea?” The man laughed, not in a mocking way, but more so as an attempt to lighten the mood.
He couldn’t help but crack a stiff smile at the old man’s unorthodox reaction to hearing that someone was just about to kill himself. The metal underneath his feet shook as a green Sedan drove past. The man’s grip on his shirt eased up a bit.
“What did you think was gonna happen?”
After four seconds of free-fall, the human body will make impact at 75 miles an hour, shattering major bones and severing the spinal chord, leaving the incapacitated victim to drown to death in the forty-degree harbor.
“I’d go for a swim.”
The old man threw his head back and exploded with laughter. He smiled warmly and eased up on his grip.
“Right, lovely day for a swim. I was thinking about that myself. And then what?”
“And then what, what?”
“And then what, after you’re dead.”
A second couple strolled past the pair, completely ignoring their exchange at the edge of the guardrail. He paused for a moment and looked at the old man in his warm eyes.
“Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.”
The old man widened his grin.
“I suppose that would make it easier.”
“Are you gonna let go of me?”
“Hold on a minute.”
He had gotten the attention he craved so much, and he was quickly beginning to regret it. An uncomfortable wave rushed over him as his blood ran cold. He wasn’t sure why. The old man appeared to be taking some sort of pleasure out of this. He continued.
“Let’s say there’s a hell, and you end up there. What then?”
He felt a condescending tone when the old man asked that.
“Well, I guess I’d have a few questions for the devil.”
“And what if you go to God?”
“What if there’s nothing at all?”
“Then I wouldn’t have any questions.”
He found it odd that the old man was yet to ask him to step back over the guardrail. He stood on the other side, nearly motionless, holding onto the front of his shirt with a firm but steadily loosening grasp.
“Do you think anything will change once you jump? For the world, for anyone else but you?” The old man asked.
“Nothing has changed from me existing in this world. I hardly doubt jumping would suddenly change much either,” he responded.
“So I ask again, why do you need to go and do a thing like this?”
“I guess it just seemed like...a viable option.”
“As opposed to what?” The old man asked again, loosening his grip rather noticeably on the younger man’s shirt.
“Sticking around. Driving a car, going to work, pretending to like people. Pretending to like myself.”
A passing minivan rumbled the guardrail and forced him to grab onto the old man’s shoulder for support.
“You know what I think?” Said the old man, as the afternoon sun shone and glinted off the top of his glasses. “I think you want attention. I think you’re scared to die.”
“I never said I wasn’t scared.”
“Then do it.”
“Let go of me.”
He was becoming increasingly frightened of this longhaired, spectral figure, and wished nothing more than to be released from his grip and take off back down the bridge where he came from. The anxiety was reaching too high of a level for him to pretend to be suicidal anymore. He was scared for his life. The old man looked directly into his eyes with growing malice and spoke with an intense growl.
“If you want to jump so badly, then jump. You’ve gotten the attention you wanted, you’ve got an audience. I’m right here. So jump...Jump.”
The old man released his grip entirely; letting him slip backwards towards the beautiful, blue death below. He screamed and grabbed onto the old man’s shirt to keep from meeting his fate. The old man lurched forward under his weight but held onto the guardrail, saving the both of them.
“Don’t let go of me! Help me up, I don’t want this, I don’t want to die!” He screamed aloud finally as he hung over the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge, barely supported by the shirt collar of the old man. There was no one on the bridge to hear his desperate pleas for mercy. He was alone again.
“You need to let go,” said the old man. “You’re tearing my shirt.”
“FUCK YOUR SHIRT!” He screamed as they struggled together on either side of the red guardrail. “I DON’T WANT TO DIE!”
“WHY?” The old man yelled back. “WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO DIE? WE ALL DO IT.”
“BECAUSE MAYBE IT’LL GET BETTER!”
Because maybe it’ll get better. This answer seemed to satisfy the old man. He smiled again and laughed softly for the both of them, reaching out his hand for the would-be jumper to finally take hold of.
“Please help me up. I want to go home.”
“Take my hand, kid.”
He let go of the old man’s shirt collar with his right hand, reached out and grabbed his outstretched open palm, then let go with his left. His hand felt like rough tree bark from a centuries-old Redwood.
“Okay, pull me up.”
The old man stood there with the would-be jumper’s shaking hand in his, smiling warmly.
“Hey! Okay, pull me up!”
The old man was silent, his long brown hair swaying in the soft ocean breeze that encompassed them so fully. He could feel the heat of the afternoon sun’s rays on his back. He took a moment to look down into the bay. The colony of sea lions had returned, and were swimming around in circles just beneath him. They were so beautiful. He turned back around to the old man.
“What are you doing? I’m ready. I’m ready.”
“I know you are,” the old man whispered into the breeze.
For a moment, life stood still. The cars passing by stopped in their paths, the birds in the air were stuck in their act of flight, the sea below ceased to undulate and flow. The sea lions waited together patiently in place. And for a moment, life was incredibly beautiful.
The old man looked into his eyes, smiled once more, and in one slick motion, released him from his grip, letting him careen down with his back to the water. The sun looked down upon him, and he looked up upon it as his body impacted with cold, blue death. The old man didn’t stay to watch; he had left the moment he let go of him. He died on impact. It took four seconds; he counted. The sea lions formed around him and they floated together. He didn’t die alone. That was the least he could have asked for.
Denny E. Marshall
doctor asks me what
the inkblot picture looks like
I Hate Monkeys
E. Martin Pedersen
Why do I, Captain Nonsense, pretend to be an alcoholic
When I’m not – because I am
In my Italiano fiction
Stranger than 12-step spaghetti
Also I pretend I was locked in a closet as punishment as a child
In complete blindness, timeless, placeless
Curled up like origami – but I wasn’t
Except now I do, a different curl
Why do I need someone to say I’m so good
At what I do
When the world knows I am
As though only I know I’m faking it
Pathetic, worthless, loser
I should start a band
Called SHUT THE FUCK UP!
Doubt-land’s maze of fears
Forlorn-land’s trip through the trees with mocking monkeys
One thing: I hate monkeys.
Malcolm X. Banjo
E. Martin Pedersen
I’m Malcolm X. Banjo, bro
I thump the hambone in the only all-black punk-funk bluegrass band in the West
All new age style Afro-grass post-apartheid world music
See I am black but was raised by white hillbillies, adopted at birth,
syncopated rated, then traded by mistake with my Caucasoid twin,
black shadow stalking
I can do the shuck and jive, I jump Jim Crow, I am Mr. Interlocutor
In the world’s only all-hemophiliac, ebony minstrel Cosby Show
Festival Medicine Man Extravaganza and Fish Fry
I don’t drink Bosco, I don’t eat Oreo
I don’t wear colors besides orange, black and chains
My motto is, “Better f-word black than n-word black!”
Minister Farakan inspires me, Hailie Selassee adores me
Michelle O and Magic Johnson taught me to sing, “Cripple Creek” or “Muleskinner Blues”
I play the comb and tissue paper with a gloved fist raised
If the white man talks to me I am courteous because I know
He’s thinking I am trying not to act Uncle Tom
And I’m thinking he has no idea of the jet-black O.J. blade tidal wave of melodic antebellum doubletime vengeance
That is right behind him ready to crash on his hideous slavedriver soul
When I play the country hit: “Color TV in the 90’s”
Ozzie Davis and Ruby Dee hug and dance for cookies and milk
Seein’ an’ feelin’ the blue heat of the riots right before they happen
SpikeLee big white hat, mirror shades, Oprah Network Nikes – hidden in plain swingin’ sight
Frail those spraypaint guns at Somali Pakistani Iraqi and East Palo Alto too
Music is my panther life, my African roots
I express my ethnic pride X-ness by playing
The five-string gourd banjo and pea green hurdy-gurdy in the world’s only n-word
Blackgrass Rhythm Blood Donation Band and James Brown Ice Cream Social.
of a domestic cat
a line of cocktails
wash away memories
Meeting Head-On and Head-Off
Sitting up in bed, my mind tried to reconcile the rapidly fading memories of a horrible nightmare with shadowy projections from a large oak tree, which crept along the moonlit walls to reach for me. Just as I made up my mind that waking up was the result of too many Doritos before bed, dull thumps began to resonate from the back porch. Moving toward the sound, a chill ran down my spine, and straight into my toes, locking me into position.
There was a hairy ape-like creature standing next to my tomato bush. He had a serious six pack. It bulged and glistened, giving me the ridiculous idea that he must be one hard-core Planet Fitness guru. His snout and cone-shaped head made me sure he wasn’t human, but he walked on two legs, giving me the eerie feeling I was looking at some kind of missing link. Like an idiot, I went for my BB pistol, thinking it was the one thing that could save my life. Just as the creature began to fiddle with the porch door, a car sped by the front of the house, casting a light directly on his face. He looked startled, as if never exposed to such a contraption, and ran off into the woods, fusing with the foliage.
Did Halloween come early this year? Have I gone completely nuts? The police certainly thought so. They took their sweet time, coming about 30 minutes after I called. When they heard what happened to me, their first question was, “Sir, are you currently on any medication?” I was starting to wonder if I did need some kind of professional help. After they left, I sat down in my chair, utterly exhausted. I drifted off, only to be woken up by the slightest rustle of the branches, the dull tick of a wall clock, the nearly imperceptible howl of a distant creature.
The next morning, sunshine streaming from my picture window washed away a lot of my anxiety. Red-breasted robins chirped and fluttered around as they always did. A white-tailed deer grazed below the forest canopy, just waiting for me to turn my back, so it could sneak into my yard and eat my rose bushes. Getting back to the day’s routine was the best way to settle my nerves. One coffee filter, two scoops of the Ethiopian blend, and three cups of water. A recipe for calm. I thought there must be some logical explanation for the creature.
Life was pretty routine until about midnight, when I heard a dull thump, followed by some kind of animal noise. It wasn’t a coyote. They have a high-pitched cry, which sounds more like a woman screaming. Instead, heaving breaths produced deep, ominous howls that ended with a crescendo of short whoops and grunts. As I peeked nervously out of my kitchen window, I saw the creature. This time, I slammed my marble countertop with a frying pan, trying to scare him off. He ran like a shot and was quickly devoured by bushes that lined the hedgerow.
Not surprisingly, officers greeted me with the same incredulous tone. After they took my statement and left, I checked, double-checked, and triple-checked all the locks before sinking into my La-Z-Boy. With a cup of hastily-made green tea in hand, I tried to process the terrifying encounter, but involuntary tremors caused my cup to quake, creating a clamor that made concentration impossible. As I slowly drifted off to sleep, a ring at the front door jolted me back to reality. Seeing a hypnotic array of red and blue lights flicker across my living room ceiling, a flood of frightening scenarios raced through my mind. I ran to the door and found a man dressed in a dark blue uniform waiting at the front step.
“I’m from the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Department,” the man said coldly. “We’ve found the suspect. He would like to talk to you.”
Talk to me? Just as I began to process what he had said, another officer led the hairy creature over to the door. He now had a bald human head, framed with coke-bottle glasses that made his eyes look squinty. It was my next-door neighbor, Paul. Where in the world...Why in the world would he buy a gorilla suit? Evidently, he got it from a second-hand store, planning to pull off the mother of all pranks.
After Paul finished telling me about his plan to joke around and then share a good laugh, he looked down dispiritedly, like a child ready for a spanking.
“Would you like to press charges?” the deputy asked me bluntly.
I think all feel bruised
deep down, but don’t think of it
until times like these.
All too Common
I was running late. The appointment was for 9:30 and traffic was a bitch. The news on the radio was frightening. Two Veterans were debating the incoming regime of Trump. His supporter repeatedly sung his praises and hopes for the strong man leader. The opponent nervously said that dividing people within the military was not good for the military, and having no foreign policy experience did not bode well. The two were thanked and wished a Happy Veteran’s Day. A new program began.
I found parking on the second level and hobbled my way to the elevator. Time was tight. I might make it.
The line to check in was long. Mostly it was older, damaged people, but there were some young faces scurrying about.
The standard questions asked in the assembly line; “Last name?” “Insurance?” “Date of Birth?”
I looked over the new paperwork I had just received in the mail. It was from OWCP (Office of Worker’s Comp. Programs). Federal workers’ comp. Sigh. My back. This time it was middle and lower back, along with left hip and groin. It hurt like a motherfucker.
I checked in and hobbled to the spinal clinic. I knew them well. They had more paperwork for me. All things must be tracked in every way. Mountains of trees dead for record keeping, to ensure against bad apples.
I shaded in the areas on the tiny human body inked onto the form. How absurd. Scales of one to ten. Where was thirteen? New symptoms? Not enough room to fill out. The old ones had not been fixed.
Work is such a bitch. If one is even slightly capable of physical work, they’ll be chewed up and spit out until they’re no longer capable of any work. Then it’s to the streets.
With Trump coming, the streets will mean private prison labor camps, which will mean death.
It was my turn. I was whisked away to a room, and asked questions by a cute young woman. Bubbly.
“Oh, you prefer to go by Liam? I have a son named Liam. The thing is (she giggled) it took him nearly two years to say “Liam.” He kept saying “Lia.” I told him “No No not Lia...not Lia... Your name is not Lia.”
She giggled and blushed a certain sexiness.
“Dr. Burton will be in to see you shortly.”
“Ok. Thank you.”
I went back to completing paperwork, wondering if the kid would end up changing his name to Lia, and if would be alright for him to do so by then.
Dr. Burton came in, tall and lanky as ever, his long silver hair flowing in the wind supplied by his hobbled pace. He washed his hands before shaking mine. He sat down with some paperwork just as I handed him more.
“How is it going?” he asked as he looked over the shaded body on the paper.
“Not good. I’ve had another injury.”
“Yes, I sent a secure message with details and the doctor I saw.”
“Yes, I saw that.”
“Speaking of which, I have yet more paperwork to fill out. For the new injury.”
He began looking it over and sighing.
“Yeah, all the paperwork. Looks like you’re swimming in it.”
“It never stops.” He sighed.
“Well, it’s all a nightmare here too.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
“and the election didn’t help either, shit.”
He took a break from staring intensely at the paperwork, leaned back and smiled.
“So you didn’t like the results, huh?”
“I need a full roll of Charmin every day.”
“Well, Liam, you’re a white guy, so you have little to worry about...unless you try to save those who are not as white, that is.”
“You know the old saying though; First they came for.... Need I say more?”
“Liam, I don’t think....look Trump doesn’t believe what he said. He just said whatever to win. He’s....He’s just...He’s just full of shit, Ok?”
Dr. Burton looked around nervously as we both laughed. He had gotten away with one.
“Well, with this new injury, I’m required to examine you. I already know what’s going on. You’re getting a new MRI. I still have to give you an exam.”
We began. It was standard. I couldn’t quite stand straight at first, but worked my way up. Crouching only went so far. My left leg began shaking and giving out as I struggled to straighten my back. Pain was severe.
“Hmm.... I’m going to have to study you more. Have a seat on the table.”
“Uh oh...I’m not sure I like the sound of that.” I said as I sat down.
“No, there’s no uh oh. It’s very common, actually. Some damage to discs. Common.”
He began testing reflexes, etc., and sought to reassure with calming voices.
When he got to my right foot, he looked up at me sharply. It had been my left leg and foot for all this time.
“Did you ever have brain damage?”
“No.” I gave that look.
“Hmm....Ok. Make yourself comfortable while I fill out this paperwork.”
He began filling out paperwork furiously, rarely pausing. I began alternating between sitting and trying to walk it all off, while trying to peek at what he was writing.
What the hell was this? What now?
I noticed on one of the OWCP forms he had written that it was certainly a work injury. Whew! That had been a fight since the last back injury, some seven months prior. Now, that, at least, would be resolved. I would have some measure of income, even if I was not able to work until this healed.
“You’re getting an MRI on both your lower and middle back. I’m keeping you off work for at least a month, probably longer, ok?”
“Ok. That’s probably a good idea.”
“Yes, yes it is.”
“What was the thing with the right foot? Brain damage?”
“No no, what that likely means is that there’s some nerve compression in your middle back, which may explain the groin pain as well. Now, do you have numbness in your groin?”
“Well, not really...I mean, there are times where there is an absence of pain.”
“Ok. Good. If there is ever numbness, get to the ER, ok?”
“Now, would you like some pills for the pain?”
“No, I still have plenty left from the ankle surgery two years ago. I hate pills, and I know they’re expired, but I ignore those expiration dates.”
“Good. Those pills are horrible for you...and you’re right, the expiration dates don’t mean anything.”
He continued filling out forms, then handed them to me, asking that I hold that bundle while he finished yet another bundle. His desk was too small to fit everything.
While he was wrapping up, I looked at the paperwork he had filled out. For the OWCP forms, he had written “No surgeries to be scheduled yet, but highly likely pending MRI results.”
Fuck! I knew the road all too well. Minor, routine, day surgery my ass! Here I go again.
Quickly the MRI was scheduled. The next appointment set. Out the door to my car. The good thing was that I wouldn’t have to go to the hell of work for a month. Whew. At least that.
The radio held more news on the incoming Trump regime, with experts of every persuasion citing the same unpredictability. Some reassurance was predictable, no matter how false it would be.
I knew it was coming. Congressional leaders and others of influence would seek to show normalcy, lulling us to relaxation about what was coming, meanwhile knowing full well that no one could stop Trump. No one could. It was truly the end of Constitutional Democracy.
It was much like when doctors tell you it is nothing to worry about. It’s very very common. Death is also very common. Authoritarianism is very common. War is very common. The fall of a great power is very common. Nothing to get upset about, right?
What is, or I guess was, uncommon is Constitutional Democracy. I thought to the founding fathers. When I got home I looked up and reread the Declaration of Independence.
The time is coming to restore the uncommon, much like being able to stand and walk when one is over a hundred years old. Give me the uncommon any time.
I paced my apartment. Who would stop Trump? How? When? Would he be stoppable? I thought about the uncommon peace in Europe; the longest in history. It would be no more. NATO and the EU were about to be further gutted, the far right taking over. The commonalities of war and brutalities returning. We’ve learned nothing from history.
A beer opened. Then another. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Born in the USA.
My back locked up. My groin doubled me over. I forced deep breaths into my lungs. It released a little, just enough to grab ice packs from the freezer and make my way to the couch. My body relaxed slowly. A little of the blanket found a way to snuggle, lulling me to sleep, like the majority of the country.
Meanwhile storm clouds gather, and a new normal begins to set in. Dehumanization already well established. Building ever higher. Scapegoats number in the billions. It’s been building for a very long time. Now unstoppable, even in the mightiest nation in history.
It can’t happen here. It IS happening here.
We’re all just common after all.
The movie theater played classics on Tuesdays for two bucks a pop. You had to get there before eleven, though. And they wouldn’t serve alcohol even though the goddamn bar is just as stocked in the morning as it is late at night. So, Daryl poured some coconut rum into a plastic bottle of Coke while still in the parking lot. He’d found the rum tucked in the bottom drawer of the dresser at the old motel he stayed at last night. He slid the bottle into his jeans pocket when he walked into the theater. Now, he was itching to pull it out as he waited for the 10:30 a.m. showing of The Jerk to start.
His daughter’s first movie had been in a theater like this. Small, empty, playing classics like this one. Dani laughed and he laughed and What’s Up Doc? carried them through to the black-screen credits.
That was before Daryl decided he didn’t want his daughter anymore.
An usher walked past Daryl, looking down. Suspecting. Then, he came back and stood next to Daryl. “Sir, is everything all right?”
Daryl kept his eyes on the screen, waiting for the movie. “What?”
“You don’t look well.”
“Can I do—do you need anything?”
“I need plenty.”
The lights dimmed and the usher gave up and walked away. Daryl pulled the rum and Coke back out and sipped as the movie began.
He wished he could say he was drunk when Steve Martin danced on the porch of that house at the end of the movie. But he didn’t feel a thing. He stood, knees popping, and walked out of the theater, past the concession stands, and into the parking lot where the sun had begun to bake the tar.
He stood in the middle of the road before walking to his truck, and he tried to hold the sun’s gaze. His eyes burned after a second, and his eyelids shut after two. He used to tell his daughter staring at the sun would make her go blind, but that was when Dani was just a girl. Now, he didn’t know what he’d tell her.
When Daryl got to his truck, he tossed the empty Coke bottle in the bed. The bottle of coconut rum in the glove compartment should get him through his day of driving. Johanna used to drink stuff like that. Bay Breezes made with Malibu, Hurricanes made with some other shit that tasted more like Kool-Aid than alcohol. She spent the summers sipping cocktails on the back porch, pretending it wasn’t a hundred and fifteen degrees outside.
He and Johanna were still married as far as the law was concerned. But she wasn’t going to find anyone new with the way she was, and Daryl didn’t want anyone in his life besides their daughter.
He climbed into the cab of the truck and started it up. Most days began like this now. Maybe not with a movie, but with a couple of drinks and too many memories.
Dani had been eighteen when she told them she was moving in with Sharon. Johanna told her it was a great idea, told her she supported it. And that’s why Daryl’s wife still got to see their daughter.
Daryl shut his eyes and tried to remember the exact words he’d said to Dani. “Ain’t no daughter of mine shacking up with a dyke.” That was it.
Of course, if it had stopped there, he might not be driving up and down the empty highways of Southern Arizona just to keep from going insane. No, Daryl told his daughter that she was a piece of shit. Human garbage. That if she left his and Johanna’s home, there’d be no coming back.
She left, and now all he wanted was for Dani to come back.
But there wasn’t anywhere to come back to. Daryl’d been living out of his truck and cheap motels for months since Johanna’s thing at work. Somehow, the way Daryl treated their daughter didn’t do them in. It was something that happened on the job. From what she would tell him, Johanna had to use her gun and it messed with her head.
He guided the truck onto the back road leading toward the state highway cutting west toward Tucson. Dani was living in a trailer with that same girl across the state line up in Utah. They must have wanted to escape the desert. He couldn’t blame them.
Daryl had even driven up there once or twice. Long drive. He’d sat in the bed of his truck, drinking warm beer, and watching the light through the curtains of the trailer’s windows. He couldn’t just go knock on the door. He’d tried to come back from what he’d done, but Dani wouldn’t allow it.
A cloud streaked in front of the sun, dropping Daryl into the shadows. When the cloud passed by and the sun lit the cab again, the light caught the edge of a piece of chrome on the passenger side floorboard. He leaned over and pulled back a rust-covered tarp and looked at the shotgun on the floor. The old 10-gauge wouldn’t do much in its current state, but it helped Daryl sleep at night.
Sometimes, just before laying his head back in the reclined driver’s seat of the pickup at the end of the day, Daryl would slide the barrel of the shotgun between his lips, careful not to smack it against his teeth. He’d hold his thumb across the trigger, and he’d close his eyes and think. Sometimes about Dani—like how he didn’t care who she fucked now, probably didn’t care back then either. Sometimes about Johanna—how he missed her forgiving him for everything he’d ever done as they fell into bed together.
And on these nights where Daryl let his tongue run across the cold steel shotgun barrel, he’d let his brain wander until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Then he’d pull the trigger.
The dry click of an empty chamber made his blood go cold and his skin tingle.
He’d picked up the shotgun at a gun show after he got tired of passing road signs torn apart by birdshot. If people loved shooting up metal signs on the side of the highway, he might as well give it a try. But he never got around to buying shells.
When Daryl made it to Interstate 10, he went south then caught Interstate 19 toward Mexico. He ducked off I-19 at the first state highway he could find, and he set the cruise control. Yesterday, he drove five hundred miles back and forth across Pima County, Santa Cruz County, and Cochise County. He hit a coyote in the last hour of driving, and that told him it was time to call it a night.
By one in the afternoon, Daryl was fifty miles outside the city. He passed trailers and ranches. A fireworks stand stood a few yards off the highway. When Dani was twelve, Daryl tried to impress her with a fireworks show on the Fourth in their backyard. Johanna had told him not to do it, but she was gone to work when he sat Dani in a lawn chair out back. He lit the first firework without any trouble. The second one, though, exploded on the ground, caught Daryl’s arm on fire. He got it put out with just a few burns, but Dani cried the rest of the night.
He’d take that night over any other he’d had in the last few years.
How he’d made it this long was a mystery. Dani was thirty now, had two kids she adopted. That Sharon girl—woman, now—worked at some crisis management company. Didn’t make much as far Daryl knew since they were still stuck in that trailer. But Johanna told him their daughter seemed happy.
For the first couple years after Daryl told Dani not to come back, he stayed angry. Couldn’t look at a picture of her without wanting to hit a wall. He’d shattered every picture of his daughter they had lined up on the dresser after Dani moved out.
Daryl spun off the cap on the rum, took a drink from the bottle, then closed it up. He watched a storm build to the south. All show, no go. The clouds puffed and darkened, but when it came down to action, the storm would back off. Like a bully forced to fight for the first time.
Daryl had been fighting for some time now. Fighting himself. Fighting Johanna. Fighting the pain after he got hurt on the job. He broke his back in six spots when that wall came down on him. Now, Daryl wasn’t supposed to lift anything heavier than ten pounds. He was supposed to be taking Vicodin to numb the pain. And he was living off the settlement the company gave him.
That happened four years ago. Maybe that’s what changed his mind. Made him realize what a piece of shit he was. Or maybe it was Johanna leaving him.
The first time Daryl tried to apologize to Dani, to beg her to let him back in, was three years after she left. Johanna gave him Dani’s number, and Daryl called. Sharon answered and even begged Dani to come to the phone, but Daryl heard his daughter in the background.
“I ain’t got a daddy,” she’d said to Sharon. Then the phone went dead.
Daryl tried once more after the accident at work. From his hospital bed, he scratched out a letter. Said he wasn’t worth the time she was taking to read the letter, but he hoped she could forgive him. Said he loved her. Said he might even love Sharon if Dani would give him another shot. He wrote about his own father. No excuse, he’d told her, but his own daddy hated everything. Hate flowed through blood, but Daryl should’ve been better.
When he got an envelope back from Dani, his heart about stopped. He was out of the hospital by then, laying on the couch at home. He tore it open and found his original letter shredded. He dumped the tiny pieces of paper to the floor, laid his head on the couch, and closed his eyes. He hadn’t tried to reach out since then.
Daryl passed a few trailers, some slump block homes, a gas station serving as a grocery store, and a post office. He watched the hawks high in the sky, circling, waiting. Waves of heat rose from the tar ahead of him, and he imagined the rain coming, cooling the road. He passed the shell of a burnt-out car and an old mattress tossed to the side of the road.
Then, he passed a gun store and hit the brakes.
Daryl pulled to the side of the road and looked at the store in his rearview mirror. It was looking back at him, daring him to break eye contact. He threw the truck in park and stepped out into the dusty hard clay lining the highway.
He walked back to the store and pulled open the door. An old Indian with close-cropped hair nodded then went back to watching daytime television on the black and white mounted behind the counter.
“You got 10-gauge shells?” Daryl asked.
The Indian didn’t look up, but he pointed at a wall toward the back.
Daryl looked at the rifles on racks along the wall, the handguns under the glass. He could look all day, but he wouldn’t be able to walk out with one of those guns until passing the background check, and that would take too goddamn long.
He picked up a box of 10-gauge Remingtons from the shelf along the wall in the back and walked up to the counter. It smelled like sawdust and whiskey in the shop, and it reminded Daryl of working out in the garage when Dani was little. He built her a rocking horse from wood he’d picked up in the neighborhood. She watched him, clapping when each new piece was finished. And he got that thing polished to a shine while he drank cheap booze from a styrofoam cup.
“What’re you drinking back there?”
The Indian looked up. “What?”
“Smells like something I’d drink.”
The Indian shook his head. “You’re on the reservation, so you assume we’re all drinking, all the time. That it?”
Daryl shook his head and placed the shells on the counter. “Nope, just smells like whiskey. That’s all.”
“Well, you smell like rum.”
Daryl shrugged and pointed at the box of shells. “How much?”
“I’m not selling these to you when you’re drunk.”
“I ain’t drunk.”
“Well, you’re not right either.”
Daryl shook his head. “Just sell me the damn shells.”
The Indian looked Daryl in the eyes. “Anything else you want to say to me? Maybe you want to ask me to do a rain dance for you, huh?”
Daryl thought about the storm building out to the south, and the Indian went back to watching the television. Daryl pulled out his wallet. He grabbed a twenty and laid it on the counter. “I didn’t mean no offense. This should cover the shells.”
Daryl grabbed the box, but the Indian slammed his hand down on Daryl’s hand. “Watch your mouth next time.”
Daryl nodded and slid his hand and the shells out from under the Indian’s hand. When Daryl was back outside, he opened the case of shells and looked inside as if he was worried he’d just bought an empty cardboard box. He found five rounds stacked in a line inside. Satisfied, he closed the lid and walked back to the truck.
He should have been angry. And maybe he would have been in the past. Maybe he would have been if he were still at home feeling sorry for himself. Or, maybe that old Indian made some sense.
Daryl drove on for another twenty or so miles. He drove until he stopped seeing homes. When he was surrounded by saguaros and mesquite trees and open desert, he searched for a road sign. He found a sign warning drivers that the bridge ahead would ice before the road. He couldn’t remember the last time it iced anywhere around there.
He pulled to the side of the road ten feet from the sign. Daryl lifted the shotgun to his lap, grabbed the box of shells, and climbed out of the truck. He went to the tailgate and popped it open. He slid the shotgun into the bed and set the shells on the side rail. Daryl climbed up, feeling his back try to pull apart as he did so.
He picked the shotgun back up and grabbed the shells. Up front at the cab of the truck, he laid the 10-gauge down across the roof and opened the box of shells. He’d seen Johanna clean and load her guns a million times, but she never wanted Daryl to have one of his own. That’s why he kept his daddy’s old bolt-action at the job site, tucked under a ventilation duct. Until the accident. He never did get that thing back.
When he and Johanna got married, she’d been out of the Air Force for six months. She didn’t know what to do next, and Daryl suggested she try to catch on with the sheriff’s department. And after all that time, she was still there.
Daryl loaded a round into the shotgun and held the gun across the top of the cab. He aimed for the sign in front of the truck, squinting under the late afternoon sun. He laid his finger alongside the trigger and sucked in the hot air coming off the top of the sheet metal.
When he was young, Daryl’s family had big get togethers. They didn’t have a name or a reason for them, but his grandparents had a lot of kids and those kids had kids. He could remember driving from Arizona out to New Mexico with his parents and pulling into the dirt lot of the ranch house. There’d already be six or seven other cars there, and when they’d get inside, the house would be an echo that just wouldn’t end. Laughter, shouting, cheering, crying. All of it rolled into one.
He’d taken that away from Dani. He didn’t think before he spoke, didn’t even think before he thought. Daryl squeezed the trigger.
The birdshot tore a hole in the top-left part of the sign, but he knew about half the pellets went sailing past the sign, cutting through the humid air. He looked out to the south and the storm clouds were getting darker. Getting closer. He loaded another shell.
Daryl started thinking about where he might sleep tonight. He figured he’d be best sleeping in the truck, but if the storm hit, he’d prefer a real roof over his head. He took aim at the sign again, but the stopped. He laid the shotgun on the roof of the cab and wondered what Dani would be doing right about then.
Daryl realized he didn’t even know what she did for work. Didn’t know what she did for fun. He made a decision years ago—one that he couldn’t even understand anymore. He just said things, spoke too much. Didn’t listen enough.
After a moment, Daryl slid the remaining shells from the box and tossed the box into the brush off the side of the road. He counted the three shells in his hand, rolled them back and forth. Then, he threw them to the side of the road, leaving the one chambered in the shotgun. He climbed down from the bed with the gun leaned against his shoulder.
He wondered if Dani would have come to the funeral if that wall had killed him. Probably not. He wouldn’t go to his own funeral even if they had an open bar.
Daryl climbed into the truck, laid the shotgun on the passenger side floorboard, and cranked the engine. He watched the storm swirl overhead and heard the first rumble of thunder. The storm might have a little go in it, after all.
He put the truck in gear then flipped a u-turn in the middle of the highway. It was a half-day drive up to Dani’s trailer in Utah, and he wanted to get as far away from that storm as he could.
Justin Hunter Bio
Justin Hunter is currently working on his MFA at Arcadia University. He lives in Dallas with his wife and kids, and when he’s not writing, Justin is probably buried under a doggie pile of children and, well, dogs. His work has been published or is forthcoming in Corvus Review, Down in the Children, Churches, and Daddies Magazine, and Centum Press, among others.
when the love is gone
I’ve searched for it, and wondered:
where did the love go?
Up Against the Wall, Millennial Females:
The Changing Fashion in TV Sex
It’s been over twenty years since Dennis Franz paraded his naked posterior on prime-time network television.1* Twenty years is not so long in historical terms, of course. Indeed, the much ballyhooed sexual revolution of the ‘60s was slow to reach television. Not many years before the hippies began letting it all hang out, Lucile Ball and Desi Arnaz, a real-life married as well as sitcom couple, were forced by the TV mores of the day to sleep in separate beds. Today, TV couples in the throes of passion don’t even bother finding a bed. But more on that later.
The increasingly realistic depiction of sexual acts on television mirrors the increasing popularity of cable TV stations. It began there, and network television followed, a bit gingerly. I refer, of course, to simulated sex on what we might call “standard” TV: the network channels, FX, AMC, TNT, and the like. Porno channels are there for those who want them. (Not me; my wife won’t let me.) Sex didn’t burst upon us in all its variety but began modestly, one might say almost demurely, and went from there. One curious aspect of this phenomenon is the way sexual activities have come in preferred styles or fashions that change over time. Once this was popular; then that; now the other. What’s next?
If the first depictions of sexual intercourse now seem timid, almost innocent, one would do well to keep Luci and Desi in mind. The cultural chasm from a married couple sleeping (and only sleeping) in separate beds to a close-up (heads and upper torsos, rarely more) of a married or unmarried couple, lips locked, moaning in ecstasy is vastly greater than that from those early, minimally erotic, depictions of sex and today’s soft-core porn. The TV movers and shakers of the ‘50s wanted us to believe that couples did not have sex; by the 1980s they wanted us to believe it was happening right before our eyes. All the rest is just details—or let’s call it fashion.
That first sex was close-focus: faces, mostly, necks, shoulders, maybe the bed sheet slipping down far enough to reveal the tops of the woman’s breasts. Nipples? Definitely not. We were religious folks back then, too; the missionary position was our fashion. Man on top, woman on the bottom, just like the Good Lord intended. But was that actually sex they were supposed to be having? We saw so little of what they were doing under the bed sheet that it was hard to tell. Whatever erotic feeling was communicated—and it wasn’t much—came almost entirely through their facial expressions, their sounds. But even their sounds came in a rather narrow range: murmurs, at the most deep-throated moans. No sweaty-faced panting. Dirty talk? Don’t be silly. Orgasmic scream? Mon dieu, non!2*
It would seem logical that if “conventional” sex (missionary), suggested more than acted out, represents the first stage of TV simulated sex, then the next stage would be missionary sex portrayed more completely and realistically. Interestingly enough, though, missionary sex has never been much in vogue on television. I’m certainly not saying that we never see man-on-top, full-view (head-to-toe) sex being simulated, but given that the position, I would assume, is the most commonly practiced in actuality, it’s curious that we see so relatively little of it on TV. When we do see it, it’s almost always side-viewed, rarely full length from the top. Even today the focus tends to be on the faces and upper torsos of the partners or, in an interesting variation, on the caves, ankles, and feet, the man’s between the woman’s, toes digging for purchase against the rumpled sheet.
Why so little fully depicted missionary sex? I’ll offer two theories. One is economic. Coming so late to the sexual revolution, in competition for the entertainment dollar not only with movies, which had been doing so much more for so much longer, but also with other channels and networks, TV fashioners were soon impatient with the conventional stuff and raised the sexual ante. Missionary sex was old hat. Old hat doesn’t sell.
My other theory is offered half in jest—but only half. Now, I enjoy sex as much as the next guy, and I’m not totally immune to the charm of watching comely actors and actresses engaged in simulating it. But is it just me, or is missionary sex a little, well, ungainly. A bit awkward-looking. Unless the man is gentleman enough to support at least part of his weight on his arms, the poor woman looks like she’d have trouble breathing. If he does support himself, it looks more like a workout for him than a love session. More PT, drill sergeant! In fact, I’m convinced that the reason directors almost never shoot missionary sex from above (or, egad, from behind) is that it’s not at all erotic; it’s comical.
The truly erotic entered our TV virtual world when the missionary position gave way to female-superior sex. For cinematic purposes, it possesses almost every advantaged over the missionary position. Depending upon how the participants arrange themselves, the camera can close in on both faces together or either separately (difficult to do with the missionary position). Whereas the side view is the camera angle most often employed for the missionary position, the female-superior can be fetchingly filmed from side, front, back, or above. And one thing it never is is awkward or comical. Whereas the male superior partner tends to go at his task with all the elegance of a jackhammer, when the woman is in charge, she has her way slowly, gracefully, sensuously. (If she wants. She can turn up the heat, too, but her rhythms always seem attuned to the musical rather than the male’s mechanical. And, really, which would you rather watch?)
It is tempting at this point to wax political and theorize that the ascendancy of the female-superior position on TV reflects the feminist consciousness that began to change society in the 1960’s and only intensified in the ‘70s and ‘80s—precisely when the female-superior position began to dominate sex simulation on TV. Were writers and directors making deliberate political “statements” in their sex scenes? Probably most of them would laugh at the notion. Still, there it is in front of us in living color: she’s on top, in charge, going just as fast or slowly as she wants, and we only have eyes for her. Half the time we don’t even see the man, who is only a tool for her pleasure.
If this view is true, then we should expect male viewers to be turning off their sets all over America in protest, right? Ha. “Use me, baby, use me!” we shameless males shout. Indeed, as the camera focuses on the woman writhing in pleasure atop the man, who in the audience is getting more turned on? I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to whether more men prefer to be on the top or bottom during actual sex, but I’d bet a lot of money on more men preferring to watch female-superior sex.
Maybe we should just say that with female-superior simulation, TV can have it both ways: feminists can enjoy the idea of the woman being in charge while the man can enjoy those lovely vistas when seen, or imagined, from below.
If the triumph of the female-superior position (dating can’t be precise but let’s say over the last couple decades of the twentieth century) is in part at least emblematic of Woman’s assertion of her independence and power, the next new fashion might be seen as The Revenge of the Male. I refer to—let’s see, is there a polite term for this?—“doggy style.” Rear entry. Woman on her hands and knees, if not draped across a sofa back or table, man upright behind her, hands on her hips or waist pulling her to him as he . . . well, you know. As with all intercourse positions, this one comes with variations, depending upon what furniture is available.*
The first time I saw rear-entry sex, TV version, was, I’d guess, around 2000. I do not now recall the series although of course it was on a cable channel. I don’t recall all the particulars, either, but those I do are significant. A black man is carrying on a conversation with a white man. The black man, a criminal of some sort, is menacing, and the white man is appropriately intimidated, as he should be because he owes the black man money and has been unable to pay. Indeed, the black man is having a lot more fun in the scene because as he talks to the delinquent debtor, he’s in bed having rear-entry sex with a woman. The black man tells him, Pay up or I’m going to be doing this to your wife.
Again, the specifics. The black man threatens not rape in general but rear-entry rape. That old lamentable male chauvinist canard—that if a woman is bound to be raped, she might as well relax and enjoy it—clearly does not apply here. The threatened rape is going to be even more excruciating for wife and husband because it’s the rear-entry variety. The atmosphere of the scene is one of violence, intimidation, power imposed—this despite the fact that for all we know, the woman in the scene may well be a willing participant. She hardly counts at all, though. (My memory could be faulty here, but I don’t recall even seeing her face—just as the male has as a difficult time seeing his partner’s face in this position.) Does she enjoy it? Hate it? Is she in love with her partner? Paid for sex? Forced into it? We don’t know and don’t really care. The emotions in the scene are entirely the males’—the black man’s sadistic, gleeful imposition of will, the husband’s feeling of helplessness and dread, heightened by our conjuring up his conjuring up the same scene except with his wife on the bed on her hands and knees. It’s a man’s world here, baby.3
Rear-entry sex has never dominated the airwaves to the degree that the female-superior position did for a number of years. It’s never been a staple of network TV, for instance, where it’s sometimes coyly referred to but rarely simulated. Still, I think it’s interesting that we’re seen it a lot on cable TV in the last decade or so. The question is, why?
I doubt if politics has much to do with it. Whereas I truly believe that the rise of feminist consciousness plays at least some part in the ascendancy of the female-superior position on TV, I was mostly being facetious when I spoke earlier of The Revenge of the Male. No, I suspect that it has to do with a more predictable motivation: ratings. We won’t go out of our way to watch a program that promises just more of the same old thing. If, on the other hand . . . Omygod, can you believe they’re showing them doing that? . . . we’ll watch, all right. The problem with this strategy is the genetic flaw in the new: it will very soon become old. It seems to me that I’ve seen less rear-entry sex on TV in the last couple of years. Has anything come along to take its place?
In the opening episode (“Power”) of the recent Spike TV three-part series, Tut, the pharaoh’s wife is talking to her lover in an otherwise deserted hallway of the palace. Words give way to yearning glances; glances give way to an embrace, kisses. “Look out!” I say to my wife. “I hope they built walls strong back then.” Sure enough, the man backs the woman against the wall and, Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.
Yes, trending now on your television screen is up-against-the-wall sex. I don’t claim that we see it to the exclusion of others. Rear-entry still has its adherents. Female-superior is still popular. The missionary position is still grudgingly indulged in. But up-against-the-wall sex appears with surprising and puzzling frequency. I mean, it can’t be that comfortable for the woman to be slammed against bricks, stone, wood-paneling, or drywall with shoulder-blade-cracking violence.4* For the man, it just looks like way too much work. Generally filmed from the side and slightly behind with the woman’s face in full view, the man reaches down with his right hand and pulls the woman’s left leg up and holds her in place by her thigh. Or, requiring an even greater expenditure of energy, he lifts both her legs up and holds her to him as he pins her to the wall. Not infrequently, they don’t even make it to a wall but do the humpty-dance right there in the middle of the room. Keep that up, fella, and you’re in for a lifetime of chronic lower back pain.
Haven’t they heard of beds?
I suppose what the writers/directors are trying to suggest is that the couple’s passion is so great they can’t wait the extra five seconds it would take to find the bedroom. So be it, but, while I haven’t looked into The Kinsey Report for awhile, I can’t imagine that up-against-the-wall sex has ever been very popular and I’ll wager today is far less practiced in reality than simulated on TV. Maybe I’m naïve.
Maybe I’m also cynical because the only explanation I can think of for the recent prevalence of up-against-the-wall sex on TV is, once again, ratings. You have to keep up with your competition; even better than keeping up is going them one better. Up-against-the-wall sex is better only in the sense that it is newer than the aforementioned varieties in terms of TV exposure. But the newer has a short shelf-life. Time for something different. What might that be?
Oral sex? It’s been going on quite a while now on TV although generally rather tamely presented, more suggested than graphically simulated. The couple will be in bed, embracing, kissing, close-up on their faces. Then we see the man begin to work his way downward until he gets somewhere mid-torso, at which point the head descend on until it’s out of camera range. In a moment his partner might arch her back and moan in ecstasy, but it’s up to our imaginations to supply the details of what’s transpiring down there. Or, switch the sexes, the woman going down—same result. Oral sex on TV, then, tends to be just about as graphic as simulated missionary sex was when we first began to encounter it decades ago: focus primarily on the faces and upper torsos, the rest only suggested.
There are exceptions, of course. In an episode of The Wire, Mayor Royce is blundered upon in his office as his secretary is taking dictation, as it were, on her knees. She springs back, and for an instant his penis is there for us to see in all its engorged glory (whether the actor’s actual member or a mock-up, I couldn’t say). Unless I’ve missed it (and if so tell me where it is so I can see for myself, purely for research purposes, of course), cunnilingus is never simulated as graphically as fellatio is in that <>IThe Wire episode. Indeed, the most famous instance of cunnilingus on TV may well be where that particular sex act is not present for viewing at all, nor even directed mentioned, but is only hinted at. I refer to the Seinfeld episode (“The Rye,” 1996) where Elaine’s fastidious, jazz-musician boyfriend finally decides to go that extra mile for her. (I use coy terms here because that’s exactly how it’s communicated in the episode; nothing is stated explicitly, nothing at all shown.) He goes to it with a will, indefatigably, but can’t quite ring that bell. Worse, when he attempts to play the saxophone before an important music producer later than day, he hits all the wrong notes, and we know why. It’s a priceless episode, hilarious, and just about as erotic as a whoopee cushion.
No, TV oral sex is too old to be new and just isn’t handled very well on the small screen. We’ll have to look elsewhere for the next new thing.
For the next big trend, surely the smart money would be on gay sex, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision allowing for marriage between homosexuals. I don’t mean to imply that we haven’t already seen gay sex simulated on TV, but it’s seen less frequently than one might expect and has generally been rather tamely presented: close focus on faces, men kissing men, women kissing women. Not much else. Perhaps since oral sex is such an important facet of gay sex, we shouldn’t expect to see gay simulated sex arrive as a dominant trend until TV learns to deal more fully and imaginatively with oral sex than has heretofore been the case, at least from what I’ve seen.
Since TV has indulged in the representation of rear-entry sex frequently enough that I’ve nominated it as a one-time New Big Trend, it’s puzzling that we so rarely see this variety in simulated sex between gay men. I can only conclude, if my own viewing experience is a reasonably accurate gauge of what appears on TV, that the issue is the homosexuality and not the difficulty of finding a way to present it on the small screen. I predict that this will change, though, and that there will soon be a Golden Age of simulated gay sex on TV; but it will be brief, after which gay sex will be portrayed only whenever it’s appropriate to the story. Just as, in an ideal TV world, sex in all its variations would appear.
Well, though, sex in all its variations? Sex with animals, for instance? I recall some comedy sketch (Saturday Night Live, perhaps?) from several years ago that offered a man and his paramour, a sheep. No sex simulation was involved, thankfully. I don’t recall seeing sex with animals more than jokingly alluded to on TV. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. No, sex with animals will never be a Big Thing on TV.
Sex with children? No. We’re not going there. Pull the plug first.
If we’re thinking about future trends, how about sex with machines (robots). It’s already been done on the AMC series, Humans. In the first instance, a comely robot hides from pursuers by working in a robot brothel. She is one of a group of robots humanized by their maker to a greater degree than allowed by the authorities, who are hunting them done. Her humanity, in fact, takes the form of a decidedly feminist orientation. The first time we see her servicing a customer, she’s being subjected to rear-entry sex. During the act she stares at the camera (at us) with eyes devoid of life, suggesting that for the woman rear-entry sex is dehumanizing, deadening. The next man who demands a dehumanizing act gets what radical feminists might say is just what he deserves: death at her hands. It’s an interesting thematic take on sex, but I have to say that man-robot sex is erotic only to the degree that the robot seems human, not a robot. I live in the South and can tell you that Southern boys love their pickups, but I’ve never heard of one having sex with his Ford 150. Man-machine sex a trend? Hardly.
What’s left? You might now be saying, Oh, you callow lad. Man on top, woman on top, rear-entry, standing, oral—you think these are the only possibilities? Well, sure, we could go through the Kama Sutra page by page, position by position, and speculate on the likelihood of one or more showing up on the flat screen. But surely these would just be variations on the old, neither singly nor in toto likely to constitute some new trend.
Similarly, we can safely predict (unless the Tea Partyers truly do take over) more nudity (full frontal on network TV), more graphic simulation of gay and oral sex. But would these manifest something new or just refinements of the old?
I find myself perilously close to the position of the head of the US Patent Office who supposedly suggested in 1875 that they close the office because “there is nothing left to invent.”5* In regard to sex, though, the truth is there are only so many things the human anatomy can be required to do in the bedroom (or on the kitchen table, up against the wall, etc.), and TV has already simulated a lot of them. Once we get all those variations and refinements, then what? Go back to the beginning? (“Honey, come quick, look at this! You’re not going to believe it, they’re showing this couple having sex, and the man is on top of the woman!”) Or maybe go farther back than that, even, to that much ballyhooed Golden Age of Television on the ‘50s when husbands and wives slept in separate beds and—hubba hubba!—blew kisses to one another.
If that happens, I’m clutching my twenty-dollar bill in my sweaty palm and heading back to the movies.
* NYPD Blue, “The Final Adjustment,” 1994. This wasn’t the first instance of primetime semi-nudity, but it was perhaps the most widely publicized and in some unaccountable way seemed the most ground-breaking. Maybe the feeling was that if they’d show Dennis Franz’s bare bottom on the air, they’d show anything.
* By the time this hardly more than implied sex had reached the airwaves, Marlon Brando had long since brought the butter to his date in The Last Tango in Paris and Joe Buck had been gone down on by a teenage boy in Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy. Isn’t it curious that what we’ve been allowed to watch in the privacy of our homes has been far more rigidly circumscribed that what we could view in public at our local cinema?
* Here as everywhere throughout this essay, I generalize. Rear-entry sex isn’t always portrayed as violent, the woman the helpless object of the male’s will. Occasionally, the act is viewed from the front, the woman’s face dominating the screen, and sometimes, especially more recently, she seems to be enjoying herself, a most willing participant. Even so, I’d argue that the “architecture” of the act bespeaks male dominance.
* Although these collisions of woman’s back with wall can indeed be violent, we almost never, at least from what I’ve seen, get the impression of the woman being subjected to something by a brutal male, as is often the case with rear-entry sex. In all the instances I can recall, the woman was an enthusiastic participant.
* Frequently quoted but apparently an urban legend.
A Manageable Condition
The man sitting next to her is encroaching on her seat. He’s big. Maybe he can’t help it, but still. She doesn’t want to be touched in any way. Ever. She has the sudden impulse to tell him, to get something out of this. Sudden disclosure right in his ear.
He gets off at the next stop.
She watches him check his phone on the platform. The train moves and he slides past. She presses her face against the glass for a better angle. Little black zigzags shoot from her eyes. If people could see them they’d edge away.
The desire to lash out is healthy, her therapist told her last session. His legs were crossed. She could see his nice socks. The way he said the word healthy bothered her.
She didn’t need the help. In the first grade another girl told her dogs were stupid. It was during lunch. At hand was one of those hard shell ice packs.
It took two teachers to drag her off. When her parents picked her up the principle asked them if either of them had seen Quest for Fire. They had. The principle told them it was like that.
She gets up before her stop. Across the closed doors in sharpie:
At work they gave her two weeks off, paid. As much time as you need, some guy told her afterwards. She found out later it was the CEO.
She stomps up the escalator. The pill bottles in her purse shake like a couple of maracas. The family in front of her look back at the sound. Passing on the left, she snaps.
Outside it’s still warm and sticky. The fall is years away.
The therapist told her this could be very isolating. He wanted to know if she had people to confide in. The noise maker was set to ocean.
Steven, she said.
He made a practiced face.
Steven makes sense, he said.
HIV. People keep saying that. She finds she hates the word. It’s like The N Word, twice the work.
People don’t blurt things out or get angry around her anymore either. It’s like being held in oven mitts.
Her mother tried to move down to help out.
Just what do you think you’re going to be able to do here, she asked.
Steven was looking at her when she put the phone down, hitting her with the thousand year old wisdom eyes.
Don’t, she said.
Hope is supposed to be a part of it. Hope gets big play.
Her doctor was young and gave the impression of having spent a lot of time studying her case. He told her he would do his best.
The thing is to get ahead of it, he said. This meant two separate Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors and one Non-Nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitor. Later, there might be switch ups.
Sounds like a party, she said, feet dangling from the patient table.
He told her they’d have to keep in touch about side effects.
It had been Ziagen (yellow oblong, scored), Combivir (white oblong, scored) and Sustiva (yellow oblong, smooth) to start with. The Sustiva looked like a multivitamin.
Her hair is down and already the heat is making her sweat. She used to wear it up to accentuate her cheek bones, but she’s had it down ever since she started accumulating fat on the back of her neck (Combivir).
Street level and college students in blue shirts try to catch her coming out of the station. She’s all stomping heels and swinging bag and they retreat.
She laughed when she started getting mailers for support groups. They were on high quality paper with good looking people smiling on the front. She got halfway through the first one before she could figure out what the hell they were alluding to. After she threw the thing away she realized it had been someone’s job was to make it. Another person’s job to mail them. A department ran payroll. My sickness is an industry, she told the garbage can.
Everything changes when you’re dying. Someone told her that, but who? She can’t remember. Someone well meaning.
She thinks about that as she walks through construction tunnels. Workers clomp on the plywood over her head. Thinking you’re going to die, that’s how she felt before, she decides. Now she knows, though really, something could get her before. Bus, Rottweiler, Rapist-murderer (joke’s on him!).
She shoulders through the crowd to stop with her toes on the edge of the crosswalk. Passing cars do things to her hair.
What has she been doing with her time? Not much, she goes to the therapist and takes her meds. She drinks more than she did before, but that’s not saying much. She’s not planning to go back to work. She’s tempted to take out a big loan, get a new car on credit, wrap it around a streetlamp, do something that flies in the face of her borrowed time. She knows one thing, but feels another.
Past the construction tunnel the roll away doors of a CrossFit studio are up. Blaring music and gleaming torsos. A coach asks for one more rep. Dead anyway, she thinks. Dead anyway has become her go-to against the pressures of a previous life.
Save up to buy a condo? Dead anyway.
Eat kale? Dead anyway.
Maintain relationships with your fellow humans, encouraging them in their struggles and listening in their dark moments, thus creating that succor which is the one and only comfort of this mortal coil? Dead anyway. Dead anyway. Dead anyway.
Sweat has plastered her hair to the fatty lump on the back of her neck. All around her the city is folded in on itself, the sights and sounds squared to infinity. The beggars and the buildings. The buying and selling and saving.
At the steps to her brownstone a coffee cup sits half full, she tips it over with the toe of her shoe.
I feel as if you don’t like me, the therapist said with ten minutes left. She got the feeling the therapist assumed this was how long the conversation would take.
It’s okay if you don’t, he clarified, you could even hate me. She looked at him, smooth hands, full head of hair, glasses with no smudges, and those little things. What were they called? Cuff links.
He cocked his head when she looked up.
It’s four flights of stairs to her walk up. After the first flight the sweating doubles down, then the nausea. Not fair, says some part of her brain. Not fair.
She’s got to stop at the top of the third flight to catch her breath. The nausea is like waves at a beach, crashing into her. But she’s close, close to the top. Close to home. And already she can hear Steven, who’s been thinking about her all day.
Through the door she can hear him jumping and prancing, skittering on the wood floor and he can’t wait to see her. He’s going nuts.
Eleanor Leonne Bennett Bio (20150720)
Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist of almost fifty awards. She was the CIWEM Young Environmental Photographer of the Year in 2013. Eleanor’s photography has been published in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Her work has been displayed around the world consistently for six years since the age of thirteen. This year (2015) she has done the anthology cover for the incredibly popular Austin International Poetry Festival. She is also featured in Schiffer’s “Contemporary Wildlife Art” published this Spring. She is an art editor for multiple international publications.
God’s fingers pierced through stained glass windows, lining the walls of the cathedral. Open corridors encompassed rows of cheap, wooden benches. Archways, supported by obelisks, lined the side of those corridors, welcoming all to enter. Mice skittered about, to and fro, racing across the cathedral’s stone floor. And lastly, a massive, glorious dome rested above a crucified Jesus of Nazareth, and the Bishops chair.
It was Sunday, and Little Timmy was in trouble. He stood in the Bishop’s office, bent over, gripping the side of the Bishop’s desk as Mother Susan spanked him. He locked eyes with the carpet, which was as red as his hiney. His pants and underwear were kissing it, leaving his bottom unprotected. Where his hands gripped the desk were two worn-out edges. They dipped deep into the desk. Everyone knows where to place their hands now.
The assortment of crosses Mother Susan bore jingle-jangled in time with the spanks. Almost turning the incident into a hymn. The spanks kept time, while the whelps sang the lyrics.
“Is that enough? Have you learned your lesson yet, boy?” asked Mother Susan.
“Y-yes, ma’am,” said Little Timmy.
She spanked him again. He whelped. “Can’t hear you. Have you learned your lesson?”
“Yes, ma’am!” His voice shook.
“That’s better. The Bishop will be with you shortly. In the meantime, think about what you did.” Mother Susan left the room.
Little Timmy was frozen. He felt as if a billion bees had stung him on the ass. Welts the size of oranges sprouted like flowers while his melon turned purple. His legs shook from adrenaline and his knuckles whitened as he gripped the side of the desk tighter and tighter. His arms locked and tensed up. He couldn’t move them. His feet felt nailed to the ground. The door opened.
“Well... what do we have here?” said the Bishop. He checked the corridor for any sign of life, and gently closed the door, locking it. “I heard you said some blasphemous things in school, today, Timmy.”
“Yes, sir,” Little Timmy said.
The Bishop moved closer to Little Timmy, whispering in his ear. “Our church doesn’t take too kindly to blasphemy, Timmy.”
“I know, sir. I’m sorry, sir.” Little Timmy was frozen in fear, sealing his eyes shut as if it’d make everything go away.
“Why don’t you look at me when I talk to you, Timmy?”
Little Timmy shivered and shook in response as if the air had suddenly grown cold.
“LOOK AT ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO YOU.”
Little Timmy gripped the desk tighter, but slowly opened his eyes and looked up at the Bishop.
His hair was black and combed back. He was young, only thirty-one, but he’d been here since he was a youth. His teeth were white and his smile was innocent, but his eyes struck fear into the hearts of young boys.
“You know what your punishment is, don’t you, Timmy?” His zipper slid down.
in church, children are
little soldiers behind their
mommies and daddies
A Story of Living in Dying
Mary Claire Garcia
I was dying and the girl who made me feel alive was an Angel of Death.
I first met her at the hospital when I was ten years old. She was at the end of the corridor, just standing, and seemed to be looking at me. She was strikingly beautiful, like a snow sculpture - white hair, white skin, and a white dress that shimmered like the sea. But I wasn’t scared. Even when I saw that she had black wings on her back. My ten-year-old mind wondered if there was a costume party in the hospital and why I wasn’t told.
When I pointed her out to my mother, her face paled and asked me in detail what I saw even though she was already gone when I looked again. Mom said that she should tell me if I see the “strange girl” again. She had tears in her eyes and I blamed the doctor for whatever he told her privately. I never told her again. A year later, Mom would tell me that I had just survived the deadline of my life that the doctor told her. I would surpass those literal deadlines again and again. It must be why I saw her again and again also.
I was twelve years old when I saw her again. I was alone, playing at the back of my grandparents’ house. They had a huge backyard, if you can even call it a yard, and even had a lake of their own. Ever since grandfather died, our visits with grandmother became more frequent. Also, my family thought that giving me a natural environment would help me.
She was sitting this time. Her feet were on the soft short grass, her hair gently being swayed by the cool breeze, and her black wings were more splendid than I had remembered. She looked like she was waiting for someone and I must have stared at her for a long time, waiting for something to happen, when the thought finally came to me that maybe she was waiting for me. So I approached her - tentatively. Her wings seemed to move and I wasn’t sure if they really did or the breeze caused them to move. When I was already behind her, she patted the grass beside her and I took that as a sign to sit beside her.
“Do you remember me?” Her voice was like the chiming of silver bells, pleasant to the ears, musical but strong and clear.
I nodded. “Yes, miss, I saw you at the hospital before. Two years ago, I think. Does Mom know you’re here? I think she doesn’t like you very much. I’m not sure why.”
She looked at me. Her eyes were of the lightest blue I had ever seen, like the skies that wouldn’t betray you with suddenly raining. “I know why,” she said.
She didn’t speak for a while after that and we just stared at the lake and I felt really mature for my age for not being bored at it when she spoke again. “Your family is strange. I usually go unnoticed.”
“Really? But you stick out so much! I haven’t seen anyone like you. Oops, sorry. I meant that as a compliment,” I said, feeling dumb and unsure if I was saying the right things.
“No, not everyone can see me,” she said softly and she looked at me like she was waiting if I was going to scream and run away but I didn’t.
“What are you?”
I wasn’t scared but it was kind of weird for me and I didn’t want to offend her either. She looked at me with a sad smile.
“Every time I come to you, it is when you are closest to Death’s door. Your heart almost stopped just this morning before you went out here. You didn’t notice, did you?”
I didn’t. Had I just almost died two years ago when I first saw her in the hospital or was she there for someone else? It was strange but I already believed her. Well, it would have been more illogical for me if I carried on believing that she was still from a costume party and she had just trespassed our lot.
“But you’re still here. Why?” I was suddenly worried.
“It just gets lonely sometimes. I know I’m not supposed to and there are times when I wonder why I was still given feelings when my life’s purpose shouldn’t affect me.”
“Do you still...get affected?” I knew I was asking all the wrong questions but she looked so sad and so lost.
“Yes, I still do,” she said with a sad smile.
She disappeared after that, too fast for human eyes to see, leaving only a black feather as a mark that I was not insane.
I saw her again a lot of times after that. We’d talk a bit and she’d disappear still with that sad smile of hers haunting me for days. There were times when she’d come thrice a year. It became more frequent the older I got. She no longer looked older than I did. I had caught up to her through the years and when I was twenty, I was already taller than her. I had started to see her more as a woman. I started noticing the curve of her ears, her slender neck, and her heavenly scent that I had never paid notice when I was still a young boy. I looked forward to her visits. I had the crazy notion that she always paid me visits, and not because I could have almost died just a few seconds ago. My condition was worsening and Death’s beautiful angel was ironically who made me feel alive.
Mom thought that I had a long distance girlfriend. She was happy for me but she was also worried. She wasn’t sure if I could still deal with the emotional stress of handling a relationship when there were so many things going on with my body already. It’s complicated, I’d always say. We weren’t exactly friends but I felt that we weren’t just friends either. She never got into the specifics of her job, and when she did tell me about herself, I would always listen intently. My black feathers collection had grown through the years.
I was twenty-two when I told her that I had fallen in love with her. I hadn’t prepared anything, no sweet music or gifts, because I never knew when she would suddenly appear. I hoped that I wasn’t imagining it but I thought I saw her happy for a split second before she shook her head and looked at me with her sad eyes. She disappeared right after that. I was left with a black feather to cry and feel sorry for myself.
She didn’t show up again after that for years and years. I wasn’t sure if it was because maybe my condition had gotten better or she just chose not to show herself to me. Sometimes, I felt that she was watching me, her melancholic presence enveloping me like a tearful embrace. Sometimes, I’d find a black feather and hurriedly compare it with the black feathers that I had at home. They would be different and I would feel dejected once again. But there were times when they were undeniably the same, having that otherworld beauty. I hoped that it belonged to her and not from some other Angel of Death.
I got an online job that allowed me to stay at home. I shouldn’t have told her what I really felt. If I hadn’t, I might have still been talking with her regularly. Then the day my heart almost gave out on me came. It was excruciating. Mom was not at home that time and I had collapsed on the floor. I couldn’t even get out of my room to call for help. It was terrifying. Before, I was never conscious that I could have almost died but the sudden pain that came that time was like a reminder that I was still dying.
Then I saw her again. She was kneeling and her hand was rubbing my back. I was gasping and writhing on the ground. I wanted the pain to be over.
I struggled to form the words. “P-p...p-please...” Please what? Please take me away from this mortal world? Please end this pain? Please stay here with me?
She continued rubbing my back. “It’s not yet your time,” she said softly, her voice still like the chiming of silver bells that I have missed hearing for years.
The pain soon dissipated. The angry sea returning to its calm state. I was still on the floor. I was exhausted. I felt like I had battled a monster and was left half-dead.
“You disappeared on me. Why?” I said with a bitterness that I wished I could have hid better.
“It was wrong.”
“What was?” I asked. I avoided looking at her, choosing to stare at the ceiling. I felt her dress brushed my arm. She was sitting on the floor beside me. Then she moved. I heard the rustling of fabric, and I felt a weight on top of me. I feared that my heart would suddenly give out on me again.
“This,” she simply said, and she laid on top of me, her breath on my neck, her arms on my chest, and her wings majestically open. She wasn’t kissing me, but I felt like I was being enveloped by her whole being. She smelled of the woods, of sea salt, and of grass. She smelled of how I imagined the world would smell without its harshness and its impurities.
I was going to put my arms around her when she suddenly disappeared. I was left lying on the floor with a lone black feather on top of me, telling me that she had really done that.
She appeared two months later. There was no pain this time. It was just like old times.
“Did I just almost die?” I asked casually, closing my laptop to pause the real world for her.
She shook her head and there looked like a small smile on her face.
“Do you still get affected?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if she would understand and I wasn’t really comfortable in going to it in detail.
She nodded and her eyes were fixed on me. I didn’t want her to be sad but I didn’t want her to feel indifferent with my death either.
I lived on for more years and our meetings became more frequent. I had become slightly older than her in appearance. She had become my companion in death. She was death and she breathed life to my farce of a living.
Then my time finally came. There was so much pain again. I was in a mall’s elevator alone when it happened. I found myself lying on the floor - writhing in agony. It was like before but I already had the inkling that all the years after that were just borrowed time. My whole life was just borrowed time. Then I felt her arrive. Her gaze was different. Her eyes were still sad but there was a sense of finality about them. I heard the rustle of fabric and she was on top of me once again. She wasn’t heavy and I was still clutching at my chest. I wondered if she would do what she did before, if she would give me that strange comforting hug again.
“It’s time,” she said and my mind went to our conversation before. I wouldn’t want her to be anything else. If she wasn’t given feelings, her existence would have made my years unbearable. I would have hated her. I wondered if Mom saw her with Grandfather before he died. I wondered if she acted the same with the others like me and I selfishly wished that I was the only one she really talked with.
Then she kissed me. She tasted like the sweet summer of my childhood days before I was diagnosed. She tasted like the fresh air at the back of my grandparents’ house where I met her. She tasted like the bitter coffee I was drinking when I told her that I was in love with her when I was younger. I felt like being bathed in her white radiance and being consumed in its heavenly beauty. I welcomed Death like an old friend. I was grateful for Death for letting me experience how it was to live.
at death, life’s rele-
gated to the ranks of the
Torn Angel, art by Wes Heine
A Chip on the Old Block
“It’ll happen to you. Mark my words!”
No, thought Glenn. Dementia wouldn’t happen to him. Not for a few years. He was only forty. He had his whole life ahead of him.
His freedom wouldn’t be restricted. Like his mother’s was.
It was all in her own interests of course, he told himself. She’d had to be admitted into the home. Those periods of forgetfulness had increased. The forgetting to eat. The forgetting to wash. To change her clothes. The forgetting she’d turned the stove on. And the forgetting to turn it off. There was no way she could look after herself any longer.
And there was no way his mother was coming to live with him.
Why, she’d already taken over his life when she’d lived in her own house. The endless stream of phone calls from her. His constant trips across town to check on her. And then the final straw. The disappearances.
At least the operation had helped with that. Just as the government had decreed. Even though, unusually, he’d had reservations about it. Just like his mother had.
In her lucid moments.
“It’s necessary, Mom,” he’d said. “so I can always find you.”
“Or someone else can,” his mother had retorted.
“It’s for your own protection,” he added.
“They’ll say that to you one day!” his mother said, acidly.
No, that will never happen, Glenn thought. He would see he kept physically and mentally active till the end.
He wasn’t like his mother. He wouldn’t let himself degenerate in old age.
As his mother had done.
He remembered the first time he had turned up at the house on the old block where he’d grown up. To find his mother gone. He’d scoured the neighbourhood for her and finally found her sitting under a tree.
“Who are you?” she’d said.
He had swallowed a sigh of exasperation.
“It’s me, Mom, Glenn, your son,” he’d said.
She’d looked him blankly in the eye and replied, “You’re not my son!”
“Yes, I am. Don’t you remember?”
She’d shot him that steely eyed look she’d always had and said, “I remember.”
Thank the lord for that, he’d thought.
“I remember everything,” she said.
But she didn’t. Things had got steadily worse after that. More disappearances. Fewer lucid moments. The operation had certainly made it easier for him to find her, but, he had to admit, his mother’s decline had accelerated since she’d gone into the home.
“Junk food, drugs and a diet of crap, brainless television!” she’d rallied, on one of his visits. “It’s all a government plot!” she’d said.
God, she’s getting delusional, thought Glenn.
“Get me out of here, son,” she’d said, an unusual plea in her voice.
“I can’t, Mom,” he said. “I need to know you’re safe!”
“Take me home, son,” she’d pleaded. “Please!”
You can’t go home, he thought. Your house is up for sale.
He’d been quick to put it on the market. But no sale had gone through. He needed the money to pay off some of his debts that he’d accrued in the now cashless society. And to pay the cost of keeping his Mom in the home. Sometimes the burden of that bill became too much for him and he contemplated the other recent government initiative.
There had been a spate of them in these middle years of the twenty first century.
Ending life in a dignified fashion. Not that he could discuss it with his mom.
He remembered the first time he’d brought it up.
“I’m not a bloody cat or dog! Getting a lethal injection or having poison in a drip! That’s how it all started! Before the chips. You won’t remember. And not one person complained about it either. It was all in their own interests and their owners, they said. Poor, bloody mites! I thought at the time. Walking round with an electronic chip in their body. God knows what that was doing to their health. And now I’m the same. I’ve never felt well since it happened.”
“That’s all in your imagination, Mom,” he’d told her. “A bit like when you said you felt rays coming out from the television screen. There’s been a government assurance about micro chipping in people with dementia.”
“And you believe everything the government tells you?” his mother whispered, pointing to the scar in her neck between her shoulder blades where the chip had been implanted. It did seem unusually large.
“They’ve got our welfare at heart,” he’d said.
“Just like you have mine,” she replied.
Did he detect a bitter note?
He was glad to leave the home and get in his driverless car to his penthouse apartment. At least he could relax now he was out of there. Be at ease. He didn’t have to concentrate on driving. The car was all controlled for him. Like almost everything nowadays. It made him feel safe. Comforted. He didn’t need to worry about carjacking. That had been virtually eliminated. No criminal would attempt that when he knew he could be tracked by satellite everywhere he went. The only downside of it was the car had been extortionately expensive. He’d be in debt for years paying it off. If only the sale of his mother’s house would go through. He needed the money to maintain his lifestyle. He turned on the television news.
Just in time to miss something about the latest government initiative. Something about a trial experiment. On people forty and over.
His mother was wrong. Life was so much easier and pleasanter than in the past. The government had made sure his health was taken care of. He’d had his twelfth inoculation this year to protect him from any potential illness he might develop. Though he had to admit he’d not been feeling good since the last one he’d had a week ago.
It was probably because he hadn’t had his thirteenth.
If he didn’t feel any better he’d go down to the local pharmacy. They would give him good advice about what drug to take to combat his sickness. After all, he wouldn’t notice one more pill on top of the twenty seven he was already taking. Yes, mankind had made leaps and strides since the Millenium. He opened the cupboard. Why, he didn’t even have put up with the ugly, dirty, misshapen vegetables his mother had prepared in his youth! Or even cook. Everything was dried, preserved or packaged. For ease. The few dissenters who’d maintained that factory produced food was full of sugar, salt, chemicals and additives and was contributing to a sick society had, quite rightly, been sent packing.
No one had the right to halt progress.
A warning buzz sounded on the television screen and a caption appeared.
“Tornado Warning! Proceed to the basement!”
He proceeded to the elevator and joined the throngs of other people making their way down.
No one spoke. There was no point. Different nationalities. Different languages. You couldn’t communicate with them. Even if it was safe to do so. Sometimes he did feel isolated and alone. Powerless. Still, what did he need power for? That was the job of others. Wasn’t it?
But strange how the weather had got more severe since the Millenium. There had been whispers of government intervention.
But no one could control the weather, could they? And why would they want to?
And yet there was no doubt these tornado warnings were getting more frequent.
He’d never actually seen a tornado. From the basement you could see nothing.
But when he returned to his apartment, things had been moved. Touched.
Probably the agents of the government making sure his and all the other apartments were safe. It was good to know that. That they were keeping an eye on him.
Like he was keeping an eye on his Mom.
His phone ringing startled him.
“Yes?” he said.
“I’m afraid I’ve got to inform you that your mother has gone walkabout!” said a severe sounding voice. “She used the tornado warning to slip away from the basement of the home.”
“But you can track her by the chip, can’t you?” he said.
He had nothing to worry about. His mother would be taken care of.
“You mean the micro-GPS receiver!” said the imperious voice. “A chip just gives access to your mother’s data, should anyone locate her. A micro-GPS receiver is what locates her.”
Chips. GPS receivers. What difference did it make? All this information technology was giving him a headache.
“Well, presumably you can locate her by the whatever?”
“Unfortunately we can only locate her for a few hours. The power source for our technology is not sufficiently developed for long term use at the present. We are experimenting on this at the moment.”
I bet you are, he thought. He knew GPS was a multi billion dollar industry in these middle years of the twenty first century. And set to get bigger.
They couldn’t afford to lose someone. The bad publicity would be lethal.
“Your mother’s last location was in the vicinity of her old house. It is your duty as a global citizen to locate her and return her to us.”
He didn’t like the woman’s tone. Wasn’t it her duty to keep track of his Mom? Wasn’t that what he was paying for?
Still it wouldn’t do to antagonise her. He didn’t want his mother back on his doorstep.
“I’ll see if I can locate her,” he said.
“You do that!”
As he replaced the receiver, annoyed at the woman’s inference, a worried thought crossed his mind.
What if his Mom accessed the house? He thought of the snub nosed revolver she had always kept hidden in a drawer.
“I’m taking no chances!” she’d always said.
He’d been meaning to get rid of it when he cleared the house out. But he’d procrastinated.
What if she got hold of the revolver? Would she attempt suicide? He knew how much she hated the home.
And then another thought took hold. What if she did? Wouldn’t that be a blessing?
No more retirement home fees to pay. He could take possession of her house, sell it and pocket the proceeds.
Still, one way or another, he had to find his Mom. He’d go to her house first.
She’s found it all right, he thought, as he rummaged in the bureau drawer, an hour later.
The revolver was missing.
It was lying on the ground, beside her, under the same old tree.
At the sound of his approach, she jumped up, grabbed the revolver and started waving it threateningly.
“Who are you?” she said.
He sighed, tired of the same old scenario.
He pictured the gun going off.
“It’s me, Mom, Glenn, your son.”
“You’re not my son.”
Her voice was panicky. Anxious.
“Yes, I am. Don’t you remember?”
She shot him that steely eyed look she’d always had and said, “I remember.”
Thank the lord for that, he thought.
Or should I?
“I remember everything,” she said.
I’ve got to get the revolver off her, he thought. It was waving about dangerously.
A thought occurred to him. What if it went off accidentally? In the struggle. No one would ever know. And it would be a blessing.
He took a step nearer his Mom.
She pointed the gun steadily at his chest.
“I told you it would happen,” she said.
What was she rambling on about?
“They’re going to do it to you!” she said.
“Do what, Mom?” he said, gently, taking a step nearer her.
He had to distract her.
“I heard it on the television.”
“Heard what, Mom?”
He could almost reach out and touch her.
“That’s why I’ve got to do it,” she said.
One more step was all it would take to reach her and wrestle with the gun. It was almost over.
“Do what, Mom?”
He prepared to grab the gun.
But his foot froze.
“Kill you,” she said matter-of-factly.
It was something he’d never contemplated.
“It’s for your own good, son,” she said, “so they can’t give you the operation, too.”
All thought of movement had gone.
“I heard it on the television. They’re going to have compulsory GPS receivers implanted in everyone forty and over. They’re saying they’re working on developing extended power sources. They say it’s for your own protection. But it’s all a lie, son. They just want to restrict your freedom.”
There was a pause.
“Like you did mine.”
The clause was cutting.
He felt powerless, remembering the tail end of the news bulletin he’d caught.
A government experiment. Something to do with people forty and over.
“It must be for our protection,” he repeated, unwilling to believe what he was hearing.
“They’ll say that. Then they’ll start experimenting on you. Say it’s in your own interests. Treat you with drugs. Say you’re incapable of living alone. Take your property away.”
He thought of the way things had been touched. Moved. In his apartment.
“There’s no escape. They’ll always be able to find you.”
She pointed at the scar between her shoulder blades.
“You’ll be just like me!”
His mouth dropped open.
She lifted the revolver and positioned it directly between his eyes.
“No mother would want to see that happening to her son. However he’s treated her!” she added.
His eyes widened in horror.
His mother wasn’t going to commit suicide. And she wasn’t going to die accidentally wrestling with a gun.
She was going to shoot him!
Her finger slowly squeezed the trigger.
He wouldn’t degenerate in old age. He didn’t have his whole life in front of him.
His mother had.
She pulled the trigger hard.
“You’re a chip on the old block, after all,” she said, smiling.
sapling moon shadows
scuttling blind possum roams
through quiet shades
Gregg Dotoli Bio
Gregg Dotoli lives in New York City area and has studied English at Seton Hall University. He works as a white hat hacker, but his first love is the arts.
His poems have been published in, Quail Bell Magazine, The Four Quarters Magazine, Calvary Cross, Dead Snakes, Halcyon Magazine, Allegro Magazine, the Mad Swirl, Voices Project, Writing Raw and Down in the Dirt.
I am sitting at the bar looking at my leg bouncing off of the stool.
This is what I tell her.
It was a Saturday night that we had planned for weeks in advance.
When I first ask Eric about the dinner, he starts biting his nails, something he does when he gets anxious. Twenty seconds into my explanation on the importance of meeting his parents, I can tell I lose him. Even with those round, bulging ears of his, he doesn’t seem to hear a word of what I am saying. Eric has tried pushing it off for as long as possible. Finally, I convince him to set the date– the 26th of November we are going to meet them over dinner.
I mean, Nancy, Eric and I have lived together for almost a year and I had never met his parents.
He keeps busy at the office and I at the restaurant, but his parents only live about an hour and a half north. And of course he’s never met mine before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t meet his. You know my parents. I thought it would be nice to meet his parents who seemed normal.
We get dressed silently as he fidgets with the tie around his blue-striped collar and I with the zipper in the lower back of my dress. We walked to that energy-efficient car– you know the one he traded for a couple of weeks ago? Anyways, I shiver as we slip through the front yard. Its small doors are hard for me to even get into, let alone Eric whose long legs brought him to the door of the car in nearly three strides. At the restaurant I help myself to the door and Eric follows behind.
I first notice a man with long legs and broad shoulders sitting next to a dainty woman in one of the booths in my station. Everything about him reeks Eric. His whole body resembles Eric’s. His legs are so long that they almost hit the underside of the booth, so he has to stretch them out into the aisle. His arms suggest he works out regularly, and his thick, dark hair indicates no sign of aging. His wife’s brown hair falls in small curls on her collar bone. I suddenly became aware of my own hair and its loose waves falling below my chest.
Darren was working my station that night. He walks over, smiles at me, and introduces himself to his customers as he pours water in their cups.
Nancy, the father looked just like Eric, just alike.
After finishing topping off our glasses and laying fresh bread on the table, Darren laughs and says, this must be the parents?
Eric blushes immediately as I look to them and nod. Yes, this is them, I say.
About half way into the appetizers, I realize I am staring at his father for so long that I have to shake my head to regain control. I start talking a lot, and his mother seems to reciprocate the conversation well. Her eyes light up when I ask her about her work, and she begins almost too excitedly about her alma mater and the gift-card making business she currently works for.
She seemed so excited to have me as her audience.
Meanwhile, the father is just turning his straw around his cup, gazing off at those pictures of the inspirational quotes hanging on the wall.
Darren brings out the wine, which Eric nearly finishes before the appetizers are picked up from our table. Anyway, I’m so fidgety or something, my legs accidentally hit the father in the shin. He jerks but does not look at me.
I’m sorry, I say. My legs tend to shake when I am excited. I’m so sorry, I say. Is your leg okay? I ask.
After a few seconds, he blots the wine dripping from his mouth with his napkin and peels his eyes off the picture hanging from the wall and says, it’s all right. I couldn’t help notice the size of his ears when he addressed me. His wife smiles and continues her story about the time one of the quotes in her gift cards was published in some small, literary magazine.
He seems like a pleasant man, Nancy adds with a chuckle.
Darren refills our glasses with wine as our entrees are served. After his next trip to our table, Darren gives me a look as if to indicate something is wrong. I look at Eric, who I realize has not said much the whole conversation, and see sweat beading on his now-yellow forehead and cheeks. The mom finishes her story of her favorite college tailgate, so I take advantage of this break in conversation.
Are you alright? You don’t look well, I say.
It must have been the fish I ate, he says. I don’t eat fish very often, he says.
He gets up to go to the restroom and I am left with the parents. I look over at the father’s plate and see the half-eaten turkey club sandwich, which is one of the cheapest entrees on our dinner menu. I trace my eyes up his big arms up to his neck then ears. Those ears, they must have been the same size, if not slightly larger, than Eric’s. And his mother had the most endearing eyes, Nancy, but I don’t think the father looked into them once as she started another story about a customer that came into her store on Tuesday. Eventually, she finishes, and silence hangs in the air.
What job was it that you said you had again? The father asks.
Darren interrupts me as he pours more wine into the father’s glass. She works in this restaurant with me sir, he says. I am taking over her shift right now actually, he says.
Seems like you have some nice friends, the father says. He picks up his wine glass and takes a swig as I gawk at the raw nubs that are his fingernails.
Eric comes back some time later, I don’t know how much later, and sits down. Feel better? I say. Eric is looking at the eyes of the fish sitting on his plate. I guess so, he says.
We finish eating a couple of orders of that one dessert– the apple crumble cake with the whole apple on the side– and Eric and I talk about how we met. I tell them that cute part of the story where we put a lock on that bridge in the middle of the highway like in Paris. You should’ve seen his mother’s eyes light up. She nudges Eric and giggles at his sentimental side, and the father smiles behind the thumb he is nibbling on. Eric forgot that I already mentioned the part where he wrote our names on the lock, so he repeats this to his now smiling parents.
I know something felt off. I just wasn’t sure what.
Darren comes by to pick up the dessert plates and accidentally knocks the unfinished apple off of the father’s plate and it rolls on the ground past those long legs. Eric leans down, picks it up, and hands it to Darren. Darren comes back with the check and I see Eric and his father give each other a look.
Was there something wrong? Nancy says, holding her glass and crossing one leg over the other. It seems like something is wrong, Nancy says.
Nothing is wrong. The father picks up the check, pays for it, and we all walk out.
I am feeling a bit groggy, but I see Eric and his father walk ahead to the cars while the mother and I wait near the restaurant door.
It was so nice talking to you, she says. Did I tell you what lovely eyes you have? she asks.
Thank you. I’ve never been told that before, I say. And I loved hearing all of your stories, I say. Her eyes look almost wet but, like I said, I am a bit groggy.
We stand there with chill bumps on our arms. Our dresses were both probably inappropriate to wear that night; it was cold. I look at Eric and his father walk away. In the dark I can barely distinguish between the two silhouettes of their sport coats.
I thought I could hear the battery of the car running more loudly on the drive back. I speak to Eric, reminding him about the birthday celebration I was going to throw for Darren later that week. Did you remember to buy that wine that I asked for the other night, I ask. He looks at me when we stop at an intersection and raises his eyebrows, which subsequently raises his big, fat ears. I don’t remember you asking, he says. We stop on the way back at Kroger and pick it up.
That sounds like an anticlimactic night, Nancy says, but I can tell she doesn’t understand why I just told her.
That’s interesting that they look so similar, she adds.
I remember glaring at the bruised apples in the aisle at Kroger as Eric thumbs through a magazine in line holding the wine.
It is December now. My life is going to change. I can feel it, almost as much as I could feel the cold breeze that night walking back to the car.
Diving into Dark
It felt like flying – that first time jumping off the diving board—water wings bouncing against my bony torso. Those first tentative steps took eons, but eventually I got to the end and looked down. The deep end looked like a never-ending pit into hell. My mother had always told me that demons lived on that side of the pool when she’d drop me and my brothers off there each summer day, treating it like cheap daycare. I was terrified of the dangerous deep and the child-loving imps lying in wait for my deliciously delicate limbs—I guess she created that horror tale to be sure she would come back to a lightly sunburned daughter rather then a tiny bloated body. Finally staring down into that chasm for the first time, I blew more air into my wingies and secured the rubber stoppers with an honest confidence that I haven’t been able to replicate since. I jumped off and spread my wings.
It ended up as a kind of unpleasant belly flop, but my air-filled arm enhancements kept me afloat, and I lived to fear another day. I celebrated my triumph with a five-minute dance on the hot blacktop and a Sky ice cream bar from the ice-cream truck that melted enough to sooth my whining feet.
Now I’m here at the pool again. “Here” being a rattrap of a suburban town; Weston, Connecticut, steeped in yuppies and old people. Except now I’m an adult (I guess), and now it’s dark, and now I’m trespassing, and the diving board is much less intimidating hidden by snow.
I can’t separate my breath and the smoke as I exhale into the darkness, my cigarette the sole light aside from the moon. I’m lying on the ground post-snow angel construction, bundled in a jacket and scarf; thin jeans covered in snow, the thud of the outdoor shower stall door my only company. The acrid scent of my hair burning rouses me; I hadn’t even noticed my cigarette’s absence from my hand. I quickly sit up to inspect my newly burned hair. I venture to create friction between my hands, realizing that I must be colder than I had thought possible if a solid cylinder could escape my grasp unnoticed. It doesn’t concern me enough to actually remedy the situation—the idea of returning to my childhood bedroom in my mother’s house is much less appealing than continuing my time in the bitter cold.
The scent of burnt hair and tobacco stays strong, a cloud surrounding me in the crisp night. I cough in disgust and reach for my large black leather purse. I take out a full button bag of soft brown powder and pour a penny-sized pile onto the CD case that I keep nuzzled within one of my purse’s smallest inner pockets. I transform the pile into a uniform line before inhaling it through a tightly rolled twenty-dollar bill. I light a cigarette and a smoky sigh of relief finds its way up my throat. The bitter taste of the powder mingled with mucus drips down the back of my esophagus. I suck on my cigarette like the dry heat will burn away the taste. The lingering scent of my burnt hair reminds me of another night that I’d endeavored to climb over the fence to this pool. I burned my hair that night, too.
It was summer and I was fifteen. I was with Ben, a boy from up the street. We snuck out our windows that night to smoke pot. I nearly ripped a new hole in my already tattered jeans on the fence as I scaled it in my combat boots. Ben lifted me from the top of the fence and I could feel him shaking under my weight, his bony arms fighting the dying battle for chivalry. We sat against the fence near the deep end, where we couldn’t be seen from the road.
He produced a poorly rolled joint from his pocket; it was a bit bent near the center from his own fight with the fence. At first it wouldn’t stay lit, but with a liberal use of Ben’s tuba-playing lungs, a fine glow was soon emanating from its tip. I thought it was so damn cute, imagining him playing a brassy number as he took a hit of mid-grade weed. Sitting there, holding a loosely rolled joint, it was as though my life had reached its peak; it just felt so unreasonably perfect: the way his newly bleached hair shone in the moonlight, the way it didn’t move in the wind, all spiked and gelled to perfection.
Blazed, we started chain-smoking and laughing at nothing—playing a well-known game called, “Who can flick their cigarette the farthest?” I let him win, because it made him play with my braids while he bragged, and I could feel his hot breath on my skin when he leaned in to reach for them. It smelled like salami and weed, and that night, it was so intoxicating that I longed to bottle it to save for later.
Soon we were taking breaks from sucking on our Pall Malls to suck on each other’s lips, our embrace temporarily broken by the same foul stench of burnt hair that surrounds me now. I had sex for the first time that night, on the diving board, after he gave me his mood ring. The amber color it displayed on him chilled to violet on me within the next hour.
It felt like I was floating, sitting astride Ben’s undernourished form, looking down into the black depths of the moonlit pool—for a moment I thought I saw a pair of disapproving glowing red eyes watching, waiting for me at the bottom. It felt like I was suspended in time and the pain of broken cartilage fell away. It was the first time I felt sensual—I was a force. The way he inexpertly moved beneath me was inconsequential to the ecstasy of that moment; it was like I was flying. The solid rough texture of the diving board melted away and everything seemed to explode around me.
When I was back to being me: naked, sallow, and lanky, I felt the coarse texture of the dirty white diving board on my knees and I recoiled. The air around us sat stagnant and I was overwhelmed by the salty stench of our bodies, sitting around us like an impenetrable wall binding us to the board. I grabbed my clothes and ran. I didn’t lose anything that night; I found a new part of myself, a part that I liked. A part that I would grow to love. I never talked to Ben again. He didn’t chase me, and that meant something.
I feel warm, remembering the comfort of that encounter before my escape into the night. So warm that I take my scarf off and drop it in the snow as I begin a slow lap around the pool’s perimeter, the sound of my boots hardly audible as I wade through a mattress of untouched snow. The absence of chlorinated water gave rain and snow the opportunity to populate the blue cement basin. Rounding in on the shallow end, the snow level is high enough to pretend that it’s pool water on a hot day. I join in its game, slipping off my boots and throwing them into the adjacent kiddie pool—something like a giggle escapes my lips as I sit at the edge of the pool with my legs hanging down into the shallow end, as I’ve done so many times before.
I had so hoped to hear Ben’s feet plodding behind me as I slowed to put my clothes on, lacy bra trembling in thin fingers. I knew then that the Earth hadn’t shattered, that there were no soliloquies attached to sex—it was comforting to know that things don’t have to change from every action committed just because an afterschool special said so. I peel off my socks so I can dig my toes into the icy snow and feel the solid frozen rainwater beneath it—so different from the cool soft waters of the past. I pull out my pocket watch and check the time. The faded red hand recording the seconds slowly ticks around the circle, and I wait for it to be exactly 12:05 before I return it to its proper place in my right pocket.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I got my first job. After an obnoxious certification process, I became a lifeguard—more time to spend brewing in familiarity. I sat at the shallow end with my ankles immersed in the cold blue of the pool as dawn was rising. Donna, a young, bushy-haired woman—35, at most, was teaching me how to open the pool so she didn’t have to “get her fat ass all the way there every morning.” I had known Donna for years, the product of spending each day every summer at the pool. Her ass was undeniably fat, but it was not unappreciated by the male patrons as it waged its unending battle with the bottom of her lifeguard’s uniform, the classic red one-piece, and the suit was rarely in the lead.
I kept asking her to clarify things. I wanted to be sure because I tend to break everything I touch. My brothers and I broke so many mirrors playing catch in my mother’s house, I must be on the hook for about fifty more years of bad luck. It was funny how quickly I ceased to care about specifics under Donna’s careful teachings. Her last piece of advice that first day as she unlocked the gates and I took my place on the shallow end’s lifeguard chair was, “Try not to be a buzz kill. You’re mostly here to keep kids from running.”
I ran wet with sweat as the day went on, expecting the new swimmers to wait until I was looking the other way to forget to keep themselves afloat. The heat stroked me like an iron, and I began to appreciate the grotesquely large umbrella affixed above my chair—no one seemed willing to go within its shade—an invisible bubble of solitude and power. I was the master of the whistle, and I was bored as hell.
“No running!” I yelled to a little blonde girl in a two-piece flowery bathing suit. She wasn’t even running, but the decorative pink frills on the edges of her bathing suit’s bottoms made me want to yell. I peered through my sunglasses at Donna, who was stationed over by the deep end, a place I was happy not to police. Seeing that I was currently aware of her, and perhaps sensing the intensity of my heat-stroke-fueled boredom, she gestured for me to come to her. I looked around uneasily at the splashing teacup-sized humans before obeying.
“You doing all right, sweetie?” Donna took off her sunglasses and looked at the contours of my face, searching for an expression.
“Fine. It’s just a lot more boring than expected.” I tried to be under her merciful umbrella as much as I could without sitting on her lap.
“Well, honey, there are plenty of ways to amuse yourself. You’ll see.” Donna was eyeing one particularly muscular patron whose toned back glistened in the sun as he did a perfect dive off the board.
“Scamming on attractive guys?”
“Among other things...” She gave me a wrinkled-nose grin before shouting at a scrawny pimple-faced diver who had not waited for the last person to swim out of his way before jumping in.
“Great, I’ll do that over on my end—that chubby eight-year-old picking his nose on the steps over there is looking pretty fine...”
“Have you seen his older brother?” Donna gestured to a pale well-muscled boy who had just graduated from my high school, a veritable hunk, to be fair to Donna’s tastes. “Looks like that chubby eight-year old boy has a bright future ahead of him.” She completed the idea with a wet smacking sound that still resonates within me today whenever I find myself lusting after boys who are far too young to admit to noticing. Coming back to a sound mind (or as close as she could get to one), she said, “Here let’s take a break. Adult swim!” she shouted, giving my look of surprise a self-satisfied smirk and a shrug. “They can take care of themselves, trust me.”
Disappointed children meandered out of the pool and made their way to the newly erected snack stand and playground as Donna and I slipped on flip-flops and made our way to the exit. I coaxed a cigarette from my pack of Kools and accepted a light from Donna. She lit a spliff and breathed deep. I was shocked; I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her daring lips as she took another pull. She laughed.
“What? I told you, there are many ways to liven up the day. Want a hit?”
The bitter taste of the loose tobacco mingling with the sweet flavor of Donna’s weed created a dissonant taste that I would grow to love those long summer days.
Donna’s scent-covering concoction was one of many stimulants I found solace in during my summer safeguarding the pool. Another was a miracle drug called Oxycodone, those warm summer days would breeze away without the time to conceive boredom, because time barely existed—and even when it did, nothing really mattered. No one ever drowned; no little cherub fell into the pool and suffered from a wall-based concussion. And no one noticed my occasional naps behind my sunglasses—except perhaps, Donna—but she was the main proprietor of that sunny summer of complacency.
I had more conversations with Donna than I had ever had with anyone before, until Jeremiah, that is. It hurts to think his name, a flash of his blue eyes clog my vision—the image so clear that I would believe a projector was laying it out across the white screen of snow before me. I can almost feel his hands in mine, his thin spidery fingers so surprisingly strong.
Fingers made dumb by the cold, I fumble with my matches. A pile of failed attempts sit at my white and waxy bare feet, starting to tinge toward blue. I shiver. Reaching once more for my bag I make two crooked lines and use my olfactory nerves to take me back into the cozy folds of intoxication—I soon find myself warm in the breeze. I remove my coat, and the air feels like the hands of several lovers attempting to massage me to sleep. Snow is falling again and I open my mouth to the skies for a cool, mildly satisfying beverage. I can feel the smoke of my cigarette as it polkas in my lungs and does the cha-cha up my throat to culminate in a waltz of smoke that lingers for a moment to chat with the snow. I feel warm.
The desolation of this sugarcoated wasteland is pressing on me, and the carbon monoxide in my cigarette adds to that feeling. Staring at the stars above me, an image of my father is produced like a giant game of connect-the-dots made by the gods. It has been years since I’ve let that blank-faced smile that he left me with permeate my mind, but I must admit that right now I’m kind of jealous of that definitive and painless end. He looked so calm.
At fourteen, it was hard to rationalize a father’s decision to leave his three children alone with a heavily medicated mother, but it must have been great for him to finally find “peace,” as the grief counselor said, tissues held out in her well-manicured hands. Peace, calm, comfort. These were not words to describe my father in life, though perhaps in death. He was a predictable man, and sad, living in a constant state of reminiscence. Nearly everything that came from his mouth was an anecdote from his past, punctuated by odd and often inappropriate laughter. The way he twitched made me twitch.
On my twelfth birthday he gave me his father’s gold-plated pocket-watch. He went on for an hour about his father giving it to him on his deathbed. My grandfather had fallen from the fourth floor of his office building on my father’s last day of eighth grade.
“I was so mad, I wanted to go to a party at Marcy Joiner’s house—she was the girl everyone wanted that year, thickest hair, and oh her eyes were greener than a Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Everyone was going, and she had asked me personally, so I was positive that I was the one she’d be taking into her room that night.” He stopped for a moment, as though waiting to see if I’d ask him about his sex life, I had to stop myself from tapping my foot on the ground—I really wanted to get back to my friends playing double-dutch in the back yard.
“Looking back, she probably would have chosen one of the high school boys anyway, I was even scrawnier then, less rugged. So, my mom forcing me to go to the hospital instead was probably a good thing. I didn’t fight her too hard on it, but we didn’t even know he was going to die, y’know? People go to hospitals all the time. I heard the party wasn’t that great anyway. Everyone just sat around sharing the six-pack that Todd Aaron stole from his dad.
“My dad was all messed up, and when we got there they told us he didn’t have much time, so we all took turns alone in the room with him. He was all doped up on painkillers, so his tongue kind of lolled out of his mouth. He kind of reminded me of one of those dogs... what is that breed?” He looked at me as though I could see into his mind and provide him with an answer, “It doesn’t matter. When we were alone he said, ‘Jarred, you’re going to be the man of the house. Your mother, she doesn’t even know how to get the dog to sit without me handing her a treat. So you watch her, and the little ones.’ I almost cried, but he would have died faster if I had, from the effort of trying to hit me,” he laughed, “and then he told me that my granddad’s old watch was in a drawer in his office, he told me to get it—that it was mine, and that I better not sell it to buy some pretty girl a piece of jewelry.”
He handed it to me then, as though to make sure I knew he had done no such thing—like I needed to feel it tangibly to understand. I’d never held it before, but I’d seen it a few times. It was heavier than I thought it would be, and colder.
“A few days after he died,” he said, his eyes on my hands as I rubbed a bit of dirt off the watch, “I went to his office, his coworkers greeted me real nice, and made some apologies—and I thought, why? Why do people say sorry when they didn’t do anything? I never say sorry when people die—it’s silly. Anyway, I went into his desk and started rifling through all his drawers: tape, staplers, paper, all the normal stuff an accountant would need, when finally I found it.”
I looked up hopefully, thinking it might be the end of the story. The cuticle on my index finger was bleeding from where I’d bitten it in my impatience. I sucked on it to stop the bleeding, looking back down as his mouth opened once more.
“And it was on top of a pink slip! That bastard had been fired two weeks before and he didn’t tell anyone in our family.” My father laughed for what felt like centuries. It was manic. It came and went in spurts and the way he looked at me was almost desperate—he wanted me to share in his discomforting mirth at the ghastly punch line to his joke. I made a valiant attempt at a convincing giggle.
My father must have been so happy as his final thoughts floated away, stories from his past disappearing with each labored breath—it was the first time he’d executed an entire plan instead of just talking about one. Closing that garage door, turning that key, and switching to his favorite rock station must have seemed like the most perfect culmination for his life of disappointment and self-loathing. It has been years since I’ve really thought of him—I was the one who found him. The garage smelled like gasoline and shit, I vomited when I saw that he had soiled himself. The soothing sensation of carbon monoxide filled his senses just as they are doing to me now, but that voluntary self-poisoning was a much more reliable suicide technique than this cancer-based one I’ve opted for.
I drop my cigarette as I duck behind the walls of the pool in my paranoid efforts not to be noticed by a car passing on the road. I hold back the rising bile in my throat. Pushing away the snow, I see how murky the frozen rainwater beneath the snow is. The brown reminds me of the powder still left in my purse, and I partake in another line. If anything, I’m destroying the evidence. My bare arms shiver sporadically as I move away more snow to get a good look at the leaves temporarily frozen in time, fall and winter combined while I’m sifting through dreams of summer. I fight my way up from my crouched position, realizing that there are things to be done—though I’m not quite sure what. My shivering subsides as I walk barefoot across the frozen pool. Digging my toes into the snow with each step, I can hardly feel them.
Oh, what would Jeremiah say if he could see me now right now, nearly naked and walking with an unwavering confidence? We met at the pool the summer after I miraculously graduated from Fairfield University, a college about half an hour away from my hometown, with my bachelor’s in Communications. He was visiting some members of his extended family for the summer—and he was perfect. I watched him dive from my new position as head lifeguard, Donna gone to bigger and better things in the form of a rehab in Florida. His arc was faultless; his toes even flexed in an attractive fashion. He was so petite and his complexion so pale. It made me want to hold him. I sparked up a conversation with him over a spliff during adult swim—he didn’t really like pools that much. We fell in love—illogical, blind, passionate love. I introduced him to the perfect bed, a diving board at midnight on a warm summer’s night, and he introduced me to unadulterated intimacy.
He writhed expertly, his dark sheet of hair made darker by the night. The scar across his chest, a remnant of a long-ago car accident, reddened in the moonlight, and he looked like a wounded soldier out of some Greek myth that I have never been quite able to place—I traced it with my mouth and breathed his sour sweat-soaked stench in deep. No eyes watched us as we jumped off the diving board together in an embrace. Neither of us ran. I was overcome by a feeling of peace that I hadn’t felt since my first orgasm, perched on Ben Stedman’s bony form. It was the same kind of perfection, but with Jeremiah I wanted to know what could happen next.
He spent the summer in my little Connecticut town and we did the things romance movies told me people do. We saw movies and ate dinner by candlelight, took long walks just to feel our feet move and leave sweat in each other’s palms. As the sticky summer air transformed into the dry winds of September he had to get back to his apartment in New York City, a class of third graders at a St. Brigid’s School waiting for his tutelage.
We were at Mugs, the local bar, on his last night and his departure sat on our moods for the evening. He left me and my vodka cranberry alone to go to the jukebox, I stirred the ice in my drink, creating a whirlpool of liquor to watch as I waited, my eyes doing anything to not look at my dealer across the bar. It had been two weeks since I’d had any heroin, I had been taking a few Oxycodones a day, not wanting to waste any of my hours with Jeremiah in the cold damp pit of withdrawal—he hadn’t noticed any changes, but a new twitch had been added to my mannerisms that I couldn’t stop noticing. I was too embarrassed to have my ever-present summer fling know my weakness. I was far from recovering, still on edge when left alone with any stimulant—alcohol is a poor substitute to the high I feel now, clouding the stars above me. Pack of cigarettes empty, I spin in circles, watching the already blurred stars spin until they look like one great star on the black backdrop of the night.
The jukebox clicked to “Summer Nights” as Jeremiah walked back over to the bar, a gazelle flitting through a mob of hyenas. He grabbed my hand and pulled me into an embrace.
“It feels... relevant, don’t you think?” His eyes were such a deep blue that I just wanted to jump in them and drown. I put my face against his arm and huffed his sour stench. It left me lightheaded.
“I guess.” I wanted the night to end, and I wanted to stop and talk to the man across the bar. Jeremiah stopped dancing and grabbed me by the jaw. He kissed me before getting down on one knee, his short blue jeans left his ankles naked from the strain.
“I know this might just freak you out, and I know we’ve only known each other for a couple months but... I hate wondering and regretting. So... will you marry me?” I was freaked out, and my answer was no—I couldn’t take that innocent gaze a moment longer. I wanted to slap him but my arms wouldn’t move. I let out a strangled laugh, suddenly aware that the people nearest to us were waiting for my response as well. I ran.
I ran all the way to the pool, nearly a mile in flip-flops with a stomach full of churning liquor. My tar-filled lungs left me heaving as I reached the tarnished fence. As I slipped my key into the padlock I heard a sound behind me. I held my heavy breath to identify the unfamiliar sound, his steps like raindrops after a drought.
“I’m sorry, that was stupid.” His voice wavered like a child who’d been denied dessert; I turned to find his face a foot away from mine. I stepped forward to caress his unblemished cheek and kissed him. I can’t stand when men cry.
“No. I’m sorry,” I replied, I opened the gate and we walked through, “I want to.” I said it without thinking, I hoped so much that my subconscious was right. He let out a nearly nauseating giggle, and picked me up, his thin arms surprisingly solid, and ran across the concrete, I hadn’t been held like that since I was a child, when my father had brought me to the pool for the first time. I let out that same excited shriek as Jeremiah and I invaded the still, cold water. Still wrapped in his arms as he waded in the deep end, I turned to kiss him on the mouth—I felt like I was three again.
Sitting here, in the centermost point of the pool, with both the deepest and the shallowest ends in sight I can almost feel the sun and imagine the hot rays against my newly post-toddler skin. My father would throw me across the pool as hard as he could until I was red with impact, and I would ask for more. I had a pink-spotted blue inner tube around me, and after landing, I would pump my chubby legs in the opposite direction, teasingly. I can’t believe the exertion didn’t bother me. My thighs must have chafed in that frilly one-piece my dad had squished me into. My imagined sun quickly dissipates, and I find that I’ve absentmindedly poured the remaining contents out of my bag of dulled sunshine. The pile looks so much like an anthill that I’m afraid an army of bugs will come out when I touch it, but with slow and steady hands I manage to cut it into uneven lines. I’ve never done so much in one go, but each boost seems to make my memories hurt less, dwelling has never been my thing.
We got married at the Saint Luke Church in a town over from Weston a week later. I did two lines of heroin before the ceremony. Oxycodone wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to feel warm and personable—something I always felt with just a little bit of brown courage. I had to steady myself on Mary’s paper-white sculpted arm before beginning my lone march to the front. My mother’s wedding dress had been tailored to fit me, and the newly taken-in seams hugged the small curve of my hips before billowing out into a full skirt that I had difficulty not tripping over. Light shone in through the stained glass windows, leaving a rainbow of light fragments all over the guests; by the time I reached Jeremiah in front of the sanctuary I was dizzy. My eyes fought to focus on his. When they did, I felt so comfortable under his gaze that I wanted to burrow into his jacket and sleep.
I moved into his apartment and it didn’t take long to get a drug connection—but I was doing well. I got a job, a real not-just-pretending-to-do-my-job job, working at Jeremiah’s friend’s firm as the managing advertiser’s assistant. I had really quieted down my habit with Jeremiah’s adorable ignorance as inspiration—I showed an alarming amount of self-control, each day was sectioned off into three spurts of two lines. Most heroin users had devolved to injecting when they were as long gone as me. Not that I never considered it. I’m just terrified of needles. After a couple months of comfortable enough cohabitation there came, that day.
I snort the last line and stand. The world feels crooked. I begin to take small steps towards the deep end of the pool. The snow is falling harder now, but my skin is unaffected by its icy attack.
That day was like most days. I was watching TV while he took a shower; my feet were up on a stack of math tests he’d been grading earlier. I had begun to nod off, my head lolling to the right on the back of his threadbare loveseat. I didn’t hear him come in, and drowsily opened my eyes to a familiar gaze inches from my face. His lips were against mine. It was all so, routine. His fingers slipped up my thighs underneath my skirt and pulled my underwear away, I had to mask my shudder of revulsion at the feeling of his wetted fingers habitually moistening the soft uninterested walls of my vagina. Once he was inside he tore my shirt off and I moaned because I hoped it would make him get off faster. I missed that new feeling. Habitual sex was not for me, the largest lesson learned from my first long-term relationship. When he threw my newly unhooked bra I felt something slip away with it, and then I remembered.
I pulled his face to mine and kissed him, staring into his eyes. He smiled against my mouth; “you’re really liking it today, aren’t you?” I moaned again in response as he pushed into me with a newfound vigor. When I felt his semen crawling down my inner thigh I began to panic. As he extricated himself from me I knew it was too late.
“What is this?”
“What?” I eyed the bag, half full.
“I knew you were doing some shit, with that far off look in your eyes, but this looks serious.” He opened the bag and sniffed at it lightly, as though he could glean some knowledge from its scent.
“You’ll have to have your nose a lot closer to figure that out.” I laughed until I cried.
Now I’m back here, in this lonely wasteland where I began. I couldn’t stop. My mother was happy to receive me. Her once full house was now emptied of the mud-tracking children who had to break something purposefully just to get an iota of attention. She seemed more present, newly predisposed to take my side.
“You got married too soon. I told you that when you got engaged.” She didn’t. She just pities me because I told her that I’m pregnant. I needed to tell someone. Pregnant. Me. I didn’t even think it would be possible with the way I rape my body. It’s been a month since I found out, and I’ve yet to speak to Jeremiah—when someone says never talk to me again, are there loopholes? Is this one of them?
I feel more at home here, at the pool, than I do in my mother’s sterile house. My legs lose the ability to keep moving as I reach the wall of the deep end of the pool. Its lonely walls surround me, longing to be full of chlorinated water and flailing legs. The diving board above me looks like a plank to the heavens. I reach forward as though to grab on to it and remember how little of the pool is actually filled. I’m so warm. Unable to hold my body up any longer, I fall into the snow. Breathing is like doing sit-ups. Looking up, I can hardly see the sky—just the white of that diving board. I know what I need to do.
Thrusting my arms and legs in a circular motion against the icy snow once more, I use the last of my energy to make another angel—it seems so important, but I can tell it looks disabled compared to the one I’d last made. How long ago was that? I pull out my pocket-watch and I can’t even feel it in my hands. Have I gained super strength? I use my mouth to open it; my hands can’t seem to grasp anything. 2:23. In my peripherals I see a man with red eyes and a balding head emerging from the walls—he has my father’s dying smile stitched onto his face as though to mock me. My vision blurs. I hear what sounds like a crack and a winged demon with a familiar dark curtain of hair flaps toward me. I struggle to keep my eyes open to see my mother’s foretold pool-demons coming from the pits of hell—how did she know? I feel as though I am surrounded. I fight my immobile body, longing to defend myself from the onslaught—to run again, but my limbs won’t respond.
“It’s okay,” says one with pronounced veins pulsating on his forehead, eyes glowing in the moonlight. His gelled yellow hair is unmoving in the wind. I feel oddly calm. My eyelids begin to droop; gravity seems to be my true enemy. My body feels relaxed, lounging on a featherbed, but I fight it all the same. His assurance only makes me more alarmed, but my body and mind don’t seem to be connected—every attempt I make to move is imagined.
“We’ve come for you.” I almost want to laugh; he leans forward and touches me. I feel nothing—I didn’t expect to. I let my eyelids fall.
you always jumped from
airplanes, ‘til you died, of a
heart attack, in bed
Roger G. Singer
It was the last sign. A crease in the weather
where the beginning blends into a final draw,
submitting to the curtain of seasons.
A pocket full of pressed parables circled
within the eventide of lost logic and
faded common sense.
The sky shouldered misted illusions casting
shadows onto the plains of wide deserts
and unnamed valleys.
We were overburdened with empty thoughts
hanging on the trellis of minced words
and half promises.
A campfire formed a veil of flames competing
with the coolness of an early night sky. We
huddled close, warming our hands. Our eyes
reflecting ancient colors.
Forgetting How to Walk
Michael Constantine McConnell
By the time I started first grade, my mother and I had moved into our own apartment on the east side of Detroit, 14225 Glenwood, several blocks north of my Gus and Mary—my grandparents—and the yellow brick house, where I’d lived all five years of my life. My mother and I had briefly occupied the apartment across the hall from my great-grandmother, Nunie, but when she moved away from the yellow brick house, my mother followed her example and found a different place for us to live—an apartment with a landlord who would fix heating and plumbing problems, a place in a neighborhood where everyone who lived on the street didn’t have to listen to Gus and Mary scream at each other every day. Nunie moved a few streets south into a duplex apartment above my Aunt Mary Anne. Because my Nunie still lived only a few blocks away from Robinson Elementary, I often stayed the night at her apartment, and she’d walk me to school in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon so that my mother could earn money waitressing at the Coney Island restaurant in Eastland Mall.
The schoolyard made a huge impression on me in first grade. As a kindergartener, I only attended half of the school day and therefore missed out on lunch break and the special half hour recess. The lunch break was split into halves: the primary level students, and the third, fourth, and fifth graders. The primary students would start a half hour earlier; we’d eat lunch while the third, fourth, and fifth graders counted the minutes until their lunch bell, when they would file into the lunchroom and our teachers would march us out to the schoolyard. We would play on the gravel yard until the next bell, when our teachers would line us up and march us back into the building as a flurry of fourth and fifth graders dispersed into the schoolyard like confetti in a storm.
That schoolyard represented my first taste of freedom. Though teachers spread out over the yard to monitor the students, I could wander and play whatever I wanted with whoever I wanted to play with, and despite the fact that I’d gained a small level of independence from the world I was familiar with, across the street still loomed the yellow brick house, rising out of the pavement like a majestic golden castle. From time to time one of my grandmothers or aunts would sit on the side porch until I waved at them from across the schoolyard. Sometimes I would see my aunt Anne Marie, three-and-a-half years my senior, running full speed onto the gravel with her classmates as my recess ended and hers began, and she would wave at me and stick out her tongue.
Even though I no longer lived in the yellow brick house, I still saw Anne Marie every day. When my mother wasn’t working, she’d often babysit Anne Marie, and the three of us would play and watch the television, and my mother would usually treat us to dinner at a restaurant. One Saturday evening, she took us to a place called Andy’s, a diner on Gratiot. It was my favorite restaurant, not so much because of great food but rather because when my mother took me there in the daytime, the old men sitting on stools around the coffee counter would give me quarters and dollar bills and tell me to go get a haircut or buy a hot dog or put it in the bank, where it would eventually turn into a million dollars.
I ordered lambchops. I usually ordered a roastbeef sandwich with mayonnaise and tomato, and French fries on the side. Usually, I would wait until a special day, like my birthday, to order lambchops, when my mother would prompt me to order something more adventurous than usual. However, I ordered the chops and Anne Marie ordered whatever she wanted, and my mother said that it was alright, that she’d made a lot of tip money at work that afternoon. She bought us refills of chocolate milk, and we laughed and ate everything on our plates, and afterwards, we ordered desserts. I ordered a slice of cherry pie, not knowing that for the next several years of my childhood, I would blame that slice of cherry pie for making me sick and changing my life. Thirty hours later, I’d be checked into Detroit Children’s Hospital with days of tests to be administered before the doctors would conclude that I’d somehow contracted Guillan-Barre syndrome, a rare virus that attacks the nervous system, affecting one in every one-hundred thousand people.
My stomach started to feel queasy halfway through the pie, and I went to the bathroom and threw up. I’d eaten a lot of rich and sweet food all day, so the cherry pie was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. In this case, it was the piece of pie that broke my stomach. Because I was sick, my mother dropped me off at Nunie’s so that Nunie could take care of me while my mother spent time with Anne Marie. Nunie gave me a small cup of cola syrup to ease my stomach, and I fell asleep to six-year-old-child dreams.
I woke up the next morning on Nunie’s couch. My stomach still felt uneasy, and I had to go to the bathroom. When I stood up, I fell back down onto the couch. I stood up again and started walking, but my legs were very weak. All of my limbs were weak, and I couldn’t hold my balance very well, so I stumbled like a drunk across Nunie’s living room and dining room on the way the bathroom. When I walked back to the couch, I felt like I was trying to walk through a funhouse with moving floors. As I tripped and stumbled, even the walls seemed to jump away from my hands. I finally collapsed into the couch and pulled my legs off of the floor. The effort of walking to the bathroom and back exhausted me, and I knew that something was wrong.
“Michael, stop making all that racket,” yelled Nunie from her bedroom. I scanned the room from my position on the couch, where I lay in my underwear. I looked across the room at two armchairs draped with throw covers and the coffee-table and lamp between them. I looked at another wall, at a painting with a frame that Nunie had covered with little paper dolls that I’d made. I saw underneath the painting the patch of wall covered with dried boogers next to the chair where I’d sit and eat snacks and watch cartoons after school and pick my nose. I looked to a nearby corner at the small black-and-white television set that I’d spent half of my life in front of, eating fattening snacks and not getting dirty, because Nunie would not have that. I reached for the power button to try to turn it on because it was Sunday, and the Lone Ranger came on every Sunday morning, but I couldn’t reach, and I felt too weak to climb over the arm of the couch.
“Good morning, sweetheart,” Nunie said, walking out of her bedroom and tying the belt on her robe. “What kind of cereal do you want for breakfast?”
“Peanut-butter crunch,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “Cause that’s all I’ve got.”
“Nunie,” I asked. “Can you turn the TV on for me?”
“Michael, I ain’t gonna do everything for you,” she snapped, turning toward the kitchen. “You’re gonna hafta get outta bed and do it yourself.”
Nunie walked into the kitchen, and I heard cabinet doors swinging shut, the rattling of glass bottles in the refrigerator, the whoosh of cereal falling into a porcelain bowl. I rolled off of the couch onto my hands and knees and crawled a few feet to the television. I reached up and turned it on. My fingers cramped up as I turned the channel dial to the Lone Ranger. Nunie carried a tray with my breakfast into the living room as I crawled back to the couch.
“Michael,” she said. “What in the hell are you doing? You’re gonna get all dirty. Go on and wersh yer hands before you eat.” I could tell that she was getting mad because her Mississippi-born-bred-and-raised tongue drawled.
“Go on, now,” she snapped, setting my bowl of cereal onto a coffee table so that she could unfold a TV table for me to eat off of. I tried my best and slowly stood up, using the arm of the couch for leverage.
“Hurry up, Michael. Your cereal’s gonna get soggy, and I ain’t got no more. If you don’t eat it, you’ll have to wait until your mother comes to get you after church.”
“Okay, Nunie,” I said. “I’ll hurry.” I took a few shaky steps into the middle of the living room before stumbling into the dining room and grabbing onto the trim around the entryway separating the living room from the dining room.
“Michael,” she said. “Stop playing. Tommy’ll be here to pick us up for church, and I gotta get ready. Go on and wersh yer hands.”
“I’m sorry, Nunie,” I said. “I’ll hurry.” I walked slowly, holding onto the dining room wall for support and following the wall to the bathroom. After washing my hands, I started my return trip to the living room, this time trying to walk through the middle of the dining room. Halfway through, I fell down.
“Michael,” Nunie said, walking into the dining room. “Do you feel okay? Does your stomach still hurt?”
“A little bit,” I said, trying to stand. Nunie walked to me and helped me off of the ground.
“I feel dizzy when I walk,” I said, and I tried to take a step but started to stumble. Nunie helped me to the couch, and I could walk better with her help, but I could tell that my seventy-year-old great-grandmother strained under my weight, and her silence scared me. She walked into the kitchen and started calling people, saying things like, “I’ve never seen a child act like this before... no, I don’t think he’s playing... I don’t know, I just don’t know.”
I lay on the couch terrified. My mother and Mary arrived ten minutes later. They sat on the couch, palming my forehead and rubbing my legs. They helped me get dressed so that my mother could take me home, and my aunt Mary Anne came upstairs from her apartment. She helped my mother and Mary hold me up and lead me down the stairs and into the car.
Several blocks north, when we arrived at our house on Glenwood, my mother enlisted Malcomb, the teenage boy who lived across the street, to help me up the stairs to our apartment on the second floor. They acted as human crutches, and we slowly climbed step by step to the second floor, through the rooms, and into my bedroom, where I collapsed onto my bed as soon as they let go of me. I lay weak and exhausted on my bed because I’d exerted all of my energy. My mother and Malcomb stood panting, leaning over to catch their breaths. Though I could still walk a little, I’d grown much weaker since I woke up at Nunie’s house, and Malcomb and my mother had held up most of the burden of my weight, about one hundred and ten pounds.
“What’s wrong with him,” Malcomb asked my mother as she adjusted the pillow beneath my head.
“I don’t know,” she said, crying.
I closed my eyes and went back to sleep. When I opened my eyes, hours had passed. The last threads of daylight drifted through my bedroom window. My mother and Malcomb and Malcomb’s mother, who was a friend of my mother at the time, stood in my bedroom.
“Come on, Michael, baby,” my mother said to me in a very strong yet tender voice. “I’m going to take you to the hospital.”
My mother and Malcomb sat on either side of me. I raised my shaking arms and wrapped them around their necks. They stood up and I hung limp between them like a fat, wet hammock. They both grunted under my weight. I straightened my posture the best that I could, and the three of us walked slowly back to the front door.
“I’m hungry, Mommy,” I said. I hadn’t eaten all day because my stomach still felt sick from the night before, and I’d spent the entire day alternating between sleeping and the labor of trying to walk.
“I’ll get you something to eat at the hospital, baby,” she said to me.
“I gotta go pee,” I told her as we approached the front door.
“Can you hold it until we get there?”
“Yes.” We started down the staircase, the same staircase that we’d ascended hours earlier, when I’d had more strength and control. My energy drained with each passing second. I could feel their bodies flex. When we’d reached the landing, they paused briefly to rest.
“Michael, you’re going to have to help us more than that, honey,” my mother said, breathing heavily.
“I’m trying, Mommy,” I said. We continued down the rest of the stairs. My arms slid down their backs because I couldn’t hold on to them anymore.
“Hold onto us, baby,” my mother said, panting and straining. “We can’t carry you.” I took a breath and held onto them with all of my might. When we made it to the bottom of the stairs, my mother knocked on our downstairs neighbor’s door to ask for help. Matt came out and helped Malcomb brace me upright and guide me to the street while my mother started the car. Once they’d gotten me to the car, Matt asked my mother what had happened to me, and she told him that she didn’t know.
She drove north on Chalmers and took 7 Mile east to St. John’s Hospital, where I was born almost seven years earlier. She drove to the emergency entrance, leaving the parked car running while she went inside to find help. After a few minutes, a nurse with a wheelchair accompanied my mother to the car. They loaded me into the wheelchair, and even though the door to the emergency room was a few yards away, my mother reached into the car’s backseat and pulled out a blanket to protect me from the bitter cold of January in Detroit.
The waiting room was almost empty, and we sat there long after my mother had filled out the necessary paperwork. The few men in the waiting room were glued to the television. It was Superbowl Sunday, and the two best football teams of 1979 were battling for the NFL championship. Like my mother, I sat there wondering what was wrong with me. In the course of a day, I’d forgotten how to walk, and my muscles had forgotten how to obey my brain. Two days earlier, I played on the gravel playground sandwiched between Robinson Elementary and the yellow brick house. The day before, I could walk. Earlier that morning, I could still stand up on my own two feet. I sat in a wheelchair in the hospital waiting room, my mother holding my hand and telling me that everything would be alright, and finally the door separating the waiting room from the emergency ward opened. A nurse appeared.
“Right here,” my mother said.
“This way,” said the nurse. My mother pushed me into the emergency ward, and the nurse led us through the halls and into a room. A few minutes later, a doctor came into the room. He turned on a radio, adjusted the dial, and turned around to look at me.
“Stand up,” he said. I couldn’t.
“Lean forward,” he said. I used all of my might to do so, and I sat very shakily in front of him.
“Hold your hands out like this, like an airplane,” he said. I did. Voices on the radio yelled excitedly. The doctor looked at the radio and cursed under his breath.
“Touch your nose with this hand,” he said. I did.
“Now touch your nose with the other hand.” I did. My torso wobbled.
“You can lean back if you want,” he said. I collapsed back into my wheelchair. The doctor paused for a moment, listening to the radio and watching imaginary football players in his head collide with each other.
“Okay,” the doctor said after a commercial came on the radio. He held up a finger.
“Watch my finger,” he said. I did.
“Follow my finger with your eyes,” he said. I did. He shined a light in my eyes and looked into them as he moved his finger back and forth across my vision, from periphery to periphery. I watched his finger move from side to side. Then he turned off his light.
My mother asked, “What’s the matter with him, doctor?”
“He’s faking,” the doctor told her.
“Faking,” my mother asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, he probably just wants attention.”
“But he can’t walk.”
“He doesn’t want to walk, Ms. Piggins,” the doctor said as he walked toward the door. “I see kids do this type of thing all the time.”
Ten minutes later, my crying mother drove west down 7 Mile away from St. John’s hospital. When we got back to the apartment on Glenwood, she left me in the warm car and found Malcomb and Matt to help me back upstairs. This time, I couldn’t help them help me, and they carried me by my legs and shoulders like a piece of heavy, fragile furniture up the stairs and to my bed. As I drifted back to sleep, I could hear my mother on the telephone. I couldn’t discern her words, only her voice as it changed from scared to mournful to frantic to angry to scared.
She woke me up in the middle of the night, and Matt and Malcomb carried me back down to the car. This time, she got on the highway and drove downtown to Detroit Children’s Hospital. As soon as we pulled up to the emergency entrance, two nurses ran to the car, one of them carrying a blanket, the other pushing an empty wheelchair. My mother kissed me on the forehead, and the nurses loaded me into the chair, covered me with a blanket, and took me inside the hospital, which became my new home for the next seven-and-a-half weeks as I struggled to survive and recover from Guillian-Barre Syndrome.
Mama’s favorite was her only son–
the boy I was born to replace.
She lay on her bed, summer
and winter, moaning
“Dear God, why
have You taken my son?”
Papa founded a schul
for the son who died;
he davened there every day.
He called me Yankel,
taught me Hebrew,
brought me to schul
where I heard the men chant
“Thank you, God, for not
making me a woman.”
But at public school,
they pinned my hair with
a bow and took my picture.
I held that picture in my hands
and thought “I am a girl.”
This is the stadium,
high in these gentle hills,
where your dad and I were
graduated from college.
This is the campus where
in married student housing,
we fed you wax Brussels sprouts
we’d formed from melted candles.
You bit, trusting two year old, wept
at your first recognized betrayal.
You don’t remember the night
your dad and I stood screaming
in the kitchen. You crashed
from his shoulders onto the concrete floor,
your head hit, we snatched you up,
crying, crying, kept you awake
until we were sure there was no coma.
This is the university you chose to attend,
your only choice, you say, since the day
you and I rolled down the snowy hills to home.
You lurch onto the field with your class,
drunk, rowdy, and pure. From high
in the stands on this cold June morning,
I hear the band strike up.
You march forward,
radiant in your cap and gown.
I didn’t tell anyone about your wishes when I found them. Not that I was inclined to initially; I thought you were being melodramatic. You were always good at that, exaggerating the point to make the point. Looking back though, it wasn’t about drama. It never was: you were usually right and I was never good with nuance. You had to make things obvious. But your note, scrawled haltingly on the back of your to-do list right below the plumber’s number, wasn’t melodrama but foreboding.
I never mentioned your wishes back then. Not to you, that I’d found them. Not to anyone. Why would I? You seemed fine and acted as though this thing wasn’t urgent. And the smudge on that x-ray, I couldn’t make out what it was. I just nodded at the doctor and said “I see.” (You nodded too, but really saw, or knew.) You kept to yourself. Hell, we barely told anyone about this thing at all. You said it would be a bother to folks and I guess I figured we could handle it. Even when you started to change - got so skinny you had no ass and your eyes, so dark and sullen - and then so fast, I still thought we’d smile about it, in relief, some day. It was only when you started staying in bed that you told a few people you might be in trouble.
You never raised your wishes to me, either, back then. Not once. So why would I have taken them seriously? We didn’t think you would die.
When you died I didn’t tell anyone about your wishes. I’d put them out of my mind, to be honest. There is a process to death, and your wishes seemed irrelevant, and when they should have been relevant I could think only that you were gone. And that your wishes were not real.
Who’d have believed that you wanted to have your ashes mingled with your cat’s then sprinkled around that orchid you fretted so much about? All the things I have loved, you wrote. The orchid was blooming when you died.
Your instructions were precise. You were always specific about things you thought were important and that I might fuck up. I was to clean the vacuum thoroughly, first cutting out the hair (your hair, long and light and fine) from around the rotating brush, removing it all, and then washing the brush with your lavender-scented shampoo, letting it dry in the open air, on the bench, by the herbs. Then I was to wipe the inside walls of the canister clean before putting in the new filter. I was to choose a calm day and put down first the cat’s ashes, and then yours in a circle around them. The orchid you wanted on the shelf by the porch light. No ceremony, you wrote, but you wanted music for a last crazy dervish of a dance. Put on Elvis Costello, the note said, and vacuum up the ashes.
Then, take a handful of ashes from the vacuum and mix them into the soil in the pot around the Orchid. Carefully.
I did tell one person, god help me. It was Tommy. He stuck around. I never understood you two, the cockeyed glances and humor you shared. He got smarter when he was with you, and you always let him slide with shit you didn’t let me get away with. I never got it, the way he lingered here, sometimes, in the morning after nights he stayed over, and I had to get to work.
Anyway, I told only him. It was a Thursday night. It was almost a year since you’d died and I still ached. I’d found your note - the second one with the details - wadded in your jewelry box, and started going through things, in my head. I knew better, but Tommy was over and we’d smoked a blunt and were drinking Jim Beam from the bottle, and I was sad and it just came out:
“You know, she wanted to be mixed up with the cat? Can you believe it? And spread around that orchid.”
“What? What are you talking about.”
“Tina wrote a note. Her ashes. She wanted to get swirled in the vacuum and dumped in with the orchid. Nuts, right? She didn’t mean it.”
Tommy believed it. That you meant it. He got all quiet and pensive. Sat there stiller than a pond in morning. Sat for a long time just rocking a little, back and forth. Then bam! He slammed his hand flat on the table, shoved himself back and went straight to the mantel. The one you were always nagging me to make from that old gray barn-board you brought home from your grandpa’s in Missouri. Well I built it. Your mantel, where your ash box sat with the cat’s and the orchid. It was blooming, the orchid was.
Tommy didn’t hesitate at the mantel. He reached up and grabbed your box and smashed it on the hearth. Then the cat’s. He hovered over the orchid, twitched a little, and bowed his head. Then he stomped on you, and on the cat, and kicked the splinters and dust around the room, chortling, eyes glassed over, and I couldn’t tell if it was the dope working or tears, if he was laughing or crying. I listened. He was humming “Watching the Detectives.”
Then he stopped. Just like that, and flopped himself down, spent, into the ratty old overstuffed velour chair you used to curl up in to watch the fire. He curled up a little. There was no fire. I fetched the vacuum.
Now you are really gone. I didn’t follow your wishes and I’m sorry. Tommy told me it was selfish, that I should have gone with your wishes. If I loved you I’d have done it. That’s why he did it. That and he was drunk. But I do love you and I was going to have it done. I swear. Just, I wanted to get vacuumed up with you. And the cat. And get spread around the goddamn orchid that I don’t even know where you got and is a pain in the ass to keep going. We’d get sucked up and whirled away together.
Sundance on a Nike Silo
George W. Clever
Pittsburgh Fort Pitt--1700 English germ warfare killing
All long forgotten--Not by the Delaware
Stolen lands returned--Nike Missiles pointed at the sky gone
No longer wanted --Government throwaway in a world mad with annihilation
Singing Winds--Indian Culture Center now
Empty military gray green buildings-- For American Indian use alone
Polluted-- Killing us again by silent unseen means
It grows no crops--It feeds no deer
We dance there in the sun again--Above holes drilled in our mother
It is all we have--crumbs from stolen bread
Made in a stolen land--dropped to people who would not vanish
Assembling pieces from forgotten times--rebuilding a culture and themselves
About George W. Clever
George W. Clever is a retired Mathematic Professor, Military Commander and NASA Writer. Author of five books, he received an Honorable Mention for his story Bear Lake Brother. George is a traditional Native American dancer, musician and elder of the Eastern Delaware Nations. For his writing and art, see www.cleverartandbooks.com.
Another Unmarked Grave
You wake to the sound of a German officer thumping on the door of your one-room shack.
You and your parents don’t have time to pack. The office doesn’t tell you where you’re going: he just drags you out into the freezing street. Rain spits down overhead.
Father tries to ask something, but the officer prods him in the back with his baton and tells him to get moving.
Worried and anxious, you wonder if you’re going to be alright.
You are led down the road to the town square. The houses, small and decrepit where you live, grow bigger and newer. The rain increases in force.
The streets are as empty as a graveyard. When you see someone, they dart away, keeping their head down. Your unease grows.
The rain changes from a gentle patter to a growing roar. It beats down overhead, turning the street to mud.
You reach the muddy town center.
Outside the Mayor’s three-storied house are dozens of people, crying and wailing as they are loaded into German trucks.
The trucks are old and plain. Sagging tarpaulins stretch over decrepit wooden frames like shrouds, forming a semi-enclosed space on the vehicle’s back tray. The truck’s tires are crusted with mud and only one has both mirrors intact.
But what unsettles you most is the fact that the people being loaded into the trucks have the Star of David on their chest.
They are all Jewish, like you.
The officers load you and your parents onto a truck. You try to keep your eyes on the muddy ground and not look at the soldiers. Your parents have told you people have done bad things to Jews in the past. You have to avoid attention, or they could happen again.
As you stare at all the terrified Jews, you can’t help thinking you’re in the middle of another one of those bad things.
The rain reaches a new level of ferocity. It beats down on the tarpaulin above like the sticks of a drummer.
The truck rumbles away. The town recedes into the distance, leaving you behind.
The truck becomes your world for the next few hours. The rain is so thick and dense that you can’t even see the vehicle behind you.
You talk to your friends, trying to find out what’s happening. They don’t know anything more than you and the drum of rain on the tarpaulin means you have to shout to be heard.
After an age, the truck pulls into a train station.
A long, old train that looks like an animal carrier crouches on the rails. A pockmarked concrete platform lies next to it.
There are hundreds of red-eyed and weeping people at the station, all bearing the Star of David on their chest. The SS are loading them onto the carriages.
You and your parents join onto the end of a line, squinting to keep the rain out of your eyes. You keep your head down and trudge between tall German soldiers towards the train. They kick you, call you names and even spit on you. You try to shield your head with your arms, but you are powerless to stop them.
You are weak. Insignificant. Helpless.
You and your parents climb into a decrepit wooden carriage, bruised and shaken.
The windowless carriage is clad with wood; old and rotten.
More people file in behind you, making it too crowded to sit. You are pressed up against the wall. You would cry if your warm, comforting parents weren’t next to you.
The doors slam shut and darkness envelopes the carriage. The train roll out of the station. People cry, but the drumming of the rain drowns them out.
After hours of darkness, the train screeches to a stop. You’ve arrived.
The carriage doors are thrown open. Cold grey light rushes in, followed by the shouts of German soldiers.
You get out and follow the line of people in front of you, trudging towards a clump of brown buildings. The rain makes every step hard as it pummels you into the muddy ground.
SS officers stand on either side. They are even worse than the ones at the station.
You and your parents reach the camp’s entrance with spittle running down your bruised faces.
A gate swallows you as you are driven forward. Above it are three large, wrought iron words: Arbeit macht frei. Work makes you free. You haven’t worked out what that means yet, but you can already tell it won’t be anything good.
They lead you between tall, brown-bricked buildings. All the Jews in the camp are dressed in striped pajamas and are so thin their ribs are practically piercing their skin. You swallow and move closer to your parents.
You arrive in a large, wet courtyard. Hundreds of Jews are already there, divided into different groups.
The women and the men.
The young and the old.
The strong and the weak.
Your parents turn to you and tell you they love you. There are tears in their eyes. You hug them, eyes closed but tears still running out and mingling with the rain.
You want that moment to last forever, but before your heart has beat even a handful of tiny, precious times, you are wrenched away.
You scream and wail, desperately reaching for them. The officers pull you back, laughing. More officers drag your parents away. They raise their hands in a silent goodbye, and tears stream down their cheeks.
You are thrown into the midst of a group of children.
The rain’s pounding is oddly muted. The world is bleak and grey, and your parents have been stolen from you.
A baton rams into you, and an office shouts a command to follow the other children. You follow.
You don’t know how long you walk for. It could be hours. It could be minutes. All you see is the muddy ground. All you feel is the rain, beating down harder than ever, like little bullets dropping from the sky.
You bump into someone and stop. You are in a wooden building, long, low and dark. Mangy beds line the walls and light trickles in through thin windows.
The door slams shut.
You slump onto a bed. You stare at a crumpled ball of newspaper, oblivious to the cries of the other children.
It is an hour, or perhaps an eternity, before an officer opens the door and yells for you to come and see your parents.
But first, he says with a hint of a leer, you must take a shower.
Jed Herne Bio
Jed Herne is an architecture student with a passion for writing. He enjoys soccer, cut-throat board games and chances to discuss himself in the third person. Read his ramblings, thoughts on writing and other stories at jedhernewriter.wordpress.com.
They take turns, strange birds
In stranger plumage, plumply parked
Together on a branch that trembles
Beneath them – the confetti of their conversation
Litters the ground, crushed coffee cups
And empty creamers, intention of their coalescence
Become divergence: they scream
Their strange calls into strange and separate winds,
And when silence falls between them,
They are startled, unsure,
Taking swiftly to their wings
Before this single, still instant can become another.
Sharp and bitter as summer sweat,
The taste of wild wheat bites
Into my tongue, marking this moment,
A key which will forever unlock
The sensation of dry rutted mud
Beneath my feet, the hot, restless wind
Shoving rough fingers through my hair,
The way the sun clung to your pale,
Childish skin – you pushed aside
The limp brown hair, stared at me
Suspiciously, your sparrow bones poised,
Listening, as if the grasshoppers and birds
Would tell you true – those were the days
When you believed me, not because you should,
But because I was your only voice.
Who I Am
I never knew quite how my mom would answer the question that I’d pose to her each morning when I’d call at 6:45. It was the same question every day, a question that a daughter never imagines she’ll be asking the woman who gave birth to her.
“Hi, Sue!” my mom would sing out happily, after I’d identify myself on the phone.
“Hi, Mom! Do you know who I am?” The question might’ve seemed unnecessary, given that I’d just told her who I was. But with Mom, we just never knew.
When I was a kid, Mom used to brag that she still remembered phone numbers of clients from the days when she’d worked for a lawyer over a decade earlier. Her powerful memory had a tenacious grip on every family birthday and address, every Catholic prayer and hymn, and every baseball player and statistic.
But now, with the Alzheimer’s having wrested from Mom the control over her memory, everything had been slowly floating away – her sense of time, events, words, and people. Even her kids, my three siblings and I. Little bits of us were floating away, out of her memory, though it felt more like she was floating away from us.
So I would ask her, once each day, if she knew who I was. I hoped that reminding her would help her to keep hold of us longer. I’d ask because it was often fascinating to hear what she’d say. And I’d ask because I thought it would help desensitize me to the fact that my mother, as she was slipping away from us, might forget who we were to her.
I wouldn’t have put the question to her if I’d believed that it caused her pain. I always told people that my mom had “Happy Alzheimer’s” rather than the tortured kind, dementia’s rough equivalent of a piña colada compared to a shot of whiskey. People with Alzheimer’s often demonstrate irritability and even aggressiveness, but nothing seemed to faze Mom. She radiated serenity. In her Alzheimer’s reality, Mom’s natural sweetness had somehow become concentrated, distilled by the process of her mind slowly destroying itself.
When we moved her into a retirement community in Napa immediately after my dad died, I often joked that walking down the hallways with her made me feel like I was accompanying the Dalai Lama. All the way from her apartment to the elevator, the faces of residents and staff members alike would light up when they’d catch sight of gentle Mom, with her large dark eyes and friendly gaze. They’d reach out to touch some piece of her as she and I would stride along the indoor-outdoor carpet, past vacant upholstered chairs and paintings in shades of beige and burgundy. With our arms interlocked, Mom’s short legs would move briskly in her determined walk, and I’d feel like a giant next to her 5'1" self. She’d wave cheerily and bestow a special smile upon each individual, giving them no clue that she didn’t know who in the world they were. She’d reach out, often laughing, and pat someone affectionately on the arm as we’d pass.
For a very long time, I felt no need to ask my mom if she knew who I was. I knew that when she looked at me, I was as familiar to her as was her own skin. But, as is eventually the case with Alzheimer’s, words that expressed connections and categories gradually began to slip from her. We’d drive to see my sister in Elk Grove, and Mom would laugh at “all those animals,” pointing at the cows in the pastures along Jamison Canyon Road. My husband, John, and I would drive her to Twin Pines Casino in Middletown, and Mom would observe, “There sure are a lot of trees out there,” pointing to anything green out the window, whether grapevines, ferns, or pine trees.
John thought that I’d exaggerated Mom’s deficits until one afternoon on our way back from the casino. To get there, we’d twisted our way up two-lane Silverado Trail for an hour, past vineyards, over a mountain, through forests. For three hours, Mom had perched between us on a stool, the three of us laughing and punching non-stop the smooth plastic buttons of the nickel poker machines, while curls of cigarette smoke stung our nostrils and permeated Mom’s kelly-green cardigan.
The “ding-ding-ding” of dollars being won was still ringing in our ears as we started back down the mountain, and as John drove, I turned back to Mom and said, “Well, we sure had fun up there today, huh, Mom!”
Mom’s smooth forehead crinkled just the tiniest bit, and she asked, “Where? Where did we go?” On her lap, she was still holding the Styrofoam box of left-over tater tots, her favorite treat that she always ordered for lunch from the casino’s diner. They were still warm.
I felt the familiar little stab deep inside, and John and I replayed for Mom how we’d just spent the last few hours at a place that was still visible in the rear-view mirror.
“You were so lucky today! You got four of a kind twice, and I didn’t get it even once. Not fair!” Mom agreed with me, and burst out laughing.
Whether or not our prompting helped her to actually remember really wasn’t important. She was happy in that very moment, and all day she’d had a lot of happy present moments. John was still a bit taken aback by the realization that the whole day had already disappeared for her. But my mother was laughing as we headed down the twisty mountain road.
* * *
“So, Mom, do you know who I am?” It wouldn’t be my opening sentence, but it would come early in my every-morning phone call. I’d tell her I was Sue, I’d ask her how she’d slept, I’d ask her what she was wearing. And then I’d ask her if she knew who I was.
“I sure do!” She always said it with certainty, her musical voice clear and strong. “You’re Sue!” Triumphant and proud, she often punctuated this declaration with a laugh.
“Yup, I am! And do you know who I am to you? Do you know how we’re connected?” This, I always said in a relaxed and friendly way. No pressure.
That’s where it could get interesting. For a long time, she always said, “You’re one of my daughters!” On a day of great clarity, she might even specify, “You’re one of my four children,” or “You’re my second daughter.”
Then, as descriptors and connectors started slipping away for her, her answers became more convoluted, more cryptic, more curvy. I wonder if it’s strange that some of my favorite answers were the ones she gave after she’d lost some of her grip on her label of herself as my mother.
“Well, I’m not exactly sure, but we’ve known each other for a very long time.” This she answered very thoughtfully one morning, trying hard to be precise. Another day, her response was, “Are we in the same family?”
I affirmed that we were, and continued gently, “Do you know how we’re related?”
A moment’s pause, and then her response: “I think maybe we’re cousins.”
I’d known that eventually the Alzheimer’s would steal from her the sense of what day, season, or year it was, so gradually, Mom’s confusion over time and age stopped surprising me. But I still found it unsettling when her words would spell out for me just how lost she was inside. On that day I was her cousin, on another I became her sister, and then I was a very good friend. I realized that in her mind, I’d gone from being the generation below her to belonging to the same generation.
But we weren’t done, because not long after that, either I hopped up another generation, or she hopped down. I think she was the one who moved, because on the infrequent occasions when I’d ask her how old she thought she was, she’d gradually de-aged from “in my sixties” to “forties” to “twenty-two.”
On the day that my eighty-four-year-old mother told me on the phone, proudly, that I was her mother, I thought I’d finally heard all the answers that there could be to my question. I did hear that one a few more times, and I always clarified the actual connection. But as I did, I knew that I was doing it for myself, and not for her. She was happy either way, mother or daughter.
A few more months passed, and with them came another of my favorite answers: “I don’t know exactly, but I know that you’re one of the really good ones.” I figured I could live with that. It was definitely better than the alternative.
* * *
And then it was December 23 of 2009, and I was sitting next to my mom in the lamplight of her studio apartment. We were at the peaceful assisted-living place where she now resided, very near to my sister in Elk Grove. Mom was feeling a bit under the weather, so we were taking it easy, just resting quietly in her room. She was in her beige corduroy recliner, nestled cozily under the puffy flannel quilt I’d made for her a few years earlier, her short legs propped up on the footrest.
Since the day I’d given it to her, every single time she’d seen me and the quilt in the same room, she’d said the same thing. “You made this, didn’t you?” After I’d respond that, indeed, I had, she’d continue, “All the work! This must have taken you a long time!” And she’d pat it lovingly.
But today, she didn’t say it. Her cheeks were a bit rosier than usual, and, very uncharacteristic for her, she was quiet and a little sleepy in the middle of the day. I sat in a folding chair at her side, just quietly stroking the soft skin of her forearm, letting her drift peacefully in and out of her nap.
When she woke fully after a while, I just couldn’t resist. My right hand was holding onto hers while I traced a path on her arm with the fingers of my left hand. I asked her: “Mom? Do you know who I am?”
Her calm gaze was especially tender, and her smile was its sweetest. Her eyes warmed me as she answered quietly, “I sure do.”
“Who am I?” I couldn’t stop brushing my fingers against her skin. I needed to touch her.
Her answer was just: “I love you.”
That was all she said. And that was the last time I ever asked her that question. She had no more answers in her. But I probably didn’t need any answer other than that.
* * *
Less than twelve hours later, she quietly slipped into a mysterious, semi-comatose state. As she drifted in and out over the next six days, speaking a few words here and there, we hovered over her. My siblings and I knew that the last few bits of Mom were floating away from us, and we were in agreement that we wouldn’t stop her from going. For those six days, we stayed with her – talking to her, kissing her, visiting with each other in her presence, touching her. Slowly bidding her good-bye.
I’m grateful that she gave us that time. Two nights before she died, I was sitting on her bed next to her, watching her face as she lay on her back, resting. My husband was in a chair behind me, seated near Mom’s feet. I don’t think I was crying. I was just touching her arm, holding her hand, doing the things I’d done for days as Mom had gradually become weaker, and more inside herself.
Her soft brown eyes were open, and I saw that she was looking straight into mine. By that night, she’d become too tired to speak anymore, but her gaze looked so awake, so alert. So – Mom. Just then, she began pulling up both arms very slowly from where they rested at her sides. Inch by inch, she was raising them up toward her head until finally her hands were on top of her head, with her elbows pointing at the ceiling. Her eyes remained locked on mine.
I had no idea what was going on. She’d hardly moved for days, and this maneuver looked so strange, and so intentional. I wondered if she were having some sort of a weird precursor to a seizure. I felt a little nervous.
But Mom knew exactly what she was doing, and she wasn’t done yet. Her hands went a little higher atop her head, still moving so very slowly. Then I watched Mom lace her fingers together, and now, with her hands joined, she continued raising her arms higher and higher, until they were straight over her head, in the air, aimed at the ceiling.
Next, she extended her reach further out, toward me, now stretching forward as far as she could reach. Mom reached out in slow motion until she could slip her locked-together fingers over my head and rest them behind my neck. Then she slowly pulled me down, down, down, and the thought flitted through my mind that maybe her muscles were going to jerk and lock. Was she about to have a stroke?
And then somehow I felt on my right cheek the whisper of the papery wings of a butterfly, fluttering. It wasn’t until then that I realized what was happening.
My mom was kissing me, over and over and over again, her lips brushing my cheek with impossible softness. My mother was hugging me. It was my mother, saying good-bye to me, her daughter. My mother. She was here. And I knew that she knew who I was.
At that point, I needed someone else to see the miracle. Without pulling back or taking my eyes off of my mother, I choked out, “John? John! Are you seeing this?” His whisper from behind me let me know that I had a witness. Mom continued kissing me, and I remained still, not wanting to break the spell. I think I held my breath.
Mom’s silent kisses brushed me again and again, until I felt that my heart would burst. Then I lowered my face slowly and we rested against each other, cheek to cheek – mine, covered in the tears that I was by now sobbing. I lay on her, crying, for minutes, forever. I don’t know.
At some point, I raised my head a little bit so that I could see her. Mom then loosened her hands from behind my neck, and I felt them moving behind my head. Then I realized that she was moving them with purpose. Her hands were now gently smoothing the loose strands of my hair back away from my face, tucking them into my ponytail. She was still staring directly into me, her face like the sun. My mother. Her loving gaze poured into me, and on her face was the most exquisite smile I have ever seen. Was there ever a face more lit up, more serene, more tender, or more beautiful than my mom’s was at that moment?
I hope that the picture of her in that moment never fades for me. That night, when my mother kissed me good-bye forever, I knew that she was there. And I will always believe that she knew that I was there.
I was also there less than thirty-six hours later, when the butterfly fluttered away for good. I’m glad that I was there when it happened, when the softness of her features was molded into something else, something I’d never wanted to see but could not tear my eyes away from, because it was my mom.
But that’s not how I remember her face, because that wasn’t really my mom, just as I really wasn’t her sister, or her cousin, or her really good friend, or her mother. I will always be my mother’s daughter, even though for part of her last days here, she couldn’t always remember that she was my mother, that I was her daughter.
But it’s okay. I can remember for the both of us. I know who I am.
1-888-NO-JUICE. The ad ended with the actor looking in the general vicinity of the camera, awkwardly, completely void of stage presence. Jack didn’t see why they needed any damn commercial, it made it seem cheap, a sale of some kind. Nobody really wants vital shit done at a discount: People need juice (electricity), preferably, word of mouth. Why couldn’t he at least hire a bit actor or somebody with a belly of unwatchable student films on his IMDB page? His dad would do it all himself, and worse he’d given himself a moniker: Generator Dale. Generator Dale’s superhero powers were limited to criticizing his employees and being late with raises.
“Well, what do you think? Sweet?” Generator Dale said.
“Cheesy,” Jack said.
“You’re not seeing the big picture, as usual. Full service contracting. We sell it to them, then repair it when need be. It’s a cash cow.”
“You’d be pumping gas if it weren’t for me, you’re that thick, you know that?”
“Right,” Jack said. They both sat in uncomfortable folding chairs, the wheeled in TV gone static grey, Generator Dale’s 2-minute debut over. “I don’t think we need it, is all. Can I go work now?”
“Go, go,” Generator Dale said. “This is our future, but what the hell do you care with the way you swing that dick around town? Find a good woman and your future might start occurring to you, and I’m talking overnight.”
“Sure,” Jack said. “Listen, I need to help Mike with the box truck, he’s having a lot of trouble.”
“He told me. He’s not long for here: believe me. Go.
Mike had the open-back box truck up on the hydraulic lift with the generator still in the bed. Jack could see why his dad was on the verge of getting rid of him: Mike was a world-class bungler. Mike hit the switch and it slipped. “Mike,” Jack said, “Wait!” The arm swung, knocking the restrictor plate free, and a piece of metal shot out with incredible velocity, like an EFP, lodging itself into and through Jack’s skull. His brain popped open with all the resistance of an eggshell being stepped on by a steel-toed boot.
The splintering of his 25 years in an instant left him without light or revelation. The things he saw, or didn’t see, likely wouldn’t change his life if he got another hour or day or 20 years, but maybe they would, that’s why it’s a tragedy, or if nobody likes the deceased, an unfortunate accident–tomorrow rarely knows. As the piece of metal turned out his lights and severed his brainstem, the slideshow wasn’t one he’d expect to sit through: He didn’t see himself running for 156 yards and two scores in the county semi-final to go along with 16 tackles and a pivotal sack on the penultimate play of the game–bright side, he didn’t see his team get smoked by 30 in the final. He didn’t see the girl who didn’t want to marry him, who he first kissed in a stale garage a dozen Keystone’s in a decade earlier, and he didn’t see her making a fool of herself at some overcrowded bar down the shore with his cousin last summer, and he didn’t see himself sucker punching said cousin during an argument he’d claim was over Eli Manning’s value relative to the rest of the NFL at this past Thanksgiving, either. He didn’t see his friends’ bachelor party in Atlantic City where this stripper at Crazy Horse Cabaret literally quit on stage. Before she de-clothed: “Milo, fuck this. No, really, I’m out.” It wasn’t part of the show. She left and (hopefully) never went back. Nor did he see his one semester at college, where, from the very first seven-on-seven practice, he was moving in slow motion. He didn’t see the look of satisfaction on his dad’s face (there’s no point in playing if you’re not on TV) when he said he was done with football and was ready to work. He didn’t see the myriad of ways in which he kicked and screamed but still ended up where everyone he knew figured he would: working outside and waking up early. All his hopes and dreams and insecurities coagulated in a dark pool that slicked the garage floor, mating with motor oil and mixing with the salt and soot.
This, he did see: the street he grew up on, shooting hoops with the neighborhood kids, waiting for his dad’s turd brown work truck to round the block. Everyone knew if Dale had a few he’d want to play Error, a game he invented. It’s like Pepper but dangerous and has a scoring system. Dale would rocket the ball at the kids and if they caught it clean they’d get a point, if they bobbled or botched–error–he’d get a point. He always hit the ball harder if he had a few. Jack waits with the usual, but today, the new kid, Josh, his Korean neighbor, joins them. He’s speaks little English, or possibly he’s quiet. Dale steps in front of the pitch-catch-throw and picks up the bat: “What do you queers got?” Jack usually pitches because the mound is close and he’s the best athlete. “You throw,” Dale says. Josh doesn’t have a glove; Dale tosses him his smelly mitt. Josh steps up and sails the first pitch 10 feet to Dale’s left. “Don’t be afraid to buzz me,” Dale says. Dale hits a rope that connects with the squarest part of Josh’s face. There’s blood around his eye, but he pats his glove, wants the ball back, says, “Score?”
“Well” Dale says, “Technically, not an error, so...scoreless.”
“Again.” Josh sets to throw, “again.”
He Gazes From Above
He gazes from above
and watches the ants go scurrying along the pavement.
He lifts his shoe
and obliterates their motion with a paralyzing thrust.
He searches the clouds/
the raindrops are falling like droplets of pus.
She sees a figure/
A silhouette of motion captured in the fog.
They cup their hands/
supplicating sounds raised to an ancient God.
They press their beads/
the child with the empty stomach cries to sleep.
The girl is found
lying in the wash like a tossed out doll.
Down the road
a finger waves for a passing car.
Deep into the Woods
As I stroll by the red fern
seeing the wheezing breeze blow by,
I kick every prickly pinecone on my path
trying and trying to find the parking lot.
Every minute that passes by
pushes the wind stronger and faster
like the wind in Hermes’ Bag
and debris became gnats.
As the sun swiftly sets down
panic and fear sets over us.
Our silent stroll slowly rolled into a jog
that quickly transformed to a run.
My foot was met by a slithering reptile
so the run became a sprint.
Looking back wasn’t an option
and Usain Bolt never ran with siblings.
The thick forest felt endless
when I left my sister
when I closed my eyes
when I started to slow down
then I ran into my car.
Bill Chuang Bio
Bill Chuang was born in the bustling city of Taipei, Taiwan. He likes to eat apples while watching movies. Running in the rain is by far his favorite sport.
What Truly Matters
Grace Michel,p align="justify">
It is just after twelve in the afternoon, the heat from the sun blistering Marcus’s glowing skin as he walks along the desolate road. He is miles from where his pickup broke down, and the dry air thick in his throat. Each step he takes his muscles ache, every breath he takes feels like inhaling razor blades. But he pushes on; he knows he must keep going. He can’t miss the birth of his daughter, especially not because he’s a workaholic.
He’s trudging forward when the sound of tires alerted him to a car approaching. He quickly turns around and sees a black pickup truck headed his way. He throws his thumb out as the vehicle nears, he starts jumping up and down despite how much his body aches. The pickup slows as it approaches Marcus, a smile brakes out on his face and hope fills his chest. He might make it to the hospital in time; he thought as the pickup pulls up next to him. The driver rolls down the window and greets Marcus with a warm, kind smile.
“You need a ride, son?” the driver asks. He’s an older man, with graying hair and aged features.
Marcus smiles kindly at the old man, “Yes, sir, I do.”
“Where you headed?”
“I’m headed to St. Charles hospital.”
“Well, I’m going that way myself, hop in,” said the old man as he unlocks the car door.
“Thank you so much, sir; you’re a life saver.”
“No problem, son, my name’s Mark.”
Mark extends his small, wrinkled hand out for Marcus to shake as he introduces himself. Marcus grasps Mark’s extended hand and shakes, a kind smile on his face.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mark, my names Marcus. I appreciate your help.”
“Don’t worry about it, I been where you are before. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to get someone to help.”
Marcus turns to reply when he sees the look on Mark’s face, the slump of his shoulders further illustrating the sadness that bled through his words.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”
Mark turns to face Marcus for a moment before as begins to speak.
“Let’s just say that I used to work all the time, so I wasn’t at the hospital when I needed to be, and neither one made it.” He said his voice growing raspy as emotions choke him.
Marcus continued to stare out the windshield unsure how to respond to what Mark had just told him. Marcus’s heart twinges at how much his life and Marks were similar. They had just pulled up to the entrance of the hospital when Mark broke the silence.
“Don’t make the same mistakes I did, son; they will haunt you forever,” Mark said as he pulls up to the curb outside the front doors. Marcus turns to Mark and thanks him for all his help, only to see himself staring back at him.
Dazed and confused at what had just transpired Marcus rushes into the hospital, dashing from room to room searching for his wife. Cold sweat brakes out across his back as his search came up empty. Finally, he asks one of the nurses behind the white marble desk where his wife is.
“Your wife is in surgery right now sir, it appears there were some complications,” the nurse replies watching me above her red-rimmed glasses.
“The baby?” Marcus asks as Marks words swirled around in his mind like a raging tornado.
“Your baby is fine, she’s in the nursery if you want to see her,” the nurse replies a small smile on her face.
“I would like that a lot,” Marcus replies as he follows the nurse to his baby girl.
Once he sees his little girl he doesn’t move from his spot for hours, Marcus just stands there watching her as he waits for news. Time drones on till a doctor approaches him.
“Your wife’s doing great,” the doctor says with a smile.
When Marcus looks back on the events of today, he will always remember three things:
The complete relief and joy he felt when he saw his wife after her surgery.
When he first holds his baby girl in his arms, his beautiful wife snuggled up next to him.
Meeting Mark, who opened his eyes to what matters, his family.
I would climb mountains
swim oceans, shed blood and tears
to give you new life
Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
See YouTube video 2/4/17
of Janet Kuypers at the Bahá’í Faith Center reading her haiku poem “oceans” (Canon Power Shot SX60).
See YouTube video 2/4/17
of Janet Kuypers at the Bahá’í Center reading her haiku poem “oceans” (Canon Power Shot SX60, Threshold).
See YouTube video 2/19/17 of Janet Kuypers reading “oceans”, her haiku poem in the intro performance to the Austin “Kick Butt Poetry” open mic (this video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers joining people on stage and reading her 6 haiku poems “soul”, “eminence”, “oceans”, “violation”, “exterior” and “earth” in the intro performance 2/19/17 to “Kick Butt Poetry” in Austin (video filmed from a Canon Power Shot SX700 camera).
See YouTube video 5/6/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poems (Lumix) “keep”, “escape”, “force”, “drowning”, “oceans” and “destroy” in her “Haiku on the Fly” reading.
See YouTube video 5/6/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku poems (Sony) “keep”, “escape”, “force”, “drowning”, “oceans” and “destroy” in her “Haiku on the Fly” reading.
View or download the free PDF chapbook |
“Haiku on the Fly”
of her poems “bruised”, “bruised”, “blood”, “choke”, “can’t get you”, “bear”, “defenses”, “feel”, “fit”, “keep”, “escape”, “force”, “drowning”, “oceans” and “destroy” (of haiku poems read from 5/6/17 in Austin).
Collin had defied the odds. Laughing energetically, his veins pumped with adrenalin which set fire beneath his feet. It was time to go, in fact, time seemed to be making him go. This was not the first time this scene played out, and it likely wouldn’t be the last. All Collin’s life he had an undeniable need to run. When he could run no more, he would hitch rides with strangers. Sometimes, the strangers were truck drivers. Greasy, plump men who were eerily quiet or suspiciously talkative. Other times, young couples or even mothers with children would pick him up. Collin was always concerned about these women. Did they really not know the danger they were putting themselves in? Collin always wondered what happened to those naïve ladies.
This time was as casual as they come. Collin stood about a mile out from a rest stop on the side of the southern highway, with his scrawny arm outstretched and his thumb pointing up like a dog sniffing the air. This time, Collin wasn’t trying to go anywhere specific. When a truck the color of hell fire stopped next to him, he knew it was meant to be.
“Where you headin’?” The truck driver looked down at him, saliva popping out of his mouth with every word. “Need a ride?”
“Yes,” Collin responded.
“Well get in.”
Collin climbed in the truck, quickly putting on his seatbelt. This man looked different than the rest. He had hair that looked like a sunset, and eyes that flickered like emeralds. He was special. That much Collin knew.
The truck shook, and suddenly they were on their way. A few moments of deliberate silence filled the truck. Silence Collin counted on. He needed to assess his surroundings. He scanned the car for potential weapons and escape routes. He did this religiously. Suddenly the silence was broken.
“So.” The gleaming truck driver turned to Collin with a concerned smile on his face. “Are you going anywhere specific?”
Collin looked back at the truck driver, almost sad that this was his fate. He reached into his bag and pulled out a machete and smiled back at the truck driver. Before he could respond his pupils dilated and everything turned red.
“Hell,” Collin responded, as the truck veered off the road, crashing into a drainage ditch.
7/22/16 (based on the Fall 1996 poem “marilyn monroe’s sex life”)
some people would have
called me a slut
I prefer a vixen
Personally, I don’t think
I was doing anything wrong
I had it all
men adored me
most men would have done
the same thing I did
played the field
I wasn’t even looking for sex
I changed my name
got rid of the old boring me
‘til I was “new and improved”
changed whatever I could about me
‘til I couldn’t recognize myself any longer
and I had the fame
I had the wealth, the looks
I wore those stiletto heels
I stepped over the cracks
that could have sent me tumbling
why would I want one man
keeping me in place
maybe I’d borrow a man’s arm
to help me step over
those cracks on my way,
but what if I wanted to see
a bit more of life
through the eyes of other people —
why am I resented for that?
so I start seeing my ex again
and another ex
and a new guy
you know, most men
would normally love to have
a no-strings attached relationship
with a woman
why couldn’t that happen with me
why is it people
become obsessed with me
this person I’ve created,
this person that isn’t me:
is what I’ve created
really that famous,
I have rejected some men
so many times
they had to pick up their ego
from between he cracks
of the dirty floor,
but they keep coming back
telling me they love me
wanting me to love them back
I know I brought this upon myself
I wanted to go on this wild ride
but I don’t know how much facial cream
I can use to keep hiding those cracks
forming around my eyes,
I know I say “keep smiling”
but those deep lines
around this “vivacious smile”
are now cracks in my armor,
growing deeper and deeper
with every milestone I reach
I know I brought this upon myself
I wanted to go on this wild ride
but I didn’t want to carry any baggage
I thought I could make the men
carry it for me
and it seems that my bags
are getting heavier
and it seems that the bags
under my eyes
won’t go away anymore
those bags are getting heavier,
there are more cracks in the road
and everything now is so heavy
Step on a crack,
break your momma’s back.
Step on a land mine,
blow up your infantry.
Step on an IED,
blow up your military-grade Hum V,
not because you were at war
but because you were sent there
to try to keep the peace.
‘Cause if you’re not in a standing army
you can always improvise
and make explosive devices
to destroy an enemy
that’s only trying to keep the peace.
We’ve all taken that step before,
to lend a hand,
to help a blind man cross a street,
to help a mentally disabled teen
learn to swim across
the shallow end of the pool,
to open a door
for someone with their hands full,
to take some of the weight
from someone who has too much to carry.
We’ve all taken that step before,
and when we stepped into a war
we didn’t know that we were in
every generous move
could be our last.
That’s what we get for kindness.
That’s what we get for trying to lend a hand.
That’s what we get
for seeing those cracks in the road
and trying to help others
struggle through this maze of life.
Step on a crack,
break your momma’s back.
But be careful —
that crack could open into a gorge
and swallow you whole,
as that deepening crack
dines on your hopes and dreams.
Check around you,
check above and below,
‘cause it’s a slippery slope
when you trade kindness for security.
You’ve stomped through life,
you’ve gotten ahead.
when to step lightly,
and be prepared
with both that welcoming hand
and that big stick.
Be ready for every disaster —
and you’re ready at every glorious moment —
Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images. Starting at this time Kuypers released a large number of CD releases currently available for sale at iTunes or amazon, including “Across the Pond”(a 3 CD set of poems by Oz Hardwick and Janet Kuypers with assorted vocals read to acoustic guitar of both Blues music and stylized Contemporary English Folk music), “Made Any Difference” (CD single of poem reading with multiple musicians), “Letting It All Out”, “What we Need in Life” (CD single by Janet Kuypers in Mom’s Favorite Vase of “What we Need in Life”, plus in guitarist Warren Peterson’s honor live recordings literally around the globe with guitarist John Yotko), “hmmm” (4 CD set), “Dobro Veče” (4 CD set), “the Stories of Women”, “Sexism and Other Stories”, “40”, “Live” (14 CD set), “an American Portrait” (Janet Kuypers/Kiki poetry to music from Jake & Haystack in Nashville), “Screeching to a Halt” (2008 CD EP of music from 5D/5D with Janet Kuypers poetry), “2 for the Price of 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from Peter Bartels), “the Evolution of Performance Art” (13 CD set), “Burn Through Me” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from The HA!Man of South Africa), “Seeing a Psychiatrist” (3 CD set), “The Things They Did To You” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Hope Chest in the Attic” (audio CD set), “St. Paul’s” (3 CD set), “the 2009 Poetry Game Show” (3 CD set), “Fusion” (Janet Kuypers poetry in multi CD set with Madison, WI jazz music from the Bastard Trio, the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and Paul Baker), “Chaos In Motion” (tracks from Internet radio shows on Chaotic Radio), “Chaotic Elements” (audio CD set for the poetry collection book and supplemental chapbooks for The Elements), “etc.” audio CD set, “Manic Depressive or Something” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Singular”, “Indian Flux” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “The Chaotic Collection #01-05”, “The DMJ Art Connection Disc 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Oh.” audio CD, “Live At the Café” (3 CD set), “String Theory” (Janet Kuypers reading other people's poetry, with music from “the DMJ Art Connection), “Scars Presents WZRD radio” (2 CD set), “SIN - Scars Internet News”, “Questions in a World Without Answers”, “Conflict Contact Control”, “How Do I Get There?”, “Sing Your Life”, “Dreams”, “Changing Gears”, “The Other Side”, “Death Comes in Threes”, “the final”, “Moving Performances”, “Seeing Things Differently”, “Live At Cafe Aloha”, “the Demo Tapes” (Mom’s Favorite Vase), “Something Is Sweating” (the Second Axing), “Live In Alaska” EP (the Second Axing), “the Entropy Project”, “Tick Tock” (with 5D/5D), “Six Eleven”
“Stop. Look. Listen.”, “Stop. Look. Listen to the Music” (a compilation CD from the three bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds & Flowers” and “The Second Axing”), and “Change Rearrange” (the performance art poetry CD with sampled music).
From 2010 through 2015 Kuypers also hosted the Chicago poetry open mic the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting weekly feature and open mic podcasts that were also released as YouTube videos.
In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), the three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, poem, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me, Under the Sea (photo book), the Periodic Table of Poetry, a year long Journey, Bon Voyage!, and the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed.
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