Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Jim uses his camera to pick up spirits in nature. I put this photograph up as wallpaper on my laptop so I could look at them and think about them as I worked on a story I've been writing. At first I found myself thinking of the central figure as Queen Mab, who, according to Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," brings us dreams. I thought also of Diana surrounded by her nymphs in a line from Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale." The speaker has allowed himself to be carried away on the wings of poesy, seeing in the night sky "haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne/Clustered around by all her starry fays."
Then the central figure began to change, or show her many dimensions: an insect self, even a Virgin Mary self inset in the lower portion of the figure, and back again to her whole and truest self. I told Jim that I loved the photograph though it scared me a little.
What, I asked myself, has he caught in his lens?
He sent me another email, with the following two photographs attached, which he introduced as follows: well, if the frost spirits scare you, try these on for size.
Jim wrote back, referring at one point to a scrape with cancer:
i have gone partially through the portal. being close to death has that effect if you are open to it. this makes me really curious about death. will things come to me and ask what took so long? will they ignore me? do these questions even make sense in the context of death? will i retain enough worldly consciousness to know if these questions are answered? am i going to eat my sandwich before the dog laps it up? the little bastard is eying it already.
These final images Jim just sent me, saying he had caught them earlier in the day.
In the first, it seemed to me the spirit of man and fish moved through ice together, though what the relationship of man and fish might be, or how and why this happened, I cannot and do not want to say. In the second, I find myself thinking of Elizabeth Smart traveling with her cruel and delusionary abductors, though I am certain you will see better images. Why such an image would be caught in ice, I cannot say, so I am almost certain I must be wrong...unless these images are spirit photographs themselves, moments of our lives captured in the frozen waters.
Jim wanted to clarify something about his 'seeing' the images in ice:by the way, i cannot see these images in the world until i process them. the colors are too muted. so i am taking a picture of what is inside the door and seeing it later. later, the door has changed, so i can never go back.
When I asked him if I could post these on my blog so others could see them, he said: go for it. they are my gift to the world.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Brian Sabin/"A mother sits crying..."
Alexis Pope/"Coughing Up Petals"
Joshua Friedt/"The Girl with the Ridiculous Headband"
Michelle Sinsky/"The Edge of the Park"
Rachel Stone/"Dead Letters"
Cheryl Evans/"The Lady on the Bus"
Seth Hepner/"The Rat"
Sarah Oser/"Stuck in a Moment"
Sarah Dravec/"Absolution, Resolution"
Curt Brown/"They Brought It Up in Trucks"
Go right to any of these by looking in the Blog Archive at the bottom of the page and clicking on the writer.
The boy peered out his living room window, watching the sky morph in color and shape. As he had walked home from school the sky had been a bright, clear blue but the dark clouds had gathered quickly, following him down the sidewalk to his house. The boy leaned in toward the window till his nose touched the glass. Storm clouds and the setting sun gave everything outside an eerie, orange glow.
A loud sigh filled the room. The boy looked to his mother as she turned over and buried her head deeper in the couch cushions. She was asleep and unaware. She had always been the type that preferred a glass of wine and a long afternoon nap over the nagging responsibilities of a kid, a house, a life.
A flash of lightning drew the boy’s attention back to the window. The rain began to fall slowly, a sprinkling haze. The wind picked up and the boy watched as the neighbor’s empty trash can rolled and tumbled down the road. Then without warning the sky opened and torrents of rain crashed down. The rain blew sideways beating against the window pane in an unending percussive beat.
Headlights pulled into the driveway, shining through the window and momentarily blinding the boy. He blinked rapidly and involuntarily leapt to his a feet, a surge of adrenaline pulsing through his veins. He quickly made his way to the small, dull-yellow kitchen.
The front door slammed and in an instant the boy had secured himself in the cabinet under the sink. It was a small space and his legs tangled with cleaning products and the cold, wet sink pipes. The boy could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears and he took a few deep breaths to calm himself.
It began as a muffled disagreement, a small skirmish whose accusations were drowned out by the pouring rain. But then the shouting began. It grew louder till screaming words cut through all other noise.
The boy could only make out a few words and phrases that reverberated off the walls but he couldn’t seem to understand what was actually being said. To him every shout felt like a sharp stab ripping through his stomach. He wrapped his arms around his middle tightly, attempting to protect his insides from the onslaught of words.
Soon the screaming was accompanied by a scuffle of violence. The boy winced at the noise of something large and metallic crashing to the ground. Next came the sound of breaking glass or perhaps it was ceramic? Maybe it was the blue lamp that sat on the end table or was it a window?
The boy decided it must have been a window because the sounds of the storm felt suddenly more intimate. He swore the howling wind was whipping right outside his thin cupboard door. His mother’s unintelligible sobs were mixing with the sound of the beating rain. Something, most likely a fist, banged against the wall and the vibration traveled all the way to the boy’s hiding place.
The boy squeezed his eyes shut. He wrapped his arms around his legs and drew them in closer to his chest. He could feel a small insect crawling up the side of his leg but he didn’t dare make a move to swipe it away. No, the boy sat completely still and waited for it to stop.
He knew it would stop eventually.
It always stopped eventually.
Less than a half hour ago, when she arrived home from work, she came in to find a nearly demolished interior. The lamp lay broken next to an overturned television whose screen was blank and cracked but still projected the sounds of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Her first instinct was panic. She didn't know if the children were safe. Their father—her husband—was recently laid off from work, so he should have been home to supervise them.
A commotion from the back room instilled fear but an unselfish courage all the same as she raced to the room to investigate the sound. To her dismay, she walked in on her husband who had just finished killing their children. An instant rage overcame the woman but fear for her own life caused her to flee. As she ran for the garage—husband now in quick pursuit—he managed to tackle her and a struggle ensued. He clamped his hands around her throat which is when she realized that she might not make it through this encounter alive. Her only chance was to raise her knee into his groin and hope for the shot of a lifetime. Fortunately for her, she landed a perfect strike and he grimaced as he rolled off of her.
She then made her way to the garage—scraped and bloody—to her son's pile of baseball equipment where she was able to take his aluminum bat, walk back out to her still reeling husband, and proceed to bludgeon him to death. For ten minutes she continued to swing until she could no longer lift the Louisville Slugger over her head--he'd been dead for nine of the ten minute beating.
He lay on the ground, white t-shirt soaked crimson, and she walked to the front of the house, half-dazed, thinking about her dead children as well as the revenge she took on the man who took them from her. Sitting on the front steps crying, traffic screams past without so much as a passing glace from the drivers.
Well it’s another sleepless night for the young woman. By young, I mean a thirty something divorcee trying to hold on to youth as humanly possible. Every time she closes her eyes, all she sees is his face. This face of his has definitely gotten her into trouble. What on earth was she thinking? Did she think that a much younger man would be the answer to her lonely nights? She suffered a marriage with someone who treated her more like a roommate instead of a soul mate. This young man showed her more passion and zest for life then she knew how to handle. She liked the excitement the risk she was taking was worth the price she was later going to pay. Oh and she certainly was feeling that pain now, it’s been over a month and yet there he is in every thought, taunting her. He put an end to the love affair simply stating that he was way in over his head and that this relationship couldn’t possibly go anywhere. YES, he is correct but why wasn’t it her, the older more mature adult to make this decision? Instead she fluttered around like a little school girl thinking that perhaps this could work. Well why not, it works for Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher and they appear to be happier than most Hollywood couples? That’s it she rips the comforter off of her and gets up swiftly out of the bed. She needs to go outside to catch some fresh air, the cool early autumn night may help calm her nerves. Just wearing cotton pajamas and a t-shirt she takes a seat on her porch steps. She closes her eyes gently, takes a deep belly breath in, pauses and slowly begins to exhale. Her eyes open but have become misty from the autumn chill in the air. She is thinking that this may validate her to just start crying uncontrollably but she may not stop till daybreak. Just then she looks to the night sky and notices that some whimsical clouds break away and there in all its luminous wonder is the moon. It is a harvest moon, it has a shade of blue, she cannot peel her eyes away from its beauty. How amazing, how the sight of something so beautiful can literally take our breath away in an instant. She thinks for a minute who else might be out at this time of night, gazing into the same mesmerizing moon, perhaps also contemplating life’s greatest mysteries? Through the clouds a hawk makes his way dancing through the night sky without a care in the world. The bird is free floating and living for the moment, not worrying about what may come tomorrow. How silly is it that this woman is worrying about something that she chose to partake in. She knew what the circumstances would be but yet continued to follow her heart. Correct, she followed her heart because up until recently she was over-thinking her decisions and not enjoying herself. It probably wasn’t the right decision but oh well she took it anyway. What is life without risk anyway? Perhaps this was just another chapter to be added to the book of lessons titled “What not to do with a handsome man who has nothing to offer but his great body and witty charm”. A wild delirious type of laughter begins to rage out of her. Was she really losing sleep over such a petty little game called lust? Deep down it does leave a little sting and from time to time when she looks back it will make her question “Why did I think that was a good idea”? The end result is this, it is better to fall flat on your face and feel the earth below you, rather than wonder why you didn’t just tie your damn shoe laces and play it safe from the beginning. She takes in another deep breath in and releases a smooth exhale. She picks herself up off the cold porch and starts to head back into the house. She turns to take one last look at the moon and it is gone, hiding again amongst the clouds. It served its purpose for the evening, now it is up to her to be at peace with her decisions. She smiles and turns to go into the warm house and into bed. Hopefully this is just what she needed to rest her mind and body, at least for tonight.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
The little girl, blonde ringlets and all, walked up to the small tree. This tree, bare except for a few thinly spread leaves, was exactly five years old today. It had been growing in the space between an abandoned playground and a neighborhood street in desperate need of a fresh asphalt job. The little girl had watched this tree grow from infanthood to its present stature. Lately she had lain in her bed at night wondering about death, and also what it would be like to drive a blade into the tree’s barky flesh. The blonde girl tightened her grip around a hatchet she was hiding behind her back in her right hand. Playfully running her left fingertips along the hem of her pleated skirt, she stood directly in front of this tree and was a threat to the life it had just begun to enjoy. The tree, in fear for its life and finding itself in a quite stationary position, had little time to think of a plan of defense. On his fifth birthday this tree was already experiencing a potentially tragic situation.
The tree decided to reach deep, down into the earth. His roots ached as he gathered energy from the rich soil and allowed it to run up his trunk and stretch through to the tips of his branches. Suddenly the tree began to grow at an incredibly alarming rate. The little girl clenched the arm of the hatchet, with both fear and amazement. This was not ordinary. She had never seen anything like this before. Neither had the tree, and he’d seen a lot (especially late at night in the playground, mostly between horny teenagers, but that’s another story).
His branches spread out before her. Creating a constellation of deep green leaves in the air above her head. Flowers began to blossom from a previously flowerless tree. Petals of rich color: red, pink, yellow, orange, purple, even aquamarine. Now that’s cool! His blossoming flowers were much more than ordinary. They formed into shapes. Now, not your average flower shape, but actual images of for-real things: lollipops (the girl loved these tasty treats), underpants (she was also familiar with these), bicycles (she was pretty into hers), coffee mugs (she preferred hot chocolate), and other pretty spectacular shapes, but I could go on forever so I will restrain myself.
Now the tree became pretty exhausted during this process. He could no longer manifest these outrageous blossoms. He stopped. With any strength he had left, he hoped. He hoped that the little blonde girl would not heave the hatchet into his trunk. Investing every inch of bark and root to hold his position long enough for the little girl to retreat. The girl stood very still. Staring at the tree, an icy gray tear appeared at the corner of her eye. The tree’s petals, feeling her pain, began to fall around her shoulders. They fell in waves and the shapes melted off the branches, broken into singular entities. The petals’ colors were glowing, illuminated by the earth’s raw energy. The blonde girl’s mouth was slightly ajar and one lone petal fell onto her plump young tongue. It tasted of fresh fruit, the tree’s life became one with her saliva, and she swallowed.
Suddenly she felt a warm, tingling from within her belly. The tree watched as her skin, once pale, was consumed by an all-encompassing blush. Then brown hues took the place of pink. Her feet began to grow: long and espresso-colored. They broke through the grass and into the soil. She was taking root. The hatchet fell from her hands, as her fingertips became branches. All over her body bark grew from her flesh. Her eyes, mouth, and nose became divots in her trunk’s surface. The hatchet’s wooden arm dug into the ground as well, silver flowers sprouted from its blade. The girl’s thoughts about life and death disappeared. Her body began breathing sunlight and she dug deeper into the rich earth. Her blonde hair turned to green leaves. The tree’s birthday wish came true. He now had a partner to share his life with. The girl, now tree-girl, was also happy. Instead of destruction she was the very image of life.
My favorite song is “Purple Rain,” but not the version made famous by Prince. I prefer an alternative version I heard back in middle school, it’s edgier and has some amazing guitar riffs, it’s such an awesome song. As I ride my motorcycle down along the beach front I happen to hear that particular version, which I haven’t heard in at least a decade. As I pass the corner made famous by a local celebrity, I see a group of girls running. The girls are dressed in typical athletic attire; one of them is even wearing a ridiculous sweatband. Across the street I can hear the laughter of three surfer dudes exiting a surf shop, boards and wax in hand. As I complete my turn around the corner to continue my journey home, I can still hear that song playing, drifting in the warm, salty summer air. It’s almost as if it the song itself was following me, like it knew I loved it and didn’t want it to end. I pulled up into the white sand-covered driveway of my apartment complex; the song was still mysteriously playing. How could this be? No one appeared to be around, it was a very warm day and like most warm days, everyone was at the beach. Freaked out by my current thoughts, I hopped off my bike and bolted for my apartment, I couldn’t get there fast enough. Upon entering my chilly, yet comfortable living quarters, the song stopped playing. But, little did I know, this wasn’t my apartment. Something didn’t feel right, how could I have gone into the wrong apartment, I’ve lived in this complex for the past ten years. As I began to get lost in my thoughts I realized I couldn’t hear. I attempted to figure out what was happening, bright flashes of white light began to encircle me. The events that were occurring didn’t add up. “Sweet Jesus,” I thought to myself, “have I lost my mind?” I tried to scream for help, but I had no idea if any noise was escaping because I couldn’t hear… utter silence, deafening silence. Outside, I ran around and spun in circles, still no one to be found, but the girl with the ridiculous sweatband. I weakly and feverishly uttered words so I could ask what was happening. The girl replied, “You struck me with your motorcycle. As my body flailed in the air my head collided with the road, killing me instantly.” I then asked her, “How is this possible? If you’re dead, why can I see you?” With much hesitation she replied, “You also died in the accident.” As I came to the realization that I, Justin Andrew Mahoney was dead, no longer to exist in the world, “Purple Rain” began to play once more; warm, glowing whiteness engulfed our bodies.
As soon as the coin slipped into her pocket, she made a quick and pointed pivot with her heel and continued down the street. She took an unhurried drag from her cigarette, putting the pocketed hand into reverse and fixing her hair with the flat of her hand, just as she imagined it to look were someone strolling alongside her with a large mirror.
The park ahead presented itself like a mirage behind a hill, though under her feet she knew it to be completely flat. She felt the sudden impulse to duck, to shrug into her jacket and disappear, to bolt; she stuffed this down as securely as the coin, but it turned in her pocket nervously.
"Hey!” A whistle from the car parked some spaces behind made her straighten and at once the smile returned to her face. She walked towards the playground. It was early in the evening for this but the day was bright, still; traceless of the town’s frequent overcast.
The boy on the swing set grew larger and the dirt sucked her heels square into the sod. Not that one. Her feet noted the resistance of the earth; her hands swung coolly and indifferently. A girl skipping rope was called away to supper and in the corner on the perimeter of the blacktop, two boys poked a dead frog with a stick.
She spotted a smaller one with a single piece of chalk by the bushes and walked over.
"What's your name?" She knelt and dropped her shoulders to his level.
"John." He dragged his chalk in directionless lines.
Her hair was dyed the color of baby powder, of communion linens, of textbook pages, of all things innocent and weightless. But her eyes were a hard black.
"Myra." She smiled and took her fingers away from her hair.
John took the outstretched hand and walked out to the car's open door. At the edge of the park the chalk fell earthward and broke.
Dim candlelight lit the hollow darkness, as I read the ardent letters from my mistress. Her beautiful, precise handwriting was like calligraphy on the page. She wrote to me of poetry and passion, and as I read her letters, I recalled our last meeting with great despair.
Arabella was stunning in her sensuous, aubergine dress. She inched toward me, her voluptuous hips swaying beneath the silk and crinoline. Her piercing gaze set my heart ablaze, and I wondered why I ever married my wife. Arabella had always won my sincerest affections. Her raven-black tresses fell down her chest and back, and they brushed against my neck as she leaned in to kiss me unabashedly. Without hesitation, I wrapped my hands around her perfectly cinched waist, feeling her curves under the loosened fabric of her bodice with my calloused hands, a low growl in my throat. Gently, my fingers traced the fine boning of her corset. Arabella’s lips rouged with my familiar, intense kisses. The air grew heavy; my knees weakened, just as they always did whenever Arabella was around.
“Henry,” She rasped suddenly, as if awakening from a trance.
“Yes?” I said, slowly kissing down her alabaster décolletage.
“We mustn’t do this,” She replied, pushing me away.
“Why?” I asked, not understanding. Emily and the children were away for the whole night, with my mother-in-law. There was no reason to discontinue.
Arabella looked away, her blue eyes turning gray with unspeakable sorrow. “I am terribly sorry,” She began. “I’ve met someone else.”
My head began to spin. This could not be happening. I would not lose the woman—only woman—I ever loved; it took a while for me to be able to think, let alone speak, but eventually I asked the one question that had been smoldering on my lips, like an over-seasoned curry:
“Someone,” She sighed simply. Her lithe body was shaking now; clearly, this was not easy for her, either. “There is nothing you can offer me anymore. I don’t want to sneak around. I want a real family—a real husband.”
Desperately, I wanted to protest, but she was right; my duty was to my wife, regardless of how much I wished otherwise. I knew this now.
“I still love you,” I said tenderly; the words fell from my lips like a hopeless prayer. I could feel my heart—a dead weight in my chest.
Arabella said nothing as she walked out the door, tears glistening from her rosy cheeks.
The last of Arabella’s letters felt like an albatross in my hands. I was a useless puzzle, for half of my pieces were missing. Without her, I would never be the same.
Numbly, I stared at her last letter, unsure of how to carry on. But then—on an impulse, I threw the letter into the fire, deciding that her letter’s ashes were better-suited to my memory of our last encounter.
The red-hot coals melted the fine stationary from the inside out, and I pretended to find salvation in the incinerated pieces.
I would never have another mistress.
Friday, September 3, 2010
The room was cool and quiet, lit only slightly by the neons outside the open window. A light breeze rustled the curtains every now and then, and the sounds of the city outside played like white noise in the background. She moved through the room with a purpose. There was no time to spare and no time to hesitate. She made no noise and was quick and efficient in her actions. She did not think. If she thought, the memories of her life, of her actions, might cause her to fumble. She did not have time to fumble. Time was of the essence. She counted the documents she had collected, leafed through the photographs. Was it enough? Was it convincing? Was it everything she needed?
She dressed quickly in a non-descript black outfit. Her whole existence rested upon her ability to blend in to the background. To never be noticed. As she fumbled with the buttons on her jacket, her thoughts began to slip. Was she a good person? Was she moral? What had she made of her life? Quickly, she pushed her emotions aside, never noticing the button that fell from her jacket to the floor. She gathered her belongings and stepped out into the busy evening street. The people that passed by seemed ordinary, but she could never be sure. She could never let her guard down. Did they know? Did they see her? Could they tell? She never made eye contact.
She hailed a cab, stepped inside, and gave the driver the address. The stillness in the cab was unnerving compared to the bustle outside the window, and the stagnant air forced her to crack the window for relief. She breathed the cool fresh air deeply as the cab slowly crept forward through the busy streets. She checked the documents and photographs once again to make sure they were accounted for. Occasionally, she would glance over her shoulder out the review window of the cab. The cab ride seemed to be taking longer than it should have been….
When the agents entered the room there was a pervading, quiet stillness except for the noise of the street drifting up through the window that was left open. The room appeared untouched, never occupied. They searched the drawers, cabinets, and dressers not knowing quite what, or who, they were looking for. They were chasing a ghost. A nameless, faceless person, always one step ahead. As the last agent left he scanned the darkness. As he stepped forward he heard the distinct crack of something under his foot. He bent down and picked up the two halves of a broken copper button that lay under his feet…
As the cab continued toward its destination she sat in the back with a cold sweat beginning to collect on her neck and forehead. Somewhere off in the distance she heard the sound of a siren and wondered if it was finally all over.
The woman in front of me keeps bumping me with her bags. Her arms are loaded down, and I can see the red grooves that her bags are making in the soft flesh of her forearms. It looks painful. She's teetering back and forth and I swear on the next turn she's going to fall over. It's the bags. They’re throwing her off balance. I will never understand why people insist on buying more than they can carry. I mean, didn't she know she would be riding the bus? Not that she’s dressed for it. Her hat is bubblegum pink and looks like it could be made of felt or something. It’s one of those funny french hats, a beret I think they’re called. And then there is the dress. It’s pink, like the hat. And it fits to her body like plastic wrap on leftovers, really tight in some places and baggy in others. It’s low in the front, so low I can see the tan line from her bathing suit on her breasts. Her skin is lightly golden 'til it hits that line and bam! White as whipped cream. Her earrings are so heavy they are pulling down her ears. And they’re cheap. The kind that you know is supposed to look expensive but isn’t foolin’ anyone. The bracelets loaded up her arms clink every time she sways and her feet are shoved into stilettos at least a size too small.
You know she is really trying to look sophisticated but the heat isn’t helping her one bit. Sweat slicks her hair to the back of her neck and it’s starting to curl around her face. She probably spent hours on that hair only to have it ruined by the lack of air in this tin can on wheels. It’s obviously dyed and she probably calls it blond but it's actually yellow, like the petals of a daffodil. It’s oddly pretty actually.
As the bus comes to a stop, a kid whizzes by on his scooter, squinting to look in the windows of the bus. I wonder if he can see her hair, lemon yellow under a pink beret, through the bus windows.
I am fixated on the woman in pink. I have so many questions for her. I wonder what she does? Is her to-do list filled with tasks like dye hair, get manicure? Does she work? No, she can’t to be shopping on a Monday. Does she have kids? I wonder...
A screeching baby snaps me back to reality. The mother sings softly to the child, trying to soothe her. I turn around to glance at the baby and when I look back she’s gone. I stand quickly, knocking my purse off my lap and dumping its contents onto the dirty bus floor. I scan the bus in a kind of panic to see where she went. Then I spot the hat, bobbing toward the front of the bus. As she exits she stumbles, her heel getting stuck in a sidewalk crack. She moves through the crowd on street head held just high enough to seem forced. The bus lurches forward and she fades into the distance like pink mirage.
I wonder where she’s going, wonder, wonder.........
A man sits in the sunroom of his colonial home with his legs crossed reading a newspaper. His recliner creeks as he reaches for the coffee mug sitting on the end table beside him. Not even one ray of sun shines through the windows, but the inches upon inches of snow provide the light to skim the crime notes in section B of The Repository.
He shakes his head as he passively reads through the easily comparable drug related arrests the previous night. The longest of the crime notes deals with a hold up at the liquor store, just down the street, that the man visits almost daily. Without his fix of Maker’s Mark Whiskey or warm glass of red wine, he’s never able to sleep well enough through the night to feel capable of reading the paper before his 10 a.m. breakfast date with the regulars at the local diner. Knowledge of the local news is required to participate in the discussion at the breakfast table.
Turns out, the man who robbed the liquor store got away, and the police are offering a reward for any information on a suspect. Ironically, he only got away with two liters of Maker’s Mark and a bottle of sweet vermouth. While adjusting himself in the recliner the man thought a good Manhattan, free of charge, might be worth the risk of prison.
The thief wore a typical black ski mask, clothes, and gloves that covered his skin. The clerk confirmed this and that a small hand gun was held to his forehead at one point.
The man closed the newspaper; he folded it just right before tossing it to the beige carpeted floor. Outside the window a large rat struggled through the snow like a man climbing a mountain. He wondered if the thief’s experience was anything like the struggle taking place before his eyes, and he doubted it very much.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
The hummingbird hung in the air, suspended in time. It seemed that he really wasn’t moving at all. He was like an image, like a photograph captured in one isolated moment. He was unreal; his vibrant colors, the yellows, blues, and greens couldn’t be natural. Everything about him went against the laws of nature—the way he was frozen in air, his intense coloring, and the way that nothing affected him. Not even the breeze could move him.
From a distance it appeared that he wasn’t even a living breathing thing. In reality, his heart was humming and pounding rapidly and his wings flapped wildly—so fast that the human eye couldn’t see. What seemed to be a moment stuck in time was really the opposite. So much speed prevented this animal from propelling into motion.
All around the hummingbird the rest of nature was in motion. Leaves blew in the breeze, lifting off the ground, swirling around in the air before landing back on the ground. Birds made dramatic plunges from far up in the sky only to level out inches from the ground in an effort to catch their prey. Cars speed by with passengers inside hurrying towards their destination. The passengers are moving so fast that they are unable to perceive the bustling life around them.
The hummingbird remained suspended in midair. All his movements were concentrated on staying in this one space. Although the surroundings were so hectic, nothing could match the humming of the bird’s pulsing wings.
We called her “Spider-Girl” inspired by the spider web design in black ink that adorned her left arm, tracing all the way down it and tapering off into her middle finger on the back of her left hand. But the name could have come about due to the fact that she looked almost like a spider. She was thin, spindly, and sickly looking. Pale white with long, frizzy, black hair that could best be described as “big.” She had large dilated black eyes that were only further enlarged by the wire rimmed glasses surrounding them, which were much too large for her thin face. She wore oversized dark clothes, commonly frequented by a black hoodie tied about her waist, and socks that stuck up a few inches above her sneakers.
Every day we could see her through the bus windows riding up to school on her purple bicycle. She was the typical “weird kid” that other students would normally make fun of, but for some reason nobody ever said anything to Spider-Girl, and she never said anything to any of us.
She worked at the convenience market on the corner of the main road, and therefore everybody from school avoided the place like a sick leper, though sometimes they would watch it from the ice cream shop across the street to see if the purple bicycle was tied up in the front. Many said she had troubles at home. One boy, Richie Findle, a fat red-headed fellow with freckles and a double chin, swore that he had proof that her mother gave her nothing to eat at home but old peanuts and stale croutons, and beat her if Spider-Girl ever asked for more.
Curtis Clermont offered to give her a ride home one night, pulling over to the curb just past the market in an old, beat up, navy pickup truck. Although the rain was coming down cold and icy, such that it was almost hail, spider girl refused, with excessive shaking of her head and increased the speed to her pedal.
It was startling how much the incident changed Spider-Girl. She grew nervous and jumpy, and would snap at people in a high-pitched squalor if ever they came to close to her. We were all frightened; pondering if we had ever even heard her voice before.
She began riding up to school later and later, until her attendance became such that she skipped several periods before arriving, and began having similar attendance problems at work. The popular rumor was that Curtis’s gesture was the only nice thing that anyone had ever done for her, and the realization that anyone could ever be nice shocked her to the point of snapping.
One week in February Spider-Girl stopped showing up to school all together, but Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday her purple bicycle could be seen at the convenience mart. We all grew concerned for her, although not a one of us could call her friend. A few days later the corner market burnt to the ground overnight. That Friday school was riotous with excitement and rumors as to what had happened. Spider Girl was still unaccounted for and our curiosity led us to bazaar conclusions about Spider-Girl setting it afire. Richie Findle’s explained it as Spider-Girl’s suicide; how she trapped herself inside the lit building, taking her only real home with her to her death.
A few days later the charred frame of a purple bicycle was found amongst the ashes of the corner market. Although no body or skeleton could be found amongst the rubble, we never saw Lola Fulton, the girl with the spider web tattoo, again.
She wondered, really, how many stars there must have been in the patch of sky above the four houses that bordered the end of the street. From the screened-in porch, she wondered and gazed up into the space above the house next door. Twelve, thirteen maybe—there was too much goddamn light in a suburb to be sure—and she spent a moment wanting to step onto the thin ledge along the screen like a tabby to walk the perimeter of the room and count the rest of them. Goddamnit, she may have said aloud. The cane that always grazed her right hand when she sat ruined everything.
So, how many more angles could there be from this room with twelve or thirteen stars at the end of them? Four seemed safe to assume. There were four cardinal directions, eight if you counted the in-betweens, but why did it matter? Fifty, she guessed. Fifty visible in the night sky, but better yet, she thought, there were really fifty-two. Two more came from the other side of the wicker couch; two goddamn stupid tattoos the boy had gotten the moment he was eighteen, she remembered. They were patterned different colors in alternating sections—nautical, he had proudly called them—and one rested an inch above either elbow. Goddamn stupid, she thought of them. Fifty-two, then; fifty real stars, two nautical ones, how goddamn stupid could a person be—
“Grandma,” Seth said, timid once she turned to him, “take this.” He tugged at his long sleeves. “Please take this,” he said, and he pulled off his hooded sweatshirt and stood beside her, draping it over her shoulders so she could pull the sleeves over herself. She had been noticeably shaking in the cool air, but she refused to go inside. She couldn’t stand to think of the scent that still lurked in her home, clinging to her possessions. She leaned forward, extending a wavering hand toward the cup of tea that rested on the table in front of them. The grip of her fingers was weak; the delicate glass fell to the ground, spilling as it went and shattering when it landed.
“Goddamnit,” she said too loudly, and Seth winced.
“It’s okay,” he said. He couldn’t comfort her. “It’s okay,” he said again. “Hold on a minute, Grandma, I’ll get you another…” and his voice faded as he reentered the house and busied himself with another teabag, another cup of boiling water.
She stood, taking several seconds, clutching her cane as tightly as her hand would allow. “Goddamnit,” she said when it hurt her back to stand up straight. Her legs wobbled. She regripped her cane and took slow steps toward the outer door of the porch.
The walk to the backyard cost what little energy she had and took more time than it would have even a few weeks ago. She barely lifted each foot, swearing as she went, but she remained diligent as she rounded the house. The energy it took to walk, the chill it brought her to navigate through the dark. She thought of bones, the chill to her bones; she thought of how weak her own must have been. A bird, perhaps away from its nest mistakenly, flew just above the trees that divided her property from the homeowner’s beside it, a person she had never met, maybe some goddamn idiot with ink in their skin—bird bones! she thought. Hollow, extraordinarily light, and able to move without the complications of an elderly woman’s age. Birds flew, she thought, and humans, smarter, never got off the ground. Birds shit on the ground. Men and women stayed in a single place if they were unlucky, and she was, and they still, more or less, shit on the ground. Birds, then—smarter?
She stopped in front of the largest bush that bordered the house. There were several buds poking out of the leaves, but only a single rose had opened its petals. She looked at the flower, iconic, frail, and red, and let out a sigh of relief, but the bush had not been hers. It had come from someone and somewhere else, surely a cramped store that sold plants for sales and never for plants. The bush had come from a bit of stem purchased because of the darkness that awaited them all—everyone on the street, in the suburb—beneath the fifty stars.
“Grandma?” came his voice between the shutting of the porch doors as he emerged, looking for her. There were children, she thought, the ones who belonged to her and the ones who didn’t, stems and the hands that buried them in the ground, and did gardeners garden in hopes that their hands would touch other hands that had once been in that ground?—and grass slowly grew, and the children still grew in a slower manner that was much too fast. They would fail each other, goddamnit. She knew it. She always did.
“Here, Grandma,” Seth said as he moved closer behind her. She turned and saw his sweatshirt in one hand and a new cup of tea in the other. He stretched his arm, placing it just in front of her free hand, and she took the handle of the cup slowly. The teaspoon in it made a tiny clink, and the sound held onto her, and her eyes were heavier than perhaps they had ever been.
“Thank you, Son,” she said.
Grumble... grumble... wondered the nephewless uncle, his niece has gone toward stores weeks ago—migrated westward and shallowed the clouds as they stumblebummed their freight across the bindlestiff plains. He wondered, expressed wonder in grumbles and pushed his cap back to let a line of sweat trace floorward. Orange juice, she had said. The light snaked in cracked blinds. She was gone. His sister was all metaphor. Why hadn't she birthed a boy? Bouncing in blue—bubblegum cigars. Instead she left him with railroads, carving their rails back, illusory-connecting in distant childhood.
Grumble. He wondered again, pulling a folded pack of cigarettes from the pocket of fade denim coverall. Rivets, he thought and he did his best to rivet his memory of her—of both hers—into firm coiled dirt. He planted the tiny metal where it could afford a view of the sea. Swallow the salt. Steal an errant beam. His nephew was a lighthouse. A pulsar. Still, wood clambered in bits. Jagged. His hands were full of splinters. Orange juice, stanzad citrus. Hollow, he thought. Grumble. The pins engaged, the rectangles were plagiarists. There—concrete. The sea heard as blood, beating in tide to his head. Groaning light, hum. In this hue, just. His hand gripped. Cold. Grumble, he wondered, is Florida this close?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
They asked me what I thought of the atomic bomb. I said I had not been able to take any interest in it.
I like to read detective and mystery stories. I never get enough of them but whenever one of them is or was about death rays and atomic bombs I never could read them. What is the use, if they are really as destructive as all that there is nothing left and if there is nothing there nobody to be interested and nothing to be interested about. If they are not as destructive as all that then they are just a little more or less destructive than other things and that means that in spite of all destruction there are always lots left on this earth to be interested or to be willing and the thing that destroys is just one of the things that concerns the people inventing it or the people starting it off, but really nobody else can do anything about it so you have to just live along like always, so you see the atomic [bomb] is not at all interesting, not any more interesting than any other machine, and machines are only interesting in being invented or in what they do, so why be interested. I never could take any interest in the atomic bomb, I just couldn't any more than in everybody's secret weapon. That it has to be secret makes it dull and meaningless. Sure it will destroy a lot and kill a lot, but it's the living that are interesting not the way of killing them, because if there were not a lot left living how could there be any interest in destruction. Alright, that is the way I feel about it. They think they are interested about the atomic bomb but they really are not not any more than I am. Really not. They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting.
Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense. They listen so much that they forget to be natural. This is a nice story.
[first published in Yale Poetry Review, December 1947]
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Charity Anderson had polished off three quarters of a bottle of her favorite Merlot. The subject for this evening’s homily—her own sad joke—was “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” All she wanted for her shy little boy was for him to grab just the teensiest portion of the life out there for us all. She had been so clever, gone in the train store and found what she wanted, laughed all the way home—this would do the trick. She had schemed on such a small scale, for such small purposes. How could she know what trick it would do? How could she be expected to know?
If Tom hadn’t run off to Australia two years before (good riddance, she had thought) he might have told her to leave it well enough alone, let the boy be himself, whoever that self turned out to be. He would have been right, that’s what hurt the most. She shouldn’t have been so proud—too clever by half. She took another hit off the cigarette before she slowly, methodically set the glowing ember into the soft, white skin of her inner arm, among the bright and fading flowers there.
She remembered the year Halloween fell on a Thursday as vividly as if it had come yesterday, or earlier today, for God’s sake, as if it was happening right now all the time. There was Billy, her only child, telling her he had too much homework, but she wanted him to go trick-or-treating. I'm too old, he said.
Fifth grade—that's too old? Eleven years, too old? But she knew the problem all along: masks frightened him. That’s how she knew he wasn’t ready for this world. That’s what scared her. When masks are all we know, you can’t be scared of masks—be scared of the real face, that’s what she would have told him if she could.
She imagined him across from her at the kitchen table, a grown young man of twenty-two. When you were little, you mistook the mask for the reality. You didn't like knocking on strangers' doors, and you didn't want to admit you were afraid. I was the original aging hippy. We once watched a children’s show together because I wanted you to see Ringo Starr, the former Beatle, playing Mr. Conductor. So…knowing you wouldn’t want to go trick-or-treating, I bought a conductor's hat and jacket, a long, wooden whistle that sounded like a passing train.
You might have been a little fifth grader, but you were a smarty, good in math and science like I had never been—your father’s genes at work. But, smart or not, you were still a kid. The whistle interested you, so you tried the hat and jacket. It didn't feel too bad—hardly a costume. The sound of the whistle excited you. You went out as soon as it got dark enough, carrying a hemp bag your old hippy mother provided. Several neighbors remembered you at their door. You seemed to be enjoying yourself, blowing the whistle as you went from house to house collecting candy. A boy named Jimmy Samson remembered saying, “Cool whistle.” That comes back at night, when I don’t know that I’m awake.
That girl in your class, Julie Jenkins, said hello to you. You smiled back at her but were too shy to say anything. The ghosts and goblins must have seemed pretty harmless. You wondered why you had been afraid—a little cute one then, with the bluest eyes and lightest brown hair that almost floated as you walked. And when you put your glasses on I wanted to cry.
You might have been out an hour, heading for one of the last houses you intended to hit, when you ran into Ralph Bunch, who only co-operated because his friend Kip Green mentioned seeing you. Once the parents and police started asking everyone, Kip couldn’t keep quiet. Keeping a secret is holding a balloon underwater—it wants out.
It had gotten dark by this time, and chilly. You weren’t dressed warm enough, and later on it started to rain. I hate to think of you out in that weather, no one paying attention to whether you were warm, whether you were dry. You blew your whistle as you passed the trees bordering old man Hager’s house—that drew their attention. Kip had wrapped himself in ace bandages and painted his face brown with yellow lips. Ralph was a tall seventh grader who had gone as a vampire. You didn't recognize either of them.
All you saw was a chubby zombie and a tall vampire with a white face, red blood dripping from his black lips and fluorescent fangs. It must have terrified you to see them standing there, blocking your way—a zombie and a vampire. You must have lowered the whistle and looked at the vampire’s eyes, glittering green in blackened sockets. The cape spread out on one side as the vampire's arm drew back. The fist shot out, slamming you in the nose—this according to Kip who thought it looked cool when the fist in the white glove came out. For no reason but he wanted to, that’s why I blame him.
You went down flat on your back. That Ralph didn’t want to admit this either, but Kip told us he snatched the cap off your head and spun it in the trees. That’s where I found it, no one else thought of going in and looking for it. I kept thinking I saw you behind a bush, or lying under a tree. In my dreams I see you running here and there, in and out of trees, giggling or crying, which wasn’t your style at all, I know that. You would have been quiet.
They left you there, on the ground where he had knocked you, didn’t even go back to see if you were all right. Ran on, laughing, never thinking they might have seriously injured my sweet little boy. Left him for dead, thought no more of him than that. Was he still conscious? Was he lying in the dirt wiping his mouth or blacked out to the world? They did that, left him there, the last anyone saw of him that night, my Billy boy, or the years since.
How many nights have I walked out there to stand, smoking a cigarette, looking at the spot where he lay on his back, unattended how long? There was the empty house, the dark windows from which Jim Hager could have watched the moment when the white glove shot out from the black cape. Did he have a moment’s good intentions? Did he come out to see if my boy was all right and find him there unconscious, semi-conscious, wakeful but ashamed? How did he get Billy to come inside? Was it that Billy recognized him as the kindly old fellow? Had he been inside the house before? Or was it entirely different? Had Ralph Bunch and Kip Green done more than they said, done something worse and dragged him off into the trees? Or was it something else?
She would walk out back of the Hager house and stand where bones had been found by a neighborhood dog fond of digging, with a sense of smell that went back years. He had come home, this mangy black and white, one blue eye and one brown, with a rib bone in his mouth. What possessed Sarah Miller to take it from him, turn it over in her hands, and show it to her husband?
When she let him out again he ran back to the same spot, came up with another—a dog with a bone. Over here, here’s where I found that one. Come look, come and look now. Was her tail wagging high? Why now? Why this time? Had it simply been long enough in the ground?
Was there some key to everything in the length of time such things must go undiscovered. She walked around the Hager house, looking in the windows, sometimes found a way inside and gravitated to the basement, even though she found nothing to indicate anything that would make some awful sense to her. Sometimes going home she saw the faces at the windows, watching the mother in her bathrobe, smoking another cigarette, coming back from they knew where.
How long had it taken kids at school to get used to your empty desk? No one asked much more, except one teacher and a couple friends of mine, once in a while, but even they avoided me when you became a scary story: Billy Anderson, the boy who disappeared the year that Halloween fell on a Thursday.
It came as a shock when bones were found by Happy, Sarah Miller’s black and white dog, inside the woods behind the Hager house, less than a mile from where we live. No one wanted to remember you, but there you were, your little bones, as they had been when they were planted in the dirt.
Oh, I knew immediately. Police said they found a rotting wooden whistle nearby, the kind that sounded like a train. I kept covering my face with my hands, looking between my fingers, as if I couldn’t keep myself from seeing the last moments or hours of your precious life. Behind the Hager house—what did that mean? Hager had been dead for seven years, by his own hand, with a shotgun in it. But he had always said he hadn’t seen a thing, and who could doubt a poor old man, with all his liver spots and sagging skin, those enormous watery eyes swimming behind aquarium lenses?
Cleaning crews had spent a couple of weeks there but didn’t find a thing to make them suspicious he was anything more than a lonely old man. Now, I’m turning forty-three, and all the years you didn’t live have been collected with the bones in loose dirt behind the Hager house. Those who still remembered you had a little fear some retribution might be exacted from those who did nothing to save you. But the one that suffered, little man, besides you, was me, who ceased to think of anything except the fact that I insisted you go out that night.
The little cap, the rotted whistle on the table, she keeps hoping they tell her something more. All they can say is, I am dead, I died an ugly death, and it was your own fault. So when she sets the ember to her wrist, between the roses burned in there already, it doesn’t hurt. She keeps them fresh. She holds it there until she feels the spark of something left.
One rose for every year that he’s been gone.
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- I'm a professor of English at The University of Akron--I teach fiction writing and literature classes. I have published over sixty stories and essays in magazines, as well as a novel, Jack's Universe, and a collection of stories, Private Acts. I grew up in a military family, so I'm not from anywhere in particular except probably Akron, where I've lived for over thirty-five years. Before I came here, I never lived anywhere longer than three years. I got my BA from U.C. Berkeley, my MA from San Diego State, and my MFA from The University of Iowa.