Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kettle Whistle.

                Lightning flashed outside, turning the dark windows into momentary green eyes staring in at her, where she lay, tethered to the bed, dreaming.
                “You’re not a prisoner,” she had said, and the words skittered around the dark corners of the room like the mice and cockroach. Perhaps she’d said it days ago, or weeks. For her part, Katherine couldn’t remember the last time she’d conversed with anybody.
                “If I’m not a prisoner,” she’d said, “why do you rope me to this bed?”
                The orderly had laughed, her enormous bust like a second thorax bouncing in her joviality, but her face soured with scorn. Her eyes lifted beyond the bed, and Katherine followed the sightline to where another orderly, dressed in identical whites, though a man, stood in the doorway, where she had been unaware of his presence. He brought his heavy, dark arms up to twist around themselves high across his chest. He, too, gave a low chortling sound, but Katherine saw in his eyes where he didn’t quite know the answer to her question, how he hoped he wasn’t expected to respond. He must be new.
                The orderly at her bedside went on. “You are not ‘roped to your bed,’ as you say,” and she plugged a length of clear tube into the port pierced through the back of her hand like fishhook. She pivoted and pushed a button, turned a knob on a towering console, and a thick green liquid filled the tube, coloring all of its serpentine twists, until it finally reached her hand and disappeared inside. While Katherine felt no immediate physical effects, she could already sense her interest in the conversation waning. She no longer felt any strong want to defend herself, but only to be left alone. Her tongue waggled dumb and lost behind the cage of her teeth like a tranquilized animal.
                Yet the orderly continued, “You are here of your own free will. You are here for treatment, and bed rest is an invaluable facet of the course the doctor has charted for you.”
                Katherine’s skull lulled, and the starch of her pillow puffed around her in tiny, pleasant mushroom clouds.
                Sensing victory, the orderly smiled a puckered grin, tapping Katherine’s unmolested hand, saying, “These are your first steps back to wellness.”

                Katherine staggered over pale cold sand. The sun was nothing more than a bad memory, bobbing grey on the horizon over the standstill ocean. There was no sound until she picked a rock from an odd footprint and tossed it into the water with a hollow thunk.
                She swallowed a mouthful of empty air. A repetition of noise finally reached her, and it was the chirp of a temporary bird before evolving into something digital: the chime of an unseen machine. And Katherine knew she was dreaming. But she hugged her arms around a grey tree trunk and touched it with her tongue, and she no longer cared whether she was dreaming or awake. She had learned to string her dreams together into something consistent, weave the images into something reliable, something that she could return to – which was more than what waited for her in the woken world. And so her mind had become inverted, flipped inside-out, so that her dreams were her reality, and her consciousness mere gibberish.
                She spun around on the beach, letting herself collapse to her knees. She bathed her hair in the grit of sand. She twisted herself along the shore, and tried to dream up her dead lover, but her lover wouldn’t come. And in her writhings, her fingers snared a tiny stone as if a fish in a net.
                And Katherine sat herself with legs entwined before her like a child, and inspected the acorn-sized stone until she understood the small burrows to be sockets, and the delicate tiny fissures to be teeth; for it was the skull of something too small to be anything but innocent – a beachfaring rodentia, perhaps, or the pet of a very small child.
                And it was at her foot that Katherine found another skull, slightly larger and more pronounced in feature, as if a squirrel. And a couple of strides from this, the head of a rabbit. And so on. Cats and dogs. A strewn collection of horse heads. Katherine walked a mile or more until she came upon skulls the size of small boulders: the preposterous rhinoceros, the hilarious hippopotamus. A brilliant elephant, regal and gorgeous even with all of its skin melted to dust. Katherine found all of God’s creatures there at her feet. And they led her to a mountain of human skulls, collected in a neat pyramid, lines and angles all dimensionally perfect, and all as grey and silent as the sun, which had, Katherine noticed, begun a slow meaningless spin out on the water, sending small wisps of concentric circles to lick politely at the shore.
                And Katherine gasped suddenly at what appeared to be a living human face, cheery cheeked and beaming, bright with wisdom, lain at the foot of the pyramid. The face positioned on its side, but happily, and Katherine reached for it, shaking with hope.
                In her hands it turned to truth: too cold, too firm, and then clearly inanimate, and then not human at all. She spun it in her hands with the speed of frustration, blinking the thing into clarity. And it was a kettle, garish in vibrancy, a plucked apple with a painted brown handle made to represent a stem, and a little green leaf top. Katherine snapped at the lid, and the kettle made a resonating ping that hypnotized her into attention as her mind followed the circular sound waves outward into the now-meaningless sky.
                Katherine clutched that kettle to her chest and collapsed to the beach again, this time without the aid of her will. And she cried and cried syrupy tears into the open kettle until there was enough to slosh around in the bottom. And she built a silver fire into the sand and set the kettle upon its lukewarm flames. And she blinded herself with fistfuls of sand until an impenetrable darkness replaced the pain, and a flickering coolness to the air tells her that she is back in her hospital bed. And her breath returns to her, and her heartbeat relaxes to something human. For it is in the dark, where the color and form of everything bleeds its outlines so that all melds together into a single congealed mass, numb to the touch, that Katherine finds her peace. And from an unseen corner of the darkness comes the soft and tuneless kettle whistle, and Katherine’s boiled dreams collect like condensation upon the ceiling, and fall down upon her like a cool, soft rain.

For the prompt exchange this week, Bewildered Bug at gave me this prompt: All she had ever wanted was a ruby red kettle.

I gave Kirsten at this prompt: "... frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push." - William S. Burroughs, "Interzone"

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I’m moving: driven and ragged and dusted – my eyes sawdust-dry, my breath is rasping husks like blown dead cornstalk. The fluorescent hallway lighting crackles, and I crackle with it. Hospital air is so clean, it’s bleached of color and scent, and I am bleached with it: bled white.

A father, I am. I am a father. My mind rolls the notion around my skull like tongue, and still can’t get accustomed. I smile, though – skull grin. It’s a good feeling, I suppose.

I stop meaninglessly, clumsily at a water fountain I pass. The water is teeth-aching cold, and splashes down my paper gown – seafoam green and laughable, “Take that thing off,” and I say, “No, no, no,” and smile. I don’t know why. The water’s cold is pulling me back into a realm of reality that I don’t enjoy, and I’m wishing wasn’t there. I continue down the hallway where people nod and smile at me, and I wonder if anybody thinks I’m a doctor.

Her room, her hallway – in the two days, I’ve traversed this path so many times that it’s already tattooed into my sense memory, and I go – left, right, right, right, left with such speedy ease that I near-knock over a clean-faced, middle-aged woman in scrubs with dark hair pulled tightly back as we pirouette around each, my hands to her elbows, us laughing social laughter, and me saying, “Sorry, sorry,” and her saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” and even this exchange is engrained into the directions back to her room.

The flowers are a stench and hit me first – musky and perfumed, heavy. My entire life, flowers are funerals – saccharine lilies, magazine roses: means my grandparent is waxy and dead and obvious, stretched in a dark box at the head of a room filled with my awkward and conversing family, something fetid and thick just beneath everybody’s surface.

Today, flowers and sunlight, and my wife and my daughter – everything glows, more lifelike than life. “Perhaps I’ve died,” I think.

“Take that thing off,” somebody.

“No, no, no,” me.

I touch my daughter’s cheek. I touch flower petals. I wash my hands and touch her cheek again, immaculate.

I touch flower petals. I touch the little white pitchforked cards, speared into the guts of the flowers – the little sharp corners of the cards.

In doctor’s office waiting room, the green glowed, turning everybody into reptiles with yellow eyes. Fish bubbled sickening around an obscene aquarium.

“Everything okay?” she asks.

I nod, mutely, forgetting to smile, at first, then turning to her with warm teeth. The look saying, “Everything is okay, family.”

I was seventeen years old. That would be… eight – no – seven years ago. I wish that number would get bigger, faster. I wish a dozen years, and then twenty. Enough to say, “Oh, but that was so many years ago.” Enough to say, “That was hardly even me that happened to – who did that.”

I thought cartoon thoughts. “This,” I thought, “was like when they used to not let men into delivery rooms. Only in reverse.”

In reverse, she would be in the waiting room, and I’d be in there, having the warmth of my guts hollowed.

I thought, “Should I be passing out cigars?” I sickened myself. A thought came quickly, “Run.” From somewhere, the sickening smell of flowers. The formaldehyde stench of roses.

She sent flowers. I couldn’t make sense of the gesture. I pressed the card into my fingertip, but it wouldn’t break skin.

Our child that wasn’t would be eight – no – seven years old, now.

I move into the sunlight and stroke the peach fuzz perfection of my daughter’s golden head.

The hook and gadget clockwork of my blood ticks and ticks away into bottomless time.

For the prompt exchange this week, Corinne at gave me this prompt: Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" is most known for: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." Write about a situation in which the main character has to make a tough decision.

I gave femmefauxpas at this prompt: Bus Stop Boxer.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I carry my morning’s offering to the semen tree.

The sun rises from between the overgrowth like a dead thing, grey and cold – fetal inside a pregnant marble sculpture.

The fruit dangling from the semen tree is like withered black figs, and services conclude with me plucking one from a nearby branch. The fruit has a skin like leather, pulp like dust – but I eat it religiously. “For this is my body, which will be given up-”

What looks like black insects miring in tree sap, is. I crouch into a squat and watch them struggle, knee-deep children in black fallout snow. I balance myself with hand to trunk, noting the tree has taken on a platicine sheen, smooth to the touch. A wind comes through the grass, heavy with rot.

* * *

The wind comes through the walls. I touch ear to a seam in my living room, and the Sunday morning wind comes through in a quiet, angry whistle. I run my finger along the black tar compound I’d used to make the wall air-tight, and the tip comes away moist – the start of the summer wet.

Pride is sinful, as they say, but I take pride in my house – modest to a point of miniscule, perhaps, but hand-hewn, and puzzled together, by myself alone. I can touch the ceiling without unbending my elbow, but the roof held two feet of heavy winter snow without give. The house has stood autumnal wind and spring growth. But nothing havocs like the perpetual wet warmth of summer.

The wind comes through the walls and stirs about the house, rousing the thick scent of Lucy.

* * *

I stand over Sammy, watching him writhe in his tank. I’d hoped that his malaise was partially attributable to a lingering winter’s hibernation. But today, the glass of Sammy’s tank sweats in hot rivulets. And still, Sammy won’t move beyond his slow, grinding twist upon himself. His back is marred and nicked with mouse chews.

I shake my head at him, slowly. Though it’s no longer necessary, or a challenge, or even fun, I still hold my breath, if only out of respect, and when I reach for Sammy, do so with a quick bolting snag, catching him just at the base of his head.

The glass jar is streaked with lid rust like Lucy crying makeup down her pale face. I hold it open to Sammy’s mouth, and he bites onto it limply, no longer any snap to his jaw. I’ve milked him so many times he’s become domesticated to it, and his venom is weakening for it. Not his fault at all, but I still reach for my buck knife to decapitate him beside his tank – but stop. I look down into the graphite eyes, and toss Sammy coarsely back into his tank before taking further action. No point in killing Sammy before a replacement is found. I’ll keep my eyes open. If I can catch one this week, maybe I can offer Sammy next Sunday, banqueting on him and pinning his skin to the tree with the rest of them.

Reposing at the kitchen table, I dip needle into venom, pulling the juice into chamber like vinegar piss. I cross myself and give thanks to the Lord for another sacred Sunday, and inject the poison into a thick roping hank of vein. My mind erupts into Technicolor pinwheels of electric fire, blinding me immediately in both eyes, before dying down into a huffing smolder. Deflated and muscleless, I slither off my chair into a heap on the floor, spasming suddenly at an awkward moment, lurching and cracking my skull off hardwood in a way which I more register than feel. Light and color return to me in forms without outlines, and I momentarily smile into the face of God, saliva, warm as blood, bubbling joyfully at the corners of my mouth.

* * *

I caught Lucy coming through the brambles as soft and playful as a wild hare, her eyes spinning around in her skull as I wrapped my arms around her. We laughed together as she kicked her bare feet in the blue American sky, her saying, “No, no, no, no,” as I nuzzled my face into her throat and said, “Oh, yes,” and wrestled her into the house.

I kissed her and kissed her the way girls like for you to do, and her eyes begged for me all big and silent, but I said, “Oh, no, no, darling – I’m old fashioned. We don’t go any further until you marry me, first – and we can’t get married until Sunday, and today is… oh, my – Monday!” We laughed and laughed. “Ain’t that the luck? But it’ll fly by, darling. I won’t leave your side, not for a moment.”

And I read to her from the Good Book. I read her the stories of the honorable wives, like Sarah and Ruth. And admittedly, when I weakened in the moonlight and her twitching and yearnings got to me, the sultry tales of Jezebel and Salome.

And on Sunday we were married beneath the tree, rattling around in the dead leaves like rattlesnakes. And we were happy.

The following Sunday, I took to baptizing Lucy, stringing her wrist straight and biting her soft arm with my needlepoint. She writhed terribly and foamed, like a lady version of Paul’s Ecstasy. And when she stilled, her eyes went that way that they do when you first find the glory of the Lord: big and sort of wobbly, and I knew that she was pure.

We were sick for some days afterwards – Lucy from the venom and me from the lack of any, and I recognized the need for a second snake, which I found right off. An albino rattler, as pale as my Lucy – which I took to be a strong omen, even though omens are something of a grey area within the church. I kept her coiled in a coffee can next to Sammy, until I could find her a proper tank.

But Lucy couldn’t handle the white poison, and Lucy went and died. Not in an ugly way, but in a tender, soft way. Like a stoplight changing colors on an empty street: yellow to red, then finally green. And in a sulfuric rage I took that white snake and crushed it between two rocks, and crushed it over and over, even long after it was dead. I felt remorse for what I had done then, and pieced together that beautiful alabaster hide as best I could and pinned it in a high and honorable place within the tree.

* * *

In the sweat of new summer, it is all too clear how heat has become synonymous with Lucifer, and I scrape myself into a sprawled sitting position, with my skull pounding murderously. I try to measure my breaths, but my body is working against me, palpitating wildly. I lurch and spew vomit across the floor, and it’s only then that I remember the stench.

“I have to bury her,” I think, and God tells me that this is right but allowing my heart to slow. The thundering begins to recede from my ears, and a voice says, “I have allowed this time of your mourning, but it is time to return to the present.” And I speak aloud, “Amen.”

But my work is not to be done on the Lord’s Day, and I remain on the floor and stare into the sun, waiting for it to dip beneath the horizon.

* * *

It is eighty degrees, even at midnight – the darkness woven and palpable as down. I carry Lucy from the house, her body weightless as white shadow. And I lay her in her grave.

I pray feverishly over my wife’s body, and wish that I could cry upon her, to bury my tears with her. But I do not have it in me.

I touch her soft, waxen cheek, and gently lay the first handful of earth across her mouth, her slightly parted lips. And then I bury her.

In the semen tree beneath the moon, in a high and honorable place, I entwine her hair into the sticks and burrows and knots. Beneath my fingers, I feel the tree swell with life.

For the prompt exchange this week, Barb Black at gave me this prompt: It was the middle of Summer and still 80 degrees at midnight.

I gave Michael at this prompt: "When you cut into the present, the future leaks out." -William S. Burroughs

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Animals Made Their Noises.

                My copy of the little, brown handbook was neither little nor brown.
                It was a colossal thing – thick and wide, bookbag-stretching, the girl with “Anita” printed fresh across her nametag twisting to me and whispering, “Where do they even find paper this size?” while I synchronize a shrug and shake of my head, meaning, “I don’t know” – the color of old ketchup, a lazy pencil sketch of a giraffe on the cover like Charles Darwin might have doodled in his time before computer imaging and 1,440 dpi laser printers. My giraffe, in particular, had an enormous, dangling penis. Or, rather, a gross white smudge in the approximate shape of a penis, dangling long from between his rear legs, where, presumably, a giraffe penis had been scribbled, and then rubbed out of the stop sign rust hued paper, before the handbook was then recycled back to me. The binding was that terrible black Kinko’s plastic, where the many small loops fold into the one solid length of spine.
                It had been somebody’s job, one day, to inspect the returned handbooks of dismissed zoo employees – to look for things like giraffe penises and to remove accordingly. That would be an odd day of work, I figured. I always thought of things like that.
                Also, I suppose, another zoo employee is in charge of inspecting real giraffe penises. And that too, is odd.
                “Always mind the little, brown handbook,” my father had said my entire life.
                My father was full of pithy little nonsense, often about gunshot gauges and punching techniques.
                “Always mind the little, brown handbook,” I had come to learn, meant, “Don’t ask questions.” Meant, “It doesn’t pay to think.” Meant, “Just do what you’re told.”
                Another piece of fatherly advice expensed from truck cab-width, “Fuck any girl you want – it’s good to get the practice. But when you’re trying to decide which one to marry, imaging yourself fucking her mom. See how that image sits with you.”
                And whether it was the framing of this advice – which leant itself to imaging him fucking my own mother, shivering me with fear over the sake of my sister – or something else entirely, I replied with straight-face earnestness, “And if I discover that I’m gay, should I imagine myself fucking the boy’s father?”
                Sepia highway dust was still billowing and fluming around the man as he wrenched my car door open, gripped my elbow and ejected me from my seat in a rotating twist that my body registered first as a stomach-dropping thrill ride nausea of moving at a speed and lack of control that the body’s automatic sensors read as Wrong, followed by the typical crackling electric pain of bone breaking: my chicken wing shoulder blade hitting the pavement.
                Interestingly, in remembering the incident now, it is not the fear or anger or shame of the act that stands out clearly, nor is it the physical pain – it is absolutely not the physical pain. What I remember in most stark, vivid kodachrome reality is the disgust in my father’s eyes – in that snapping moment between my words registering in his mind and his brain transmitting his deemed reaction. In that moment, less than a second, I saw my father with a dark blue honesty – a sadness and a loathing. I was thirteen years old.
                To the emergency room workers, we were only joking, horseplaying. To my father on the ride home, yes, Dad – I was only joking. To the follow-up counselors with their sighing, worn-down indifference, we were only joking. Though neither of us were.
                On my first day at the zoo, I stood between formed lines and kept my head down, managing to be assigned to nowhere and to nothing, to no task or supervisor. But I was punched in-on the clock, and clean and official in my khaki uniform. I put on a bureaucratic face, and walked in swift, straight lines from one exhibit to the next, nodding sharply to anybody who was dressed similarly to me. When I began passing the same faces for the second and third time, I decided it prudent to change tactics; stole a short-handled broom, long-handled dustpan from a dark coworker as he chatted at the sunlight girl in the pseudo-thatched roof hut, who sold French fries out of cups made to resemble roaring lions, assuming the lion had been plasticized, jaws wrenched open wide, and deep-fried potatoes shoved hard into throat.
                The guise of the broom allowed me to slow my pace to a contemplative gait. I swept at the cigarette butts – there were hundreds, though smoking is not permitted on the grounds – pocketing the longer ones that still had some life to them. I collected my pockets heavy with change. I studied the animals – the ostriches religiously pacing the perimeters of their dens on loose, wobble-kneed legs, the chimpanzees fondling steaming geysers of sex out of themselves with bored, forlorn bottomless eyes, the golden dandelion heads and concrete flanks of the prowling lions, and the spectral elephants who seemed concurrently immortal and terminal.
                In the elephant house was a young woman, khaki like me, though her uniform, I noted, was double-stitched with purpose, whereas my own uniform was more just like the costume of a zoo employee. She wore boots to her knee, gloves to her elbows, and both were made of the same substantial heavy dark rubber. She wore a similarly heavy apron, or smock, and smeared across it was what seemed to be elephant shit. A mixture of dirt and straw and sweat drew strange and beautiful lines down her face. Her dull yellow hair was pulled back into a sensible ponytail, and she walked unnoticed among the elephants. I watched as their large, onyx eyes twisted slowly in their skulls to momentarily find her there, at the base of the massive bulk of themselves, before they looked again slowly away, full of trust or unconcern. I watched the woman, and I watched her boots as she kicked miniscule puffs of dust with every step of those boots. I watched her until her eyes met mine, and then I walked away.
                When my shift ended, I punched out and continued to meander around amongst the animals. When the mounted bullhorns began their countdown to the park’s closure, I made my way to the most remote bathroom on the grounds, the one farthest away from the entrance. There, I unzipped my khaki fly and stood at the urinal, listening to the passing footsteps. When a man I’d yet seen, dressed identically to me popped the door open, the sight of me double-took him out of his cursory glance. Over my shoulder, I said to him, “In here. Go on. I’ll lock it up.” A moment passed as though he would say something. I continued holding myself, looking down into the porcelain, and he soon closed the door between us. I locked the door immediately, turned off the lights.
                For extra security, and for lack of any other option, I locked myself into the far stall, sitting khaki pants on unlidded toilet seat. I smoked two of my many collected cigarette butts, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark. I listened with held breath, heard nothing. Awake, I dreamed of the elephant girl in her boots and gloves. I dreamed myself walking amongst the careless elephants. I held out as long as I could before fixing myself a dosage of dust and pocketfuzz, injecting needle into elbow crook.
                It would have been well beyond midnight when I finally braved myself beyond the cinderblock bathroom bunker. I braced myself for glaring alarms and security swarms that did not come. Rather, I found the dark and empty zoo exactly as tranquil and ideal as I had always dreamed. I bought myself a Coke and a Snickers. From the vast terrain of hill and shadow, the animals made their noises.
                Heeding ancient echo from hindbrain quarters, I followed gravity to a soft pool of shimmering blue light where it stood out against the otherwise absolute pitch of the grounds. This was the plasticine labyrinth aquarium, which I was stunned to find open. I walked the hallways slowly, the fish encircling me tranquilly. I tried to imagine myself as sinking to the bottom of a calm, dark sea, but felt instead that I was walking through the network of blue blood channels that tether the human body to itself – the saltwater arteries and jellyfish nerves, the shark tank fallopian tunnels.
                And I laid myself on rubber matting above a runoff collection grate, and closed my eyes to listen to the hum. I could feel the shadows swimming across my body. I opened my eyes into the blue, and the fish found me and made their faces, and I made my faces at them.

For the prompt exchange this week, Eric Storch at gave me this prompt: My copy of "The Little, Brown Handbook" was neither little nor brown.

I gave Barb Black at this prompt: "And the stories they told you were true, babe: your mom really went crazy. But that doesn't have to be you." -The Elected, "Greetings in Braille"