The girl is sick. The girl is sick because she has a fever and is ill. The girl is sick because her notions of right and wrong are wrong. The girl is wrong for fomenting revolution. From her sickbed, the girl contemplates what her life would have been without revolt. Without the need for disgust stewed so deep and insidious in her daily meal of words and glances and cultural consumption that no matter how sick she feels, her fingers can’t go down her throat far enough to vomit it up. Her whole hand has tried, grasping her uvula and tugging, that flap of flesh meant to block meals of hate speech from rising into her nasal cavity and lodging there. Still she didn’t manage, whole fist in her mouth, to disgorge the rot in her belly. Since that time she tried and tugged, her sinuses have gotten infected over and over.

The girl is a symbol. The girl is a symbol because she has a voice and is bodied. The girl is a symbol because her ideas have gained traction with the wrong sort of people. The people are wrong for symbolizing her. From her sickbed, the girl rages against her loss of control. Against her loss of public mobility, existence outside posters and screens. She remembers being a body in the streets, a fist raised high, a stomach ready for blows caught on cameras. She remembers before being shot, before being martyred, before living through death to another side. She remembers when being sick in bed with a running nose and a high fever, remembers running in the streets, high on the adrenaline of revolution and resistance.

The girl is sick. The girl is sick because she has ideals and is brave. The girl is sick because her notions of right and wrong are wrong to the people who decide what right and wrong are in her world. From her sickbed, the girl contemplates escape from symbolism and a return to before. The girl contemplates the value of symbols. The girl remembers a woman older, taller, bigger, stronger, everything she had wanted to be. The girl remembers a woman on the airwaves and screens, on flyers and snapped photographs. The girl wonders where the woman is. Whether the woman ever was. Whether the symbol overtook her too.

The girl is sick. The girl is sick of being a symbol, a martyr, a revel with a losing cause. The girl is sick of being sick. The girl blows her nose, knows she cannot change her status, and contemplates.

Music of the Night

[[[Experimenting with voice and world in flash]]]

Hey Sugar. Those were his first words to me. Hey. Sugar. If he’d a known (but he did know) what would become of him (nothing became, it’d always been) maybe he would a told something different (like Hey Babe). But he told what he told, and I reacted like I reacted, and the rest, as they tell, is no thing but a nut in a barrel.

‘Cept that now it’s all coming back. I hear him on the outside, looking out at the stars. He’s going through a time, he is, and I been trying to help but he been ignoring me. Ignoring the life outta me. ‘Cept that’s not true neither. I love him so much that I can’t never have the life taken outta my body by him. Not him. See, I too strong, my love for him too strong, so no matter where he go or what he do, I gon’ know how I feel.

I was raised by no body and no thing. ‘S a rash world out there, been so since before I been born onto this earth. If earth it still be, and not you nor me nor no single one knows. That stuff all in the past, source a stories and speculations and some odd ones with their instruments, but fact a the matter, there ain’ no facts. Not no more. Not like the ones we used to have. They, they used to have. Not us.

Although I mussay, he’s closer to them than I, not just age-like, but belief-wise. He doesn’t have no belief’s what I mean. First person I ever met who said that. Said it and meant it also. I mayhap been raised by no body and no thing, but when an urchin runs wild, he listens, and listening teach me every all things about the stars and what they do for us. Not so him. He was raised by a one mother and a one father, and still, he believe like them, the once long ago them. What I mean is, he believe the stars mean no single thing. His mama, she told me herself, she told, I mussay Benny Boy, I don’ know where he went and gone with his thinking. She told me, Benny Boy, keep him safe. She told me, also, to tell him she’s sorry, and she’s that, for all the years she thought he was Peggy Gal not Peter Boy. I told him, but he told me his mama just wishing she get a say on who he marry.

Marry me, I told him, I told him days ago now. He told me, Benny Boy, I mus’ think. Now he thinks and looks at the stars, and I beg them, those stars, to tell him to tell me yes. Even if they don’t, and Peter Boy tell me no, it will only matter a little bit. It’s not I need till death part us, it’s I need him now. Now can stay now today, and now tomorrow, and now until the ships come a flying from a place they call Saturn. But if now stops and Peter Boy not in my now today and now tomorrow, I don’ know what I going to do.

Play me a song, I tell him, and he come in from the outside and he play with his voice, and he play an old song I don’ know the words to nor the melody neither. It’s a new one to me, but I know it’s old by the way he plays his voice, sad-wise. He only sound like this when it’s an old one. From the once long ago. His mama mayhap be sorry now and he mayhap doesn’t like her now but she teach him to read the music so he learn the old songs. It’s a rare skill he has. He play me the old sad song and I hold him when he finish and we lie down to sleep. And I only wan’ now to be now tomorrow and now the next day, and now again every one day after.

This is not a dream, you tell yourself, as the vendor hands you a bag of oranges in exchange for the bills you gave her. You tell yourself, again and again, this. Is not. A dream. 

It doesn’t stick. You know it’s not a dream, but as you walk through the market, colors muted and scents only tickling your nose, it continues to niggle at your brain, the idea that your life has turned into a dreamscape from which you cannot wake, or at least, from which you have not yet awoken.

The oranges are for your wife. For her cravings. The child she is carrying is not yours. You are for all intents and purposes incapable of creating a child with her, and so she looked elsewhere and found a way. The child is her idea. Not yours. The child is only one facet of this dream that is not a dream. The wife is another.

You take the long way home, walking along the river. Your left leg is heavier than the right. Psychosomatic, doctors have told you. Nothing wrong with your leg, really. It’s only the memory of buckshot locked inside it. There is no lead left, doctors have assured you. But you have been doubted by doctors for most of your life, and so you doubt them right back.

This is not a dream, you remind yourself again, the mesh sack of oranges weighing down your right hand. The orange of the oranges is less vivid than you remember it being; the orange of the mesh is bright, neon, like what you think color should be. It should scream at you, beg you to notice it. At least, if this weren’t a dream it should. But this is not a dream, you chant silently, and unlock the door to your building.

Heave-ho! a woman grunts, and she and her friend reach for the bottom of the couch they’re laboring to bring up the stairs. Her hair is all over the place, in her eyes, getting caught and snapped in her armpit, wild and curly and artificially auburn. You ask if you can help, and you drop the oranges on the ground by the entryway. You bend yourself in two and lift the couch from the center as the two women work to hold steady on either side. You help them bring the couch up three more flights of stairs, though you live in the garden apartment.

Stay for a drink, the friends tell you, the woman with the wild hair and her friend, who has no hair on view at all, tucked still under a headscarf, no strand escaping even in her sweaty climb. They’re an unlikely pair, but who are you to talk about like and unlike? You don’t stay for a drink. You don’t trust yourself, in this dream that is not, to stay sober, to stay sane, to stay.

Someone has placed the bag of oranges on the rickety side-table under the mailboxes. They’ve taken the liberty of paying themselves, relieving you of two of the eight oranges. You unlock the door to your apartment. Your wife isn’t there. She’s left you a note, Gone to Yoga, Love U! Her use of capital letters has always baffled you; it’s as if she’s headlining everything, as if expecting her notes to end up in the newspaper. Maybe she can hear your occasional murderous thoughts. Or maybe she is just cheerful.

This is not a dream, you tell yourself, and you wonder if your wife even likes oranges at all.


Just the Weather [Short-short Fiction]

“I have no emotions.”

I stared at her text and wondered whether this could possibly be true. It was an oddly soothing thought. If she had no emotions, she wouldn’t be able to feel a thing for me. She’d let me go when she left the lodge and I would be free, left to my own devices. Again. Until the next batch of tourists came, and I’d scan their faces once, twice, at mealtimes, not looking for anything in particular, but knowing that I’d recognize it if I saw it. And there would be that one, usually only one but occasionally two, with the special gleam in her eyes that said she was looking at people with extra care, just like I was, looking to see who was willing to have an adventure. Sometimes men had that same calculating expression on their face, but they were, more often than not, crude, like an unwashed bit of produce left on the counter too long, still usable but a little repulsive.

“What a thing to say,” I texted back. I didn’t know what else to write. I couldn’t say “Yes, you do, and I know because I’ve seen them, even though you hide them.” I couldn’t say “Bullshit.” I couldn’t say “Well, that’s a shame, I thought you were in love with me,” even though it was the truth. I couldn’t say any of these things because we’d slept together a total of maybe three times (I tried not to actively count but let the memories of her nudity blend together) and were not close. We’d gotten drunk together, stoned together, but the wall that is always there in such situations was raised as high as I’ve ever seen it. That’s why I was certain she was in love with me.

“I’m dying,” she wrote back. “Having no emotions is a survival mechanism.”

This was more disturbing. I had no idea whether she was telling the truth or just trying to fuck with me. Screw with my head. Make me commit something that I wasn’t ready to commit. This was something, I’d found, people did. Women more often than men. It was as if in order to capture the memory of their trip to the slopes, they had to box up a little piece of me and take it with them. They managed, usually, to wring more from me than I ever meant them to. Inevitably, I’d get drunk and go soft, or become lonely one night and allow my instincts to speak those hateful words through my mouth – can. you. sleep. over. – and they would agree, snuggle gratefully against my side, grab my thigh in their sleep, turn over and fart into the blankets, and I’d need to stand their humanity, cursing myself for my weakness.

“What’s the prognosis?” I finally texted. I got the whiskey from under the sink, the only cabinet in my staff lodging. The motley collection of bottles, my shaving accouterments, an unopened can of mixed nuts, and a sad orange–my own odds of survival in this place didn’t look that great. I’d accepted the job at the ski lodge after my last boyfriend and I broke up and I got sick of living in my car and on friends’ couches. I had signed an eight month contract and was halfway through. I had no idea what I’d do once the season was well and truly over.

While I waited for her to respond, I opened my window and allowed the freezing air in so I could light a cigarillo, a habit I’d picked up during a semester in Cuba years ago. The flavor was heavenly, especially with the whiskey, both of them smoking and stinging my mouth and leaving an after-taste that was reminiscent of coffee grinds and the way chalk smells. Someone was walking to the dining room from their cabin, swinging a flashlight around and breaking up the cold dark. I wondered if it was her, if she was getting a granola bar from the basket of them left out for anyone with late-night munchies. It was better to imagine her hungry than to fixate on the picture of her forming in my mind: lying diagonally on her quilted bed in a mock-swoon, a sham of Victorian ladyhood, a pair of panties clutched to her mouth as she coughed up blood. The image was oddly arousing, and I struggled to banish it. Another sip, another puff. The flashlight cut through the night again as the intrepid walker left the dining hall and returned to their room.

“Dead in a year or my money back,” she finally texted. I slammed my window shut. I realized how very trapped I was: by the lodge, by the job, by this woman. No one I’d slept with had ever died, and this fact would change within a year. I didn’t want to think of myself as having communed with a dead person, especially as I’d never know if she’d actually died. Instead of responding to her, I opened my laptop and prayed abstractly that the wifi would cooperate tonight. It did, though it was slow and the pages only half-loaded, leaving ghostly boxes where pictures of smiling faces or cartoon character avatars should have been. I began to check that everyone I’d ever loved or lusted after was alive. I trawled Facebook, Googled furiously, looked at university websites (where I found myself duly impressed), and found various pictographic accounts of food eaten and children had and husbands and wives married and dogs adopted and buried and art projects and shy poems shared.

I didn’t search for her, though. After reassuring myself that everyone else was still alive, I tried to embrace the experience. “Well, you’re alive now,” I texted. Then, after another dram of whiskey that I hoped I could blame later as having gone to my head, “I can come over and keep you alive and kicking some more.” I felt slightly nauseated at this but a little check mark showed that it was too late, the message was sent and, a moment later, she’d seen it.

“You’re corny,” she wrote. But then, “Sure.”

We both knew it wasn’t her I was trying to keep alive that night, but we didn’t speak about it. I didn’t ask what she was dying from or whether she was telling the truth. We talked about TV we liked and the way the stars looked brighter after you’d been in a city for a long time. We had vigorous, aerobic sex that felt like synchronized swimming, both elegant and supremely silly. We pretended to sleep.

The sun came out in the morning, after several cloudy and snowy days.

It wasn’t a sign.

It was just the weather.

“I have no emotions,” she’d claimed. It was easier to believe her. So I did.

Excerpt from [flash fiction]

The day the earthmen came, we were settling into an educational module in the Viewing Room. Twelve of us, one monitor, and an exhausted Instructor who was no doubt underpaid and whom we certainly didn’t appreciate. Instructor was of the tall sort, limbs more twisted than usual, a point Instructor had no doubt been picked on for at our age. But we were not yet so confident as to make fun of an Instructor the way we would one another.

John* was the only one among us who was missing and we didn’t know why yet. We thought we were safe and sound, if bored to tears by the outdated moving image we watched and pretended to learn from. There wasn’t one among us who wasn’t secretly tapping into the Sphere** to check how our pets were doing at home and how our sports teams*** were faring and whether or not we would be able to meet our friends that afternoon at our favorite watering hole.

All of which is to say that everything was incredibly normal. That normalcy is part of the heartbreak of that day in my mind.

The monitor flickered and very suddenly we were being subjected to the live footage**** of the earthmen coming. The government had clearly taken over all monitors and the Sphere was so shocking that several of us cried out in fear and tried to put the images away. But, as our new overlords say, you cannot force the furry mammal with claws back into the bag. We had seen the earthmen, and we were getting live updates on their descent from their crashed ship.

We didn’t know what was to come then. We were students, with little to worry about beyond the exams we were to sit – the first serious ones we were ever to take – and the wrath of our parents if they found out what we’d been hiding around the Sphere for friends to find. We were concerned with our next meal and the pressures of procreation that would soon be upon us. We wanted to go to our moon during the next vacation and learn to pilot our own Bubble.

Instructor started to keen when it became clear what was happening. Instructor said nothing would be the same again. We didn’t believe it then, but we believe it now.

*Names are untranslateable and untranscribeable so characters have been given standard Christian names.

**The English name given to what is, to the best of our understanding, like the Internet crossed with a technologically developed collective unconscious.

***We are as yet uncertain as to what such sports look like or where they are played, for we have found no evidence to show that these beings have any fields or arenas or other dedicated areas to play in. Some theorize that by “sports” the beings mean something more like online chess.

****No actual footage or recording material has been found; the assumption so far is that monitors were played through the Sphere, with a being controlling what was being shown on the monitor – actually a gaseous oval in which images resolve in 3D in varying degrees of detail

Long Time No See

Hold my bloody fingertips close to my nose and sniff. Oranges, apricots, plums, passionfruit – smell everything the color reminds me of, but not the substance itself. Plunge the fingers into the bathtub and watch the red spread. Curling, curlicuing into shapes more beautiful than anything I could paint in a swirl of color on my canvas.

Perhaps that’s why it’s been blank for so long.

The bathwater is warm, now bloody, so climb in. Sink, let hair down. See naked skin flush with the heat. Feel lungs constricting in the steam. Turn on the cold water, watch it rinse the drying blood from under my fingernails. The evidence is still on my face, deep scratches not yet welting shut, dripping fresh droplets into the hot, now cooling, water.

What makes a person eviscerate a face? Eviscerate a self? Let’s see. Maybe the wounds of defection, watching friends leave and lover spurn when they find out. Maybe it’s having the past dragged up and needing to face it yet again. As if the past time and the time before that and the one before weren’t enough. As if it is always necessary to be reminded of crimes committed when too young to think clearly, let alone decide.

So. There was a crime. There was foster care. There was counseling. Seven year olds don’t get sent to jail. Maybe they should. Maybe I should have been. Records sealed, name never in the papers, only a description of what I looked like and what I’d done.

No use pretending. I killed them. I did. I killed them with cold blood and no malice. I was curious. And I wanted to make it stop. What they were doing to me. Aunt and uncle. Uncle more than aunt. Aunt enough, though. Wanted it to stop. There’s no malice in stopping the pendulum of a clock with your finger. There was none in my actions either. I just wanted them to stop moving. And I’d watched enough TV to know guns could make that happen.

Eons gone by, forgiven, forgotten, but not yet. Not every time they find out. And so – boxes. Empty canvas needs to be packed up. Suitcase needs to be pulled out of the closet. Clothes need to be folded up and placed inside. A new apartment to be secured, new friends to be made, new lovers to be met. I’ve lived in more states than I was ever interested in, yet it keeps coming back up.

So. Blood in the bathtub. Face scarred worse than ever they scarred me – they left no marks. Newness to be introduced to everything again. Running looks like this.

Returning looks like this too. Resolve this time to return. To go back to where it all started. To where they know my face. My scars, visible and not. My crimes, never forgotten, still probably the most scandalous thing in a town of five thousand. Maybe someone will believe me after all these years.

Lie in my blood and plan.

Riddle Me This

There is a train going so and so miles an hour. On the train are people. Many people. People in love, people in last, people lonely, hurt, confused. People happy, people painful, people paining others. People in awe, people overwhelmed, people dirty and mean, people with wants and needs and desires and fears and haunts and favorite flavors and skeletons in the closet. People with scars on their arms and peace in their hearts. People unblemished with souls heavy with use and abuse. People striving and giving up. Fortunate and alive and ill and surviving and for better or worse they are all there, in one place, divided by seat backs and armrests. Divides by belief systems and opinions and shrapnel and allergies and hemmerhoids and diagnoses and money and parents and circumstances in and out of their control. 

The train crashes. 

Who lives? 

Let’s say it’s you and I. I live. You live. We are the only two to survive. This isn’t a romantic vision. Death and destruction aren’t beautiful this close up. And here we are, two lone survivors, separated by history and power and culture and beauty and futures and loves and lives given and received, sacrifices and allowances, privileges and knowledge. Nothing to bridge the gap but survival. 

There is one bottle of water, one useless sugary treat wrapped in a plastic bag. Will you take them and run? Will you give them to me and die? Will we share? I know my answer. Do you know yours?