In the Armpits of the Night

Excerpt from current NaNoWriMo

You didn’t tell him your name, you realize as you walk back into your house, if you can call it that. A shack resting on bricks is a description more suited. It’s a moving house, the kind that can be carried on trucks to places far away and made out to be charming and quaint. The kind of house children lean out of windows to watch as they go by because they don’t know that whole structures can move on trucks big enough to hold them.
You only told him your position. Your role. Your so-called calling. That you’re a priest. You don’t know why. Maybe it was the color of him, the starch darkness of it, the way he lay on the ground and thought you were a threat. It reminded you of your friends back in the eighties, when things were bad, how some of them dropped away from you. Years before you joined the Catholic faith, of course. Back when everything and everyone you knew was first disgusted and a few years later, scared.
You woke up tonight not because of the boy in your graveyard–your realize how proprietary you’ve become of the stones, old and new, burnished and faded to nothing. The grass, which it is not your job to tend, is long and messy because the person whose job it is to tend to it has not come around for two weeks. Sick mother, he said over the phone, in a heavy accent and a voice so strung out that you know he’s lying. You’ll have to do something soon. Reach out? Visit? Just call a bureaucrat and ask for someone new? Make the phone call yourself to fire him, the poor Dominican man who still lives with his mother and father and grandmother even though he’s thirty, because he can’t hold down a job?
You should have more sympathy, more compassion. But you don’t. Your life for the past twenty-five years has been not so much a lie as a fabrication stitched together from truths and half-truths, snippets of belief sewn alongside a safe escape, and tonight was a stark reminder of what you’ve been missing, what you miss. You could see it in his eyes, the youth’s, the boy who missed his friend a little too much, a little too hard, a little too lovingly. You recognized it in him because you’ve seen it in the mirror for years. Which is why you don’t have one in your house, why you smashed the one you had as an heirloom from your mother, your hateful mother who gave you a dying gift of a gilded mirror with a Post-It note on the back reading “Behave.” As if you hadn’t been. As if you hadn’t already reformed your ways and become the man you are today.
The teakettle is whistling away when you get inside and you rush to turn the gas off. You forgot you’d put it on and left it on. You could have burned out the bottom of the kettle, which is darker now than it used to be but still usable. You could have started a fire. You could have let the flames take your possessions, your house, your calling. The pictures. You collapse in a chair. Not the pictures. Never the pictures. You’ve tried to burn those before. It hasn’t worked. Though if it were out of your hands… In God’s…
But God didn’t burn down your house. And He hasn’t struck you down yet, despite your sins. He is forgiving, like they told you He would be. And He is merciful, which is not the same. You get up and pour your tea, saying your prayers silently, thanking the God and the man who became God and was God all along for your salvation, for the life you’ve come to live. For your safety and security.
A knock on the door makes you spill hot liquid on your hand and you curse, your usual goddamnit, which somehow you haven’t managed to train yourself out of. And the knock comes again as you’re running the cold tap on your hand and apologizing for the curse, for blaspheming. You think it must be the boy, the boy in love with a boy who’s dead, the boy whose eyes you could have drowned in and whose voice, traced with the slightest English accent, you wanted to feel vibrating through his throat. Your insides jump. You have kept yourself away from temptation for so many years. If it falls into your lap, what will you do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you? You haven’t listened to music in a long time, not music that is solely for pleasure, but you remember lyrics from before.
“Who is it?” you ask, because there is no peephole in the not-heavy door that could be broken by the slightest fisted or shouldered pressure.
“It’s me!”
You start breathing again and allow your shoulders to slump. It’s not the boy. Of course not. Even if he did dream the way you think he does, why would he come to you and yours about it? “Come on in,” you say and open the door.
“Finally.” She barrels in like a hurricane. Named for one, too, the one that started on the day she was born, on a rooftop above floating cars and carcasses. It was bad luck, you always think. But there’s no such thing as bad luck, you always remind yourself. Still.
“Hello, Kat.” She’s already sitting on a chair, her hands wrapped around your mug of tea. You turn to make another one, not wanting her to see the annoyance on your face. She’s quick to pick up on these things.
“Hello! It’s late,” she says. “Why are you still up?”
“Why did you come visit me if you thought I wouldn’t be up?”
“I wanted to wake you up! You’re always funner when you’re sleepy. And funnier.”
“More fun.”
“Funner.”
“More fun.”
“I checked. Online. Funner is okay now too.”
“Never mind.” It’s a losing battle and you know it. You don’t have internet in your own house , though ironically the church has free wi-fi that just doesn’t reach as far as your house, so you have to carry your laptop there and sit in a hard pew if you want to write emails or read articles.
“So what’re you doing?”
“I was having tea until you took it.” You’re over your annoyance now so you bop her on the nose with the new teabag before putting it in another mug of hot water to steep.
“Sorry.” She doesn’t sound apologetic.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Drinking your tea,” she says, grinning, which twists her upper lip to one side. She had a cleft pallet surgery when she was young; she’s never told you this, but the scarring on her lip, clearly not taken care of well after some reparative surgery or it would have gone away, has marked her. You looked up pictures to figure out what she could be scarred from and then wished you hadn’t. Children with mouths gaping open, some with their entire cheeks torn asunder-it made you wonder why they’d been marked that way. What they’d do later in life. What God’s plan was.
“Yes. You are. But why are you here?” You don’t need to add “this time” because you both know that’s what you’re really asking. Katrina shrugs and plays with the string of the teabag, tucking it in and out of itself in the knot you taught her how to make around the handle of the mug.
“He did it again.”
When she’d first started coming over after dark, after she’d met him at church and been to confession a few times, you were apprehensive about what “it” was. You thought “it” was even worse than it was. Not that her “it” isn’t bad enough. But-and it’s terrible that you think this way-it’s better than what your dad did to you when you were her age. You’d have exchanged those its in a heartbeat. Especially as your it, you believe, is what made you what you are and what led to your positive diagnosis, which led first to recklessness and then to self flagellation in the form of a different sort of recklessness, and finally led you here, to Him. But here she is, led to you by her him more than your Him.
You wait her out.
“With a belt this time.”
You want to wretch, though you’ve heard worse over the years, but usually with the pretense of a wall between you and the other. This girl, so vulnerable but trusting… What if you were someone like him, this so-called father of hers, rather than a Father whose vows and beliefs run entirely contrary to his? What if you were one of the priests whose behavior is so repugnant that finally they are being expelled, slowly but surely, or at least attacked in the court of public opinion? But Katrina, she knows you’re trustworthy. She sees you as you are and she knows that you’ll take her into your home and sit with her alone and that you will do nothing, not touch her, not hit her, not yell at her. You will listen to her and you won’t make the faces she’s seen on others. You will keep your face calm for her, to make it easier.
“With a belt, huh?”
“Yeah.”
“Was he really angry?”
“He was really drunk.”
“Ah, yes. Well. What was his reasoning?”
She shrugs again. Takes a sip of tea and then says “Fuck!” You give her a look. She mumbles an apology she doesn’t mean. “No. He was drunk.” As if that is explanation enough. “He smelled bad when he got home so I told him so and then he-” She mimes the lashes.
“That’s no reason. That’s an excuse.”
“I was mean.”
“No, honey. You were honest.”
Advertisements

It Was Warm and Cold and Round and Square

I found a mystery on the beach today, half-buried in the sand. There were plenty of people around. Sunbathing, building sand-castles, running in and out of the sea. When they ran in, they were usually dry. When they ran back out, they were always wet. The water was cold that day. No one stayed in for very long. I didn’t wear my bathing suit. I was just in shorts and a t-shirt with the name of the company I work for inscribed on it. They give me free things like that sometimes. Once I got a big duffle bag. I use it to carry my laundry down. Some people say that’s free advertising. I say it’s a free bag.

I stepped right on the mystery at first. I was barefoot. My shoes were with the blanket I’d spread out on the sand. I didn’t want to take my shoes off at first. But the blanket kept flapping up in the wind and I needed something to weight it down with. So I took my shoes off. They were the kind you can wear without socks. So I was both shoeless and sockless. Completely barefooted. Once, feet were considered erotic. I guess they still are for some people, if you can believe what you read in the tabloids.

My foot still has a mark on it. The mystery was sharp. I jumped away from it and yelled a little yell. It hurt. Nobody was watching, though. Everyone was too involved in what a nice day it was. That’s probably why no one found the mystery before I did. Even though my foot was stinging, I got down on my knees to look closer at the thing that hurt me.

It was round and square and triangular. I pulled it out of the sand. It was pretty small. It was heavy and light. It was clear and opaque. It sang a little tune when I shook it. It rattled. It was the most ordinary and mysterious thing I’d ever seen. I guess that’s why they call it a mystery.

I took it home. I wrapped it in the blanket first. My neighbors would never let it stay on this street if they saw it. We’re a no-pets zone. Nobody wants dog poop on their lawn. I don’t have a lawn. I have a rock garden. It’s very relaxing. I use a rake and make shapes in the sand. Then I walk on all the zigzags and see my shoe-prints. I wear different shoes every day so that I won’t get bored. I have almost thirty pairs. That’s just enough.

A Story Excerpt

I was inspired today to start writing something else in addition to my main project. It was one of those things, like Robin of a few days ago, that just started writing itself in my head before I was ready for it. Luckily, I was able to turn immediately to my computer and write. This is only about half of what I’ve written so far, and I don’t know how much potential it has, but I’m going to keep working on it, because, well, I feel like it!

**

The sirens began to wail all over the city, and we made ourselves ready. We all knew what the sound meant. In our shelter, Ben and I gathered up the weapons we had at our disposal – he a staff, and I my twin daggers. He’d learned how to use a staff at his mother’s knee, and he wielded it as if it were part of his body. I envied his skill, especially when he’d shown me that the extras he’d added to his weapon. When twisted in the center, sharp steel blades shot out of either end of the heavy wooden staff, heavier still with the lead infused in it. I could hardly lift the thing, although I’d tried often enough. Ben had the muscles of an infomercial bodybuilder – he’d added two pounds of lead to the staff every year since he hit his teens.

My skills were harder won, for I wasn’t a child of violence. I had never meant to join the revolutionaries, never meant to get tangled up in any of this. My parents were simple folk, and I grew up in a small town near the coast. I learned fishing and cooking while Ben learned the fighting arts from his mother. While he sweated in the gym, I paddled happily in the vast salt lake’s waters. While he took his oath and swore his dedication to the rebellion and revolution, I was picked as beauty queen of the seventh grade. While he debated and studied philosophy and the way of life in which we lived, I was blissfully unaware of anything outside my small community. I didn’t even know how downtrodden we were.

We were allowed television, although no Internet access. I knew vaguely about the Net because of visitors that came to the coast to enjoy some free time. They often complained about the isolation – the radios only caught music stations, and our televisions had no news channels. In our town, the war might well have been a myth. It was a myth to me until I reached adulthood at seventeen and was allowed the knowledge that had been barred from me during my childhood: the world was at war.