Correctional [Flash Fiction]

Photo / National Library of Scotland

Raw red and stinging, the bite mark hurt Gavin more than any of the many wounds he’d been receiving. It seared through the small, perfectly round, puncture mark and spread through his arm the way wildfire spreads in forests: first in a way that makes sense, treetop to treetop, then in a sudden burst appearing a hundred yards away in an unexpected spot, signalling that it’s out of control. His entire arm was now inflamed, including the shoulder, which was sending bolts of sticky white pain down his back, through his spine.

Gavin sat silently, alternately sucking and biting on his lips. He didn’t intend to make them bleed – he was in enough pain already – but the motion calmed him. He could almost imagine that his own lips were another’s, a woman’s. He’d never kissed anyone before. Unless you counted his mother, which he emphatically didn’t. He hadn’t let her kiss him full on the mouth since his tenth birthday, when his friends had seen her kiss him goodbye before going to play and had made fun of him all day for it. He’d never forget that day. He’d felt stuffed with chalk and stone all day, both heavy and so fragile that the lightest scratch would make him crumble.

He hadn’t written his mother in over a week. Now was a good time. It would take his mind off the awful bite, and Lord only knew what terrible insect gave it to him, and off his belly, which was gurgling with emptiness. There was a ration van on its way to replenish their supplies, but it was running late. No one knew way, not even the commanders, and Gavin and the others were trying not to panic. Some fights had already broken out, though. It was going to be a long afternoon if the van didn’t get here soon.

Gavin pulled his pack closer to him and spread his legs to settle it between them as a kind of writing desk. But even the small strain of keeping the pack balanced with his arm was too much. It was ridiculous, but there he was, lying awkwardly sideways, kicking his pack out of the way. He found a block of wood among the detritus spread around him and used it as a surface to keep his atrocious handwriting more in check than it would have been on the uneven ground. His mother’s letters, when he got them, were usually full of complaints, and one of the repeated ones had to do with her inability to decipher his scrawl. It made the process of writing to her all the more frustrating for Gavin. He wanted to assure her that he was safe, but it seemed that he could never get the message across.

Then again, he wasn’t entirely safe. There was a war on. He and his unit were moving from one camp to another, and none of them knew when they’d face actual combat. But they all knew they would, eventually. They’d reach a field, a valley, a dale – somewhere – where they’d dig trenches and face the dreadful others. The enemy. They’d pull out their guns, and they’d keep their tomahawks handy, just in case anyone got close enough and needed a last minute blow, even though everyone knew the knives were really mostly for show, and they’d kill people. He, Gavin, would kill people.

It wasn’t until he finished writing the letter to his mother that he looked up and realized that the ration van, meaning food, had arrived. His mouth went dry, his stomach gave a leap and a particularly strong gurgle before trying to convince him that, in fact, he wasn’t at all hungry – it often did this when he was excited – and his lips rested softly together, tired f their kissing practice. Food was more important than the idea of killing a man, or many men, more important than a pretty girl, more important than writing home. He got up and ran to join the other latecomers, praying to God that he wouldn’t miss out on anything.

Sugar-Coated

Words on paper; black words on white paper, to be exact. Words, formed of letters, each individually meaningless shape coming together with others to create forms that the eye, or maybe the brain behind it, recognizes and understands. Words, meaningless things, really, when you get right down to it. Words are used to express every trite emotion in the book, every cliche of humanity. Words are nothing more than sounds rolling off the tongue, sticking between the teeth like bits of food that weren’t brushed out properly. Words are like phlegm, coming up the inner-tubing of the body and coughed out messily, loudly, sometimes violently. Words are just like any other bodily function – they serve their purpose, but they’re not to be discussed, not to be praised, not to be loved.

Of course, it isn’t so. If words are like food, they’re like the richest dessert, the most delicious cream-filled, frosted and glazed piece of chocolate cake that ever touched your pallet. If words are like bodily functions, then they’re like the satisfaction of a wide yawn, the comfort of a stretched muscle, the lulling sound of the pulse beating softly in the ears. If words are nothing more than sounds, then they’re like the sweetest music, the most poignant, the most touching of all pieces ever composed by man.

Words are never simply anything. They’re never simply, for they’re never simple. Words are mazes, sentences are labyrinths, paragraphs are cities and pages are countries – novels are entire universes, poetry galaxies.

In the wrong hands words can be dangerous. In the right ones, they can save lives. Falling from the right pens, words can change the world. Dripping from those poisonous ones they can destroy it.

Words on paper. Simply words, or rather words, complicatedly.

The H Cafe

The H Cafe is a small place, sitting right on a busy, noisy street. It’s a main thoroughfare between one part of the city and the other, and the sound of cars, trucks, ambulances and motorcycles is constant. There is also a cake store on the corner next to the H, that doubles as a plain bakery and cafe. It could be said, by some people, that the H Cafe is not in a prime location.

But it’s never empty. The waiting-staff don’t wear uniforms. Not even t-shirts with the H’s cat logo. The only way you’d know who your waiter or waitress was, would be because they came to you. And they do. They’re kind, sweet, funny and patient. They don’t get mad if you order a coffee and nothing else. They don’t bug you when it takes you a long time to order. Best of all, they don’t seem like they’re suffering, and that’s a good thing to see. They look, rather, like they happen to be asking people what they’d like to eat. When they aren’t needed, they stand around the register and talk to each other, laughing charmingly, but always with an eye out. If a hand pops up or a head turns their way, they’ll be there in a flash, still grinning.

How, you might ask, does it manage to have clients at all hours on such a busy and noisy street? The H has cleverly made up for its location by simply refusing to admit to it. The outdoor seating area is raised on a wooden platform, and is bordered on three side by greenery. The lamps that sit on the platform, entwined in the bushes, look like they were taken straight out of London in the 1920s. They’re picturesque, yet simple. The tables are wooden and often wobbly, but the chairs are comfy enough and you’re never in the sun or rain. During the summer, plain white fabric umbrellas rear their heads and give a pleasant tent-like quality to the place, while in winter the area is surrounded by glass and feels like a cozy, warm fish-tank.

The menu is small but with wide variety, the coffee is superb and the atmosphere lovely. It’s the only place in which I’m ever recognized and acknowledged as a regular customer. The H Cafe is a diamond in the rough.

A Town

It was a beautiful little town. No wonder, really, since it was the richest one in the state. Still, if you could forget about all the money that must have exchanged pockets in order to make the town look the way it did, you might just fall in love with it.

The best way to describe it would be old-town America. There are no high-rises; the tallest building in town is the bell-tower of the church, still tolling the hour to this day. There are just two main streets, really, both filled with quaint buildings, all low to the ground. Around Christmas-time, all the windows and doors are decorated with wreaths and big, red ribbons. The shops are varied, supplying the residents with everything they could want – from specialized yoga clothing to vintage fur coats; from good quality generic groceries to specialized health-foods; from magazines and sweets to books and toys; from sushi to Italian to Mexican to baked goods to good, old diner fare.

The town’s small train-station is quaint, no doubt about it. Standing on the platform, you can easily imagine an old steam-engine pulling into the station while men in suits and bowler hats and women in dresses in muted hews get ready to board it to go into the big city a few stops down the line. You can imagine parents sending their child off to the big city’s university in a train like that, with a steamer trunk loaded and a handkerchief waving goodbye out a window. Even today, the platform seems to contain ghosts of those people from other decades.

The town is beautiful, almost like a real life Disneyland.

A Painful Confession

Well, the time has come to write this post. I’ve put it off for a few days, but I’d better not put it off anymore. Here goes.

As some of you know, I’m nineteen years old and I started Sarah Lawrence College in August, 2009. I just came back a couple weeks from my first semester there. I was supposed to have flown back to New York to begin my next semester at the end of January. BUT, and this is where the confession comes in… I’m not. I’m taking a medical leave of absence during the spring semester.

The reason is that I’ve been struggling with an eating disorder for a year and a half now. I began to diet and exercise in the summer of 2008, and became obsessed and consumed by the process of restricting meals, exercising and losing weight. I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t think I could legitimately say that I had any sort of eating disorder, and I still always felt that I looked bad. My boyfriend of two and a half years now urged me to begin therapy, and so I confided in my mother and began seeing a psychologist. Next, I began to see a dietitian. All this was happening while I was in the process of applying to colleges, getting in, flying out to see them and making my choice of where to attend. By August of 2009, I’d gained enough perspective and weight so that my therapist and my mother both felt secure enough to send me to college.

Even though I set up a similar support network in the USA, I still relapsed badly and lost a lot of weight, reaching the lowest weight I’d ever gotten to and endangering my health. Because of this, I’ve been strongly advised to take a leave of absence and focus on getting better, physically, as well as emotionally.

People have very fixed and prejudiced views about young women who have eating disorders – we’re all privileged and bored, shallow and reaching for fashion. This is really not what it’s about. Sure, yes, it starts from the superficial goal of losing a few pounds, but it goes to somewhere completely different emotionally, until there’s an irrational monster in our minds telling us that we must lose weight, while our logic and intellect tell us that this is wrong. Thus, an endless and extremely painful battle of wills seems to dominate our minds at all times.

Believe me, I know that looks aren’t everything in life. In fact, I look at other women around me and I see the beauty in them no matter what their size and shape. I truly don’t look at weight and judge people by it – but I judge myself by it, even though I know I shouldn’t. I know that I’m too thin. I know that I’m in danger. But still the voice in my head criticizes every mouthful of food I consume.

To sum up, what this means is that I’ll be flying New York next week on Monday to move my things out of my dorm room and put them in storage. I’ll be coming back the Saturday of that week, and then will be living in Israel with my mom for the next eight months. The goal, of course, is to return to Sarah Lawrence come August, 2010. My hope is that I’ll manage to achieve this. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep posting, and hopefully I’ll be able to use these months for something worthwhile, like maybe actually finishing one of my writing-projects.

Three Dreams

One

I am at a wedding. I’m positive that it’s some sort of traditional Scottish wedding. I dance in circles, kicking my legs in and out in a pattern which seems correct, but as I’m doing this I’m sure that I really don’t have any clue what I’m doing and I hope that no one will notice the fact that I’m completely faking whatever the dance is supposed to be. Two people are doing the same thing beside me, but they seem to really know the dance. I end my circle by slowing down, almost to slow motion, and then with the thought of making a dramatic exit, I leap into the sky. I’m shooting up, when suddenly some thing, some sort of beast, whizzes past me, almost biting my head off. I wake up in terror.

Two

I am in the lobby of a restaurant. Leonardo DeCaprio is there, as is Angelina Jolie. They are lying back in beach chairs and are completely still, like wax statues. I go up to the restaurant, and the waiters are all standing around, leaning against the walls. I talk to them, and I come to understand that there’s a problem with the boss – that he’s stopping business or some such. I get a mental image, like a vision, of a dark room with something prowling around it, commanding the restaurant’s boss. A sense of dread pours over me, and I feel that the boss isn’t the ultimate boss in this place – that he’s being manipulated by this beast, this evil thing. I want to get out. I go back down to the lobby, where two girls are now chattering about the famous actors there. They’re speaking in Hebrew, so I can understand them, but Leo and Angelina can’t. The girls try to tell me how they met – something to do with their eighteenth birthdays. I smile, I nod, I wonder why they’re telling me this when I have no clue who they are, and I quickly exit the restaurant.

I am now out on the street and it’s dark, dusk. I turn right, and walk down the street. The sidewalk and street are separated by fences enclosing dirt, as if the gardens are blocked off for planting. I walk down further, and at the end of this semi-enclosed walkway, I see a mattress. A man is lying on it, upper half naked, asleep. Next to his bare back – for he is lying on his stomach with his face averted to me – I see what appears to be a hole in the mattress. In the hole, I see a woman’s face. I get an overpowering feeling that she is dead. I walk past quickly, but just as I turn the corner, I feel a tug at my unbound hair – the man is hauling me back, and I know in my bones that he will butcher me and stuff me inside that mattress along with the others. I wake up in terror.

Three

I am out camping with my friends. There is a bonfire going, and one of my girlfriends tries to heat water over it in a Styrofoam cup. I want to yell out at her that it will burn, but I don’t, as I’m distracted by a bread basket that is being passed around by my friends. I take a piece of bread and eat it, suddenly realizing that I’d eaten a McDonald’s dinner earlier and thinking that I’ve eaten too much and that I don’t want two dinners. I wake up in terror, and then smile at the silliness of this last dream.

Spam [Part III]

Part I

Part II

A few hours later, Ladonna was bending down and sticking her head in the oven. The cake wasn’t ready yet, so she pulled her head out of the hot space and breathed deeply. She loved the smell of food being made – especially when she was the one who was preparing it and it was coming out so well. She also knew that most days she hated to cook, but she was conveniently suppressing that fact because today it was fun and because she had to do it for her friends and because it was distracting her from the strange events of the day.

She wiped the perspiration from her face and turned to the stove to stir one of the many pots that were bubbling away. The radio perched above the sink was tuned to one of the many random stations that she was still discovering. It was a good station, and the music was a nice mix of silly 80s pop songs and silly but enjoyable modern rock music. Ladonna registered the song that was just starting, and smiled to herself. She’d always loved “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell and she sang along as the opening lyrics blared fuzzily out of the not-so-good speakers. She needed a new radio.

A strange buzzing sounded somewhere around the kitchen, followed by piercing electronic noises that were supposed to form some sort of tune. Ladonna searched frantically for her cell phone, the thing that was making that obnoxious racket, and found it lying under “Baking Miracle Cakes! A Guide for Amateurs.” She looked at the screen, saw the name “KATE” flashing on it, and flipped the phone open.

“Katie!” she squealed.

“Hey, Babes, why aren’t you answering us?” Kate’s voice was drowned out by others yelling behind her. “Shut up, guys! I can’t here her. Ladonna?”

“Wait, you’re downstairs already? I didn’t hear the buzzer!” Ladonna dashed to the front door to her apartment, lifted the intercom phone and pushed the button marked with a little key symbol. “I’m on the second floor!”

“Thanks, Babes!” Kate hung up.

Ladonna ran to her bathroom to check that her hair wasn’t too disorganized and that she didn’t have anything stuck in her teeth. Having ascertained that she looked passable, she marched back to the door and flung it open just as Kate had lifted her fist to knock. Ladonna was bombarded with shouts of “Happy birthday!”, hugs, kisses, bags that crinkled pleasantly with the hint of gifts and all-around love and friendship.

There, she thought to herself as she smiled at everyone and motioned to the rack beside the doorway so they could throw their coats over it. Everything’s normal, my friends are here, and nothing weird whatsoever will happen tonight.

Ladonna relaxed then, and prepared herself for an evening of fun, laughter, food and drink, not suspecting at all that her strange day wasn’t quite over yet.