Brew (Story A Day May)

In Rome, the brewery was not as full as we expected it to be. The beer-tour fanaticism seemed to not have reached this remote corner of the famed city, or maybe it was the chilly summer rain that was keeping other tourists away. We were glad for the relative quiet, especially after fighting our way through crowds almost everywhere else. It was a bad idea to come during the “on” season, but we also weren’t sure whether Rome ever had an off season. You could say many things about us, and one of them was that we weren’t great at doing our research.

The brewery – makers of Castebebe beers, which ran a wide range of styles, from hoppy IPAs to smooth and dark coffee stouts – was off a main road and really not very hard to find, but we arrived just in time for their final tour of the day, and we were the only ones on it, though people who had been on earlier tours were sitting in the bar area and drinking despondently, maybe because of the weather outside and maybe because they were disappointed. We knew that we were of a rare brand of people who actually enjoyed Castebebe’s product. For the most part, it was enjoyed either only by Italians – or so we’d read – or ironically. Everyone other than us agreed that Castebebe’s label designs were the best part about the beers. They hired artists – or maybe it was only one who did all the different lines – who drew fantastical creatures that were impossible and Escher-like, their wings and tusks and hooves folding in on themselves like Mobius strips. People would sometimes get high instead of drunk and then stare at the designs on the bottles and cans made by Castebebe for hours, mesmerized.

We weren’t like that. We truly enjoyed the flavor of the beer, which we agreed was an acquired taste but one worth acquiring. It was over Castebebe that we’d bonded originally in a beer-lovers thread on Reddit over a year ago, and it was from there that we found one another on various other social media outlets, stalking each other equally, until we finally friended each other on Facebook and almost at the same time, asked each other out, just on different platforms (Twitter DM and Faceboom IM). Our first date was predictable – sharing a pitcher of Castebebe’s 2014 line of StormSoldier Wheat Ale – and our subsequent dates were predictable in a different way, in that we did what all new couples do. Movies, cafes, restaurants, more bars, until we finally were comfortable enough with one another to make it official and also begin to spend more time in bed and on couches, talking less, eating and drinking more.

What brought was to Rome was an attempt – so far a failing one – to rekindle our sex life and save our relationships from going up in flames over who got to come more when neither of us was ever really in the mood to pleasure the other, much less go through the entire messy time-consuming and exhausting act. It had begun as a half-baked scheme, a joke, but once we realized that the Castebebe brewery was in Rome, we decided to make good on the plans. We both asked for cash from relatives who thought we had birthdays coming up and made a concerted effort to save up our tips for a while from our respective tip-making jobs (massage and food service) until we finally had enough for an all-inclusive four day deal during the week, which was the worst tip-making time anyway and so the best for us both to take off work. Things seemed to be working out cosmically, swimmingly, until we got to Rome and found our Airbnb full of air-born bugs that had hatched somewhere and had to ask for a refund – which we wouldn’t get for some weeks – and check into a hostel where we didn’t get a bedroom of our own or a jacuzzi or any of the other things we’d been looking forward to.

But there was still the brewery, and as we followed the tour guide, who spoke a lilting version of broken English that we agreed in whispers sounded more like an American actor putting on an Italian accent than like an actual Italian accent, we decided in a few short sentences that we should probably break up when we got back to the states, but that we should enjoy the rest of the trip and be friends thereafter.

Over our favorite beer, which we got free as part of the tour package, we agreed that you can take the romance out of Rome but that you couldn’t, linguistically, take Rome out of the romance.

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A Moment of Truth

I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing lately.
That is, I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing creatively.
No, that’s not quite right either.
I’ve been having a lot of trouble writing fiction.

I’ve been writing up a storm of non-fiction. From reviews at Electric Literature to articles in Broadly to book-lists and essays on Read It Forward and BookBub to my single article on DAME Magazine.

It isn’t writer’s block. It’s writer’s busyness.  It’s writer’s intense fear of churning out crap. It’s writer’s knowledge that no matter what  she does, she already feels behind (yes, despite publications above, despite fiction publications, despite the fact that today, in an hour and a half, I’ll be lucky enough to have Skillshare folks come to my apartment to film me – me – teaching a class about writing flash fiction). It’s writer’s panic that she doesn’t now how to weave novels together anymore. Or words. Words that are fiction and not truth.

This moment of truth is terrifying because it is natural. It feels right. But this is not the writer I am. I am not a writer who writes truth. I am a writer who lies through her teeth in the form of fiction. I am the writer who’s convinced other people that some of her stories are autobiographical until she corrects them and tells them No, they’re not. They’re fiction. I wasn’t this girl, I wasn’t that man, I wasn’t this woman crying softly on her desk at work, I wasn’t this young woman in the hospital, I wasn’t these women hugging each other, crying, scared for their lives and rightly so because of a horrible thing they did.

Fiction, come back to me. Stop feeling like crap, please. I miss you. I miss your twists and turns, your marvelous language, the feeling of fabric straining through my fingers and wishing to be written into a story, fabric ripped apart and sewn back together again in the editing process.

I miss you, Fiction. I need you, Fiction.

No, I Won’t Have a Heart Attack

When I know that they… And I know that I… There is a space in between where something happens and… But what if the shoe was on the other hand, tied tight with a sock puppet buried inside, casketed? Some things are best left unexplained, unexamined, unreliable, unrefined, underwater, undefined.

So when they… And I… And we together… And if only they wouldn’t… If only I couldn’t… There is a space in between where nothing needs to happen but… And what if the sock was in the laundry hamper, with a pair of jeans with tissue inside a pocket, and the washer/dryer at the laundromat covered all your shirts with white puffballs? Nothing would be clean, holy, sanctified, refined, defined, examined, but it would be explained: tissue in your jeans’ pocket.

And where do you… and they… How do we all… Doing things isn’t as hard as the space between where nothing happens and nothing proceeds and movement is restricted to peripheral limbs only, creating a vacuum of the face, an inability to speak or hear or see the evil, if it is evil, or the good, if it is good, or the grey, the in between, which most things are.

When you know that I… And that they… Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t I be working on things other than midnight lyrics and fortune cookie lines running through my head at a speed too fast to keep track of? So when my coffee gets… And I want to… Because there’s more but not enough… What then? What do I do then?

In the morning afterlight, the spaces in between come close together, the light drains out the Dark Matter, and a face as light as air and heavy as a stone is yours or theirs and… But maybe… Because… And after all… You understand me, don’t you?

Don’t word things at me, hurl them if you must but don’t be delicate. Remember I am not a poet. I am a straightforward mess of a manchild and my expressions are few and far between. So if… And I know that if also… Am I here with you or am I alone? Where are the spaces in between where I found you?

Because… And here I’m being serious, take my words for it, because what if… And that actually… And you aren’t… And I’m not… But what about them? And my jeans? And where is my coffee and my running shoes and sock puppet? Where are my underwear and where is my jersey, where are my shorts and where are my headphones. I’m going out to… I’ll be back when…

No, I won’t have a heart attack. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be home for dinner.

Gold-Ringed Syringe

“Put it in me already,” Nell says through the strap in her teeth. I tease her, waving it slowly in front of her, the beautiful gold needle that has a ring to one side for one’s thumb, to keep it steady, a ring which is almost an exact replica of those surrounding our fingers.

“We’re celebrating today, remember?” I say. She nods vigorously, her veins popping out, her head pulling back to pull the pure leather belt around her upper arm even tighter. I’m worried she’ll end up cutting off her bloodstream entirely. “Calm down.” It’s a command, not a request, and she lets the strap loosen just enough. “Good. Good girl.”

She moans, and her eyes are brimming with tears, which she learned to bring on artificially in some acting class in college, but it convinces me and I finally put the needle to her vein, slip it under the skin and draw back, see the blood, no air bubbles, and push back, plunging all the way down, all the way into her. She lets the strap loose, or it falls out of her mouth, and her eyes roll up to the ceiling and she smiles lazily before even that amount of work is too much for muscles and her face goes slack. I pick her up – I’m taller and stronger than her, always have been, they call me the butch, even though they don’t know what a top she is in the bedroom – and lay her down on the couch.

I watch her, ignoring her occasional mumbles about things we need to remember to do, or things she wants me to do to her now. She’s not gone to the world, not entirely, but she is in the land of cotton wool lightness and lying down keeps her safe. Plenty of people walk around like this, but Nell and I have never understood how it’s possible.

My phone buzzes on the coffee table and I pick it up. It’s one of my clients. I automatically begin to pace.

“Hello, Tonya, how are you?”

She tells me how she is and begins to ask about her portfolio, about what I’ve done with her investments this week. She’s not seeing the rise she wants to see.
“Tonya, darling, don’t you trust me? I would never steer you wrong. I can tell you that the two new companies are going places, you just need to wait until the end of the week, you’ll see – they have something new up their sleeve is my guess because they’ve been throwing a lot of hints out there.”

She continues to complain and I sit back down on the coffee table and only listen with half an ear. I watch Nell, smiling again sometimes, her eyes opening and closing slowly, an air bubble popping through her lips and making her simulate a giggle though no sound comes out. I reassure Tonya, finally, and tell her I’ll call her on Friday. I need to stop giving clients my cell number, I remind myself, but they need it, unfortunately. I’m extraordinary at what I do – otherwise how could Nell and I afford this place, this syringe, the clean as fuck dope – and people who make money off of me are paying commissions up the wazoo so I better be available to wipe their ass if need be.

There is only one day I don’t answer the phone, and that’s the day when Nell does it to me. We take turns, once a week her, once a week me. We’re careful. We love it. We still go to meetings, and fake our way through chip after chip. Every one we get we bore a hole into and string it on this long ribbon that we hang on our balcony. It rattles, our personal version of wind chimes.
We like the meetings, the validation, the friends we’ve made, the comradery. And we feel fine.

Once a week for each of us. That’s it. That’s nothing. And it doesn’t count because we monitor one another. We’ll never hit bottom again. Bottom wasn’t fun, and we’re both happy to be here, up top. Nell’s massage business is booming and I’m back on Wall Street like nothing ever happened. So what if I met Nell at rehab. So what if you’re not supposed to date there, or in your first year after. It’s okay. We both talk to our sponsors about it. You don’t run away from the love of your life when you encounter her, no matter where you both are.

Nell raises her head a few hours later. I’m curled up at the other end of the couch with a book, playing with the syringe between my fingers. I’ve always had restless hands. “More?” she asks. I smile, and go and get the rest of the kit. What’s one more time in one day? Still nothing.

Rocks are Solid but the Heart Goes Squish [FICTION]

Hush, my mother tells me. I have been through this and we were lucky to have loved so deeply. But why, Mama, if you loved so deeply, I ask, did it happen? She shrugs. It happens, she says. It is complicated, she says. So why, I ask, cannot I be complicated? Because, she says, no one will like you in the end.

Hush, my best friend, dressed in two guises, tells me. Don’t breathe a word, for you will surely be injured. By rocks and spitballs, stomping cloven hooves and razor sharp nails. But, I say, my skin has been pierced, my heart is hard, my limbs are strong and my mind is sound. Is it, my best friend, dressed in two guises, asks? Is it sound? It is sound enough. My best friend, dressed in two guises, shakes her head and sighs.

Hush, my therapist tells me. Dial down your honesty. Nothing good will come of it. It will serve to hurt you and the others. It will cause a break and a fall; a heart pounding resuscitation may be needed. Why, I say, can I not be honest when honesty is the most challenging communication possible? With honesty, I remind my therapist, life is so much more interesting, especially as others do not practice it fully yet and may not ever. My therapist reminds me that my honesty has killed me before and I remind my therapist that it has also brought me back to life. I am like a curious cat that way, coming back satisfied, licking my chops from the bloody heart of a pigeon caught outside. Remorse and regret come later, like any human killer.

Hush, my married friend tells me. And I think, what if her husband was the one, what if she were the one too, what if their life was what I wanted and could not get? She would understand, she more than anyone, but she would not accept. Few would. Hush, she tells me. Write it out, the frustration and fear. Write out the rocks and do not throw them at your heart. You think it is solid, she says, but it is not. It goes squish when you hold it.

Hush, goes my heart. Hush all the voices other than mine, she says. Hush them all and speak out. Silence is worse than sticks and stones. Ask Alice innocent questions, ask why and how and wherefore art thou. Ask and buckle the answers tight around your waist and squeeze, until you cannot digest and cannot breathe, until your internal organs go squish like me, like your heart, an organ without voice or reason. Listen to my practical pumps of blood, my heart tells me. I have four rooms. You have filled two and one is brimming. You can stand to lose one chamber to a game of Russian Roulette.

Go Away

A chalky man walks around Dora’s brain. He’s hard to pin down, never stops long enough for her to get a good look. She knows he is a man, vaguely, or believes he is, because of the effect he has on her. He makes her squirm, not with pleasure, but with discomfort, as so many others have done before.

But the chalk man, unlike the others, doesn’t berate her. He doesn’t mutilate her. He doesn’t corrode her veins and swatches of her skin with verbal acid. His silence is far more terrifying. It is a waiting silence, a tense and pent-up silence, the kind of silence that you can pull like a piece of chewed up gum, pull and pull and pull until it snaps back and sticks to both fingers and is impossible to get off.

Dora walks through her life with this chalk man threatening her. His blurry outline haunts her when she works at the wood shop, overseeing the new people’s handling of saw and sander. He doesn’t distract her – Dora is not to be distracted – but she is as aware of him as of the cyst on her thigh that scrapes every time she walks. He is a physicality that she can put aside, that she can work with, but that she cannot erase with a hot compress.

One day, the chalk man walks through the doors of her workshop and looks around. Looks for her. Frozen, she stands next to a cabinet she has been decorating with delicate carvings, and sees him see her. She feels him come closer. She hears his voice inside her mind and ears both.

“Hi,” he says. “Long time no see.”

She wants to say I love you. She wants to say come back. She wants to say take me. She wants to say you hurt me. She wants to say, and touch, and forgive, and relive; she wants to drink beer in Munich and wine in Madrid; she wants to buy a house and decorate it with her furniture, and she wants him to carry her heavy things inside, to carry her inside too; she wants to erase his erasure of her.

“Go away,” she says. The live chalk man turns, a look of true disappointment blooming around his mouth and crow’s-feet eyes, but the chalk man in her head solidifies and keeps walking in circles.

It will take another year for the chalk man to blur again, to become unknown again, to restore Dora’s ability to keep her hands steady enough to work again. When the chalk man is blurry, he is safer. Not safe, never safe, but safer.

Not Dying

Miranda wasn’t dying. She was standing in the grocery store, in a long line filled with other people who were being multilingual and filling her head with confusion. But she was most certainly not dying.

She often reminded herself of this fact. It was a necessary day-to-day assertion. “I’m not dying, I’m not dying,” she would tell herself when she rolled over in the morning to turn off the Mickey Mouse alarm clock on her bedside table, stolen from her son’s room when he went off to college because it was so annoying that it actually got her up. “I’m not dying,” she would recite over the coffee maker, dancing from one foot to another on cold toes.

“Put slippers on!” Miranda’s mother used to yell – really yell, with spittle flying out of her mouth and veins coming to the fore of her face.

“I’m not dying,” Miranda reminded herself on the way to work and in the morning meeting and the noon meeting and the late lunch meeting and the dinner meeting. “I’m not dying.”

“You’ll catch cold and then where will you be?” her mother would ask. Miranda yearned to ask where indeed that would be, but it was many years before she worked up the courage. By then, her mother wasn’t a force to be reckoned with anymore, and it felt like a cheap, below the belt blow. There were better ways to get to her mother than this, she knew, but it made her mother smile to hear her daughter ask the question. “Dead,” she’d said in the nursing home. “That’s what I meant when you were a kid. You’d be dead. Kids die of colds all the time.”

Miranda stood in the grocery store line and listened to the Spanish and Greek and Russian streaming around her and knew she would never learn another language. One was hard enough for her to contend with. It wouldn’t help her to understand the chatter around her. The mothers were all probably telling their kids the same thing every mother tells her daughter. The men in big jerseys were probably talking about some game involving a ball.

“I’m not dying,” Miranda told herself every night before she went to sleep. She walked barefoot to her bed and tucked her feet into the coldest part of the mysterious temperatures found in crisp sheets and made beds. “I’m not.”