These Words

In the calm gray of the afterlife, Shay discovers all the words she has not said in her lifetime hovering after her like the train of the wedding dress she will not wear.

These words, which she’d have thought would be all bad, are not. They are not only those she kept inside her when she wanted to speak so dearly that her tongue itched from the effort of keeping them inside. They are not only those nasty truths held at bay with white lies taught to her by her mother, which her mother learned from her own mother, and on and on through the generations until whenever it was that tact or manners or politeness were invented.

These words are there, the bad words, the sentences strung together with malice and caprice. But there are others too. Softer words. Words of praise that were never uttered out of laziness or forgetfulness. Words of love stoppered inside Shay’s body due to shyness or fear.

Shay can feel and hear the susurrus of these words following her, a reminder not only of what was never said but of what was never written. She wishes she were in a dream so that she could wake up and make it all up to the universe, but even if she weren’t dead due to a bullet to the brain in a bank, a bullet slow enough somehow to make her think of the famous story she’d studied in college; even if she were to wake up in a sweat in the bed she once slept in; even if, in fact, the entire thing were the effect of a drug taken at a party where she was feeling particularly ambitious; even if, if, if, Shay knows it wouldn’t matter. Words unspoken are rarely uttered without disastrous consequences. Words unwritten are only works of genius until they are penned.

She walks into the grey and hopes that this is the afterlife’s own little white lie: that all these words are worth something now, in death, even if they weren’t before.

Raggedy Ana Does It Again

Why does she do this to herself? Her arms are so pretty so shiny and squeaky clean skin soft like lovers say and here she lies in a bed of roses or rose drops or blood drops in a bathtub or red ties on the metal rails of a hospital bed.

…Mom Dad Someone

We’re right here, darling.

You are

Yes, can’t you see us?

I can see I don’t know what I’m seeing where am I how and why am I tied I don’t like

You tried to do it again, sweetheart.

I did

Yes.

How this time

The same as usual.

No different

No.

No change

No.

And she starts to laugh, the maniacal laughter that comes from being found freshly alive in a heapful of bodies, all the ones that live in her head, all with her face on them. But none of the others go the way she can, they’re all mangled or strangled or squashed against concrete or cartop or poisoned with malaise and arsenic but she, the one found alive no matter how far she burrows down into the heap is the only one who can’t get it right, too enamored with the process to let it go all the way.

Have I been here long

No, hon, only a couple of days. I miss you, though.

Are you sleeping with her already

No! Why would I do that? I love you. Only you.

You won’t not for long trust me

Yes, I will.

Okay

She will heal again, one sealed stitch at a time, a rag doll more than anything, dragging on everyone’s nerves, grating their elephantine skin and peeling their waxen faces and breaking them until they’ve broken her to fix her and put her back together again like a watch without a face and only the hands moving correctly, finally, until the next time someone, her most likely but sometimes someone else, accidentally or on purpose reaches into the clock and wrenches the hands up and out and breaks them, or twists them the wrong way until the time is all gone and out of shape.

Hello is anyone there

I knew you’d leave all of you proved you right didn’t I

Oh there you are you just don’t want to talk because you’re crying

…yes.

The last one lasted longer than you you’re leaving now aren’t you

…yes.

Okay

And she will still heal again, and it won’t matter how many times she is broken and picks herself up again, or gets picked up again, or has the crows pick her clean as carrion again, she will always go back to the old scars, she doesn’t pick new ones, it’s been long enough that she has her favorite places where things open again and open so well and so tasty, the blood melts in her mouth like curry, pudding, chocolate cake with candles in it. Burning the roof of her mouth. Scorching her until she laughs again for no good reason other than the swallowed cigarette trick she remembers from an old black and white movie and always imagined must have felt like this.

Good morning. How are you feeling?

Cat got your tongue?

Oh, I see. Yes, I see. That’ll definitely sting for a few days. But it’ll heal. The mouth is the fastest part of our bodies to heal, did you know that?

It’s because of all the blood vessels there. The mouth is very resilient.

hith ith

Better you try not to speak until it heals, sugar. The doctor will come later and see if we can remove these ties, okay?

Oh ey

Good girl. Or woman, I should say, shouldn’t I? Forty-six, you’re as old as my oldest daughter.

That’s right. Just buzz if you need water or anything. It’ll heal fast, I promise.

Forthcoming Books From Dead and/or Unconsenting Authors

  1. The unearthed copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The Reunion, in which the friends are in their 40s and sit in a dive bar and reminisce about old times. Intertwined with their discussions are flashback scenes interspersed throughout involving Jim’s life after the Civil War. Anticipated release date: December 10, 2015.
  2. Emily Dickinson’s poetry cycle, tentatively titled Bees of a Feather, which critics who have had a glimpse at the work say will resolve once and for all Dickinson’s obsession with the flying honeybees she so often examined in her poetry. Dickinson’s estate and her publishers are closely monitoring the manuscript and have only allowed readers to examine the work after going through extensive security clearance and signing several gag orders. Anticipated release date: May 1st, 2015.
  3. An edited version of Franz Kafka’sThe Trial, which, up until now, was believed to have never been completed during the author’s lifetime. Kafka fanboys have unearthed what publishers are promoting as the definitive version which will eliminate timeline confusions and will end with a more satisfying and explanatory final chapter and epilogue. Anticipated release date: late 2015.
  4. An as-yet untitled Jane Austen novel about two sisters, their mother, and the rich next-door neighbor who attempts to seduce each of the three over the course of 20 years. The manuscript was discovered among newly found papers belonging to Austen’s niece who scribbled editorial notes all in the margins. Publishers are still debating whether to publish the manuscript with or without the familial editorial touch. Anticipated release date: TBA
  5. W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Talented Twentieth, in which he rethinks the math regarding The Talented Tenth and is embarrassed about the problematic undertones in that first book and engages in lengthy Socratic dialogue with himself in the prologue. He also envisions the future of the African American experience in the United States and predicts, optimistically, that America will lead the charge in eliminating racism from the world. Anticipated release date: Black History Month 2016.
  6. Emily Bronte’s Withering Heights; or, the Story of Katherine in her Unsullied Youth. A prequel to Wuthering, Withering was found among newly discovered effects stored in a basement in West Riding of Yorkshire, where she lived and died. The manuscript includes diary entries and little doodles of hearts with the word “Heathcliffe” in them, as well as a stern lecture by a mysterious old woman about the dangers of emotionally abusive relationships. Anticipated release date: June, 2015. We anticipate inclusion of the title in Best Beach Read lists.
  7. An untitled Nella Larsen novel in which a blonde woman passes for black and a dark-skinned woman passes for white and both engage in a romantic relationship involving cruel grins and soft fingers passing through each other’s hair. The closest to explicit queerness that Larsen has ever come, it is rumored the novel will be released just prior the New York Gay Pride Week in early summer. Anticipated release date: TBA
  8. During the making of the recent documentary and the accompanying book (Salinger), publishers have now revealed that an unpublished story by J. D. Salinger was found in the archives of The New Yorker magazine (unearthed during the move from Times Square to the World Trade Center). The story, titled “Holden’s Hands,” is apparently a precursor to Catcher in the Rye, and will be published in a coming issue of The New Yorker. Anticipated release date: TBA
  9. Grace Paley’s novel – unknown until recently, when a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College found it buried in the ground beneath the Teahaus – the novel deals with Paley’s recurring character, Faith, and finally puts to rest the questions of how many husbands she had, which ones she divorced, and what happened to her when her kids grew up. Anticipated release date: International Women’s Day, 2016.
  10. In a startling revelation, the Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, has announced that it will release a free e-book by Charles Dickens on the illustrious author’s next birthday. The novella, entitled The Afterdays of Ebenezer Scrooge, is said to be a glib and satirical view of Scrooge’s apparent transformation in A Christmas Carol. The Fellowship recommends a strong stomach and an ironic sense of nostalgia for readers choosing to expose themselves to Afterdays. Anticipated release date: December 1.

 

Quiet Space Spills

The sound of spilling in a quiet space is never a positive one. Either someone has peed their pants, or their drink has poured all over their computer, or else they’ve vomited up the vodka from last night onto the front of their expensive thrift store sweater.

The quiet space makes every nanosecond, every inch, every gram of noise carry across the ceiling and in between the cubicles like the measles virus. It is a bad place to be clumsy. It is a bad place to have a cold. It is a bad place to let rip a heroic fart or a miscalculated burp.

Our coats spill onto one another, hung over the sides of cubicles and backs of chairs. Boots tumble sideways from their tucked in nooks when the door opens and the entire place shakes. It is a bad place to be heavy. It is inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. It is discriminating.

Compassion and jealousy and hatred permeate one another. Who has an agent, who has a book deal, who has a publicist. It’s the loud voices that have the most, or maybe the least. How can we tell when we are all so full of hubris as to think we belong?

It’s a paradox, an anachronism, something like that. It’s impossible. A quiet space full of so much noise.

Days of the Week

Shay sometimes felt that she had two sets of eyelids. Like cats. This feeling was especially pronounced early in the morning, every morning, when Shay’s daughter would pry open one or both of her eyes and ask, as if she were already a bitter middle-aged woman, “Is it Saturday?”

Ame was a happy girl overall, but she liked weekends, and nothing Shay could do seemed to help Ame remember the days of the week. As she tucked her in, Shay would say, “What day is it tomorrow, honey?” and Ame would say, hopefully, “Saturday?” and Shay would say, “No, honey, what was today?” and Ame would think, and think and then triumphantly name the day, pleased with herself. Then Shay would say, “So that makes tomorrow…” Without fail, Ame would repeat, “Saturday?”

At least she was right once a week.

Shay wondered why her daughter was obsessed with Saturdays rather than Sundays. They were the same thing to her, weren’t they? Days when she didn’t have to go to kindergarten with all those poopy-heads (Ame’s words, discourage but as yet snuffed out by Shay).

No, Shay knew, this wasn’t quite right. On Saturdays, Ame got to go to work with her.

Shay worked in the administrative office of a zoo. It was a small zoo, not a particularly good one in terms of humanitarian concerns (the tiger lived in a cage, not an enclosure, and was stationed far too close to the birds so he was always agitated and pacing to and fro, even though turning around was an ordeal for him because he’d grown longer than the original cage-designer had anticipated). But it was a happy little place for the parents and children who came there and the occasional tour group that found itself in the small west-coast city that had little of historical, or even contemporary, interest.

It was a good job for Shay. She had her Associates Degree and knew it had been an absolute waste of time to get it, as no one cared about anything less than a BA. The bank didn’t want her, the doctors’ offices didn’t want her (not even the chiropractors), and she couldn’t face another benefit-less job at a grocery store since it reminded her too much of being a teenager and living with her parents.

Shay sometimes wished she still lived with her parents. But they were living the good life in Florida now and believed it was the height of parental support to fly her and Ame out there once a year for a rainy and hot Christmas with them.

What confused Shay about Ame looking forward to Saturday so much was that they rarely went out to see the animals. Saturdays were a busy day for Shay, because the phones would be ringing off the hook. Teachers and tour guides worked during the week and Saturday was the only day they could call to book their tours and buy their tickets. The zoo was closed on Sunday.

What Ame usually did on Saturdays in the small, cinder-block-walled, windowless office that was Shay’s inner sanctum at work, was draw animals in chalk on the floor. It was easy to wash off and Ame was forever running out of paper when she drew at home, so when Shay discovered rather by accident that the cold stone floor (chic in the ’70s, she was sure) worked like a chalkboard (the accident involved her getting a cup of tea for a frazzled teacher who had a new pack of chalk in her purse which spilled out when she burned herself on the too-hot tea and instinctively flung everything away from her), Shay figured that she’d buy some of the big sidewalk chalk for Ame and let her roam around the office with it.

Ame drew animals, but she also drew roads. She drew animals walking down streets, across cross-walks and high-ways and up and down shallow public park stairs. She had a sense of direction that she allowed into her art and which Shay found immensely comforting.

My daughter will be something, Shay would think on Saturdays, and know she was thinking in clichés. But then, every morning, when she felt her second eyelid being pried up from her eyeball along with the first, outer one, she would wonder how Ame would ever be anything if she didn’t learn the days of the week.

A Well-Rounded Roundup

I’ve been neglectful, rather, of this lovely lovely blog, but there are good reasons. There always are, aren’t there, when people neglect things. Excuses, excuses and all that. Well, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  1. Moving to New York City.
  2. Trying to find a job.
  3. Failing, miserably.
  4. Getting into freelance work.
  5. Don’t ask me what freelance work is, because it’s a ridiculous mishmash of things, most of which involve hustling my butt off to try to find more work.
  6. Got me a boyf.
  7. Got me some cats.
  8. Reconnected with old friends in the city (because that’s what we call NYC here, “the city,” rather like San Franciscans call it “the city” too).
  9. Got rejected from a bunch of literary places.
  10. Got accepted to some cool places like McSweeney’s.
  11. Did NaNoWriMo…
  12. …and finished the novel I started over a year and a half ago in Oxford.

What does this mean? That hopefully now that I’m not quite noveling, I’ll be back here more often and updating.