On Command

“Sir-yes-sir!”

Lyle was practicing in front of the mirror again. He had on the army uniform costume that he’d worn on Halloween, and he’d stolen the medal out of his mom’s sock drawer. It was draped around his skinny neck, the gold-colored part resting somewhere around the level of his belt. He marched up and down in his room, trying to make his limbs as stiff as possible, and then turned back to the mirror.

“Sir-yes-sir!”

Under different circumstances, the sight of an eight-year old boy wearing a Halloween costume and walking like a robot would have been amusing. But as it was, it made Robby, Lyle’s older brother, throw his backpack violently across the room. It hit Lyle, who went down right in the middle of another salute.

“Shut up, you idiot, mom’ll be home soon!” Robby gave his brother an extra shove and went to the bathroom to shave. He’d been with his girlfriend after school, and she’d told him she didn’t like his itchy stubble. Trying to calm himself, Robby took out the old razor and placed it on the sink. He lathered his face with lotion, and began, with hands still trembling with anger, to scrape the old, thin blade across his cheek. He managed not to nick his right cheek, his upper lip and his chin, and moved on to the left cheek.

A scream seemed to tear the house into pieces. In the bathroom, Robby cursed as the razor blade cut into his cheek and blood started to seep out of the thin slice. It mixed with the shaving lotion until the lower half of his cheek looked like a marshmallow. Rinsing himself off, Robby got a wad of toilet-paper and held it to his cut as he opened the bathroom door with a crash. A horrible scene met his eyes.

Lyle was face down on the floor, his mother leaning over him. She had the ribbon the medal hung on in one thin, wasted hand, and she was pulling at it, hard. It was still around Lyle’s neck.

“Mom!” Robby dashed forwards, and forced his mother’s hand to let go. He heaved her backwards, away from Lyle, pushing her until she was leaning against the far wall. Her eyes looked dead, and she made no move to go back to strangling her son, so Robby left her and bent over Lyle, turning him over. He was breathing – crying, choking on his mucus and tears, but breathing nonetheless. He huddled in Robby’s embrace, hiding from their mother. Flashing a look of scorn towards her, Robby picked him up and carried him to their tiny, shared room. He took the medal off of him, got him out of the costume and put him in bed. He drew the covers over him and tucked them snug. Lyle was already asleep when he left the room, curled up into a ball.

“How could you, Mom?” Robby faced his mother, who still hadn’t moved from where he’d pushed her. He held the medal forth. “This is what you want? This stupid piece of tin and some gold paint? Take it! Here, take it!” He threw the medal at her feet. Her eyes moved towards it, and she finally moved, kneeling down to pick it up. She looked at it lying in her hand, caressed it, and then held it closely to her breast. Raising her eyes, she gave Robby a withering glare. He didn’t budge, didn’t say a word.

“You never – do you hear me, son? You never talk about your father’s memory that way again.”

She rushed into her bedroom, closing and locking the door, before Robby could scream at her that his father was dead, that he died in a stupid war, that the medal didn’t really mean anything, that his father’s memory lay nowhere near the stupid thing. He slumped against the wall. It was too much, suddenly. It was all too much. His mother had never gone this far before. And Lyle – Lyle was just like her! Why did her need to steal that thing out of her drawer every other day?

Trembling, forgetting about the tissue that was still stuck to his face, Robby went down the hall to where the phone rested on a small table – his father had managed to get a great bargain on it at the flea market, Robby remembered that day… Without dwelling too long, though, he picked up the phone and dialed.

“Aunt Jenny? It’s Rob. Robby. My mom – she – Lyle – I just… We need help.”

Tamer and Tamed

Lara let the snake coil around her neck, slithering over her shoulders and looping itself once, twice, until its head was comfortably level with her eyes. The effect was ominous, and it seemed to Barriana that Lara could see out of the snake’s eyes as well as her own. She couldn’t hope to stare the both of them down, and shook her head.

“No. Can’t do it, love. Sorry.”

Lara’s eyes flashed and the snake hissed, moving so its scales flashed in the poor lighting, showing off its poisonous green color. The Tamer stood perfectly still, lips pursed. She couldn’t believe her ears. Having brought Barriana  this far, and to hear her say this? That she couldn’t? Lara couldn’t think of a worse insult.

“Don’t you ever call me that again. You’re finished, you hear me? You’ll never be a Tamer, and what’s worse is you won’t be under my protection anymore. I’ll have my friends chase you to the end of the earth if you ever try to come near me again. You hear me? Do you hear me?!” Lara realized her voice was rising in pitch, getting out of control. She couldn’t have that. She stopped, took a breath, and stroked the snake softly on the head with one long, brown finger. “Out,” she commanded coolly.

Barriana took one last agonizing look at her, at the magnificent, iridescent and beautifully dangerous Lara. She turned deliberately, completely, and wondered if the snake would attack her. The nape of her neck prickled with Lara’s furious gaze – it almost burned with its intensity. But there were no fangs sunken in her flesh, no claws flashing out, no weight bearing her to the ground. So she walked. She took one step, then another, and another. She didn’t allow herself to look back, because she knew that if she did, she’d return to the Tamer and to the Tamer’s life. She couldn’t do that. It had gone too far.

When she got far enough down the tunnel that led out of Lara’s cavern, she started to run. Not knowing how much time she had, nor where she could flee to, she knew this much – Lara wasn’t the kind to forgive and forget. She’d ruin Barriana’s life if she could – and if not for the betrayal she could have done so at any moment out of sheer meanness or spite. That was Lara, alright. Barriana ran on, emerging into air as humid as the tunnel had been, and not much cooler. She took a moment to steady her breath, and then used one of the talents she’d learned from Lara – climbing up a tree, she began to swing from branch to branch, jumping and landing as lightly as she could where she couldn’t get a good grip with her hands. It would take her hours to traverse the humid jungle Lara called home, but every inch away was a bit of her soul that she got to keep to herself.

Barriana fled, using every bit of willpower and strength to keep going. But secretly, a nasty little part of brain wanted to get caught.

“Some Fish Need Certain Bicycles”

I want to be very clear that the narrator of this poem is NOT ME. That is, she is perhaps an aspect of something within myself – but the poem wasn’t written about someone specific. It’s from a couple years ago, and I just rediscovered it in my files and thought I would share it.

I’m sorry I come off strong,
But I’ve been with you too long
to try to hide what I feel and shut my mouth.
I would agree to never see another snowflake
if only things would stay the same,
If only I’d be the only name in your mind
that brings memories of the kind of pleasure
you and I share.
I cannot imagine another life,
Not without your mind and body and soul.
My only goal, as of now,
is to make sure you don’t get tired of me,
that you keep on loving me,
that you won’t want to forsake me.
I wish I needed you like a fish needs a bicycle,
but it’s not true that I do,
And I don’t know how it ever could.
Scary? Oh, I know I am.
Am I in love? Very much so, thank you.
Sad? You have no idea.

Five-Year Old Heart

Martha was hiding in her closet. It was past midnight, and she’d woken up to the sound of Doug smashing his beer bottle in the kitchen. She was only five years old, but she already knew that Doug drank too much beer, that it made him nasty, and that every few nights he felt the need to throw his last bottle down hard and hear it crash. The mornings after he did that, Martha’s mother would clean the shards up quickly, quietly, telling Martha to stay in the tiny hall so she wouldn’t get glass shards in her feet.

Martha knew why her mother cleaned up in the morning. It was because one time, when she hadn’t, Doug woke up and saw the glass all over the kitchen floor. That just put him into a new rage. Martha had hidden in the closet then, too. She’d heard her mother whimper, but just barely, because she herself had been crying so hard.

Tonight, though, she was hiding in the closet for a new reason. Her mother was safely in bed, and Doug never did anything to her at night. He used to come home and fall asleep on the couch, sometimes leaving puke on the floor next to him. But lately, Doug had been coming into Martha’s room. She was so scared of him that even though she tried to sound like she was still asleep, her breathing quickened involuntarily, and Doug would then laugh quietly and move closer.

He’d been coming into her room for a few months, but Martha never told her mother what he did. She didn’t really understand it herself, only that it made Doug happy that she was hurting and frightened. She was only five years old, but she knew that if she fought him, he’d turn dangerous. She’d tried fighting, but he’d smacked her. So she knew to stop. To preserve herself.

This was the first night that she’d awoken before Doug got home. She couldn’t tell time yet, but she knew it was late because her mother was asleep and all the lights were off. So she hid in the closet, waiting for Doug to get back. She thought that maybe, if he didn’t find her in bed, he’d just go away.

She wanted him to go away so badly.

She wanted to tell her mother, but she was scared to. She knew instinctively that there was something wrong about what Doug was doing, and felt it was her fault.

She wanted, with all of her five-year old heart and body, for something very bad to happen to Doug. And that want, that intense need for him to be hurt, frightened her almost as much as Doug himself did.

To Be Held

Sometimes you need to be held. Really need to, a deep need that runs through your body all through to the very core of your emotions, somewhere deep inside that odd squiggly chemical thing that is our brain. Sometimes things, no matter how small and insignificant, feel like too much. Sometimes just knowing you’re going to have to wake up the next morning is too much.

Those are the times when you need to be held most of all. When you’re lonely, you want someone there, sure. When you’re angry or depressed, you need someone to anchor you as well. But sometimes there are just these moments of pure and utter hopelessness. You know it’ll pass. It’s just a mood. Just another chemical being processed through your brain. It doesn’t mean anything. Tomorrow you’ll wake up and work and do everything you need to do, just like any other day.

But it’s just that, well, sometimes someone holding you makes everything better, at least for one, priceless, endless moment. And that moment can keep you going.