I, too, am a murderer. And not by violence or bloody means did I kill, but as most murders are committed where the corpse will never betray me. My daughter, Beth, was twenty. Yes, it was true, that no one saw me cry, not even at the funeral, but why would tears travel in public streams when what we are given to see of the world’s bodies of water are nothing more than flat blue blots on paper or shorelines that whisper a mere spittle spray of the vast rivers, lakes, oceans and seas? The doctors found malignant tumors under Beth’s right arm that they cut out and viciously attacked with radiation and chemotherapy over and over again, but I knew those lumps would never disappear, taking up residence in other parts of her body instead, until they destroyed, because they were lumps in my throat that I’d swallowed and kept down my entire life, contracted from my mother who’d carried them like a totem pole in her spine, until one day she’d sat down in a chair, never to rise again. One long continuous wailing NO that unleashed its deadly poison from out of me into the silent chambers of my daughter’s blood. Continue reading
I stare out the picture window at a sky. It spreads up there ordinary as buttered bread on a table. Underneath it one block in the neighborhood stares back. The Connollys get into their blue station wagon. No pushing, no fighting, the doors slam shut–they move off down the street. Mr. Hampton mows his lawn and next-door Mrs. Sullivan pulls weeds.
One black fly (Diptera; Muscidae) buzzes up and down the window frame looking for escape, or maybe not. I have a microscope in my room, a pile of dead insects in a cigar box: moths, spiders, flies, bees, a few beetles, two butterflies and one glorious preying mantis.
Fact: One fly strip a week every summer guarantees over a hundred slaughtered. I pull a few live ones off with forceps, place them under the scope, and watch them die. Continue reading
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He was the tallest building she’d ever lived in–six-foot-seven, with hands stretched across him like a canvas. He had long, dirty hair and panicked eyes. Ruby seized whatever words she could on those rare occasions when he talked. The horror of speech was that when he spoke, he painted. Blazing canvases howled around the inside of their two-room apartment. Ruby would stare at his washed-out teeth and not see what it was that closed in on them. Two rooms were riddled with garish abstracts. Poster size Easter egg splashes of paint saturated the walls. Ruby’s teeth hurt whenever the crawling neon pinks, purples, yellows and greens stared back. She stopped looking anywhere, but at him.
Ruby used to imagine a larger apartment would save them, but he’d just paint more paintings with more wall space to condemn her–room after room like the circles of hell. Two rooms already plastered her in.
His eerie stories kept them running like a slow moving train on a track. He’d been homeless for years wandering the plains of Wyoming, sleeping on the ground or in caves, face to face with mountain lions and bears. A rattlesnake had even slept in his sleeping bag once, but the story Ruby worked to get out of him was the one that disturbed him the most. His strange face would dissociate. His paintbrush would hang limp in his hand. Small, gray creatures with simian arms and elongated eyes had taken him up on their spaceship. He had flashes of anal probes and massive needles in his ribs that found him immobilized on the ground the next day with brutal chest pains that never let up. He hadn’t stopped coughing since. Ruby considered the cigarettes he dangled from his lip, one after another that crucified his lungs.
Ruby could only ask a few questions to keep him clipping along or suddenly his bloodless lips would curl back over his cigarette and retire. Paintings would take over again and he’d silently start slathering away at another asphyxiating bee bonnet until it hung with the rest on a wall.
The shrill rooms drew in on themselves and on Ruby. She looked up into his faraway eyes. Aliens weren’t gray. They were saccharine perversions that caked maudlin colors over canvas. She looked down at her shoes. She started to cough. She was sick of hiding her eyes.
“Alien Art” will soon be published in Fractured West out of the UK.
When I actually got my own room I always kept the door closed. It wasn’t like there was anything actually happening in there––I was usually reading––but the thought that something could or might be happening at any moment in my room made it a necessity to keep the door closed and everyone else out and wondering.
One afternoon I was lying on my bed reading a book that promised to launch me out of this reality into a place far, far away, when there was a knock at the door. It wasn’t exactly a knock so much as a cautious, little tap. In other words, it was my mother. I let her stand out there for a while before I opened the door. I was fifteen, after all, and if something was happening in my room I had to give myself time to hide whatever it was I wasn’t doing, and give her time to conjure up the worst of worst fears about what I could have been doing. I slammed drawers, closed my closet and opened the window before opening the door.
“What,” I said. It was my standard opening.
My mother stood before me with a shoebox in her hands. She appeared more frightened than usual. Her eyes blinked rapidly like she’d just been hit. Her mouth was barely a mouth, shaky and wafer-sliced and shriveled. Her tongue flickered over chapped lips.
“Help me,” she said.
“What,” I said.
“Help me, “ she said. Her hands were shaking. “It’s your sister,” she said. She handed me the box. I took it in my two hands, held it in front of me and stared down at it.
“I give up,” she said. She turned and went back down the stairs. I watched her go. Then I closed my door, sat down on the floor with my back against the bed, and opened the box.
My sister was eighteen. I had two other sisters, but I knew which one my mother was talking about. Stephanie. No one in the family stirred up more frenzy. Sometimes she let me be around her and study her up close. One day after school she came home with a nickel bag of pot. She took me by the hand up to the attic, and said, “let’s smoke it all. Now.” I did whatever she said. We sat across from each other on a window seat that looked out over the backyard and the alley beyond, and rolled joint after joint. Then we lit them up, one after another, and smoked and smoked and smoked every last one of them. I remember my mom coming up to the attic at some point and yelling at us. I don’t know how many hours we were up there. All I could do was laugh my ass off, while Stephanie talked. She ignored my mother and eventually my mother went away, as usual, while Stephanie kept right on telling stories. My sister didn’t talk like anyone else. She was either a genius or a lunatic, I couldn’t tell, but she had her own special language like no one I’d ever heard before. She’d say things like, “that girl was the tallest building I ever lived in,” or after a date with some guy, she’d say, “I invaded the miserable casualty until he was a cornucopia of brazen limbs.” I remember that line because I had to look up the words cornucopia and brazen after she was gone. I never quite knew what she meant, but I was sure it was something good. After she totaled my dad’s mid-life crisis Spiderman sport’s car she actually quoted from one of her favorite, obscure writers while my dad beat the shit out of her. She stared him straight in his veined, purpled face and yelled, “Looking down the barrel of your eye, I see the body of a Bloody Cinderella come whirling up!”
I loved Stephanie. She was translucent and mad. She could say or do anything and no one broke her down. Not even our dad, and I was scared shitless of him. She wasn’t. She stood up to him like some kind of hardcore warrior and I swear I could almost see a black cape flung across her back with her hands on her hips whenever she came into a room, daring my dad to trample her.
I could be trampled. I was sickly thin and pregnant with terror. My dad would lift his hand anywhere within my vicinity and I would crouch in horror and go spasmodic. I had a few friends at school who were no different. They would dare me to do stupid things like throw rocks through a revolving door into a store or tell this mean-ass teacher who had greasy, blonde hair, that the wet-head was dead. I did anything they asked me to do just to be in their group. Desperation couldn’t be hidden. It was plain as my face. I followed them around like a dog begging for a kick.
Stephanie was of a different breed. She was the innovator. Everyone filed in behind her like she was some kind of pied piper and I got in that line whenever I could. But she kicked me in the ass just like everybody else. When she was dangerous, she was ruthless. She beat me over the head with one of those miniature baseball bats they hand out at baseball games just because I wore a pair of her shoes one day. I wasn’t a complete wimp, though. I’d bide my time and plan a counterattack whenever things had gone too far and it was needed. I would allow a certain period of time to pass after she’d nailed me for something. When she was way past the stage of suspicion, which could sometimes last up to a couple of weeks, I’d set my trap. I’d wait until the parents were out and Stephanie was lying on the couch all comfortable with her feet up, reading a book or passing out. I’d stock the bathroom with peanut butter sandwiches, Kool-Aid, and some books. I’d make sure I was well supplied and able to survive until one of my parents returned, preferably my dad. She had these long, precious brown pigtails she cherished that I wanted to chop off, but I knew my dad would kill me if did, so I knew I had to damage her, without permanent damage to myself. I would sneak up on her from behind when she was finally falling asleep and punch her in the face and yank that damn, stupid pigtail as hard as I could and run like hell. She’d jump up screeching and flailing to get at me, but it was too late. I’d race up those stairs three at a time with her close on my ass, screaming for blood, but I always got in there and locked that door before her body slammed against it. She’d pound for a while, and wail and tell me how she was going to kill me when I got out, because I couldn’t stay in there forever. My heart would pump with her threats, just thinking of having to face her again. When our dad got home he’d tell her to shut-up and leave me alone. That was the good thing about not being Stephanie. She always took the crap from our parents whenever she tried to tattle on any of us.
But I always got it back. At night she’d sneak into my room and smother me with a pillow or pound me with her fist or ravage me with an Indian rub till I was sobbing. I never got the last word, but knew I had to try.
I stared at the open shoebox and remembered the only other time I had seen my mother with that same ghoulish look on her face. It was about six months earlier. I heard screaming and yelling coming from the kitchen. It was Stephanie and my mother badgering each other, which wasn’t unusual, so I didn’t focus in right away. Then I heard strange words coming out of Stephanie, which also wasn’t unusual, except those specific words suddenly held me captive.
“You’re damn right I’m a lesbian, and proud of it, bitch! So what are you going to do, throw me out?” Stephanie was threatening my mom.
“I’m going to tell your sisters! How would you like that? I’m going to go in there and gather them round and tell them just who and what you are. We’ll see what they think of you then,” my mom spat out.
I was the only sister home at the time. It was a Saturday night and Stephanie was drunk, but looked scared when our mom called me into the kitchen. I was scared too. I thought I knew what a lesbian was, but wasn’t sure.
“Your sister Stephanie is a freak! She has sex with her girlfriend Alexandra on those little overnighters they do together. She’s what they call a lesbian––obviously not normal like the rest of us. What do you think of that?” my mom demanded of me. She studied my face to see which way I’d go.
“But then, look at you! Maybe you’ll be one of them too, following your sister around the way you do. Maybe you’re just another freak like her,” my mom screeched.
I had never seen my mom like this before. She would yell at us when we got home late or stole her cigarettes or money, but I’d never seen her so outraged. She scared the hell out of me. This was another part of her that didn’t show it’s ugly face much. This was more like my dad’s ugly face. I looked at Stephanie and she was different also. Her eyes were wild and they volleyed back and forth between my mom and me. The warrior was no longer the warrior. She was just like me, but then she wasn’t. I wanted to study this part of her I had never seen, but there was no time. My mom was waiting and she was waiting, and I didn’t know what to say.
I started to cry. I looked at my mom and sputtered, “she’s my big sister and I love her and she can do anything she damn well wants, so leave her alone.” Then I ran out of the room and slammed my bedroom door.
And now here I was sitting in my room with this shoebox open in my lap, staring into the abyss of a new sister again––another one I didn’t know. The box was full of strange women’s credit cards and driver’s licenses––hundreds of them. Where the hell had she gotten them? I lined up some of the cards, studied their faces and checked out their ages. There were blondes, brunettes, redheads, anywhere from 25 to 50 years old. What was I supposed to do with all these anonymous women? Apparently, Stephanie had multiple, strange faces, just like her vocabulary. She really was some bad-ass criminal. She had always terrified me before, but now I was in awe of her. I put the box under my bed for a few days and didn’t speak with Stephanie or my mother. It didn’t seem like either of them noticed. I studied Stephanie at dinner or whenever she was around to see if I could find some sinister smirk or nervous tic that I hadn’t seen before, but she appeared indifferent to any searing gaze I cut into her. How come she didn’t notice the box was missing, and why the hell had she kept it around for my mom to find if she was such a genius?
I let myself wait until I knew what was expected of a warrior. One day I took the box out to the backyard when no one was around and got a shovel from the garage and started to dig. Secrets were made to be buried. I just made sure the hole I dug wasn’t next to our dead German Shepherd, Clem’s.
“Sister” was published in Jersey Devil Press in 2009 and Fiction Collective in June 2010.
It’s a summer afternoon in Montreal and some asshole is making his way toward me. He is just another obstacle to move, skirt and trouble around. He whistles some revolting tune louder and louder when he zeros in on me–a girl who actually deigns to avoid him. He smacks the concrete as if it weren’t coarse enough for him. He is here to be seen, slapping the newness of shoes on the sidewalk, while his clothes shriek, “nothing but style, baby.” I detest him. I will do all in my power to avoid his languid eyes–the smirk that saturates his lower jaw. He demands my eyes to rummage his wares and drink in exactly what came groveling back at him from out of the pleasing mirrors and shop windows he passed. There is to be no dismissal. I am here to reflect back the only reflection he will ever see. I look right through him like I would a shrub. I am going to win. I will bear down on him, stare him straight in the eye, and denounce any fantasy he lives by. He slides his long, brown hair behind an ear and smiles at me. He is humming now. His pace slows down and his hips slide forward and he is the calmness of all calm. I start to tremble. Everything inside of me is bombarding with hate for this poser. I look under his clustered eyelashes into the corridor of his past with doting parents and all the girlfriends lined up with demented smiles on their faces as he date-rapes them and then steps over them to move on to the next. His sex is a table for one–perpetual masturbator with audience. Girls are here to suck him, admire him and run hands over his flanks. They do him. He does not do them.
My tall, lanky bones shrink into themselves. I become downtrodden. Straighten up, I command. Face this bastard head-on.
The sun’s raking eye spotlights him. Crazed dandelions litter the grass on either side of him with their citrus snickering, those crooked declaimers of light!
We move closer to one another. If I were a dog I would pee on him. He becomes a tall, willowy tree. I become a bumblebee. My hands and body do things I demand them not to. They rustle with my hair and buzz around my clothes tucking things in and pushing things out. Sweat shudders over my skin. I could cross the street right now and cower among the greenage. I could bear the rancid lie of my distractedness. My feet are ridiculous and keep moving forward. I narrow my eyes and stare at his forehead–just a piece of skin with hair on it. His melody is placid, repetitious and plays over and over in my head. My feet move faster. A malicious pebble contradicts me and I am going down. Arms reach out to capture me and a voice whispers, “Are you okay?”
This flash fiction piece was published in The Boston Literary Magazine.
FAST FORWARD PRESS
NEW YORK CITY READING
We have successfully found a venue for our New York reading! It’ll be on Saturday, June 19th, from 8 to 11 PM at the Path Cafe, which is located at 131 Christopher Street (www.pathcafe.com).
Santa Fe Community College 2009 AWARDS
STUDENT WRITING COMPETITION
Table of Contents
SFCC Student Writing Competition 2008-2009 Awards
Fiction ….3 Prizewinners
Family Conference by Meg Tuite
Paris Could be Home by Anna Carvlin
Confusion by Iza Bruen
Elizabeth in Iambic Pentameter by Rita Feinstein
Voices by Margaret Wood
Not Quite Human Not Quite Alien by Lysander Cramer
How Tadpole Became Frog by Jill Beyer
Romee the Chocolate Cake Girl by William T. Zawadski
Prizewinners Pecos Pueblo by Barbara Robidoux
3144 Jemez Road by Barbara Robidoux
Blood on the Sangres by Barbara Robidoux
39 Memories, Memories by Martin Levy
Kaddish in the Rain by Martin Levy
Sworn Statement by Hector Santana
Team America, Fuck Yeah! by Hector Santana
Autobiography by Lauren Camp …………………………………………………..
Counting by Lauren Camp
One Thread Loops by Lauren Camp
In The Arroyo by Denise Lynch
White Pelicans by Rita Feinstein
Different by Meg Tuite
Prizewinners A is for ( ) by Rita Feinstein
Family Treasures by Lucas Buck
La Sicología de la NenabyEdelweisAnankePailos
Last Callby Teresa Phelan
Half Empty to Half Fullby Teresa Phelan
Decision by Casey Frank
Heroes by Kevin C. Griego
In a Flash by Ekaterina Gerasimova
Chance of the Opening by Ekaterina Gerasimova
Prizewinners Different Uses of Religion by Casey Frank
The How-To of a HowTown by David Jack Gleghorn
Safeguards Shake Upby Charles Streeper
Vertigo of the Lambs by Rita Feinstein
Organizers and judges wish to thank all the students who submitted their writing and all the members of the SFCC community who support the program throughout the academic year.
by Meg Tuite, Prizewinner
I stare out the picture window at a sky. It spreads up there ordinary as buttered bread on a table; underneath, one block in the neighborhood stares back.The Connollys get into their blue station wagon. No pushing, no fighting, the doors slam shut, then they move off down the street. Mr. Hampton mows his lawn and next door Mrs. Sullivan pulls weeds.
One black fly (Diptera; Muscidae) buzzes up and down the window frame looking for escape, or maybe not. I have a microscope in my room, a pile of dead insects in a cigar box. Moths, spiders, flies, beetles, bees, a few luminous butterflies and one glorious preying mantis that I study with pleasure.
Fact: One fly strip a week every summer guarantees over a hundred slaughtered. I pull a few live ones off with forceps, place them under the scope, and watch them die.
Sweat rolls down the back of Mrs. Sullivan’s legs like packaged sausage thawing. Every day for the last week she’s been out roaming her pasture like a cow, doubled over that same scrawny patch of grass, wrenching up mounds of weed clumps and dumping them into a bag. Now, of course, to the passing observer this might be considered an honorable pas- time for an elderly woman to overstrain herself in the buckling height of the summer, battling to destroy any foreign substance that rears its parasitic head inside the boundaries of her scoured landscape with a thoroughness comparable only to a mother delousing her own child’s scalp.
But I maintain that one must look closer. Carefully scrutinize this domestic scene so bleakly submerged in the commonplace, that it demands much more than the average eye can withstand. If one truly has the ability to persevere, one will discover that the true essence of the person will reveal itself within the sinister monotony of the habitual.
Truth demands, at the very least, a sublimely static eye. Karl von Frisch was one of the masters of this muted singularity, discovering that honeybee workers were transmitting detailed information by dance: both the distance to the source of the food and its direction in relation to the sun were reported to other bees by turning in circles or figure eights. Here was a man, capable of an intensity taken to the point of delirium, that dared to barrel his high-powered vision into the droning regularity of the buzzing swarms and do the only thing that separates the truly mystical from the masses. Absolutely nothing, but wait.
I examine Mrs. Sullivan more closely. I reason, first of all, that a front lawn of humble proportions (I measured her lawn one night by the beacon of a flashlight), twenty feet by twelve feet, must by anyone’s calculations come to the end of its weeds fairly soon. It stands to reason that over a sufficient amount of time spent consistently pulling up clumps, day in and day out, Mrs. Sullivan will one day step out of her house to find nothing but dirt.
Densest patch of weeds: twenty dandelions/square foot x 240 square feet = 4,800 dandelions to be picked.Throw in another 1,000 or so misc. weeds that come up every month-ragweed, goat’s head, etc. Approximate rate of time allowed for scalping each weed-10 seconds for Mrs. Sullivan’s weakest pull. 58,000 seconds can be rounded up to 60,000 seconds to allow for back stretching, wiping of brow and cursing, which calculates to 1,000 minutes or 16 hours, 40 minutes. Round that up to 20 hours to allow for disposing of weeds in a garbage bag, answering of phone, talking to neighbors, thwarting mosquitoes and swearing. Mrs. Sullivan has seven days left to finish the task efficiently if she sweats it out less than three hours a day.This has not been, and I theorize, will never be the case.
The drone honeybees sole function is to mate with the queen, yet as soon as they mate they die.The male genitalia everts out of the abdomen on encountering the queen and the resulting shock kills the male. Drones that do not mate are stung to death by the workers.They are banished from the hive at the onset of winter.
I have been watching for Mrs. Sullivan from my window the last three nights without fail. I contend that long after all the neighbors have sunk deeply into that dead man’s community, snoring and drooling as one, Mrs. Sullivan creeps out in her bathrobe with a flashlight and slides weed clumps back into holes like golf balls. I speculate that Mrs. Sullivan keeps herself occupied at night with this dubious diversion to spare herself from the slovenly clutches of fat man Sullivan, who would have squashed her by now, like he did his first wife, if she really slept with him.
Married people need not have a reasonable reason for unreasonable reasoning. Take Aunt Emily for example. My mom says Aunt Emily never wanted to marry Uncle Bob.When she turned the ancient age of thirty, her mother snarled at her to tie the bloody knot once and for all, and instead of running away like any normal girl would have, she married the bald-headed Bob instead.
Most bees will select flowers that are radially symmetrical.
Bumblebees prefer flowers that are vertically symmetrical.
Aunt Emily became a bumblebee in her thirty-first year.
From that wedded day forward Aunt Emily chose to fight her nocturnal battle with creases, wrinkles, and undefined shapes, instead of with Uncle Bob.
I watched her transform entire sleepless nights into vertical land-
scapes of starched perfection. Piles and piles of anything she could get her hands on were ironed.Tablecloths, napkins, sheets, pillowcases, towels, drapes, rugs, dishtowels, handkerchiefs, shirts, pants, skirts, socks and even shoelaces, rose up out of the steamed darkness. My mother said that Aunt Emily saw anything that sagged as a testament to failure.
I scan the street for more action and notice Megan O’Brien up on her porch hiding behind one of her raunchy romance novels again.The book is nothing more than an unimaginative prop for the more enthusiastic occupation that obviously consumes her. Now why wouldn’t she choose an encyclopedia or an art book to provide a wider expanse to sink behind. Books that might lead any passersby to mistake her for an actual intelligent girl? Unfortunately, the girl is an imbecile who doesn’t read anything, and so she chooses to crowd herself behind a tawdry paperback while she rips away at her fingernails. I wonder how long before there are no nails left on her fingers?
And when are the Connollys getting back? I look over at the empty space where their station wagon had been and wonder if maybe they went off for a pleasant afternoon of miniature golf and lunch at McDonald’s like any decent family ought to on a Saturday afternoon.
Or, maybe the Connollys hadn’t actually gone anywhere. Maybe they were still out circling the neighborhood, driving and driving around to the rumbling monotony of their dad torturing them on how to better organize their time and their life. Got to have goals to live up to, or you may end up like Rednose Scunner, another of a long line of neighborhood halfwits who couldn’t navigate his way out of his own bed.
I turn from the window back to the Family Conference.We are in session. Dad usually starts the sessions off by laying out our various shortcomings. That’s when Beatrice steps in. She is the only one who ever speaks, besides my Dad.We are now somewhere in the middle, I surmise. My Dad and my older sister, Beatrice, are slowly circling, gripping hair from the other’s scalp, hunched.
“Let go, you bastard!!!” Beatrice wrenches her fistful of hair. “You ranting bitch!!” Dad grabs her shoulder with his free hand. “You son of a whore!!” She swings at him and he dodges. “Don’t you dare”, he hisses as they continue to circle.
I survey the room. Mom sits braced on the corner of the couch, pinned between a bookcase and her own hell, rocking forward and back, covering her mouth and then clutching her hands in her lap, whispering “no” or “stop” every few moments. An open window across from her confiscates whatever soft, sad sounds she emits to the motoring tirade of Mr. Hampton’s lawn mower, as it plows through its riotous busi- ness with throttling disregard. I am forced to look directly at Mom’s lips in order to decipher what she says.
James, my older brother, is on Mom’s left on the floor in lotus position with his back against the couch, eyes closed, palms up. He has taken to transcendental meditation. He claims he has transcended the block more than a few times.
Opposite the couch, a smaller version of the same lumpy beige specimen mocks the room, with the majority of its springs exposed.This is the cat’s preferred scratching post.The youngest two are sitting on the loveseat in silence. Ronald, now eight, is exploring the boundaries of his hand, sucking one finger after the other, apparently an advanced stage of sucking the thumb, while Andrea, age six, with her arm entwined in his is watching the spectacle with her mouth and eyeballs in the same curiously frozen state, a deeper variation of her Saturday morning cartoon glaze.
And that would leave me. A sixteen year old girl stuck to the window seat like a dead fly on a strip.
“Go ahead, hit me,” Beatrice taunts, “Child abuse.. I’ll call the cops…scream it out for the whole goddamn neighborhood to hear! You’d love that, wouldn’t you!”
Dad coughs out a laugh and jerks her head toward him. Beatrice howls and tries to wrench his hand away.They lose their balance and push away from each other, strands of torn hair tight in their fists. Beatrice punches the air while we watch her face turn the remarkable shade of Mom’s Thursday meatloaf.
“Damn ungrateful brats…This is a goddamn asylum!” Dad lurches around the room waving his arms.
“It’s a damn nuthouse… Look at you!!!” He stares at each one of us. “No kid talks that way in my house!”
“You’re the crazy man! Fucker,” Beatrice yells, bolting for the
staircase. Dad pulls the back of her t-shirt and swings her down to the rug.
He kicks her a few times in the side till she’s screaming. Now Mom is up running at him and jumps on his back. Her face is chalk-white like all the blood’s sucked out of her.
“Monster,” she chants over and over till Dad forgets about Beatrice and turns his attention to Mom. He swats back at her while they spin around. Her legs clamp tightly to him, and her arms attach to his neck.
“Crazed bitch.” He struggles to free himself. “Don’t..you ever,” Mom stutters. Beatrice’s bedroom door slams upstairs. Dad stops circling and
stares at the ceiling while Mom slowly releases her grip. She slides down his back and falls to her knees. She covers her face with her hands.
The room is silent. One knotted lump on Dad’s temple pumps between veins like a prisoner behind bars. His frantic eyes stare at us. One after another we sink into our shoulders and study our shoes. The haunting idiocy of the lawn mower barrels away outside.
Dad spreads his arms out in a slow, sweeping arc. “Why?” “Why do you do this to me?” His arms drop to his sides and he searches the vacant faces again.
Passive migration occurs when insects are swept up and carried away, high into the atmosphere, sometimes thousands of feet into the air, and are transported by air currents to new areas.
I watch our house slowly rise up over the ragged stucco of this decrepit little street, rise up over the tan house, the yellow house, the white house.There go the chalk-marked sidewalks and the long, endless ridicule of coiffed green lawns.There go the lawn mower and the shocked upturned faces of Mr. Hampton, Mrs. Sullivan and Megan O’Brien. I watch all the shrinking parched faces fade away never to be seen again. But then, what if they’re only the same faces in every neighborhood, dying and repetitive as their plump square lawns. I let the house sink back into its crumbling frame.
An ambush bug found in Central America kills termites and arranges their dead bodies around the remaining nest of termites, then waits for the others to come out and inspect this camouflage of curiously silent neighbors before it descends on the parade of dupes with a deplorable ease.
A species of bird feeds on Monarch butterflies (Lepidoptera), and although these butterflies are poisonous to this specific type of bird, the birds have somehow learned over a two hundred year span to scoop out the inner non-poisonous tissue.
First, we must penetrate the outer shell of an adult.The human exoskeleton is much thicker than any insect’s could ever be.Any number of shifting personas can be detected in an adult in a single day. Downtrodden depression at breakfast can turn into an uncontrollable rage by lunch, and then after a few cocktails, they’re laughing and delirious by dinner.
The hidden inner tissue of the life of an adult is most often revealed after the sun is down and bottles of scotch, whisky, or beer are opened.They light up cigarettes and pipes. Cocktail parties are an ideal setting for tracking an entire group of adults getting drunk in the same room simultaneously. They no longer are those know-it-all blurs of earlier and with a few more drinks in them.They laugh and tell jokes, while the respectable babblings of the parents disappear. Each adult has a sunken continent of memories they scrounge up at parties-memories that come with their own pathetic music that adults never seem to grow tired of. After an hour or so, the group usually begins to sing, and some of them start to dance, while faces redden and we watch as they become strangers to the present–to us. The volume rises over hovering cigarette smoke. Laughing takes on a maniacal pitch and their reddened eyes and lips belt out old, sentimental tunes. Some dance hysterically in each other’s arms. Gross lip- stick-stained glasses pile up in sour, sticky little cloisters discarded on end tables around piled ashtrays.
After midnight the smoky room becomes gloomy. Adults suddenly become quieter, sit closer to each other, and everything slows down. The music becomes softer and drips into the back- ground. Some adults stagger out at this point, using children and babysitters to get away. There are slurred goodbyes and kisses, and we wait for the screen door to slam a few more times before the room is able to settle back again. Now the stories begin, and if we have hidden ourselves well from our parents on the staircase or the landing above, we are given the chance to follow these internal histories that breathe through the ghostly faces, walking through the darkened rooms, exhibit by exhibit, like a wax museum. An ocean of memories are dragged over and over again for sunken bodies of yesterday. There exists a whole underworld of discarded pasts that now resurface, and each adult takes on a mournful, faraway glaze as they tell the tales of lost loves and exotic places they were going to visit that never came to pass. Some would have been rich with huge mansions if they had just taken that other job, or if they had just bought that cheap plot of land thirty years ago that is now a famous ski resort worth millions. One of the wives bypassed a marriage proposal from some poor, bearded slob in California, who now owns a vineyard with his famous name slapped over bottles lining the shelves of the world. Someone never took a job in Paris, or those painting classes, or that law degree, or the dream of biking through Europe, or finishing school, getting rich, running away, or becoming famous. Eyes settle back into rumpled bags as trembling lips brace tightly against each other, and the troubled faces grope silently around in the miserable backwaters of unexplored seas with the low, mocking music of yesterday behind them.
And just when it seems that the room cannot possibly hold its breath a moment longer, something in the room suddenly shifts again. Each adult grasps for some fragment of rock they can cling to, in this ongoing battle for the self-preservation of the species.A fresh round of drinks are passed around, cigarettes are lit, and one of the adults announces proudly that her daughter has won first prize in some science fair. Another adult is nodding her head as pale cheeks fill in with the vision of offspring, and soon the room is filled with endless stories of the accomplishments of their kids-a child’s basketball championship, a piano recital, a track meet- and slowly the conversation builds again, layered with swim meets, soccer games, ballet classes, spelling bees, graduations. One or two of them snatch up their purses and search for photos, and the driftwood of that other life never lived floats off for a time beyond the murky waters of the present until the next party.
And then slowly, the dull, thick exteriors reattach themselves to respective adults as they yawn and get up to leave the party, mumbling their good-byes.Their heads are already rattling with tomorrow’s agenda, and as absolute as the rise of another morning’s sun they are promptly up the next day and impenetrably dressed in the efficient armor of authority. And though Mom rubs her temples and searches for the aspirin, and Dad wears bleary, stained and sunken eyes, complaining of his lower back, these seem to be the only visible proof of the previous night’s regressive pool of friends.The day has just begun and they are already railing after us as though all of civilization depended on a pair of matching socks and a combed head, and if this direction were heeded like the bee communicating the location of food, then all of life would settle into its rightful place at the table.
Or fall prey to diapause, a spontaneous period of depression which may occur at anytime during the developmental cycle caused by oppressive environmental conditions.
The drone of the lawn mower has become a dulled lullaby that motors over the inner stirrings of this captive room, while the sharp stench of freshly mowed grass parades in and discharges its flagrant green in tumultuous blasts.The fly is still working its way up and down the frame with what looks to be vertical futility.
I read in some magazine that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, not because this group of arrogant men felt assured of its verbal perfection, but because the horsefly population in Philadelphia was so thick at that specific time of year that the delegates gave up on any further discussion of the document and signed it, fleeing frantically for their respective homes.
Dad sits down in his brown leather recliner with the ottoman pushed off to the side, because, of course, this is a conference. He adjusts himself, leans forward, elbows on the rests, hands clasped.The clock on the mantel is burrowed inside its glass house, moving its hands from time to time to keep from appearing suspect.The room is a gallery of dry, muted tongues that sit strangely inside compressed mouths, and eyes prefer the inert reliability of rug, shoes, walls.
“Children,” Dad clears his throat and shakes his head.
He laughs and stares down at his hands. He rubs his eye and takes a slow, deep breath. “How did we let this get completely..out..of..control?”
The lawn mower suddenly sputters off into mechanical death. Everyone but James looks out the window.We wait.The fly is moving down now, buzzing maniacally in a futile battle of will.
“We need to talk to each other! Try and comm..un..i..” Dad’s voice trembles and labors the chain of this word while each syllable unlinks from its neighbor. His arms raise up slowly, then drop. A cough fumbles from his throat in another failed attempt to clear it.
“Co..mmun..i..,” waivers; one syllable becomes two and he begins to cry loudly, head shaking in his hands, a strong indicator that this conference is about to come to a close.
I look back out the window. Mr. Hampton has just pulled his lawn mower away and is now dragging a hose toward his car. Mrs. Sullivan and Megan O’Brien are back inside.
I watch Mr. Sullivan drag the lumpy bag of decapitated weeds to the back of the house where the trash can is. Maybe Mrs. Sullivan really sleeps with the fat man. I might have forgot to calculate the rate of weed growth.Weeds will always grow back.
Mrs. McCarthy is doing dishes across the street.Yellow, plastic gloves are visible from the window across from where I sit. I watch them move back and forth-two yellow agents in a serious battle against filth. I am sure various sponges line the sink at attention-soft sponge, scrubbing sponge, scouring pad for pots and pans, and one plaid dishtowel, ironed and awaiting the final slaughter of any surviving water drops that cling for their bacterial lives.
I hear our front door slam shut and watch Dad hurry down the steps and walk toward our car. Mr. Hampton yells something and laughs. Dad smiles and waves at him, gets into the car and drives off. Mom stands up, smoothes out her skirt, smiles blankly at a point above the loveseat, and then heads slowly toward the kitchen. Ronald and Andrea are still pressed together on the loveseat, and James is just starting to flutter his eyelids.
I scan the street slowly again. Mr. O’Brien is now in his front yard fumbling with the sprinkler, though he’s about due for his first beer of the day. Must be three o’clock. Ellen Rogers clicks quickly past him, late for her afternoon shift at Wal-Mart. She lives in the corner house with her Mom and three sisters, never talks about her Dad. I found out from Parker, whose brother used to date one of Ellen’s sisters, that their Dad paid them a surprise visit a couple of years ago and axed in the back door.When the cops found him he was sipping tea, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle, spread out on the couch. Mr. O’s screen just slammed. First trip to the fridge.
No one else out at the moment. Just the same ugly houses decaying in the same ugly row. Flat, green lawns under a flat, blue sky. An oil splatter shines up black from the asphalt where the Connolly station wagon used to sit. It looks to be about the size of a tarantula, round and furry and fat like that, and I stare at it long enough to watch it move and change shape.The station wagon isn’t back yet. I guess they really went somewhere.
by Meg Tuite, Honorable Mention
How come he can’t play our game, that boy hiding under the chalkboard that swings when you pull it?
The one that tells me I smell like oranges, lives in my building and stands taller than me, even though I can say my ABC’s and read sits open-sourball-eyed and watches me going round and round on the merry-go-round, turning it faster than any other kid dares to, till you can’t see the concrete underneath, just colors, mixed up stampede if you don’t close your eyes, get a headache, one time so fast I opened my eyes, just long enough to see bumpy grains of concrete gray come up at me, screaming, I saw red howling out of punctured purple hanging loose in folds from my hand, his circle of eyes and a mouth so small and straight, like lines on paper and white, so white, he seems about to fall from all his whiteness, but he doesn’t, he watches me.
I told my Mom how he listens doesn’t watch other kids like he watches me, I tell him everything he needs to know-there’s a witch, lives in our building, called me a boy when I helped her with her groceries, I threw her poison nickel down the sewer, the witch from Oz melted into a puddle, small and green, but I’d seen butter melt then settle itself back into a long, yellow bump, no reason to believe any witch was dead.
He always touches blue first. I set five race cars all in a row, red, yellow, green, blue, purple, he picks blue no matter which I line up first, and pixie straws,
the kind with long stripes that you throw back let sit in mounds on the back of your tongue, I give him the blue ones, he stares at his tongue in the metal of the slide and smiles at the blueness of it all,
then pours some into his palm, a pile blue crystals he licks till they fizz explode into darker blues, he doesn’t like crowds, only one or two kids at a time, so school is hard, cause there’s always more than two kids at a time, and that’s when he hides behind things
like now, behind the chalkboard, cause he doesn’t like crowds, I told my Mother how he hides at school and stares at me from behind chalkboards and under tables, like he watches me at home. I want to tell him things. She says he is different, he will always be different, that’s why he hides like that. So now, when I see him, I stare back.
Santa Fe Community College
6401 Richards Ave. Santa Fe, NM 87508 (505) 428-1000 www.sfccnm.edu
Winds of words howled inside Gerald’s head as he sat silently eating his supper listening to his wife.
“I don’t understand what you did to make this happen?” She picked at her lima beans, while behind glass a panorama of juniper and blazing mountain ranges surrounded them. Gusts whistled past the house without giving anything away.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
“No,” said Gerald, picking up a potato. “It doesn’t”.
“What about that McCarthy character? He’s never on time and barely does a damn thing. Why not him?” she asked.
“Would’ve made more sense,” he said quietly, while wind chimes clanged outside. The front swing jangled on its chains.
“Somebody had something against you, some kind of grudge. Things like this don’t happen for no reason,” she said.
He looked up at her, then back at his plate. His teeth ripped away at a chicken leg.
“What about that Carl? He’s just been waiting to push you out. His wife’s already living like she’s the queen. Gets her fingers done at that Nails Unlimited, over by the bank. You don’t see me walking in that place. She’s got nerve sashaying in and out of there, like he’s already got the job.” She poked at the food on her plate. “They could care less if we starved.”
Gerald continued to eat.
“What the hell are we going to do now?” she asked. “You know I can’t work with this damn arthritis!”
Gerald narrowed his eyes and worried his way through a series of facial tics. She’d never worked a day in her life. He didn’t know how much longer he could take her endless badgering. Outside the sky was darkening. Unidentifiable creaks and bangs sounded from a distance.
“You’re just going to have to get back out there, aren’t you? Nobody’s going to make our bed for us,” she continued, “you listening to me, Gerald? Back on that horse first thing tomorrow.”
Gerald walked to the refrigerator, opened it, and grabbed a beer. He sat back down and watched his wife’s jabbering mouth. He took a long swig from his bottle, set it down, and glared into her face. The raging storm continued to knock over anything that gusted in its path. Gerald took another long swig. His wife’s judgement surged forward like a mutiny. Everyday he came home to something that he had done wrong. It’s as if she waited all day to pounce on him as soon as walked in the door. A savage, uncontrollable urge blazed out of Gerald as he grabbed her throat and started to throttle her like a tree branch swinging back and forth. He realized he could just snap her in two.
“I could kill you right now, old lady,” he hissed through tightened lips.
His wife’s eyes swelled into huge purple orbits. Her bulging face ignited from within. She reached up and embedded her fork into Gerald’s cheek. He screamed and lurched back, pulling at his face. A chair knocked over and Gerald fell with it. His wife dropped back into hers, clawing for air, while the prevailing westerly’s gyrated around them, spiraling and twisting their world into one rabid knot.
This flash piece was published in Galleys Online, Oct. 2009
A woman limped out of a liquor store with the submissive stoop of the genuflected and the promise of a liturgy to come in a bottle. A radiant, old face with the slight tremor of the merciful, holding a brown paper bag reverently out in front of her with both hands as a priest holds his chalice. And what would be the difference? She has been living, breathing and drinking the blood of Christ in a lifetime of unparalleled singularity that the clergy can only read about and shamelessly attempt to enact, mouthing their long-winded, incredulous interpretations of the Bible, done up like showgirls in their mawkish vestments.
This micro-fiction piece has been published in Ascent Aspirations, Foundling Review and Black Words on White Paper.