Dad’s Weekend

When it was Dad’s weekend I’d find him at the end of the block with that week’s bike, usually pegged so I could hang on the back, or if I was lucky he’d be one-handing an old BMX next to him, my ride for the next three days till we had to dump it so the cops wouldn’t catch on. If Mom asked, he called us a cab. Mom never asked. Mom told me to have a good time over the forced dialogue of her soaps.

Most weekends we’d hit up the payphones en route to the mall, scooping out abandoned coins from slots and putting them in my Mickey Mouse wallet which was in fact a backpack for an impossibly tiny person. We’d need most of our change for food, so we rationed out one prank call each. Mine revolved around running refrigerators at first, but Dad set me straight. He once convinced an elderly lady he was her long lost son back from the war. Evacuated a department store based on “reports” of a bomb threat. Dad was a real pro.

When we made it to the mall, first thing we’d do was swap our inner tube caps with the coolest ones we could find in the parking lot; let a little air out first if we got them from a Jag or Beemer. It was important that we ride in style, even if the bikes weren’t permanent.

There’s a way of hyper-extending your arm to the point of possible breakage to reach in the hole where the claw game’s prizes go and pry numb fingers around whatever you find there. I was lookout till Dad showed me how, then we swapped roles. If the stretch hurt my elbow, Dad would snatch a to-go bag from the food court’s Taco Bell, load it up with ice and tie it around my arm like some demented pool floatie. The TB had an old Polaroid of Dad tacked to the wall, but we always seemed to make it out okay.

For Pokémon card machines he’d pull out his special quarters. Special quarters were regular quarters with five-pound test tied to them, the fishing line thin and strong enough to regurgitate the coin once I got my Blastoise, or Mewtwo, or (let’s be honest) Rattata. Every damn time, Dad would ask if I got the right Pokey-mon. Like that, too. Pokey. I’d nod and smile even if it was like a water energy, because if I didn’t, he’d pull the same con twice. Even at seven I knew you didn’t pull the same con twice.

We’d stop for lunch at this Chinese restaurant, one of the few places still willing to accept loose change as payment. I stacked my water chestnuts as I ate, same as the coins stacked after our meal: towers of quarters, nickels, dimes, and the way they’d count them in silence.

After that we’d stop at Blockbuster to undertake Dad’s life’s work. Every week he’d take a video and pile it in the hotel bathtub with the rest, bathroom tile as cutting room floor as he unspooled film from one tape, cut and spliced it with film from another, checked the edit with liberated reading glasses, assembled the master tape one frame at a time. Dad said it’d be the greatest film ever made once it was finished. He’d been working on it ever since he and Mom got divorced, three years of tapes, garbage-bagging them whenever a hotel kicked him out so he could continue his life’s work somewhere else.

Every weekend would end with him pouring tiny liquor bottles he swiped that week into an old Jim Beam, an alcoholic mad scientist fumbling with his beakers, and me peeking through door’s crack, strictly off limits, trying to catch a glimpse of a cell whenever Dad held his work up to the light. And the way the tiny bottles would scatter on the tile, plastic and so shatterproof, and at most he’d get another two seconds of his masterpiece done. And how we’d dump our bike(s) in a new spot each time, Dad insisting they’d end up in the right hands, whatever that meant, and us walking alongside the railroad tracks, Dad leaving a trail of tiny bottles behind us in case we got lost on the way, though we never once did.

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The Barclay

While telling stories with my little brother, I began to tell one in a British accent about a mysterious character known only as The Barclay. That story was largely unintelligible. That story was completely improvised. That story is here now for your aural amusement:

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Fine; Fine; Fine

He began by eating what exposed roots he could find. These were Lovecraftian tendrils that peeked out of the dirt and were meaty. Here the worms were tenants. He chewed them into hearted segments and rubbed their innard mud into his gums. Where the tendrils’ diameters waned he grabbed, he pulled, he consumed. The easy peel bark came next and off in sandwich strips laced with late-season sap. Here the ants were tenants. He put them neatly into his mouth and let them think they could lift his teeth. Thorax, abdomen, head he mashed into paste. Some went on the sandwich strips. Some he ate plain. He dug canines into cambium and stripped past woodpecker holes and sun-dried cicada skins. The skins were hollow impressions and had nothing in them. Here he would mount the trunk and climb, claim angel tip and rip out bitter pits of decayed branchlets, gnaw at buds and baby leaves. Big branches with rings inside he split and spit on and made jagged pieces go to pulp that smelled of wasting. The pulp went down with sapwood juice and he sprang a termite from its home. Wiggle wiggle till the bite in the middle and the other buggers came out of their hole. He caught a pecker by the wing and broke its neck between his teeth. This he ate with heartwood. The tree was log width and sign height by then. The pith stank and was sallow. This he ran his tongue over, collecting slivers on pierced taste buds that blinked out one by one. The slivers became toothpicks for larvae: arboreal hors d’oeuvres that slid past teeth and down throat for tummy to collect. He rent the tree to a stump by nightfall and made an O with his mouth and held it there and bit and chewed till his lips met dirt again and the ground was supple; soft; bare. This was good. This was right. One day he would eat it all up in his tummy, every little thing he saw in the whole wide world, and when he did this he would smile; smile; smile. But tonight it was just this tree, and that was okay. That was fine; fine; fine.

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Too Easy

Toenail

When you get back inside with the toenail in your hand the blood will leave a picture of Jesus in the carpet. You’ll tell your mother the nail came off after a botched kickflip. You don’t skate. She’ll bring a bag of peas and take pictures of the stain for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. You will think yourself a holy child. The peas will stick to your nail bed. Blood will pool at the bottom of the bag and melt frost off a couple peas.

Bird

Sharo will find the bird first, in the street. He’ll ask if you want to lose a fingernail this time and you’ll assure him you do not. Tiny spectators will gather. They’ll pantomime the bird’s movements for those without a good view: Lloyd will bug out his eyes, connect his left ear and shoulder, open and close his mouth robotically. Obe will twitch his left arm, flap his right. There will be a bucket of water. The kind you’d spin to illustrate centrifugal force. Sharo will say: Your head or the bird’s. Pick, faggot. You will pick the bird’s. Lloyd will pantomime your cries.

Nail Nail

You will lose a fingernail, but not by Sharo’s hand. It’ll be wedged in the back door on the way inside to wash a carrot from the garden. Your father’s hand on your shoulder will be warm and the ice water will be not warm. The pain will erase the word “cold” from your brain. The nail you lose will be the nail of your middle finger, so you will get away with flicking people off for several weeks. Inside you’ll nail the nail to a secret corner of bedroom wall and call it your nail nail. You’ll consider starting a collection.

Congestive/Digestive

The hospital room’s Pokémon rerun will be too loud, so you’ll hear “digestive heart failure” and imagine your father’s heart slowly descending to his stomach by way of peristalsis. You will have just learned the word in science class and will remember it by turning it into a name: Perry Stalsis. You’ll ask your dad if he wants to play Who’s that Pokémon, but he’ll already be asleep. It’ll be Pikachu. Too easy.

Flooded Meadow

The storm will knock out the power for three days. During this time you will subsist on Mickey D’s and sugarfoods. Meadow Lane will be under several feet of water. You’ll have just seen Waterworld and will pull back your hairline; scowl at things. You will strip down to your undies in broad daylight and swim down your street. You’ll imagine barnacles on car tires, tiny submerged cities. Only once will you open your eyes underwater. You will immediately regret this decision. Your eyes will burn till the power comes back on two days later.

Boxing Match

All the block’s tiny humans will congregate for the main event. The combatants will be four and five. The gloves will go up to their elbows. You’ll say: I don’t think this is a good idea. Sharo will say: nothing, because he’s just spit in your face. It will have somehow gotten in your nose. When no one laughs, Sharo will say: Just kidding. So there will be spit in your nose and blood in Lloyd’s. Lloyd’s dad will come out with no shirt on. He will say: Give me the pucking gloves. The kids will say: Ha ha ha. His exposed stomach will say: I’m hairy.

Spider-Man’s Eyeballs

Spider-Man’s eyeballs will be made of bubblegum. His severed head will be on a stick and will be made of ice cream. Everyone will have a father except for Cal. Cal will have no father and no money for ice cream. No one will know where Cal’s father is, not even Cal. The ice cream man will hit a pothole. He will get out and swear and hit his head hard on the truck’s undercarriage when he’s done checking the tire. Cal will say: Are you okay? Ice Cream Man will say: Fuck off. Everyone except Cal will get ice cream. Sharo will say: Niggers don’t get ice cream. You will split Spider-Man’s head and give Cal the sticked half. You will surgically remove one eyeball and give it to Cal.

How It Ends

Years will go by. Your father will die and be buried. Sharo will die and be buried. You will attend both funerals. Your father’s face will be ashen, and you will see that he’s become a gray alien. This will be fitting because your father would always talk about gray aliens and Area 51, codename Dreamland. You will tell your father’s ashen body that it is going to Dreamland. You will remember that fake alien autopsy video, imagine what your father’s innards look like, and get sick in his casket. He’d always remind you it’s “get sick,” not “throw up.” Sharo’s mother will clutch you to her like a child would a teddy. She will insist you and Sharo were best friends and you’ll agree. There will be kabobs after. The kabobs will be good and the flight home will be long. When you get home you will kiss your wife passionately and watch a Pokémon rerun with your son. You will both guess Pikachu when the time comes. You will both be correct. Too easy.

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should too.

Change of side

The one thing support group never tells you about recovery is that you’ll come to a point where your shiny new normal life will bore you to tears. That you’ll crave the old pain and drama, the self-loathing, and are to fight these cravings. That the most unsexy part of healing (maintenance) is also the most vital.

Early on, the milestones will carry you.

Your life force will return with each pound you shed: a perfect inverse proportion. That untrustworthy brown line on the back of your neck will disappear. Your jeans will turn into parachute pants. You will regularly inform people that it’s hammer time. When people say you’re looking good, you’ll want to ask them if they really think so. You are to fight this craving. You’ll consider starting a blog about simple habit changes that’ll turn your life around. Later that week you’ll go over your daily calories. Weekly too. You will be a complete and total fraud and will have to start all over.

You’ll imagine what your coke-addled mom might say once you stop at the Center with parachute pants in hand, if she’ll apologize for calling you a fat fuck or what. Your support group will remind you that this is your journey, your achievement, and not hers. You’ll thank them but mutter under your breath anyway.

You will update social media with how much you’ve lost since last weigh-in, unless you’ve gained, and then you’ll post nothing. It’ll hit you that you’ve lost a whole person. That an entire human being has been removed from your body. You will try to tuck the extra skin into your jeans on bad days and pretend to be Stretch Armstrong on good ones. You’ll post a before and after picture. A friend will comment and say that yes, your taste in tee shirts really has changed. You will consider inflicting bodily harm on this person but will settle instead for making a veiled allusion to their just having been dumped. Your comment will receive some likes, the friend in question will shut up, and you’ll feel victorious for an hour or two. That night you’ll go five hundred calories over and make up for it next morning with an early run where you’ll puke up apple.

You will cry when you reach your goal weight. This is normal.

You’ll tolerate the forced congratulations in support group and try not to feel bitter, hurt. There will be nothing more to post. No updates to make. The compliments will trail off like a conversation that’s reached its logical end. You’ll still listen to the old motivational playlist sometimes but it’ll feel cloying, corny. You will refuse to play anything by MC Hammer. You’ll pack the parachute pants into the bottom of your closet.

A friend will recommend you read Infinite Jest. He’ll say it “holds the cure for what ails us as a society.” You’ll ignore the pretentiousness and give it a go. The book will meditate, among other things, on our culture’s tendency to glorify active protagonists, to see stasis as death. The author will counter that glorification by asserting that sometimes a good protagonist is one who is defined not by the good things he does, but by the bad things he doesn’t do.

You will cry when you finish the book. This is normal.

You will pore over every fan site, join forums, read over the fiction you wrote years back, before you gave it all up. You’ll start writing again, and will hide a little part of yourself in every story you create, like an elaborate literary scavenger hunt. You will read your old stories and laugh at how hard they’re trying, cringe at how pompous they are.

You will publish one story, then another, then another. You’ll fall into the old social media gratification habit and convince yourself that it’s okay to do this as long as you recognize it’s happening. You will sit down and write something about your weight loss. You’ll stop trying to be witty and just tell a fucking story already. You won’t know what the end should be.

At first this will make you feel like a shitty writer. This is normal.

You will tell yourself that maybe this is the point. That maybe the end is that there is no end. You will always be recovering, always cresting over the endless wave of addiction. You will say: this is okay. You will say: I’m allowed to be human. You will say: our lives always end mid-sentence, so maybe our stories

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THE MANUSCRIPT

It was near on three AM when he finally finished, his hands shaking and eyes burning from the kind of strain that only a serious bout of masochistic writing could give you. This was it: after all the time and effort, all the late nights and early mornings, all the coffee breaks and ideas spawned under the showerhead, he had reached the end; the manuscript was complete.

It seemed as if the room itself emptied of all sound, like it was expecting him to jump up and down or else scream and shout, partake in some sort of celebratory gesture that a normal human might do after an achievement like this.

But none of that was necessary right now. All he wanted to do was take a breather before coming back to print the thing out. The first draft was perfect as is, so he wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of paper; this would be the only time it was printed.

The printer sputtered and stopped as it went, jammed up and ran out of ink as if to send some sort of ominous warning his way. But this here writer had come prepared and knew his way around a printer; he wouldn’t let anything stop him from printing out this first (and final) draft.

After about a half hour of printing (his printer was a dinosaur from the Windows 98 days), a fat stack of paper greeted him, crisp and warm, with ink that had not yet dried and so glistened faintly in his office’s fluorescence. He couldn’t help but be reminded of childhood days waiting for cookies to cool down after coming out of the oven as he stood there, willing the paper to hurry up and dry faster with his eyes.

As he stood there staring intently at the stack, a faint rumbling echoed out from somewhere nearby. It was quiet at first, the kind of sound that makes you ask if others heard it too, just to make sure you’re not going crazy. But the rumble built until it began to shake the very room he stood in. The chairs rattled, tables quaked, and the manuscript he still stared directly at began to change right before his eyes.

Each page of the thing tangled and twisted around, some pages crumpled while others rolled into tubes, and still others folded into the kind of origami shapes that populated your childhood. When it was all said and done, a heaping monster made of paper stood before the man, a beast that looked the image of a dragon.

Most people would run at a sight like this, but our dear writer was the masochistic type (as previously stated), and so he decided to wait and see what would happen next. The monster that was his manuscript didn’t like this, it seemed, as it hurled scraps of paper from its mouth at incomprehensible speeds. The writer leapt over his desk just as his novel’s denouement was blasted his way.

The beast hurled up ink then, which formed into words as each projectile struck dangerously close to the writer. He caught glimpses of the words as they hit: “actually” whizzed past his ear. Another projectile: “even.” A trio of words smashed the wall near his head: “was,” were,” and “that.”

The writer looked for something, anything, with which to defend himself from his own manuscript. His trusty stapler sat on the floor next to him, since knocked over in all the commotion. He checked the line: just enough ammo to take the beast down.

He did the kind of roll you see cool cops do in TV shows, only his pants caught on the carpet and he slid face-first into the wall, giving himself rug burn of the face in the process. But it seemed the redness of his skin was an asset as the paper dragon retreated further into the depths of the room. The writer took his opportunity and fired off several shots the beast’s way. It returned the favor with a slew of words spewed from its mouth. Only after they hit, ricocheted, and fell harmlessly to the floor could the writer discern a pattern among them: each of the words ended in “ing.”

If the beast kept on, there’d be no story left by the end of the fight. The writer greedily scooped up words from the ground, stuffed them in his pockets so he could put them back in later. But the dragon had other plans.

It coughed up a wad of adverbs as it kindled a fire on its tail: it was preparing an “ly” flamethrower.

The writer looked to his wall. A detailed replica of Link’s Master Sword greeted him, an old ebay conquest. He looked back to the words that littered the floor–so many gerunds and adverbs, passive tense verbs and inappropriate adjectives. Maybe his first draft wasn’t as perfect as he thought it was.

Back to the Master Sword on the wall, then to the monster he faced. He knew what needed to be done. He leapt for the wall and wielded his blade. Turned to face the first draft beast.

“You’re under revision!”

The writer cringed at his cheesy one-liner as he hacked and slashed, sliced and diced, the shreds of paper collecting at his feet like pencil shavings.

After what seemed like hours, the battle was over. He’d won.

After he collected himself, the writer sat down and paged through the new draft that had been forged in battle. To his surprise, the prose was crisper, cleaner… it seemed to better match the image he’d had in his head all along.

The war was a just one after all.

He set the revised draft down on the wreckage of his desk and laid the Master Sword at his feet.

His house was a wreck, but hell… at least he found his process.

END

Or, to make a short story even shorter: I’ve finished my novel!!!

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THE EXPERIMENT

“Harold, wake up! For the love of God, get up!”

The man that name belonged to, Harold Crickshaw, awoke with a start, eyes bloodshot as they darted around the clinical-looking white-walled room he now found himself in. Apart from the intercom on the wall, the uncomfortable-looking chair Harold himself sat in, and the rather suspicious-looking giant red button that sat on a table in the middle of the room, the place was fairly featureless and boring.

“Oh good, you’re up. Now, I’m sure you must be highly confused. But before things get weird, I just want you to know that everything’s going to be okay.”

Well, if some undisclosed phantom voice who mysteriously knows my name says everything’s going to be okay, I guess it will then, Harold told himself, quickly losing his temper. He looked around for a way out. There wasn’t one. No windows, no doors. The room’s ceiling had a peculiar, hinge-y quality to it, but it seemed to be quite solid. He’d have to talk it out.

“Who are you? Where the hell am I?”

“We thought you might react along those lines. And it’s perfectly normal for you to do so, not to worry. Well, Harold Crickshaw, this is the president speaking. On the table in front of you, you’ll find a big red button. We’d like very much for you to press it, please.”

Harold stared into the red glowing light of the intercom, incredulous. Was this some sort of prank? If it was, it was quite elaborate. Not to mention the fact that the phantom voice did have an uncanny similarity to the president’s own voice. But what the hell was the button for? And why did he have to press it?

“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’d rather not press the big red button if that’s alright with you. Now let me out, would you?”

There was a pause. The voice over the intercom seemed to be consulting with someone else in hushed tones. Harold had the distinct impression that whatever language the voices were conversing in, it wasn’t one he had ever had the remotest linguistic contact with. Was the president fluent in some tongue he’d never heard before? Probably. He knew there was a reason he didn’t vote for him.

“We insist, Harold.”

At that, a window suddenly slid out from one of the otherwise featureless walls of the room. A little compartment was visible within. Inside of it was stack upon stack of hundred dollar bills, just sitting there. Harold approached it immediately, tried the glass. It was inches thick, maybe even bulletproof. The prospect of helping out his foreign-speaking president suddenly seemed more appealing. He glanced back over to the table, that eerie red button atop it.

“What’s the button do, then?”

“Well, does it really matter, Harold? Look at the reward you’ll receive.”

He took another furtive glance at the money. It had to be well over several million dollars. He started to salivate.

“Yeah, it… I mean, it kind of does. It won’t kill anyone when I press it, will it?”

There was another prolonged pause. The phantom voices conversed with each other once more in their weird language. They seemed to be bickering. The whole situation was really rather awkward for Harold. Finally:

“It won’t kill you when you press it. How’s that sound, Mr. Crickshaw?”

Harold considered this. Might he be the trigger man for the next big bomb? A way of keeping the president’s hands clean while simultaneously wiping out his enemies? He couldn’t possibly kill someone, could he? But that money… there sure was a lot of it. More than Harold Crickshaw had ever before seen in person, in fact.

Come to think of it, the world did have a bit of an overpopulation problem. Might do some good to get rid of some people. Tidy up the place as it were. Those being decimated would surely understand if they were put in Harold’s position. They’d have to. Yes, there really wasn’t anything else that could be done about it. The button was rather primed and ready to go, after all. Someone had to do it.

Harold walked over and slammed down on the big red button. As he did, a trapdoor opened up directly beneath him. He fell down it, yelling the whole way down the bottomless pit. The ceiling creaked. Quite suddenly, it opened up. Sure enough, it did have hinges after all.

Resting beyond Harold’s small room was a much larger one, this one inhabited by two massive beetle-like creatures. One of them turned to the other, a megaphone in his hand.

“Do you think we-“

He stopped talking at the sound of his presidential human voice and pulled the megaphone away. He talked to his beetle friend in their own language.

“Do you think we’ll ever find a pure one among them?”

The other beetle moved in what was unmistakably a shoulder shrug. Another beetle-creature carried in a freshly unconscious human subject as the first two took a much-deserved break.

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LITTLE BUGGER

Dink. Dink.

On and on it went like that all night, incessant. The alarm clock on Mr. Canbury’s nightstand glowed just as annoyingly, it proclaimed “3:42.” Now, while Joseph Canbury of Eddington wasn’t exactly your model employee, he also wasn’t one to shirk a good night’s sleep if he could help it.

He rose from his bed quietly, or as quietly as a pudgy, uncoordinated accountant such as himself could manage, anyway. His foot tentatively made contact with the floor. As it did, it just so happened to hit the only floorboard in the entire room that was prone to squeaking, a fact that his wife was immediately made aware of as she stirred from her sleep.

Dink. Dink.

Mr. Canbury was frozen, a deer in headlights as his wife seemed to stare right at him. But just as quickly, she laughed at a joke some dream person made and muttered her retort before lapsing into the usual snore-punctuated breathing one might expect from your average sleeper.

The coast clear, Mr. Canbury made his way toward the source of the mysterious noise. Was it the bathroom? No, the noise was most definitely coming from somewhere deeper within the house. The den? No, this noise was tinny, a sort of ding against metal. And as far as Mr. Canbury knew, there was nothing in the den that could create that particular noise.

Dink. Dink.

Mr. Canbury perked up at this last one, hot on the trail. Satisfied with his exemplary detective skills, he crept over to the noise’s true source: the kitchen. His knees, ankles, and coccyx all cracked as he crouched down until he was at face-level with the cupboard under his sink. He paused, patient.

Dink. Dink.

Like a magician pulling free a drape from his bisected assistant, Mr. Canbury flung the cupboard wide open. What he saw wasn’t quite worthy of a “voila,” however. Pipe cleaner, trash bags, a large wrench. Nothing out of the ordinary. Mr. Canbury felt quite disappointed. Gipped even.

Dink. Dink.

But just like that, he was back in action. He tapped one of the sink’s pipes, the one the noise just came from. Seconds passed, practically minutes. Finally:

Dink. Dink.

Excited, Mr. Canbury rapped again on the pipe. Whatever was inside of it responded just as soon, mimicking each tap flawlessly.

“What are you, you little bugger?”

The thing inside the pipe either didn’t hear Mr. Canbury’s question or was protesting the indignity of being called a little bugger. Either way, it stopped responding to all forms of communication the pudgy man tried to muster.

“Play coy, will you?”

Mr. Canbury grabbed his wrench and set himself to removing the offending pipe. But just as he did, a deafening eruption ripped through the air. A massive hole cracked open in the floor of the cupboard. Mr. Canbury was sucked into it immediately, as if pulled by the world’s strongest vacuum. And just like that, the hole closed back up as if nothing had happened.

Wind rushed powerfully as dazzling colors and lights whizzed past Mr. Canbury’s face. He was falling at a speed that was altogether excessive. And then, when it seemed as if he couldn’t quite take it any longer, it stopped. He fell with a cracking thud. Where, he did not know. It was pitch black. He stood up and lumbered forward with his hands outstretched, Frankenstein-esque.

Before long, he stopped dead in his tracks. There was a wall of some sort, that was for sure. But what exactly was it made of? Brick? No, it was much too cold and smooth to be brick. Stone? No, the little sort of dinging noise it made when tapped said otherwise. For once, Mr. Canbury’s cleverness had reached its limit. Frustrated, he rapped loudly on the wall.

Dink. Dink.

Metal! That’s what it was, it had to be! Quite satisfied with his reclaimed cleverness, Mr. Canbury didn’t realize just how incredibly similar the sound of his knock had been to what he heard down in his very own kitchen. Nor did he expect the response that he was to receive just seconds later from what seemed like a giant on the other end of the wall:

BOOM. BOOM.

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