SOS

sos

We cut our teeth on B horror movies on VHS, having to adjust the tracking to make them even halfway viewable, that’s how much we watched them. Shooting Cheez Whiz directly into our mouths and hiding under our pillow fort, Space Jam blanket underneath to keep us comfy. Watching Troll 2, Cheez Whizzing every time someone says Nilbog. Her taking out the pink bike her parents gave her on her twelfth birthday and me helping her spray paint it a cerulean blue. I gave her two of my pegs, and the way I tried to hide my blush when she gave me a hug.

The bully’s knuckle cutting my cheek, blackening one of my eyes, adrenaline making me grab a stick, hit him in the head, make my escape. And when she saw what happened to me, bringing me over to her house and putting ice pops on my face ‘cause that’s all they had in the freezer. Then sitting down in her basement, me watching her play Game Boy Color out of my one good eye, sidling up close to make as if I wanted to get a better view but really just trying to get closer to her.

Mom screaming at Dad and throwing plates, me sneaking out with my walkie talkie before it could get physical, out in the night, calling for backup. Us circling the block, underneath the buzzing street lamps, cicadas screaming in protest at the humid air. Her blonde hair frizzed up against rain droplets as she distracted me with descriptions of the last episode of Pokémon that I’d missed. And when that went away, how she laced her fingers into mine and we walked like that, with the sound of droplets and cicadas, street lamps buzzing and cars dopplering down the interstate.

We were sixteen and she was moving to a new town a couple hours away, us swinging on swings and kicking up packed-in wet sand, insisting we’d chat on AIM and ride the Amtrak on weekends, her turning away and making as if she was looking at the sunset sky while she covered up her tears. There was a storm drain that snaked through the underbelly of our torn-up town, and we’d pried a manhole open to gain access to it, would sneak down there to write stories by Maglite and get away from everything for a while.

She felt the concrete floor for dampness before sitting down, put her legs together so her Converse were two sides of the same coin. She took the Maglite in her hand and shined SOS on the concrete wall, no signs of help coming. She turned and shined the light in my face till I saw spots in my eyes, leaning over and struggling with her over the Maglite. I freed it from her and shut it off, bringing darkness to our little hideaway. Silence. Not even the sound of our breath. The warmth of her leg next to mine, then her hand. Our fingers touching tentatively like a cat’s whiskers as it sniffs something new. Her lips at the corner of mine, staying for a while, then leaving. Fumbling in the dark to find her, hands now over her clothing, she’s completely still now, but letting it happen. Hand sliding under and her saying my name, saying we shouldn’t. My hands moving. Her teeth on my shoulder, moisture spreading on my shirt. The buckle and the button and the zipper. These are meant to hold together, but we’re coming apart now. Coming apart together. Her panties slide away and her hand is in my hair, saying we don’t have to do this. As if there’s any other choice. We slide our way into the dark and she tells me to pull out. When I try, she reaches back and holds my hips, goes limp in front of me as I shudder.

When we can say something, we say Oh no, or Oh God, and we sit next to each other, and I switch the Maglite on, and we cry in turns, alternating between who comforts whom, the Maglite now flickering in my hands from its dying battery, sending the concrete wall into staccato relief, mapping out its own SOS as our cries fade away into silence.

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Into the Depths

GALAXY

It’s a weird thing facing your own mortality at age eight. Lying in a hospital bed in hospital greens, fading away from the effects of leukemia. Spoiler alert going into this: I don’t make it. Yes, I’m dead. I know you’re probably wondering about the whole writing when you’re dead thing, but the rules are different here. And it isn’t anything like you’d think it is. No pearly gates or endless fire. No eternal black, either. I don’t know, maybe it’s different for everyone. Maybe I just lucked out with what I got.

Even though I died when I was eight, I guess I’d be in my late twenties now. At least that’s what it feels like. Your faculties continue to evolve even after you die, or at least mine did. But anyway: me in the hospital bed. I remember passing the time trading Pokémon cards with the kid across the hall, the one with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I gypped him out of a first edition holographic fossil baby Raichu for a Dark Charizard, the budding collector in me already knowing how much my haul would be worth.

There are people who allege that those close to death can sense things that others can’t. I’d have to agree. It’s hard to make sense of what this is around me, but it feels like you’re at the end of a strange and good dream, just getting lucid, aware that you’re dreaming, and you try to wake yourself up but can’t. It’s like that, only instead of waking up you exit yourself entirely, separated from who you were though you retain everything, floating with no sense of direction. There is no up or down, only around.

For lack of a better word, there are different “settings” you can tune into. You can see in ultraviolet if you want to, dip into the milky swirls of nebulae. You can take on a more physical form, but it’s painful. Not in a physical sense, but an emotional one. Like someone close to you just died, but the feeling won’t go away until you leave. Maybe that’s what it is to be a ghost. I don’t know. I’ve only been here twenty years or so, and in the cosmic scheme of things that’s nothing.

The first thing I did was to stay with my parents after I went. I couldn’t get the hang of it at first. I’d segue into the fibers of their bed and see everything at a microscopic scale, scale everything down until Earth was a marble in front of me. I figured it out, though. Took a physical form to try to reach them, but nothing really worked. My mother cried into her pillow, muffled as her chest heaved like she was being defibrillated. I’d shift pictures, close doors. That’s about all I could do. Her and my father would shift the pictures back, open the doors up again. So I left the physical form and just watched them. Watched them go about their days, trying to will themselves to follow their old routine without change. I watched my mother collapse at a bus stop, finally revived by a passerby. Her tears ran her makeup down her aching face and she caught the next bus out.

It wasn’t pain so much as an aching dullness spread throughout my body as I listened to hospital beeps and lie awake, light pollution letting up sometimes so I could catch Orion’s belt through my window. I’d make little sketches for my parents and the kid across the hall just to pass the time, still lifes of medical miscellanea and my feet peeking up from underneath my blanket. Wrote stories of children who discovered hidden superpowers while lying in hospital beds, transmuting to an insubstantial form and gliding through windows and walls, flying past the clouds and into the inky blue. I’d get up sometimes at night and walk the halls, careful to duck into doorways whenever nurses or orderlies would pass. I’d peek into the rooms of the elderly especially, watch in curiosity as they struggled to breathe through the night, tunneling tubes and ventilators helping them out. Sometimes I’d sneak in and stroke their silvery hair, touch their soft cheeks before touching my own in comparison.

If I want, I can watch each subsequent year pass by like a flickering movie before my eyes, projected against inky black. See what it would’ve been like to have my first kiss, manage pimples, graduate high school. I watch as I pack my beater for college, taking the interstate with the windows down. I get married, have a couple kids, watch them toddle towards their grandparents. After that it gets fuzzy, the potential realities colliding like particles in the LHC. There’s too much guesswork to be done, even in the afterlife.

I can swell to the size of planets, shrink to the smallest quark, but I can’t bring back what was lost. I busy myself with returning to the origin of man, observing dinosaurs as they roam prehistoric lands. I watch as the first organisms traverse through the primordial ooze, illuminated even in the depths by the sun that gives them life. I ache for my parents and wish I could tell them that it’ll be okay.

I walk those lonesome hospital halls now, looking for the ones who are soon to join me. When they’re asleep in the middle of the day, I shift their curtains to keep the sun out of their eyes, push with all my might to shut doors when it’s noisy out in the hall. And when they go I guide them, into the depths, away from all of their pain and suffering. We float above the room and leave it entirely, rising higher still till the sky doesn’t exist.

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One of Those Things

Sunset

He checked her Instagram on a Sunday afternoon, remembering simpler days when they’d lie sprawled on the hood of his car listening to “The Suffering,” one earbud a piece. They’d look out over the pepto pink sky and just listen. They’d trade off vocals when it came to the chorus, smiling as they sang so that their performances were affected. And when they went to the concert to see it live, him holding her up so she could see the lead singer belting it out.

And there she was doing the same thing, collecting scraps of his life in one-off posts, scouring likes and comments for clues, wondering what ever happened to undo what they had together. It was just one of those things. She remembered above all else how they were when they saw each other again after a long absence, like a ship come to moor, drifting effortlessly toward shore. There was parking outside his house at night and shining a laser pointer through his window till he joined her, careening through the neighborhood like bandits, no destination in mind, just driving.

And now she sits alone in her room watching the ceiling fan turn and turn and turn, her cat nuzzling her hand, pausing over his number, wondering if she should text, and she composes something, deletes it, starts over.

And there he is in his room, thinking he might text her, or send a snap. Maybe tag her on a funny meme. There were so many options. He settled on an email, trying to catch up after these long years away, detailing what he’d been up to since then, leaving the possibility of meeting up dangling at the end like a worm off a hook.

She responded almost too fast, giving her own account of the years’ goings-on, agreeing that meeting up might be a good idea. She proposed a date and he accepted. Then of course there was actually having to get ready for the thing, wondering if they should go, both of them, but eventually doing it, getting ready and going to the agreed upon spot. Then there’s that thing where you see this person after all the years apart, taking in the subtle differences, the way that features have made good on their promises.

They both wonder if they should move in for the hug, and it becomes an awkward thing between the two of them, wondering if the hug should include a pat on the back, but it doesn’t, and when they move apart there’s a moment where their faces are inches apart and they look into each other’s eyes knowing what should happen but won’t.

They stand in silence until she breaks it with a hi. Nothing makes noise around them. Everything is still. He says hi back. They haven’t planned much beyond this point, but something has to happen. They walk to the park adjoining her apartment, watch the way the sun dapples the leaves on the trees before they fall, fluttering safely to ground. Their hands are in their pockets, but for a moment their instincts kick in and they reach for hands that can no longer be grasped. Their fingers graze before they remember, warmth in this early Fall cold.

Neither of them speak, just walk and take in the chill of the air, the sounds of cars dopplering by. Everything sounds piped in. A mother passes them pushing a stroller. They both wanted kids, but he didn’t after they broke up. He couldn’t tell if it was a “her or nothing” thing, but that’s how it was. It was just one of those things.

She tells him she’s really missed him and he says he’s missed her too. The silence comes back and they stay in it a while. He asks if she still wants kids. He doesn’t know why he asks it, but she says yes.

They find a bench and sit down.

She sets her purse down between them and they stare out at the leaves on the trees, their variegated colors. He opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Instead, he places his hands in his lap. She reaches into her purse and pulls out an iPod. He watches as she plugs in the earbuds, scrolls to her song of choice and hands an earbud to him. The opening notes of “The Suffering” play. The two of them look out over the sky coming down to dusk, pink turning to purple, and just listen.

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Hover

Hover

The way her nipple slid in and out of view was like the fin of a shark peeking over the water and falling away for a stealthy approach. He let her subsume him, this woman, let her slide into all the days and ways that he was a man. They came to the surface, gasping choking breaths, tunnelling a way through the water to seaweed and refuse on the beach. When they came to, they were lying there, on the beach, toes dug into the freezing sand, and that’s where they slept all night.

It was on the ridge of a large and vast mountain, scarves to keep the cold out, breathing filtered air, and that’s all their love was. Just a filtered version of a thing that couldn’t be reached. They made love on the ridge in the freezing cold, her wetness turning to ice as he moved inside of her. It was them on the ridge, kissing like this was the last thing they could do, becoming the beast with two backs.

Or maybe it was in the way she rolled over to let him come in, legs tangled in knotted seaweed, gnarled and gangrene tendrils of it twisting and convulsing in the light of the moon. It was a rollicking fever of him with another woman, making these motions with her on the same night, minutes later, barely waiting between the two of them. It was an appetite like a wild beast.

It was her knowing all the time, inhaling the scent of the other woman on his cheeks, neck, chest. It was being aroused before being heartbroken, and the way he looked at her like that, in the night, in the glow of an old, dusty lamp, saying with his eyes that he couldn’t stop this, that it had gone too far.

It was clawing their way through the sand dunes, naked feet like grappling hooks, knowing that if the sun were a little closer they’d be walking on glass, if they could even walk at all. And him receiving a text, then a call, stepping away to take it. Looking at her as if he could stare belief into her. She pulled away from his hand’s grasp and walked on.

It was the scent of sex on his body that would stay no matter how many showers he took, stuck to him like a scarlet letter. And the way she would take out her notebook and journal next to him in bed, detailing her woes, hoping he’d see them, though he never did, chose not to, deliberately looked away.

It was in the way she never said it out loud, as if to speak it was to give it power, was to allow it to exist in the real world. She took to hovering above the ground, just over the surface, face facing floor to the point where she could smell carpet, could feel its fibers brush against her nose. When he’d walk in she’d fall to the ground with a thud and gasp in breath.

It was in the way she’d claw every available surface till there was blood under her nails and they’d break altogether, crack and splinter like wood being bombarded. It was in the way she screamed into her pillow at first, then stabbed it, then set it on fire and threw it out the window. She could still hover, now feet above the ground, now grazing the ceiling, now stuck to it.

And how he came home that night, buttons of his shirt torn off, lipstick imprints on his chest, his arms, and how she fell when she hovered that night, splitting her lip on hardwood, and how he came down to help her, put ice in a baggy and held it to her mouth, kissed her forehead to make it all better. And how it actually did make it all better, if only for a moment, before the next time.

It was him giving it a name, admitting he had a problem and that he’d stop. It was her believing him and not having to hover so much, being able to stay on the ground. It was when he came home like a wounded dog and she could see it in his eyes, wouldn’t need him to explain, to enumerate, to expound. She was done.

It was her lying facedown on the grass while he was out, and hovering gently above the blades. It was rising above the hedges, then above her house, and up still past the tallest trees in the neighborhood. It was seeing all of her neighborhood, then city, then state. It was seeing her country, her planet, then beyond the stratosphere. It was gliding past satellites, sliding swiftly and silently into the coldness of space. It was rising till she was clear of the solar system, then shifting toward milky nebulae swirling in stillness, hollow pinks and blues, then beyond even that, through black holes, flying faster now, higher, although what was higher was now lower. It was flying on beyond the infinite and only then exhaling.

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Amari in My Heart

Life Cast Projection Test

I name the little person who screams inside my chest Amari. Maybe chest isn’t specific enough. Maybe heart is better. She stays quiet most of the time, only every speaking up when she knows that something’s wrong. I spend whole days trying to find what I will give her for dinner. She is very particular about the food she eats, especially for dinner. What I do is I open up the door in my chest and feed her little bites. She’s very particular about the bites I feed her. They must be just right.

When we are done with feeding, I close the door in my chest and try to do something that will please her. Lately it is becoming difficult to please her. She is always wanting extra attention, but when I give it to her she acts as though I’m smothering her.

She loves taking walks the most. When we take walks, she sings with the birds, chirping along with their songs till I can feel the reverberations in my ears, up and down my spine. When she sings on our walks I have to be careful to avoid other people for fear they’ll poke around in my chest for the source of the singing. You can never be too careful.

I go on a date with fear in my heart. Amari has been known to act up before, and she’ll probably do it again. I feed her little bits of turkey to calm her down before the date and hope the tryptophan kicks in for an early nap. She’s wired, however, and there’s no way to calm her down. I go on the date regardless. We meet at a lovely sushi restaurant I’ve been dying to check out. My date looks just like she did in her profile picture, and I hope I look the same too.

Amari coos in my chest, soft and quiet. I suppose she likes my date, or is at least comfortable. Luckily it’s not loud enough to hear. I’ve had dates hear Amari before, and it’s always the same. If I don’t trust them, I’ll pass it off as something else. If I do, I’ll show them the door in my chest, open it so they can see Amari. Not one has accepted her, the door, or me.

It wouldn’t do to leave Amari at home. I’ve left her out for extended periods before, but the outside world is much too cold for her. She needs the constant 98.6 degrees of my body to sustain her. She’s a delicate creature, no matter how feisty she can be.

I don’t remember how long I’ve had her, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know if it was at birth that she appeared to me, but I know that I’ve had her for as long as I can remember. My mother tried her best to accept her, but the whole situation gave her the chills. My father wasn’t much better. He thought she was an abomination but always made sure not to say it in front of me. I’d catch snatches of parental arguments, dad insisting we should pluck her from my chest and toss her out, that she was a disgusting parasite. My mom would always argue that maybe there was a purpose for her, that there had to be a purpose.

But anyway. The date. We placed our orders and made small talk over warm sake. Amari cooed warmly, replicating the melody of what was playing in the restaurant. She did it loud enough to be heard but her reproduction was similar enough where you couldn’t pick her apart.

We discussed literary matters, the latest books by Haruki Murakami and Zadie Smith, the brilliance of David Foster Wallace. Junot Díaz and his Oscar Wao, Drown, This Is How You Lose Her. She remained as brilliant as she seemed from her profile, and I think I kept up well enough too. Amari hummed quietly to herself as we ate California rolls and sipped sake.

Somewhere around the second course, Amari got impatient. She started babbling to me in her language that I’d never quite been able to decode. I told her to hush and my date asked me what I’d said. I told her this was lush… luscious. Great. It was all great. She looked at me like I sneezed onto her food and I attempted to steer the conversation back on track. Amari still kept it up all the while. At first, she sounded as if she could be a person at a nearby table. My date was none the wiser. In time, though, she got louder. A temper tantrum was common with Amari whenever I didn’t open my chest door and acknowledge her or at least hum or talk back to her. My date asked what that noise was and I asked what noise. She told me it sounded like a kid having a meltdown, but there were no kids here. I said I had no idea and guided us back on track again.

Amari quieted down from there. We debated the ending of The Broom of the System over dessert, and when it came time to it, I covered the check.

She invited me back to her place. We feverishly undid each other’s clothing practically the moment we walked through the door. I tried to leave my shirt on, which she fought against again and again. When she asked, I said I felt self-conscious. She insisted it was okay, that I could trust her. I unbuttoned my shirt one button at a time. Held the shirt together, then let it slide apart. Dropped it to the floor.

She wanted to touch the door, so I let her. She wanted to open the door, so I let her. Amari blinked at the light and cooed at her. She collected herself, acclimated to the sight of Amari, and cooed back. Closed the door. We laid down and made love on her bed.

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The Light of Your Eyes

Sunset

It was in the way you told me that summer night that we’d find a way back to each other, one way or another.

And how the postcards came in a full stream when you went on your great adventure, then steadied out, then went to a trickle, then stopped altogether.

It was in the way I couldn’t find your address when you were living abroad, and so we went months incommunicado.

It was us meeting in a crowd at a concert when you came back, and the way the glow of the sunset caught your blonde hair in a halo.

It was making love that first night back, in the backseat of your car, parked on one of the Smoky Mountains.

And then, maybe it was you heading off again, chasing a band halfway across the country, and how I said I’d be here when you got back.

Or maybe it was the fight when I saw you kiss the bassist, you telling me I didn’t own you, me saying it’s not like that, it’s just that we were supposed to be together, you saying I was maudlin.

There’s the way we made up after you left the band’s gang of roadies, catching a movie at the drive-in, my hand creeping up your leg.

I think of how I left to go off to grad school, and how I saw no one that first semester though I had the opportunity.

How we skyped to keep the flame alive, trading off horror movies to watch, and the way your smile was hurt at the end of each call.

I think it’s the way I came back for summer break and we entwined on your porch hammock, saying that this night wouldn’t end if we didn’t want it to.

It was you soaking my hand with your tears, holding me to you, not letting go even though I had to leave, had to make my plane, so we made love and I caught the next one.

It was drinking at a dorm room party and being forced by a friend into dancing with a girl who was eyeing me, and kissing her under the glow of Christmas lights.

It was skipping one Skype session, then two, telling you I was busy with schoolwork while I just couldn’t face you, couldn’t look you in the eye.

It was telling you when I couldn’t hold it in any longer and the way your face voided of all emotion, how you looked me in the eye before hanging up.

It was reaching your voicemail again and again, then you telling me to stop calling, so I started texting instead.

Maybe it was when you finally answered me, said this wouldn’t happen again, and I promised it wouldn’t, swore to you.

It might’ve been in the way I sent you flowers at the end of every week, not letting up though you told me to stop, laughing as you did.

I think it was the way the girl from the party hit me up, asked what I was up to, and I hesitated before telling her I wasn’t free.

I’m thinking it was asking you what we were, you asking why we had to be something, why we couldn’t just be.

Or maybe it was asking why we were exclusive then if we were just supposed to be, and you demanding rather than asking that I didn’t want to be exclusive.

It was ending that Skype call and punching the wall till I made a hole, nursing my fist after, icing it with frozen peas.

I’m pretty sure it was coming to see you unannounced, getting there just in time to see the guy you’d been fucking drive away.

How you flushed when I asked what that was, what the fuck that was, and you trying to tell me you get lonely sometimes.

Or maybe it was me screaming you don’t think I get lonely too, you think I don’t know how hard this is, whatever this is.

Or saying I wish I never met you, you crying right after I said it, and wanting to take it back but not being able to.

There was how we ended that night, together in your hammock, both of us crying, your head against my chest.

After that, there was me leaving again, with no guarantee that what happened wouldn’t happen again.

There was getting home and hitting up the girl from the party, coming back to my dorm room and fucking.

There was ditching out on the Skype calls for a week, then two, then a month, barely answering texts from you.

Then of course there was you calling and saying you couldn’t live without me, that you had no idea why I was doing this.

It was me saying I couldn’t do this anymore, this constant back and forth, and that if we were together we were together.

And you saying okay, and me saying no, I mean it, and you insisting that you did too, and the way I admitted to fucking that girl.

And how you said it was okay, it was in the past, granting me clemency just like that, and how I wanted to kiss you so bad in that moment.

There was dropping out of grad school and moving halfway across the country to be with you, and living together.

But more than all of it, than anything at all, it was catching the light of your eyes in the Arizona sunset when I told you that I loved you.

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Party Hats

Razzle

It felt like life had been tuned to the wrong channel.

Hal unpacked quickly, not doing a thorough job, just getting it all out. He hadn’t thought to get furniture, so that first night would be spent sleeping on the floor. He’d get a cot the next day, and the week after that a proper bed. Everything in its time.

Hal unpacked the trinkets last, left the ones he got from her in the box till he could figure out what he would do with them. His first instinct was toss, the best thing would be to toss, but knowing himself he’d probably keep them in a private shrine.

He inhaled the fact that he knew no one here. That he was a seal on the shore, skin ragged, miles away from its herd. Exhaled loneliness and the smell of cat food. His cat was depressed and so ate more to try to quell the pain. There was no use for Hal to simply feed him less. The cat mewled and clawed the door till Hal popped open another can.

He considered getting cat Prozac, maybe regular Prozac too. Something to put on the list, anyway.

Finding a reason to get out of bed became hard, so he turned it into a game. If he got out of bed before noon, he could put a party hat on the cat. The cat was too depressed to do anything, so the party hats would pile up day after day until the cat was a display cat advertising party hats.

He met her on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe met isn’t the right word. Maybe stare in disbelief and wonderment across the library is the right way to put it. She was reading something by Murakami, had a selection of Díaz stacked next to her. A fat copy of Infinite Jest covered her hands as she read. Hal went over and waited as if in line. When she acknowledged him, he spewed his adoration for the authors she’d chosen. He tacked on an invitation to coffee at the end and she said maybe.

The maybe was a no. He went back to the library the next weekend, prowling where he’d met her. Went back to the coffee place at the time they’d agreed upon the next week in case she’d misunderstood. Nothing.

And so it was back to putting party hats on the cat. Peeling open cans and plopping out food. Hal unpacked the trinkets she left him. He tossed them in a bag and put the bag in his front lawn and set the bag on fire. As the plastic burned and wafted a dying smell, Hal watched intently.

It got so he couldn’t put hats on the cat, because he stopped getting up before noon. Couldn’t find a reason to keep going.

And so back to the library. He goes back to the appointed spot and she’s actually there. She notices him right away but acts like she doesn’t see him. Hal goes up to her. Is she reading anything? And no, she isn’t. Is she busy at the moment? And no, not particularly busy. Would she want to get a bite to eat somewhere nearby? And umm, okay. Really? And yeah, really.

Her name was Julia. Hal and Julia spoke of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and of 1Q84, and of the way the stories were structured in Drown. They traded new authors, old favorites, and ones you might not have heard of. They labored over Wallace’s sentence structure and Zadie Smith’s use of POV and Eggers’ sense of place. They spoke at length.

When it was all over, she gave him her number without him first asking for it. When Hal got home, he gave his cat three party hats, one for each segment of his body.

They went out the next weekend and the weekend after that. Their hangouts were equal parts literary love and adventure. Ducking out to hang at the aquarium and Hal imagining putting party hats on all the sharks. When she inquires, he tells her of the party hat cat. The reason for the hats. He tells her she’s the reason he gets up now and she smiles in a nervous way, like if she makes a single wrong move it’ll all go away.

When they make love, it’s like dawn’s light filling in all the cracks on the sunscape. It’s an ethereal thing that leaves its impression in the sand before getting up and diving into the water. Hal makes those up and tells her, asks her what she thinks. She says it’s worthy of DFW and he says stop but almost laughs from excitement.

Can a love ever really be pure anymore? In our times, can it be? I don’t know about yours, but for Hal and Julia it was. They did things like yawn out of bed in the morning and then come back into the golden light of dawn to kiss through morning breath and make love one last time before getting up and going about their day.

I can’t find a reason to make their story a sad one, so I won’t. I’ll make theirs a story of them gifting new books at every holiday, of staying madly and ferociously in love every day, over and over again, of trading off who gets to put on the party hats.

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Pinching the Moon

Me and the Moon

We’re sitting in Joelle’s car, her rolling a joint, me looking out at the full moon and pinching it between my fingers. She is not mine. Not like in a possession sense, but let’s just say we should not be here and doing this right now. She drops some of the weed down her shirt and fishes half of it out. The rest will be stuck there forever. When she licks the joint she looks at me. I stop pinching the moon. I pinch her head instead, but she’s not far enough away for it to be accurate from a perspective sense.

She lights it and takes a drag, hands it to me and then exhales, like she had to ensure its safe delivery before letting out her air. I’ve known her since the sixth grade. Her guy has been with her for six months. I don’t say that to make everything seem okay. I’m using it as more of like an interesting fact. A did you know.

Joelle has this birthmark under her eye in the shape of a tiny heart and I’m pinching that since the perspective is in the goldilocks zone. She tells me to stop as if I’m pinching it for real, but laughs after she says it.

I drag hard, hold the smoke in for as long as I can before letting go. I try not to, but I cough. She calls me a lightweight and steals it back. We talk about where we are and where we want to be. I make up some life where I’m happy on my own and she doesn’t call bullshit even though I can tell she wants to.

The smoke circumscribes the car till she rolls down the windows. She was never one to hotbox. I was, so I roll mine up. She rolls it back down and locks the window. The joint’s getting to pinching status, so when I take it back our fingers touch for a second, then let go. The moment breathes through both of us.

Joelle laughs and I ask her why, but she doesn’t have an answer. It’s hitting us all at once, stretching seconds into minutes and warping everything like a spaceship starting to blueshift. She can do nothing but smile, nothing but laugh.

It’s become a roach. I motion to give it back to her for the last hit. She doesn’t reach out for it. What she does is she shifts in her seat. What she does is she stretches out to me. What she does is she takes the hit as I hold the joint, her lips kissing my thumb and forefinger.

When she pulls back, I almost drop the roach on my seat. Instead, I toss it out the window and look at her. Her cheeks are burning as she laughs and laughs and laughs. I ask her what she’s laughing about again, but she only looks at me. Her blue eyes reflect the light inside her car, the headlights outside of it. She looks at me as if to say “You know.”

I wonder where to take this from here. We’ve been friends since sixth grade. It could work or it could not, and am I prepared to take that kind of loss if it backfires? Am I willing to risk a beating by her pituitary case of a boyfriend? Or is it all in good fun? I don’t know.

Joelle can feel the tension, we both can. So she produces a second joint and lights it up. Its cherry glows with her sporadic inhalations like stop and go traffic. I am to take this joint like nothing has just happened between us. Her leg glows palely in the light like sculpted marble. I ask her what that was. She asks what and I just say that.

I don’t know, she says, but her eyes hold on me as she does. I put out the joint. I lean in to her and go for it. She pulls away and asks what the fuck. What the fuck, Hal? I have nothing to say, so I say nothing. I have nothing to do, so I look anywhere but at her.

Joelle grabs me by the chin and turns me toward her, so I have to look. What the fuck, she asks again. I just say I don’t know. I’m halfway about to ask if we can still be friends when she leans in and kisses me. I don’t have to say the rest. You know. The moon shined on the maiden fair. My eyes became bugeyes. And all that.

When the smoke clears and the high fades enough, she starts up her car and takes me home. Her cheeks burn the whole way. We say things, but not really. Nothing too out of the ordinary. Commenting on the song that’s playing, etc.

She parks and we kiss some more by streetlight. She pauses between each kiss, cheeks still red, like she’s going to pull away but then doesn’t. Chooses not to. Pulls back in. If I don’t get out of the car, I never will. I say all right, then. She says okay. I say so. She doesn’t say anything after that.

I open the car door and get out. Shut it behind me. She rolls down the window. Opens her mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. I turn away before anything else can happen and walk inside. The last thing I hear is her car dopplering away, first a rumble, then nothing at all but a rush of wind.

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A Glittering Nothing

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-8-42-00-pmWe were just fine living our lives the way we wanted to, thank you very much. We woke up in the pm and went to bed in the am, gathered our socks and shoes around us in bed so we’d always be ready to run away, even in our skivvies. We were about something, although we knew not what that something was. We were channeling Sid and Nancy, just standing there, trying to look cool with our foot and back against the wall, a cigarette trailing our fingers like a conductor’s baton at rest.

We made love in the soft moments of the night, when the cicadas were still at it, their cries the only indicator that there was a world outside our own. We had glorious times filching unlocked bikes from the park and riding them down a hill usually used for sledding, handlebars jolting and jostling, us holding on tight. We had taking bricks from the failed construction across the street and seeing if we could roof them without breaking any windows.

We had a tendency to fight when the leaves were on the ground so that someone could stomp out and crunch them underfoot, wanting desperately for things to be like how they were in the easy days, if there were any.

We had to go get real jobs and settle into a nice neighborhood and have some docile children and live out the rest of our lives in a real swell place. We went out in the rain instead, let it plaster our clothes to our bodies like so much papier-mâché, and our feet were underwater attractions in the aquarium of our shoes. We filed for divorce though we had never married and tore up the documents when they were served, sprinkled them over the server’s head and snapped a shot for his confetti wedding.

We had a creamy nougat center and we knew how many licks it took to get to the center of us. When we wanted something, we simply took it and walked away. We had a tendency to narrate all aspects of our lives, and would stop when you or I had to leave. The narration was for both of us or none of us. We had days where it would all stop like a glittering nothing as if we were on a train car lurching before a big halt, screeching, blaring on the horn though there’s no reason for it. Yes, that’s what it was like.

We gave it all up, then started using again, then stopped kind of. It was complicated. We had a way of preparing it that differed from normal usage. We had the gleaming in our eyes when it hit and we were fire in our selves and everything went slowslowslow till it came and went, and we’d be done with it this time for real. We’d for real be done and through and so Past It.

We were not Past It. We wanted to be just in a couch, not out there getting It, using It, and the way we worked was to capitalize our hurts. How many times did we flush It and trash It only to be knocking on that milky door again.

We gave up for real and let our lives come back. The way it was at first was that everything had the color drained from it. The color seeped back in slow, the way the taste of apples changes when you purge yourself of junk food.

We tested what it was like to be normal humans again. We debated over what our story should be, whether it should be about our shenanigans or our using; the silly or the serious. But maybe we could make it about both. Maybe we could make a flash fiction story called, “A Glittering Nothing” and make this our story in condensed form.

We wrote the flash fiction story called, “A Glittering Nothing.” It was not this flash fiction story, you can be assured. This is just named after that one, in reference to it. That one was far better than this one could ever be. That one had real grit and heart, and it made you laugh in the appropriate places and cry in the appropriate places too.

We had to make sure not to fuck it up. When you’re writing a story, you can only carry on the ruse for so long. You have to keep your audience in mind. Kill your darlings. And all that. So with that in mind, we really trimmed it down. We tried to make it entertaining. We checked our word count and tried to keep it short, but not too short.

We let the reader really peek behind the curtain. We let them in on the writing process, had a Q & A. It was really something, you can be assured. Sorry we couldn’t do that for this one, but it’s a different situation. So for instance, the original “A Glittering Nothing” went silly, then serious, then metafictional. This one doesn’t do that. This part might seem metafictional, but in reality it’s just a polite explanation. We didn’t have to do this, but we thought it would be best. We didn’t want anyone getting confused.

We couldn’t decide just where it would end, but we considered doing that thing where a story bookends itself, giving the reader that precious a-ha moment where everything literally comes full circle. Well, we’re at 911 words right now, so we’d better stop soon. If we go past 1,000 it’ll no longer be a flash fiction story about a flash fiction story but a short story about a flash fiction story. But anyway, we’re not going to listen to your limits. We’ve got no time for that. After all, we were just fine living our lives the way we wanted to, thank you very much.

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All of Her Away

Breakup

What you did at first was act like it didn’t matter. Like it wasn’t a significant portion of your life that’d just gone, dissipating into a cloud of nothing. There was checking her Instagram every day, then once a week, then on the bad nights with JD poured into plastic cups. Then there was blocking her and that lasting a month before unblocking her again. Before seeing her with another guy.

There was slamming the phone down, going out in -3 before wind chill, breath vapor on the wind, and running. There was thinking the motion would warm you up, but being sorely mistaken. There was not feeling your hands or your face and getting snow in your shoes. There was running till you couldn’t feel your feet. There was, when you came back inside, seeing the blood on your feet, and the metallic taste in your mouth.

There was drafting up the emails that you’d send to get her back, the texts you composed, ready to send. There was the soulhurt that comes with these things. There was opening the box of old mementos and seeing the pictures not yet you-less, not yet her-less but together, alone together, and seeing her face is like looking into a tunnel where the light barely cuts through and you can only just see through to the other side.

There was sleeping in till 9, then 10, then 11. The perks of being your own boss you said at first, until you’d get no work done and lie on the old couch where she’d sleep when she came over, insisting against sleeping in bed with you though never telling you why. And the way you’d accept everything she said or did as sacrosanct. The Gospel according to. And all that. There was having nothing in the fridge, surviving off of bananas and desperation. There was having a clear rubric of where (y)our life was headed, a little outline pinned to the wall, and then tearing it right the fuck down.

Finally, there was taking all of the old mementos and hauling them into garbage bags the same way Joel did in Eternal Sunshine, if only it were that easy, just ripping out the brain tendrils that the other left in you, erasing them just like that. But you took the bags and you set them out neatly on the curb, next to the full garbage can, and you went back inside and watched as the garbage truck came and hauled all of it away. All of her away.

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