Short Sunday

New Short Fiction every Sunday evening at 6pm.

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The Loop

The Loop

There’s no way to know where we are in the loop. The circle. The bend. I don’t know what it is. It curves subtly, into the distance. There is only the hope that it does not end, or, if it does, that it begins again.

The colors change, the terrain, the climb, maybe even pitch and yaw. It sometimes feels as though the floor moves around its axis, like we were suspended in a sudden gust of wind. It is most often just a deep blue hallway.

There are other people; I don’t know who they are most of the time. We do not speak, the only sound is the shuffling of feet, or the splashing of puddles when it rains. We continue forward and react instinctively when the ground moves or the walls shift, or we are suddenly outside or hot or cold or there is a fire in the distance. I did know know there could be a fire. I am now often worried about the possibility of fire. I assume we are all worried about the possibility fire.

I saw my mother yesterday. She was walking in the opposite direction and did not see me. She looked older than she was when she died. She didn’t stop walking. I couldn’t stop either of course, but I managed to scream. I had that much control at least, but only that much and just for a moment. I was punished with darkness.

It is difficult to know if there is sleep. There are periods of darkness, a deep moonless night, hands outstretched, stepping carefully. It’s as common as the rain or the mountain or the flooded city, and I know there are times when the loop shifts, almost instantly, and my gait is suddenly heavy, sluggish, and in mid-step. A flash of black and the landscape shifts, new neighbors appear, and I am bleary eyed, I am catching myself from falling.

We walk mostly single file, sometimes in groups. In the city we walk two by two. There are times when there is a line of people as far into the bend as I can see, and others where I am the only being, trudging a path through a dense forest. The pine needles. I am alone when I walk on the thick bed of pine needles. This is why I believe it is a loop. There is always the forest. There are always the pine needles. I am always alone when there are pine needles.

The sequence of scenes is different. The shape is consistent arc but the order of locations varies, distance, too. There was a week in the desert. A punishing hell, artificially sustained. No water, no need for it, just the pain of not having it. There was the cold, too. Six weeks in the mountains, the loop as spiral staircase, walking higher and higher through blistering cold, no end, no numbing release, just razor wind over deep snow. There was no completion of the journey, no moment of triumph on the mountain top. We are simply and suddenly on a beach, weeping relief, trudging through dense white sand, the heat of it painfully thawing our frozen feet.

The neighbors. I think of them as neighbors. People suddenly close and suddenly gone. Quiet, mild-mannered and hard working. Ideal neighbors. Good people like me, presumably. Probably. Probably I am a good person.

 

 

The plastic got beat up in the storm and now it breathes in and out of empty window frames. Flaps until its full, then fat for a moment before letting out in a heave, the bottom goes over the sill and swings out over three stories tall and then pulls back in, slaps against the block wall and pulls back into the building. In and out, over and over, persistent and alive.

The mornings are nice. Calm. There’s time to wipe the fog from the windshield before the electricians show up, flip all the switches and turn everything on, before the machines get moving, and the place gets busy.

Once the windows go in I’ll have to try to sleep in there. The car is colder than I figured it would be. I think we install the windows on Thursday and it’s supposed to snow this weekend. I thought it would be warmer. Great commute but I thought it would be warmer. First one here, last one to leave. The boss loves me but I thought it would be warmer. It’s hard to get moving in the morning and this is how it goes for the first half hour or so, breathing into my hands, shivering, and thinking about how wrong I am about obvious things.

Windows are more dense and heavy than I thought. I never knew that. Never knew the windows in a building were so solid, almost structural. They’re made to move and open, you know, doesn’t seem like it should make sense. I dropped one two weeks ago, while we were unloading and my foot is mostly back together. The window and building were fine. They lay in stacks now, waiting. Warmer to the touch, just laying there, even. They call it glazing, though, not windows. Glazing. Sounds nice, light. I drive and live in a Mercury. I got it for free years ago and it’s probably never going to move again from where it’s parked.

Guy told me it’s the casing. Glazing casing. “It’s all metal.” And hit his head with his fist like he said mental, or that his head was metal, or that I was dumb for not knowing and had no brains. I don’t know which. I think he meant to make it like a joke, but I couldn’t piece it together. I don’t know if he knew what he was saying either, it’s not a subtle place here, everyone is shouting and trying to talk quickly to get the job done so they can go get warm and everyone has hearing damage. It’s a mess. It’s almost finished now but it’s a mess. Anyway, I think he’s wrong, either way.

Before everyone, though, its nice; sunrise, there’s frost on what’s left of the grass we haven’t run over. That plastic sheeting flaps and marks time. Even the garbage, chip bags and drink bottles from lunch, rolls around the frozen dirt and it’s soothing somehow that it’ll just get buried there and paved over, part of the building. Not trash anymore, but structural.

Probably half the guys know I’m here, know that I’m not leaving. They let me alone with it, figure it’s temporary and something my wife did rather than the reverse. Doesn’t matter at this point, praying to upgrade my life to an unfinished building and it’s a mess but it’s almost finished and that’s fine.

The hardest part is waiting for the coffee truck. Last week he was late, a few days after the weather started getting more serious and my situation more permanent and I almost got in a fistfight with the coffee guy. If you wonder how life works, go to a construction site and watch a half-dead guy yell about the coffee truck for being late or early or whatever else. I felt bad though, most guys don’t feel bad.

I gave the guy a five dollar tip the next day. It could have been more. If the windows don’t go in this week maybe I’ll leave him whatever is left over, leave another envelope the glove box and make it even. Let it all blow off behind me into the frost and make it level.

Found material

I found this in my google drive. I have no memory of writing it. It may not even be mine. I hope it is, It’s great.

The house is falling apart. The wind runs right through it. The siding is off in chunks and it’s freezing. He’d put up a tent in the master bedroom, pulled the old sleeping bags out of the flooded basement storage. He was able to get most of the mold out of the bags and the tent, but everything else down there was ruined. They were nice too, “Who would just leave these behind?”

The basement went first. He didn’t know whose house it was, if they left before it started falling apart, or they just let it fall apart. Either way, they didn’t do a good job of sealing the foundation. The fall rain came through cracks in the floor and would freeze over in December, make the cracks bigger. He figured he had another five years here before it completely collapsed. Maybe less. Maybe it would fall apart tonight and crush him in his tent, shatter the kerosene lamp and let the earth take it back. Nobody would notice. Maybe if a truck went by at that exact moment, but those were few and far between. Sometimes he would sit on the porch and wave to them as they went by. He’d always wanted a porch.

He saw it passing through, boarded up and on a nice big chunk of land. He parked, and pulled the boards down and moved in what was left of what he had. Just a few bags of clothes and keepsakes, books. Lots of little obsolete things. Most of it was dragged across the country from a failed experiment only to go into the fire almost as soon as he got the boards down. He was sentimental until he got cold, then everything went to kindling. In the morning he’d regretted burning so much. His headache, a mix of whiskey and plastic fumes produced from an old laptop he should have known not to burn, and the regret mingled just until he got cold again. Then he got the fire going again with his high school yearbook.

After his things were gone, he’d turned on the house. Took up the floorboards in the kitchen, where the old appliances rusted and useless, would eventually be dragged to a scrap yard for extra whiskey money. In the floorboards was insulation, in the insulation, bugs, in the bugs, insulation.

 

=–

 

There are only so many places to be, and so, he thought, why be anywhere whatsoever. Best to keep moving. He’d be fifty this year, fat and unhealthy and fifty. Fat, unhealthy, bearded, dirty and fifty. He owned, now, after the fire, a pickup truck and two pairs of reasonable clothes. Twenty five dollars from the appliances. And a house. And god knows how many acres of land. And potatoes. They left a potato plant alive for him to cook in a pot he found over his roaring memories.

He’s been driving roughly in a spiral for ten years. Starting in Kansas, he’s now in Oklahoma. He’ll continue north through Nevada, back through the Dakotas and land somewhere just west of Kansas. He’s hoping he finds someplace he likes. He likes this place ok, but it’s rotting from the inside out. He’d worked as a day laborer on construction sites before. This was just a big rectangular mistake. The floors were wrong, the walls were wobbly, and the foundation we’ve discussed. It was probably two hundred years old, left here by someone who either inherited the place, or bought it sight unseen. Some panicky forty something decided to Ebay some land in the middle of nowhere. Keep it for when the rains come, when the coasts flood, or when jesus comes back. The possibility of escape and the promise of new things. He’d escaped. He was an escape artist by now. A true craftsman. Little micro lives all over the midwest. He knew fifty different people in Idaho and they all knew him by three or four different names. Mort. Tex. Mike. Rich. He found a suit once and went to California just to sit and pretend to be on the phone. He talked to a group of twenty year olds at a bar, said he was a venture capitalist. Told them he couldn’t wait to invest in their ‘app’. Then he went and slept in the back of his truck.

In Chicago he told people his name was Louis, an advisor to the US Navy. He’d found a coffee table book of naval history, mostly just pictures of boats and had a few things memorized by the time he got there. It wasn’t intentional, he liked boats. Better to talk about boats than say he was a drifter.

In New York he was just a Plumber. The richer the area, the poorer the job can be. People in New York can’t believe people still do things with their hands. If you go to a bar and just say that you’re a billionaire investment banker, who cares people see ten of those a day. But say you’re a shoe maker, or you make mustard or some other dumb thing, you’re a hero. People buy you drinks if you’re interesting enough to be poor.

Life was mostly about lying, he figured, and he made the best of it. There wasn’t any shame in his mind, to lying to get what you need, as long as you leave after. So long as nobody ever knows that you’re not an investment banker, and that your name isn’t Gary, you can leave there having been Gary, and those people got to know Gary, and got to enjoy Gary, and you get to have a night off, meet new people, before excusing yourself to move on to some other place. Everybody wins. If he was just himself, and told people who he really was, who would care. Better to say that he’s a commercial deep sea diver than “I sleep in abandoned houses. In a tent. A tent in an abandoned house. Then I burn the house in the fireplace to keep warm. Like a bug in the insulation in the wall in the bug.” Better to lie and leave, then be and stay.

 

 

He took a walk in the fields every morning. Just to see if he could find the edge of the land. He couldn’t. There was a stream on the other side of the barn at the north end that might be a natural boundary, but it was small, and on the other side it just seemed like it stretched on forever. To the east and west were worn down roads, other dying and empty houses. He would walk until he wasn’t quite sure if he knew where he was. There were woods by the creek. He searched it over for treasures. Anything that he could bring into town and sell for whiskey or food or whatever else. Maybe some seeds. See if the potatoes would welcome company. Maybe some peppers. Some nice hot peppers. Something to spice up the potatoes. Something that would put some color in the back yard. Something to pull some life through the ground.

 

At the garden center, the woman who helped him pick seeds was friendly. She baptised him: “Hi, welcome to Little Garden, I’m Lisa, can I help you?” “Hi, I am Glen.” “Hi Glen.” They found pepper seeds, tomato seeds and she told him where he could find free corn. A farm up the road had failed, the family moved on, “go there and just grab some stalks to move over to your place. It’d be a shame if it went to waste.” That evening, he filled his truck with corn, squash and herbs from the garden, and a stove, table and chairs from the house. He took the wiring, some of the flooring, And a space heater from the basement. It took three trips but was home before dark. He made corn and potatoes in the same pot over some wood he’d brought back from the creek and dried. He was able to get it started with some of his old work files. Still two boxes left. He was careful and used the paper only for kindling, never for warmth, even if it meant a colder night. It would be better to burn it slowly, over time, so that each night he could look at it in the fire and watch it curl, blacken and burn. Glen. Glen. Glen until they find me. Glen until they catch me.

 

 

In the spring he brought up enough vegetables to keep himself going through a few months. Lisa helped him pick out some canning supplies. It’s pretty easy it turns out. She loaned him some books, and he brought her back some canned string beans. She made him dinner and they pretended very much that this was a good idea.

 

 

There were foundation problems, electrical problems and plumbing problems. The farm needed some work on his irrigation system. There were starting to be some problems with home stealership. He couldn’t leave now, because he had put a lot of time into his farm, but at the same time, Lisa wants to know what his last name is, and he hasn’t been able to think of one that sounds quite right. She thought it would be nice to have dinner here once in awhile, but there was simply no what that could happen, the floorboards are mostly gone and the walls are all but open. If he could sell some of these vegetables maybe he could buy some tools. He could maybe make this a decent place, or he could leave. He could just burn Glen to the fucking ground and move on. Maine. He hadn’t been to Maine yet. Probably nice. Foliage. He knew about the nice foliage in the fall, but that was months from now, and the corn is just about ready.

 

 

He set up a stand at the road. He split his vegetables into two piles, kept half and sold the other half. It didn’t pay much, but it was something, something to buy a hammer and whiskey.

 

In dozens of trips over weeks of time he’d began pulling the floorboards from the corn house to bring over to his place. He started reinstalling them into the floor with the hammer. Two different woods, but he’d been pulling up every other board to maximize the walkability, while not sacrificing any burnability, so the floor got a nice striped effect to it. Oak and cherry maybe. He didn’t know about wood, but one was reddish. Maybe red wood. He would tell people it was Cherry Red Wood if it ever came up.

 

As practice, and you can try this at home, instead of looking something up that you don’t know, you can just invent it in your mind, because nobody is going to check. So you can just say things like Cherry Red Wood and then, just like that, you’ll have invented a wood. Into your head, out of your head, into someone else’s head from your head. Like god. A whole tree created from nothing. He did it all the time, birds, trees, constellations. Why should he live in someone else’s world? He found the idea of learning these things offensive. Every morning in the tree outside were Robins, and what a tyranny he thought, that he should know that word, that he should know that they are Robins. An invasion into his own mind, bugs in the insulation, he thought and decided that he would call them Roasted Pipers. A better name and all his own and he’d try his best to think Roasted Pipers whenever he saw a robin. An invasive species in his mind. Rid the world of Robins, let the Roasted pipers chase them from a copse of Cherry Red Wood and out of his existence. What a crime, he thought, what a terrible crime.

 

-0-

 

There were only a few weeks left of the long sun, and his fields were waving with everything he’d think of. Bonanza Beans and Glen Corn’s Glen Corn. He decided his last name would be corn. It was a good way to bring people to the stand. Glen Corn’s Glen Corn. He separated all of his corn into two piles, one he said was just regular corn, the other was Glen Corn. It was all the same, but he charged double for the Glen Corn. It sold better, people said it tasted sweeter. He painted a Roasted Piper onto his sign, and told everyone he used to catch them as a kid and bake them into a pie, like that nursery rhyme, but it was better the way he told it. He used a sling shot, but after a few seasons, the Pipers banded together to stop him, only to be lured away by the scent of a baking Piper Pie. When they tasted the pie, they would line up and offer themselves to the butcher, so delicious was the pie.

 

He started selling Piper Pies after that. He tried to knock the nest from the tree with a broom, but it was late summer and they’d already abandoned the nest. So he just made little bean pies, and put the story on the tag. They sold as well as the Glen Corn. The parents would buy the pies for their kids, knowingly nod at Glen about the lack of pipers, happy to be in on the secret ingredients.

 

 

The years pushed on, he’d entirely refurbished the house with things he’d find in other abandoned houses and wormed his way into the community. When an older gentleman mentioned that he’d known the previous owners, that they had left in the middle of the night after something shameful happened with the father, a drunk, Glen felt an immediate kinship and told the old man that they were his family, that he was simply keeping an eye on the property until the father got his life back together, though things weren’t looking good. The hope was that they would be back next fall, but it was really too difficult to know for sure, but certainly Glen would be happy to let them know the old man was asking after them.

 

The electricity came back on its own. In the middle of the night every light in the house came on at once. He went room to room, hunting for light switches. He would sell the generator after he finished patching up the foundation. Then, maybe then, Lisa could move in. Maybe she could see the house and the farm. Walk through the long fields of Glen Corn, feed the chickens and walk from one end of the property to the other, feeling every step and wading into the creek to be born again.

 

 

Resignation Letters

The prompt for this week was “Resignation Letters” and I started writing a goof on the note the lion hunting dentist wrote to his patients after his office was closed, but I couldn’t get through it. I might finish it. I think it’s funny when people pretend they didn’t know something they did was wrong. If I finish I’ll post it here on a non-sunday.

But, resignation letters made me think of this. It was something I wrote for my wife when we were each bored at work. I like it a lot, and never know what to do with all the old things I’ve written.

JINX

Dear Janine,

I’m sorry about this but I’m not going to be able to make it in today. There have been some personal issues here at home that I need to attend to.

Thanks,

Amanda.

///////////////////

Amanda –

Per Protocol, you should call the office two hours prior to any absence so we can plan the day accordingly. Also, it is important to speak to myself, or Eric, on the phone before we can allow an absence. I can’t ask for specifics, but we have the teleconference with the Bateman people at noon. Please, please come in if you can, if only for an hour. We need you to present the data on the GDS research. Please call me.

Thanks,

Jannine

 

//////////////////////////

 

Janine –

I’m sorry, I won’t be able to call. And I wont be able to get into the office until after 4pm. My roommate gets back at 3pm and I can maybe head in after that. I’m really sorry about this, but Amber (roommate) and I were talking and we were both trying to think of who was in that movie “Thank You for Smoking” and it came to us at the same time and and we both shouted “AARON ECKHART!” and she said “JINX” and then I couldn’t talk and she said she wasn’t going to say my name unless I bought her a coke, but that’s crazy, she’s crazy. I’m not going to buy her a coke. She drinks all the juice I bring into this house all the time. I do the shopping, not her. So I’m not buying her something on top of all the stuff that I buy for me that she drinks anyway. AHHH, sorry, this isn’t work related and none of your concern. But I’m sorry, you can see how I’m stuck. I can’t talk.

Tell Eric the report is on my desk, it’s really straightforward the numbers haven’t changed much since last year when he did it. The Q3 numbers are slightly off because they changed their accounting practices midstream. I’ve adjusted them where I could, but they should be aware of this, and I’ve marked the alterations on the chart on page fifteen. They should be fine, Alan at Bateman is really cool about everything.

Sorry again,

Amanda

 

////////////////////////////

– I just called you on the phone and left a message on your machine saying your name, please come in, this is ridiculous.

 

////////////////////////////

 

Janine –

Can’t do it. She has to say my name. I’d love to come in, I really would, but she’s really a stickler about the rules. One time we played scrabble and I thought I was going to have to call the police. The Police, Janine.

Thanks for understanding.

////////////////////////////

Janine –

Me again – We’ve texted back and forth and Amber’s decided that she’s not going to say my name but doesn’t want me to be fired because I help with the rent. She’s going to come in and give my GDS presentation. She’s on her way now. If you go down to the lobby in a half hour or so you’ll see her. She’ll be the one with the ferret.

Phew,

Amanda

////////////////////////////

Amanda –

You’re fired.

////////////////////////////

Janine –

You’re fired! JINX!

——————

next week’s prompt: Backyard Koi

Goldfish

One day, my wife bought a painting at a thrift store, it’s a fish. It’s a fish underwater. It’s really a good painting. I like it. It’s a goldfish. It’s the idea of a goldfish, it’s blurry like you were underwater with the fish. It’s hard to make it out, but the second you look at it, you know it’s a goldfish, and it looks straight out at you. So by extension – if you follow the painting – you are a goldfish. You’re two goldfish looking at each other. That’s the idea of the painting, that’s how I took it anyway. I don’t see how you could look at it any other way. She just says it’s pretty. That it doesn’t mean anything.

Anyway, we came home and hung it on the empty wall across from the entryway. It’s hung so that the second you walk into the house, you see this blurry fish staring at you. I like the painting as a painting. I want to make sure that’s understood because when we argue about it, I think she thinks that I’m making fun of the painting, but I’m not. I just think it’s weird to walk in and suddenly be confronted by this fish. So I’ll come home and go, “oh my god, a piranha” and sometimes I’ll jump on the couch, or run back out the front door, or if she’s in the room, I’ll go “Look out!” It’s not passive aggressive. Maybe it’s a little passive aggressive, but the kids think it’s hysterical. She’s a little tired of my whole routine in general, I think, she won’t say so but I know so.

She knows I like the painting, but she knows that I know that she knows that I have some issues with the fish and might be aware that I’m not full on joking. It’s just weird to me sometimes. I think if we hung it somewhere else, it’d be fine. I think I’d be fine with it then if it – even if we put it in the kitchen, you know, so that when we’re eating food we could at least pretend this dumb fish is staring at us because it wants what we have to eat. That’s fun. That’s a fun fish game. That’s not a trap. Nobody is imprisoned in a small bowl in that scenario.

I don’t know, it’s blurry.

If you were seeing the fish clearly then it’s just you looking at a fish in its tank, but it’s blurry so you’re also underwater. There’s just no way of getting around that. But maybe you don’t have to be in the fishbowl? Like in a lake or something. A sunny day in a lake, maybe. But there’s. No. It can’t be. And even if it were!

Look, if you were swimming in a lake and you came face to face with a goldfish that big you’d get out of the lake. Your fun sunny day would be ruined. You’d be terrified. It’d be the same size as you – based on the perspective of this painting. It’d be a human sized goldfish. AHHH RUN! I don’t know what goldfish eat, but a thing that big can eat whatever it wants. I’m sure it could take your head clean off, your whole head would fit in its mouth easy. Easy. Also goldfish don’t live in lakes. They’re exclusively a bowled creature at this point. She won’t move the painting, is my point. That’s my point.

It’s imposing. You walk in and it’s like a threat. If you look at it like, you’re a person under the water, there’s the fear of being eaten – that’s almost fine. Not fine, but I like that better, it’s more natural and over quicker. If you’re also a fish, there’s this immediate idea of being trapped with this other fish. You’re a stupid little fish in a stupid little bowl and that’s your dumb life, and just that’s it. I know all this might sound nuts, but I think it’s important that I be completely open and honest about the many layers on which I have come to hate this painting.

It just creates more questions than answers. Five bucks at a thrift store. Why did it speak to her so much? Which fish is she, and in which scenario? Is she drowning? Is she trapped in this glass bowl? Am I a terrifying murky figure? Does she think she’s trapped? Is it about the kids? They seem fine! I don’t know what the hell it is. And every day I came home and the first thing is this painting and “Welcome to the Fishbowl.” I’ve asked her what she thought it meant, and she just says it’s pretty. She likes the colors. And again, she’s not wrong, it’s pretty as hell. But what the hell could it be in her head that makes a thing like that important enough to hang where she hung it, and also, after I voice my concerns about the layers of meaning and it being right in front of the door – why not just move it for my sake? Right? Why not just go, “ok he’s having a weird reaction to this, lets hang it in the bathroom” or literally anywhere else. I would glue it to the ceiling, I’d have stapled it to the hood of my car. Anywhere but there. But she just says I’m being weird. And she’s right. But can we move it somewhere where I know how to handle it? Christ. This fucking fish. It’s killing me.

And she’s right, it doesn’t look like a piranha. And I don’t thinks she’s a piranha. But sometimes it looks like a piranha. Do you know about piranha? Do you know why they’re so scary? It’s because they live in a place where there’s a very rainy season and then there’s a dry season. Extremes. So during the rainy season, you could poke a piranha in the eye and it wouldn’t do a thing. But then it gets dry, and there’s still a lot of piranha, and the river dries up and creates pools of piranha, cut off from any of their normal rainy season food sources, so you have these puddles of starving piranha. And if some poor creature steps in the pool, it’ll lose it’s leg. Frenzy. They have a feeding frenzy. Just the smallest morsel to work over and they go mad. You can’t blame them, but they just swarm and spin whatever is in the water until it’s gone. Just a churning nightmare, until eventually it all dries up and they die anyway. All that frenzy for nothing. But, A for effort, piranha.

I just don’t want it by the door. That’s all. Just — lets move it. Or get rid of it. I don’t even like art. I’ve been to museums. I’ve never once had any reaction to any painting in my life. I am completely dead inside when it comes to paintings. Fuck paintings. Maybe I hate fish? I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I’m this close to burning the house down. I just think she’s trying to say something with it and then the more I ask, the less she says and the more she just insists that it’s just pretty. It’s moderately pretty. It’s got some color to it but who cares.

She got mad because I went online and got a bunch of posters. Like the kind you’d hang in your dorm room. I told her they were important to me, I hung them in our bedroom. I wanted to buy ten or fifteen of them and put them all over everything, but that’d be too much. She wants to be subtle and not say anything? I can do that too. I got three. One is a magic eye poster, one of those ones where you have to cross your eyes to see the secret image. Get it? The secret image is a horse. I can’t actually see it, I never learned how to do those things. But the thing on the internet said it was a horse. It’s up on two legs. So it’s freaking out and it’s hard to see. You see what I’m saying? I’ll put layers on layers on layers too, if she’s so smart.

I got two others that were just big open fields, covered in wildflowers. Two on each side of the room and then the secret horse is on the wall at the foot of the bed. Open space. Lots of open space, and then secret message horse. Free. First thing you see in the morning. Galloping. Nobody on his back. Just out there doing horse stuff. If you connected all the paintings it’s like he’s covering ground, you know. he’s marching through the meadow and in the middle he realizes just how free he is, and how much of a horse and he just goes up like “Yeaaaaah!” That’s what that horse is all about, to me anyway, I’m new to art.

Anyway she hates it. But I won’t move it. She can’t see the horse, but I told her that it was a horse in there, even though I can’t see it either. Neither of us can see the horse, and if you can’t see the horse it’s less of a fun trick poster, and just kind of a digital fuzz that’s actually kind of hard to look at. I don’t blame her for hating it, but it’s not about the painting, right? It’s about the message buried in the painting. That’s what art is, which I’ve only just recently realized. That dumb fish taught me to appreciate art, and then to hate it again almost right away.

“It’s just pretty. These posters aren’t pretty. I don’t know what’s going on, what’s this all about. I love you!” She says. Exactly! Now who’s playing games!? That’s just what I’ve been talking about. Though, I do know she’s got other stuff going on that I can’t really talk about. Private stuff. And scary. Scary and private stuff. And I don’t disagree, the posters are a mess. It was hot last week and they curled on the corners and got ripples in the middle. The fish is fine, it’s on canvas in a frame. The posters are just kinda plastic and the tape comes off the back real easy.

By the time she took them down, I didn’t even care anymore. She came home one night and I was just upset and staring at the damn fish. Sad more than angry. It’s hard to be this worked up about something and not even know where she’s at with it. With anything. She won’t even allow that I might be right about the fish. She got upset that I was upset and kept saying I’m making this into something it’s not. And I’m not! Who has the time? I’m still trying to come up with something that will trick her into telling me what the fish is about and what I’m supposed to do about the fish. It’s clearly some kind of message to me about me, and about who I am to her and what it all means. I think that’s clear. I don’t have extra time to create some elaborate new problem. I’ve had my hands tied with the fish problem. One thing at a time. That’s what the posters were for. I feel like that was a pretty obvious effort that I’m not getting credit for.

For a while, I got convinced that she painted it. Or had it commissioned and hid it in the thrift store and was just like “oh, isn’t this pretty..” like a trick. I’m not certain of that, I’m not ruling it out, but I think it’s probably unlikely at this point. I don’t think she knows how to paint. Unless she does! How can I know something like that? Maybe she’s great at painting, who knows what she’s got locked up in that head of hers. I checked her clothes for paint spots the last time I did laundry. I checked the accounts to see if there were any checks written that I couldn’t account for. But there wasn’t. Unless she has a secret checking account or paid cash. Maybe she squirreled cash away for a while to pay a painter in cash. How should I know, she’s the painter. What is it? What’s it cost? What’s this all cost?

Next Sunday: Resignation Letters

Walking Softly

If there’s anything I know about, it’s being careful. I don’t like the idea that anything could happen by accident. I like a schedule. I like clocks. I like a list. I like to bake. I like method and precision and avoiding anything that would disrupt this, like other people, animals, I don’t own anything fragile. I don’t like to own things that might break, or will be difficult to reacquire if I misplace it, though I don’t misplace things. Everything has a place, and I will put it there. I am careful of who I speak to and why. I don’t wear shoes in the house. I have house shoes. I don’t sleep with socks on so my feet can breathe. I saw a documentary about gangrene that set me straight about feet.

I am constantly aware of other peoples need to speak to other people and having a finite number of things to say to other people, and when they reach their limit, they will tell other people what you told them, even though you don’t know how they’re going to phrase it, how you’re going to be represented in your absence. So it’s best to not speak to anyone at all, not only to keep my own life my own, but to be the only one so reasonable as to not steal from everyone else. I don’t take any medicines. If you go to the doctor and ask for medicine your name gets put on a list, and then the police see the list if anything ever happens. Even if you’re not involved even if something just near you happens, they’ll ask about that list. It’ll say you’re on drugs and then they throw you in some dark hole. No thanks.

I live alone and quietly. I keep the radio down. I don’t have any hobbies that make noise, or require me to make nose. No musical instruments, no singing, no dancing, no sports, no outdoors, no calling attention to myself, it’d only get in my chest and break me apart. I collected stamps until I heard some of the glue was poison, I put that into the fireplace, burned it, reconsidered my fireplace and bricked it over. I washed my hands a lot and wore a breathing mask. There are things in bricks that will give you cancer. I covered my house in plastic sheeting while I did it and left it up for weeks to catch the particulate when I wasn’t around with the vacuum, sealed in a medical-grade containment suit.

I keep the windows closed during rush hour, open in the summer and closed in the winter. I live in a very reasonably priced apartment, I don’t sit near the door in case anyone suddenly opens it. Technically that’s a break-in, I guess. If it were a break-in, I’d probably just jump out the window. I don’t own a gun. I’m not going to just sit there and be murdered.

I own a computer, but I try not to use it. I don’t bring liquid of any kind into the room where I keep it which I’ve dubbed “The Computer Room.” I also, as general practice, I don’t leave glasses on the counter, half full of liquid near anything. I’m careful about liquid. I know a lot about stains.

I speak to my landlord as little as possible and my neighbors even less. I’m considering moving to the woods or the desert, I wonder about why I don’t live there already, and it’s mostly to do with ordering in.

Ordering food in is expensive, though I am particular about saving. I invest. I am risk averse. I get 30 minutes of exercise a day and intend to save enough money to last me until I am 120 years old, not that I will, but I could, it’s been done. I do yoga, I stretch. I drink bright purple juices and eat dark leafy greens. I order them in, so it’s pricey, but your money has to go somewhere. Mine goes to food. Reasonable. Macrobiotic when I can get it, in pill form when I can’t. I weigh 154 pounds. Which is heavy for me, but better than I was, I was spraying my meals with this vita-powder and it made me hate eating. I got too thin. I could squeeze through my front door while it was still chained so I politely asked my landlord for a new lock but he didn’t respond so I bought three. I checked the lease. I mailed him copies of the keys and didn’t lick the stamp. I put a nice letter in the envelope about what a nice place it is to live, and how happy I am to live here. I hope he believes me so he doesn’t kick me out but doesn’t tell anyone I said so so I don’t seem weird – but there are always risks, you walk softly when you have to walk at all and hope for the best.

Food is tricky, though. I try not to cook because the stove has a spot of rust and the vent rattles when it’s on. It’s broken. The landlord said it still works. But broken is broken, broken is a degree of not working, I can see it still works but it rattles so it’s broken. Rattling is step one of a larger problem that will lead to total failure and eventually that thing is going to snap off and send a blade flying into my head or bring the vent through the ceiling and down on top of my rusted cooking surface destroying my kitchen and whatever I’m cooking. So I don’t use it and the heat from the cooking just collects and the steam, the smoke, the smell of whatever I’m making collects and you’ll get cancer if you stand that misty whatever like that so I try not to go in there because of the chicken or vegetable fumes. Whatever I’d cook fumes. Mostly white meat and vegetables. Maybe a tofu. Press that down for a week or two though, I don’t trust that tofu water.

But those vents. Criminal. I have a carbon monoxide detector in every room of the house. I test them three times a week, along with the smoke detectors. I do not smoke. Of course I do not smoke. I go to the deli when I check the mail. I check the mail a lot. Just in case. I order in from a deli that makes what I consider to be the best possible salad a person could make, all major food groups covered in practical portions, and they do not require you to speak to them on the phone or in person. You can just sort of point, which is so, so great. If they talk to me I pretend I have to cough and cover my mouth with a handkerchief, even though I wear gloves. I’m wearing gloves right now.  I am considering buying plastic sheeting for the door handles. I heard that the metal in door handles is antimicrobic or antibiotic or something. Germs hate stainless steel for some reason, they touch it and break apart. I looked into getting more stainless steel surfaces, tables, chairs, anything that will kill by existing. I am in a near-constant state of fear. I could call it minimalism, sleep on an operating table, or standing up in steel tube like an iron maiden. Something to contain me, keep things out, let me breathe for once and hear it echo around me, vibrate the metal with the harmonics and feel warm, safe and alive.

——-

Next Week’s Prompt: Resignation Letters

Applejack

How to Make Applejack

Applejack is a concentrated cider. It’s the ultimate event in making alcohol from apples. First it’s a cider, but if you want to lay it out, end to end: you take a seed, you plant it in your backyard if you have a back yard, if you just bought a back yard and you don’t know what else to do with it. Because it seemed like a nice thing to do on a Sunday. Just to see what would happen. Just to see if you could grow a thing from the earth and have it give off food, which, having grown up in the center of a very concrete and pavement city still astonishes you, and somehow it works. The deer that occasionally pop up in your yard from time to time and eat your wife’s vegetable garden every year – for whatever reason, they leave the sprout of that tree alone, the sapling, all the way up to when you can stand under it and after five years, five years later it suddenly happens, a goddamn apple. It’s a small apple. It’s a young tree and you haven’t so much as watered it. But there it is just the same a little ball of life.

You get too many, though, after a while. It sheds apples. You give them to strangers. She makes pies, you make juice. You buy a juicer but still there’s more and more and you can’t keep up with it. So you pulp them, make apple sauce, make jellies and try to sell them. You are now the kind of person who is making artisanal jellies and sauces and anything you can do to get rid of the apples, but it’s just relentless. It only grows bigger and gives off more apples desperate to make more trees to make more apples but you can’t have that happen and how have we ever had enough time to cut down all the trees to make houses to make roads we should clearly be losing this battle. It seems like we will, in time. It’s just something that will happen. But it doesn’t.

I got lost for a while. I decide to make cider. I find out online that if you put sugar in the cider it’ll turn into booze. Free apples. Free cider. Free booze. Why not and before you know it the basement is full of buckets. Little incubators for bad decisions. There’s still too much to give away and suddenly I sell artisanal hard cider even though it’s against the law and I’m drinking deeply into the profits. But who cares, the apples keep coming they’re impossible to ignore and the tree is twenty feet tall and looming over the house and it’s all you ever talk about but nothing happens and then here it comes it’s falling.

The tree got hit by lightning, split and fell into the house. It didn’t look dead, but it had to be, how could it live through something like that. The house only caught on fire a little bit. The roof went up in a few patches. I was sleeping in the back room when it happened. A crash and I woke and a burning branch through the roof. She ran in from the other room and found me, thought I was dead or delirious, thought I got hit by a timber, set on fire or run through with shock, but she stumbled over the glasses by the bedside and retreated again to call the fire department.

I gave some to the firemen after it went out, after they hacked up the half of the tree that fell and chipped it all up into splinters and left it in a pile in the yard. One of the firefighters told me to be careful and told me about his grandfather, he’d gone blind from making homemade applejack. Got a bad batch somehow. There’s a bacteria in the fermentation that will take your eyes. People think it’s their fault, from drinking too much but it’s just bad luck. It could happen to anybody but probably not you. You know? Not to me personally, but I can see how it could happen to someone. How a little something like that could ruin you.

He came over to help me move and we went over the process, the firefighter. You take the cider and you freeze it. You transfer the cider into two liter bottles and fill the freezer. Buy a second freezer. Fill that. Get them as cold as possible. You want to freeze the water. You want to separate the water from the alcohol. It’s a process called called “Fragmenting” like you’re splintering chipping splitting. The goal is to suck the purity out of the mixture, freeze it, keep it frozen and throw it away with the bottle, then you’re left with with absolutely nothing but a glass jar of poison that will have just the hint of the thing that it was and with any luck leave you absolutely blind under half a dead tree.

 Next Week’s Prompt: Walking Lightly

Prompt for 1/19/14

Hello.

Short Sunday returns this Sunday after a short hiatus.

Prompt: Applejack. 

Dock

It feels important to be by the dock because it still has all the markings and the wear and the aura of an important place. The bolts, the cuts, the gouges and drag marks across the planks. Giant, impossible things carried other civilizations here, to this place that can just as quickly turn into nowhere.

 

It doesn’t matter from where, from which other place, but you can feel the effort that went into it and how hard it was for people to do that.

 

It feels important to be by the dock because the ocean is one of those things you can’t keep in your head. A person is too little to contain it, too weak to even consider it. Best not to think about it at all, let alone think about anything else. Standing close to it is enough to let it go.  

 

Stand there when it’s cold. The people around that you’d never speak to wonder why you’re there, staring out, and they’ll guess closely enough that you’ll never have to turn around to tell them.

The Egret Murders

An egret is a tall, thin bird with beautifully stark white feathers It has a long, elegant neck that curves like an S from its chest out to its short sharp beak. That S neck is like a snake. The egret wades in shallow water, tall, stiff as can be, it can dart its neck into the water like a thing set on a trigger. They are nervous birds, afraid to move and afraid of movement. They’re beautiful and precise and soft to the touch. If you’re slow and careful you can get close but it takes a while, it takes practice. They live behind my house, make horrible noise and I hate them.

I meet Rich for coffee on Saturdays. He’s in his fifties, wears a fedora with a floral print band and today he is wearing a purple t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He gets a coffee and three bagels and eats them loudly, staring straight ahead. Rich has three books with him usually and I’ve never seen any evidence that he can read but he carries three books with him at all times. They rotate out, so it seems like he’s reading quite a lot, but I’ve never seen him read, he never references the books later, he never suggests that I should read one book over another, that something was good or bad, asks me if I’ve read any good books lately, or mentions that X movie wasn’t as good as the book version. He just eats and stares straight ahead and then I sit down across from him and we talk until I’ve had enough coffee.

He has a rose tattoo on his left bicep, both are large. He’s a strong man. He says he was in the Navy but I have no way of knowing that. He’s about 50 and that doesn’t line up with any of the wars we’ve been in. Too young for Vietnam, too old for the middle east. He never references any wars, or any boats, the water, fish, or any real thought about maritime life. Only “I was in the Navy!” As a way to add validity to something he’d been yelling about. He talks through his food, he eats quickly and loudly and doesn’t stop talking. It’s possible he only talks to me, on Saturdays and then no one else at all ever. I’ve never seen him talk to anyone else. Even the waitress just knows what he eats and brings it to his table, she moves like a delicate, frightened thing, tries to stay out of his line of sight and just sort of stabs the plate onto the table before he turns around. He likes dogs. He will get distracted when they walk by the coffee shop window, but who doesn’t like dogs?

—-

“I can’t believe all this weather we’re having!” He says it through a bagel, and gestures out to the sunny afternoon light. I don’t know what he means, we always have weather. There is only ever weather, there isn’t more or less weather, or some and all. I have a hard time with talking. I just listen and get confused and then go home and look at the birds and think about poisoning them. I think people are supposed to have more constructive diversions than that, but I can’t think of something I’d rather do. Maybe I should get something to stare at, like a TV to make me normal or a house plant to generate self loathing or a cat to do both. Something. I should get something to worry over instead of finding out what Egrets are allergic to and feeding them that thing.

“Fucking weather like this all the time, right?” I don’t know. “You think they’d do something about all the things they’re doing and then we’d really be fucked, you know?” I don’t know. “And then, I mean, I just can’t fucking believe it sometimes. It’s like nobody sees it but us!” Him. “And we’re just supposed to sit here and take it and take it and take it!” He’s yelling. He winds up yelling every saturday. He slams his big fist down on his books and the waitress tells him to calm down. We played checkers once but he slammed his fist on the board and sent the pieces scattering and he laughed like he was being tickled, uncontrollably, in fits, doubled over.

He wears sandals, the backless kind and flops around in them slowly. He moves slow and deliberate, hunched over forward holding his books almost behind him for counter weight. I don’t know where he lives. He’s impossibly clean, so I don’t think he lives outside. He has money. I will never know. I make it a point to never know. When we are done, I’ve had three cups of coffee and he’s had five. I’ve said eleven words, all included in some variation of “I know what you mean”, all used for lying. He’s talked constantly but has said nothing at all.

Our relationship started because he sat down across from me and ate at me. That’s all. He just started it. We’re friends. He’s grotesque. His nose is most of his face. He’s covered over in scars and knots and bumps like he was a boxer, his ears are different sizes and one has a chunk out of it like a stray dog. His teeth are perfect white and it hurts my head to think about. How could you sustain that much damage to your face and not put one tooth out of place. I thought at first they were dentures, but you should see him power through bagels. His eyebrows are offset like he’s constantly skeptical, but one is just in the wrong place, thicker than the other, and shoots up at an angle. He’s a horrible miracle. In all the possible configurations of our genetics, at some point someone had to look like this, it just wound up being him. At least he had enough good fortune to be crazy. If he were sane it’d be harder for him to look that way.

“How did you get those scars?” I asked him, on the way home.

“Fucking criminals, man, Jesus Christ himself. Criminals or christmas, right? You know. Come on!” Angry again. We’re walking past a bus stop as the bus pulls up and Rich gets on without saying anything to me. The doors close and he’s gone until next Saturday. Incredible. I stare at him not looking at me as he walks through the bus yelling, and then I stare at the back of the Rich container as it takes him to wherever will be Rich’s new environment.

Rich is my fish tank.

———-