For those who didn’t see it on my Facebook or Twitter feeds, my new story, “Orville’s Song,” has been published on Burlesque Press’s online journal, The Variety Show. Read it here for free. And please like, share, forward, etc.
PAGE ONE (6 panels)
Panel 1. ANew Orleanscity street. Nighttime, rainy and overcast. In the intermittent glare of streetlights, we see the shadowed bulks of cars resting against the curb.
New Orleans, sometime afterward.
Panel 2. Same view. Headlights now stab into the scene from left of panel.
Panel 3. An extended-cab truck has shot in from left of panel, splashing water in all directions. In the mist behind it, we see a vaguely-defined humanoid figure, its arms outstretched toward the truck.
Panel 4. Overhead angle on the truck as it skids around a corner, its back end crashing into a parked car.
Panel 5. Medium shot through the rainswept windshield. The driver is male. He looks to be in his early forties and handsome. His shirt is torn at the shoulder, his face dirty. A deep scar runs from his forehead, over his left eye, and down his cheekbone, though the eye itself is intact. He is THERON MCCOY.
You wanna get rough, huh?
All right, baby. I got somethin’ for ya.
Panel 6. Close-up of his hands. In one, he holds a pipe bomb with a short fuse, a lit cigarette lighter in the other. We can see that he’s steering with one knee.
PAGE TWO (5 panels)
Panel 1. Shot from the front of the truck, which is still throwing water off its tires; Theron is visible through the windshield. His left arm hangs out the window; the pipe bomb hangs in the air, arcing backward. We can see the vaguely-humanoid figure in the background.
Panel 2. The street explodes.
Panel 3: Extreme close-up of Theron’s rearview mirror. We can see his eye to left of panel. The bulk of the mirror shows the cloud from the explosion; the humanoid figure is running through it, seemingly unscathed, though we can really only see the silhouette. We can tell the figure is large.
Panel 4: Overhead long shot showing the path of the truck flying across a six-lane intersection and onto a one-lane street. The figure still pursues, but it’s pretty far behind.
Panel 5: The truck skids to a stop in front of a several-feet-high pile of twisted metal that used to be eight or ten cars. They’ve been smashed together as if in one violent wreck covering the one-lane street from sidewalk to sidewalk.
PAGE 3 (5 panels)
Panel 1. Interior shot of the truck. Theron is stuffing a flashlight into one of two black duffel bags. His head is craned around, looking back the way he came.
Panel 2. Theron scrambles up the pile of metal, the two bags slung over his shoulders.
Shit, shit, shit.
Panel 3. He falls leaps to the ground on the other side of the metal pile.
Panel 4. He lies flat on the ground, his hands over his head. Sounds emanate from the other side of the pile.
Panel 5. Theron has shouldered the bags again. Now he’s slipping away from the pile, looking back at it over his shoulder.
So much for that truck.
PAGE FOUR (5 panels)
Panel 1. Carrying the bags, Theron slinks through a deserted street. We see empty cars parked along the curb. Lights are on in a couple of storefronts in the background. The rest have been smashed in. This is supposed to be the French Quarter, so if you need some images of the architecture, let me know.
Panel 2. On another street, he picks his way around dead bodies lying on the sidewalk. We see more damage to the buildings.
Panel 3. He slips into a darkened alley and is almost lost from view.
Panel 4. In the alley, he has stopped beside a nondescript door. He raps on it.
Knock Knock Knock
Who else would it be?
Panel 5. We’re inside the building. A fiftyish, heavyset African-American man has opened the door for Theron; one arm is still extended with his hand on the door, as if he’s pulling it shut. This is LEO PAUL. Theron has walked past him.
The Bartlett Hotel, the French Quarter
Did you run into any trouble?
Nothin’ we don’t see every day.
January 5th, 2004
The night after LSU won the National Championship, he was still partying in the Quarter on Royal Street. He had come from a bar on Bourbon—sometimes it seemed that all the bars were on Bourbon, though of course that wasn’t true—and was trying to find his way back to Dauphine, where Melanie was supposed to be taking photos for her article. He was drunk and had to piss, the nine Miller Lights in his belly trying hard to dribble down his leg. He needed a bathroom, an alley, anything. But there on Royal, he saw nothing but shops, all of them now closed. He spat
and turned around, and that was when the fist came out of nowhere and caught him between the eyes. A bolt of pain shot through his head, white light exploding behind his eyelids, and he sprawled on his back, legs in the air. He turned his head and vomited, his eyes still closed against the pain. Someone above him said
and then a hand jabbed into his front pants pocket, ripping out his keys. He heard them jingle as they landed in the gutter. Someone grabbed him by the shirt and yanked him upward and over, then pushed him down on his face. His nose cracked on the concrete, the pain like an electrical fire in his face, and he passed out. When he awoke, only seconds later, someone was cursing and shouting
Yeah I got the wallet, but the motherfucker pissed on me
and he realized that they were talking about him, the warmth spreading outward from his crotch. Someone kicked him in the ribs and he moaned, turning over just enough to see shoes, scuffed white Nikes with worn soles, the swoosh on the left one flapping back and forth like a flap of torn skin. He wondered if Royal Street was empty save for him and his attackers, or if someone might be watching, snapping pictures perhaps, possibly shooting the footage on cell phone. Perhaps tomorrow he would see his own mugging on the Internet. Somewhere a few blocks over Melanie was snapping photos of dimly-lit architecture, unaware that piss was pooling underneath his thigh and that his own blood was running down his throat like sips of fetid water.
January 4th, 2004
She opened her mailbox and found the latest letter from Sweepstakes forAmerica, promising that she really, really, really, really had made it to the final rounds for the Grand Prize of fifteen million dollars. The raised, bold print on the envelope impressed her with a promise that she could feel under the pads of her fingers as she carried the mail upstairs to her three-room apartment. The calligraphy marked this letter as different from the light bill, the Victoria’s Secret bill, the advertisement for the nearby body shop’s oil change and lube for only $59.95, extra for some import models. She opened her door and went inside, shivering, the apartment nearly as cold as the weather outside. She dropped the mail on her couch and ran to the thermostat. The temperature was set at seventy degrees, yet she could see her exhalations. She stood on her tiptoes and stretched her hand up to the vent, hoping to feel warm air. She felt nothing.
She turned back to the couch, eyeing the pile of mail. She could see perhaps two inches of the light bill, peeking from under the Sweepstakes letter. She stared at it for perhaps a full minute before walking over to the couch and sitting down beside the mail, her weight causing the pile to shift. The envelopes slid toward her. She felt the Sweepstakes letter poke her thigh. The light bill was now fully visible, the envelope plain white, the postmark nondescript, the print on the envelope plain and unimportant.
Here’s a short story I wrote some years back. It’s unpublished, previously unseen anywhere, so call it a blog exclusive. A bit humorous, a bit satirical, lots of fun to write…comments welcome, except from trolls.
Nude Sucking Ink
He was painting a nude woman performing fellatio on a blue Pilot Bettergrip pen when his agent Curly called. Curly, a mousy man with an anemic pencil mustache, said
Hi, Hamlet. Good news. The gallery agreed. You have a show.
Hamlet dropped his brush and sat in the nearest chair. The model relaxed, throwing on a button-down white shirt and twirling the pen between her fingers. He looked at the painting, admiring his own work, his bold new style. On this canvas, what might be interpreted as a thin penis was capped, possibly, by a pair of full lips. This image lay at the center of the painting. Dozens of tightly woven lines—spirals, straights, diagonals—emanated from the central figure to the canvas borders. Hamlet said
Don’t jerk me around today, Curly. I’m trying to finish Nude Sucking Ink, and I’m almost there
and Curly said
I’m not kidding. The Kane House in downtownLittle Rock. They’ve agreed to give you the whole second floor
and Hamlet frowned, saying
Little Rock. I live in Parkview and drive a Volkswagen Beetle. How am I supposed to get all my paintings toLittle Rock?
Curly snorted and said
I’ll send a van. Jesus, man, is that all you have to say? I tell you you’ve got a show in the Kane House, best gallery in the state, and all you do is bitch because I didn’t bring the buyers and critics to your place
and Hamlet, only half listening, looked at the model and said
Take off that shirt.
She stuck the pen in her mouth and slipped out of the shirt. Hamlet felt his erection rising, just as he liked it when he was painting. He said to Curly
Look, it’s fantastic news. I’ve just had a cruddy day and I want to finish this. When’s the show?
and Curly said
Next week. Call me when you finish that one and then don’t start on any more till after the big day. You need to save all your energy for schmoozing.
Hamlet hung up. He picked up his brush and turned to the model. Her breasts hung down, pendulous, heavy. He took a deep breath and went back to work.
* * *
One week later, Hamlet stood in the Kane House, surrounded by his paintings and several people he had already come to loathe. Each of the paintings exhibited his new style—a fuzzy image surrounded by tight lines. He called the technique Abstract Soft Focus. The work seemed to interest the browsers, though each of them seemed to have been bred especially to bug Hamlet and assault his sensibilities.
Curly stood next to Hamlet in front of Nude Sucking Ink. Bob Kane, the gallery owner, stood next to them holding a half-empty glass of red wine. Kane clapped Hamlet on the back and said
We’ve sold five already, Ham
to which Hamlet replied
I hate being called Ham.
Curly grunted and shuffled in between them, saying
Sorry, Bob, like most artists he has the social skills of a tree sloth. We’ve sold five so far, Hamlet. Lots of money here tonight
and Hamlet said
It isn’t the money
and Curly said
Of course it isn’t. By the way. If you only wanted to paint lips, why did you request a nude model?
and Hamlet said
Because I like looking at naked women.
Kane laughed, cleared his throat, and moved on, mixing with his guests and grabbing another glass of wine from a passing waiter. Curly shook his head, frowning. A young man with blonde hair and a horrible bright pink ascot strolled up. He sipped a martini and considered Nude Sucking Ink, stroking his goatee every few seconds. Finally he said
What lovely energy. A wonderful commentary on the proliferation of sex in the media
and Hamlet said
Actually, the sexual image is meant to represent all primal urges that both feed and are in turn fed by language, hence the pen
and the young man laughed and said
An interesting interpretation
to which Hamlet replied
The true interpretation. I’m the artist.
But the young man only laughed again, as if such an idea had never occurred to him and in fact now seemed absurd since someone had mentioned it. He said
It matters little. Your interpretation is still only one of many. You aren’t God, and even His creations have more than one possible meaning. But since we’re talking about your work and what you think it means, let me ask you this: why the speed lines?
and Hamlet said
They aren’t speed lines. Their elusiveness represents my denial of all form. It shows my individual vision
but the young man said
Ah, but denial of form is also a form. While you use this method, many others have also denied form, meaning that no form is still form, a school in fact. The only true way to deny form is not to paint, and millions of people do that. It’s so cliché
to which Hamlet replied
You’re an asshole
and the young man walked away. Curly cringed and said
Very nice, Hamlet. You’re alienating the buyers
but Hamlet said
I don’t give a damn if they buy. I’m here to make a statement
and Curly said
Me too. A bank statement. A financial statement. But I don’t get any percentage if you don’t sell. So, as a personal favor to me, try to keep your righteous indignation under control long enough to make some fucking money
and he walked away, mumbling. Hamlet shrugged. He decided to stand in a corner, away from the idiots on the floor. Some sort of crappy music was playing over the PA, possibly Michael Bolton. He hated Michael Bolton.
Curly was running back and forth between guests, alternately fawning over them and the paintings. He would run to someone, throw an arm around him or her, gesture at one painting or another, run to another guest. At a distance it looked like a mating ritual. Hamlet wondered what a zoologist would make of Curly’s particular species. He was saying
Now over here is a really interesting piece
sounding, to Hamlet, like used car salesman. Come on down to Crazy Ham’s. Everything must go. A tall man with a comically large cowboy hat strolled over to Hamlet and leaned against the wall. Hamlet said
Say, aren’t you Toby Keith?
The man laughed and said
No, he’s got more hair and better looks. Me, I own some hotels downtown
and Hamlet thought
I hope you’re an art lover, mister
but the man said
No, but I get a lot of the artsy crowd. They bitch about the paintins in the rooms, so I cruise these shows looking for somethin good but cheap.
Hamlet puffed out his chest and sneered, saying
I assure you that this artist would never, in any number of lifetimes, allow any of his pieces to hang in a hotel room
saying the words as if they were a curse that hurt his mouth, and the man said
Yeah I heard he was one of those really snooty types. But it ain’t like I’m ask his permission, you know?
and Hamlet said
He called Curly over, took him by the elbow, and pointed to the cowboy, saying too loudly
Have security throw that shitkicker in the Stetson out on his redneck ass
and Curly walked away, muttering.
Hamlet pulled up a metal folding chair. He sat down in front of Nude Sucking Ink and rubbed his temples. A monstrous headache was forming behind his left eye. The show was not going well at all. The pieces were selling, but no one was getting him. No one appreciated his artistry.
A fat woman with enormous breasts oozed over and asked him how much time it took to paint a picture. He said
so she said
and he spat
Models, funds, inspiration, the availability of liquor, take your pick.
She considered this a moment before asking
Do you sleep with your models?
to which Hamlet replied
You are one tasteless woman.
She laughed and said
That’s a terrible thing to say to someone interested in your art. Tell me, hotshot, why is your style so—what’s the word I’m looking for—goofy?
Grinding his teeth, Hamlet turned to her and said
Lady, my style is bold, rebellious, but never, ever goofy.
The woman let Hamlet stew for a few seconds, just long enough for him to think she was going to leave him alone, and then she said
I don’t understand rebellion. How do you consider yourself rebellious?
and Hamlet groaned and said
Look, both my parents are English professors who named me Hamlet, for Christ’s sake. The very existence of visual art from my hand is rebellion.
The woman thought about this for a moment before saying
Still looks goofy to me
and walking away. Hamlet stared at her, open-mouthed, and then yelled
I hope your fucking thighs get a rash!
as Curly made shushing gestures from across the room.
Goofy, rebellious, traditional, energetic, chaotic—Hamlet had heard them all, had said a few of them himself, expected to hear more. And as bad as the evening had been, he was grateful that he had, at least, not heard the one adjective that he would not abide—derivative. He could not bear that word, not even when applied to someone else. It was the ultimate curse for artists. It tasted dirty, sounded obscene. He dwelled so much on the term that he had almost forgotten the fat woman when he heard the young man in the ascot say
So I said to him, Steven, you made a zillion dollars with the first movie. And you don’t have any of your original cast for the sequel. So won’t a sequel utilizing the same concept seem, well, derivative?
Hamlet stood, slowly. A shudder ran through his body. He took the chair by its legs, its metal cold in his hands, raised it above his head, and then brought it down seat first on the young man’s skull. The young man fell into the fat woman, grabbing at her as he collapsed, ripping a strap from her dress and exposing one massive breast. She staggered backward and bumped into the cowboy, who spilled his drink all over a painting. The show collapsed all around him, but Hamlet did not notice. He was looking serenely at the lines of Nude Sucking Ink, thinking of wind-made ripples on the still surface of a pond.
January 3, 2004
This morning I got up early and ate a bowl of Total, not realizing how lucky I was to have made such a decision without the benefit of foresight or research. Not ten minutes after finishing the last bite and drinking down the milk—a habit I’ve kept from childhood—I saw this commercial on TV about how many bowls of other cereal would equal the nutritional benefits of one bowl of Total. I’d have to consume three bowls of Grape-Nuts and more All Bran than you’d ever want to eat in your life.
Realizing how much time, effort, stomach cramps, and bowel movements the makers of Total had saved me, I decided to phone the home office and thank them. I called their 1-800 number and followed the instructions on the automated menus; I listened to some sort of what I suppose you’d call music, though it sounded more like Mozart by way of the Armpit, Mississippi Glee Club. I finally connected with Judy, a customer service operator.
I told her that I was calling to thank the General Mills Corporation for the valuable services they had performed in my honor. I told her that I couldn’t imagine eating three or four bowls (I had forgotten which) of Grape-Nuts, which taste like artificially produced hay, and that I was very happy with their method of providing so much daily nutrition. I finished my speech by assuring her that I would buy Total as long as they continued to produce it at high levels of quality and consumer commitment.
Judy hung up on me. I stood in my kitchen, still tasting milk and small particles of Total underneath my tongue. The empty bowl gleamed dully under the phosphorescent light.
As I’m posting some of my existing short-short work (still avoiding writing new short-short work for the moment), I’ve been going out of order, so I’m afraid I may be repeating myself. If I’ve done this one before and have overlooked it, sorry about that. It’s based on our late cat Judas, though it’s really a fictionalization.
January 2, 2004
I decided to vacuum because of the cat litter scattered all over the bedroom. Our cat has never learned to operate her litter box. She climbs in and out indelicately, tromping through her own piss, dragging litter out between her fuzzy cat toes. I hate it. It would be like dipping my hand in the toilet and flinging water all over the house. It’s not only unsanitary; it’s just plain rude.
But then our cat has never had any manners. She likes to sit on your chest in the middle of the night, just when you’ve drifted into the deepest of sleeps, the kind that brings dreams of the pasts you’ve lived through and the futures you hope to see. The sweet images of a former lover disintegrate, fade, and you open your eyes to see a ten pound cat staring in your face, her claws prickling your chest.
Last night, for the fifth night in a row, she ruined a great dream. She leapt onto the bed and landed squarely on my crotch. I cried out and sat up, instinctively throwing her off the bed. She landed on all fours near the closet, gave me her best go to hell look, and padded away to conduct some other cat business. I discovered this morning that she had ripped the duvet when I shoved her away, three neat holes gaping up at me where her paws had been. I can’t explain why she failed to rip four holes. Perhaps she thought it would be in poor taste.
So today I vacuum her litter, her shit nuggets, probably her fur as well. I do so with aching balls. I do so with my torn duvet smiling at me like a jack-o-lantern. The litter crashes against the insides of my vacuum like gravel against the undercarriage of a car. From the hall the cat watches me, suspicious, and washes her ears.
January 6th, 2004
You stopped walking long enough to tie your shoe and in that moment everything changed. The cessation of your quick and determined pace allowed your pulse to slow down, almost imperceptibly. Because of the fatigue poisons coursing through your body, you took longer than you normally would to make a knot. As you hunched over, the other pedestrians swerved around you, some almost unconsciously, none giving you more than the most cursory of glances. They had other places to be and only so much time to get there, after all. You did not look at them; you were staring at your shoe, thinking of nothing in particular. The stream of slacks and blue jeans and skirts pocketed you against the wall. And so when the first shot rang out and the first person fell, their brains and their blood marking the wall in abstract patterns of finality, you were hidden, safe, saved not by the jogging you had done every daybut by an untied shoelace that might have remained fast on any other morning.
I don’t think I’ve posted this one before. Sorry if I have. Coming soon–a nonfiction meditation on foul language.
January 15th, 2004
Another new phone book arrived on the stoop today. That makes three this year. I can’t see much difference in them. One seems to be the usual directory that we’ve been getting every year of my life; the other two seem like commercials. They’ve got corporate logos on the covers, like something handed to you on a tour, along with your key chain and your letterhead notepad.
I’m using the first two as doorstops. I needed a way to keep my bedroom door from closing at night, because it swings shut on its own, prohibiting the cat from reaching her litter box. I’ve got another one on the bathroom floor, because that door won’t stay open, either, and it gets too hot in there when I’m showering. Once I stepped out of the tub and saw that the cat had somehow gotten onto the counter. She was staring at the fogged-up mirror, as if looking for the image of herself that had always been there before. While I watched, she reached out and brushed the mirror with her paw, wiping away part of the steam. The clear spot looked like a comma without a sentence to punctuate.
Sometimes she sits on the phone book in my bedroom. Her tail curls up around the edge. It’s as if she’s sheltering it from something, perhaps from disappearing into the mist like the cat in the mirror.
Sorry for the lack of updates over the last week. I’ve been finishing up the spring semester. Now I’ve got a lot of revising to do, so it may be another week or so before I can write a new column here. In the meantime, here’s another old flash piece I’ve got in my files. I’ll post something new ASAP–hopefully in a couple of days at most.
February 23rd, 2004
The rapper was shouting something about bitches and bullets, but we couldn’t hear him. The bass was crushing us, driving us against the wall, like the heartbeat of some angry, insane god. Someone near us was pulling out a Gat, but none of us cared. We were all holding our ears, driving our palms into our temples. I felt that something inside me was tearing loose, was being driven out of its hole and into the dark of the club. I saw the flash of the muzzle, watched the gun jump in his hand, but I heard nothing but bass, the backbeat of someone’s death.