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.
Papers rained down all around her. One fluttered onto her face and she pushed it away, noticing that she had given the student a high B after all. Lying on her back in the puddle, water soaking into her suede skirt and probably ruining her new leather jacket, she remembered how he had approached her, eyes downcast, voice low, obviously embarrassed. He had told her that his grade in her class would determine whether or not his pre-dental program would accept him. She hated it when students told her their problems, asking for A’s or B’s without using the actual language or mannerisms of a request. The paper had not deserved a B, probably not even a C, and yet there it lay next to her, the red pen markings bright and ugly. She sat up, her ass soaking wet, her fingers flinging droplets of water onto the paper. The red ink smudged and ran.
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February 5th, 2004
The most frightening part of the trip occurred when they ducked into an Asian grocery store and she saw him steal four packages of soba noodles. He plucked them off the shelf and stuffed them into the inner pocket of his coat in one smooth, practiced motion, and she realized that he had done this before, God only knew how many times. The soba noodles were on sale, four packages for one dollar and forty-nine cents, and she knew for a fact that he had over six hundred dollars in cash tucked into his wallet, alongside three major credit cards.
He refused to look at her as they left the store. As they turned onto the sidewalk, he broke into a walk that tried to evolve into a trot. She had to scurry around other pedestrians to keep up with him. That night when he cooked the noodles for her, they tasted bland in her mouth, as if all the flavor had come off in his coat pocket.
February 27th, 2004
The phone rang at three AM and I knew it had to be trouble. The moon was full and shining through my window; I could see a deep layer of frost on the ground, like the world had been cast in silver. The frigid house enveloped me. I picked up the receiver and mumbled
and shivered twice, hard, almost dropping the phone. It felt like ice against my face. I halfway expected it to rip away a layer of skin when I pulled it away. The moonlight stabbed into the room, pooling on the floor like blood. From the phone a ghostly voice said
Is this the morgue?
and I said
No. You must have the wrong number
and the voice said
Huh. I could have sworn this was the morgue.
I hung up and rubbed my eyes, feeling the grains of sleep jab into my skin like knives. The house was colder than ever. I wondered who had died and why it had to happen on a frosty night at three AM, when death seemed no more than an ordinary nuisance.
You say you want some apocalypse? Here’s a glimpse of a personal vision…
The French Quarter was a human junkyard, bodies piled on top of bodies, throbbing and writhing with music no one could really hear and would pay no attention to anyway, the movement less rhythmic than sexual, a collective thrust between the legs of the city. The man pressing against my back gurgled, about to vomit, and I knew it would splatter onto my head and run down the back of my shirt, but I was helpless to get away, to move at all save for the almost-gentle back and forth wahhh-wahhh of the crowd. The woman to my right was topless, her breasts too rigid in the chaos to be real. Beads hung from her neck and both ears, her dead-fish eyes glazed over. I watched as a hand snaked around her waist and began pinching her right nipple. She did not notice. For all I knew she was dead. In the thronging masses she would have had no room to fall.
February 12, 2004
He awoke at seven that morning, knowing that the day would bring him more happiness than grief, and yet he still felt a cold ball of dread in his stomach, sitting there like lead, weighing him down. He knew that swinging his body around and allowing his feet to touch the floor would commit him to getting out of bed, and that standing up and getting dressed would commit him to leaving his bedroom, and that appearing in the house would commit him to staying for her party.
His daughter was now old enough to drive. She could ask for the keys at any moment, and he would have no choice but to hand them over or be branded an uncool Dad. Perhaps he could throw them out the window? But then that would make it tough for him to use the car himself. Maybe he could drop them in the toilet. That would keep any self-respecting teenager at a distance. Hell, that would drive away most adults.
But he was merely avoiding the inevitable. She was growing up. Soon she would be old enough to leave for college, to get a full-time job, to marry and have kids of her own, to follow that career or that husband to some city on the other side of the country. He might be able to see her once a year, if she could get away. They might talk a couple of times a week.
He wondered if she would understand this, that he was not afraid of her driving the car or how much taller than him she might eventually become. He was afraid of the first time that car turned a corner and left him behind, waving, wondering if she were even looking back, the first of many journeys that he would not even be able to watch.
In catching up on all the things I didn’t do last week, I’m still too behind to post anything new. So here’s another old piece of flash fiction. I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote it. Perhaps you’ll have a theory.
Her lover had come back from the dead and was standing in her kitchen, drinking a cup of herbal tea and eating one of her homemade scones. He was holding the cup with three fingers, as he had done on the mornings after their lovemaking had been most intense and memorable. Steam rose above the rim and drifted toward his face, disappearing in his beard, now flecked with gray and bushier than she remembered. He said
and she screamed. The fear in her voice startled him. He managed to hold onto the scone but dropped the tea, the cup turning slowly one and a half times before it hit the tile and shattered, the liquid spattering his boots and the legs of the table. It spread across the floor like blood, running into the cracks between the tiles where it formed shallow, linear pools.
February 20th, 2004
I signed an online petition today. I don’t know what it was for. Perhaps I was trying to save something. Maybe I was helping kill someone. Maybe it was a petition against me. I don’t know. All I remember is clicking on a button and then shutting down my browser. It was all over in a few seconds, and it might have been the most important thing I’ll ever do.
February 2nd, 2004
A cold front settled in the skies and blew down on their heads in short bursts, rhythmic and hollow like a backwoodsman playing tunes on a half full jug of whiskey, and while their ears turned bright red and the tips of their noses numbed, the band broke into their biggest hit, the one that played interminably on the radio so that the chorus sounded in your memory like an echo.