Brunetti commands a special section in our 10th-anniversary anthology, released in 2011, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10.
“There is something that I must say. That I want to do this to you, the clown lips. That’s my only goal now — is that you let me paint the clown lips. You will always be sad. You will always feel broken without me. But please, let me paint the clown lips.”
She said nothing. What could she say? She backed off a little bit. We were in my dressing room. I was a nobody but I had a dressing room. I can’t even say how I ended up there, in the dressing room. It had a broken wooden chair, a slipshod greasy mirror and blown-out track lights. A single sad bulb dangled from a wire, 40 watts. There was also a desk, a coat rack, and Marla. That was her name.
“Marla I’m a depraved man,” I went on. “I have no idea why you ended up with me or what you see in me. But this is the last tango, the last dress rehearsal for us. After this, I’ll leave forever and you’ll stay with the upturned clown lips. Do you understand that that’s what I want? That I just want you to have those upturned clown’s lips and I’ll be satisfied for eternity.”
Marla said nothing.
Forty-five minutes later we were in the tattoo parlor down the block. A poorly lit street corner was outside the plate-glass window. We sat in ink-stained, strawberry-red seats with metal armrests. The armrests felt cold. There was a man there with a tattoo needle. He was dabbing on a piece of paper — testing it out. The ink dripped. He ignored us for a while. Then he turned to us and said, ‘Next.’
‘Marla,’ I said. I told the man that Marla was a clown. That she and I were in showbiz. That we were the greatest partnership since—Brangelina. The man waited for me to shut up. Then I said, ‘Listen, it’s over. Marla will be suicidal from here on out. I want you to tat some clown lips on her. I want you to red-band her lips but put the upturned corners at each end. That’s most important: the upturned corners. If you don’t tat the upturned corners on her lips, Marla may die.”
“That what you want?” he said, turning to Marla, who said nothing. She stayed sitting in her seat. She looked like a girl who’d had a grapefruit mashed into her face, sour and damp.
“Get up,” I said. Marla got up.
“Listen, man,” the tattoo guy said. “This doesn’t seem consensual. I mean, it doesn’t seem like her idea. Anyway, she’s got to sign a waiver.”
“She’ll sign it,” I said.
“I’ll sign it,” Marla said. “I like clown lips.”
He did the tattoo. Halfway through I went across the street and drank a beer. When I came back, Marla had the clown lips but they weren’t ruby red — they were baboon’s-ass blue. It was magnificent.
“That’s better,” I said. “That’s better than I could ever have asked for.”
“I’m a genius,” the tattoo man said.
“So you are,” I said. “And so is Marla.”
We were all looking in the mirror. Then Marla took a needle from the counter and jabbed me in the eye. It plunged in straightaway like a bee stinger into a bare butt. I screamed a little and dripped some blood around. “Motherfucker,” I said. I dropped into one of the red chairs. The tattoo guy stood there looking at me. Marla stood beside him and put the needle back on the counter. There was some blood on it. “Motherfucker,” I said again.
Marla picked up the needle again. I looked her in the eye — with my good eye. Then the tattoo guy came over with some balled-up paper towel. I took the ball from him and pressed it into my eye socket.
“I’ll call 911,” he said.
“No,” I said.
“No,” Marla said.
She came over and sat in the opposite red chair. She reached out and took the paper ball from my hand and pushed the ball into the socket lightly. Then with a little more force. I grunted. The tattoo man sat down on a high stool behind the counter and lit a cigarette. I looked at Marla’s bright blue lips, the upturned corners of her mouth. She was smiling.
Philip Brunetti lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y. Find more from him by searching his name here. Brunetti commands a special section in our 10th-anniversary anthology, released last year, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10.
All of the monsters are pregnant and I want them. I don’t know why they are monsters. They weren’t born monsters. They were born baby girls, infants, and then became toddlers, children, adolescents, adults — and at some point monsters. Usually they became monsters after they got married and right before — or right as — they got pregnant. And once pregnant the transformation became complete: swelled bellies and ankles, bent backs, widened hips, bulging, tired eyes… I don’t know.
Monsters. I love monsters.
* * *
I had wanted to make my wife a pregnant monster, but she wouldn’t let me. She was too smart for that. She’d figured out that life wasn’t worth living. Or really, that life was so worth living — from beginning to end — then why try to share it with a little hairless creature without teeth? Other things are meant to be done: Grand Canyons explored, Italian coasts considered, Icelandic spas stretched out in. Touristy things crossed with adventurous things. An early-21st-century march up the hill of variety and magnificence. Technologically drowned in data, but still resplendent and set in waves. Waves of fear — violence — joy — growth… The tremendous ache of freedom.
* * *
It happened at an X-mas party first. There was a pregnant woman standing in the center of the room. She held a red-plastic cup in her right hand and laughed lightly. She had a swelled belly and a husband in a plaid shirt and dark jeans. She seemed to order him around without words. He circled her like a rogue planet now caught in an intractable orbit. He circled his wife’s belly — and their precious package, growing pink flesh inside an amniotic cocoon.
I was stoned. I crossed my legs and put my drink atop the walnut speaker to my left. The hosts had a turntable too, cool. I looked at my wife. I flirted with my wife. She was dressed in all black, just opposite me. A gothic Christmas demon — just like I’d always wanted. But then here was this beastly woman, this pregnant monster, this strange lady with imperfect skin, a couple of jags taken out, craters on the moon’s surface. I’d gotten close to her. I stood within three feet of her and stared at her astonishing, savage face. She had canines at the corners of her lips. A vague trace of the animal left in her. Her belly was a bowling ball under a denim dress. A dainty denim dress. Who knew denim would give — but this denim was elasticized and enwrapping.
Her jittery husband stood off to the side like a preying hawk. He might swoop down on me with talons intent. But no, he was a mush. He couldn’t handle his liquor. And he wanted to play instruments in a band still. That was a laugh.
* * *
I didn’t do anything. What could I do? I never do anything and never can do anything. I followed the pregnant monster into the more furnished part of the loft and guessed her months along.
“Six?” I said. I was being vaguely harassing, just like women like.
“Almost,” she said. Her smile spread. Her lips were dark red. Her eyes off brown over milky white. She told me she kept thumbtacks in her purse to ward off the wicked.
“How did you know I was wicked?” I said.
“I didn’t say you were,” she said. She shot me a look — a desire to deflower me. To open her pregnant legs and let me hard-on first inside. Then any other body part that might fit: a fist even. Could I fill up that cavern bearing a newly forming fetus? Would my purple head bounce against a trampoliny skull and/or shoulders? Had it turned yet? Probably not. I’m not interested in such short-lived anatomic. I only want the monsters, the mothers, I suppose.
* * *
We stopped talking. Her husband reminded me of a band that wasn’t Nirvana. My wife had taken refuge in the glassy eyes of a middle-age, spiky-hair queer. She knew him, they were catching up, discussing leather products or something. I wandered into the back rooms and found three people smoking, including the large host. He had some artwork hanging in the hallway too. I liked an obscure one filled with dark blunt webs. Strange ones that can cancel the sun and brim the brain darkly.
“How much for the dark-web one?” I asked.
He had a long lumberjack beard and white t-shirt on. Black jeans. Black boots, maybe. “I don’t know,” he said: “But look at this.”
He pulled a smaller canvas, about the size of a NO PARKING sign, from behind a desk. It contained an ink blot resembling a herring human that’d begun to melt into a puddle of self.
“The Disintegrating Man,” he said. “That’s what I call it.”
He passed me the pipe and I inhaled deeply. And deeply again. I saw the lights of night out the opposite window through the bent Venetian blinds. I liked the piece, but didn’t like it as much as the nameless dark-web one. I told him I liked it and I liked the title too. In fact, it’d been title-less. I’d named it “The Disintegrating Man.” I simply inserted the title into the host’s head serendipitously. We’d both thought of it at the same time, but it’d come out his mouth. He gave birth to it, and I stood to the side and laughed over it. I took another hit. Good weed. Good Christmas weed, just like Santa used to smoke.
I left the room before I got overly tempted to play an organ that was there. I was about to flick the switch and start key tinkling. Tinkling without talent.
* * *
Back in the other room with my wife. What would I do with my wife, except love her? Keep loving her. A droll prospect. How can you keep loving? Love’s detonated, not kept. I’d detonate my love — like a bomb. The bomb of love. Here in this room, with my wife, again.
I went up to my wife. I told her I’d wanted her to become a pregnant monster, but I understood she didn’t want to be one. This I understood. I understood also that I was a miserable wretch who should never have children. I couldn’t care for anyone or anything, aside from my wife and cat. My parents and siblings and friends didn’t count — because they were from long ago. I’m talking about loving something new, creating something new, bringing a new being into existence. If it is a new being. If this is existence. If everything is what it seems. If, etc.
* * *
I walked out of the party with my wife. We had to go to another party. It was the Christmas season and parties were detonating all around and we were discharged from one into another.
At the next party I looked again for a pregnant monster, but couldn’t find one. It was a pity. Anyway I knew a pregnant monster was there: she just wasn’t showing yet. I walked round the room, hunched over, and pressed my right ear against the bellies of all the young to just-under-menopause-age women. I even asked a few to lift up their shirts, skirts, aprons, whatever. My wife rolled her eyes and flirted with the tallest, darkest, handsomest man there. He held a bottle of champagne like a bowling pin. I couldn’t decide if he was going to smash it over my wife’s head, my head, or twist his arm into an unorthodox pour. It didn’t matter. I had work to do. I kept resting my ear against the belly skins of strange women. Most giggled, a few cursed, one kneed my mouth, another shoved me off, then begged me to bring her a drink. I obliged but abandoned her when I found out she was menstruating. Not even close, I thought.
* * *
Later in the night, maybe a year later in the night, we were riding the subway home to Brooklyn. My wife had fallen asleep and her head tilted onto my askew shoulder and she slept a shaky, bobbing sleep. I scanned the subway car. A thickset, sad-faced, stark-naked woman sat alone at the end of the car. The corner loveseat. Not a stitch of clothing on her. Just her thickset body, a few folds of flesh, and a curved abdomen protruding as if she’d swallowed a beach ball. Entranced, I dislodged myself from my seat and gently nestled my wife’s head upon the window’s ledge. Meanwhile, my impregnated streaker stoically sat to the side, unfixing her sad face without breaking into smile.
I got down on all fours like a cat without a tail and crawled across the subway car. It was 4:30 in the morning and no one was aboard save the solitary streaker in shock mode. Though clotheless, she wore an Aunt-Jemima kerchief and had off-hue color skin. Something between bare-ass blue and screaming Munch pink. A decimated human being; a precarious pregnant monster. A madwoman.
I crawled along the car farther and came to her crossed feet. They were broad and unsurprisingly soiled at the soles. Her heavy hands crossed in her lap, blocking her wide bush. I stopped mid-crawl and sat up catcher-style on the balls of my feet. In fact, I wish I’d had a catcher’s mitt because, as I crouched, the woman’s water broke and she slimed me. Streaming watery blood and stinking fluids. I looked into her eyes and she smirked. She lifted her hands from her lap, opened her legs and gushed some more. I was half soaked and stranded in an amniotic puddle.
Soon a pale purple head appeared. She hadn’t meant for it to appear, but it appeared. She tilted her own head back and started to grunt and groan painfully. She shimmied in her seat and the purple head undulated out past its ears. Lots of gelatinous ooze slid and slinked down the gray bench seat. After the head flowered, a bare pink shoulder appeared. In a matter of moments the whole tragic birth was done and I sat with the slimy son in my stained lap. I grasped its ankles, dangled it upside-down like in an old obstetrician’s photo, and slapped its muculent ass. It screamed mightily in my face and I almost dropped it.
Though breathing heavily, the woman appeared relieved. She had a gleeful look on her face. A gleeful, lusty look. For a moment, I wanted to mount her messy mound. Dig in to those dewy, bristling pubes and ravage her. But the little living creature was out and she was a monster no more.
* * *
“Don’t tell me your dreams,” my wife says.
“It wasn’t a dream,” I say.
“Your dreams are like a puppet show I don’t want to see,” she says. “That’s another reason we don’t have kids. I never want to go to puppet shows.”
“Neither do I,” I say.
I’m frying eggs at the kitchen stove. The oozing egg whites and bleeding yolks bring back the irreality of my existence. I remember the queen mother of the subway with a bellyful of baby, a wombful of wee one. All come out to catch me. Or, for I to catch it. The livid, brain-colored blood mother like an alien princess of netherworlds and underworlds of ovarian fates.
“How can I be more comforting and supportive?” I ask my wife. She’s toasting some bread on the oven’s grill. Then she’s buttering it as the oil in the pan below me is sputtering and singeing my skin. A singeing like self-flagellation.
“There’s nothing you can do,” my wife says. “There’s everything you can do.”
“Everything and nothing,” I say.
Again and again.
Where are the pregnant monsters? I think. How did I ever get lost in a life without a pregnant monster? Why isn’t my wife a pregnant monster?
These questions and more and more questions and more and more eggs cracked and broken and bleeding.
It’s All Hands On touring time yet again, this one to join contributors in Philadelphia, NYC, and Northampton, Mass., for three consecutive nights of readings by contributors to All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, our 10th anniversary anthology, among others. Here are the details:
Philadelphia, Thursday, Nov. 17, 7 p.m. (click flyer image at right for a pdf)
@BrickBat Books, 709 South 4th Street
w/ THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills, longtime contributors Peter Richter and (our FAQ editor and Rider University prof) Mickey Hess, as well as Ryan Eckes.
Brooklyn, Friday, Nov. 18, 7 p.m.
@Book Thug Nation, 100 North 3rd Street
w/ T2H editor Todd Dills, longtime contributors Tobias Carroll, Philip Brunetti and Mickey Hess as well as Gabe Durham and Matt Cahan.
Northampton, Mass., Saturday, Nov. 19, 7:30 p.m.
@MEF Community Room, 60 Masonic St., lower level (next to Woodstar Cafe)
w/ T2H editor Todd Dills, All Hands On contributors Matt Cahan and Ben Stein, Gabe Durham and Ted Powers. Music by Gale Thompson.
PHILIP BRUNETTI lives and writes in Brooklyn.
Nashville-based MATT CAHAN’s novel “Straight Commission” is excerpted in All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10.
TODD DILLS is editor of THE2NDHAND and author of the novel Sons of the Rapture (Featherproof, 2006).
GABE DURHAM lives in Northampton, MA. He writes fiction and nonfiction, teaches literature, makes up test questions, and edits Dark Sky Magazine. His first book, a novel called Fun Camp, is forthcoming in 2013 from Mud Luscious Press.
MICKEY HESS is an Associate Professor of English at Rider University, where he teaches arc welding, mig welding, and creative nonfiction. Recent from Hess in T2H. The Novelist and the Rapper forthcoming in 2012. Find him here.
Poet TED POWERS’ recent work has appeared in Strange Machine, Noo Journal, and GlitterPony, among others. He’s also an editor with Dark Sky Magazine.
New Jersey-based writer PETER RICHTER’s poetry and prose have been featured in Monkey Bicycle, THE2NDHAND, decomP and others. He likes wearing flannel, a recent development. He’s a cofounder of the Broadset crew.
BEN STEIN teaches English Language Arts at the Springfield Renaissance School. He lives in Amherst with his wife Julie and their cat. His “Important Things to Remember” short is featured in All Hands On.
Brunetti lives and writes in Brooklyn. His work is featured in a special section in All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, our 10th-anniversary anthology. Preorder your copy (it will be available within the next two weeks) here.
And so I said nothing to the girl in the turquoise coat with fur cuffs and collar because, really, what could I have said? And if she resembled Tuesday Weld it’s because nobody remembered Tuesday Weld. And so I had to start again, at the beginning. I had to put down my coffee cup and loosen my tie. I had to pretend that I was interested in the sports page and all the murders taking place in the city. I had to pretend, like other men, that I was normal. But, that is, if they are pretending.
I looked out the plate-glass window at the front of the café and onto the dreary, rainy street. It was the last day of vacation and this is what God had granted. I didn’t want to complain. I sipped my coffee and spoke into my shirtsleeve. I was in the process of finding out deep truths. Truths that point out people like Tuesday Weld. Hispanic Tuesday Welds even. Lovely as bones.
I would not go to the therapist because I was tired of her orange-striped shoes. But I went to the therapist. I was in pain and had to share it. I wanted to sing my pain out loud like a drunken sailor but felt too repressed. The therapist was also repressed. She kept herself calm and assured all the time. I wanted lightning. A big golden bolt to break through the front window of her Park Slope office. Park Slope, sloping downward into oblivion. Everyone lost in the park. Lost in joy. Active. Seemingly happy. And I was sitting there in the therapist’s office with a thermometer in my mouth. I had a fever for living but couldn’t let myself go. I fell in love with magazine covers and movie trailers. All the unattainable women dressed in black and white with sweet perfumes. My therapist wore perfume. She dabbed it on the tip of her balled-up tissue and brushed her neck. She had a lemony smelling neck. I almost dreamed I kissed it but that would crack the clown’s face. Mine.
“I’m the clown,” I told my therapist.
She asked me for a personal check.
“I’ll get personal,” I said. I delivered the fire, words that stabbed the air like glowing flint sticks.
“Pretty good,” she told me, coolly. “Pretty good. You’re not the first one I’ve had in here today, though. And you won’t be the last.”
I am first because I am last. I am last because…I’m a bible reader. I read the bible all the time, then forget everything I’ve ever read. There’s no sense to it. Isn’t it just the great story of the downfall of the Jews and the uprising of the Christians? But that’s only if you extend into the New Testament. And even then, there’s no such thing as a Christian in any of the Gospels. There’s only Christ walking on water, condemning fig trees, and pleading with God the father. I wonder about his forlorn state. The way he felt forsaken. The human ingenuity in that role. The despair. The beauty. The aloneness.
And here I sit now, eating tuna fish. I don’t have seven loaves or seven fishes. I have a pocketful of lint and loose change. I read George Orwell and think of times gone by. That man was a professional writer. Someone once cracked him in the jaw, though, for overstepping his bounds. He was a little too courageous. I mean the world could really get into trouble with a host of people so courageous, couldn’t it?
I ask this question of Lily. She’ on her knees, cleaning my feet. She’s a bible toter as well. At least for these four days that we stand outside of paradise. They’ve kicked us out of our favorite coffee shop — The Paradise Café — for cleaning feet. Or offering to clean feet. It seems like a nice enough ritual, heavy with religious significance, but the proprietor didn’t see it that way. He kicked us out and treated us worse than a Seinfeld episode.
“I am not him,” I said to Lily. Meaning Jesus. Or Seinfeld.
I will not be a bookworm for the book-fucking public. Everyone is getting fucked with books. It’s my war against your war. It’s my partisan politics against your fat/religious/rightwing/upchuck ass. It’s every man for himself never. And always. Hail to the celebrities. Bestsellers.
So we don’t walk on water. We pay for our places at parking meters. Lily gets a kick out of this.
“Charging for curb space! Charging for air!” Then she’ll go off on one of her diatribes about Chief Seattle and how he understood and how much the white man never understood. How he, Seattle, saw the great flaw of white-bread humanity from top to bottom spreading throughout and devastating this holy, un-ownable land.
“Nobody owns nothing,” Lily says. ‘It’s all free.”
“That’s when the times were a-changin’,” I say. “Now they’re changed back.”
“Hrmph,” she says.
“Waaahhh! Waahhh!” I call out.
Then Lily. Horse neighs. Pig snorts. Something.
The death of a poodle. It makes the front page of the New York Post because someone famous owned it. The poodle is the saddest of civilized dogs. It deserves headline obituaries — but for all the wrong reasons.
“Right reasons,” Lily says. “We need right reasons.”
She’s rotating her shoulders and rubbing her hands together above her bowl of hot soup. Soon, she’ll start slurping and it will be the earthly pleasure of eating. The soup will wash over her tongue and down her esophagus. If she keeps her epiglottis shut, she’ll swallow the soup properly and it’ll end up in her stomach. Non-nutritious portions of it will solidify in her intestines and she’ll shit them out like brown, rocky pebbles. She might even complain about the pain involved, but I’ll turn the other cheek. I won’t want to hear it anymore. I’ll say:
“Just slap my face. It’s a lot easier that way.”
“Well, excuse me for bowel movements.”
“You’re excused.” I say.
“Blah, blah,” she says.
You’d never have thought it, but Lily is rather good-looking.
“Pogo? And Didi? And Estragon?”
“Yeah, those are the characters,” I say. Something about Waiting for Godot. Lily wants a lot more out of this venture of ours than tiresome oblivion. She wants some kind of superficial fame. She wants to be a spin-off of Godot, or something. I’m not really privy to how her mind works.
“Let’s just sit on this park bench and eat our ham sandwiches,” I say. “Let’s be grateful for that.”
Lily resents that I see a therapist. She calls me a poser. I tell her that all my money goes to therapy, and rent, and feeding the two of us.
“That’s not good enough,” she says.
It never is,” I say. “That’s why people like to say Le divorce. That’s French,” I add.
“Hot shit,” says Lily.
She’s cleaning her teeth with a swizzle stick she found in the trash.
“You know,” I say. “Some people have the moon and they don’t want the moon. Other people have nothing — an eggplant or whatever — and they’re just fine.”
“Enough romantic shit,” she says. She spits and tosses the swizzle stick. There’s a sharp screeching of brakes behind us.
“Oh Christ,” I say.
Someone just got hit. There’s blood on the pavement and Lily doesn’t like it. I don’t blame her. The driver gets out of her SUV, tall, tan, talking on her cell-phone. She’s complaining about her quarter panel, blinded vision, etc. The person on the street isn’t really moving. I think I saw all this on the back of a cereal box once. One with panels that tell a story like a comic book. What to do in case of an emergency: Love Lily. Pray to God. Dial 911.
“Turquoise coat? I don’t know anybody in a turquoise coat.”
“What about Tuesday Weld?” Lily says.
“Oh, come on,” I say.
“Tuesday Weld,” she says.
“She ran off to Panama as far as I know. Or the Black Diamond Bay.”
“Just so you know,” Lily says.
“Just so I know what?” I say.
“Just so you know.”
Yes. Let’s keep the faith. We’ve lit candles under the little bridge in the park. We’ve made the cutout beneath the archway our nesting ground for the night. Lily can’t stand my wife, who lies back in my apartment dressed up in a turquoise coat, smoking French cigarettes, reciting the French alphabet, promising me the world. Promising me the apocalypse and the subtle reappearance of the one and only Tuesday Weld.