20
Jan
2013

THREE WAYS OF SAYING GOODBYE, by Elaheh Zohrevandi

Zohrevandi studies genetics and teaches English in Tehran. She is an editor at Delta Women, and her work has appeared in Hopewell Publications’ 2009 and 2010 “Best New Writing” anthologies. 

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One of these days he would close his eyes and there would be darkness: pitch black. Finally, he could say goodbye to everything.

He must have been a braver man in a past life — his own savior — but wasn’t it a girl’s mission in this world? 

“Well, you should never leave a responsibility to a girl. They never know how to handle responsibilities and they always end up doing something else.”

He smiled at himself. The good old days when he could have girls around were over. Before the revolution, he was somebody, a young man at college, someone with reputation and dignity. Now, he was an old existence, not even a man. He’d forgotten Russian and German. After years in bed doing nothing, he knew nothing was a real issue in his life. Life: a series of moments followed by quietness, night-sleeps and nothing more.

The painted walls still looked modern in an old-fashioned way. If only he could move. His cold feet were wrapped around by warm bed sheets.

He noticed how easily old feelings could vanish and give place to new habits. A year ago he was still in prison without a single warm sheet in his cell. Life was still a series of moments; the only difference was that there were no noises outside.

Oh, the noises! The kids back from school. Happy little kids!

The sudden motivation to get out of bed, the rush of energy was all too much. His arms twitched, his feet got stuck in the sheets and he fell on his head.

A single moment passed.

His eyes closed. The darkness of his life shadowed the daylight.

He finally said goodbye to everything.

Kids were still playing outside.

***
She could hear the kids outside. Holding the hot pan, she stared at the window. Three school boys were kicking a plastic ball and pushing one another. Living in an old dusty house downtown in a crowded city like Tehran, getting to eat only mashed potatoes three times a day and carrying a child inside can drive any girl crazy.

She was no exception.

She touched her lips. They were dry. She ignored the sound of him — scratching his beard in sleep — and grabbed the only cosmetics she could afford, a vitamin A ointment. She looked at her reflection in the broken mirror on the wall and saw him staring at her: sleepy and hungover. He was still terrifying. She turned and faced him, the only reason she was pregnant and sick at the age of 12. She heard a soft scream from outside. The schoolboys had found a girl to show their power to. She imagined herself walking home from school happy, fearless, ready to change the world with the feminine powers that only a teenager can be proud of and now she was married to a man: a man three times her age, an addict, an alcoholic and an abuser.

He blinked patiently and walked to the bathroom.

A second passed and that was it. She was done with this life. She grabbed the only thing that was hers — a bag that her classmate had made for her — and stepped out of the house.

She felt the fresh autumn air in her lungs. She touched her lips — they were dry and the vitamin A was left in the damn place she had called home for the past seven months.

It was time to say goodbye to that obsession. It was time to say goodbye to that life.

She looked at the schoolboys. They were playing with a purple plastic ball and a schoolgirl was watching them.

***
He broke his promise and pushed the dial button. The numbers on the phone screen had been staring at him for long enough. He heard the beep and then there she was. Her voice was calm, but in that peaceful voice he could hear sarcasm and anger.

“Sorry love.”

“Don’t be.”

“I just couldn’t think of anything else.”

“I know.”

“It’s just that… You never told me about it.”

Silence from the other end of the phone.

“Are you still there?”

“Yes.”

“Do you always cheat on your boyfriends?”

“You’re not my boyfriend.”

“I know, but I used to be.”

Another killing silence from her end of the phone.

“Did you ever love me?”

“You always pretended that you were reading a text message or having a phone call. I liked that.”

“How did you know?”

“How did I now what?”

“That I was faking a phone conversation.”

“I just knew.”

“I see.”

“How did you decide to sleep with him?”

“I told you, I never decided. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You just did it then.”

“I guess.”

“Why then?”

“I wanted to buy you that new cellphone.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The one you were always talking about. That new Nokia in that advert on TV. The one that says ‘you are never going to be alone.’ That one.”

“You cheated on me to buy me a stupid Nokia?”

“I didn’t cheat.”

“Oh! So you slept with him to buy me a fucking brand-new cellphone. What a good excuse.”

“I knew you would not believe me. I told you the truth because you are not my boyfriend anymore.”

“I can’t marry you. I hate sluts.”

“I know. That is why I fell for you.”

“Looks like you are not even sorry for what you did.”

“Never. I did it for the boy I used to love.”

Silence from his end of the phone.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

She was a slut, how could he fall for a girl like her. He had won the conversation and he was happy. Maybe saying goodbye wasn’t that difficult after all.

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11
Jan
2013

NASTY HABITS, by Adam Moorad

Adam Moorad is a writer, sales­man, and moun­taineer. His work has appeared­ widely in print and online. He lives in Brook­lyn. Visit him here.

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Julie #2 ran off with the Sheppard. She took my Durango. Left me with her teenage daughter. She calls me by my first name. Her mother got her a drum set for her birthday. She spends all her time smashing the cymbals. My duplex vibrates. The bulbs break. The ceilings cave. I take a clown job at a corral.

“You look scared shitless,” one of the cowboys says to me on my first night. “But your makeup looks good.”

“Thanks,” I say. “This is all sorta new to me.”

He throws his arms around me and says, “I’ve been at this since ’93.” He stretches his quad and his braced knee clicks like it shouldn’t. ”Haven’t looked back since.”

He mounts a bull rattling in the stall beside us. It’s been spray-painted with the stars and stripes. Its nutsack looks like a punching bag. The cowboy scrubs his fingers on the bull’s neck and talks a little shit. There are families in boots and hats walking to their cars. A few Hispanics stick around. The stall flies open and the bull charges out bucking in spirals. The cowboy bounces off his coccyx and lands in the mud. The bull hops the fence into the bleachers. It’s total chaos. There’s nothing I can do.

***
Julie #2 is back at the duplex in the middle of the night. The Sheppard is sleeping in bed in between us and lets one rip. Julie #2 doesn’t wake up. The Sheppard spoons me and drool runs down my neck. I can’t take it. I get up. I drive the Durango down to Geronimo’s and crack a Kronenburg.

“You shoulda seen this one,” I tell him. “Nuts like a punching bag.”

Geronimo had a car accident in high school and has trouble paying attention.

“Seriously,” he says. “What’s with the makeup?”

***
I take the Durango for a cruise to clear my head. The horizon is a twist of neon. I sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” through the sunroof. Just Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! over and over. A truss bridge runs across a dry riverbed into hills stretched out in an alien way. I see the yellow neck of a Waffle House in the distance. The little bit of moon is a rednecked god. The land below is an albino waitress, rippled and minted. A soda can rolls across the road, picking up dust in the fading taillight.

***
The morning is an empty magnum. I make my way to the Lay-Z-Boy, but the Sheppard has beaten me to it, reclined and tongue bathing. I can hear Julie #2’s daughter lashing at her snare but Julie #2 is nowhere to be found. It all sets my head awhirl. I run outside and puke off the stoop. I sit on the steps wiping the gruel from my mouth. Then I feel a paw on my shoulder. It’s the old cougar from the next duplex down. She purrs and licks the makeup from my cheek. I watch her eyes dilate and fangs flare. I disappear inside her whiskers. She murmurs something sexy as if to say, “I like the smell of you, big boy. I bet you taste good.”

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01
May
2012

THE LAST ORCHARD IN AMERICA, by Michael Peck — Part 1

“Last Orchard” is a short noir that began its life as a Peck short story, published via THE2NDHAND’s pre-txt online magazine — it’s now being serialized in one installment per week via THE2NDHAND txt here. Keep your eyes open for future installments. Peck lives and writes in Missoula, Mont. Find more from him in THE2NDHAND archives or in our 10th-anniversary book anthology, All Hands On, released in 2011.

 

Download “Last Orchard” .doc for your eReader (check back periodically — file will be updated as new installments become available)


 

Let us practice every imaginable grimace. –Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell

Chapter 1

Let me begin before everything got all cockeyed and deadly and confused. Before Sue Longtree and Daddy Longtree and the orchard and Cowper and that bridge out of this despicable city. I blame a lot of this on my tailor, especially on that suave suit he never did finish.

But I suppose if I wanted to go back before any of this began I’d end up starting just after the dinosaurs were hacked to death by the wind and the earth and rotted away into fuel and dirt.

And where do you begin a story, anyway? Do you select some random point, or is there a tangible place that can be flipped over and fingered? “This is where everything started,” you would like to say. But any moment is random. There’s not a definite beginning to anything. The idea of a beginning is a turgid con. There can’t be a beginning when everything is at an end.

I’m not a writer; I’m something more like a transcriber of degeneracy and hatred. Had I any poetic talents I would be talking about something better: Birds in migration, the pleasantries of intoxicated guests at a cottage on the Cape, beautiful women having a picnic on a rooftop, flowers peeling back to let in the morning.

Instead, I’m talking about rotting dinosaurs and wretched people who have built this city with their capricious greed and startling cynicism.

I should say that nothing about this makes any kind of sense: there’s no solution, I don’t really know who’s responsible, whether anything criminal has been committed by others, what my involvement in the Longtree situation really consisted of, or even if it consisted of anything other than a psychotic redhead’s unquenchable love of her own self. And what I remember about Sue Longtree: the wave of her red hair, a smile that had in parted lips a riddle with no punchline, a scent, a stupid hope, a hand grasping my arm at a symphony performance.

“Why’d you do it, Jome?” Cowper says.

I say, “I haven’t slept too well lately.”

And that should have been enough but it wasn’t and it isn’t.

The river is down below like a dark, wavering sheet and the men are closing in for the big squeeze, Cowper leading them, his face a featureless blank in relief against the massive spotlight behind him. I swing a leg over the metal railing, and then the other leg, balancing on the parapet like some mad acrobatic fool. The men’s hard-bottomed shoes pound the concrete behind me and they’re breathing heavily and I can almost feel their arms pulling me back.

It’s funny, but the water below is so flat it looks like I could bounce right off the surface and carom back onto the bridge and find it empty of these animals in uniforms, replaced by daylight and a view of the city that has been erased by the rain. And maybe that’s exactly what I will do, when I am ready.

The river is getting closer, its contours in the night like an approximation of what I imagine the afterlife to be like: black, trembling and not nearly deep enough. I put a foot out and my shoe drops off. I don’t hear it plop into the river.
So where do I begin when there’s nowhere to begin?

The morning I found Sue Longtree in my office I’d spent listening to a record of the adagio from a Mozart piano concerto, and I’d thought to myself that it was the simplest interpretation of innocence I’d ever pried out of the world. That sound — a soft piano fading — would be a halfway decent beginning, except that I’ve forgotten the tune it belonged to.

But anywhere, any place, anybody is at least a halfway good beginning, if such things exist.

 

Chapter 2

I was at the window looking out over the intersecting bridges spanning the city. Great hulking sculptures of metal and steel, able to withstand the fleeing and the returning with equal ease, layered on top of one another like a crazy staircase. Bridges are the strangest of modern conveniences, a street with no land underneath, a nowhere boulevard that can carry you across seas and lakes and rivers, transporting you to the elsewhere you yearn so vaguely to be. A bridge is the beginning and the end of any journey.

The river beneath the the webwork of bridges was sleek and consoling in its dangerous malaise, condemned to thrash, like all good rivers, against the encroachment of civilization.

A drop of rain struck the glass and eased down reluctantly. A siren yearned and careened three stories below in the street for a while, found its miserable destination and became a loose, fragile memory among a thousand others that one soon forgets. Then another siren joined in from somewhere beyond the first and the duet spun off to opposite fringes of the city, a cacophony of parting goodbyes in a town that is built of them.

It had just begun to rain and the buildings out the window were becoming coated in a slick mirror of water that reflected the fading sky and the buildings within reach. I studied a calendar on my desk, trying to intuit what day it was, but the calendar was from last year and I’d never been keen on math. Or anything else. I sat back in my chair and grimaced at the ceiling.
I yawned, trying to surprise myself.

There was a blue and white marble on my desk that I began to roll back and forth on the uncluttered surface. The ninth or tenth time I was too slow and it bounced against a copy of a dog-eared Dominic Early novel and that I’d been meaning to read. The marble dribbled onto the floor like any other sad, useless thing. I peered closely at the little round speck dreamily, urging it to keep rolling, but my momentary optimism wouldn’t take. I left myself alone.

Sitting in the same position for hours, romanticizing the days you wasted in the gutter, you tend to disremember that the street exists, that there is something beyond the flicking wall clock in the berserk simplicity of a familiar room. That maybe you’re a self-propelling organism with the nerve to feel all right; your body an urban development project and the brain a ticket-window to a carnival that is always vacant, though some silly bastard keeps the hallucinatory rides well oiled and moving along.

I was coming down with the initial chills of a cold is what I’m trying to spell out. Lousiness doesn’t achieve much more in one day.

That morning a middle-aged woman visited my office and offered me $400 to investigate the death of her husband. She was a babbling matron, barely able to subvert a speech defect that slurred her words, with the physique of a sack and lips purpled by wine. The husband was decapitated by a train as he attempted to switch the tracks at some remote outpost beyond the suburbs.

“It was mysterious,” the woman said. “In a week he was going to blow the lid on the Switchmen’s Union and some people — and by that I mean some people — didn’t like the idea much. And so you can imagine what I think.”

“Why was he going to blow the lid on the Switchmen’s Union?” I asked, and the woman must have heard my stultified tone, because she looked like she was going to spit on my desk.

“Roger said something about,” the woman paused, recalling, “black market goods being loaded onto freighters by certain squalid switchmen.”

“What kind of black market goods?”

“He never mentioned.”

She gave a harrowing account of the switchman’s life, replete with dinner routine, the hour his alarm sounded each morning, his Sunday yard work. Finished and breathing hard, gray hair clinging to her forehead, she expostulated some more and fell silent. Perspiration slithered on her exposed skin like she’d just enjoyed a bath of turgid lake water. It was disgusting to me.

“Any witnesses?” I asked.

“Just the engineer.”

“What does he say?”

“He was asleep.”

“So he wasn’t really a witness.”

“He was there,” she spat.

As bluntly as I could I told her that her personal grief was not a good enough reason to suspect assassination. People get in the way of trains sometimes. “Basically I don’t like or trust people who sweat profusely,” I said aloud without really meaning to.

“You have the mouth of a dog,” she said.

“Not every freak death is a conspiracy,” I said. She tore into a plastic bag of tissues. “Stupidity is extremely under-appreciated as a transport to the afterlife.”

“Roger wasn’t stupid.”

“I’m sorry, but anybody who gets his head knocked off by a slow-moving train is challenged in some special way. Wouldn’t you agree?”

I could have taken her dollars and done nothing but sit around and stare at it for a week, then report to her that I’d been unable to uncover anything conclusive. Maybe I was feeling lazy; possibly, I simply did not care. From Malthus one learns that the cause of all evil and crime is overpopulation, and ever since Pinkerton it has been good private policy for someone in my line of work never to meddle with unions.

“I thought you did this kind of thing,” she said, rising with tissues clasped in each hand.

“Honestly, I don’t know what it is I do anymore. It’s not your fault. I’m disillusioned, is all.”

“And it certainly isn’t mine,” she hissed.

She sobbed out to the hallway. As the elevator descended her whelps grew distant and stopped altogether, then resumed through the open window. I watched her hustle across the street against the light.

The office was chilly but I left the window open a crack. I tucked in my once-white dress shirt and propped a suit coat on my shoulders. A year and a half ago I’d nailed a portrait mirror to the backside of the door. Intended as security to inspect every angle of a client, it served mainly to distribute my deflation of vanity. Not a handsome man, perhaps, rather plump and grim under the eyes, the kind of looks certain women appreciate from a distance and realize, on closer scrutiny, they are very mistaken. But I wasn’t out for any woman. I’m sure they’d had enough of me, too.

Well, Harry Jome, I said to myself, stepping into the plank-floored corridor, whose walls were painted in indignant swipes. Let’s you and me get a couple of eggs. It’s about time we had some excitement.

 

Chapter 3

May was humid so far.

The people walking the streets were dressed too warmly, and a collective grimace was growing wider by the inch, not at all helped by the pattering rain. Maybe it wasn’t the weather but the fact that unhappy people were steadily coming to understand their condition. But at least in the city you don’t have to be yourself 24 hours a day. Crowds of nobodies surge and swallow you in a great gulp, hustle you along to their nowhere, suck you into a civilization of aimless people attempting to appear busy. If I ever decided to long for friendship I could start talking to god or get a membership in a secret society.

At the 12th Street diner all the booths were taken. Eager employees and unperturbed excecutives were hunched together feasting on over-told stories about a certain cubicle, a shady bookkeeper, hoary bosses with a penchant for meanness. Beside me at the counter was a midget in a mustard yellow cardigan with a guitar case leaning on his leg, so that whenever he shifted, which was perpetually, he had to keep a hand on the case to straighten it.

The waitress was a mild teenager with braces and rubber bands in her shortish black hair, long unpainted fingernails and a demeanor so shy it would have made a pimp blush. She got my whole order wrong: the eggs were sunny-side up, the meat was ham. To her credit it was a highly unorthodox order. The coffee, at least, wasn’t ginseng tea.

Next to me the midget had his head in a newspaper and I found myself contorting to read the headlines as I ate. Suddenly he shot me an eye and hopped off the stool, taking the paper as he jumped away. There was nothing so attractive in the headlines anyway: death, mutilation, disease, an escalating crime rate, the subtle menace of germs and defeat, rape, pillage, genocide. It was too dirty to look at.

“I come here every day,” the midget said to me, folding the paper twice. “I sit in the same place and I don’t trouble anybody.”

I chewed my ham, watching him shake his head.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m just in the mood for talking. You want to talk?” he asked.

“Talk about what?”

“You know what’s funny?” he said, and answered his question, “Nothing. I can’t think of a single thing that’s funny.” He straightened the guitar case. “Isn’t that funny?”

Depressive inclinations arose as I shoveled sopping egg onto unbuttered toast. At the end of the week I would be losing my office and shortly thereafter my apartment on a sunny avenue in the 4800 block. Letters had arrived from the respective invisible landlords, warning ungrammatically that I was three months behind. If I did not pay by May 15 I would be dragged into a courtroom and divested of my car and whatever else was reputed to have some value.

I was planning to leave town as soon as I could pay for gas. Now I wished I’d accepted the railroad widow’s money and fled, which wasn’t too chivalrous, but poverty isn’t chivalrous either. I scraped the plate clean and dusted off the driblets of food on the formica countertop.

“I mean,” the midget went on. “That’s only the funniest thing anymore. People are different everywhere, though. Some people think I’m funny just sitting here. I don’t know. I guess I am. But everybody’s funny in some way. Do you agree with that?”

“I’ll nod to that,” I said.

“Well, see you later if you come by again.” He grabbed his guitar case. “I’m here every day, so if you’re around I’ll be around.”

Another cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie. I watched the waitress open a rotating glass case, cut the pie, balance it on a plate, rush it over, slam it down, hurry back, close the glass case, wipe her hands on a dishtowel, start the process anew for some other tired louse.

Before I had a second to lift the fork someone sidled in between the stools, touching my forearm with a bony elbow. In a churlish, clear voice, a woman asked the harried waitress where she could find Harry Jome. I was so taken aback at overhearing my name that I almost fainted.

Brilliant red hair was the first thing I noticed. The questioner was a slightly attractive, narrow-faced woman of around 35 or 40. Big dark sunglasses covered what were purportedly her eyes. In profile she had slightly masculine features that lend themselves gracefully to women of a particular attitude, and she certainly had that attitude. She was in black slacks and a matching turtleneck; the pinkish tint of her skin indicated that she hadn’t been in the sun for a few decades. By her subtle perfume, plush leather tote and air of astute arrogance, she was either wealthy or very wealthy. “Do you know where the office of a Mr. Jome would be? I believe it’s Henry Jome?” she said.

“Who?” the waitress said over the head of a customer at the end of the counter.

“Harry Jome,” I corrected.

“I’m sure it’s Henry Jome,” the red-head repeated. “He apparently has an office nearby.”

“Excuse me,” I said.

The redhead squinted at me from the corner of her frames and said, pouting her lips, “I was speaking to her if you don’t mind much.”

“Yes, and I’m talking to you if it’s not an inconvenience.”

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t.”

“You’re asking about Harry Jome?” I said.

“I was asking the girl about Henry Jome.”

“I’m doing you a favor, lady.”

“Well, stop it.”

Once again she tried to flag the waitress’ attention, but the young girl was too busy arguing with the cook to notice. The waitress screamed at the beefy man in white and blushed; she pulled the apron off and hurled it onto the grill. The stench of charred cotton brought scowls among the patrons. The former waitress took advantage of the furor in the kitchen to calmly open the register and clean out the contents.

It was my first smile in nearly three weeks.

“You see what you did?” I said to the redhead.

“I thought maybe you’d like a job.” She was backing away.

“Everybody knows Harry Jome,” I said incredulously. “Try the Santos Building. 3rd floor. If he isn’t in just wait a minute.”

“You his agent or something?” she asked.

“Harry is the kind of guy who doesn’t even need an agent,” I said.

She was out the door. Behind me two paunchy men in matching suits and porkpies were close behind her, pointing and hushing each other. One of them turned and winked.

The chef was cursing madly, his staff wreaking chaos and the diners all filing out in search of another diner. My coffee was drained but for a splatter of half-and-half at the bottom of the cup. I felt lonely.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

PECK is among more than 40 writers featured in our 2011 10th-anniversary anthology, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10. Order via this page.

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20
Jun
2011

MEMORY 70 D-DAY, by James Mansfield

James Mansfield lives and works in London. He has published a collection of short fiction, Fragments of Tomorrow, and is currently working on a fictional reimagining of the 1980s.

I) A ripped tarpaulin, the spokes of a long dead umbrella, and a giant glove. These straddle the horizon, waiting for the sun to emerge.

I am waiting too. I open my left eye and see colour, a pale orange that is spilling out across the sea. I feel the sand between my toes, I feel each grain and want it to tell me a story.

I was once deep red, and thousands of others like me. It was a noisy day in June. Smoke, yells, German shouts, American bodies. I was trampled on but stayed still. My neighbours were carried far to Caen, Paris and to the borders of the Reich.

But today we all remain still. I long for the tide to bathe me, perhaps take me further away, back to the Britain in which I laid for millions of years.

It was a horrific day, 6 June 1944. But I (not the sand) still feel excited. The gray masses, emerging from their landing craft, wading through the sea, attacking, attacking, attacking. So heroic I wish I could have lived then, died then, ended up as a tiny grain of sand.

 

II) ‘Do you want to go to the fair this evening?’

‘It sounds pretty boring.’

‘Do you think I was giving you an option?’

‘I want to stay and finish my jigsaw of the Spitfire. Look I’ve done two of the corners now.’

‘You can finish it off this evening.’

‘No way! You and mum are going out and we’ll have to play stupid games with that woman.’

‘Look, you could win some prizes at the fair. And we can visit the fortune teller.’

Paul looked at his father and wondered when he’d be able to grow such a bushy beard. It looked a bit dirty but his mother never said anything so it must be OK. His mother was usually a good judge of character — she spotted that Mr Richards his English teacher was a bit odd months before the police came and arrested him.

‘OK. But please don’t be embarrassing if we meet any of my friends.’

They arrived at the fair in high spirits. Paul expected it to be like the start of Lord of the Rings with massive fireworks and strange people selling strange things. This was Basingstoke however, a fact that had yet to fully descend into his ten-year-old brain. He didn’t quite realise that his parents were chronically bored of the place, their neighbors, their lifestyle. He just enjoyed doing jigsaws and talking about the war to his father.

 

III) Malcolm turned to his screen and wrote in 32 point Arial “THE SECOND WORLD WAR NEVER HAPPENED”, then clicked ‘PRINT’, selected the A3 paper size and clicked ‘OK’. He stood up from his desk, walked ten meters down the gray carpeted path (not gray because it was dull but because it was the fire escape route and so had to look different than the usual dark blue — and it was the cheapest option). He approached the printer (a multi-document center probably costing around £3,000 as well as an expensive maintenance contract) and pressed the screen, selected the one that said ‘mkennedy’ and waited.

‘Hello Malcolm. How are you?’

Alison. Oh Alison. I don’t want to talk to you. You were 30 last week. I refused to go to your party. I’ve seen the pictures on Facebook. You looked pretty drunk, not very attractive. All those ’30′ balloons were a bit sad too. If you were as cool as me, you would have held an 18th birthday party just to be ironic.

‘Fine. Good weekend?’

‘Yes, Dave and I went to his parents. We watched the Grand Prix.’

I stopped listening and just made eye contact. Funny thing, eyes — you never quite remember what colour unless you stare or make notes and that seems a bit odd. Fuck, my printing has just come out, I’ll fold it in half and hope she doesn’t notice.

‘Yes great see you later.’

‘Yeah. Are you going to Geoff’s firework party?’

Geoff. What a dick. I’ll have to think of some kind of excuse.

‘Umm, I’ll think about it.’

 

IV) …this shivers…I want to feel different….the wolves… the wolves…eating dripping pieces of meat…I worry….and then I jump upright.

In between my illusions, I wander off to a small cave behind the shore. Inside I see nothing, perhaps the best place to sleep but there’s a funny smell and I prefer just to light a match and look at the walls.

A waste, you say. I only have six boxes of matches left but why not look at the pictures. Hunting scenes, spears, massive rhinoceros-like mammals. But lime green hits me, orange eyes and a huge body with eight arms. A piece of meteorite that shines, I take it and feel better.

A scarlet dawn. I wake. I walk to the spring and drink. My throat still feels sore. I lie down and talk to the snake. I ask him how he got here. He stares at me and I notice his eyes. Prettier than mine and I think they are deep prussian blue. I remember. Three days here. I must do something as I see a rectangle, of course gray, how dare it approach.

I run back to the beach. Open my bag, take out a flare, light it, it does nothing. I shake it, then relight it, it hisses at me — should I throw it or wave it? It is getting hot so I hurl it up and watch the colors, so pretty, pink, then a dark purple with just a hint of blue at the edges and then red everywhere. The sky, pale blue is embarrassed.

But the ship moves. A landing craft bristling with soldiers. They are closer and I wish I had something to fight with but then it is a fiction.

A fiction? The trampling on the sand, the liberation of Paris, the Nuremberg trials. I look and see them coming. I wish I had a gun. A bang, a pain in my chest. I slump and fall, my blood staining the sand. It all goes red once more and I think of my apartment, Geoff’s party, my own peaceful life in the future, in 2009, in the world I created. My son — what did I tell him?

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28
May
2011

WAKE THE DEAD, by J S Khan

Khan is the monster in the labyrinth of your subconscious. You shall know him by his signs. Further evidence of his existence can be found in Thieves Jargon, the White Whale Review and A cappella Zoo.

 

“An attentive examination should ascertain a point, drawn in the middle of an empty circle, which is a fiction; the point is the tip of a long tendril, crawling out like a serpent; this worm, growing into a monster, is a concealed personality.” –Andrei Bely

 

An ego-monster of confabulistic contortions. Ra ra ra. What proportions.  How do you think I’d look in that? Feel the bass bathing us in our little loft, our cozy love-nest, the beat thrumming in our chests, drowning out your own heart’s thumping. Simply fantastic. She’s like some goddess of nihilism, right? All that razzle-dazzle, plus a castle in the sky. That’s what’s up. Those clouds like melting lumps of coffee ice-cream, those twirling-whirling girls descending the winding staircase, their breasts glazed in strawberry syrup. Pinch ’em: ouch. Oh you silly man, you.

And after we grow glutted on all the new, supernew pop moosic videos and downloadable moovies (they’re nuthin’ but a buncha Gootube celebrities, anyway), we shall go out and wrangle up a whole slew of real-life, honest-to-God hookers we find showcasing their wares in the cyberspace classifieds. Who needs a pimp? Too many witnesses. Never had no use for a middleman anyway. Well, you know what I mean. Who’s not ambisextrous these days?

Real-life requires a hyphen, cyberspace none. Relax: we’re nothing but simulacra. Who would enflesh such fantasies?

Tell me: what’s your name tonight? Angel Fang. O please Ms. Gabby, scratch me, sniff me, burn me, scar me. Please pretty please. But do you think you could touch me, just once?

Keep your secrets, boy. No one cares.

And we shall go out jogging like we did that one night, remember? Early November, and the stars burning so, so lovely, Cassiopeia dizzy in her rumble-seat tied and shackled in the darkling depths above and Orion straddling the earth with his great ballsack gleaming, the full moon’s silver overflow enflaming us with its madness. But how could I forget such a romantic evening, such an exhilarating night, even after all these years? The thrills and spills? Why, sometimes I still think I can smell the body buried behind the First Presbyterian on Washington–

Enough playacting. We could go to K.T.’s, but it’s costumes only. Who’s vomiting on who? Never understood the raw magnetism of foam skin, slithy dragonscales or sly foxwhiskers. To charm the snake. O you wicked little. Once when maybe four or five on my rubber dolphin floaty in the pool. Tell no one. Had a dream once the Lion raped the Tin Man. Oh my. Are you ready to milk the moocow? At least real animals are warm. Cowboys and their mounts. Got pheromones like a rhesus monkey myself. Who’s a good boy? Jesus. Ass worship though — that’s something else entirely. Rituals in shaggy sheep pants get me in touch with my own roots.

Each consciousness pursues the death of the Other, don’t you know that yet? If I say yes will you touch me? Pinch me, punch me? No, but a tobacco enema might excite your bowels good. Give you some sweet ass cancer. Where are the nose-hooks, the ropes, the handcuffs? Where is your collar? Ready for your spanking? Tell me what is the safeword. I’m always a different person, don’t you know that? What a radical. No need for masks. But D.W. is just another pinheaded philatelist. What is it with collecting pervs? Can’t stop but lick it. You have to think like a futurist with these fetishmongers. Is one a precursor, a prehistoric throwback?

And we shall go out like we did that one night, remember, the moonbeams falling like tinsel, and our nerves ringing from the report of it, the cool autumn air and garden glistening under streetlamps, the evening rain still a swirling residue, stardrops of dew, and that sweet young girl or should I say delicious little woman finding you sprawled out on the sidewalk moaning, holding your legs with eyes pinched shut and lips pressed tight. Twist your ankle, ma’am? And you in the bushes, panning out from this close-up of my lips. I must say I looked the part: classic damsel in distress. And her the Southern belle lost in the big city, Dante’s Inferno in her backpack. Got a penchant for punishment, sweetheart? But oh we’ll get to that–

Stop it. Stop it now. Who’s pissing on who? No chip off the old block: I know what you like. Get your rocks off. Light’s on, where is your mirror? Where are your rattler and pacifier? Where is your gooey chewy, baby? Go sit in the corner. You know I love those pigtails. Want me to tickle? Stomp on you like a cockroach. Impale you on my stiletto heel. Fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of a suppressed Victorian. Who would you rather screw: your mother or your sister? My father, natürlich. Classic test of a submariner. The salt in a sailor’s spunk. Tell me, what’s your most cherished fantasy? Child and parent, student and teacher, slave and master? You on top, me on bottom, you on bottom, me on top? I’ll pretend to be you, you pretend to be me. I’ll pretend to be you pretending to be me, you me pretending to be you. You the woman, me the man. I the man and you the woman. Both of us women, now both of us men. This is getting boring. If the shoe fits, the pantyhose and stockings. Real freaks, freaking out. Strange worlds produce strange people. Let me suck on your big thoe, like in Carnie Freaks IV: The Bearded Lady’s Revenge, when Dog Boy lapped her hinderparts, equally bearded, and she brained the muscleman whilst he devilishly twisted his greased mustachios — the thoe from offscreen suddenly squirming up his pimply arse, equally mustachioed. Ouch. Where is the Crab Man? Oh you know what I like.

Looking for the girlfriend experience? Lips locked on naughty. Look at me. Deny the orgasm. You bitch. Deprive the oxygen. You hhhnuh hhuuunhhu. Better stop looking at me. Never felt so disgusted, so ashamed, so used up, so new. So refreshed. Ah please don’t–

Stop being so fresh. We should snap up some hookers like you mentioned earlier. That will cure us — at least I hope it will cure us — of that night so noxious, so wondrous, when we went out and you brought the camera, remember, and Cassiopeia was literally flipping out in sheer ekstasis so we could both see straight through her floozy dress and Orion with his twin jewels throbbed over the birches and I began firing those Whistling Moon Travelers at you and you rolled naked in the grass all wet with dew and washed with the silver discharge of the moon your belly writhing flushed red sparks shrieking all around you snap-crackle-pop-pop-pop. Yes and that cocky businesswoman or should I say scared little girl who found me lying on the sidewalk shivering, dressed now and pretending, yes, eyes closed and lips pressed tight to keep from laughing. And us snatching her and swifting her to the cemetery near the old church where you whispered I’ve always wanted to, where I said let’s wake the dead, sweetheart, get their bodies rolling, their bones raised, their bones a-rattling, yes, both of us slightly drunk and her utterly soaked in fear when she woke facedown in the dirt over the buried casket, her pale ass gleaming in waves and pressed tight against the granite. Thumb’s up, thump’s up, fingerpoint: bang. Rats skitter past in shadowlanes. Oh please don’t. Her throaty sighs and highpitched whimpers. Shouldn’a of been out so late, sweetpea, mimicking her Southern drawl, but you’ll learn soon enough, darlin’–

Nothing to see here, nothing to know. Better keep on walking, Jackson.

What came first: sex or sin? Why does orthodox religion degrade women? Homosexuals? Shouldn’t all people be degraded equally? Slip on your nun shawl; I’ll be your priest. Confess all. Spit in my mouth. Do you need some lube? Some beads, some plugs? How about some nipple-clamps? A knife in your side, a gun to your head? Feel it in your ureteric bud. Aw, Ah twat Ah taw a puttytat. Yur so innocent and purty. You know I know what you like. It is only through the Symbolic we approach the Other, the taint of the strange, love. The skull’s lewd grin. Fat feeders and old farts too, sagging lips and wrinkled cheeks. Puckered dugs. Stretchmarks and cellulite. An imaginary image: rub it up against your gaping wound. And all manner of diverse stigmata. It’s that time of month — ready to re-earn your Red Badge of Courage? I know you know what I like. Are you a sneaky little dirtnapping little necknibbler? Suck my blood. Bruises and bitemarks and bloodstained sheets, oh please God don’t–

Will you let me watch? Please let me watch. What is your most-secret secret? Call me the Rape-Artist. I think hooking up with those hookers is your best idea yet, in fact several just popped up right here, just a click away, all this digital romance, this flesh unfleshed, this space rendered specious, it’s almost spiritual. Yes and the girls will come with their credit card machines and we will glaze their breasts in raspberry syrup, the girls will come and we will pay cash just in case we get too excited and we will glaze their breasts in cherry syrup, and I will let you watch as I glaze their breasts in chocolate or peanut butter or caramel syrup like I know you like like that night in November, just imagine, only remember, after our gambols in the park, you filming me clothed in nothing but the shadows cast by the steeple, enormous and rockhard, as I whispered in that girl’s ear and made her touch your Naughty Jesus, head pressed facedown in the dead roses at the foot of the tombstone. Smell the flowers, kid. Dribble-dabble all down your chin. That’s what’s up. Oh please don’t. Shutup. And that thick ass bent gleaming over the granite like a second moon itself and you forcing her orgasm and her moaning and Orion winking and Cassiopeia cackling and you striking her across her face and me striking her again across the face. Now fire away. Never been so disgusted, so ashamed, so excited. And the camera trembling raised in my right hand smashing her in the head one last time yes and the soft wet crunch and limbs going limp, bodies falling, oh God can’t–

Sthhhnuh… hhuuunhhu… huuun…

Mmmm. Huh?

Too excited: couldn’t stop. But it is the same thing every time. Strange people produce strange worlds. What about those hookers? Too late. Poor little girl. Tell no one. Play that song again. One desires to please — but pleasure never satisfies desire. Un pauvre bébé. Well, pine away. Tomorrow always. If so, if so. Take it to the next level. My God, so good — for now.

But what if found out? The body casketless? Our commingled blood and juices?

Alone, in separate cells, we shall flagellate ourselves.

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04
May
2011

A ROOM OF MY OWN, by Alana I Capria — Finale

For the previous part of this three-part serial from N.J.-based Capria, follow this link.

I think of death on a daily basis. I want to die. [But not painfully. Not with any amount of blood.] You tell me to live for something. To live for you. I know what I will live for. My room. That is all. That is all I have. A room and interior spiders and all those poisoned beasts. I cannot live for anything else. I’ve tried. But the knife was calling. And the razors. And the rope. And the gas ovens. And the vials of poison. All of them. And they were delicious. I lived for them. You could only watch. [Once, I went out west. I rode a horse through a bone cemetery. There were wolves lurking in the rib cages. A bear gnawed on a collection of pelvises. A bird of prey tucked several spinal cords beneath its tail. They all snapped at my feet. The horse ran because it was scared. It looked forward and I stared back, horrified by all the chasing creatures. They were hungry. Fresh meat hung around their mouths. Their teeth were red.] [Later, I went into a basement environment. I thought of time warps and sinkholes. I sat in that basement and lost myself in piles of antique stuffs. Porcelain dolls stared at me. Once, my room was infested by porcelain dolls. Both the blinking and unblinking kinds. They tried to bite me. I thought I could let them stay but they knew how much I hated them. I knew they would wait until my back was turned. They understood the window. So I smashed them into the walls until the porcelain cracked. I kept their eyes. All those pairs were stuffed into a desk drawer.] [I open it from time to time and they look up at me. Their pupils roll around the white paint balls. The mouths lost in the plaster walls scream my name.] [You should never witness this mess.]

{I will be a floorboard.} Maybe you will walk over me. And then I will shift and make you fall. I do not mind nails sticking through me. They offer texture as I sit. Then I can remain in place for much longer. I put up mesh screens. I place them all around me. You stick your face against the nylon wire but cannot push through. I am free. I have my little box and you cannot join me. I pity you. You do not understand my claustrophobia. If we are stuck in the room together, I will run out of air. It will hurt. The asphyxiation. The heart burn. [If I turn into the desk, will you put pressure on me? If you sit, you will break me. Then you will be alone.] That might not be a bad thing. The room would be preserved. If I cannot be in the room alone, then it might as well remain locked and abandoned. You don’t like the look of cobwebs, but I welcome the ambience. I will fit myself through the keyhole and return to the desk to write. You cannot lose the weight as quickly as I can. I will slip in and the door will stay locked. I tell you goodbye but you don’t believe me. This room is mine. Even the dust particles. I collect them on my skin and love the filmy weight.

I am a nervous person. Everything me twitch. When I feel pressured, the spiders bite me as hard as they can. They poison me from the inside out. Then my eyes turn red. Then my limbs turn yellow with jaundice. [You cannot see the discolorations as clearly as I can. They move in and out of my pigmentation. Sometimes I look darker. Then I look bright white. It is not a good look. I am either ethnic or albino. The yellow makes me sick. Creatures come in through the windows to suck the melanin out. I feel faint during the process.] [Sometimes I faint.] [Other times, my eyes roll around in my head.] (We used to make love at one in the morning every night. We reached for one another without realizing. Sometime in the middle of the act, I woke up fully and wanted you off. I never pushed you. I never told you that I wanted to be free of the weight. I simply lay still and let you work until we were both done. After you fell back asleep, I sat in the dark, dripping with body fluids, and hating you. I wanted to hold a pillow over your face. Often, I went into the closet and sat on the floor. Coats and pants sat over my face.} [In the morning, you would come to find me.] [I would be gone. Disappeared. Vanished. You would worry for hours until I finally walked over.]  [You never knew where I came from.]

[I keep all the locks drawn. No one can get into my room without permission. Not even you. I do not care if you are standing outside beating the door for hours while I sit huddled inside. You will not get in unless I want you there.] [The spiders crawl around. They make webs in the shape of your face. I do not want them to eat you. I prefer you whole. If you are not, then I mourn. Maybe not you. But I mourn something. Loss of identity, perhaps. Loss of all I’ve ever known.] I have been making this room since I was a child. Let me describe it for you. [It is a single room. Four walls. A ceiling. A hardwood floor. A desk in the center. Before I embraced technology, there was a stack of journals in the center of the desk and many fountain pens. There was a good light. Then I learned of typing. First, I tried a typewriter but I made too many mistakes. Then I found a computer. I loved it. I put it in the center. It is always part of the room now. There are books in one corner of the desk so that if I am tired of writing, I can read. These are books on various subjects. There is a chair, a high-backed chair with a cushioned seat so my hips do not hurt after many hours in a seated position. The walls are all bare. There is one window, just to my right. The door is to my left. I am alone in this room. There might be space enough for a couch but I am hesitant. I leave the room as it is. It has bright white paint on all the encasing walls. There are no other adornments. There are no pictures in frames. There are no photographs. There is nothing. Just me, my desk, my window, my writing instruments. All the drawers but one are kept empty.]

You cry in front of me. You want to a part of my room but I do not know if I can do this. You should not spend your life according to someone who has always dreamed of being alone. You do not understand. [[My aunts have hanged themselves. My grandparents have submitted to electric shock therapy. My parents have each been institutionalized. Uncles have used guns. I am left. I am alone. I do not have genetics on my side. Do you understand? These feelings are a part of me. They are part of my makeup. They make me who I am.]] [You can be something else, you say. You can break the mold. You can free yourself. You don’t have to let those things dictate who you are.] You say all of that. But you don’t really know. [You don’t understand that I want to be like that. I like having that history. It makes me feel different. I want to be tortured. I want to hear voices and faint without warning. I want to be afraid. Of you. Of those thoughts. Of my family. Of myself. I want to know that the room will give me the solitude I need.] [You cannot give it.]

[But all you want is a couch, so you can sit in on my life.] I am still uncertain. You say all you want is that little bit of space. But that means I am taking away from my own to accommodate you. [That defeats the purpose.] [If I want my own space, my own room, I cannot allow anyone else in. Because then it isn’t my own. It is ours.] [What is so bad about just having our space, you ask.] You do not mean in terms of we need space. The plural speaking for the individual. You mean our as in our. As in, a shared space. A space I am uncertain I want to be a part of. [All I want is a couch, you say.] I do not know. A couch is a big investment. It means you will be taking up the space of an entire wall. That is a wall I cannot converse with. If I let the couch through the frame, I cannot speak to the inanimate objects as freely. You will want me to spend some time addressing you. I do not know if I am ready. [The point is my own space. So I can be alone. Without you. Completely unabashed. If I let you in, just know that you will get hurt. The spiders will bite. I will stab with a pen. Just be prepared for that.]

END

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31
Mar
2011

THE FINDING AT THE TEMPLE, by Tommy Zurhellen — part 3

In Part 3 of this excerpt from Zurhellen’s first novel, Nazareth, North Dakota, from Atticus Books – reserve your copy — we pick back up with young Daylene Hooker, new in town, from Part 1, whose encounter with a crew of local debutantes is showing as she arrives home to brother and sister, first introduced.  Read Part 2.


Laz watched his sister stomp up the sidewalk to the front porch, a flattened box of Fruit Loops tucked under her arm. There was chocolate smeared all over the front of her t-shirt. At least he hoped it was chocolate. “What the hell happened to you?” he said, not getting up from his chair. “Is that a cupcake in your hair?”

“Here’s your stupid fucking cereal,” she said, slinging the box at him like a frisbee. It banged into the screen door a few inches from the brim of his hat and clattered to the floor.

“Hey, watch the chapeau.” He lifted the crumpled box to his ear and shook; it sounded like sand inside. “Did you tell them off in French, like I told you? Poulet moulet. It means wet chicken. It’s like the worst possible thing you could say to a French person.”

“Yeah well, we’re not in France, Laz. Far as I can tell we’re not anywhere.” She started to pry bits of cupcake from her head, tossing them into the weeds that were in complete control of their little front yard. “And not in a million years would I call someone a wet chicken.”

“Suit yourself,” he said, smoothing a wrinkle in his shirt. “Quel dommage.”

She stood over him, glaring as he sagged back against the wall. She scraped the bottom of her shoe back and forth against the floorboards as if trying to spark a fire under his chair. This was the one situation where big brothers were supposed to come in handy, she thought. Most of the time they were better off being invisible, but now they were supposed to go out and find the creeps and then say things like You messin’ with my little sister, you messin’ with me! or If I catch you even lookin’ at her funny I’ll kick your ugly face in! while they held them up against a wall. They weren’t supposed to just sit on the porch and spout French. Laz had many qualities she was glad for, but temporary bouts of blind rage would never be one of them. Still, she was pissed. He could at least act like he gave a damn. “Aren’t you supposed to be mowing the lawn or something, instead of just sitting out here? Mom should be home soon.”

“The major won’t be back until Monday, maybe Tuesday,” he said. “She called while you were being outgunned at the Cupcake Corral.”

Daylene’s foot stopped. “Mom called?” she said, her voice softening. “What did she say?”

He looked up at the ceiling, clearing his throat. “Let’s see. Big project, blah blah blah. National security, blah blah blah. Won’t be home until Monday or Tuesday, blah blah blah. Tell Martha to break into the hippo and buy the groceries, blah blah blah. Tell Daylene to learn how to dodge cupcakes better, blah blah blah. That about covers it.”

For once, Daylene wished he would fill in the blah blah blahs.

Martha burst out onto the porch, holding the ceramic hippo where they always kept the emergency money. “It’s empty,” she said, holding it upside down and shaking it. “Laz, I’m not even going to ask this time.”

“We keep money in there?” he said, eyes wide with mock disbelief. “I always thought it was cookies.”

Martha was about to make Laz empty his pockets, but when she noticed the fudgy disaster that resembled her little sister, she stopped cold. “What happened to you?”

Daylene tilted her head to one side. “I slipped.”

“She had a fight with Willie Wonka,” Laz said. “I think she lost.”

Daylene snarled and swung for his nose. Laz slipped the punch but leaned too far, tipping his chair and landing on the hardwood with a dull thud. His hat flew off and rolled into a corner.

“Sometimes you’re a real asshole, Laz.”

Martha moved to get between them but Daylene had already turned and bulled her way inside, slamming the screen door and heading for the upstairs bathroom. From the porch Martha and Laz could hear the bathroom door bang shut and then lock behind her. Then the shower running, hot water slowly building to make the house’s ancient plumbing scream. Then the CD player in the shower, turned all the way up on a song they’d heard too many times before. Then Daylene’s voice, trying to sing along.

“Sarah McLachlan,” Martha said. “This must be serious.”

Laz got up and dusted himself off. “We need to buy that girl singing lessons before she kills somebody.”

“She needs someone to stick up for her, not poke fun.”

“Well, I’ll leave that to you, Mrs. Hooker,” he said, lifting his shoe up on the rail and rubbing a smudge from the toe with the palm of his hand. “I’m off.”

Martha put down the jar and grabbed his shoulder, pushing him back down into the chair. They were about the same height and weight, but she had always been stronger. “Give me the money, Laz.”

He frowned. “How do you know Daylene didn’t take it? Or coyotes? I hear the coyotes around here will steal just about anything: babies, money, unlocked cars.”

Martha closed her eyes and let out a long, weary sigh. “Around here, I think they call them prairie wolves. And enough with the jokes. I know what you’re doing with the money, all right? I know,” she said, her voice falling to a whisper. “I just don’t want Daylene to know, all right? She’s got enough problems without finding out her brother is a drug addict.”

“That’s harsh,” he said, recoiling from her touch. “I’m having a little fun is all.”

“Just keep your fun away from Daylene and this house, all right?” She waited until his eyes rose to meet hers. “Now, the money,” she said, her hand out.

He groaned as he reached into his trouser pocket and handed over a thin wad of bills. “I was going to have a great weekend with that.” He looked up and down the empty street. “If my ride ever shows up, that is.”

“Your source, you mean,” she said. “Or whatever you call it.”

He laughed. “My source? Damn, sis, you’ve been watching too much Law and Order.”

“Well, I do have a crush on Jerry Orbach,” she said. “But I’m serious about this, Laz. You need to get some help.”

He stood up, brushing off his fedora. “Let me get this straight, Nancy Reagan,” he said, starting down the steps and onto the sidewalk. “You have a crush on Jerry Orbach, and you say I need help?” With that, he cocked the hat stylishly on his head, striding as if he’d suddenly found himself on Hollywood Boulevard.

“You’re going to stick out around here, wearing stuff like that,” she called after him.

“Ain’t that the truth,” he said, not turning around.

Martha leaned against the porch rail and watched him disappear down the sidewalk, shaking her head at the hat, the silk shirt, the creased pants, the wingtip shoes. He could use a walking stick with that outfit; at least he’d have something to defend himself with when the locals tried to run him down with their pickup trucks.

She checked her watch and tried to remember where she’d left the keys to the Subaru. The SuperValu would close in an hour, along with the rest of this town. She made a note to run the push mower over the yard when she got back; it wasn’t as if Laz was ever going to do it. She had to remind herself that he was her older brother, by almost a full three years.

She picked up the fallen chair and put it back in its place. This porch needed a good sweep and mop. So what if she had a crush on Jerry Orbach? He seemed like the only nice person in an entire metropolis of creeps and strangers.

Through the upstairs window, she could hear the shower trickle to a stop. Daylene would be ready to talk to her now; Martha would stop by the kitchen for a couple of Klondike bars before going upstairs to knock lightly on her sister’s bedroom door. On the way inside the house she caught her reflection in the enormous hall mirror that stood like a sentinel beside the stairs. She hated making eye contact with her own reflection, hated looking at herself except in the dimmest of light. Alone now, she leaned her hand on the banister and raised her eyes to take a long look at herself in the dusty mirror. God, she looked like a housewife: soiled apron on top of a bulky flower-print dress, house shoes, straw-colored hair tied down under a blue bandana like a loose haystack. Even her eyeglasses were for an old woman. She acted like one, too, clipping coupons, doing the laundry, even checking Daylene’s math homework after making dinner. But she wasn’t a housewife, merely the daughter of a woman who was out inspecting missile silos. Most days it didn’t bother her — she liked losing herself to routines, having people depend on her — but some days Martha yearned to simply be a girl again, meeting friends at the movies, looking at college brochures, riding in cars with boys. She broke her gaze and went into the kitchen, opening the freezer.

“Martha?” her sister’s voice called from the top of the stairs. “You still here?”

“Be right up,” she called, stopping in front of the mirror once more to stare at the old woman trapped behind the glass. Then she headed up the creaky steps, ice cream already melting in her hand.

 

Part 4

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