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  • Endless Joke
    Endless Joke
    by David Antrobus

    Here's that writers' manual you were reaching and scrambling for. You know the one: filled with juicy writing tidbits and dripping with pop cultural snark and smartassery. Ew. Not an attractive look. But effective. And by the end, you'll either want to kiss me or kill me. With extreme prejudice. Go on. You know you want to.

  • Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    Dissolute Kinship: A 9/11 Road Trip
    by David Antrobus

    Please click on the above thumbnail to buy my short, intense nonfiction book featuring 9/11 and trauma. It's less than the price of a cup of coffee... and contains fewer calories. Although, unlike most caffeine boosts, it might make you cry.

  • Music Speaks
    Music Speaks
    by LB Clark

    My story "Solo" appears in this excellent music charity anthology, Music Speaks. It is an odd hybrid of the darkly comic and the eerily apocalyptic... with a musical theme. Aw, rather than me explain it, just read it. Okay, uh, please?

  • First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
    First Time Dead 3 (Volume 3)
    by Sybil Wilen, P. J. Ruce, Jeffrey McDonald, John Page, Susan Burdorf, Christina Gavi, David Alexander, Joanna Parypinski, Jack Flynn, Graeme Edwardson, David Antrobus, Jason Bailey, Xavier Axelson

    My story "Unquiet Slumbers" appears in the zombie anthology First Time Dead, Volume 3. It spills blood, gore and genuine tears of sorrow. Anyway, buy this stellar anthology and judge for yourself.

  • Seasons
    Seasons
    by David Antrobus, Edward Lorn, JD Mader, Jo-Anne Teal

    Four stories, four writers, four seasons. Characters broken by life, although not necessarily beaten. Are the seasons reminders of our growth or a glimpse of our slow decay?

  • Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited: 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
    Indies Unlimited

    I have two stories in this delightful compendium of every 2012 winner of their Flash Fiction Challenge—one a nasty little horror short, the other an amusing misadventure of Og the caveman, his first appearance.

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Saturday
Feb042017

Nineteen Sixty Nine

It was nineteen-sixty-nine. When the man in the marketplace began raving, it wasn't a market day, so there weren't many witnesses. Me, of course. And one of the shopkeepers at Simpkin and James came out to hear the racket, the bitter mammalian gist of cheese and coffee coiling in his wake, earthy and comforting. Scattered bystanders stood white-faced while the man screamed about impossible things.

***

A red maple leaf flapping in a high wind. Twilight and the night itself shuddering. The drift bank of snow up to our roof. A naked woman materializes from the sodium overheads on an Arctic outflow prairie backroad, and Shelby takes her in, wrapping her in blankets and massaging her limbs with vigour. Cracking the seal on a twenty-sixer of Crown Royal, I daren't even approach her. She is like a witch to me, a wraith. Ought to be dead. No one can last more than a clawed handful of seconds in a Saskatchewan blizzard, 'specially not naked. Yet Shelby helps her. Women. FFS.

Then I remember the screech I stowed after Bo McGuigan stopped by here last summer and left his Newfie gifts I forgot about till now. 

***

"It's gonna matter! It's gonna matter!" the man kept shrieking. He looked like an accountant, a civil servant. No special marker, nothing to distinguish him. His soft tan coat was long, and he wore dark pressed trousers and patent leather shoes, no hat.

Someone approached him to reason with him. We could hear "Mrs. Robinson" from a radio. The marketplace—a square, with its town hall on one corner and a bakery diagonal, the Midland bank on the other and a chemist facing—held its breath.

***

The ends of her fingers are black, but she clasps the mickey of screech and upends it. I'm mesmerized by the workings of her throat. I fucking love this country. All of it. Roots. Hope. Oka. Moose Jaw. Crosby's overtime winner. Timbits. Merritt. Meech Lake. The Hip's last tour. Kamloops. Solitudes. Bobcaygeon. We kiss all refugees. We kiss our own syrupy asses while first Harper and now Trump fuck us over. It's what we do, driving out in a frozen February to take a disc of hard rubber full in the face.

"We should call the hospital." Shelby's eyes are wide-grey and frankly lovely.

"Girlfriend, we could call the hospital and report an ongoing massacre at Wounded fuckin' Knee and they wouldn't react right now. This is some badass weather, and lots of folks are trapped and hurt and maybe dying. We need to deal with this our ownselves."

"She's frostbit, though."

"Yeah, she is that."

***

He laughed. Told them it still mattered and laughed. Winked, even, as he was led away, to a quiet acreage on the edge of town where questions could be put.

"You Brits. Living in the heart of fuckin' midlothian and dancin' down Petticoat Lane. Who the actual fuck do you think you are?"

"The bigger question right now is who you are, sir."

"If I told you, you'd think me insane."

"We already do. So tell."

"Okay. Fair. I'm from your future. The year 2017, to be precise."

The interrogator looked away, and I could see violence squirm briefly across his face like the ghost of a sidewinder. His better nature won out.

"So you a Yank?"

"Canadian."

"A Yank with manners, then."

"Funny. And not inaccurate."

"So what matters? What is going to matter?"

"All of it. I came back to the right time but the wrong place. You people aren't even bit parts. This is a clusterfuck. I'm meant to warn the powers, the movers and shakers…"

"You mean Westminster? Their movement is an illusion, and all they shake are their tiny, shrivelled cocks."

"Look. There are things that if you neglect to do now will destroy much of the good in the world ahead."

"How the hell would a Canadian know any of this, even if he was from he future? Canada's not exactly front and centre in world affairs … although you do spell centre right."

"It's complicated."

"So what does the world look like in 2017, Mr. Time Traveler?"

"Beautiful and fucked."

"Not that I believe you, but details?"

"Sure you're ready for this? Um, okay. We can talk to each other via small portable screens, anywhere in the world. We have cars that drive and park themselves. We've so far avoided nuclear annihilation but not climate change, which is threatening everything. And I mean everything. We can wear headsets, glasses, that enhance reality, paint new worlds atop our usual one. Play games that are plausible versions of the actual world. Anyone anywhere on earth can in theory speak to anyone else, via screens in our homes or in our hands. Using the same technology, we have access to all human knowledge and all human depravity. Just gotta ask. Step in a car, even one you have to drive yourself, and a satellite will help you reach your destination, with verbal instructions in a gentle feminine voice. Or alternately, press the screen of one of your devices once, twice, and you can hail a car to arrive in minutes, take you elsewhere, take you anywhere. All while you listen to a music library that doesn't exist in physical space, is floating someplace else they call the cloud, each and every song and artist instantly accessible. Vinyl to tape to compact disc to mp3, details no one could invent. Let's see, what else?"

He loved his audience, a matador toying with the sleepiest of bulls. 

"Okay. America had eight years with a popular black president, a kind and thoughtful family man who served with grace and erudition and without scandals. In most liberal democracies, people who love someone of the same sex can get married. Married married. Nobody cares about marijuana anymore, and it's often prescribed for health reasons. But cigarette smoking is way down, and most of us know the tobacco companies lied for decades. Lip service is paid to gender equality, yet women are still paid less than men for the same work. Television captured some godawful things, even after Vietnam: the explosion of a space vehicle we called Challenger, a terrorist attack on America that brought down the World Trade Center, twin towers whose construction finished only a year from now in your time, yet loomed over lower Manhattan for thirty years. People have run the hundred metres in under ten seconds. This decade you currently live in will be a cipher for many on the right and the left: boho extravagance, permissive hellscape, or a foundation for human progress. Civil rights, Dr. King, and My Lai. Hunter S. Thompson, Edward R. Murrow, Joe McCarthy. You know most of that. But what you don't know is the Cold War will end in 1991, yet we won't necessarily be safer. On a global level, white people will become steadily less central, and this will anger them in ways we weren't prepared for." 

He swallowed, asked for water, wondered how anyone, however well briefed, could possibly encapsulate a half-century of change this rapid and momentous. Decided they couldn't. 

"Back to science. We've mapped the surface of Pluto, which is no longer considered a planet, and we've discovered thousands of actual planets beyond our solar system. Yes, thousands. We have a telescope in space that's now almost obsolete yet has sent us cosmic images that would make you cry. Deep, deep space and pillars of gas. Great swathes of nebulae. Star factories spanning light years. Robot cars explore the Martian dirt, clicking and sampling. We've mapped the human genome. Used DNA to solve crimes. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of books can be loaded onto a single tablet, which fits in one hand and looks like a slate and is immediately readable. And while fossil fuels still dominate, alternative energy is beginning to take hold: giant white windmills spin off of coastlines and in gusty prairie grasslands, while solar panels drop in price as we speak, are arrayed in deserts and on rooftops—using the heat of the sun to power our world. We still drive gas guzzlers (a term that came along after your era), but they're more like gas sippers now, and we also drive electric cars. Hybrids. It's a transition in motion, which makes it sound like we're okay, like we're handing it all. Which we're not, or I wouldn't be here."

"So what went wrong?"

"A fuckstain of epic proportions. It ain't so easy to sum up."

***

I miss Bo McGuigan already. Probably should have asked him what the machine was that he left, along with the screech. It looked like a toy to me. Yeah, I'm actually that stupid. Had a dial with place names and years, kinda like those plastic discs that match images of animals with their sounds. I loved those things. Early versions even had a pull cord. 

***

"Assuming we believe all that—and if not, it's a rich, impressive, and most appalling fantasy, I must say—what is it you want us to do?"

"I don't know anymore. After I ran it by a friend in Ottawa, someone with access to security types, codes even, I was supposed to take this to a national leader and pass them secret coordinates for some unnamed other who might be poised to take someone out who will ruin everything. Tradecraft. Not sure it feels that clear anymore. It's possible I was a little shitfaced and cynical when I activated the machine."

***

Shelby's naked new popsicle friend is speaking in oddities. Claiming she's not from our time but from the future. I want to show her Bo's machine, but I have an inkling she might trash it. Matter and antimatter kinda thing. She sure ain't happy about something: the future, the past, the blizzard, Saskatchewan, all of which is completely fucking understandable. Dammit, do things just keep getting worse? What did we let in when we opened that orange door on a reality show you've already forgotten?

Hell. Let the screech flow like virulent nectar.

***

A boy is trapped in an old outhouse. He knows he can't escape without some payment being paid. The birds are silent above. No cars move on the long driveway or beyond. He wishes he could be at the market with his mother, on a Thursday or a Saturday, buying fresh translucent fillets of cod, watching the unskinned carcasses of rabbits and chickens sway in a light breeze, smelling life and death and listening to men bark and generators hiccup and growl.

Instead of here, where the earth reeks of dark wet green and sounds are entirely absent.

Yeah, take my skin, touch its length, drain my dreamscape, ruin my hobbled walk on this drawn-out stage. Make sure you're cruel, as you were sent here to be. Vicious control-freak Punch to everyone else's blinking Judy. You gaslit me for a lifetime.

***

Best punch me hard. Moondogs flash above our impromptu rink. The clouds clear and our sweatstain galaxy smears itself on the great dome one blurred star at a time… and you cry, and I cry, and she cries. We are such losers. Tourists in our own backyards, wishing for dimensions we never dared conjure. But you fire a slap shot from the hashmarks, I barely tip it through the five-hole, and we all celebrate like we earned it, like Gretzky smiled. It's a good goal, truth be told. My mind is filled with the golden touch of sunset on the eaves of a sagging barn, the dripping orange yolk of a setting day over a red-green vista. All of us meeting our futures, crushed against the boards, sucking up our last damn hit, pretending till the end of time that we ain't hurt. 

Friday
Jan272017

Earthbound

That was the day I woke up tired. 

A sepia dream 'bout trains fading like a station abandoned.

"You okay, homeboy?"

"Nah."

"What's up?"

"Usual."

Didn't know it was possible to be so bone-worn drained. Didn't want to keep talking about it, though, so I grabbed a lukewarm coffee Estelle made earlier, poured some of that hazelnut creme shit all poor people seem to like better'n milk, and drank it in one, for the caffeine, the sugar, and nothin' else. Tasted like scorched ass with an undertone of litter tray. 

Got up to go.

"Where you goin'?"

"No place."

"Always a place."

Heard the trains still in my head, mourning each other, chasing each other's tails across the plains, through the Appalachians to the Rockies. Needy fucking earthbound dragons.

"Always a place."

"You be here later?"

"Yeah."

"Ever stop dreaming, black?"

"Prolly not. Listen. I tell you somethin'?"

"I know you will anyway."

"You funny girl. A'ight. When I sleep, I got this place. A city. Some old parts, some new. A old station. College kids. Antiques. Overpasses. Some kinda boat place—whatchoo call it?—a marina, that's it. Glitterin' in sunlight. Impressive fan of steps at the corner of a mall. East of downtown, a dark wooded place filled with wasps and nettles. Suburbs, vacation homes, a regular hood, weedy abandoned lots, you know?"

"For real?"

"Well, no, exact opposite of fucking real, matter of fact."

"A'ight. Sorry. Sounds kinda dope."

"Kinda is. Sometimes I can fly, like I'm watching from some drone, an' I fly north over downtown with its seawall glass, and northwest past the glittering waves and the boats, and over this island that feels like it's made outta moors or some kinda lowlands. All heather and weak fall colors, like a smile on a face that forgot itself."

"You always bin special wit' words, boo."

"Ain't like that."

"Sure it is."

Ain't fuckin' special. Ain't ever rode the short bus. I wanted to hurt her for just a part of a second, but it was enough to alert me to the badness inside-a me. Somethin' crawled from my left nostril and I swiped at it before she could see, and I saw it was black as crude. Thought at first it was old blood, but it was worse. Things're always worse. We gonna choke ourselves, ain't we? Ever ran a hunnerd-ton engine into a moose? Me neither, but I talked to a train man from Saskatchewan once, up in Canada someplace. Fuckers stand there like nothin' can take 'em out. Moose, I mean, not Canadians. Idea they can be killed by somethin' bigger than they is outside their wheelhouse, their motherfucking domain. But everthin' comes in mist form, even moose.

Know what? Before we found all that black shit in the earth—hard, soft, wet, grainy, cloudy, don't matter—we built all this on fuckin' whales. Ain't even lyin'. You think them whales thought they could be reduced to fuel, to lantern oil, to women's fucking corsets? Nah, dawg. They's the biggest things ever lived on this sweet dark earth, far's we know. Lucky for them enough of us still like 'em. Even more lucky for us this loco space-pinball had motherfuckin' whales, though, feel me?

Whatever. There's a kinda yearnin' the world won't get behind. As well as a kinda grief.

Friday
Jan202017

My Week on the Shoulders of Small Giants

Sunday. Such a European scene: a tumult of starlings shocked into curling spirals by the clamour of bells.

You walk down the narrow staircase, twisting, the adobe walls beset with dark-framed photographs and paintings, small tubs of flowers on every half-lit floor. A hollow airless silence like the preemptive mourning of the world. 

"I wanted to write play. How you say? A story with much art. Its title is The Aching Breasts of Juliette Binoche, and it is deep comment on feminine beauty and mothers, no? And on art also, of course. Is beautiful and filled with unhappy jokes, yes? About what we expect and what we desire?"

"Everything is filled with everything."

Dark cypresses line our route, the narrow road twisting like a gentle scar through a world of fecundity.

"This Tuscany," you say. "You think is real, but you see it only on screens, behind glass."

"Not true. I visited once, a long time ago."

"Too long. Your memory is broken. This is real place. Not just extra virgin olive oil and red wine in fiaschi. People break legs, shit themselves by accident, miss trains, hurt dogs, cry over bad service."

"You are wrong. I'm here now."

"Ah."

Where had you come from? Which floor? What moment? What happened back there? 

Monday. I touch your shoulder and we are in Trafalgar Square, and the rain is coming down like the wet angry spears of a tiny battle. Even the pigeons have sought shelter. Flanking lions like withdrawn testicles and Lord Nelson's updrawn shaft. Regretful intake of breath before a desolate climax. Buses and cabs. Red and black.

Mind the gap and please don't touch my shoulder.

Too fucking late, mate.

Tuesday. Pacific Northwest. A sundown free-for-all. Raucous seabirds. The smeary drama of colour. An overpass and the homeless on palettes beneath it, sheltered from the elements but not from the furious, heedless, seething, incessant noise overhead, that divine roiling endless colitis.

"Notice the Chevy Caprice that's always in the parking lot?"

"The white one? Kinda, yeah, what of it?"

"Serial killer," you say with certainty. "All serial killers impersonate cops. True fact."

"Okay, now you're talking. This is a mystery story, after all."

"Course."

Is it, though? When we learned of her disappearance we thought it was a joke. Last any of us remembered she had smuggled her hamster, Loki, cage and all, into the Cascadian Motel. Now the room is spotless and no one has lived in it for weeks. The very air has retreated in her memory. Is it me, or does it keep getting harder to breathe?

"Since it's always there, always parked away from the front lot, shouldn't be hard to figure out who drives it."

"You're right. I'm on it. Go set a freakin' watchman."

Shoulder tap. Aw, no. For fuck's sakes.

Wednesday. "Now I've arrested you, things will come clearer. Speak to me. I said, speak to me. No? Okay, I will spell things out from here on in. You have been arrested for being a slut, as you probably know. Yeah, I'm aware that's not an official felony. Not even a misdemeanour, however much it ought to be. Both. Worse. I watched you for years, tried to get your attention so you would change your filthy ways, but you never even looked my way, let alone listened to my advice. Attempting to help, I went to a priest and a rabbi. They knew nothing, other than to identify my own blackened soul. Which I knew was only tainted after fitful dreams spent rubbing your soiled thighs. Yes, yes, you are restrained. This is to protect you, believe it or not. Sorry for your pain. Such discomfort is nothing when compared to what I need to do to cut out your dirt. I cannot lie. It will become unbearable, and for hours, but by the end you will thank me for the release. How glorious the mysteries of this life."

You haven't encountered me before. I cook with cast iron, dream in monochrome, except for the sounds, which are technicolor, ride dirt bikes along narrow trails on mountainsides while screaming cougar sounds as the sun drops off the edge of the world, plead with the holy Jezebel to part her swollen lips for me, allow me one brief entry in a long, dull existence, wait for me in the swamp while my Cajun brethren gather to parlay vengeance before the invaders can disperse along the Gulf coast, itself teeming with pinguid betrayal, last guttering breaths belched amid twilit mangroves.

I am new to you. Knew to you. Ha, funny. Unbeknownst, I've stitched together histories, closed the edges of long-exposed wounds with my gluey saliva, sutured your suppurating lesions. I was there when Tutsi bodies were split then stacked like stove lengths amid the pews. Sanctuary my holy-rolling ass. Truth is, it's been a blistering education. I am not your kind.

Thank you, my love. But I am not your kind.

Get away from my goddamned shoulder…

Thursday. "I speak perfect French, excellent English, and functional Italian. You look at me like I live in an ivory tower. But I don't. I am normal. Normal. Yet I dedicate my life to art, to beauty, because I want to embody love. I know I am not pure. I know my body ages, my waist thickens, and my buttocks grow like cauliflower heads. Like mushroom clouds viewed from space. My breasts ache because I never wanted lactation to stop; I want to feed the world through my heavy tits, my dripping engorged nipples. This is normal, I think?"

A woman strolls through a field of slaughtered men, plucks poppies as she goes and drapes their moist and fragile petals on the pale and upturned faces of the sleepers. Butterfly wings, humidity. Mrs. Dalloway knows flowers cancel death—the great and secret equation. Knows stories are told in increments, a soft weak page at a time. Her hands make patterns in the golden air, patterns of loss and patterns of murder. Until she stops. And finally speaks.

"I had to kill my pet today. Not because the pet was wrong, but because I was wrong. Not because I was wrong, but because you are wrong. Not because you are wrong, but because everything is wrong. Not because everything is wrong, but because…" See? You take this where it wants to go and you rediscover nihilism. And that's okay, if that's what you want. But watch the tide blast into some granite hole, explode upward at its secret outlet, the percussive shout an hourlong blare and echo. Ready for that?

She was an addict. Erica. She sat straight-backed on a stool in the back room of the Immortal Lion Rampant and told me she needed to take a piss. I offered to guide her to the right toilet. She shook her head like a small dark bird, stayed still, and after a while let loose in her hip-shaped jeans. The way of the junkie. I carried her home, more than once, soaked, ammoniac. Yet she was beautiful in her way, a dark gypsy face like a sabotaged heart and cool black tresses, full shapely breasts and an improbable waist. Her favourite record was New Gold Dream by Simple Minds, music she never grew beyond. Me either. I still worship her. With my diligent eyes, I edited out her track marks. 

I'll never forget how her ribcage looked as she climbed on me, her hard dark nipples swinging free for a second or two, her inky tornado snatch clutching me stormward, her grief-stricken face more pretty than anything I'd ever seen, or have ever seen, ever. Those fatalistic chestnut eyes. My faltering shaft, the immunity plight. Skepticism and the caterwauling heart. O Erica. O Clarissa. O Juliette.

Had I known more, and been less wound, I would have asked if she knew Ms. Binoche. Whether she loved cats. Or cypresses limned in gold. Or poppy fields. Her preferences: tea or coffee; cats or dogs; sunrise or sunset; love or money. And, of course, how much she loved to fuck.

We can't do this forever. The decades have accumulated like virescent foam on a pond, and rotator cuffs break down. Hips uncouple, ruination looms. Grab my shoulder, girlfriend; hang on. Most everything's now sad poetry. 

Friday. The high elastic whine of atoms stretching. "The sadness will last forever," Van Gogh's final words. Our unlikely kind's likely epitaph, read by no one ever. No interpreter at all.

Oh, almost forgot. Unpack, unburden this. 

Saturday, that shamanistic day—reflections off of chrome, a motel door ajar, a sweaty pint of mezcal, me ready for your valley, your little prairie wolves—is permanently canceled.

Friday
Jan062017

Hope in Any Other

© Steve Hebert"Isn't that what matters?"

The rest of what she had to say was drowned out by the falls. 

We gathered our equipment and began the hike back down to the trailhead.

But yes, I thought. It is what matters. 

And also, that was the last time we or anyone else saw her.

Spem in alium. Did you hear? The hidden choir, singing "Be mindful of our lowliness" in a dead language?

*** 

Christmas Day. We found our way back into town and heard George Michael died. No one cried about it until later; one of those slow-burn things. Somewhere along the timescale we lost our freedom and our faith, and we never fully pieced those two together until now.

Here in the bar, we drank to all the people we lost in this terrible, abominable 2016. Someone suggested karaoke, and to our eternal shame most of us cheered encouragement, when we really ought to have left that dire year to its abject misery. To dissolve in its own toxic juices. Not even sang about it.

To me was allotted "Rebel Rebel," and however hard I tried, profusely cognizant some boy might be a girl, some mother was in a whirl, I could never do it justice, whoever tore their goddamn dress, even if I were telling this story from a fictional land. A story board. Some tawdry vision.

The thing is, we still had the mud and water from those canyon trails sluicing from our hiking boots. Our dreams were still unfolding. I recall watching Michael Stipe on some talk show, withdrawn into his guru beard, his pain at the outcome of the world so plain and so wretched I could feel my actual heart shrink within the cavern of my chest and quietly crumple. This isn't what we envisaged in 1991. Or 1999. At what point did the dream end?

If I could say anything, I would say this: stop being afraid. Stop being fearful. And quit blame. Reject potato peelings. Spurn astroturf. Reduce dead fledglings to tiny rubber dinosaurs. Fucking stop it, you weak-kneed, spineless fucks. Taste the dirt. Either we're right, or we die. Don't pretend. Take a stand. 

***

Anger and graciousness. You don't deserve us, and vice versa. Cardboard signs at four-way intersections kitty-cornered by Target and Kmart, Costco and Walmart. Vast static confluences of concrete-and-asphalt rivers occupied by grubby penitents holding Sharpied cardboard pleas, each one more desperate—Need work. Please help. Will work for food. Will work for weed. Will work for sex. Homeless, anything helps. I used to be your neighbor. Please help me I have nothing. God bless—people staying, people moving on, not so permanent markers. Impregnable suburban tanks gliding by. Such rootlessness in a land of generic signs, identical to the next town and the next, long as they're on an interstate. Less so off the beaten path. 

But then the shocking moments of beauty, the dream blue of the sky with fantasy clouds scudding above a smoky mauve-into-cerulean range of distant peaks. A hawk spit-crying and spinning slo-mo in the afternoon thermals. A coyote loping quick-step anxious in scrubland. Mile-long trains blaring like lonesome creatures seeking their lost herd. Made antlike by tawny distance. Rare punctuation in the endless sentence of a narrative yet to be fully told. 

***

"What's that movie? You know the one."

"Uhm, no."

"With that actor, you know? She was in that other show, yeah? One with the trailer in the desert."

"I sure don't have a single idea what you're talking about."

"Aw, fuck, you ain't one bit helpful."

It don't have to be some big drama. We can just get away. Leave while the pulse of a hip-hop beat makes of the walls a drumskin. While the smell of fried food coats the air and clogs our sinuses right after we free the blockhead dogs to piss in the overgrown weeds out back.

I don't know anymore what's good or not. Or I think I know. I just ain't sure. My fingers look like they belong to someone twice my age. Daren't even look at my face no more.

My mama come from Lisbon and my daddy mighta been Moroccan or Malian or something, Mama's story always changed, but I'm an American girl, bathed in American light. That was a joke. The only light I mostly ever knowed was held under a spoon so the drugs would cook. Somewheres between the two half-jokes lies my real tale.

We are what's known as itinerant, living in the places in between the other places, Red Bull our fuel and Mark One vodka our lube, refusing to dream, middle-fingering all a y'all. Dancehall and trap, sometimes even cowpoke. Metro Boomin. Vybz Kartel. Lady Antebellum. The world is made of gauze and crepe, draped over syncopated yelps of nothin' much, dissolved by the sound of a thousand funnel storms harsh-disciplining flat annihilated land.

***

"I ain't interested in where you come from, I'm interested in where y'are now."

"That's good."

"I mean no disrespect, but your story's like a million other stories. I only wanna know if you can help me now, this moment. Don't mean I ain't interested in you."

"Right. I understand. You know how people chase twisters?"

"Yeah, I seen that on YouTube."

"Well, I can get behind anything, you know?"

"I know it."

"Did we hurt someone back there? Back in Sioux Falls?"

"Best not talk about that."

"A'ight. You know it."

We did, though. Things got accidental. I hope someone didn't die. Afraid they mighta. 

***

We'll return to those falls one day. Some requiem playing in our earbuds. Under a grey dystopian sky. We'll carry our hope by the shoulder straps and look for signs of her, not find them, our faces wet in the relentless spray. We'll listen for her echo in the tumult, and we'll hear nothing. Gone as if she hadn't lived. The script of her life part written. A dull place in all our hearts that sometimes still aches on certain calendar dates. Earlier I said, "That was the last time we or anyone else saw her." But how can I be so sure of that? Melodrama's never a complete truth. What did she meet that day that quietly and effectively and manifestly obliterated her? I could keep on dissembling, but fact is, truth is, we won't ever know, and given the times we've turned our stricken faces toward the abyss, why on God's dark and gleaming earth should we?

Friday
Dec302016

Eleven Steps

My friend is generous, but like most others I meet he eventually runs outta patience with me.

"Get off of your high horse and deal with things the way they are, goddammit."

"Not on a high horse, I swear. Not even on a horse."

"Then why do you seem so far away?"

"I don't know. Maybe 'cause I won't quit. A horse did gallop out this way, then slowed and left. But honestly, I swear I never rode it."

"Yeah. Okay, brother. Fine. What the fuck are you so afraid of?"

To that I say nothing, make idle patterns of a blemish on the wall. Feeling trapped but knowing I coulda turned it around on him.

But you wanna actually hear what I think? What I'm afraid of? Here's what I think.

The fear is you enter that world of men, of wounded men, of stained men, irredeemable men, and it seems easier to be alone than it would be to risk becoming part of that drab, desaturated procession, in which every gesture is interpreted via a sponsor or judged through some oppressive twelve-step framework, where all we can smell is sharp and carbolic like infrequently laundered institutional clothing, or grim and sebaceous as two-stroke engine oil, rank and barnlike as stale tobacco but never booze, god forbid. Never booze and never excitement. Or grace. Nothing feminine whatsoever. Always something daubed or smeared. Small. Adobe. Shrunken. Stained and shabby. 

Because we deserve this purgatory having reached prematurely for heaven. 

Less the unforgiven than the unforgivable. 

Innocent of what, indeed.

And yet we're blindsided and (it turns out) astonishingly wrong. Turns out these men are kind. Thoughtful. They bother to consider their actions. Figure out how they got here. Take time to make a few things right along the way and where they can. However shambling and uncharming. 

We stumble across far better people here—in the psych wards, in general population in our prisons, in seedy church basements redolent of the last tobacco partaken outside, where clutches of dreary people admit their flaws and are better for it—than we meet in suburban backyards, in the halls of academe, or in cocktail societal gatherings.

Anywhere else, in fact. We try, we rectify.

These are the folks who've looked into a well and never seen the bottom. Have felt the chill crawl of ragged fingertips on their raised skin. Been called out in class to read the paper they lied about writing because they'd been fending off an uncle (or an aunt) all night. They've been that guy or that gal who sits at the diner's or the bar's end, wanting to be left alone to enjoy their breakfast eggs sunny side up, or nurse their splash of bourbon on the rocks, only to flinch at the brittle shadow erecting itself behind them. The Other. The Enemy. The schoolyard Bully, all grown up, feigning strength through an unerring radar for doubt in others. 

***

Maybe something's happening. I put our friendship before my lust. Proud of that. Your light broke down into shimmers. Like our love had always been some dream, some distant piano melody while rain bejeweled and berated our windowpanes, crowding us, tracing facial lines while you haunted a roadside, a gravel shoulder, above a precipitous drop, below a climb toward someplace greener, better. Raindrops tattooing a dusty trail becoming mud. 

Four words I never wanted to hear, in a voice like silk and shrapnel: "A girl was hurt."

Or maybe a boy.

I show up at your place in the dry hills of an evening, arrive to the chorus of pop bottle windchimes, Dr Pepper taking the bass while Coca Cola trills the melody, and I almost gag on the bright banded gradient of night to our west. Gravitational waves. The drawn-out death cry of faraway stars. Sirens. Lineage. Binaries. Gamma rays. 

Ancestry.

You take my bloodline and twist those veins, spill my unworthy blood, mop up my unfit gaze, trash my blood-soaked shirt. You are a cunt, but I'm far worse. Far more hungry (so much hungrier).

Watch the full moon claim its sky. Her sky. It don't matter. You are a black woman confronting a white man; you have to know how badly you will lose. But your pure courage warrants a better ending, doesn't it? 

Are you right now on Robson Street, strolling between the flickering lightsprays limning the trees? Can you follow the trail of scent? Rooftop seafood restaurants. Tsunamis. Luxury ivories tinkling. Sushi. Complexity. Lush. Lush. The store. Enter, smile at the staff, ask if they still pipe that music they played all those years ago. What was it? Vitalic? Electronic. OK Cowboy? Leave. Greenery spilling like falls. Do they know the best, the greatest words? The most evocative? That beechwood also means, in German, Buchenwald

Ghost me. Abandon me. Stop pretending I matter. This is no haven, no liberating sanctuary. 

Race cannot be ignored. Gender cannot be ignored. Genocide likewise. You want me, you want to feel me, you want to roll my credentials between your tender fingertips? I once shot something minimal and lovely, oblivious to a camera mast that watched my every move. How can we possibly compete with that?

Grunge city. Dark sister. You needle me.

I'm back with you, a raw white man with a clean black woman, a dry black man with a lean white woman, a trans woman with two lost souls, an atheist with a Jew, a skinhead with a queer, a Muslim with a kafir. We can't shirk this. The sounds of an entire city are like a canopy, a vast speaker quivering open over our heads, heedless of a trembling monolith, of dream saviours, of Cascadia, mostly flinching from the prophesied slip. 

Wanna cross the line? Subject yourself to indignity? To likely shame? Be allowed through at the booth so you can fill up with cheap gasoline, grab a bottle or two of two-buck Chuck, a Trump-hued block of American cheese, keep driving because now that you're here you might as well explore. Through wide expansive rural miles, full ditches, cornfield stubs. Sumas. Linden. Mount Baker to the east or link up with Guide Meridian to Bellingham south. See the school bus, the exact same colour and shape as the school buses you know, the red octagonal stop signs, the signs in general except the speed limits, which first look the same yet on reflection seem so low and weird. Who the fuck goes fifteen, twenty, twenty-five? Wouldn't it be better to walk?

You used to be our friends.

She is waiting for you on a motel forecourt off of a state road, her thighs already splayed above the loose grey gravel. A Thunderbird looming overhead. The sun dropping westward disappointingly fast. Her crotch is damp, but she knows not to reach too far. Knows you're not gonna make it. She returns to her room and fingers the remote, reels in a story 'bout a man who shot a toddler during a road rage incident, cries when a witness tries to make sense of it, yells at the news team who don't seem to have grasped its full import.

Then she succumbs, masturbates, her fingers soon warm and puckered with her own arousal. Celebratory. Her orgasm coinciding with a memory, a rearview glimpse of how she opens up a hole, untwists the leaden links in a chainlink fence as a child, and lets a boy through, from the streets her mother calls the Commonplace. A boy who'll end up paying much too great a price for that.

A boy who in his dreams turns everything to eleven.

And it still comes back to this: we deserve this purgatory having reached so early for heaven.

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