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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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Friday
Mar032017

Some Dire Indian

Stillness. A lime-green-and-cream fifties model Buick by a lake. Backdropped by a silent bank of conifers, half-lit by a quarter moon. A woman in a headscarf stepping gracefully into a boat. A shadow man taking her hand.

You think you know what's happening here? Well, you don't. 

Back then, we summoned from nothing the possible. We dreamed up heists in our methamphetamine haze and enacted them. Constantly amazed they worked. Purloined heat from frigid matrons. Took what was undoubtedly ours. Dropped slack dumbass bodies into lakes. 

Once, we stopped in the desert, a trunkful of bills, stopped and took off hurtling like gazelles. She was a vision. Her flower print dress clinging to her damp curves, riding high, her thigh sweat like raindrops lashing from a clothesline as she pistoned across the scrub, heedless of snake or cactus or ankle-trap burrow. My crazy mother. High-strung, they said, betraying both their bloodlust and their envy. 

"This isn't the place," I said, once I found my breath.

"Sure it's the place."

"You will get us caught."

"Stop worrying, my sweet, sweet boy. Life is so short. None of this matters. Dance with me here."

So I did. Under a splayed galactic sky, serenaded by the wild desert dogs, amid pinpoints of virescent treachery, I danced with my half-mad mother and felt her core try to scorch the fulsome night.

***

Another customer, another delayed minute before I can cash out and go home. 

We got ourselves a menagerie tonight. Three college boys celebrating somethin' I never figured out, a couple on the verge of breakup or proposal, ain't sure which, two women in them headscarves worn by A-rabs, a goddamned family of six here way past their kids' bedtime. Some dire Indian veteran alone at the bar. Two off-duty cops, a man and a woman (can always smell five-o). A black drifter, the one just came in. The one that spoke right after the bell above the door finished jingling.

"Better ignore me or shoot me, but I got a bad tale to relate." 

***

Here we are. No longer able to tell sadness from meanness. No longer caring to. It might even have mattered once. Remember that visit when you drove from your family's home and one of their tiny marmalade kittens had crawled unbeknownst into your wheel well? Bones no thicker than a quail's. How quickly and immediately it died, a smear on a swatch of the slow-turning world. Ten weeks' worth of wide-eyed warmth cooled in an instant. Yet even thwarted, life won't relent.

***

These eyes have watched a half century of things: melodrama, atrocities, gelato, acceptance, secrets, luminosity, triumph, toxins. No wonder they look weary, weighty as grey velvet curtains draped behind a crime scene.

Why not come to something new with curiosity instead of suspicion? You think jaded is a good look? Sure, have it your way. But only if dead is too. 

***

"Here's my tale. My momma was a good woman. Sure, all a y'all would say the same 'bout your mommas. But mine was 'specially good. Why? Simple. Because she held off a full invasion while being tormented, just to let her kids escape. Ten of us made it, including me ... obviously. Five of them died. Which is why I'm here."

I weren't impressed. Be the first to call myself impatient. "That's it? The whole tale? I cain't even do the doggone math."

"Hell, it ain't ended yet, girl. Open that door. Go take a look outside. You think there's the silent desert out there?"

"Well, sure ain't the Big Apple, if that's what you mean."

Can't explain this, but I wanted to smile right then, like I quit, like I was cryin' uncle, though it gets harder for your face to change as you age. Something about how the muscles lose their pliancy. And I ain't even old. But we all watched as the Indian, who maybe ain't ever smiled, not once, made his slow way to the door, opened it, shrugged, and disappeared into the night. And I mean disappeared. It wasn't just night out there; there was no "out there" out there. Pitch-black; an absence. Don't hardly have the words. Read it in a National Geographic once, about space: the heat death of everything. 

The drifter looked me dead in the eye and then everyone else in the diner: the frat boys, the sand niggers, the lovebirds, the breeders, the law. "Y'all ain't gonna like how this story goes, I'm afraid…"

***

"Quick, tell me a cliché."

"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

"You need to listen to the right songs."

Words spit from the void. We leave our eventual faces as fossils half-gathered by beachcombers distracted by showers of glittering meteors. I loved you from the start, just came to say hello, but now I'm the brokenhearted. Dreaming of escape, pretending you're not a rat and this is no damn sewer. 

And for a second or two, it works.

You walk beneath the land bridge at the shore—a small and timid biped framed by an arch of granite and greenery, half-dreamed into reality by heartache and salt. 

Friday
Feb172017

Forever Girl

Before they hit the bars they agreed to meet and eat at TGI Friday's.

The evening was liquid. Streams of colored light reflected on roads teeming with mingled fluids, wished-for outcomes made manifest.

Her friends had eaten all the cheese-covered nachos. To hell with them, she thought. I will be the virtuous one and eat a plain chip without cheese or sour cream or even guacamole. When she closed her eyes and placed the chip in her mouth and let it sit on her tongue, she was suddenly twelve again, and she heard someone whisper "Body of Christ," to which she murmured an earnest "Amen."

As it softened and dissolved on her still tongue, she tried not to smile.

She wore the piety of her own awkward holiness like a costume halo until the priest cleared his throat and shot her a look, as if to say, "Don't overdo it. You can't stay on your knees forever, girl."

Ironic advice from a priest. Advice she had forgotten until now. (But he hadn't said it, had he?)

***

Migrant. An emotive word, though not like refugee. Maybe I hear the blare of controversy via the thin high line I can trace to my family's story. A story not all that different from any other: history, herstory, theirstory. But it sings to me the gravity of movement. And of banishment. And of irony. 

***

I drank it all. Turned it up to eleven. Poured every taste into my gaping hunger. Insatiable. Daubed oils on a canvas, smeared from it a story. Inhaled a hundred women. Soothed them, was soothed by them. Concocted new and bloodier Caesars. Dropped from sheer cliffs into a tumult of surf. Reckoned with the surging waves. Made of their concussions a prayer cycle. Shucked oysters, eyed tide pools, gripped a woman's hips before my face and breathed—lustful, littoral, deeply consensual. 

***

The sky ain't right, and people have lost their minds.

Hand me that guitar, and I'll try to calm them.

Three chords: Em7, D/F#, G. Capo on the second fret. Pick or strum, I don't care. Be playful. 

You got a phone? A landline? Flat black. Most retro. Or maybe sensible. Listen. Phone your people, let them twitch their isolated minds and cry their goddamned brains out.  

***

You rode that dusty Mediterranean train north. Watched the parched lands fall behind the multiscratched window. You had no money, having squandered it on ouzo and women and lukewarm moussaka while the islands dreamed like ignorant children, of pale olive groves and hot white stasis. You boarded the slowest train. Hunger in your belly and boredom in your brainpan, dwindling memories of a killing. Athens, seed of anise, dark abandoned Albania. Each time it pulled into a station, children ran along the dirty platform, desperate to sell water or bread or newspapers or beer. You also wanted those things. But each time, you sat staring like an ancient exiled wolf as the slow train pulled out and continued north, feeling the outlaw clench of your slattern ribs grip your ailing heart. Athens to Belgrade to Venice to Cologne. Retracing your earlier steps, your lighter ones. Seventy-two tender and stupefying hours. Stripped to essentials. Across from you: a multilingual man teaching fellow-travelers tricks with ping-pong balls, juggling and swallowing them, sequestered in a compartment all his own, and begrudged by no one. 

You recall the squat moustachioed man below the Acropolis, bending steel bars, his wide stance outlandish under such duress, beside so iconic a browbeat of history. His short legs like dwarf trees, his facial hair dark as a painted gasp, his grunts like the croak of goats amid the soft winsome reek of leather.

All passed now into memory.

***

You are that girl. You will always be that girl. Stood atop a headland, attuned to the noise of a calamitous ocean. That bedlam tide. Scanning the heather, the dunes, the stunted trees. Come back to me. Come back. I wrote songs for you, transcribed my dreams, channeled the declarations of a hundred lovers. Stay here. This is temporary. You have a bedroom and a kitchen, with a hotplate. Stay here. I will return. You have my word. The traffic passes by your window like the endless surf. I promise my love is like a branch; touch it. Run your fingertips over my extended covenant, and believe.

***

She didn't want the night to end. She even took an offered cigarette, although she'd quit them years before, and lit it and inhaled its enthrall. Stayed on the sidewalk, absorbing the revelry, the bright nocturnal glory. 

***

"I don't wanna go home yet." Panting. Expectant. Like a challenge to fate.

"Me either. Let's try and score something."

"Right. Get fucked up."

"That's the damn spirit, girl."

Is it, though?

***

That was the side effect, the tape worm, le ténia. You might even say it's irreversible. A world where the tracks shake, murder takes place, conspirators assemble, and where the passersby ignore the rare cry of a downcast upstart. And deny all levity. And sing:

"Metal heart. You're not worth a thing." 

***

She found herself alone and tried to call a cab, then an Uber. No one came; then her phone died. She walked in the direction of her home, a snug and cheery apartment on the west side of the city. Cars passed her, and most left her alone. The odd one carried angry men, spurting ugly names as they passed at speed. Monikers. Epithets. Misogyny is never abstract; some men fear the dark blood enough they vow to spill it wherever. She had to cross a dark bridge over a darker river, the sky a deep purple and empty of stars. The night itself blinking stupidly in the bright black shadows cast by domestic aftershock.

A woman alone cannot beg. She must fold herself into a new coalition. A contract between herself and the wanton night. Cries. Whispers. Veiled things.

She felt them in the nape of her neck before she fully clocked them. Four men like hammerheads, though far less clean. And though she kept on walking, they converged. 

"Looky, looky," said one, his grin a scar on his shadow face, "we so lucky."

She kept on walking, relinquishing eye contact, while the new silence felt ordained, gravid.

She kept on walking. Until she no longer could, at which point they fell on her.

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned," she heard her voice say, and the prayerful shafts of golden light annulled the pain, the memory of dust motes and the soft organic scent of damp wool, the sacred pungent backdrop of incense, the priest's shy and gentle coughs, rushing to replace the dreadful now with the tender then, her gaze raised to the amethyst heavens, her inviolate sovereignty, her focus now fixed on eternity, forever and ever. Trained on the numbing expanse of God's endless silence.

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.

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