Category Archives: short fiction

Her Head Sounserals Away

He screws on his hat until it clicks into place. His child’s head is loose and keeps sliding off the neck pole. He tries seven times to secure her head into place, but as soon as she starts toddling it wobbles for a bit then falls to the carpet and bounces away.

He sees a lot of things that there are no words for. He wonders if, in other languages, they have words for them.

The movement of his child’s plastic head as it sashays/bounces/spirals away, what do you call that? Sounseral. Sounseral! Her head sounserals away, into the dark closet.

Once her head is on for good he carries her onto the balcony, and they are speaking in a tongue he’s never heard. He has no idea what they are saying to each other. But they seem happy enough, lots of smiles.

They sound like two Swedish Chefs, one big and with a deep, comforting voice, the other small and possessing the squeals and honks of a large bird. “Bortste fornert de dort!” he says, bouncing her.

“Bortne! Bortne! Shushort!” she exclaims, shooting her hands over her wobbly head in pleasure, causing it to again pop off. This time, it’s a three story drop from a balcony.

Terrified, he yells “Sneeeeew nuuuu! Oh nee padoooo!”

Her head rolls into the deep grass. The grass is neon yellow, like shredded cheddar. Her detached head makes it’s way, rolling from stalk to stalk, chewing contentedly. He’s never seen her so happy. He hears a muffled “Booboonoo!” from the tall grass, and smiles as her headless body, which he is still holding, gives him two thumbs up.

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His Grand Vision

He was a rebel who lived low, spending most of his hours in the living room of his Mother’s house, the holo-v set to blast as his sister hibernated in the basement growing mushrooms and recovering from ceremonial eye surgery. She was a newbie, and he wasn’t sure or not how she felt about the whole affair. His mother rustled back and forth from the kitchen to the study, from roast fatbeaver to Anxless, oblivious to his shrinking presence on the couch, yet aware enough to chastise him when he cleaned his glasses on an ancient handkerchief or even adjusted them on his slick nose. The Ed Dwarkish Experience was on, it was getting late, and he simply didn’t know his next move, whether it be forward or backward, outer space or earth. He was very afraid, although quite adept at covering it up with a smooth intellectual temperament and a false-positive attitude that others fortunately bought into. Even his own mother sometimes believed it, and she emerged victoriously from the kitchen’s postmodern angular saloon doors with her famous boneless fatbeaver bites pyramided on a tray, replete with honey mustard and brussel sprout dips.

“A late-night snack,” she said, placing them on the wooden floaty and squeezing in beside him. He adjusted a little but made no move to show any interest in the food, though her fatbeaver was legendary in the neighborhood. She was still for a moment, gazing at Dwarkish interviewing some teenage actress with ridiculously large breast implants, even for this day and age. When he still hadn’t made a move to the plate she sighed and asked him quietly (she only spoke that way when loaded on Anxless) what was wrong.

Now he leaned forward, pinching a golf ball sized portion of meat between his middle finger and thumb. He spoke slowly, wanting to choose his words with deliberation. He’d worked up his nerve for months on how to explain himself to his mother, unveil his shadowy depression and unrest, maybe even unburden himself of a private fear or two.

“Mom, I have. . .”

“Take off your glasses,” she interrupted.

He deflated a little and dropped the fatbeaver back on the plate. Don’t start leaking now, he thought. He removed his glasses and hung them from his shirt pocket. She stared at him with an uncomfortable blankness, a look that never failed to unsettle him. She seemed ready to explode into murderous frenzy, but she never did, and he never expected her to.

“Mom, I have to tell you things. Lots of things. Will you turn off the holo-v and listen?”

“I am listening,” she said, snapping her fingers, sending the image quickly vortexing into it’s base, which dinged pleasantly to announce it’s successful and temporary demise.

“Can you even stay for a minute?” he asked.

“Well,” she scanned the room and peered obtusely into the study, “a few, I guess.”

“This conversation is really important to me, Mom.”

“Okay, okay.” She waved her hand to indicate her reluctant subservience to his confession.

He sucked in some quick air and set in to tell her about his Grand Vision.

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Green Dolphin Street (final edit)


Hacky was skin and bones in a black Coltrane tee and tight leather pants, his alto sax swaying violently over the faded image of his hero, sweat pouring from his stringy black hair. 
 
            He was a rock star playing “Naima” in double-time.  He was a drugged-out soul whose only outlet to others was his music.  He was lost, yet he could be found every Friday night at the keyboard lounge, speeding up jazz standards and mutilating them with his frenzy.
 
            The crowd was small but enraptured, mostly lonely thirty-ish women who were lost in his hips, his lips, and his glazed green eyes.  They were the same ones that always came, long islands scattered across their tiny tables, occasionally knocked over by their crossed and kicking legs.  They seemed to know something the greater public didn’t:  Hacky was an emerging jazz giant in an era where there were no giants to be found. 
 
            Behind Hacky a trio of hard-driving characters plodded away and attempted to keep up with his derailed train solos.  George, Jimmy, and Mac tried everything they could to not drown in polyphonic sheets.  Everything was wet with their sweat and vibrating at their call.  They weren’t bad, and they let Hacky shine.
 
            When the last, ecstatic note of “Naima” was held perfectly by Hacky for over a minute, the women almost lost their skirts, the band almost fainted, and the lights in the club flickered respectfully.  That one note had never been rendered so well since ‘Trane pulled it off on Giant Steps nearly a half century before that night, and most everybody in the club sensed it.
 
            Something in the molecules shifted, the molecules of the women in the crowd, the backing band, the club, and Hacky himself.  He trailed the note off and fell dead onto the stage, his silver saxophone tumbling across the wood and finally resting against the back leg of the house piano.
 
***
 
            The writer sat back into the dark corner behind his table and watched silently as the paramedics tried and failed to save the musician’s life.  The band stood off to the side, smoking cigarettes and shaking, and the women hovered to one another for the first time and hugged mercilessly.
 
            He didn’t move because he didn’t need to.  He only wished to absorb, a self-conscious chronicler of events that would surely go down in jazz history.  The falling of the shooting star against the Midwest night sky.  The moment when the heavens broke on that final note.  The recalling of the ancestors.
 
            He saw it play out in real time, unbeknownst to the patrons of the club, when Charles Mingus sauntered in through the back, face covered by the shadow of his enormous fedora, a shimming gold bass over his back.  He shook the rain off his trench coat and took a seat at the next table from the writer.
 
            “Where’s Miles?  That motherfucker,” he grumbled, tucking his bass into the other chair at the table.
 
            One of the paramedics stood up slowly and looked at the clock.  “Time of death: ‘round ‘bout midnight.”
 
***
           
            The club was shut down for the night, expelling the twenty or so women onto the street.  They looked around with wide eyes and huddled together, wiping tears and quickly talking through trembling lips.
 
            The writer shambled out behind them, staying in shadows, and lit a cigarette.  He waited patiently as the women filtered away, their voices becoming more and more distant from the alleyway.  He lit another cigarette, smoked it slowly, and re-entered the club.  He had his own key, and it was his building, his club.
 
***
 
            “A Night in Tunisia” sailed through the corners of the club, but at half-volume.  It was all they could conjure.  Mingus strummed away on stage, his head down, left foot stomping, while Miles and Hacky played the tune.  Duke smiled from behind the house piano and Max Roach sweated through unheard of polyrhythmic masterpieces.
 
            The writer sat back in the corner and bobbed his head slightly, stroking his bush beard with one hand and stirring a scotch on the rocks with the other.  The place was empty except for him and the ghosts.
 
            “What the hell, man?” asked Coltrane, who had suddenly stepped out from the bathroom and was slouched at the table where Mingus had rested earlier.  “I mean, shit.  That dude even has my face on his shirt!  What the hell, man?”
 
            The writer raised his tumbler into the air and spoke in a grainy, smoked-out voice, “No disrespect, but you’ve been usurped.”
 
            “U-what?”  Coltrane sneered and leaned in.
 
            “Your glory has been stolen, my man.  You should’ve wished him to stay alive.”
 
            “You mean Miles ain’t gonna play with me any more?  Well fuck that, I can do my own thing.”  He stood up, slung his tenor around his neck, and stormed back into the bathroom.  When “Tunisia” wound down you could hear his notes from the stalls, dissonant and frenzied.
 
***
 
            The smoke from the writer’s cigarette rolled through the club, breathing and expanding, seeping through the band as they tried an up-tempo version of “Milestones.”  They were thwarted by Miles’ refusal to move on to the solos until they all “figured out what the fuck they were playing.”
 
            ‘Trane was now seated at the bar, hunched over, a needle flopped over his forearm.  His saxophone was nowhere to be seen.
 
            The writer watched as a woman mysteriously entered the club, even though the door was locked.  She was tall, curvy, and knock-dead beautiful, carrying herself in a long tight black dress.  Her long brown hair sailed over  bare shoulders when she walked, and the strong scent of sandalwood emanated from her dark, Indian skin.  She sat across from the writer and reached into a small red purse, pulling out a platinum cigarette case.
 
            “This is the most amazing thing,” she said, lighting a square and blowing smoke out of the corner of her thin lips.  “I’m in a dream, and I realize it!  Can you believe that?”
 
            The writer lit his own cigarette.  “Yes, I can.  Lucid dreaming,” he said.
 
            “I’ve never had a lucid dream before.  And this band. . . they’re great.  I’ve never really listened to jazz before, either.”
 
            “You don’t know who those guys are?”
 
            “No.  They’re good though.”
 
            The writer scratched his head and looked momentarily confused.  The band launched into a slow blues jam, one he was unfamiliar with.  Smoke from his cigarette drifted toward and through the woman.  “Do you have a name?” he asked.
 
            “Yeah.  Um. . .”  she started, then seemed to realize that she had forgotten it.  “I guess I can’t remember,” she finally said, wide-eyed.
 
            “It’s very normal.”
 
            “To not know your name?  It kind of bothers me.”
 
            “But this isn’t your normal reality, lady.  You said you were dreaming, remember?”
 
            “Oh yeah!  But shouldn’t I know my name?  Everything is so real, you know?”
 
            The writer stood up, snuffed out his cigarette on the ashtray between them, and beckoned for the woman to come with him.  They walked past the stage as Hacky began an uncharacteristically mellow solo.  He was holding the blues in his hand, in his horn, and milking it for what it was worth.  The woman halted and soaked him in. 
 
            When the writer returned to fetch her, she said “He’s so beautiful.  His music is so beautiful.”
 
            And that point, she disappeared like the image on an old television.  Her image danced for a short second in front of the stage, compressed into a small dot, then ceased to exist.
 
            “Shit,” grumbled the writer, returning to his seat.  He had wanted her to stay and read his poetry about dreams and death, and maybe he could’ve seduced her, but apparently she was too perfect to be dead.  She was just dreaming, and that meant she wouldn’t come back.
 
***
 
            But she did.  Four nights later.
 
            “My name is Paula.  I remember that now,” she said, taking the seat across from the writer.  The band began twittering through an Eric Dolphy composition, bending the air around them with surreal vibrations.  He leaned forward and looked in her large, dark eyes.  He seemed to be searching for something.
 
            “Are you dreaming?” he asked, leaning back in the velvet chair.
 
            “I think so,” she said, perplexed.
 
            “You think so?”
 
            “This is different.  I’m not worried about waking up, for one.  I can smell the smoke in here, and the band seems more. . . I don’t know. . . real.  Alive.”
 
            Paula turned to the band and focused on Hacky, who was standing off to the side while Miles blurted through a punchy solo.  He was watching her, his eyes unblinking.  The writer heard her breath quicken.
 
            “He sees me,” she said, quietly.
 
            “Yes,” the writer replied bluntly, lighting a cigarette.  He seemed to be wrestling with something in his mind.  The beautiful woman had fallen, once again, for the musician, and not the writer.
 
            “I’m dead, aren’t I?”  she asked, reaching into her purse.
 
            “Yup,” the writer grumbled, exhaling smoke.
 
            Meanwhile, Hacky had made his way down from the stage, his ghost moving through dim blue lights and sheets of smoke to reach the back table.  He sat down next to Paula and stuck out a shaking pale hand.
 
            “Wow.  Wow.  Wow,” was all he could muster, followed by a short series of rapid fire sniffles.  Onstage, his music elevated him to the level of a God, but in person he was nothing but a skinny, coked-out musician who spent all his money on drugs.
 
            Paula clasped his hand in both of hers.  “Your playing is incredible,” she cooed.
 
            “Thank you s-s-so much,” he squeaked through purple lips.
 
            “Go play some more for me, baby,” she intoned, with salt in her voice.
 
            “Yes ma’am,” Hacky said, running back to the stage and almost interrupting the final bars of Miles’ solo with his inability to hold himself back for Paula.  Miles glared at him and shook his head when Hacky almost shot into the refrain too soon.
 
            The writer watched Paula’s back as she rocked her head to the final seconds of  “Out To Lunch.”  He admired the shape of her shoulders, the fine dark hairs that trailed down from her neck to the top of her back, and the softly defined shoulderblades that moved softly as she swayed to the music.  He lit a new smoke from the butt of the old one and sighed.  “Play some more blues,” the writer whispered through a mouth crowded with smoke. 
 
            Across the room, ‘Trane coughed and waved an indifferent hand toward the stage, his image beginning a long, slow fade that would last for centuries.

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Twisting the Knob


I can’t decide if this life is worth living or not. Of course it is. Or not. I always wear extra clothes to cover up my shames, my thirteen wiggling pieces of intestine that drain ad nauseum, my guilt over something that happened in a previous incarnation that I am not aware of. My karmic returns. No matter. Life is a great neon explosion of mystery and I’m not sure why I exist or if I existed before and what I may have done. The bathroom is pea soup green and disturbing in it’s own right, a tiny cell attainable from all heights and angles and reaches that only takes up a microscopic portion of the city. Not only am I locked in here but I am locked in the city, aware on all sides, a microchip in a great intelligent supercomputer, completely reliant on my surroundings to express my own will, and completely subjugated to the physical reality of the keyboard and backlit screen. This is not worth it. There’s shit pouring out of me like bitter ale on all sides, soon to fill up this tiny cell. The toilet is laughing at me, mocking me for missing her when she was so close and she only has one purpose. Flushing away. Flushing away my waste as well as my invisible sins. Yes, you are woman, dearest toilet, or at least I have always imagined you as such. Not in a sexual or bigoted way, of course. You just take my shit, like so many other sturdy women have in the past. Nothing more.

There must be words to express things but in such times it seems as though they are just a thin net laid over what’s really true. Such is how I feel about the situation in the bathroom. The claustrophobia of being penned in by millions of souls going about their business, and the only place to hold as my own is a tiny hole replete with ceramic fixtures. Even my mind is on loan to culture, or stolen by it. No thoughts are my own. No thoughts are original. There is an anxiety couched into this that no words can possibly capture. A fear replete with smoky black bat wings and those evil glowing eyes. I know there is a hardwood floor and a thin hallway awaiting outside, but I am not amongst them, so they don’t exist, though they should and could, were I to ever escape the bathroom.

Of course this life is worth living. There is always the possibility of escape. Of hope. Of better situations. Life may only exist in the now, but all of the goodness and joy is imagined at some future or past point, and that may be enough to go on. The present moment is suffering. Always suffering. The Buddha knew it, and I know it now, watching the shit drain from me and fill up the room. Watching the toilet laugh. We are all ready to drown. Twist the knob. Exit. We will live tomorrow.

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My Side of Town

I.
I live on the corner of Wise and Jolly Roads, couched into the Southwest side of Lansing, Michigan. In my estimation there aren’t too many people who are wise and jolly around here.

II.
The CVS down the street was robbed last night. The guy on the security camera looks like my neighbor a few houses away. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t him. I’m scared of that guy. He’s about eight feet tall and he walks like he can’t wait to kick some innocent fool in the nuts. Sometimes he cuts through my yard and peeks in the windows. I hide my laptop at night.

III.
The assistant principal at the middle school by Cedar Street blew his gasket last year and murdered his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend and brother at a Christmas party. I used to teach at that school. I actually went out for drinks with him and a couple other teachers a time or two. He seemed normal enough. Shit, was I wrong.

IV.
There’s a guy who rides by every sunset on a broken-down Schwinn with wire basket tied to it. He’s always yelling at the top of his lungs about how his woman wronged him, how he has no place to go if she’s gonna kick him out, and so on. We call him the Broken Record.

V.
There’s a haze over the neighborhood every year around the Fourth of July. Store bought fireworks from the market, illegals from Indiana, and homemade bombs blow out so much smoke that some of us here call it Baghdad 1991. We have to close the windows or risk lung damage, and we don’t have air conditioning.

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White Pierre (Part One)


Pierre sat outside of the Extreme Caffeine Coffee House near downtown and waited for something, anything. The latte he had ordered a half an hour earlier was dwindling and cold. The large green canopy above sheltered the few studiers and paper browsers from a light rain that fell continuously through the sunlight.

He glanced at the faces around him: A nondescript young student, probably from the local university, her bespectacled face almost buried in a thick medical text. An older Indian man chopping away at a laptop in the corner. A rather large black man with a shocking white afro, wearing a white and red jumpsuit, staring off into space, maybe reminiscing about where his fifty or so odd years had gone.

Pierre found himself looking at the afroed man longer than normal, entranced by his choice of clothing and hairdo. The man shook out of his reverie and returned his stare. Pierre instinctually looked down at his drink.

Suddenly the man was upon him and taking a seat across the table. “Quite a bit of weather here, brother,” he said with the accent of a West African, although his English was quite clear and deep. “It’s always funny to me when it rains and the sun is still beating down. It shouldn’t be like this. Yet it is. Yet. . . It. . . Is. . .” he faded off into another small daze. Pierre watched him with interest. The man remained hypnotized by the rain for only a few seconds, and then returned with a big smile on his face and a giant hand outstretched.

“I’m sorry. My name is Cabba. I should have introduced myself first, maybe asked you if I could sit here at this table with you. Do you mind if I join you?”

“Not at all.” Pierre lifted his now cold drink in a gesture of welcome. He was glad to finally interact with someone.

“You see, where I come from we always start conversations with the weather. Or health. Or children. You know. But here in America it seems that I always have to ask to even start the conversation in the first place. People keep to themselves.” Cabba grunted noncommittally and took a seat.

“ Where are you from, Cabba?” Pierre reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Camels, offering one to his new acquaintance.

Cabba leaned over and took a cigarette. “Oh, Turkish flavor. These are hard to get in Africa. Very bad habit. Bad habit. But a good one nonetheless. You know.” He lit the smoke with a book of matches from his jumpsuit pocket. “I am from Benin. Do you know where that is?”

“I think so. West Africa?”

“Oh yes. We invented Voodoo, you know. A tiny little country that nobody has ever heard of. They say we are so black there that no one can see us.”

Cabba laughed and then coughed violently, clearing his throat and continuing. “I’ve been here in America for just a year, cleaning rooms at the university, while my wife cleans offices in the Delta building.” He paused. “I don’t know why we really came now though, because I know she is cheating on me.”

Pierre shook his head and widened his eyes. “Cheating on you?”

Cabba suddenly appeared menacing, and Pierre noticed how bulky and hulking the man actually was underneath the gaudy jumpsuit. He looked like he could take down a medium-sized bear if need be. His voice had suddenly taken on a more serious and even deeper tone when he spoke: “Every week, a new man. That is no. . . what do you call it. . . Exaggeration. Every week. Guys in nice business suits. Guys in construction worker clothes. Guys and their sons, for Jesus’ sake! I try and make sense of it, but I cannot. What is she doing with these men? I imagine all sorts of disgusting things. . . I am a jealous man. . . And the thought of her making love with these other men is too much.”

“Have you confronted her?”

“Confronted her? You must be joking! I am a man! A man!”

Pierre shifted back in his seat and nodded. “So you confronted her, you’re saying?”

Cabba breathed a smile for a second, “You are a funny man. What is your name? I don’t think I asked, which is funny too. In a different way, you know. The English language is tricky, I think.” He had abruptly transformed back into the more easygoing man he had been seconds before.

“Pierre. My name is Pierre.”

“Sounds French. There were many Pierre back in West Africa. Many of them. In fact, I knew plenty of black ones and no white ones, so you must be the first white Pierre I’ve ever met.”

Pierre lit another cigarette and said, in a manner without sarcasm, “I’m honored.”

Cabba breathed in heavily. “Yes. Yes, you should be. So, let me continue, because I feel you should hear my story. You are an interesting, owlish-looking fellow. I bet you like stories.

“I was growing possessed, White Pierre. My mind could not escape the thought of Joyce with other men. I had to get drunk just to ease the pain I felt. She would say she had to go clean early, and as soon as she left, I pulled out the Johnny Walker and drank it right from the bottle. Sometimes, I would crash on the sofa and watch television. But sometimes I would grow itchy with the thought of her and these men, and I followed her. She always meets them right across the street here at this bar.” He pointed across the street at a dingy building with no visible signs, just an old wooden door with flaking blue paint. “I saw them go in and out, holding hands, kissing, walking around the corner.

“I tell you, one day it boiled over. I couldn’t ignore her infidelities any longer. I got up from this exact seat and trailed her. She had this short little old white man on her arm, clinging to her like she was his mother. He walked alongside her with great difficulty and a wooden cane in his free hand. The hand that wasn’t on Joyce’s behind. They turned down an alley, and when I got there, they were gone. There was just one door, on the left. . .” Cabba suddenly trailed off once again, taking a deep breath. He looked hard at Pierre. “Do you want to see the door?”

“The door?”

“Yes. And the room behind it, of course.”

Pierre wasn’t sure what to think. “Um. . . Sure.”

Cabba stood and slapped him on the shoulder in a reassuring manner. “Don’t be scared, my friend” he said, “Come. Let’s go.”

They walked merely a couple of blocks, the thick African accentuated by a shocking little afro, and the skinny white American of mixed French and English blood. Cabba led the way, whistling some odd tune that held rhythm with his confident stride. Pierre followed, walking clumsily as his legs stretched to keep up the pace. They turned down the alley, which was exceptionally dark considering the time of day. The skinniness of the pathway kept the rain from falling on their heads as they approached the door. It was nondescript, just a simple iron alley door. A bag of old trash lay next to it, torn into and dispersed by alley cats and raccoons.

“This is the place. Nothing special, eh?”

Pierre touched the rusted knob. “Nothing special.”

“Open it, White Pierre.”

Pierre turned the knob and pushed. The door opened easily.

“This is the place where she takes the men.” Cabba said, his voice slightly audible.

They moved to the center of an expansive white room, which was really not too big, but seemed spacious due to the high ceilings that were painted blue. Clouds that were exquisitely rendered splashed across the blue, and seemed to be moving.

“Are they. . .” Pierre began, pointing.

“Yes and no. Of course they aren’t moving. Those clouds are painted. Yet, as you can see, they are being blown by a gentle wind.”

“I don’t understand.” Pierre said, now looking at the walls, which were a pristine white. He couldn’t tell exactly how far away they were. The depth of the room kept shifting. There was no furniture, and the floor was as white as the walls.

“I know!” Cabba exclaimed. “It is like being drunk, no?”

“Something like that. I don’t feel tipsy, though. I feel very sober. I think I’m hallucinating.”

“Would you like to sit?” Cabba began walking to the far corner of the room.

“Where?”

Cabba stood in the corner for a second, his jumpsuit merging and emerging from the wall, the red stripes swaying like a snake. He began pulling something, and Pierre moved over to help him pull on whatever the hell he had found, which turned out to be a large blue leather couch. It looked so pristine that Pierre was absurdly tempted to bite it. They dragged it to the center of the room, where they both sat and moaned in pleasure.

“So, White Pierre, just relax. Do you feel better? Yes? Good. You look like you just made love to a beautiful woman.

“I will continue now. This room was not like this when I first saw it. The ceiling was still like the sky during a summer day, but nothing else was the same. I swear to you, I saw a clearing in a forest. Trees everywhere, little animals running around, and perfectly shaped grass in the center. You should have smelled it. It was like smelling something pure and sweet and natural. Not a room off an alleyway in this dirty city.

“It wasn’t a room at all, White Pierre. It was somewhere else.”

Pierre draped himself into the couch as Cabba told his story, feeling like he was slowly slipping into warm invisible hole.

“And there she was, with this old man, seated on a picnic blanket. They were tossing a giant beetle back and forth, and the thing was squirming and hissing. A giant beetle. The size of a small dog, I swear to you. They couldn’t see me, or hear me when I almost got sick, because they were both naked. It looked like this beetle was spraying milk from the face and all over the both of them. Can you imagine it?”

Pierre tilted his head toward Cabba, who was staring at him with an intense sort of stare. Pierre gestured that he couldn’t imagine such a thing.

“Good, because I saw it, and I still couldn’t imagine it. I was frozen, and they let the beetle run off into the forest, then the little old man crawled on top of my wife and started. . . Making love to her. It was disgusting, my friend.

“I began to say something, White Pierre, but I couldn’t. My mouth was frozen. I saw the beetle, which was the size of a small dog, leaning on my feet and looking up at me. It talked too me, White Pierre. It said, over and over again, in very slow French, you are a witness and the witnessed. You are a witness and the witnessed.”

“It didn’t move. I had to watch, frozen, until the old man grunted and they finished. He stood up, kissed her forehead as she sat there, walked past me- without seeing me I think- and left. The beetle too was now gone. Joyce stood on the blanket, rubbed her eyes, looked at me, and said ‘Cabba?’”

‘You bitch of a woman’ I said to her. ‘How could you do this to me? You are my wife!’

“She said ‘I am nothing to you, and everything to them. You cannot say differently’

“Then she too left, and I just stood there, in the forest, not knowing what to do. When the door shut behind her, I blinked, and here I was, in this empty white room with the blue sky. Do you believe me, White Pierre?”

Pierre sat up from his daze, turned to Cabba, who was now standing at the base of the couch, and said “Believe is too strong of a word.”

“Ha! I love your humor! Come. Let’s go from this place.”

And they left the room together, forms and shapes blending behind them as the door clicked shut. Pierre tried to turn it again from the outside, but it was locked.

***

Cabba stood at the counter of the deli and scrutinized the meat. His head craned back and forth as he inspected the honey ham and the honey turkey, the thinly sliced roast beef and the squishy pile of hamburger. After an excruciating amount of time, in which Pierre sat in the back of the dining area and patiently bided the minutes, Cabba turned and said “I just don’t know. I am so hungry that my judgment has gone somewhere else. What do we eat?”

“Turkey.” Replied Pierre.

“Turkey, then.”

The woman behind the counter finally stood up from watching the tiny television perched on top of a pile of boxes. “Turkey, then?” she said in a husky voice. Small black hairs poked from the bottom of her swinging chin.

Cabba clapped his hands together and smiled. “Yes. Turkey! I’m glad to have figured this out. We’ll have the whole tray.”

The woman looked confused and adjusted the plastic cap covering her head. “That will be, like, fifty dollars. Are you sure?”

Cabba turned and said to Pierre “Are we sure?”

“I don’t need that much, man. Just a little.”

“Ok, the whole tray,” concluded Cabba.

The woman mumbled something and begin stacking the meat on the scale, a process which took a while. When she had deposited the last scrap onto the metal tray, the price calculated at exactly fifty-six dollars. She looked at Cabba inquisitively.

“Oh yes. Here.” Cabba withdrew a hundred dollar bill from his jumpsuit pocket. Taking the large bag from her in both hands, he slung in under his arm and carried it toward the door as if he were hauling a bag of dry cement to a wheelbarrow. He motioned for Pierre to follow him out onto the street. The woman yelled that she had his change, but he ignored her and turned out of sight, the bells on the door jingling as it shut behind him. Pierre shrugged and exited shortly thereafter. The woman was left with two twenties and four singles in her outstretched hand, which she later spent on a treasured carton of Marlboro Lights.

***

“Joyce is at work,” Cabba said, gesturing for Pierre to take a seat. The living room of the apartment was sparsely decorated. There were two avocado green furnishings, a stiff looking couch and a ratty and doubtfully functioning recliner. A Zenith television from the stone-age sat on a TV tray in the corner. A chipped and dull wooden endtable held the only interesting object in the room: A rather large jade statue of the Hindu Goddess surrounded by glass flames.

“Cool piece.” Pierre said, taking a seat on the couch next to it and looking at it from different angles.

Cabba walked into the kitchen with his bag of meat and shouted back, “That is my wife’s. She talks to it. Calls it Durga. She asks it for things.”

“What does she ask for, if it’s any of my business?”

The sounds of plates crashing emerged from the kitchen with a brisk “Shit! She never does the dishes anymore!”

Pierre continued to examine the statue while Cabba banged around. It was certainly a scary piece of art. The look on her face was vicious. The long spiked tongue snaked out from a self-satisfying and terrible grin. She held severed heads, flames, and weapons in her many arms, and below her feet lay a deflated and demonic buffalo, jade blood oozing from its orifices. What would one ask of this intimidating God?

At that moment, Pierre fell asleep, as if overtaken by a severe case of narcolepsy. The dream came upon him immediately, drifting over his awereness like a gently descending silk sheet.

A hotel.

The first floor, flooded. We floated through and did not worry about breathing.

The lobby stretched to cover all the many stories of the hotel. We floated up to surface and noticed the golden stairs that led to glittering mezzanine. A restaurant, teeming with well-dressed people chatting.

Our room: number 227. I was disappointed that it wasn’t higher up, with a better view.

Suddenly, you were on top of me, naked, riding me, your dark skin glistening from the light pouring in from the bathroom. It was the most incredible sex, period. I felt like I was being eaten by ecstasy the way that an anaconda eats a large rodent.

Then I was outside the hotel, alone, looking at it from the side. It stretched on forever. A sign on the side read HOTEL KINGDOM, then flashed to HOTEL MAYA, back and forth.

***

“Ha! Wake up man! I have the sandwiches.” Pierre’s eyes focused to find the round cheeks and slight eyebrows of Cabba Achino dominating his vision. He jumped up from the couch and promptly sat back down and scrunched into an upright fetal position. Rubbing his eyes, he said, “Ohhhh, man. What? What did you say?”

Cabba laughed. “You are cute when you are sleepy. I have the sandwiches.” He pointed to the endtable, where two gigantic towers of turkey and white bread rested underneath the statue. Pierre shuddered.

“I hope you like white bread. I figured you would,” Cabba said.

“I don’t think I can eat just yet.”

“Oh, just take your time.” Cabba reached for one of the skyscraper sandwiches and sat down next to Pierre on the couch. Pierre looked away and cringed at the sound of food being messily eaten. He felt like he wanted to vomit.

Something wasn’t right, that much was obvious. He had just seen a real live holodeck, and if that wasn’t enough to put him on edge, he was sitting in the home of a strange African man he had just met, listening to the noises of the largest sandwich he had ever seen being ravaged under the fiery stare of the Goddess.

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One New Message

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Hey Uncle Gerard-

Sorry about this afternoon and the whole hot dog up your nose thing. And the mustard in the moustache. And the barbecue sauce in the beard. And sorry about Kafka eating it right off your face. You were a good sport about the whole thing, but I still wanted to let you know how sorry I was. I’ll see you next week at the shuttle launch. You bring the bananas, I’ll bring the souffle.

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Me and My Giant Water Bottle

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I always carry around a water bottle, and I drink from it frequently. It’s both a nervous habit and a way to neutralize other nervous habits. If I didn’t have the bottle I’d no doubt fidget with small nearby objects, pull out my hair by running my hands through it every few seconds, and stroke my beard relentlessly until the fingers bled raw and red. The bottle somehow prevents me from tapping my feet as well.

I’m not the only person who knows of the water bottle secret. I see people everywhere clutching ragged Nalgenes and overused spring water bottles shaped to look obscurely feminine and archaic. At work, on the streets, and in the parks:

Heavy, heavy water users.

+++

But I’m different. I’m an extreme case. I don’t just carry around your average sixteen to thirty-two ouncer. I travel with the full on water cooler bottle. The one that weighs like, I don’t know, forty pounds or so. The one that office workers apparently stand around and talk on and on about celebrities and other gossipy bullshit things.

They’re delivered to my apartment, seven of them, every Monday. I line them up on the back porch and strap on a new one each morning. I even devised a special canvas harness that wraps three times around a standard water cooler bottle before merging with the thick wool straps that sling over my shoulders like a backpack. And the best thing: There’s a simple straw device that guides the water right to my mouth without having to use my hands.

I go through one whole bottle from dusk to sunset and pee about fifteen to twenty times daily.

+++

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m the only person who has a setup like this. I used to think it was a normal thing, it was the way that everybody got their water, but the more I think about it the more I realize that I’ve never seen anybody else carrying a water cooler bottle on their back.

+++

Whenever I sit I undo the bottle from it’s harness and put it on my lap. That’s how I handle my fidgety habits. I just hold the bottle in a light hug. My hands magically rest when all of my nervous instincts are telling me to tap it, stroke it, thump it, and shake it. I just sit back, suck on my straw device, and feel peaceful.

I tend to sit in the park a lot and watch people play with their dogs and frisbees and each other. Just myself with a water cooler bottle on my lap. It tends to get pretty warm as the day goes on, but I actually like my water warm. It doesn’t hurt the teeth I have left.

Come to think of it, I haven’t been to work in a long time. When was the last time? Last week? Last year? I seem to have money around, though, so that’s good. I only have to pay the bottle delivery man and the guy at the pizza shop next to the park. But I don’t actually seem to be visiting him too much lately.

+++ ()()()()()()()

I guess I’m a little confused. Where do I work? I pull in a swig of warm water and watch the revelers. My grip on the giant bottle tightens a little, so I drink some more. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to piss soon.

+++

WHAM! (metaphysically)

+++

My name is Marty Culligan. I think. I’m thirty-six years old. I think. I work as a html programmer. I think. I wrote a couple of books too. I think. I’m not married, but not a virgin either. I think. No, I’m sure I’m not a virgin. Her name was Virginia. I think.I live in an apartment just down the street from the park. I think.I think I am living on this bench right now, writing. The water bottle sits next to me like a friend. I need to stop writing on the back of the yellow napkin, hold the bottle, and hug it, because I feel like I am going to explode inside at any moment.+++

Well, I’m here right now, and the situation seems dire. The sun has disappeared behind the nearby trees and more distant highrises. The people are all packing up and leaving the park. It’s just me on this bench and a couple of old stragglers wandering around by the fountain, looking for things they can’t find.

And I can’t find myself, suddenly. It’s like reality has hit and I’m finally faced with the indisputable truth: I have no fucking clue who I am. It’s like the past is a heavy rain on the windshield and my wipers don’t work. And I’m hugging a giant water cooler bottle and sucking on it from this black rubber straw.

+++

OK, the water’s gone now. What do I do? I have to piss.

+++

Play: “Moonlight Sonata”

+++ ()()()()()()()

So I left the bottle and found a tree in the dark, but not too far from the bench illuminated by tall yellow light. I pissed forever. It hurt by the end.

When I returned, the water bottle was gone. The sounds of children and a deep plastic drumming were fading away. I thought momentarily about chasing them, but knew that I was no match. Why would I chase after a disposable item like that anyways?

I found myself alone in the park, too anxious to sit. I began to walk around, my hands running through my hair and beard continuously.

+++

-Sir, what are you looking for? If I may ask?

Mahwawa

-Excuse me?

Mah wawa bow ull

-Your what?

wawa bowull! (drinking gesture)-Are you ok, sir? Do you need food?-(collapsing into miserable pouting upon the park lawn)+++

I am walking. I am alone.

It’s been weeks since I woke up in the park nuzzling that mysterious water bottle. The water bottle that I only got to know once. The one with the rubber straw and soft fleecy straps.

I know it will turn up. I only need to keep asking people. Even when they seem annoyed, I must keep asking them. Even when I know they can’t understand me (my rotted teeth), I must try to communicate with them.

There is nothing else I can do. It’s all I know. For real.

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Rough excerpt from THE WHOOSHAY

The nasally girl’s voice over the intercom: Do a left turn, everybody, left turn! It’s the green light special!

And all of the shoppers turned left. The ones with carts took considerably longer. As soon as every last person in the store had pirouetted, the lights dimmed and green spotlights sought out every shopper, and little green men (midgets?) scurried out and pasted green tags onto everybody’s right arms. Then the sound of beeping, as the elevated UPCs began to chime, and the race was on.

Jimmy Fryberg found himself homing into the electronics aisle. Yes! he thought. It was his first green light in electronics. What would he get?

He almost slammed into a big farmer type, but managed to slip between the man and the ring tone stacks and still keep his balance. The man crashed toward the women’s beauty supplies hopelessly. Homing was like a drug to Jimmy and many others. Jimmy liked honing more than pot, vodka, or even cocaine. He liked to concede control as much as possible. He spent a lot of time and money at Bullseye’s.

That night he wound up with a brand new car stereo, which was really a bummer for Jimmy. He rode the bus. Shit, what do I do with this? he thought over and over, spinning and turning in loose, confused circles.

“I can’t use it. I can’t use it. I can’t use it. I can’t use it. . .” He groaned.

When the fluorescents switched back on Bullseye became classic again, with the shoppers each doing their own thing at their own pace, some browsing casually, others more focused on specific items. But each of them had one item in their carts or hands that was special, and specially discounted. The man with the scraggly beard had a razor. The overstressed single mother of six had a bottle of cheap merlot. The heart attack waiting to happen had a big bottle of low dose generic aspirin.

But Jim didn’t return to normal with the rest of the crowd. A pimply stock boy stumbled over him on his way to clean up a blue raspberry slush spill in the outdoors section. Jim was twitching and foaming and curled up like a fetus.

“I can’t use it,” he looped.

When the manager finally came, Jim was no better. The manager seemed to know what to do. He instructed a small team of red-clad teenagers to get a wagon from toys, a blanket from bedroom, a bungee cord from sports, a bottle of water from the edge of the sixth checkout lane, and a large tarp from outdoors.

“Tie him up in the back of the deliveries and give him about a day to come to his senses. Quick, he’s gonna go fuckin’ bonkers here soon! Do you fear for your life or not?” The manager barked, clapping his hands and stomping his feet repeatedly like an angry troll.

+++

When Jim regained consciousness he found himself tied up with a sick taste in his mouth. His cheeks were crusty and impossible to move. A shadow of a figure stood above him in the dim light of the back storage unit.

“Do you want the world?” The figure said, slowly and surely, his voice the sound of Barry White and Sade fused into a soothing solo tone.

Jim blinked and then squinted, discovering that his hands were bound and tied to a plastic wagon.

The incredible voice: “Do you want the world? Do you want all the stuff in the world? Do you want desire to cease by fulfilling it? Do you want satisfaction in every bite, every swallow, every thrust, and every swing? Do you want to get laid by sometimes beautiful women once, maybe three times a night?”

“Yes,” Jim managed to mumble.

“Then join me,” the shadow said, and the bungee that held Jim down disappeared into the musty stockroom air.

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Karl, Master of Black Holes

When you looked at the guy you could almost see the walls he had built around himself. It was like he was saying NO and NO again, continuously, never affirming anything for fear of something that couldn’t quite be placed.

His energy was all wrong. While some people shine colorful lights on the world like conductors of harmonious vibrations, this guy was nothing but a black hole. A fat, poorly dressed black hole.

Nevertheless, he was my mother’s new husband, and she was forcing me to spend time with him.

“Listen,” she said with a sigh, “I’m not dumb. I see what’s going on. Karl doesn’t connect with you. You don’t connect with him, either. I see you guys, the way you look at each other.”

“Mom, he doesn’t look at me at all.”

“Ok, but I see the way you look at him. You sneer a lot when I bring him out to dinner with us. You look. . . What’s the word. . . Incredulous. You look incredulous a lot.” She raised the straw up to her lips without moving any part of her body except her elbow and began to suck up lemonade. Her back remained perfectly straight. So did her hair, and her eyes for that matter. Mom was a master of being stony.

I fingered the bread that the waiter had rested next to my coffee and said “It’s because I am incredulous. I mean, I’m always wondering about how my mother could have met and fallen for such a god awful person.”

A normal mother might have slapped her son at this point. My mother just looked at me blankly and played with her straw.

“I’m sorry mom, but you deserve better. What on earth does Karl do for you? He’s ridiculously fat, he’s over sixty, his hair is always greasy and weird, he never talks, he never has an opinion. . .”

She interjected: “That’s why I love him. He never has an opinion. I don’t think he knows what the word means. You must not realize how refreshing that is, after your father and his politics. Oh, and Karl is so refreshing in bed, you should just see the way he moves his hips. . .”

“Mom!”

“Oh, here he comes!” She stood up quickly and walked to embrace Karl, who had just walked into the dining room and was glancing around, presumably looking for her. I watched them hug with a slightly disgusted look on my face. He could almost swallow her in his bulky cream colored suit. We briefly made eye contact, then Karl quickly looked away and squeezed her tighter.

At that moment I realized something: I scared him. Something about me had him on edge. The walls he had constructed were probably to keep me out of his head. He had to tune me out somehow. But what was so threatening about me?

To my surprise, mother left the diner and waved to me through the window, a coy smile on her face as she turned and jogged across the street. I put my hands on the window like a lost puppy left at the humane society. She couldn’t do this to me! Leaving me with Karl!

For a second Karl and I were frozen in time, ten feet apart in space, looking right at each other in controlled agony and frustration. I think he was debating on whether or not to hightail it out of the place. Finally, he relaxed, took a deep crackly breath, coughed, straightened his gaudy jacket, and began to walk toward my table.

“Hart. How are you?” He was jittery. He picked up the nearest napkin and began plucking at it from the moment he sat down. He wouldn’t look up. The napkin would soon be in tatters.

Before I could reply he spoke again: “Your mother put me up to this. She told me if I didn’t do this, she wouldn’t marry me.” Thin dots of sweat began descending from his hairline and into his eyes.

“Do what?” I asked.

“Come with you to your office. I have to go into your office and sit there for. . . For ten minutes.” The napkin was now nonexistent and his hands reached for something else to play with. I could hear his ragged and uneven breathing as he stared down at the empty lemonade in front of him.

“I don’t understand. . .”

“Can we just do this? Get it over with? Please?” Karl ran a hand through his shiny greased hair and glanced quickly around the nearly empty diner. “I really want to just go and be done with it.”

I stood up, mostly just to see how he would react. He was twitching and beginning to soak his dress shirt. “This is a little strange Karl. I don’t know. Why would she make you just sit in my office? Does she want you to steal something from me? Maybe one of my books. . .”

“No! I don’t have to steal anything! Let’s go!” He spun around and was out the door before I could react. When I had the bill paid and stepped into the midday sun, he was standing across the street, holding himself up with a light post, heaving. He seemed to sense me and looked up through a procession of slowing cars, and I barely understood him when he garbled “Can we please get this over with now?”

***

We took a cab across town. He sat next to me but was clearly in some other Karl-specific world, nervously tapping on his leg and looking out the window. I sighed, and we didn’t speak.

My office was crammed in the middle of a two-story 1960’s economy space which was occupied by at least a hundred other history academics. People here studied every kind of history one could imagine. They wrote books, they gave lectures, they taught classes. Most of all, though, they sat in their offices and talked to one another in a classy form of mutual masturbation. Most of what they discussed never left the building.

Karl almost collapsed when we entered through the side door. He was whimpering, and only took baby steps once the door shut behind him. It was like he was cautiously wading out into a freezing lake. The look on his face was nothing short of pure misery and terror.

“What the hell, Karl? What is the deal here? You look like you’re about to die.”

“I think I might.” He said, inching toward the elevator I was holding open for him.

“Is it elevators? Because it’s only one floor, and we could walk. . .”

“NO!” He screamed, falling to one knee. “It is not elevators. It is not you. It is not anything I wish to tell you! Would you please let me go there and get this over with?” Karl crawled into the elevator and heaved himself up on the bar. I couldn’t stop watching him, and I was becoming slightly amused at his tragic act. I took some satisfaction by witnessing his rapid unraveling before my eyes.

I clicked on the light to my office, and Karl groaned from behind me. My office was very simple: A standard metal desk strewn with unread correspondence, and nearly forty thousand books. They spilled from bookshelves and from under the desk, from the lone window’s ledge and the closet where not a single item of clothing was to be found. The books were stacked around the small room like a miniature metropolis, rich with skyscrapers.

I cleared off the only chair in the room, tossing several magazines and books aside, then pointed to it. Karl had still not entered the room. He stood in the hallway, and appeared to be shrinking into nothing. He jiggled uncontrollably.

“Do you want to sit here?” I said, motioning to the chair.

He shuffled in like an old lady and crashed into the seat, pulling his legs into his torso as best he could. He closed his eyes and moaned wretchedly. When he spoke, it was barely a whisper: “Tell me when it’s been ten minutes.”

I stood there and watched him. I wanted to make an incredulous face, but then I remembered how my mother had told me that I always made those faces around him. I wasn’t trying hard enough to like him. But what was there to like, really? Here was a grown man, over half a century in years, balled up and sobbing for no visible reason in my office. He looked like he was fighting off dragons in his head.

This gave me an idea. I wandered over to a small stack of books near the closet and searched for a detailed and interesting book on dragon mythology. It was full of graphic illustrations and gothic art depicting all styles of the fire-breathing beast as they were imagined throughout history. I remembered how my mother had told me that Kurt had a tattoo of a dragon on his ankle. Maybe he could get into this book and chill the hell out.

I quickly found the book and snatched it out from under the pile. In one motion I tossed it into his lap and said “Check this out. Mom told me about your. . .”

As soon as the book touched his hands he flew out of his seat, screaming like a small girl. He flailed and twisted, hopped and contorted. The book slammed against the far wall and bounced back to knock over one of the book towers, which began a domino effect that circled the room. Books were tumbling everywhere, and in the middle stood Karl, yelling nonsense at the top of his lungs. I’d never seen such a fit of hysterics in my life. Soon the books were knocking into his knees and thwapping him across the waist. He began to give in and just dropped his arms and slumped over as the last book tumbled to rest. Karl then fell back into the pile, unconscious.

The books were also spilled over me, but only up to my knees. It was chaos. Seeing Karl resting so peacefully on the books brought a small smile to my lips. They engulfed him like dull, musty wildflowers. I watched him for ten minutes of fitful breathing and choked snores. He looked calm, for once.

I was about to try and wake him when he started talking, his eyes closed and clenched, his mouth loose and wide. I couldn’t understand at first, so I crawled closer. This is what he was whispering:

“Through freedom’s delight there is no fright. For fright to be free it must control me.”

He repeated it over and over. I didn’t notice at first that after he few times of saying it his eyes had opened. Yet he continued to say the phrase, with increasing confidence and velocity, until he finally sat up and looked at me in the eyes. Karl seemed different. He smiled and repeated the phrase once more.

I sat on a mess of books and looked back at him, incredulous.

He dug himself out of the books and stumbled to the door. His shakiness had been replaced by a sort of grace in his movements. He adjusted his cream jacket, ran his hands through his hair, coughed politely, and said “Thank you so much, Hart, you really helped me out here.”

Karl turned and left, whistling an off-key tune.

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