Nothing Happens (2018)
Their hot tub was getting very dirty. She only swam on Sundays, and in the Monday though Saturday between, fallen oak leaves and dust had began to colonize the tepid waters. Submerged to her hips, she watched the brown tenants rise and fall in the jets’ exhalations. A fugitive oak leaf escaped the perennial swirl, drifted for a moment, and settled between her knuckles. Raising her hand close to her eye, she examined the once leaf; the chlorine had begun to eat at its flesh, leaving only a layer of brown-tinged vitreous skin to cover its emaciated frame.
It looks like a moth, she thought, and immediately commiserated with the poor skeletal being gasping for air in her palm. Was she to help him escape from the monotonous pull and heave of the currents, bring him back to solid earth? Or had he evolved to be a gill-like creature now? She did not know. She could not know.
Cupping her hands in a protective shell, she lowered them back into her bath, between her knees, and then allowed between them a murmur of water. Away from the incessant currents, away from the air’s asphyxia, she thought she could hear its heaves beginning to subside in her palm’s pool, and she was again satisfied in her dirty Sunday hot tub.
This September Sunday was not quite warm enough to be sitting half submerged in a lukewarm hot tub, and so, with a particularly brisk gust of wind, she slid herself fully underwater and held her breath. The water felt to be just the temperature of the blood pulsing beneath her skin, like the air that evening in San Francisco with her Aunt Julie.
Emperial Gren (2018)
I used to like tea a lot. Green, I liked most of all; I’d made a habit of brewing it first thing every sleep-ruffled morning and night and between, carrying it from class to class to class after reading somewhere or otherwhere that the antioxidant catechins, the polyphenols in the tea made the heart beat a little faster, nervous system a little more nervous, body expend something like four percent more. Some time in November, I even rerouted the extra pens from a backpack pocket to hold a steady sachet stock. Emperial Gren, my green was called. Dad brought it to me from China.
I liked that Emperial Gren’s taste, a little vegetal, a little nutty, good tea, said a Chinese girl from my dorm. Quality, and from the right market. But I didn’t care about that so much, liked the taste more because it mouthwashed for a swallow's moment that sour taste of ketosis from my mouth. And no counting made it even easier to like.
I liked that Emperial Gren too because it was Something Else that could’ve made my legs bedrattle unwillingly under starchy bedsheets as I tried to find hazy sleep. Or heart chestrattle every time I stood up. That one time a little field mouse found its way into a shoebox in my room, scratch scratch scratch’d me awake and terrified? By the time it’d been swept out into the cold balcony beyond, my heart was chestrattling so enthusiastically that I had to lie down and eat an apple slice. Caffeine, it’ll get ya, I used to chuckle to myself.
I liked that tea so much that it was all I wanted for a day, then four, then eight.
But I didn’t like it so much when I tasted it again this year, after I cut Emperial Gren off with a snotty therapist and routine for a while. It was much bitterer than I remembered. More like stale spit or dirt from under the nails, pity, and less like pride, less like power than I remembered.
The Cops Say (2017)
There’s that saying we’ve all heard somewhere; if a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound? Here in Keever, we know the answer, at least Body Woods’ answer.
No, nothing dares to breathe there, to disrupt the apathetic languor of the trees complaining their miserable existence, except occasionally, the sobs of some unfortunate blue jay. Those blue jays are dumb, the dumbest animal, says Ma, because all the other animals know better, avoid these woods like they’re strapped up with shock collars or something. No food anyways, nothing they could eat, say the cops, only magnificent shocks of unnatural-looking, inedible orange fungi erupting from the ground like upside down chandeliers. Or enormous hands, says one cop. Lots of real hands in Body Woods, too, and feet. Lots of body parts in general, say the cops. That’s where it got its name.
I’m not allowed into Body Woods. Once got a whooping from Daddy for straying too far in our own backyard, a whooping so bad his belt loops were printed in the bruise on my rear end. Like little creamy stars aligned in a sinking sun’s sky. But Daddy’s never been to Body Woods, either; he'd just heard the same stuff that had filtered down to me, folklore.
Folklore until last year, when Ricky’s dad, policeman, got a shaky call, a voice he said sounded like the miserable swaying trees and ghosts and that sick time of the year, round January, when all of the kids’ throats congeal with jelly mucus. Like the spirit of the forest itself had called him.
“Body in Body Woods. Not buried.”
I was at Ricky’s house that morning, watched his dad’s hands so shaky they couldn’t hang up the phone right or fasten the last button of his vest.
“Just the coffee nerves,” he explained and then laughed tautly. Made a show of taking a big gulp from a full ‘I (HEART-SHAPED PUCK) HOCKEY’ cup.
And his Ma cried so fast after the car door slammed, ignition started, gravel rolled that I stayed at Ricky’s all day, picking dried oatmeal from bowls, patting his Ma on her hand. Ricky played video games in the other room, but I could hear over and over and over the zip zap zoop ‘GAME OVER’ noises like a record stuck.
I stayed the night, shared Ricky’s Ma’s bed with the two of them, a cramped double that squeaked as she sobbed, him in her arms, me other side. Their side soggy and salty. Mine quiet. Stayed till the next afternoon patting his Ma’s hand and listening to zip zap zoop, zip zap zoop. Until the modal phone rang. Almost as fast as Ricky’s ma cried did she stop that monotone riiiing, riiiii—
“Mitch? Mitch, hello? Is—” Pause.
I watched her from across the kitchen, lines under her eyes deepening, and fingers beginning to knot again, across and around and under each other, gnarled knuckles turning purple from impossible finger acrobatics.
Then she started swallowing, deep and thick and hard, and suddenly I felt like I was watching her undress, felt wrong and perverted, and had to look away. I focused hard on counting the zip zap zoops, chipping a hardened yellow bit of leftover egg yolk from my plate, tracing the undulating pattern of wood grain on the table, focused on anything but Ricky’s Ma knotting her fingers and struggling to breathe and undressing herself.
“Yes, yes,” broke the pause, choked. “I’ll send him on his way home now.”
She didn't look at me, didn't say anything when I stood up to go, just watched the faucet drip, drip, drip, probably wondering who would fix it.
“Bye, Ricky,” I called into the other room. Zip zap zoop bid me goodbye.
I trudged home, one cross street and three down, and over lasagna, told Daddy and Ma about Ricky's dad. We’d never locked our doors before, never really had to in Keever, but Daddy did that night and the next and the next, because Ricky’s dad didn’t come back, not after supper and not the next day or the next either, not even when a whole group of his cops went looking for him, not ever.
Nothing there, the cops said, just the egotistical oaks and orange fungi and invertebrate muck and there between and below it all, the apathetic, heaving languor of Body Woods.
Why I Fear Snakes and Spiders and Dark and God (2017)
A boy that is my brother, Eldest Brother, has a relationship with the mirror polarly opposed to that of the rest of us vain and conceited humans. He is not bad-looking, I think, not fat nor short nor pimpled, nothing obvious about him that shrugs and mumbles, “I am biologically cursed.” He’s handsome, even, in a classic and plain Botticelli way: a square jaw, strong nose like Daddy’s and not crooked like Youngest Brother’s. Straight teeth, too, but he doesn’t real-smile very often, and never with his teeth. And the most unlikely eyes, blue—but calling Eldest Brother’s eyes blue, just blue, is like a second-grader coloring that sunglassed, yellow-crayon sun in the corner of a page; sufficient and explicit, but just not right. No, that blue of Eldest Brother’s eyes can really only be described as sacrilegious, a color that shouldn’t belong to the human body; a color that should probably be reserved for the omnipotent in that breathy millimoment just before He sneezes lightning bolts. Or overflows the night’s bathtub with bubble bath clouds that almost, almost completely shroud the pale moonslice drain. That is the most right I can be about drawing the sun and the color of his sacrilegious eyes.
No, this Eldest Brother of mine—despite the square jaw, strong nose, straight teeth—is not like the rest of us vain and conceited and crooked humans, whose necks crane, almost gravitationally, towards any and every vaguely reflective surface. No, he is not one of us; he avoids his sacrilegious eyes in reflection like they’re Medusa’s and not his unfamiliar own.
I remember as a little girl finding reassurance in Eldest Brother, reassurance in knowing that Eldest Brother was not scared of anything. Not snakes, not spiders, not dark, not god. But every time I watch him place a tense, centered concentration on the soap congealing between his palms or the anything-not-reflective, every time I watch him light the wick upon his head until the room and himself and everything is cloudy, liquored and flickering, safe, I lose a grain of my Little Sister’s reassurance and begin to fear snakes and spiders and dark and God-not-god once again, and all the more.
Marbles in a Motor (2017)
I decided that I must have liked him because his voice was like mine. On the ‘bbbb’s, he choked, stumbling around the syllables like a little boy and his first motor engine, sputtering, kicking, flailing, until the rest of the oil could spill, pool out into a languid puddle of self-satisfaction. And, and, and, when the hum of the cogs began to rumble, perhaps the sputtering tried to slip away only to trip over orange-rimmed tin cans, to be caught in a self-set snare of a ‘b’s, the engine singing just too quickly to keep up with the orchestra. I could hear his tongue fishing for the words, but there were too many bbbolts and cccogs to navigate the chop, not enough lubricant to slip out of the mooring. Out of Place, Out of Order, rolling into a garbed mouthful of glass marbles, choke, gag, retch. Marbles don’t turn a motor, and this is why I loved the words that fell from his pen, the words that, under the guise of fine ballpoint, slipped away from his antagonized tongue.
Auspiciously Tardy (2016)
I was late to sports on Monday, late by three minutes that should have been two. I really could have been late by just two minutes, and I knew this; I also knew that the later I was, the further into his head Greg’s eyes would roll. I wasn’t certain how much further back they could really go, but it was 2:47, and suddenly, my left shoe was insistent on being retied or bladder emptied or mother’s message replied, and I became very itchy. If you are of the normal and not-counting-your-steps-or-pieces-of-corn-nubs-per-bite human population, you will not fully understand why all of these one-minute, very nonessential charges became so very essential and so very itchy at 2:47, itchy under the collar and itchy where the little-too-big sock wrinkles behind the ankle, but here is what you must understand.
The numbers two, four, eight, thirty-two, on, are attractive to me like the clean-cut and too-nice J. Crew boy is. But when the double doors are kicked open and Sixteen saunters in, the grungy and a little grimy maybe guitar-playing type boy who isn’t too nice at all and is probably far too smart for his own good, oh God, oh Jesus, I cannot help but to quiver my knees and to bite my tongue until it throbs and reminds me to breathe. I knew, standing there, itchy at 2:47, that if I were retie my shoelace or pick a blade of grass—if the kleptomaniac were to take the bills or junkie the bump—inside I would find relief in my Patrick Verona’s cubic root and square root and half. So I peed and tightened by ponytail.
And at 2:48, Greg rolled his eyes so deeply that I'm almost sure he got a pleasant view of his brain, but it was 2:48, and I was auspiciously tardy.
Blushing cheeks and auburn hair tangled,
knotted in the other’s street-worn fingers,
Dipping between the fuzz at nape’s neck and a hesitant zipper
The brief calfskin skirt, waxen, contests the fingers,
Passively, meekly like grape leaves do morning condensation;
But steel-tip nails, oversweet kisses don’t know how to roll off,
And they coax to find
an ass bruised and soft like a day-old plum
And in between two half-mooned slices,
Found is nothing like a Valentine, neither pink nor pale
But an overripe melon,
Fanned rim wilting, sagging,
dribbling trails of marmalade pus
Sticky fingers and sugar-crusted lips,
he gorges himself on her and sighs
little cloying clouds of cotton candy, whimpered and misty
Skirt, legs, skin torn apart at the navel and ribboned around her
Her, panting in a warm mere of her own saccharine blood
Pollock, Number 5 (2016)
On the end of his woolen houndstooth comforter, She smooths her itchiest and loveliest blue dress
over the metal chins of knobbled knees, fused together tightly
She wets her already-flaking lips,
now out of words
and Frantically he finds a gold plastic trophy on his shelf to permeate the silence
It leaves a dustless gap between popsicle stick frames,
a collection of hermetically sealed encyclopedias,
uncertainly-taped cutouts of Baseball Players
He waves the tiny gold man at her expectantly so she makes a strange smile, flat in the middle and
She licks her lips again.
To himself or maybe her-- she’s not certain-- he wonders aloud
about baseball scores, about his Fantasy league, about
(She stifles a yawn), but he notices and the nibs of his ears blush red, shuts his mouth tightly
For an opaque, impervious pause
The carpet becomes very interesting to the both of them.
Until a bold Did we have homework over the weekend? tumbles from his lips.
and now She straightens up, murmurs, shyly, into her hand, blushing.
I think just cursive practice. And smiles.
He is next to her now,
All of a sudden, smiling back.
Close enough that she can smell his mother’s detergent and his father’s cologne
Close enough that maybe he can see the glitter in that hyper-cherry lip gloss
He leans closer, eyes pinched shut, deliberate, and so she closes her eyes
And puckers her lips very tightly. Freezes.
She doesn’t move, waits for him to. Heart suspended, trembling, armpits damp,
as his measured breaths approach. His gentle pant, his heat on her nose,
And she, her virgin tongue, they’re impatient
He dips closer and closer
And the impatient girl doesn’t see him peek at her,
her, the puckered statue beside him,
Advancing and scared he’ll miss
The Bug I Wish I Hadn’t Seen (2016)
A proud door shouting shut first told her that there would be bugs. The uninvited listener wasn’t scared, not enough to be incurious; she wanted to watch them scuttle under the door, classify them, place them into their separate and contained glass jars. Prayer-style, she knelt beside their proud door, hands readied for the bugs, made the sign of the Cross. In the name of the father, the mother, and the Clandestine daughter, amen. A tiny ant slipped under the doorsill, nothing she hadn’t seen before, a raised voice. She let him pass, and ants continued under the door for a while. The priest’s heart remained high and distended, independent of her hopeful hands prowling over sill’s exit. The flow of ants trickled to a gradual honey-stop, and she was just uncrumpling from her fawn-like pose to slip away, insatiated, when the distant sound of heavy feet began to prickle her ears. Peering cautiously below the frame, the devout girl saw nothing, sat up, scratched her ankle, but the impending footsteps continued to grow. As the steps’ thunderous notes changed from legato to staccato, so did her heart’s thumping, and it was then when she began to confuse the sounds. She had the sudden urge to plug her ears just before her heart stopped. One glistening eye, hungry, extended from under the door and she might have let out a cry when she saw it, but she wasn’t sure; all she felt was her ribs’ tremoring, lungs choking on flat, heavy air, as the arms, legs, knees, toes, then whole trillipede emerged. Help me, help her, she might’ve screamed if she had not known she just couldn't; was there a fire in her ears, a flood in her eyes, and earthquake in her gut? One bigger, grander, meaner than the last slithered out, crawled onto her arm, and then another while she wheezed in copious amounts of her own soot, gagged as more ash smoke-stacked out of her throat. One by two by twelve, she tried to clog the succeeding swarms, but couldn’t move, was glued to her seat; anyways, they were too big and too fast, and then she couldn’t even keep track of them; against the grain of her arm hair, on the fragile skin behind her ears, inside of her shirt’s collar, she felt the angry itch of a million toes, and one must’ve snuck through her ear and wrapped itself around her heart because suddenly, her heart stung and sank, and her feet woke with a sudden, found themselves, and the all-knowing precant was running, running on tip-toe away from the unknowing penitents and their bugs, wishing she’d been a bit more pious and stayed away from that damned proud door.
Abstraction 3 (2016)
Sixteen means L’Arc: on tables, an aristocracy of skinny French bitches compete in Miu Miu, Prada platforms even higher than we are, a menthol Marlboro slim in our hands to match theirs, the hypnotism of fizzling morphine music. This is not Budweiser beer pong in the backyard of Ricky Hannigan; this is a whole other cosmos, where platinum blonde and silver silk and SS17 glitter, having ambled straight off of the runway, rule.
Spilled onto the dance floor, hips closing onto sweaty hips, my neighbor is a glassy-eyed high and not sixteen, but he orders bottle service, so we decide that It is okay. Even if he’s wrinkled and might have daughters our age. This house of dolls is black and white, where we’re all white and end blacked, drunk with power and tequila in a haze of second-hand smoke. Between midnight and five, as my mother texts and asks me not to drink, I decide, sipping on gin and tonic without tasting, that this year will be unlike any other, explosive and unpredictable, free drinks and freedom.