You fight your demons less in your head these days and more in a bottle. They float, soaked in alcohol and burning all the way down, but beautiful none the less. You know what they hide. It's worse than your corpse: a life cycling through booze breath and rehab,(more) hospital beds, wreaking destruction on your family. Tearing it apart slowly. Stitch by stitch. But still you sit, staring into the bottle. The worst part: they don't have to lure you. You're looking for your corpse one way or another, and this may be your longest route but cars have a way of dodging you, and you can't find a gun, and hours of digging through your veins only leaves you tired and drained of not enough blood. Your body seems determined to make you live. So you decide, night after night, to drown it. You take a swig, who knows how many shots straight down your gullet and you'll vomit afterward but for now it feels good. Feels like burning, like dying, like your demons have you around the throat and maybe this time they won't let go.
You crack another seal. Open another bottle. Take another swig.(less)
It will be someone you know, but you won't know it when you first see them. You will have to unravel it over time. It sleeps inside them like a stone in the heart of the earth, vibrating endlessly, aching to(more) thrust itself through the stratum and into our world.
When you see that person for what they are, do not hesitate.
Some find it hard to claim the bargained life when the time comes. The flesh will be familiar. Perhaps it will even be someone you love. From the outside, they will seem in every way as if this damned endeavor had never been.
But whoever they were at their core died when you brought this burden upon us.
All that's left is a husk of flesh, with a sleeping abomination wrapped up inside it. Anything you think you may have shared with them was like a secret spoken through a wall into an empty room.
This was the bargain you made. You may feel aggrieved when the time to pay arrives. But remember-- at no point did we coerce or mislead you. Top to bottom, front to back, you chose this path all on your own.
We even allowed you other walks of life, second chances-- and you chose to return here, because you found them wanting. You gave all of them up in exchange for the power we've granted you.
When it was Amelia and Dag Arbuthnot’s turn to host the dinner, their gorgeous Tudor home in Buckhead was a perfect setting. Amelia’s concept (because she has concepts!!) for the evening was a dinner inspired by Olde Worlde English Yuletide traditions (to set the mood, Dag lustfully whipped the younges(more)t females of the staff with a smartly plaited riding crop made from reclaimed Victorian leather) with a hint of rustic elegance (just a hint mind you, nothing filthy). Amelia cleverly (she's a fucking genius) turned an upstairs sitting room that had walls covered in a cheery scarlet Laughton & Tout toile (I don't know what this is, but it makes me retch into my fist) into a dining room for the night as gifts from Santa (how charmingly infantile) , carefully wrapped in coordinating colors (like red and fucking green, you mean?) , were piled high on a pair of red tole-painted ("tole" means that there are paintings of flowers on it for the unwashed philistines who might be reading) chairs for all who had been naughty and nice. (Everyone has been super nice, right Amelia? Especially you to all those service workers who you spend so much of your husband's money enlisted in fostering the illusion that your existence is one of a rapturously spiraling, diaphanous swirl of grace and refinement with your pulled and puckered face at the galactic center, who you then treat like shit when your child-like whimsy reverses itself and you stop payment and all the little people have to pick up the pieces. But at least you're happy, Amelia. Aren't you happy, Amelia? Amelia?)
*toile is a fabric. The Arbuthnot's walls have cloth on them, not paper, which is much better at muffling the sound of slamming doors and burns more quickly.(less)
According to the standards of the Stanford-Binet test, Danyon Jobert was a genius. But because of the nature of his whirlwind mind, he often had a difficult time in school. Teachers just couldn't keep up with him, with his goals often differing wildly from the lesson plan.
In art class, for instance, Danyon depicted a bowl of fruit that included an apple with a bite in it. The teacher thought he was being funny and suggested to Danyon that he draw what had been set before him.
"That Apple represents the sin of Adam, Mr. Grosner." Explained Danyon, "The significance of which you as a Jew would know doubt be aquainted."
Mr. Grosner's mouth fell open.
"Furthermore, the bowl of fruit itself is almost a comically lazy subject for painting. The bite is no more than my Duchampian effort at disumbrationist commentary, the wry puckishness of which I thought you would appreciate. But..." Dannon studied the slackening face of his teacher, "I seem to have misfigured."
"Nevertheless," Dannon was on a roll, "By incorporating the notion of original sin within the prosaic milieu of the symbolic basket of plenty, we approach making a post-modern statement on the world-as-it-is using traditional visual idioms in a way that initially may seem bourgeoisie, but upon further consideration, actually is quite revolutionary."
"Jarvis?" Said Mr. Grosner.
"Yeah?" Said Jarvis Tate, the six-foot stack of muscle who sat in the back row and was watching barely muted porn on his phone.
"Kick his ass." Mr. Grosner pointed to Danyon.
"Last time I tried that, "snorted Jarvis, "I got put in detention for a week."
"I will give you an A, if you kick his ass." Said Mr. Grosner emphatically.
So Jarvis did, earning an A, and two weeks detention. (less)
Community hall nights, when cribbage takes place, and liquor made from potato peelings can be purchased. Hunters lay out inedible body parts on the table. The bony bits. Later they will be burned. It is a fortnightly bonfire intended to float grief & responsibility away. The old way of(more) doing things is exorcised from this new society on pork-stinking plumes.
On the table:
Hands with ragged, chewed stumps of fingernails. Van Gogh ears. Individual feet, mottled from years of walking in the wet with ill-sized boots & rotten socks.
It was a courtesy measure: hey, does anyone recognize this nose, this artificial eyeball, this belly button piercing? Hey, is this the wedding-ring finger of a spouse, a friend, perhaps an aunt? See the cherry red polish still clinging to the nail despite it being wedged with dirt that doesn't wash out? Was this someone you loved?
We have stopped asking: Is this someone I COULD love. Now it is everyone for themselves. We know that no one we encounter will mean anything good for us. We may as well make any survivors into a meal.
By show of hands, we voted and confirmed the fact to ourselves: no one liked Mike Bolger. But it wasn't for the usuual reasons kids have. He wasn't too fat or too skinny. He didn't have over large ears or wear thick glasses. His breath didn't stink, nor did he stutter,(more) nor did he have any medical conditions that would make him sickly or strange in the sight of others. In fact, physically, Mike Bolger was a handsome kid, with sandy blond hair and a healthy, golden complexion. Furthermore, he could throw a tight spiral and, as the fourth fastest runner in his class, he should have been one of the first kids picked when putting together a team at recess. But no one liked Mike Bolger.
Mike transferred to Cumberland Elementary halfway through the school year. As with any new student, the kids were drawn to him, peppering him with all kinds of questions: where he was from, what music he liked, and if he knew so-and-so. The feeling that something wasn't quite right about him came during one of these low key interrogations. Someone asked why he had left his old school in the middle of the year.
"My dad's work assignment ended and he said we had to move to Cumberland." This, naturally, lead to what his dad did for a living, which Mike appeared reluctant to get too specific about. Finally, he explained it like so, " He's sort of a minister. He helps people. People come to him and he helps them solve their problems and they pay him."
This sounded fishy to me, even slightly sinister, but I kept the feeling to myself. What kind of minister takes money from people like that? And for "solving problems". A sinister minister. It was weird. (less)
I had had enough. I had grown to hate my job as a clerk at Clooney's Variety where I whiled away the days selling nostalgia and kitsch items (blowup Elvis dolls anyone?) alongside home goods like saucepans and plastic tarps. But whenever I started looking for work elsewhere, I felt(more) overwhelmed. I had no special skills, other than a propensity for criticism bordering on the destructive that I was the much, much too frequent victim of. So I keep showing up to Clooney's so I can pay my rent and buy my groceries so I can keep living for the sheer monotony of working at Clooney's.
There is no Clooney at Clooney's, not anymore. He died a long time ago. Instead the place is owned by a husband and wife, Paul and Bing. The wife, Bing, is a Chinese national who speaks appalling English, and has equally appalling attitudes about the proper way to treat employees her employees. When Paul is there, she's not so bad, but when it's just her, she is shrill and sharp and perpetually suspicious of the staff and customers alike. There are numerous "you break, you buy" signs taped up throughout the store, and this policy is enforced at virtual spearpoint by Lady Bing.
There's an old fashioned gumball machine by the counter, and once, a little kid stuck his hand far enough inside that he was able to swish the gum around without quite being able to retrieve any. When Bing saw that, she barked "you pay, hands dirty, you pay". She made that boy's mother hand over $5.00 for having "ruined" the gum, and perhaps, to Bing's surprise, the lady angrily collected on her purchase with me helping to fill her purse with dozens and dozens of gumballs. The kid was elated. (less)
My wife Clara, during our first date, confessed that her ex-husband had physically, mentally, and sexually abused her for 11 years. Although put off by the immediate admission of her past, I appreciated her desire to place her cards on the table.
(more) Her no nonsense, let’s just get to the dreaded point approach was endearing. We continued to eat our dinner, but struggled to find another topic to discuss. How do you follow up with something so direct? As I began to finally speak, she placed her fork on the table, and gave me her complete attention. It gave me instant power and control over the situation.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. Her immediate reaction was to stare down at the abyss between the table and the floor. “No, not tonight,” she said. Our eyes both lock as we share feelings of sorrow and curiosity. “If this turns into a relationship, know that there are some things that have happened to me that I will never be able to share with you,” she said.
As she spoke, I could tell she was battling the nervousness and shame. I wanted to reassure her that everything would be fine. Through my own body language, I wanted to send as many calming messages as possible. Through brute honesty and letting her skeletons dance around our dinner table, I felt myself in the presence of someone who wants to move past being a victim. Yet, being in a relationship with a woman who admittedly has secrets doesn’t seem too healthy.
“Maybe you’ll share with me one of these days?” I said trying to sound optimistic. Clara gazed out the restaurant window fixated on each passerby. She wanted to escape, but knew I would not let her.
Before you submit an application, let me tell you about our CEO:
What do I know about Marvin Bunce?
(more) Very little, actually.
From what I've found online, I discovered he sold his Northwoods mansion for 2.5 Million dollars three years ago, that he was a surveyor for the US department of Geology when he was young, and that, at some point in his life, he painted landscapes in oil. I'm a bit skeptical regarding his being a painter, but only because that suggests a level of aesthetic sensibility that isn't very apparent in his persona as CEO of Bunce Industries, at least not to me. It is a telling commentary on the character of the man that I am more likely to believe he is lying about this than telling the truth.
From other internet gleanings, I know that he was arrested for domestic battery against his wife several years ago, which led to a divorce. He subsequently remarried a woman whom I understand comes from wealth and therefore couldn't possibly be interested in him for his money. He drives a black Land Rover and has a very expensive condo in a Castlewood high rise, as well as a house on Lake Taliesent.
Two years ago during a visit to my store, after stepping into one of the offices and closing the door behind him, he berated an employee over the phone using obscenities so loudly that an eavesdropper later told me it sounded like that "he had lost his mind".
There is a rumor that insanity runs in his family and that he, at age fifty six, is coming into this inheritance. A well-placed source told me that he has rewritten his will a half dozen times, changing his mind about which child he favors whenever the wind shifts.
There are many places you can't see when you are a child. These are the places where dark dreams spin themselves like nets. Under the bed, in the closet, in the dark. You only know with certainty the 4 cold inches in front of your nose. It is not(more) just knowing fear, it is knowing you are foolish in contrast to the watcher-in-the-dark.
There are places the mind can go when the eye can't follow. Dreams. Deep space with the uncounted stars, deep water with the boneless fish; other people's hearts.
It is monsters when you are young. When you get older, you are the monster. When you are little you fear teeth, when you are an adult you fear your own decisions. This is why adults lose themselves these days in zombie and vampire shows. We need the reassurance of an external enemy.
This finger thing, pink and glistening, all the way up the side of his leg. Looked like a lizard's tongue.
Like a goddamn banana slug more like, but bumpy and pink...
When it got to his shorts, it made a sort of half turn and disappeared up under the cloth. I think it was seeking out, you know his... Jesus... his butthole, to get inside... That's when he jumped, like he'd been stuck...
That's when the blood came, washed down his legs like from a faucet and him just standing there like he'd been stuck with something sharp and couldn't move, swaying on his feet. Then he whimpered and the blood is just coursing down and getting sopped up by his socks and flowing over his shoes. Sounded like someone wringing out a dishcloth. The pink thing, it got him. He fell flat on his face in a pool of his own blood, deader than Adam, and whiter than a fucking bone.
Then that little pink fucker came shooting back out from under his shorts, only it was much fatter than when it went in. Fatter than my wrist, and I watched it stretch and shrink across the ground like some kind of demonic inchworm trying to get away. That bastard was fast, too. Faster than any snake I ever seen, and it somehow knew I was after it before I even knew, and I had my claw hammer raised over the meatiest part of it, and I swung that bitch on it as quick as a piston.
Don't you know..... Don't you know.. That that worm, or whatever it was....screamed out with the voice of a man?
They talk about planting seeds for the future. They mean ambition and planning ahead. Some people don't have the dirt for seeds. You can't plan ahead when your fridge is empty, your stomach a hollow block. Or when you know not just your mom's payday, but that it's already(more) not going to be enough. When you are given a kitten one day, to shut you up, then the next week that kitten is set loose on the side of the road. The future is not something to control, the future is a fist that keeeps hitting you, reminding you of how hard the world is, and your place in it.(less)
No one ever said to me, "John: go do this, it's a worthy thing." No, they never would have, either, caught up in the fuss of their own lives as they are, who cares what Johnny does with his own term on earth? But when I was young, God blessed me(more) with a calling, and I've never swerved from it. I've been planting apples like this for thirty years, and I'll do it until they bury my body and my soul climbs the ladder to its reward in heaven, God willing.
I gather the seeds in summer and plant in spring on up until June or so. I use the point of my walking stick to poke a hole in the dirt, drop a clutch of seeds into it, then stamp it down with my heel. I reckon I must have planted ten thousand apples this way. Someone in Vermont told me an orchard named a red apple after me, John Chapman. I say that's fine, but such things are vanity, and I care not for worldly things unless the almighty has a hand in it, which I know in my heart he does with apples, and planting of all kinds. The more sowing we can do here on earth, the more shall we reap in heaven. It says so in scripture.
The highest thing people can say about you is that you lived in service for others. I won't claim such a thing about myself, but I try to remember what the Lord says and stick close to it. I live primitive as I can and eat no fish, meat, or fowl, finding my sustenance from what I can gather from branch or vine, and the Holy Spirit.
"You have three days to come around. You may call Jane or I at the office if you need to clear up any... uncertainties. As hard as it may be to believe, Sarah, we care about you. Not just as an asset but as a person...."
"Stop! Just...no!" She rubbed he(more)r forehead with her hands, "Can you just shut up for a fucking minute, please?"
I backed off, turning my attention to the nighttime traffic passing up and down the rain slicked street. I had arrived to our meeting with a new assignment for her, but that would wait.
At last she spoke. "I don't have a say in this at all, do I?" She had straightened up in her chair and her hands were folded in front of her.
I could have soft-pedaled my response, but told the truth instead: "No, Sarah, you don't." Not long after, the meeting came to its natural conclusion, and we left in separate taxis.
Three days later, Sarah called the office. She was ready for the new job. With one caveat: that she be allowed to take the weekend off to look for a new apartment. In lieu of payment for the assignment, she told Jane over the phone, she wanted us buy her a place with a breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower. Paris was to be her new, full time home and, so as long it didn't interfere with her work, I thought that could be arranged. Finally, she added, her name wasn't Sarah anymore. Henceforth, we were to call her by a new name.
When I met her in the conference room for briefing, she wore her hair in a new, shorter style. From her eyes I discerned a steel-edged intensity that hadn't been there before. Sarah was dead. This was Frederique.
At a cafe on the Rue du Farbourg, Sarah was threatening to blow her cover and to stop her, I had to spell out some very hard truths. "We rescued you for one reason, Sarah: We thought you might be useful, and you have been."
(more) "Is that what you call it, a "rescue", like I was a stray dog?" Sarah dragged on her cigarette and I saw that she had been crying.
At any moment I thought she might stand up and run away, never to be seen again, but I couldn't spare her feelings. "You were a drug addict, homeless, and headed straight for the morgue, and you know it. Whatever else you think of the program, it saved your life."
She brought her tear streaked face close to mine and I could tell she was walking a very fine line.
"So that I could take the lives of others? How fucking altruistic! You made me into a killer and now I'm supposed to thank you? You're sick, and I'm done with this."
She started to rise from her chair and I grabbed her wrist. "If you don't let me go," she hissed, "I'll scream and get the cops here quick as a fucking wink. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
"You need to consider the consequences here, Sarah. Your decisions have impact beyond just you and the program. The safety of people you know would come into question."
She knew exactly what I meant and slumped back into her chair, visibly drained.
"The time for doubt has come and gone, Sarah. You're not the first one of our cases to go through this kind of personal crises. You will push through this: there is no other option."
She stifled a sob, her eyes refusing to look into mine.