I can't begin to write a fiction piece with this prompt. It's too close to my nose, my fingers, under my nails.
In the past 5 weeks:
(more) Three kids of three with the goopy snots
One baby with the seal-bark cough
One boy with the rattling-bubble cough
One baby with astounding, SNL-worthy projectile vomiting
Two kids with diarrhea
(Now called "ballerinas" in this house - diarrhea is hard for a 4-yr-old to say. He is now afraid of toilets. "Are ballerinas going to come out of my bottom again?")
I'm terrified of what next week will bring.
I'm wondering at what point it's polite to put a "quarantine" sign on the front door.
He dug around. His pants pockets were pulled out and flapping like too-tiny wings as he walked. He patted the back pockets. Flat. Patted at his breast but was wearing no shirt. He'd tried to stop that habitual motion twice but found himself doing it anyway. Then he felt foolish, and for a moment, was glad he was alone.
His shoes didn't even have laces. The match might not even fire - everything had gotten pretty wet. He wished he were the sort of man who cursed. Maybe the firey speech would release the squeeze from around his chest. Maybe he would stop grinding his teeth.
Nothing for it but to keep walking towards the mountains poking up over the trees. That was West. He was reasonably certain. As long as the sun held...
What was that incantation his grandmother had taught him? He'd been a boy, the weather cold and the days scant hours long. He'd been afraid. Much like now. And his grandmother told him that he had no reason to fear, that his blood pumped with power, that he could call the light.
They'd taken Grandma away shortly after that and encouraged him to forget. But they had failed, hadn't they? That being only one of their many failures.
Because he was alive. And now he was not afraid.
He chuckled. The words would come to him, he was certain. The spell demanded wood (check) and a tooth and blood (check check). He fiddled the rhyme about in his head. He picked up a rock and hefted it in his palm. The words would come with the blood. (less)
criminal cry criminal minimal mine spine line to be towed grass to be mowed
neglect the chores at your own peril
crime to waste time
time is neglecting you wasting you and the sun
like a bullet between the eyes over and over and you are toil bubble and
boil the cauldron is black and smack
in the middle
the muddle the trouble with
and flashing smashing
the way they collect and shine under
your nails filthy from scratching clawing just getting
you there with the sun
a bullet the dog barking rooster
crowing neighbor next door is mowing but
right between the eyes bleeding seething
sowing and pleading because God hasn't looked
like an old man
for some time
more like a river-thing
flowing living thing despite
all the and all of the and the rubies
that grind us
more like a turning from and burning
down like abandoning and riding
the waters down like
wasting time (less)
Better than speaking. I don't visit graves, don't talk to rocks and bones. Can the dead read? I suppose, if they can speak. If they can come calling and interrupting dinners with women a man once loved an(more)d is hoping to love again. If the dead can burn down that man's house, surely they can read a note scrawled in a terrified hand on a post-it.
The doctors tell me your daughter will pull through.
Maybe you were concerned. Maybe you already knew.
I write to confess and to ask forgiveness. I did love your daughter, and I did not love you. You were a placeholder, a teddy bear, a diversion. You came over and straightened her scattered things, washed the dishes she left stinking in the sink. Alone, she had her limitations, but augmented by you - she became perfect. You were an upgrade.
I've left the earring you came for. It was in my pocket - found when the doctors stripped me naked. Those clothes, the house are destroyed.
Your daughter is destroyed.
When I showed her your earring, she shrank away. I see now that she was afraid and unwilling to say so. She was right to believe I would think her silly. But now I understand. Take it back with my apologies for letting you become mere filler.
And my daughter next to you, looking so pretty at our table...Hush now, that wasn't nice and you know damn well it was our table.
Who always took care of you? Who was it came rapping at your door when she was off at some conference or slipping up against a deadline? I had time back in those days, and I gave it to you. So you can sit still and put up with me now.
You'll forgive a woman just looking to stitch up old wounds. But I do apologize for leaving a mess - I know you like it neat. God knows how you put up with my daughter, I never could train her up right. The sheets looked so clean and warm after spending all that time in the cold wet dirt. But then I lost the earring.
It's important to me - a gift from my Daddy. Said he stole them from a dig over in Africa somewhere. He was gone a lot, then he was gone forever and they're all I got of him now.
So you understand why I had to come by to retrieve it, even though I can see now that my timing may have been bad. But you can't tell me she didn't know there was something going on between us.
She is my daughter, after all.
Why don't you run and fetch that earring and I'll get out of your hair. Then you can tend to your guest. She looks pale. (less)
I left no smell of tea; I lost no earrings. Mom didn't leave me anything when she died - certainly not jewelry. And the only earrings I ever saw her wear are in the ground, probably laying somewhere near what's left of her head, a few inches above her shoulders.
Those earrings were ugly vicious things. Glinting in the shadows, nipping at my cheek when she hugged me. Nestling in the shag of the carpet to wait for the tender arches of bare feet.
Now I sound as silly as you always thought I was. They were just earrings, after all.
Anything you found in your sheets has never touched my body. They dropped off of one of your girls as the two of you tussled and rolled. You should pay more attention to what your women wear, the way they decorate themselves for you.
We like that sort of thing.
To remember Mom's earrings, after all this time. It makes me wonder what sorts of attention you were paying her.
Let's have dinner - we can celebrate her memory. We can get drunk and mean as soggy cats. I'll bring tortillas if you promise to make eggs. (less)
You don't remember watching cartoons on Saturday mornings? You act as if I were always so straight-laced, slick hard and sharp as glass. You rooted for the bird, but I pitied the coyote.
Anyway, if you hadn't le(more)ft the note, I wouldn't have known you were there - sneaking about the cupboards, poking about the refrigerator. Did you take a nap on the bed? You used to nap. Now, maybe you must work? It's hard to sleep on the job, but there are people who manage. Maybe you've met someone else - someone with broad shoulders to carry you through life.
I wouldn't have known you were here. You left the kitchen spotless.
That means, I suppose, that you've changed - though I wouldn't have thought it possible and it pains me to admit that I may have been wrong about you.
This realization saddened me.
And I laid down on the bed
on the side that was mine, and I remembered the way the light through the blinds striped across your skin. You slept soundly and smelled of white tea.
I admit, I put my face to the side that was yours just to pretend that I could smell tea. But I didn't have to pretend and it was lovely as it ever was.
You dropped an earring - your mother's, I believe.
Do you remember the funeral? All drizzle and thunder sounding in the distance to rush the priest. A day with no nap, and you grumped through the evening.
You will come for it, I know, and this of course dictates that I cook. Old times. I will buy tortillas and make burritos. I will buy eggs and the eating of them is up to you.
I was about to add to your shopping list. I saw it taped to the inside of your cupboard door.
Don't be upset.
I opened it not to pry or sneak, not to steal, plunder, or otherwise take advantage of your careful and thorough stores. The nea(more)t rows, I admit, were a shock after the tussled state of your bed and the stains on the sheets.
Not that any of that bothered me.
I was hungry, that's all, and looking for some tortillas. You make those great burritos. There was cheese in the fridge. A microwave. Sometimes a girl likes a lazy quesadilla: tortilla, cheese, microwave, fold. Perfect for a girl peckish and on the run.
I don't eat much.
But no tortillas, at least, none that I could find. Bread, but grilled cheese is too much work: butter to cut, pans to wash.
Don't roll your eyes. I would have washed the pan. I still remember - it hasn't been that long. But a man who likes a clear sink should keep tortillas around. One implies the other.
You are also short on eggs. I would have added these too - eggs - because you enjoy them over-easy on cool Sunday mornings in February when no grass needs mowing.
But what do I know?
You with your rumpled bed. Maybe you don't make burritos anymore - that would explain the tortillas. Maybe you don't eat eggs. Maybe Sundays with the new girl
or is it girls?
involve Belgian waffles or Pop-Tarts. Orange juice even though you told me it makes your stomach sour.
Don't run off and take inventory, counting cans. I didn't eat. I didn't edit your list. I didn't touch anything while I was there. (less)
There were lots of different ways, he figured, to think about a runaway balloon.
A child becoming distracted or excited, wailing as his red balloon soars up. Maybe he jumps a few times, as if he is strong enough to jump high enough to catch it before th(more)e wind pushes it out of sight...
The sort of balloon a person could ride in. The dangling basket would be full of tourists...no, not tourists, not full...just the balloon pilot - who would double as the officiant - and the couple getting married. Then the ballast drops - some mistake, some accident of fate or skill - and the bride sobbing as they float up and up...
The balloon-head feeling of a fever, the throbbing balloon-swelling ache of a stubbed toe, anger as a balloon expanding in his chest - always pushing pushing bending never popping...
He tapped his pencil thwackthwackthwack against the kitchen table. His mother was waiting dinner for him. His homework. Again she told him to pay attention, to finish up, to for goodness sake quit kicking the table leg. Her hair looked kinda crazy. The baby was fussing. He scratched out some words:
There once was a boy with a very bad temper. He was a good boy and didn't mean it, but he was full of wiggles. Sometimes, the wiggles came out of his mouth. Sometimes they came out of his feet or his hands. Thinks broke. Things spilled. So the boy used his mother's sewing machine and all of his clothes and his baby sister's clothes and every quilt in the house to make a balloon. Then he stood at the opening and blew. He blew all of his sit-still-aches, all of his jump-around brain, all of his wiggle-wiggle-wiggle into the balloon. Then, he jumped in. (less)
[nothing shot of
nothing shot for nothing
no one was shot
no one was short]
no one shorted the shooter that day.
(more) the shooter was our friend and more than
our friend, he was our patriarch (our demon).
and without our patriarch, we were nothing.
at least, that's how we saw it,
how he'd taught us to see it and saw it we did.
(he saw demons)
we saw when he went into the 7-11.
(I didn't even know they had those anymore)
he went into the 7-11, he said, for a slushee.
(or slurpee? I can't remember now which it is
the 7-11 carries) cold blood. that's all I know of
slushees and slurpees. red or blue. iced-up and neon.
not in real life, neon, blood doesn't look like that.
but in my mind. in my
mind it splashed across the vinyl
floor as glowing and manufactured as the slushee/slurpee the shooter
(the demon patriarch)
the fat straw. one handed.
that's how he drew it. so's not to set the cup down. condensation trickled down the wax and landed by his boots. my boots by his boots, wet and slick as nothing
from the condensation
(the slurpee/slushee, you know)
and the blood because I checked the pulse.
he barked at me, our demon patriarch, and I didn't hear (but I knew) what
I stood with my blood-wet boots next to his wet-wet boots, nothing drawn. I didn't hear.
(I can say this honestly)
my hand out, the wet slick trickle of it
her hand out and dropping clink the quarters.
I showed our patriarch and
(all of this neon mess for fifty cents)
the teacher distracted the students
who, in turn, distracted
(more) the students were teaching
the teacher who studied
while the students studied distraction
diseases of the mind and
minding their manors
and their mannerisms
their maturity and machismo
their desires their dis-ease their minds
made up of disease and distraction
and dis-assembling of the houses they'd built
broken houses built of blocks
to be built better
with neurons popping and zapping
this is distraction this is learning
this zipping of things
things of substance and succor
succor and serotonin
slippery options that play up
when the students get distracted
It was her job to watch over the little ones who lived between the big lakes up north and the corn fields to the South - a huge territory to be sure, but sparsely-populated and she loved roaming the land.
There wa(more)s a river though, and a town built along its banks. Maybe the water was tainted, maybe the soil festered - it was hard to say, the elements weren't her thing. The little ones who lived by the river were mean. Every one of them. The clerks leaned on scales, the football team was all elbows to teeth and knees to balls, the mothers screeched at the brats they birthed.
The giant didn't make it out there much. It was no fun and they never listened to her anyway. Sometimes they threw old food at her. Sometimes they threw worse. But it had been too long, so she grumbled and turned toward the shining stripe of water.
The little ones gathered around her feet, and even without bending down, she could hear them yelling. Always angry, these. She would be quick, just needed to check that the crops would do for winter, but the little ones were swarming over her toes. They tickled. Then they stung.
She peered down and saw that they were hacking at her toes with axes and cleavers. She roared and shook, and they tumbled from her foot to the mud from which they scrambled to attack the other foot. Her injured toes bled into the town square. The children jeered and threw rocks.
"Fuck this," she said, and stomped.
There once was a giant. It was her job to watch over the little ones who lived between the big lakes up north and the little lake to the South. (less)
At least that's what she thought. It was hard to see through the snow blowing and the frost on the window, and if it *was* red, it was a dirty red. The big man had seen better days. She hoped. (more)
Mom had to work, even on snow days, and she wasn't supposed to answer the door with no grown-up home. Really, Mom had told her not to answer the door at all. Grown-ups were better at strangers, at telling good from bad. Mom said she had poor impulse control.
The man pushed his way through the snow on the driveway and the walk and then up the porch steps where the wind piled it in stiff heavy hills. That was a lot of work to do, and she'd watched him trudge all the way up the block and back to her house on the corner. No one had opened the door.
He knocked. She heard him stomp his feet. She bet his lips were blue and his calves wobbled in his boots. The big man needed to warm up.
She opened the door and the wind grabbed her voice and flew away with it but she waved the big man in and they pushed the door shut together.
He was not so big - that was mostly bag and he set it on the floor where it dripped. His red coat was thin at the elbows and gray at the cuffs. He tossed a soggy hat on the bag and pulled off his boots.
She watched him from the kitchen and boiled water.
"Thanks." His voice rumbled and his smile was bright.
She held up the whiskey. "Mom says this keeps her warm."
Something there. Outside the window. It was light out - noon or one by the sun - but she felt the clench in her gut that meant "night." That's the word she associated with it, but she knew it really meant "death."
It's what she felt when sh(more)e ran out to get the mail in February without a coat. Clench. "Get inside or you will die."
It's what she felt when she drove over the bridge and the sections banged and bent. "Get onto land or you will die."
But in her mind - one thought, one word. Night. Night was always cold here, always dangling over rushing waters. Death came in the night, and she was the only one left.
Outside the open window, the sun was yellow and bright and warm. The leaves were beginning to poke out of branches. It smelled like mud, clean and wet and holding seeds tight while they sprouted.
So why the clench? She scanned the street, let her eye linger over empty houses and empty cars. She squinted in the flash off of a windshield and watched, eyes slitted, as the truck rolled slowly down the gently sloped road. It looked as empty as everything else. Maybe the brake finally gave. Daytime was safe.
Daytime was safe. She heard herself mumbling as she went down the stairs, through the kitchen where she grabbed a knife, and then out the door. The breeze moved the leaves, her hair, her clothes. Nothing else moved. The truck had butted up against Mr. Muley's hatchback.
She scanned the houses again, the shadows, moved her gaze over the park become a graveyard. She'd dug the last three holes herself. The breeze died, and the leaves shushed, and she heard the many feet.
They had all heard of the green boots. There was a cave in the Death Zone, just before the summit. In the cave lay a man in bright green boots, half covered in snow unless the wind was blowing right. He looked like he'd curled up and gone to(more) sleep. Truth probably wasn't too far off from that.
They had all heard of the green boots and were watching for them, even though they were busy enough with their own ascents, bodies failing, minds spinning out on fear. They didn't have to pretend they weren't watching out of some strange decorum of snow and death and exertion. No one could pay attention to anyone but themselves, their own breath, their own tearing muscles, their own straining lungs.
Maybe the others were pouring so much into survival and moving up and up another step that they truly didn't see the boots. Maybe they truly didn't see the second, unexpected, man curled up next to the dead man in the green boots. Maybe they saw him and thought him already gone. In any case, the others continued up.
Mady stopped, stumble-fell through the wind, "Man! Hey, man!"
Waste of energy given the blowing and the mask. Sound, in its way, didn't exist here. Mady fell to his knees and pounded the unexpected man on the shoulder. At first, nothing, then movement and the struggle to knees, to feet. The man leaned on Mady at first, which was terrible because Mady couldn't hold himself up. But they got to the ropes, the unexpected man up front, Mady following.
They climbed towards the summit, and the mummies smiled them up, and on the way back down.
Mady, disoriented, counted men in the cave with the green boots as they passed -- one, two, three.