fiction

The Man (With the Hat)

This is the first quarter of a short story I more or less sort of finally finished the other day when I didn’t go to work because work has been wearing me out and I needed writing time. I don’t yet know what to call it, hence the parenthetical indecision in the title.


Of course she’s sweet about it, handing mister plump and dumpy the grey newsboy cap he’d dropped a moment ago from the upper level of the train car and waddled down the narrow twist of too-shallow steps to retrieve, draped in his mauve trenchcoat with the vague, shapeless presumption of slacks falling over scuffed and dismal black dress shoes as featureless as Joe Christmas’s brogans, nebulous man on a mission and I hate him like some kind of pudgy past self crowding pushing into now, this flashbacked possible impossible me. Oh impossible me.

I see him all the time, all the fucking time, waiting on the open-air platform in that hat and coat and featureless fucking material and dress brogans for the 5:15 back to the city, doughy and pale and red-nosed, looking like a pile of burdens, like burdensomeness itself, standing with that leaned-back posture of too much belly and too little backbone, sucking on a vaporizer and emitting wispy aroma clouds that smell suspiciously of air freshener. Every day, every fucking day, sipping in regular intervals from tall cans of cheap beer held firmly by sausage fingers with unsuitably elongated, almond-shaped tips and his thin, dark red lips, almost bruised plum purple and shaded by a narrow, bushy gray-brown Hitleresque mustache, reach out to grasp the rim of his beer cans like giraffe lips tempted by acacia. I wonder where he lives, what he does for a living, how he behaves in his natural habitat and what they feed him. It bothers me deeply that we ride the same train to anywhere, ever.

He carries a thermal lunchbox, a plastic bag of backup tallboys, and a shoulder-strapped kind of briefcase or satchel or something, surely full of papers, business papers, I presume. Or maybe it’s empty and just lugged around for legitimacy, his self-awareness in a handbag. Everything is kind of, almost, sort of, or something; he’s a big mound of imprecision and indefiniteness, and I can’t help thinking he’d be useless in an emergency or devoured in the wild. It’s strange, you know, strange how strange is so often a thing I say, of all people me, strange how we develop something as strong as hatred for a complete stranger brought into our orbit by nothing more than dumb circumstance and the faculty of sight. We fall in love this way, I guess, but that’s almost stranger, stranger.

It’s dark when the train arrives, early evening.

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poetry, prosetry

Even More Chronicles of Us

Read the rest of the Chronicles here:
The Chronicles of Us / More Chronicles of Us / Further Chronicles of Us

TEN.
I should have realised that we weren’t going to work out on that sunny afternoon when we were wandering around that big, empty house: you were excitedly envisioning our future children playing in the garden, and saying things like, “We could make this room the nursery,” and “Can you see yourself cooking me dinner in this kitchen?” while I was internally screaming at the prospect of being burdened with relentless mortgage payments and considering which room I would end my life in, assessing which fixtures I could hang from and wondering what the bathtub would look like with red water spilling over its edges.

ELEVEN.
Forever’s never guaranteed.
But still, you wrote the F word
inside every card you ever sent to me.
And I can’t bring myself to throw those cards away –
they are proof that ‘forever’ once existed for me,
and anyway, I will throw them out eventually:
one day, someday, but not today.

TWELVE.
Remember when you painted a declaration of your love for me in huge letters across the old sea wall? You said it would last our lifetime, that everyone who approaches the island will see how much I am adored by you. You vandalised a protected island just so that strangers would know that you love me. Perhaps if I’d been impressed by this instead of horrified we might’ve survived.

 

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prosetry

Scenescence

My dad was sick and we were trying to get the house ready and a cow got stuck in a tree and we thought we might have to put it down before it died up there and our only help was a young man like a young woman with whom I once worked who couldn’t be counted on for shit and the house seemed SoCal, the land of now.

I said, to no one in particular, that this was like “jumping from the pot of absurdity to the fire of the ridiculous” and the young man turned to me like I’d caught his cheek with a fish hook and pulled hard so I said one day you’ll read that book and it’ll change your life and threw him back into his babbling brook.

My dad didn’t make it because none of us do, but we did manage to get that cow down once the world turned back over to ordinary believable neological sensicality and, everafter, we made our truth of the whole thing simply by telling it, each and every time he came back to the house to see me. Remember when… And he’d pour me another, a look of deep, melancholic tenderness spread evenly across his kind face, and tinged with a sorrowful pity of which I was always sure he was never aware.

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poetry

Mercy

Standing on the cliff edge,
two feet away from certain death,
I hurled the contents of the velvet box
into the Atlantic;

piece by piece,
broken-promise ring
by failed-engagement ring,
years of of tears and diamonds and memories
flew down into the sea;

now all that silver sparkling pain
is at the mercy of something bigger
and angrier than me.

(But why I don’t I feel as free
as I thought I would be?)

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fiction, photography

THE LOSS

Chris R-0868 Image by Mark Renney

Despite the lack of evidence, Carter was utterly convinced he was missing a body part, that he had lost something, a piece of himself. He couldn’t stop checking and wherever he might be he would hold his hands up in front of his face and count off the fingers. Or was it a bit of his ear or part of his nose? Or was there a hole in his forehead or in his side or was it a toe? No matter that he always rediscovered he was complete, that nothing had gone astray, he didn’t feel reassured. But he had no scars nor wounds. All of him was in its place and working properly.
Carter decided that if he could pinpoint exactly when and where it had happened he would be able to move beyond it and stop obsessing. He had been suffering from this strange affliction for no more than three months and so the time frame was at least narrow. He was a creature of habit and lead a routine existence, his movements confined. Even so, retracing each and every step he had taken during that time would be difficult.
Carter took the same route to work each day. He walked the same pavements and rode on the same bus. He frequented the same café and pub close to the office and a newsagents nearer to home. He shopped at the same supermarket on Saturday mornings.
He realised that he could have dropped ‘it’ anywhere, whatever ‘it’ was. One of his fingers perhaps or a thumb or an eye. He could, of course, have lost it at the office, and someone else had picked it up and taken it or mistaken it for rubbish and thrown it away. But Carter sensed that it hadn’t happened like this. Not at the office, nor at home nor even on the bus. No, he had lost it out on the street whilst walking en route to elsewhere. In transit as it were. And he had lost it in the way one might lose a wallet or a watch or a single ten pound note. The chances of finding it now were almost non-existent though Carter didn’t need to find it but simply to remember.

Carter quickly understood that his world was small and although he had believed it would be difficult re-tracing his footsteps and remembering what he had done and where he had been it had proved depressingly easy. As he moved through the familiar streets, searching again and again, he became more and more aware of how intricate the City was and how dense.
He rifled through the waste bins and sifted through the detritus and debris gathered at the curb side and in the gaps between the buildings. He scoured along all but forgotten pathways and cut-throughs. At first these ran parallel with his old routes but gradually he was pulled further and further from his little patch of the City and he was exploring parts that were completely alien. He realised also that anything lost would remain lost but he wasn’t able to stop looking, not quite yet.

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prosetry

Span

Maybe one day we’ll meet and neither of us will know what to say for no reason other than. It’ll sound like the weaponization of awkwardness, imagined future meeting imagined present, imagining all those incomplete sentences and overanalyzed gestures, till I go and spoil it with answers (I imagine) because I love to believe and love even more to explain—at least till I go and hate myself for it later—and you cut me off, knowing how things play out, to talk about finding words that are fuller and fewer and sharper and less noisy and I say I tried, answering, exaggerating, for this lifetime I tried, knowing you know better.

You’d roll our eyes, and I’d peculiarly change the subject, or seem to. Chapter V, “Beta, The Disappointed Lover,” I’d say, dangling it out there to speak for me less noisily. It was marked, you’d recall as if on cue, by a folded up printout of Wisława Szymborska’s Nobel address, of all things, and we’d get on about how neither of us remember doing that and about how dragging two Polish poets into this like this is like the start of a joke only Polish poets would find funny. And there I’d be, a little disappointed you didn’t have more answers than I but happy to be on the same page. 111, I think it was.

For now, as I sit in a quiet café across from the presumption of you, I distract myself from thoughts of our little rendezvous with seemingly comparable thoughts of starting a literary magazine out of the blue with a troupe of fringe-dwelling strangers called The Against because sometimes a little carnivalization is better than the silly sum-seeking rum-running of being for something before burying my nose in a worn copy of the Oxford Companion to Music that I got for a few dollars at a summer book fair at this city’s greatest bibliothèque of the humanities for no reason other than that they were there, library and book, and me, full of pent-up irony, as though it might contain answers to questions I don’t yet know I’ll want to ask.

The air outside is cold and the cold outside starts to remind me inside of all the fancy things I thought before I started sticking to the present and ceased to ruminate in caffeine-whiskey pools upon my moony captivation with the lofty side of experience like it was a new neighborhood in a new city I might move to. Laferrière said “the more I try to get close to myself, the more I’m hiding something. There is nothing more fake than real life.” I think I’ll stay here, it’s the only way to get anywhere, speaking of dualities. It’s only life. It’s only everything. I’m only me, now and then. I only stop so often because it’s so hard to begin, but beginning’s like holding an unread book, you just want to carry it around a while, inobjectively, reveling in the elementary allure of possibilities and all their exquisite contradictions.

I close the Companion and look across the small table at your empty chair. Never have I envied you, never have I even feared, only imagined a certain oneness, a wholeness of experience of the sort they say we find in sickness, in violence, in the invasive presence of others, in words.

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