fiction

A Carapace for this Irredeemably Querulous Nature

I step out of the office and into the hall for an hors d’oeurve taste of corridor’d freedom, industrial-carpeted and fluorescent, tans and grays and whitishes with a texture at once abrasive and numbing, unsatisfying like a tease of a snack on a toothpick that’s been sitting out too long but is better than no food a’tall, and head to the men’s room.

He’s in there again, turning from a urinal and zipping up, and my heart does that sinking thing because I don’t know everything but I know what’s coming, and I want to rush over and clap my hand over his stupid mouth before either of us can make the human people word sounds, maybe just choke him out and be done with it, then drag the body to the back corner stall, whistling elfish and cheerful while I wash my hands and walk out like nothing happened because nothing did, just a little murder.

But I’m already speaking, before the anticipation and the thought form an action, homicidal or otherwise, and a single Howyuhdoin slips out of a mouth I thought was under my control. WELL THANKS HOW ARE YOU, his voice booms, clear and commercial, a parody of our unfortunate ability to locute, all enunciation and no heart like the words are big wooden blocks he’s arranged with infantile pride in some inchoate effort at communication, and I’m furious at the futility of being soft-spoken and hard-thought in a world full of empty-headed broadcasters so I kick his stupid fucking blocks all over the place and say I’m good.

My only wish is to evaporate so I stand there and hold rabbit-style still watching him without breathing in case that’s how that happens, thinking there’s strength in non-doing, weakness sometimes in action. It does not—quite. He looks at me quizzically and I wonder if he knows how to spell that, with all those z’s and l’s and such, because I always thought it had just one “z” the way “kat” only has one “t.” He probably does, because no one but a good speller could SPEAK IN SUCH NICE WORD BLOCKS and no one but a broadcaster could manage to look quizzically at another being without even a shred of a hint of curiosity, only an otherer’s sense of abnormality sensed and I’m at least placated for a moment, standing there motionless, staring, blinkless, my mouth slightly open, physiognomy frozen. I’ve got him cornered as a kat, door behind me, man against man.

But he breaks the spell and steps up to the sink and begins to roll up his cuffs. I abscond to a stall where I sit on the latrine to use it as a perch from which to watch him through the crack in the stall door. He talks into the mirror as he washes his hands and inspects his visage, talks about sports or the weather or politics or something, something immediate and mundane and I flush the toilet over the little deluge of nihility cascading from his facial orifice, imagining his words getting sucked down the drain.

Have you considered therapy, I ask, cutting him off. Honestly, for a year I was completely mental. The cost, the trouble of finding a decent therapist. What a nightmare.

Yeah, he says with utter dispassion.

Yeah, this is a nightmare, I think, contemplating the décor—all beige-brown, but almost warm-seeming, like someone who cares but has no taste. I stand, lift my trousers, zip and button them, fasten my belt, flip the latch, and open the door. He’s drying his hands with those sandpaper towels, facing the room’s far wall, the back of his dress shirt wrinkled and crinkled from all day in a desk chair with no breatheabilityness.

Oh, excuse me. You were talking. That’s what I say.

Oh, you’re fine, he says, without turning around.

You’re fine is something people say when other people apologize but it sounds less like acceptance and more like giving someone permission to exist, I think. Anyway, I said I was good, not fine.

Have you ever read Foucault’s History of Madness, I ask him in italics.

Foo-calt, he inquires?

Yes, Foo-calt, I say. It’s all in there.

What is?

Everything, all of it. You should pick it up sometime. But just open it, and be sure to do so in public, so people know you’re smart. Otherwise there’s no point.

He smiles, and I see him smiling because he’s facing me now and I’m facing him and it’s just like it was a few moments before, before I dashed into the stall for cover from a threat that didn’t seem to have the first clue that it was threating. He’s facing me but he’s not looking at me, still, again. Well, he’s looking at me but it’s as if he’s not seeing anything and I think of something Dany Laferrière said in an interview about being homeless—because he was once—about being looked straight through like it’s something people have always seen, with compassion, perhaps, but without the slightest surprise or recognition. I suppose it’s all in how we experience, how we choose.

Still smiling, he says alright, sounds good, and makes a move to walk past me and leave as if some manner of routine continuance would reestablish normalcy and what do I do but smash it all to bits by initiating the people-passing dance and stepping in the same direction.

Excuse me, he says. Shifting to the other side.

You’re fine, I say, sliding myself in front of him again. Right, left, right. I swear a brain circuit shorts and tiny puffs of smoke emit from his ears. He looks me in the eye, uncomfortable, perplexed, futilely soliciting an explanation like a dog when you take its toy away and hide it behind your back. It knows it’s there, somewhere, but isn’t too sure what you’ve done with it.

Ah, you see me now, don’t you, you fucker. But I don’t say that; I just look back, returning the perplexity, thinking yes, I see, this is the way to be visible.

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fiction, photography

THE NOISE

Chris R-0246 Image by Christine Renney

The noise coming from above has changed. I’m not sure how to describe the difference but it is louder, all the walking and talking, even the water rushing in the pipes sounds more urgent, more focused. And I don’t like it.
They arrived, an eruption of activity, and I suffered throughout the redecorating. All the hammering and the drilling and the scraping. The work is now complete and the noise is less frequent but when it comes it is in bursts, more eruptions. It seems that they are always in a hurry; forever readying for somewhere or something else.

I can hear their television but I doubt that they are sitting and watching. The music, when it comes through the ceiling, is a dense and muddy block. I suppose that in a club it would make sense but not here and, despite the volume, I can still hear them moving around but they aren’t dancing and they aren’t listening.

I have a key. My former neighbours pressed it on me, ‘in case of emergency,’ they said. I didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to be a part of anything minor or major that they might consider an emergency. ‘It’s just in case we lock ourselves out,’ she said, sensing my reluctance, ‘or if anyone needs to get in whilst we are away.’ ‘Of course,’ I had said, ‘of course I’ll take it.’
I had forgotten the key. It languishes in a drawer, alongside nuts and bolts, nails and screws, all the bits and pieces that one day might prove useful. Rummaging through, I fish it out. I hold it up to the light, reacquainting myself with it and I add it to my keychain although I am unsure why.
Having it is enough. It dangles from the ignition as I drive. Each time I unlock the door to my flat it jangles alongside the others on the chain and for a while it is enough.

I hear their door slam up on the landing. Their clatter and their chatter on the stairs and they are gone and it is quiet. But I am agitated and although they aren’t at home my anxiety doesn’t subside. When they switch the noise off it doesn’t go away and I can’t settle, not tonight.
I have the key in my hand again. I have removed it from the key-ring, separated it from the others so that I can hold it. I consider damaging it, rendering it useless, unusable but how? I could take a hammer to it I suppose, force a nail punch into the grooves or place it in a vice and squeeze until it is misshapen and won’t fit. But I don’t have a vice, I don’t even have a hammer. I could of course take the key out onto the pavement and drop it down the nearest drain or I could simply return it.

I had been required, the key had been needed. I had let someone in, a workman and there had also been a delivery. I remember two men carrying something up the stairs. A fridge freezer or a washing machine, and I watched as they struggled with it along the narrow hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
I had waited out here on the landing, shuffling in the cold without a coat, and when the men had done what they needed to do, retrieving the key I had pulled the door to.

I haven’t been inside, I haven’t as much as stepped across the threshold but I have used this key before, I have unlocked the door before and so why shouldn’t I do so again? Who will know?
I almost slip on the veneered and shiny floor and my footsteps echo. I move slowly and try to stifle the clatter of my feet but I can’t, not up here, and of course it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any need for stealth. I am alone.
I move more quickly, now stamping and stomping loudly. I switch on the lights and, letting the flat glare, I take it in. All is uniform and strangely fresh. There is a fragrance in the air and, breathing deeply, I am reminded of an office. It is sparse – minimalist and modern, not built for comfort. It isn’t any wonder that the young couple can’t settle but they will of course move on. Perhaps together, perhaps not, but both of them will enjoy more, will have bigger and better. This is just a beginning.
I resist the urge to rifle through their belongings, to mess with the scatter cushions. And in the kitchen I sit on a high stool at the glass counter and wait.

 

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art, fiction

Snip-Snip

Getting a haircut in a foreign country is like going to the dentist anywhere in the world; it sucks. Yet, I’d live in a dentist’s office before resorting to a man-bun, so I do what I have to do. I can tell that they can tell I am American before I open my mouth.

“Wash?”

I nod. They lead me over to the sinks. They place a large black plastic robe around me and sit me down. As always, there is no position that is pleasant for my neck and my head is so far back that I can’t comfortably breathe. They wash it twice, three times.

I sit in front of the mirror, wet. I sigh.

“Style?” The woman asks. Embarrassed, as always, I find the screen shot on my phone of some much better looking man with much better hair than me and show it to her. She looks at it, then to my hair, then back. She frowns.

“Your hair, not like this.”

I shrug, taking my phone back. “Something like this then,” I tell her. She starts cutting, I close my eyes. Then, the worst part of a haircut arrives; talk.

“Where are you from?” she asks.

I open my eyes.

“America,” I say to her reflection.

She makes a face. “Why do you come to Russia?”

I try to blow off a piece of hair that’s fallen on my lip. It’s wet.

“I like it here,” I tell her.

She makes another face. I close my eyes, again. Only a moment.

“My friend go to America before. She went and came home with girlfriend.”

I wait for more, it comes.

“It is so strange, people in America do this a lot?”

“Do what?”

“Girls making girlfriends.”

I can’t nod so I tell her, “yes, it is quite common.”

She makes a disapproving tsk. “She had a boyfriend when she left Russia, but came back with a girlfriend. She wants to marry her.”

“Yeah,” I say, instead of saying something. She continues snipping around my ears, obviously deep in thought.

“Can she do that?”

“Yeah.”

“America is strange.”

I shrug. “It’s not that unusual there. Depending on where you are from,” I say, then close my eyes.

“Do you have a Russian girlfriend?”

“Mhm.”

“Will you take her back to America?” she asks, moving around to my other side.

“We will probably visit someday. But maybe I shouldn’t, she might come back with a girlfriend,” I smirk.

The hairdresser is silent. She keeps snipping with a concerned face.

“No,” she decides, “that would not be good.”

It seems to be the last of her ideas on the matter. I sigh and close my eyes, finally.

I suffer the rest of my haircut in peace.

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art, fiction

The Festering Wound of Tacky

Driving from the grand canyon into Vegas feels as I’d imagine a flea feels hopping from one side of a warzone to another.

We drive in at night. A sea of lights, a fire that refuses to die–or even flicker.

“Holy shit,” I say.

“Holy shit,” my brother agrees.

Our mother is in the back. “It’s the tackiest place on earth,” she tells us.

We get closer, a giant pink lighted sign advertises collision insurance. “Tacky, tack, tacky,” my mother says, in awe.

“It’s like the birth place of tacky,” I admire, as we head straight for a beam of light shooting into the sky.

My brother, trying desperately to concentrate on the road, can’t help but add, “the festering wound of tacky.”

We laugh, agreeing that ‘festering wound of tacky’ is the greatest height our joke will attain. “Where are we staying, again?” I ask.

“The giant glass pyramid,” our mother says.

My brother and I frown. “The what?”

“The giant glass pyramid.”

“Right.”

I don’t know exactly what we expected, but it turns out to be exactly that; a giant glass pyramid.

“Why?” I ask, staring up at the top where the beam of light is shooting into the sky.

My brother shrugs. “I think Las Vegas is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question.”

“And what’s that?”

“Why not?”

We make for the long entry-way into the pyramid.

“You realize if I were an alien, I would think this was the capitol of Earth.”

My brother nods. “Maybe this place was made by aliens and that is the capitol of Earth according to the rest of the universe.”

I can’t help but feel like that makes more sense than any other explanation I can come up with. So, I agree. Inside is motion–pure motion. People move, lights move, the air moves. It is 2 a.m. We carry our bags through a crowd of open containers, lit cigarettes, and bachelorettes. Our mother calls it “The Floor.”

It is endless, yet, it ends. The elevator goes up at a slant. A woman in a sequined blue dress stumbles into an elderly Hispanic woman holding a sleeping child.

“This is some wonky shit,” the sequined woman blurts out.

“I wonder what’s going on at the bottom of the Grand Canyon right now,” I whisper to my brother.

He looks around and shrugs, “probably the same.”

We laugh. Neither the elderly Hispanic woman or sequined dame seem terribly impressed.

 

**For more of our art and stories check us out at Flash 365

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art, fiction

Go Cowboys

Knock knock…

“Hi.”
“Hi”
“What did he say when you came home?”
“Go Cowboys…you left a mark”
“Is it big?”
“No.”
“Did he notice?”
“No.”
“Did she–”
“She called five times in the middle of the night.”
“Oh.”
“Why did we?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I know”
“I have to go.”
“Why?”
“I have to. I said I was getting coffee.”
“Okay…”
“Bye.”
“Bye.”

 

 
Knock knock…

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art, fiction

How Do You Know if You Love Someone?

One of the most classic and clichéd questions is how to know if you love someone, so, I found myself, drunk with sleeplessness–trying to figure out some reasons, the first and most obvious being,

when I think of this question, I think of you.

If I were stuck as a fish forever, I’d want you to be a mermaid–

When I think of you, it is not a memory. It is a feeling, a touch, a taste, a smell; it is the way my body reacts to the idea of you.

Whenever I see something in a store, my mind tries to find any way to connect it to you, in the hopes that giving it to you might bring you some sort of joy.

I worry about getting drunk–or deliriously tired, and randomly asking you to marry me.

Some songs remind me of you–without ever having heard them before.

When I let my mind wander, it wanders over to you.

The idea of losing you feels like being on the edge of a waterfall–deafeningly loud, standing on a wet, flat stone.

I cannot trust myself to write anymore because love is like falling, and no one ever thinks too clearly when they’re falling.

So, you will just have to stay as a mermaid while I drift off to sleep.

 

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fiction

Subliminal

Sometimes you talk to me like you’re sending thoughts from underwater, strange deep-sea aquatics coming up for air and you probably hope they’ll sprout legs in less than evolutionary time so they can wiggle up on dry land and track me down, collect their intel, and scurry back to tell you what I thought, late-carried messages, forever later, doesn’t matter as long as you get something because you won’t say so but you don’t think I say what I’m thinking and I find that marvelously ironic.

I think maybe I just don’t listen closely when you’re way down there like that and probing, distorted beneath the surface, and that’s my way of not playing along, of doing my best to make sure it takes that long for your words to sink in when they’re not cutting right to. And I tell you so, start to—you think…—but it’s loud in here, and hot, and the louder I try to be the hotter I get and I wonder why we came here in the first place when it’s a cool dark quiet night but we’re in here like we didn’t get enough bright hot noisy day. To stay mute, it seems, drowned, and I really don’t want to fight with you, at least not aloud.

It’s different at night, I think, everything is—told you that, earlier, once, before it was, and now that it is I don’t even consider saying I told you so or asking what you think because of the overheated yelling so instead I stop and look away in that way you always say is my way of vanishing and I always say I know which really means just let me vanish, except for the first time you told me, now that was a thing. Remember? You called it and I came right back.

WHAT? REMEMBER WHAT. YOU’RE MUMBLING AGAIN.

Nevermind.

Lovely, now you’re a smidge annoyed because I’ve gone from “vanished” to “difficult” in your color scheme of me, so fuck it, I continue being what you’ve decided I am for the moment and take a slow sip of beer while looking at you quite obviously out of the corner of my eye so you’ll notice as you sit there watching me be what you’ve decided, then I slowly put the glass back down on the thin cardboard coaster with the whale on it and ask with an overdone sense of nostalgia if you knew my grandfather was a whaler, which he of course was not and you know it.

Your grandfather was an insurance man and you think he was like Wallace Stevens but without the poetry and that’s what killed him.

You say it plenty loud for me to hear, but not yelling, just firm and clear and so unlike the things you think and I wonder why those things can’t be like this too but all I say is I know, that’s my point exactly.

Ah and there it is, your full-blown stoicism, rueful and trimmed with disdain, refusing to say another word or flash much of anything human because human has cracks in it as if cracks will only encourage me and we can’t have that because we both know they will.

I lean forward to get you out of my periphery and put my elbows on the bar, crossing my arms like I was told my grandfather did when he sat like that, the verysame whaler-suit-unpoet grandfather, and I remember reading a book about generational cycles which I enjoyed because it was interesting ok? isn’t that enough? it was interesting and it lent some convenient credence to the part of my person-myth I always believed was my grandfather reincarnate. So maybe he liked it. I grow weary with talk but never ever with thought which makes me think talking is an exercise, especially with you now, like it’s a test, but I don’t know what of or if it’s a nighttime thing or a daytime thing or neither—well, both, I mean, not neither. I’ve surely grown tired of hearing myself speak both day and night, not reaching you, been tired of finding words to cover thoughts like pillowcases for nightmare heads resting and that simile doesn’t even make sense because the words don’t cover they open like the nightmares and that’s the kind of shit I’m talking about. Or not. Not talking, thinking. Because you wouldn’t want to hear it and I don’t need to.

Thinking of thinking, there are certain books I simply will not read any time other than night, certain brain patterns and postures, certain ways of speaking that are purely nocturnal and I wonder if that scares you. If my place, night, scares you, supposed day creature you from the deep dark waters valiantly pretending not because you’re really a lot like me, precisely because, my stubborn contrarian and loather of mirrors. It’s as if some things can’t stand the sound, others the light, most both, not because they’re too muted or fearful but because they demand something more than graph paper for straight lines and whale coasters on which our banalities might rest, sweaty, the real shit around us that’s all lit up and loud in daytime, where you thrive because of all the cover, underexposed in the midst of that overexposure, while I thrive at night when it’s turned down low and thoughts have space and lunar rovers.

Fuck, telling stories is hard—I don’t know how they do it, I venture to tell you, putting a cap on our silence, a silence prevented from being too loud by the din of voices not ours and music and glasses clinking and laughter laughing having far better times than us, sort of changing the subject neither of us outright stated and you tell me I should just try outlining or take a class and I think for fuck’s sake why don’t you listen, I understand that you hear. Seagulls hear, squirrels hear, but people are supposed to listen, right? It’s one of those people things we do when we’re being peoplely people instead of the animaly ones.

Eyes roll this time because I said it, not the whole thing but the whale’s portion part about why don’t you listen, and I ask you to be careful before they roll right out of their sockets and onto the floor—it’s dirty down there, I say, and you’d look weird without eyes, though it’d be much harder for you to give me that glare, yeah that one right there.

The pretty barback smiles at me—perhaps she caught some of us—and in the miniscule kaleidoscopic of fully imaginable possibilities her pretty smile triggers I realize I don’t know what I’m doing with you, what this story is we’re telling ourselves and no longer adding to, just retelling and replaying and shorter, briefer, more careless all the time, you from the concealments and smoke screens of day, me from the freedom and aversions of night and I remember for a few days previous I was taken by the thought that what’s not said remains unreal, that the unreal drops its un when spoken and that’s why I’m obsessed with inner, I thought at the time, and with night and silence, I think tonight, but I suddenly tonight now want to test that whole theory-thought and bring a little supposed unreal to real to see what new real it might create and I tell her her smile made me see stars whether it was meant for me or just comes with the job territory and oh now you’re suddenly perked up and listening, your unreal made just as real as my real was just made un, without either of us saying a single word to each other.

Here we go, I say to the smile, I might as well be yours.

 


I’m cheating a bit, you know, because this was originally published last summer on my personal site, Art & Insolence. Don’t tell anyone. Or do, because a writer without readers is like a chicken without eggs, nobody knows which comes first. I promise that doesn’t make any sense, but you probably catch my drift.

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