fiction, Uncategorized

Contemplating Gender Roles while Following my Wife around Marshalls

There is a man standing at the door, I don’t know whether he is lost or left, he is staring at a table of FAB-YULE-OUS LAST-MINUTE GIFT ITEMS; a bottle cap dart board, an essential oils reed diffuser, a bundle of three cheeky-Christmas T-shirts, an array of Yankee Candle Holiday collections, and so on. He is still wearing his jacket, bundled to the neck.

I follow my wife passed him, he smells cold as we pass.

My wife stops in the ceramics and begins perusing. A large man passes me, a child holding the end of his jacket, his wife speeding ahead with the cart, he is playing something on his phone. His hat is on and his beard is unkempt.

“Should we get this for my parents?”

I turn, my wife is holding a ceramic jar with a plaque on it that says “MILK.”

“Sure,” I tell her.

She picks up something else, I wonder about the last time I saw a milk carton and what must have happened to all of the runaways.

“Or this one?” my wife asks.

“Sure,” I tell her.

She frowns, “which one?”

“That one.”

“You’re not pointing at either of them.”

“The milk one.”

“They are both milk ones.”

I refocus. “Oh, that one.” I point.

“That one is for tea,” she cries.

I shrug, and she waves her hand at me, annoyed. “You’re annoying, go away.”

“Okay.”

I head back for the door. I pass a younger man in a display chair. He has a patriot’s jacket on and is staring into an aisle of discount lotions. I head for the exit. Someone has collected the man who’d been by the door. Good for him.

I stand outside the door looking out on the parking lot. I notice a spot three rows from the exit. We parked about ten rows back. I go and get the car, move it to the empty spot and sit in the heat. I notice in the rear-view that someone has moved from a spot in the first row. I reverse out and straight into it, cutting off a PT Cruiser.

Who the hell still owns a PT cruiser, I think, as the man behind the wheel flips me off.

I sit in the car another twenty minutes before slowly making my way back inside. As I pass the shoe department, I see an old man sitting on one of the stools, he isn’t trying shoes on. He is just sitting, two hands on his cane as an older woman bustles around him with an armful of sandals.

“Eight dollars, dude!” I hear someone cry out. I turn, two teenage boys are looking at a pair of sneakers.

“Eight dollars! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, eight dollars, dude!”

“Dude, ZOLA.”

“Merry Christmas, ZOOOOLLA!”

They run off with the sneakers.

I find my wife in pet accessories.

“We should get the cats something.”

I nod, watching a Hispanic man help his wife pick from a giant pile of Buy three get one free Christmas socks. Another man walks by on the phone, “WHICH ONE!—That one? You have one of those!—because you’re always THROWING IT TO MY SIDE OF THE BED!”

My wife has a Santa cat outfit held up to her own body, she is looking down at it.

“Should we get this?” she asks.

I smile and nod.

It isn’t enough.

I give her a thumbs up.

She rolls her eyes. An old lady, digging through a table of hand-creamers, laughs.

“Men are so useless, huh?” she tells my wife.

My wife laughs.

Ha-ha

The woman laughs.

Ha-ha

I laugh.

Ha-ha

Am I living in a sexist narrative, I wonder? Do I only not want to shop because I have grown up in a patriarchy? Would helping pick out a cat outfit make me a better, more gender inclusive? Is that what that means? It doesn’t seem to have impacted that guy over there.

I glare at the Hispanic man who has just made his wife laugh after hanging a pair of socks off each of his ears.

I look back at my wife. She is fingering through a rack of cat treats. I walk over and grab one off the rack.

Christmas Turkey Dressing

I open it and take one out.

“Hey babe, watch.”

She looks up at me.

I pop the treat in my mouth.

She stares at me as I chew the treat. Her face goes very quickly from curiosity to disgust, and by the time I swallow, concern.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” She asks.

I look down at the bag of treats, then to my other empty, then back up at her.

“I thought it would be funny?”

She looks at me, then to the old lady who’d also stopped, arms deep in the pillow-pile, to watch me eat a treat. They share a look. The old lady smiles sympathetically.

My wife hands me her armful of goodies and pats me on the arm.

“Go find somewhere to sit by the registers sweetie, I won’t be long.”

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fiction, Uncategorized

The Time Travel Artist

I love my job.

Someone managed to change something. They shouldn’t have been able to. But, that is the company’s problem. Someone needed to die, again.

Killing someone is not an easy thing. Killing them again is even harder. Killing them the same way as before.

That is art.

Her name was Mary Harris. Nineteen years old. Strangled.

19:23 exactly. My hands are already around her neck. Not too soft. With passion, as before.

19:24 she is dead.

On the dot. Man, I’m good. I stand up and look around. The room hadn’t been wrecked. That is always an annoyance. A simple strangulation. I look down at her. Turning blue.

“Sorry, darling,” I lie.

I would feel sorry for her, really. Her savior is in jail. Her killer is still unknown. But, I don’t. I feel hungry. I’m a professional. Only professionals know when they are hungry.

I study the room. I study the body.

One of her eye-lids is shut. I bend down and open it wide, just like in the picture. Sadness and terror, it says. I smile.

“Now, that is art.”

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fiction, Uncategorized

There were Four Russians Outside of my Door This Morning

photo_2018-12-10_16-42-40My mother grew up in the 70s. This means that all of her favorite spy movies had eerily similar bad guys with names like Boris, Ivan, Ivan, and Boris. When my mother visited me in Russia, she stepped out of the arrival gates and said,

“Holy-fucking-shit, I’m here.

Since American media had already moved on to Arabs by the time I crawled into the world, I never thought of Russia as an enemy. But today there were four Russians outside of my apartment building this morning. They rang up, and I thought,

“oh, they are here to murder me–I am going to be taken to some dark room and tortured until I admit anything, they want me to admit. it won’t take long, I am so squishy and pink! Then I will be hung in the Red Square and I don’t even know any Morse code, so I won’t be able to send any secret messages to anyone and I get stage fright so even if they let me speak, I’ll probably just sweat and mutter until my neck snaps–“

My girlfriend–woken from the ringing–stormed passed, spoke through the receiver, buzzed the men into the building. On her way back to bed she looked into the kitchen. I was still half-hidden behind the cabinets, peering out.

She sighed and went back to bed.

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fiction, Uncategorized

some butterflies

It is late, the dark has started weaving nests into crannies. I’m drunk. We’ve only known each other a few weeks.

“I don’t want this,” I told her, a few minutes ago.

And so, she paces.

She stops.

“What are you?” she asks, her arms limp from nail biting.

I frown at her, drinking something–a beer, probably. “I’m a man?”

She frowns, “No–no! You are arms–yes, legs, eyes–yes, three hundred pages of verse, maybe–but you are not a man.”

She goes back to pacing.

I roll my eyes. “Why are you being so dramatic?”

“I’m not being dramatic,” she tells the other side of the balcony, “I’m being poetic.”

She walks back and stands over me.

She looks down, into me–about to cry or kill me, I don’t know.

“Some butterflies are beautiful for only a day and then they die,” she whispers. She kneels down, places her face on my leg. I put my fingers in her hair.

“Am I supposed to be a butterfly?” I ask, finishing what certainly seems to be a beer.

She shakes her head. “No–you are not so lovely a thing. You are a stomach ache, you linger–you do not die, not beautiful enough to die.”

She sits back on her haunches, she laughs. I laugh too, not understanding.

Like a blind man clapping at a magic show.

My laugh goes on much longer than hers. She kisses my hand.

“You poor boy,” she tells me.

She stands up and goes inside.

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fiction, Uncategorized

Never Forget the Whore

I wanted to learn more about a Russian’s perspective on World War II, The Great Patriotic War, or according to some, simply THE WAR. Since paper turned out to be even more revisionist than memory, I asked around for those who may have lived through it. My friend Ivan’s grandmother spoke a bit of English and he arranged for me to meet her at her house on Tuesday. Her face was a mashing of slate and limestone, she had a button for one eye. She might have had hair, but it was hidden under a musty-green bonnet.

Her apartment was an antique apocalypse, strewn about were books, kettles, chair legs, mummified jars of pickled mysteries, numerous floral patterns creating an eclectic field of colorful dust-bunnies. Great booming closets and mirrored shelves lined every wall, housing dead photographs of even deader relatives. She navigated it well. In the kitchen she sat me in a chair with a flat piece of plywood nailed to two of the broken legs. I gingerly sat and took out my notebook.

“Tea?” she asked.

“With milk and sugar, please.”

She bustled about the dusty sink, taking tea from a tin and setting on an old kettle.

“So, how old were you during the war?” I said.

She didn’t turn. “Wait,” she said.

I waited, looking out the window through a mess of dead plants at the people walking past. It was summer in Saint Petersburg, finally. Outside people wore T-shirts and shorts with a desperateness that only comes in a place where summer is born a dead-leaf. The old woman came and sat across from me, placing a mug of plain black tea on my notebook.

“So, I am collecting stories from the war, from people who were alive and—”

“Bread?”

“Uh—no thank you,” I said, nervously. “So, I thought maybe we could start with the Siege of Leningrad, Ivan said you were a child when it happened?”

She looked out the window, then down at my notebook and untouched tea.

“You want to talk about the siege, but you don’t want bread?” she asked. She stood up and took a half-load of bread from a squirrely spot in a dirty cabinet. She cut a chunk and put it on a plate with some butter and a slice of cheese. I waited.

“Thank you,” I told her after she placed it beside my tea.

I took a bite.

“I remember going with my mother to bring bread to her sister,” she waved in a direction out of the window. “She lived not far from here. My mother would bring me with bread–we were more fortunate. She lived on the top floor of her building and people used to sleep in her stairwell, sleep until they died and there was no one to take them away, so they moved them into the windows. They put them there one on top of the other until there was no light in her building. Her children had died. I didn’t know them very well, but they died. My aunt too, one day. In her building she died because she wouldn’t eat, and they put her in one of the windows, too. I remember the darkness in the stairwell and I remember my mother didn’t cry.”

I didn’t write anything down as she spoke. She looked out of her window through the plants and sunshine. Her face suddenly went dark and she scowled at a woman passing.

“Her,” she said.

I looked. It was a young woman, she was wearing a light summer dress and she looked happy.

“She is a whore,” the she said. “She has been sleeping with the Jew who lives just there.” She pointed at a window, two floors up and across.

“He’s married,” she said ominously.

“Oh,” I managed, and with nothing else to say, I took a bite of my bread.

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fiction, Uncategorized

The Fruit Thief

Once upon a time there was a man who intended to build a fence around his small country home. He forgot. So, once upon a time there was a girl lost in the woods. She didn’t know she was lost, yet.

As she came across different things, she picked them up, looked them over and left them where they were. It was dark by the time she realized she was lost, and she said it aloud.

“Oh, I am lost.”

To her surprise, the forest answered, “I will help you,” it said. The girl looked around, suspicious that the voice of the forest would be so small. And there she found a caterpillar. She picked it up.

“You will help me get home?” she asked. The caterpillar smiled.

“Of course, I know the way well,” it said, “but you must wait for me. Place me in that tree over there and wait for three days, but whatever you do, do not eat the fruit of the tree.”

The girl, already hungry, looked up at the fruit.

“Why not?” she asked.

The caterpillar latched itself to a low branch and replied, “when I come back, I will need to eat, if you take it, I will surely starve.”

The little girl nodded and waited for the caterpillar to cover itself in a thin white cocoon. Then, she slept. When morning came, she picked the tree clean of fruit and began her walk home. As she went, she found the things she’d observed along her path and soon, she was home. Her father was outside building a fence.

She went inside to her room and tucked away the fruit in a cupboard. Three days later, a butterfly perched on her windowsill. She went over to tickle its wings as she often did with butterflies. This butterfly however, shied away, angry.

“You stole all of my fruit!” it accused her. At this she went to her cupboard and produced the fruit for the butterfly, untouched. The butterfly looked from her to the fruit, confused.

“Why?” it asked.

At this the girl shrugged. “You said you knew the way, so either you were lying and then I would have a whole bundle of fruit to myself, or you were telling the truth and you’d find your way to me, at which point–” the girl held the fruit out to the butterfly. The butterfly took it, grateful and began to eat.

“But you were lost.”

The little girl watched out the window as her father sat next to a half-finished fence.

“Things are often lost before they are found, if they can help it,” she said. The butterfly thanked the girl once more and flew off, leaving behind a couple pieces of fruit.

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fiction

Don’t be a Dick

I was in the shower when he first made contact.

“Hello.”

It came right out of my phone.

“Hello, Earth.”

I got out and looked at the phone. A gray faceless blob looked out at me with one foggy blue eye in the middle of it.

“Hello, can you all see me? Can you all understand me? I’m using this thing here, so everyone should be hearing me in their own colloquiality. If not, speak up now please.”

I heard it louder, from outside. I looked through the window and saw the same face-less blob, miles wide, staring down out of the sky.

“Alrighty. Hey–uh, so. I don’t really do this–I’m not supposed to do this. But, well– I was assigned to monitor your planet some hundred thousand or so years back.”

The thing made a goo-ey, gargle sound of delight.

“It was beautiful,” the thing continued. “But then you guys grew out of the muck and you were beautiful too, sometimes. Interesting, innovative; did you know you’re the only race in the whole universe to invent straws? Really! It is incredible, and the bendy-ones, get-outta here. Anyways. Lately you all have been doing a whole lot of fucked up shit. Which is fine, every species has their burdens to bear, but really. The murdering and the rape and the beating each other up all of the time, I mean–well, not the point. Point is, I’ve kinda grown attached to you guys. And uh–hm…sorry, I have never spoken in front of people before. I’ve been watching a buuunch of TEDx talks though, to prepare.”

The blob shifted around a bit on the screen and made another goo-ey sound before continuing; “yeah–so basically I’m gonna start zapping you guys. I have this zapper thing here and basically I can see everything all of you are doing all of the time and so like–if you’re gonna beat your kid, or rape someone, or eat someone else’s lunch out of the office fridge…”

There was a pause, the blob sat there. It gave me time to run out onto my porch to get a real good look at him. On the stairs I heard him mutter a bit and then say, “that–uh, that was a joke. Sorry–oh yeah, it isn’t funny. I got all mixed up, sorry guys. Sorry–so yeah if you do any of those things like that, you-know, I am gonna use my zappy thing here and then, well–yeah, your gone. Poof. Dead.”

“What do you guys think? I mean, I thought it was a pretty good idea. I don’t care about what any of you look like or who you bang, hah. But, you know, like I’m not gonna’ just kill random people. If you’re like…”

He ruminated a moment and then continued with more confidence, “like, a dick–yeah. Don’t be a dick. Just don’t beat people ’cause they look or think different than you, don’t hurt others or like, do the whole murder thing, you-know, like dick things. K?”

“Yeah–don’t be a dick and–like, everything is cool. You guys just used to be pretty cool and lately you’ve been a bunch of dicks. So, yeah. I think that covers everything, I hope you guys got something out of this, I know I have. Feeling pret-t-t-y good. Yeah. cool. K, peace.

Oh yeah and if you all are worried about me spying on your floppy parts and all of that, I’m not like that. I’m not that guy.

Cool

alright

nice to meet you all

yeah, don’t be a dick.”

He vanished.

I turned and watched my neighbors house, and waited.

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