Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category


Posted: April 14, 2014 in Stories

Carina’s train car was air-conditioned, but her cheek would warm when she rested it on the window, and she could feel her skin pulsing softly in the sun. Occasionally she wiped the sweat and oil from the glass and looked outside.

She liked focusing on a single piece of the ground, picking it out from the blur (a rock, a crag, the occasional small plant, furry little creature or snake) and following it as it passed the cabin. She never understood how people could call the desert “empty.” Every shade stuck out to her in high contrast. It was like a box of crayons – not just “yellow” and “brown,” but rose, ochre, auburn, burnt gold, and if you looked closely, cyan and emerald.

The desert shapes spun around her like the stars in a long-exposure photograph or those hung from a mobile.

She awoke lurching forward as the train came to a stop. The small station looked like it was from an older time and she, still bleary-eyed, almost expected a masked bandit to kick in her door, take her outside, and tie her to the tracks. She imagined the kind of dress she’d be wearing; a flower pattern that would still flow elegantly as she kicked and screamed. She tasted dusty cotton until she coughed and drank some water and fully escaped sleep.

A man was on the platform just outside her window leaning against a powered-down vending machine. She scanned across the windows until their eyes met. She quickly turned and pretended to focus on the handicap ramp to the man’s right, but she could tell that the man stood staring at her from the haze at the edge of her vision. He was muscular, probably. Faceless. Even through the glass she could hear him spit.

There was a hiss. She felt the engine pull her away like a possessive lover forcing her away from her friends and onto the dance floor. She braced her neck – could feel the muscles tense and the locket on a silver chain sink between her collarbones – until the platform began to fade behind her.

She didn’t know why she did it (or did and didn’t know why she couldn’t admit it) but she craned her head back to see if the man on the platform was still there, but now the vending machine was between them and it was like he never existed at all.

She had trouble falling back asleep after that; the sun had drawn farther up into the sky and when she closed her eyes all she saw was a bright crimson. That morning, in the black-and-blue pre-dawn light, she felt the cold air grip her throat as she walked to the station. Now the warmth smothered her. If only she could sleep again. She tried tucking into a ball in her seat, but the extra pressure from folding over onto her stomach made her self-conscious and the aches compounded.

Her feet were swollen and she didn’t know why. She had been drinking bottles of water almost non-stop the past few days, but couldn’t keep them down. She wasn’t used to motion sickness. She switched to the seat across from her so that now she was facing forward because that’s all that it was – motion sickness.

With the sun on the opposite side, she was feverish. She shivered and squinted as a drop of sweat slid into her eye and forced a tear out. Her brown skin darkened on her right, and on her left, chills ran up her body like the backs of long fingernails. That sick feeling again. Something inside her.

Her hand moved to wrap its fingers around her hair – twirl it around – but grabbed nothing. Vague memories of scooping out black tufts of hair from a porcelain sink. That morning she had snipped away the jagged edges. Maybe that was why her neck felt so vulnerable and cold now.

Tomorrow, she will see him again. He will look at her hair and ask her, “Is something different” and she will say “yes.”



Posted: October 8, 2013 in Stories

He turned down the radio and tried focusing on the painted white road dividers. His head pounded from last night’s fun – he’d admit that much. But the stiff shoulder, the knot in his neck, the cramp creeping up his left leg? Those he would attribute to inexperience sleeping next to a stranger. That was true, he thought. Most rendezvouses went down in dark places, standing up. He must have mixed too many drinks. Gin with whiskey with beer. Maybe it was cheap shit. Head still going. Whatever made him wake up with a stranger’s hand on his chest, her breath in his ear, he wouldn’t have it again. That was what he would say. Like the best lies, it was more plausible than the truth.

He had braced his arms on the bedpost. Extended his neck to reach the back of hers. And when she pinned his wrists down above his head, his legs shot out rigid like she stretched him on the rack.

He chuckled. In a way, she had. It’s a pun. Shame he wouldn’t be able to tell it.

He hadn’t remembered turning into an old man. He certainly didn’t remember tips on how to integrate calisthenics into foreplay during his sex-ed classes. Fuck. He was really going to have to do toe-touches before getting stiff. Another one. Damn.

The drive home was too short so he kept going.

The tastes were unfamiliar. Spit, sweat, sure. But they passed through a filter of morning mouth. An entire night spent in that humidity and stench… perfumes in bottles, worn latex, a photo collage of smiling, faraway faces, the extra blanket, thrown to the ground, that they were too tired to recover so they had to share the one small one. How many pillows did a person need? Two, obviously. One to sleep on, the other to prop your head up when reading.

Maybe she cuddled the extras on lonely nights. But now they smelled like him. At least until the next guy. He felt sick. He’d say it was the booze.

He parked, got out, and leaned against the door, rubbing his leg. It didn’t even make sense for his chest to be hurting. But it was. Inside, he ordered wheat toast, fried eggs, sausage links, and bacon with an orange juice and a water. The waitress, getting her first wrinkles around her lips and eyes, squinted a little as she took his menus away. Sniffed. He said, “Excuse me” to no one in particular and limped into the restroom.

On the elevator up, she’d said, “This is hot on so many different levels,” and they both laughed and he kissed her and only stopped when the door started closing.

Thank God there wasn’t a mirror. He ran water into his cupped hands and splashed his face. Twice hot. Third time cold. Rinsed his mouth out, but the taste stayed. Patted down his hair in the back because he could feel it standing up. He hadn’t moved much as he slept. Passed out. Not responsible.

His drinks were waiting when he came out He gargled the water loudly before swallowing. An old couple looked at him. Fuck ‘em. The orange juice didn’t erase the tastes, but at least now they came through a familiar filter.

“You sound lonely.”

He stopped. Dropped on his elbows. “What makes you think that?”

She looked into his eyes. “The way you talk about your friends – it’s like you’re not there.” He stared back at her. She looked at his mouth. He gripped the back of her neck. She liked that.

He turned her head to the side and kissed her under the jaw, working up to her ear. Biting it. She let out a little moan and he felt her breasts press against him. She wrapped her legs around his and she breathed heavily. He told her to breathe with him and she did. Pressing, collapsing, tighter, falling.

His tongue massaged her nipple and her voice faltered a little when she whispered, “You care about them. It’s sweet.” He buried his lips in the sunken pit of her neck. “And you’re a great guy.” He moved up to her ear again. “And handsome.” Now her cheek. “I like you.” He kissed her on the lips and their teeth clicked and their eyes were closed but each could feel the other smiling. She put her hand on his cheek. He pulled away and tucked a streak of hair back behind her ear. She opened her eyes. “I don’t know why you’re so sad.”

They were quiet for a while. She twirled the hair on the back of his head. Then he asked, “What else?” His nose was touching hers now. “What else?” he repeated. “What else makes you think that I’m… makes you think that?”

She looked back at him. “Your eyes,” she said.

He resumed. They breathed together. Faster. Deeper. Brought her close, cradled her in his arms.

“Yes, yes,” she said.

He said nothing.

The waitress was walking toward him with the tray above her head. The old couple looked at him again. He realized that he was shaking a pink sugar packet back and forth in his hand and he didn’t know why so he slammed his hand down on the counter and the noise was louder than he thought it would be and the fork almost fell off so he grabbed it and tried putting it back right where it was but it wouldn’t go and he knocked over the orange juice and he realized that there was no point trying to put things back so he shot out of his seat, threw a twenty-dollar bill on the counter, and walked to the door. The waitress shouted after him, “Hey! Don’t you want your food?” and “I can clean it up,” but he was already outside, clutching his spasming leg as he hobbled into his car. Her smell was still in his hair, his eyebrows, the stubble on his face. He had to get clean.

At home he undressed. Leaned his head against the wall as the shower heated up.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

When he shut the water off, he stood dripping for a few moments, inspecting. He assured himself he had washed everything away. His leg felt better. He stepped out, dried, and used the towel to wipe the fog from the mirror.

He saw it. There, on his right shoulder. A purple and black “U” – a smile – with the teeth marks still pressed into his skin. He could feel it now. He had pressed her there and she held on how she could.

Still naked, he crossed into his room. Books by the lamp on the bedside table. He found his phone buried nearby under the unmade sheets. He dialed a number. It rang three times. He was about to hang up when he heard “Hello?”

He said, “It’s me.”

She said, “I know.”

“I’m sorry I had to leave,” he said. “There was…”

“I know.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

She didn’t say anything but he knew she was still there because he could hear her breathing.

“It’s still early,” she finally said. “Would you like to come back and go get some breakfast?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes.”

The Cardinal and the Christmas Tree

Posted: April 11, 2013 in Stories

The snow from the previous evening’s storm had been melting through the morning and the silence in the house had been sporadically punctuated by the sudden sounds of the stuff slipping off the eaves and splattering into solid ice flowerbeds, where, in a few short months, crocuses would poke their necks out from their bulbs and through the soil between the thorny, perfectly pruned branches of the two rose bushes which had sat there since the beginning.

As he leaned over the sink, slight paunch resting on the countertop, eating a bagel, looking out the window to the trees in the backyard slowly stripping themselves of the snow like bridal lingerie in the wind, it dawned on him that he didn’t know the first thing about gardening and, now that he thought about it, the word “pruning” meant nothing to him. He figured he had at least four – no, make it May – five months to learn. Plenty of time. The bagel gave an ashy crunch as he bit into it, and he figured he would only need a few days to learn the settings on the toaster. He had made the mistake of thinking that the icon of the all-white slice of bread on the dial meant “barely warmed” and the slice with the white outline and black interior “unrecognizably burned.” He could see how it made sense the other way around, but he still thought he was right.

“Stubborn,” he repeated with a single chuckle and chomped down the last bite of the burned bagel before opening the fridge for something to help him swallow it. The grapefruit juice stood out to him first, and he told himself he’d have to dump it down the drain once he got the chance. Always hated the stuff, and he was glad to finally have the opportunity get it out of his refrigerator. If he had more of an appetite, he would have eaten some of the food still sitting inside there but right now he really had no choice but to leave it to spoil.

He adjusted his bifocals and squinted to read the expiration date on the carton of eggnog. Still distrustful, he folded open the cardboard spout and sniffed the contents. Reasonably assured that it had not curdled, he set it down on the counter and took to rinsing and washing the snifter he had left in the sink. Outside, a drooping tree shook the last of its snow from its top branches. He watched as it fell onto a handsome feral cat that used his backyard as a hunting ground. The streak of fur flew out across the snowfall towards the chain link fence that separated the man’s house from the neighbor’s.

He chuckled again. He emptied the carton into the glass and frowned when it didn’t even fill it up halfway. He grabbed the empty carton and tossed it out with the rest of the recycling before returning with his bottle of “X.O.” brandy. He checked the clock on the microwave (it was 12:12) before proudly opening the bottle, closing his tired eyes, and embracing the cork’s aroma. He poured enough so that anyone could tell the glass was now more than half-full.

As he sat down on the stool by the granite island, he ducked his head down to get another look at the drink, and scowled when he saw the brandy floating neatly on top of the eggnog. He groaned as he stood up and leaned over to the sink, reached inside, and pulled out the knife, blade still covered in cream cheese. He jammed the handle in the glass and started stirring and mixing the two ingredients into a single milky-brown sludge. The clinking of the knife against the glass echoed sharply in his skull and began to bring back his headache, so he stopped and tossed it back in the sink. The clang made him flinch and shiver. He was beginning to feel his heart pumping again and decided that the drink would help him to calm down. I deserve this, he thought.

The celebrations had thoroughly exhausted him. He made a mental note to call Adam and Heather to congratulate them on a successful evening, thank them for their hospitality, and apologize for having left before midnight, but at his age he just gets so damn tired. Who could blame him for that? He’d do it tomorrow, when he’d be feeling better and they wouldn’t be as busy. He was busy. He had to go out and shovel, but then again, it looked like it might melt on its own in a day or two, so on second thought, why bother?

Instead he sat and looked out to the patio and a perfect white stillness and he knew that this frozen blanket was melting away – slowly receding as a hidden stream underneath followed the cracks in the concrete, collecting here, rushing there, pooling and flowing, each icy drop forcing its way forwards until finally it reached soil and, resigning to gravity’s irresistible impetus, buried itself deep in the earth.

The glass was empty. He thought about how bad this must be for him– drinking eggnog – and he nearly resolved to take advantage of the auspicious opportunity to do something about his health, but the thought of engaging in such a cliché made him sick to his stomach. Besides, it would look like he was following her advice, and he wasn’t nearly desperate enough to do that. As he got up to bring the glass to the sink he wondered what he would do next until a sheet of snow dove in front of the window with a low rumble followed by a terrifying silence just long enough for him to gasp as it hung in the air before splattering with a sickening wet crush out of view. He gripped the faucet and his chest, breathing. He was breathing. His hands were throbbing. He tried loosening his grip, letting go and relaxing them, but they wouldn’t stop shaking. He caught himself feeling afraid, and he hated himself for it. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his palms against his temples. As he exhaled, he felt like he was forcing all the air out of his body. The pain persisted. His vision didn’t come back immediately when he opened his eyes and he almost panicked before it slowly returned until only a black ring remained in the periphery and he decided it probably wasn’t worth worrying about; it would come back once he calmed down in a few minutes. It had to come back.

He could make out the shattered remains of the snifter scattered across the linoleum floor. Some probably got underneath the dishwasher and the refrigerator and there was no use trying to get to them. About a third of the glass was still attached to the stem, round and wide at the bottom with a sharp, pointed tip like the serving utensil for a wedding cake. He picked it up along with some of the larger shards and threw them into the garbage in the cabinet under the sink. He cursed himself for letting it happen; the rumble was enough warning. He shouldn’t have been so surprised.

He pulled out a new snifter while avoiding the pieces of the old one. He twisted the last drop out from the bottle. It should last him through the afternoon, he thought. He shuffled his feet across the floor so he wouldn’t accidentally step on any invisible shards. He could hear the occasional tinkle. He’d find the dustpan later, come back and fix all this. Just not now. Later. But not now.

When he reached the carpet he began to pick up his feet again, but was careful to not spill anything. An impulse commanded him to pick up and smash the lamp on the table that he never turned on because he always thought the crystal gems, worthless fake diamonds, which hung from it were gaudy. He repressed the childish surge of anger and instead placed a coaster they’d gotten as a housewarming present at the lamp’s base. He set down the drink on the coaster on the table that was on the wrong side of his chair. It had been moved to make room for the Christmas tree he didn’t want in the first place.

He hated the way it was decorated; unevenly, with too many ornaments that lacked any kind of meaning or held any kind of sentiment. Too many were new. Manufactured. He thought back to the handpainted wooden ones of his boyhood. He had favorite decorations that were just his, and every year he’d be able to hang them higher and higher. Three elves with their tools. A racecar. A smiling soldier. A couple locked in each other’s arms. Each of those had a meaning to him, so what was this? Just shiny. Pointless. Bare underneath, except for a ring of fallen needles. At least it smelled good as it stood there dying.

His stomach made a strained gurgling sound and he wondered if it was loud enough for people to hear. He sat down, rested the drink on the arm of his chair, and turned on the TV. It was a news program playing a montage of the best fireworks displays from around the world but he was tired of those. He remembered a time when they were fun, but at some point they had lost their appeal – now they bored and sickened him. There’s only so many ways a firework can pop.

He wondered if the people in Sydney, Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris, London, New York, and Seattle thought the same thing. Did any of the couples in Times Square stop holding hands, look into each others eyes, and ask, what the fuck are we even doing here? Isn’t there something besides this? Look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t hope it would be better than this. We thought it would be better than this. A long time ago… Let’s go away together. Don’t be afraid. Anywhere – anything but this! It’s so old and I love you. I love you so much. I do. Let’s just pack up and go. Okay. No, not tomorrow. Tonight. Tell no one. I love you. I do.

He unclenched his eyes and his cheek felt cold, but he wiped it with his thumb and felt better. He drank again. All the other channels…

Snow smashed again, and again he recoiled. He should have known. But then, where was the rumble? Had there been a rumble? He would have remembered a rumble. There was no rumble. So what was the noise? It wasn’t snow falling. He put the drink down on the carpet, stood between the window and the tree and looked outside to his neighbor’s house. It was empty. It didn’t come from there. Silence. Placidity. Peace.

But then, in the periphery, he saw her on the ground: a cardinal lying on her side in the snow. He finally noticed the small dirty mark on the window and the tiny poof of a feather that remained at the point of impact. Poor bird. Stupid bird. Probably still stunned by her stupidity. And he stood there waiting for her to chirp up but it was taking too long to happen and he felt his blood and his head pounded and he ran into the kitchen and grabbed a shot glass from the sink and spurted some warm water into it and rushed out the door with a pair of women’s slippers that didn’t fit and got soaked in just a few crunchy steps and then stopped.

He set the glass beside the bird, thinking that might be all the encouragement she needed. Nothing. He tapped her beak with the glass. Nothing. He must look ridiculous, he thought. But he was afraid. She wasn’t breathing. He nudged her with his foot, careful to curl his toes so the slipper wouldn’t fall off. Nothing. He was afraid. So he ran back inside and grabbed one of the rubber gloves from underneath the sink and put it on, even though it barely fit, and came back outside and poked her chest and when nothing happened he did it again and again and again and she was so soft and so pretty and his cheeks were cold again by the time he gave up and stopped.

He breathed. He stared down at her for what felt like a long time before scooping her up. Her head fell back too far. He winced. The neck had snapped. She had died instantly. He shifted his gloved index finger to support her, see what she was like before. Her black eyes were still open.

He turned and looked through the window, past the mark. On the unlit Christmas tree sat a bird, shiny and silver, clipped to one of the top branches. Its tail was made of real feathers. Bright red. When he bought it a long time before it came with a partner, but he had dropped it when taking down the decorations one year so this last one sat alone. Was that really the last thing the tiny corpse in his hand had seen? Was she flying headfirst to… do what, exactly? He warmed his cheeks and thought how unfair it was that the males of the species got to be bright red and the females were more like a dark reddish-brown, like dried blood. She’s so beautiful. He was still gentle with her, almost as if he expected her to suddenly pop up and be fine. But these things don’t happen. But what if it did? And he felt the snow melt and soak into his feet, water seeping in to the wrinkles and the cracks and dripping upwards and burning straight through his core.

In a springtime playground he saw himself wandering to the base of a budding oak, hungry chirps cascading from a branch above. With bare hands, he picked up the mother and, surprised by her lightness and softness, ran to a girl whose name he had now forgotten. In what seemed like a thousand instances happening all at once, he watched her turn, look, raise her delicate black eyebrows, and scream. Then cry. He felt like a larger boy pushed him, but he may have fallen over on his own, and he landed on his shoulder, which hurt, and he held the little limp gift close. The world was sideways. He got up and ran back to the tree and put the bird down how he found her and he didn’t understand or know what else to do. The air was warm and wet.

There was a rumble above him. He didn’t flinch when the snow fell and instead looked back to the neighbor’s house on the other side of the chain-link fence and followed the footsteps of the cat towards it. There would be no burial. The snow was too deep. He gave a long, focused breath, watching it freeze before him, blessing the bird from head to tail. He tried to think of something else to do, some other kind of appropriate ritual, but he failed and, in acceptance, dropped her over the fence into the snow where she sank out of view.

He stared at the house for a while. They had packed up what they wanted and left, and they were miles away from caring about the past. Soon, last night would be just a shrinking dot on the horizon, the diffusion of smoke from a firework, a pool of water drained into an unsaturated ground. He stared until he caught the faint glimmer of the cat’s eyes peering out from underneath the porch.

He breathed again, a final goodbye, and walked back inside with the shot glass of water. He came back out with a sponge and cleaned the window. Then he got the dustpan and swept up the remaining shards of glass. Then he threw away the grapefruit juice. Then he just stood there, staring out the window. He wept. Then he returned to the living room, where he turned on the lamp and plugged in the lights on the tree, determined to enjoy their silent sparkling shimmers for at least one night before he took it all down the next morning.


Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

Your dad brings you up to his best friend’s house one day, a big guy with a round tummy and wide feet whose wife never seems to be around. He tells you that he got some kittens that were just born yesterday and he’s going to give them to his neices and nephews. You can look at them sleeping in the basket, but you can’t touch because they’re so young and your hands might make them sick. So you divide you attention between looking at the kittens – breathing right above them, wondering if they really are as small as they seem and if they can even fit eyeballs inside those tiny heads – and a plastic thing that can organize your change for you when you roll the coins through a slot in the top. You wish you had money so you could play with it.

When your dad brings you back a few days later, you ask where the kittens are so you can pet their heads with your little finger while they sleep. You try to picture it when his friend tells you that he accidentally stepped on the orange one with the white ear the day after you left, eyeballs and all, smushed under his big, fat feet and his nieces and nephews were so terrified that he ended up giving the rest away.

Later on, you swing your feet back and forth from the couch in the living room and sip up apple juice from your cup while the adults talk in the other room. Did he give the kitten’s basket away too? You look at the plastic money thing and wish you could play.

Outside the Alley

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

He says he doesn’t spit on sidewalks. “You don’t know who might be rubbing their face in it later tonight” he says.

He raises his arm as we walk and points toward the alley on our right. “I spent a whole summer there one year. Nice kid worked in that drug store. Didn’t mind me. Came out back to smoke in the afternoon every other day or so. That door there squeaks open and slams shut. Not his fault, but he usually woke me up like that. It was hot that year, so he brought me bottles of water and talked to me. I wanted liquor, of course. ‘Liquor makes it all pass quicker.’ We talked about that.”

I nod.

“But he brought me water. You don’t realize how hard it can be to find water in this town. I’ve had people scream and swear at me for using public drinking fountains. One guy kicked me, I think. Can’t quite remember. But this kid brought me water. And I hated him for it and I drank it each time.”

We sit at a bench and watch well-dressed people walk by, their eyes locked forward. He knocks his knuckles on the iron armrest, feeling the metallic echo.

“Don’t know why he did it. Guilt? Boredom?” he shrugs. “Maybe he felt better about himself for doing it. Some people spit on you and others kick you. He gave me water. Bottled water.”

He leans forward. He says something, but a gust of wind carries the sound of leaves dragging across the pavement around us, and I don’t hear him. I lean forward as well when he leans back and sighs. I stare at the “Welcome, we’re OPEN!” sign in the drug store window.

“Actually came back here not too long ago. Part to thank him. Part to see if he remembered me. If he’d recognize me without the beard and the smell. Had quit working there right after that summer, apparently. Nice kid. I hope he stopped smoking.”

We watch the people walk by us for a few minutes longer. Street lights flicker on, yellow and white, as the sun showers its dying red beams over what leaves remain on the trees lining the avenue, and the moment seems to last forever and I fall in love with the feeling that this was supposed to happen and that the night will never come.

“The street’s on fire,” I say.

“It’s getting cold,” he says.

I hadn’t noticed, but I agree anyway. A man walking by throws his cigarette down in front of us, eyes locked forward, legs turning into shadows stretching down the sidewalk. We watch as all the color drains away. The last of the smoke drifts with the last of the leaves.

“Well it’s time for me to go,” he says.

“Stay warm,” I say as he digs the filter out of the crack it had rolled into with his pinky finger, the concrete grinding against him like a nail file. He throws it away in the dumpster in the alley.

“You don’t know,” he says. But it may have just been the wind.

How To Be a Shoe Salesman

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

At night, listen to the cars wail past on the other side of the shut door, running red lights, getting lost and turning around. Imagine it to be the sound of wind and the waves at your house by Horseneck, the one your mother pointed out to you so many years ago, the one that’s only a few miles away. The one you drew pictures of in your history textbook. Sleep and remember textbooks and desks, fresh pencils and friends, the smell of mother’s hair.

Shrug off the torn, pink beach towel you’ve been using as a blanket; it’s the one no one wanted. Barbie’s smile has worn away. Put on the shirt and pants. Open the door and step out. Stretch in every direction. Remember jumping jacks and gym class.

Begin unfolding and folding the towels from the front seat. Hang them out with clothespins from the rack on the roof in order: Harley-Davidson, Patriots Football, Winnie the Pooh, Cinderella, Mickey Mouse. Smooth out a wrinkle on Fred Flintstone’s nose. Put the “Man of Steel” logo one over the windshield and hood. People will see that first. They’ll stop for that one.

Organize the boxes according to height, not length. Women’s shoes on the left, facing the towels, men’s shoes on the right, facing the towels. Then by size. It’ll be more convenient for them this way. You’ve got to make it look presentable, after all. Kick the flat tires.

Set up your folding chair and wait for an hour or so. Attract attention when the cars stop at the intersection and watch as the eyes quickly dart away. Fold the chair back up and walk to the Denny’s across the parking lot. Leave the van behind for a while. Wash up and empty out in the restroom. Ask for some orange juice to get the taste out of your mouth.

When you walk back home, look across to the other corner of the lot and remember the kid’s playcenter that shut down a couple years back. Remember the mothers who walked in. The ugly ones. The pretty ones. The ones with the low-cut tops and angry husbands. Remember the kids. Remember cutting valentine’s cards out of construction paper. Giving them out. Bringing them home. But you did it wrong, didn’t you? And you wanted to create art? You got distracted while you was making this, didn’t you? You got halfway there, halfway toward something you wanted, and instead you decided to play with your little goddamned friends, and forgot all about that piece of shit, didn’t you?

A car stops near you. You look up. She asks for directions because she’s not from around here and she’s lost and although she has a vague idea of where she is, she isn’t sure and wanted to make sure before she got really lost. You see her baby boy in the backseat. You say that you’ve been lost before too and you can’t really help her, but you can make it up to her, yes you’ll make it up to her because you’ve got a great pair of shoes for her that can take her wherever she needs to go and besides, they match her eyes, so why doesn’t she just drive up a little so you can show her?

Unpin everything. Fold it up. Box it. Stuff it. You think you heard someone at the Denny’s say it was going to rain tomorrow. That’s okay, you think as you lie down. I’ll be right here. I’ll get some sleep.

Once upon a time, there was a young couple that loved each other very much. He was handsome, caring, and worked hard at a job so that money was never an issue. She was beautiful, intelligent, and had a laugh so pure that even the birds in the trees would stop their songs to hear it. Their love was famous all through the town where they lived.

One bright morning, as the snows on the nearby mountaintop began to melt and the forest around the town became tinted with green, the young couple followed a path through the woods they had taken many times before. They brought a few sandwiches with them in a wicker basket, and picked the small berries that grew only in the winter, and which only they knew the location of. Some time later, they reached the grove where the sun always seemed to be directly overhead, but it was never so hot that they would have to cool down in the shadows. After they sat and talked and ate, he took her hand and they danced with their eyes closed to the sound of the other’s breath (for again, they were in love, so they always heard music and they always saw each other when they closed their eyes.) She threw her head back and laughed as he stopped dancing and pulled her in close so it felt as though the two heartbeats were one. The birds stopped singing and he said all what he could think, “I love you. Marry me.”

She said, “Yes. Of course, yes. Because all I fear in this world is not knowing you, not being a part of you, and having to face these cold, cold winter nights without you. Yes. Always yes. Forever yes.” When they returned to the town, the news made everyone very happy, and preparations were made for a magnificent wedding. He vowed to her that she would never want for anything ever again.


They were married in the summer, and a year to the day from their engagement in the forest, they welcomed a son into the world. Everyone in the town agreed that he was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen, with striking green eyes that only his parents recognized as being the same color as their secret winterberry bush. That summer, the husband’s wealth multiplied, and just as he had vowed, everything the family wanted, they had. They moved to a large house away from the village, just inside the woods, so they could raise their child in peace. They slept on a fine feather bed and the husband bought his wife beautiful red and gold high-heeled boots, made from the very best Spanish leather. They even had servants tend to the household duties; one to cook, one to clean, and one to care for the baby boy.

But as the summer began to fade, the husband became concerned for his love. No longer did she laugh, and no longer did they dance with their eyes closed to the sound of each other’s breath. When he rose one morning, he wondered if he had been awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of his wife crying next to him, or if it had just been a dream.

When the snows on the mountaintop began to seep down to the golden-red forest, the cook stopped the husband on his way out the door and warned him, “Your wife, sir. I’m worried for her. She wanders through the house all day whispering frantically about the snow on the peak! Yesterday, she scolded me for not cooking soup hot enough to melt it away! I don’t know what I’m supposed to say to her. She’s not well. I thought you should know.”

The husband became angry with the cook for saying such things about his wife, and threw him out of the house. Yet, the next month, when the snows covered the mountaintop, the cleaning servant came forward and said, “Sir, I mean no disrespect, but your wife isn’t well. While you are gone, she has been asking me if I can sweep up all the leaves around the house and put them back up on the trees. When I said I couldn’t, she went into a frenzy, screaming how she was fearful of the woods. Please, sir. I think you should get a doctor.”

Again, the husband became enraged, and threw this servant from the house. The next month, on the day when the last leaf fell, the husband met the servant who took care of his baby on the road to his house, walking in the opposite direction. When the husband asked where the servant was going, the servant replied, “Your wife threw me out, sir. She has been sitting on the porch all day, staring into the forest. I gave her blankets to stay warm, but she didn’t say anything. Finally, I brought your son to her. She didn’t look at him. She just closed her eyes and asked me if I could hear the music coming from the trees. I told her I didn’t, and she told me to put the baby back in his crib, and then to leave your house and never return. I think you should get her a doctor, sir. She is very, very sick.”

The husband ran the rest of the way home to find what the servant had said was true: there sat his wife, covered in blankets, shivering as she stared out into the woods. He urged her to come to bed with him and their baby, and she silently agreed. She changed out of her Spanish leather boots and the rest of her fine clothing and lay next to her son and husband. The next morning, the husband left the house, promising his wife that he would return soon with a doctor.


After the husband left on his fastest horse, the wife returned to the porch and watched as the bare branches cast shadows on one another and the wind opened and closed paths throughout the forest. She closed her eyes for a while. She saw blackness and wind. Then the music came to her like a face in a dream – nebulous, terrifying. She shook as the notes echoed around her, their meaning lost.

As the source drew closer, she heard the song more clearly. She stopped shivering and began to make out some words, “They call me Gypsy Davy oh, they call me The Gypsy Laddie. So you better hide your daughter from me, be she single or be she married.” It began to come into focus. This face had bright green eyes. Or were they black? Was that a banjo? A guitar? A fiddle? A drum? Could it all be coming from one man? She stood up, enchanted by what she heard. “Oh will you go with me, my pretty little miss, will you go with my honey oh? I’ll take you ‘cross the deep blue sea, and you’ll never want for money oh. No, you’ll never want for money oh.”

The song opened a path through the woods and let the noonday sun shine in. The wife pulled the blanket from her shoulders and sailed into the forest. She laughed, and the birds fell silent.

The husband raced to the village to find the doctor. As he rode down the winding road, he felt a strange tickling in his nostrils. Small stacks of leaves, evenly spaced, lined the path, smoldering. He thought it odd, but carried on, determined to help his sick love. As the small stacks became small piles, and those small piles into large piles, the tickling smoke turned into a thick haze. The horse panted and the husband’s eyes watered. He closed them, and only saw his wife. He had to go on. The horse became too frightened to continue, so the husband dismounted, grabbed the reins and led the animal through the fires.

He didn’t know what time it was when he reached the village; thick smoke and ash blocked out the sun. He was cold. He knocked on the doctor’s door, but no one answered. No one walked in the streets. All he could hear was the sound of burning leaves coming closer and closer. The wind came down from the mountain, fed the flames, and blew them towards the abandoned village, the smoke filling every space, from alley to drain, into the husband’s lungs which cried out in desperation. He felt a fire surrounding him and he fainted next to a drained fountain with sculpted cherubim. The leaves inside burned.

When he came to, the smoke was gone. The leaves were gone. His horse was gone. The sun was gone. The people were still gone. He stood up and followed the trail of charcoal back to his wife and child.

The trees near the house were untouched and the woods were silent. The husband breathed heavily when he climbed up the porch and past a pair of red and gold Spanish leather boots and coughed black soot as he rushed to find his son asleep on a fine feather bed. He sighed, and immediately muffled his cough so he wouldn’t disturb the slumber. He stepped outside into the cold, cold winter night and ran to where he knew his wife would be.


Once upon a time, there was a young couple that had loved each other very much, and they found each other again in the woods one cold, cold winter’s night.

There was no moon, and the night sky had closed its thousands of eyes.

“Come home, my dear. Come home. Our baby boy is keeping our bed warm. Come home.”

“Home? My baby boy?” She laughed in a way he had never heard before, dark pulpy masses gushing from her mouth. The juices seeped through her dress and dripped on her skin. Her bare feet tickled padded-down grass and she shivered, but not because of the cold. Her head fell to face where her husband’s voice had come from. She could not see him. “No. No, I am happy here in the grove. What care I for your fine feather bed when I have Gypsy Davy to keep me warm? Now leave. It makes me so sad to see you.”

“Please, my love. I want to dance like we used to. I miss hearing our music. Please come home.”

When she finished chewing, she retorted, “I don’t need your music. I don’t need to dance with you. Gypsy Davy plays a much better song. Can’t you hear it? It’s such a wonderful song. Just the best song I’ve ever heard. I can’t stop dancing to it. I like it so much more than your song.” She shivered again. “Can’t you hear it?”

He didn’t know. “I’m so sorry…” he sobbed.

“Don’t apologize. You did nothing wrong.”

“Are you cold?”

“No. The cold has passed. I don’t feel anything anymore.” She was chewing again.

“Let me hold you. Let me warm you. Let me embrace you, sing to you, save you on this cold, cold winter night.”

She didn’t respond.

“I’ll go mad without you!” He screamed, more to himself than to her. He felt naked. Drunk. Mad. Helpless. Childish. Terrified. Mad.

She didn’t respond.

The husband waited to see if perhaps he could find her dancing in the darkness and shadows so he could take her by the hand and hold her close and feel her heartbeat and they could be happy again but he couldn’t and when the sun began to rise he knew that she had left and he began his walk back home.

He heard his son crying when he got near the house. He watched the mountaintop as he rocked his boy to sleep, singing, “Last night she slept on a fine feather bed, her laugh so loud and merry oh. Tonight she rode to the wide world’s door by the side of a gypsy laddie, oh. By the side of the Gypsy Davy oh…”

Cut Down

Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

Desperate for money, I mowed my neighbor’s lawn and tried focusing on the nice weather and the twenty-five dollars waiting for me inside. When I was about halfway done with the front, this old Portuguese man walked by with his dog. I was dumping the fresh, wet grass into the compost bag when he said, “You still have a lot to do, my friend!”

I was annoyed that he tried talking to me. I was doing my thing, he was doing his thing… why couldn’t we just leave it at that? I smiled while stuffing the grass down, trying not to sneeze, and said “Ah, don’t remind me.”

“You know, my son, he take care of lawn, but not no more.” That’s great. Please keep walking. “Now I has to take care of lawn. It’s a bitch.”

“Yeah, I know how that is,” I lied. This was the first time I’d touched a lawnmower in years.

“So I stop taking care of lawn. Why bother? I wait two months. Summer get hot. It get too hot for grass. I like that. Hot sun just burn away all the grass! Much easier. You just gotta wait.”

This was funny, I had to admit. I imagined him sitting shirtless in a lawn chair on his driveway watching the rest of his yard turn to asphalt as the sun burned his leathery skin around a huge goofy grin on his face. Scotts lawn care wouldn’t be calling him for an endorsement anytime soon. “That would be easier,” I said.

He adjusted his cap and the dog sniffed the curb and I fastened the bag back onto the mower. Maybe now he’d leave.

“It’s a good lawn, though,” he said.

“It’s not mine.”

“That’s okay. It’s still good. You do good job. Maybe I won’t let sun burn mine this year.” He smiled as he said it.

“The grass likes it best when it isn’t burned to a crisp,” I said.

He laughed and said, “You think it like what you do more?”

“Well someone has to cut it, right?” I was only talking to him now. All I had to do was rev the mower and he’d leave. “If I don’t cut it, it grows wild and you wouldn’t walk past here anymore, would you? It would be ugly.”

“It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?” he said.


The dog pulled toward the telephone pole.

“Enjoy your work.”

“Enjoy your sun.”

“Good luck,” he said.

“Good luck,” I said. “Take care.”

So I made my twenty-five bucks from mowing the neighbor’s lawn and I’ll be back next month to mow it again because it’s grass and grass keeps on growing back… but it’s okay, because now I know that the last thing I want is to watch it all burn.


Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

So there’s this guy, right? And he’s absolutely insane. You’ve probably seen him. He walks around the city all the time. Wears this red knit cap, blue and purple windbreaker, black pants, floppy boots. He’s gotta dress warm, ‘cause he spends all his time outside, but he even dresses that way during the summer. Maybe in the summer he takes off the hat. I don’t know. I can’t remember. Old guy. He’s fuckin’ nuts. Just randomly starts screamin’ at shit. Sometimes he just shouts out the chorus from some old song he used to listen to or maybe something he heard pumpin’ from someone’s car at a red light. Sometimes he just puts out a high-pitch “WHOO!” like he’s gearin’ up to play in the Super Bowl or somethin’ and he don’t ever break stride or take his hands out of his pockets. I heard he used to be some kinda super genius who just snapped, you know? Kept on learnin’ and learnin’ ‘til he just couldn’t understand something or some shit like that and just snapped. Crazy shit, huh? Being all smart like that and just losin’ it? Walkin’ around every day shoutin’ and singin’ at all the shit that ain’t there? You know the craziest part? He’s fuckin’ happy. Always got a smile on his face. Man, I was just like you. I couldn’t understand it.

But that’s not what you want to hear about, is it? Nah, you want to hear about why I’m crazy, right? Have you guys started callin’ me crazy yet?

And the teacher’s going on talkin’ about how she’s sorry she couldn’t grade our tests because it’s been a long weekend for her going back and forth to the hospital or some other bullshit and I just stand up and tell her it’s bullshit, it’s all bullshit, you know? And then she starts yellin’ back at me to get out of her class with tears runnin’ over her baggy eyes and that she tries hard and her father is sick or some shit like that, when Kyle gets up to try and calm us down, but I can’t calm down because I finally fucking get it. I finally fucking understand it. So Kyle’s head hits the desk and I throw a chair over to where the teacher is because it was just in my way and I had to move and I can feel this fucked up feeling of knowing inside me and I hate it. So I run out the door and for a second and I can hear everyone behind me talkin’ to each other real loud and the teacher screamin’ and other people are lookin’ out from the windows in the doors into the hallway, but I’m just runnin’, man. I don’t care that I was never the fastest because I finally fucking understand it.

When I get outside onto the street, I just kinda go downhill because it’s Fall River, right? Everything in this goddamn city is downhill from everything else. So I get a couple of blocks away and I don’t know where I’m going, right? Home isn’t there. I’ve been walkin’ away from home for a long time. Nah, that ain’t right. It was there, but it was never really there. It just dissapeared, little bit by little bit. It walked away from me. And I’m not taking that bullshit no more now. So I start walkin’, but my blood’s still pumpin’ ‘cause I finally understand it. The bullshit’s bullshit and I get it all.

So that’s when I do it. I start screaming out a little bit. Just a little. And it feels good, so I do it more. I’ve never done it before then. No one ever does it, but they should because I swear to God man, it just… I don’t even know. I don’t even fuckin’ know. I just know it did what it did and it worked, you know what I mean? Nah, you don’t. You just scream into pillows, don’t you? You just scream to yourself a little bit every day, don’t you? I did that. I used to do that all the time. But this time, I’m screamin’ it loud, head up, eyes closed, arms stretchin’ out everywhere and I’m screamin’ out every goddamn thing that comes to mind. And people must’ve thought I was crazy or some shit, in their goddamned cars, listening to their fuckin’ music, but I’m not, man, I’m tellin’ you.

I get it all, and I know I’m not crazy.

But that’s where you found me, screaming and walking. And now here we are and you’ve got to try and understand what I’m thinkin’ but you can’t because you haven’t ever walked downhill while screamin’ at the top of your goddamned lungs because you’ve got to understand the bullshit first before you can do that. So fuck you.

And the old guy isn’t crazy, either. He gets it. I get it. You don’t. And you’re gonna tell me I’m wrong or some shit like that, but I’m not. I’m screaming and maybe someone else will hear me doin’ it and then we can understand this shit together, because man, I’m just getting started and there’s a whole lotta shit I still don’t understand.


Posted: March 10, 2013 in Stories

It was such a strange birthday that year.

I remember putting on the dress clothes my parents had bought me and which I had laid out the night before: khakis, white loafers, pink-striped button-down with a baby blue necktie and the blazer I had worn for graduation the year before. I stayed up late talking to some girl whose name I’ve chosen to forget, so I hadn’t gotten much sleep. Just an hour or two.

There was a line at the wake, all the way out the auditorium doors into the parking lot where Hell’s Angels were waving American flags and revving their engines. The old vets wearing the hats with insignias and pushing walkers probably couldn’t hear them. I remember the woman behind me sobbing. The man in front of me was talking loudly about thisandthat to the voice in his earpiece and a baby’s scream bounced off the concrete façade. It was hot; almost ninety-two, and I could feel the sun slowly burning away the skin on my nose and my closed eyelids. I could almost hear my mother telling me how I should have put on sunblock like she always told me to do.

I knelt down before the coffin and just kind of stared at the flag draped over it. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t even know why I showed up. But I just knelt there for a while, staring at the flag, then through the flag to the varnished wood, then through the wood to the ravaged body. Maybe my eyes were still closed. I can’t remember.

I felt like I was there for a while, because the woman behind me who had mostly collected herself by the time we made it inside the auditorium broke down again and just about threw me down. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. I got up and shook the hands of the man’s mother, father, grandmother, sister, uncle, other uncle, other grandmother, and the almost-widow; the fiancé, holding the hand of the three-year-old son. It was his birthday, too. I guess it was strange for both of us.

I grabbed an empty seat in the back and listened to the politicians talk over the flag over the wood over the body. The man sitting to my right said something to the man sitting on his right and they both laughed. The sobbing woman sat to my left. A marine gave the almost-widow some medals. The uncle gave a funny eulogy. The other uncle gave a sad one. The father refused to go up at all and the almost-widow left at one point. I texted my parents saying don’t worry, I’m okay, I’ll be home soon. They said my best friend had showed up early and they were all wondering where I had gone. I said don’t worry, I’m okay, I’ll be home soon.

Some hours later, after I blew out twenty-three candles and opened up gift cards and packages with ugly, ill-fitting clothes, I watched my mother cut up the cake and put the thin slices on plastic plates with big scoops of French vanilla ice cream. I remember watching it melt. They watched me watch it melt.

And when my friends left dejected after I said no, I don’t feel like killing some brain cells tonight, I watched them walk to their cars from my bedroom window. I was lying down on the bed when my parents knocked on the door saying that I knew I could talk to them about anything. They love me. Happy birthday. My thigh buzzed and the girl said she doesn’t usually make offers like this, but since it’s my birthday…

I walked out to the woods that night wearing mostly nothing – exposed. Overcome by jealously, I leaned my head against a tree and stared past the bark and waited for a bullet to come and drill my brains into the spot where I was staring. When I knew it wasn’t coming, I waited for the world around me to explode; just swallow me up like an angry beast. But then the nothing. And then the nothing.

I knew there must be more to it, but there just wasn’t. I was like a father without a child, a husband without a wife, a soldier without a war.

It was such a strange birthday that year.