Saturday, December 25, 2010


They are reading about it now, in the news, if they read such things, or on their friends’ Facebook feeds, more likely: Joyce Sherman, dead at thirty-one.

“So young,” they’re murmuring. “She never got to realize her dreams.”

They’re reading cause of death: struck by lightning.

“That’s how she always said she would go.” They’re laughing, bitter. “You think she’d have been more careful."

Some of them are even privy to the exact circumstances: in the hot tub, with a bowl in one hand, and a lighter in the other.

“She died happy,” they’re comforting themselves. “Doing what she loved.”

They’re marveling over the details, how the lighter exploded in one hand, how the glass bowl melted and fused itself to the other. They’re talking about god, and God, and accidents, and Accidents. Strange coincidences and a life cut short and all the things Joyce will never do, never see.

If I could, I would tell them: I rode that lightning bolt all the way up. All the way to the top. The view is amazing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Rooster of Prague*

It used to mean something to be a rooster in this town.

Don’t look so surprised, mister ugly American in your flowered shirt with the sweaty armpits. You didn’t know what two hundred and eighty-nine steps felt like until a moment ago. And only now have you caught your breath, looked around for the first time, and decided that I am out of place.

Go ahead and laugh then. You want to know what I’m doing up here? Well, time was, you wouldn’t think about praying without me. I mean, come on now! Who wants to talk face to face with the ferocious, four-headed, Svantovít, the mighty pagan god who’ll, like as not, swell the banks of the Vlatava, flooding your house, destroying your crop, drowning your livestock? Wouldn’t you rather have a fine black rooster intercede on your behalf? A god’s gotta have a sacrifice, and better me than your virgin daughter, if you know what I mean.

Those were the days.

Back then, we roosters really had something to crow about. A yard full of hens, chief timekeepers of the village, and that whole intermediary to the great god gig. Life was sweet. You’d get fattened up, treated like a prince. OK, so maybe there was a moment of panic, running about, as they say, like a chicken with a head, but that ended soon enough and there you were, rubbing shoulders with the big guy, who just wouldn’t be appeased with anything less than a nice black rooster.

But then came the Christians, who didn’t need us as intermediaries anymore. They had all these other crazy ideas about talking to their god, not a guy with four heads, but one guy with three faces. Something like that. I'm a bird, not a theologian. All I know is, these Christians thought you could just appeal to your own religious leader, or a dead religious leader you never met, or—this is the craziest of all—some of them thought you could just belly up to the trough and talk to god yourself. Can you believe such a thing? No room for a big black rooster in the pecking order there. And what did they think of the great and terrible Svantovít? They built a massive cathedral on top of his altar. Saint Vitus. That's right. This cathedral.

That Vitus really ruffles my feathers. First of all, he wasn’t even Czech. Never even set foot in the golden city of Prague. Besides that, the guy wouldn’t sacrifice a rooster if his life depended on it. And you know what? It did. Those Christians had these newfangled ideas, which got Vitus accused of sorcery. He was supposed to make an animal sacrifice to prove his innocence, and could have just slaughtered a bird and gotten on with his life, but he wouldn’t, and they killed him. Boiled in oil, and of course, they tossed a black rooster in the pot, sent him along for the ride, probably to tell Svantovít just how rude the kid had been. And here’s the lowest bit: Vitus’s followers start depicting us at his side, like instead of being the ones to squawk directly in god’s ear for man, now we needed this guy to connect us!

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then, how I got here. Me! A rooster! You know where I came from, who I used to be. And now who am I? A copper weathervane, stuck up on top of this cathedral. Doesn’t that just beat all? Sure, I’ve got a fabulous view of Prague, the river, the bridge, the rest of the castle. But that’s hardly compensation, do you think? It really sticks in my craw. What good’s a weathervane in divine communication? You don’t need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows. You can quote me on that.

All I can do is hope that angry, four-headed god opens his eyes and looks around. You’d think he’d notice the lack of black roosters. He did swell the Vlatava last year, but no one thought of a blood sacrifice, did they? No, they just cleaned up and started again. And here I sit, a helpless copper rooster, blowing this way and that. Honestly, I don’t know what this world’s coming to.

*Written in 2003

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Just in case anyone wonders where I've been, I've been doing NaNoWriMo for the last 17 days. However, I hit 50k this morning (average daily word count: 3104) and should finish my abysmal novel tomorrow. It's good to get that stuff out of your system.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

13 Ideas I Did Not Submit to the Upcoming Cthulurotica Anthology

  • Orgy at Randolph Carter's dream dungeon

  • The tender love between an innocent young girl and whatever sires the half-breed fish people. Actually, maybe the above girl actually falls for a fish girl, and they are impregnated at the same time by a fishy horror

  • What really goes on after lights out in Arkham Asylum

  • Mating rituals of the giant albino penguins of Antarctica

  • Anime-loving girl, obsessed with hentai, experiences a real tentacle raping

  • When I was a student at Miskatonic U, you would not believe what we got up to in the stacks during finals week

  • Prim and proper conservative fundamentalist is a secret masochist who actually relishes the horrors that await in Cthulhu's embrace

  • Call of Cthulhu LARP gets way out of control

  • The secrets of the not-so-amorphous appendages of Nyarlathotep's amorphous idiot flute players: those aren't flutes!

  • Herbert West overcomes erectile dysfunction with a little elective surgery

  • The mad harem of the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred

  • When Elder Gods love, they love deeply

  • Pickman's model on the casting couch

Yes, I chose not to write those stories. You're welcome

Friday, October 22, 2010

Empty Spaces

It was a blue hour, a moment of more-than-dusk but less-than-night, and the world seemed to purr at her feet as she hauled a black plastic garbage bag down the driveway. She left it at the curb, brushing her hands against her jeans with finality, and smiling at the neat line of five identical bags. Taking out the trash, she though to herself.

When she turned back up the drive, she noticed, even in the dull half-glow of the absent sun, that the house would have to be painted. I could do that, she thought to herself. She never had before, but how difficult could it be? She would nail down the bad step, and replace the missing shutters. Later, soon, she would learn how.

Now, she would sweep out the wide, empty places where the garbage had resided for so long. She would marvel over the extra expanses of her home, lost beneath the rubbish of another life for so long. There might even be another bag of garbage to carry away.

Once she figured out how to get the Internet back up, she would research all the new skills she would need. She could see no reason why she might fail in her task. The only reason she had never done these things before was that she had never had the opportunity. And now she had all the opportunities in the world.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jervis Girls' Jail

Elation didn’t come easy when you had to sit with your ass sunk into a yellow, molded plastic chair under the hairy eyeballs of The Hag, but Nya mustered a smile as she took the receiver. Soon, she would be out of this place, away from The Hag, and Miss Grits, and Sweet Baboon and the rest of the bitchy staff at the Jervis Girls’ Jail, Home for Fucked Up Rejects, and she wasn’t coming back.

She heard it ringing on The Dog’s end. The Hag sort of oozed her saggy butt up onto the other desk like she meant to stick around, and her long tits deflated a little under the ratty sweater. The old lady stared down from beneath her monobrow. Creepy bitch, Nya thought. Anything—even Jailbait and The Dog—was better than this. You couldn’t even make a phone call without three weeks’ good behavior, a permission form signed by two administrators, and a fat old hag eavesdropping on your every word. They’d scared her straight all right. Six months in Jervis and she couldn’t wait to live by her father’s standards, under his roof and his rules.


Nya choked a bit, but she would be nice to Jailbait if it killed her. She’d changed. What business of hers was it if her dad married a nineteen-year-old gold-digging slut when her mom hadn’t even been dead two years? She would just finish high school like a normal, non-incarcerated kid. Plug her ears up at night. Smile every morning at a step-mom who had been a senior when she was a freshman.

“Hi, Janice. Can I talk to my dad?”

“I thought they didn’t let you make phone calls.”

Nya could picture her lying on the couch in a white satin pajama top and a pair of red panties. You couldn’t deny the smoking hotness of Jailbait Janice. She forced the cheer into her voice. “They don’t let you make phone calls without permission. I have permission. So, please, will you put my father on the line?”

“He’s sort of busy right now.”

“This is sort of important.” Her voice felt sickly sweet, sort of rotten, but The Hag favored her with a wrinkled smile, like she’d gotten it right.

She heard Jailbait fake whispering, “It’s the kid.” She made “the kid” sound like a creeping skin infection. She couldn’t tell what The Dog said back to her.

They both giggled before he got on the line. “What now?” he snapped.

“Dad, I had my court date today.”

“Well, you earned your punishment. Maybe this time you’ll learn your lesson.”

She gritted her teeth, then took a cleansing breath. The Hag gave her a thumbs up. “I did learn my lesson. I’ve had, like, group therapy, and I’ve addressed my anger issues so I can channel my emotions in appropriate ways. I know that I have to respect you and your decisions because you’re my father, and I understand that Janice is your decision, and I want you to know that I’m happy for you, I’m glad you’re happy. I got my feelings about Mom’s death mixed up with my feelings about your marriage. I know my behavior was totally inappropriate. I’m a different person, and the judge said I could come home.”

She took another deep breath. “Whenever you want to come and get me, I can go. I swear, there’s not going to be any problems. None.”

For a moment, she heard nothing but the distant babble of the TV on the other end. Canned laughter. An almost-familiar advertising jingle. She could count on one hand the number of times she’d watched TV in the shelter.

Finally, The Dog made a noise halfway between a grunt and a sigh. “What makes you think I want you here?”


“After the way you acted, all the things you said. Lying to the cops! Trying to get Janice fired! Stealing from me! And now you want to come home? Six months isn’t nearly long enough. I’m still paying Grandma back for what you did to her car.”

Nya twisted the old-fashioned cord around her wrist, tight, until her hand almost turned white, but let it go. She didn’t have to do anything like that anymore. “I’m sorry. I said I was sorry. I’ll get a job. I’ll pay everyone back. I’ll make it all up to you.” The Hag started nodding like some stupid bobble head doll.

“It’s a little late for that, Nya. They got it right the first time. The shelter really is the best option.”

“But the judge said—”

“The judge can take your freeloading ass into his house, if that’s how he feels. He can let you eat his food and insult his wife and run up his credit card. You’re his business, not mine. Please don’t call here again.”

The next thing she knew, Nya had her face buried in the worn, soft knap of the Hag’s sweater, her cheek pressed into those low hanging boobs, while the old lady’s hand smoothed down her hair. “There, there,” The Hag crooned. “He’s a fool. You’re a good girl, Nya, and anyway Miss Gibbons will find you a better place,” and Nya clung to the old lady like it was her own mother and the old lady smelled good, like sugar.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Gold Dress

Issa found a beautiful gold dress, with pearl beads and silver thread, on the rack at Salvation Army. Twenty dollars was much too much for a dress, she knew, and it wasn’t in the budget, but she fingered its silky sleeve for so long that her mother added it to the cart when she wasn’t looking, and went without new hose and some other necessities, because Issa had been such a help, never asking for anything, and she deserved nice things. Hannah and Dore had had so many nice things in their childhood, and Issa relatively few.

She wore her dress to school, because, as her mother pointed out, where else would she wear it? They didn’t go to church, or parties. They didn’t have extended family gatherings. She didn’t wear it to impress anyone. She just liked to feel pretty once in a while. Even poor girls from broken families living in tiny apartments could feel pretty, some days.

“Did Jenny’s mom give you that?” Susan had asked first thing, even before the bell rang.

Issa didn’t understand. Jenny was the most popular girl in the fifth grade, and Issa was only a regular third-grader. She shrugged, and kept shrugging at the whispers all morning.

“Oh, my god!” someone screamed in the lunch line. “You really are wearing my dress! That is too funny.”

Jenny stood right behind her, glamorous in skinny jeans and a sequined T-shirt.

“My mom bought me this dress,” Issa said, her mouth small and quiet.

“Yeah, after my mom gave it to charity!” There was laughter, sharp and cutting. "It cost two hundred dollars new. What did you pay? Twenty-five cents?"

“There’s nothing wrong with being poor,” a fourth grade boy said. Issa smiled up at him. He looked strong.

“Nothing at all,” said Jenny. “Especially when people deserve to be poor. Like, say someone’s dad was a liar and a thief and stole everyone’s money. Then a person deserves to be poor. There’s nothing wrong with Issa wearing my old dress after her dad took practically everyone’s retirement fun and ran away to the Bahamas. I think someone who takes an old lady’s whole savings probably should wear second-hand clothes, especially when that old lady lost her house and everything and had to move in with her son.”

Issa gulped. Her father had done something wrong. Hannah and Dore had made that clear, but her father was long gone. Issa and her mom had moved on. She smoothed the beautiful gold dress over her hips and picked up her tray.

“You get free lunch, don’t you?” Jenny said. “I guess my family bought that for you, too. ‘Cause we pay taxes. Unlike your dad.”

“Maybe we should take her dress back,” a girl said. “To repay you.”

Jenny laughed. “Who wants it now?”

Issa was already halfway to the door, blinking through the wet curtain over her eyes. The fourth grade boy stopped her. “It’s a pretty dress, Issa,” he said. “It looks way prettier on you than it did on Jenny. I once saw her punch a first-grader when she was wearing that dress.”

“I don’t even know my father,” Issa wailed.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dream Theater 1: Gluttony

This might be part of a longer work...

Every day began with twenty minutes of Tai chi, twenty minutes of plyometrics, and twenty minutes of Pilates, followed by an hour jog and a long bath. For breakfast, she nibbled one ounce of almonds, four ounces of apple, and eight ounces of soy protein drink. While she ate, she gazed at the small, strapless, backless, slit-leg black dress hanging over the window, and planned her trip to Main Street Image Works.

Her friends went to Brainpix or Sweet Dreams, or, for special occasions, Expanded Mind, and she did too, when they asked her to dreamshare, but for her own dreams she chose Main Street. It wasn’t trendy, and she didn’t have to worry about bumping into someone she knew and being forced to make small talk about her dreams.

At the dream theater, the receptionist waved her into the third chamber. Candace could interface without help, and purchased advance minutes every month, so her visit would be automatically credited. Smoothing the electrodes over her skin, she lay back in the cradle and tapped the start button with her elbow.

A moment later, she sat at her grandmother’s dining room table, piled high with homemade doughnuts: glazed, jelly, crullers. An old plastic pitcher served as a bottomless fountain of whole milk. She ate six doughnuts without thought, then slowed down to enjoy the sensations: hot lard mingled with crisp dough, the faint crackle of glaze, the squirt of jelly. Crumbs rained from her lips, milk dribbled down her chin, and she never made a dent in the piles. She kept stuffing her mouth, occasionally swigging from the pitcher.

“Candy for my Candy?” her grandmother called from behind her.

When she turned around, the world went dark, and a voice said, “Five seconds have elapsed. Would you like to purchase five more seconds for five New Credits?”

“No, thank you.” She floated to work, the flavor of doughnuts very much in her mind, if not in her mouth. They felt so real! She might feel hunger later, but there would be another trip to Image Works. And another.

On her way out at noon, her boss stopped frowning at a nutrient replacement bar on her desk long enough to call out, “You look incredible! Seriously, what’s the secret?” The older woman pressed one hand against the perpetual inner tube around her own waist and sucked in her stomach. The secretary at her side sighed.

Candace shrugged. The secretary volunteered, “You never eat lunch, do you? You just, like exercise for an hour, right?”

Keeping her head down, but conscious of how thin she looked between these two women, she smiled. She had thought of it first, and she deserved to be the skinny one. An exclusive club. She felt bad about leaving them out, but if everyone knew, it wouldn’t be exclusive anymore.

“It’s all about resolve,” she said, at last, because they kept looking at her. “I decide in advance what I’ll eat that day, and that’s all I eat. Period. Plan it out.”

The secretary laughed, fanned her hands over various electronic interfaces. “Planning I can do.”

The boss laughed, too. “It’s sticking to the plan that’s hard.”

Alone, she crept back to Main Street, where she enjoyed the meal her family traditionally ate on Christmas day, including honey-glazed ham, a strata of cheese, eggs, bacon, and white bread, and cookies dusted with red and green sugar. She washed it down with a couple mug of eggnog, the effects of which dusted her afternoon with a tipsy halo, although a blood test would evince no alcohol in her system.

After work, she returned to the dream theater and devoured a few large sausage and pepperoni pizzas, a bottle of soda, a six-pack of beer, a birthday cake, three pints of ice cream (butterscotch, rocky road, and chocolate chocolate chip), and a mound of real whipped cream. In thrall, she opted for a second dream of eggrolls, sweet and sour chicken, shrimp fried rice, and fortune cookies, and then a third five-second hour of childhood comfort foods: macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes with cream and butter, rice pudding with brown sugar bananas, and a can of sweetened condensed milk, drunk through a twisty straw.

Then she went home, ate four ounces of canned tuna, four ounces of celery, four ounces of grapefruit, one ounce of cottage cheese smeared on a rice cake, and a breath mint. She practiced forty-five minutes of yoga and fifteen minutes of meditation, then wrote rapturous things in her diet journal, ending with, “I hope I dream about pie tonight!”

Pie filled her dreams, but rather than eating it, she splashed in it, like a child lying in a plastic pool. A peach pie, with ice cream, the perfect, spiced mixture of hot and cold, sweet and creamy running over her skin and down her throat. Nearby, her boss lolled in an apple pie with ribbons of caramel melting across the top. The secretary wore a quivering lemon meringue that fit her round shape like a party dress, and the boss also matched the curve of her container.

And so, to her horror, did Candace. While communing with heaven’s peaches and cream, she had bloated to the size of a weather balloon, the diameter of her stomach equal to her height. She was fat, fatter than ever, the fattest woman on earth.

She awoke screaming.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mary's New Boobs

When they announced the new policy, Mary peed in the cup without a fuss, but there wasn’t any point to coming to work after that. Cashing in all those stupid stock options to pay for her boob job was the best decision she’d ever made. They came with a lifetime guarantee—no sagging—and people finally stopped treating her like a twelve-year-old. She knew a girl whose dad owned a bunch of titty bars; with her perky new C-cups, she could always get a job waitressing.

Who needed a job, though? After she paid the plastic surgeon, she still had something left over, enough to pay the rent, anyway. It wasn’t like she’d ever pay for a drink again. Before she got a new job, maybe she’d just get a rich boyfriend.

She and Bella bought cute sundresses with spaghetti straps and went dancing every night, scorning any guy whose shoes didn’t pass Bella’s test, which was most of them. Mary picked out the perfect spangled purple halter to wear to Jen, Jenn, and Jenny’s triple birthday party. She twirled a plastic wine glass between her fingers, laughed each time someone spoke to her, and used her peripheral vision to check out her silhouette in every reflective surface. Even distorted and upside down in a stainless steel spoon, she looked spectacular.

The more wine she drank, the better Jenn’s cousin Alex looked. Bumping into him accidentally on purpose, she batted her eyes and threw back her shoulders. Oh! Alex had brought a friend who looked good too, but he kept skulking in corners, his eyes darting around like a caged animal’s.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked. “What’s his story?”

“Josh? I don’t know, really. He just moved into my building.”

“Wait, Josh?” Mary’s eyes crossed, focused, and unfocused. “Didn’t he used to live here with Jen, before Jenny moved in?”

Alex tipped his head to the side and rubbed his ear with his shoulder. “Yeah, he said something like that. Something weird. Didn’t move out on good terms, I guess. He didn’t know if it was OK for him to come to this party, but Jen’s cool. I told him to come. No big deal.”

“Right.” She caught Josh’s glance and smiled. He shook his head, but smiled back. Maybe she should just try to for Alex? She already had his attention. His shoes looked OK, and Josh wore sneakers, so Bella wouldn’t approve. She could still wink at Josh if Alex looked away.

More wine. She tugged at her halter and looked around for someplace to sit, but Jen, Jenn, and Jenny didn’t have that many chairs. The floor looked inviting. She sank down and leaned against a coffee table, her nice breasts perched just above the glass, and saw Josh and Alex in the hallway. Josh kept saying something, and Alex kept frowning, and finally Alex walked away, but not toward Mary. He went out on the fire escape and lit a cigarette.

Catching Josh staring at her, she smiled again and wiggled her wineglass in his direction. He didn’t take the hint though, just kept grabbing people as they headed to the bathroom. She couldn’t hear what he said, but everyone he touched gave him a funny look and hurried away. Maybe there was something to Bella’s shoe test, after all. But he looked fine, really.

Another guy brought her some more wine. His shoes were only medium OK: leather, but old and scuffed. It was just a party. She rolled her shoulders in time to the music and smiled when he touched her arm. He totally hung on her story about the losers who tried to pick her and Bella up at the Double Door last week, until someone started yelling on the other side of the room.

Jen, Jenn, and Jenny had made a little semi-circle around Josh, all henpecking him at the same time. His face looked dazed. “Just go!” Jen said. “Jeez. Just get out.”

Josh mumbled something, and Jenny said, “You’re ruining our party.”

“You’re drunk,” Jen yelled. “You need to leave.”

“I just want to know if Mary’s a whore!” Josh shouted. “Is Mary a whore? That’s all I’m asking. Is she a whore or not?”

Then Jenny’s boyfriend grabbed him by the arm and a second later both guys were gone, leaving a vacuum filled by the rushing sound of nervous laughter. Mary stared at the floor.

“Who’s Mary, I wonder,” said the guy who’d brought her the drink.

She shuddered, threw back her shoulders, and shuddered again. “Do you think I could borrow your jacket?” she asked him. “I’m like, really cold just now.”

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Author

She spent six whole months writing her novel, stolen minutes snatched from her life while the children played in the bathtub or her husband snored in the La-Z-Boy, and all her friends thought that was an amazing accomplishment, and that her novel was at least as good as anything you could get at the library, with the added bonus of no disgusting words or sex scenes.

“Definitely publish this,” everyone said. “You’ll make a ton of money.”

A few weeks later, she did. It hardly cost anything, and her book looked so pretty with her name on the cover. Right away, she sold about twenty copies to her friends and some of the other moms on her block. Her own mother, though, refused.

“I’m not paying money to read a book my own daughter published,” her mom said. “Self-published. Is it one of those stupid horror stories you used to write in high school?”

In the end, she just mailed her mom a copy for a birthday present.

“Oh, I’ve got to read this now?” her mom asked.

A week later, her mom mailed the book back, covered with red ink. She had changed spelling, and commas, and verb tenses, and left comments in the margins like, “If he’s a ghost, why does he need to sleep?” and “Did you even proofread this once?” Her mother’s theory had always been that nobody improved without criticism. Preferably her criticism. Her mother had always been bitter, never been supportive.

Her friends agreed that burning the marked-up copy would help her dispel the negative energy and let go of her stupid need for her mother’s approval, which she was never going to get anyway. It totally worked, too. As the embers died down in the old Weber grill they used for the cremation, she had a bunch of great ideas about demons, and that night, while the kids watched their shows on the big TV, she started to write her second novel. It was so easy.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Obviously, this blog has been on hiatus for a while as I'm busy with a lot of other projects, but here's some good news for my few loyal fans: after 5 years of supporting myself solely with my (non-fiction) writing, I have sold my first short story! This is amusingly ironic, as I was coming to the point of despair regarding even publishing a piece of fiction, let alone selling one. So the fact that my first publication is also a semi-professional sale is somewhat reassuring.

The speculative short story "Spin Free" will appear in the January issue of the journal Bards and Sages.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Petty Rant: Creative Writing Workshop, Graduate Level

This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect the petty (me).

Liking Kaleb Wilson is not possible.

Jessie says that you’ve got to find something to like in everyone, and for the most part, I do, but not Kaleb. Kaleb is without redeeming qualities. Or, if he possesses them, they are qualities that cannot be expressed in the context of the graduate level creative writing workshop. His stories are boring, his critiques are worthless, and the worst part is that people like Sue Becker, who’s won every writing prize there is, adore him and believe he can do no wrong.

Here’s an example of why his critiques are worthless. Kaleb is the sort of person who, when I bring in a fifty-page chapter, will mark up the first two pages, and the last two pages, and then write a few lines of comments like, “This would be better if you had done X, Y, and Z,” with X, Y, and Z being the contents of the forty-four pages that he didn’t read. And then he’ll finish up with some helpful advice like, “This is exactly like Lord of the Rings” (a book he admits to never having read; nor has he watched the movie) and “Adults do not read fantasy novels; they are for children.”

First of all, I’m sorry that I’m the only person in the class working on a novel, and that I’m more prolific than anyone else. Had they told me that I was only supposed to write fifteen pages a semester, preferably on the subject of unhappy relationships, I probably would have stayed home. But they told me it was fine to write novels. They even told me it was fine to write fantasy novels. Have you ever been to a book store, Kaleb, or ridden a city bus? You will see far more adults reading fantasy novels than “lit-er-a-toor” or “litch-ra-cher” or however you heard it pronounced on NPR this week.

Bottom line: why not just admit that you haven’t bothered to read my work because you feel it is beneath you? Sitting sullenly while others praise it, and then, giving up all pretense of caring, shifting one-eighty, and offering thoughtless feedback like, “This is great! Keep doing exactly what you are doing,” because you think “genre” is a dirty word and you don’t get what everyone else enjoys about it is pretty transparent.

I don’t get what everyone else enjoys about your work.

Here’s why Kaleb’s stories are boring. Everything he writes is comprised of the same elements: ten pages of an extended metaphor, laughably trite (a bird in a cage to symbolize a woman trapped in her marriage? Really? That’s what passes for creative writing? Come on, Sue, aren’t you going to say anything?), and no action whatsoever (wind blowing through an open window and scattering papers does not count as action), followed by, finally, at last, one thing happening, at which point the story ends, abruptly, with no examination, confrontation, consequence, or resolution. Every freaking thing Kaleb has ever brought to workshop follows this framework.

For instance: a young woman is married to an older man who keeps a bird in a cage. For ten pages, nothing happens. The woman is vaguely unhappy. The man is blissfully oblivious. The bird waits patiently for a chance to morph from a metaphor to a plot device. One day, the bird flies away. The end.

He won an award for that one. Because it was so original and creative. But my work is exactly like Lord of the Rings because one of the characters is a magician.

So that’s why Jessie’s disappointed in me, and why I don’t have the same enthusiasm I had coming into the program. But, more important, that’s why I cannot like Kaleb Wilson. And why Sue isn’t my favorite author anymore, either.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Family Business

First of all, I’m one of those characters with a huge, dark, dreadful secret that keeps me up at night, which I don’t mind telling you, since you don’t know me, and never will. I’m not even dramatic enough to draw it out or create a sense of suspense. I’m not a storyteller, after all.

I’m a blackmailer.

And it’s worse than that. I’ve only got one target, and that’s my dad. Seven years ago, while employed as a low-level peon at one of his factories over my summer break, I stumbled across incontrovertible proof that he was skimming off the top, which is crazy, because my dad’s already filthy rich. Even my stepmom can’t spend it as fast as he makes it.

So, probably the right thing to do would have been to go to my uncle, who’s on the board, but instead, I marched up to Dad’s office, slid some incriminating documents off his desk, and demanded my cut.

“Or else what?” my dad sneered.

“Or else I tell Grandpa. And Grandma. And Uncle Geoff. And Jenny.” Jenny’s my big sister, and she’s been angling to get rid of Dad for years, since the divorce, maybe even before.

For pretty much the first time in my life, I saw my dad sweat. “What if I stop?”

“What if?” I said. “These are just Xeroxes. The originals aren’t going away. Not like I’m asking for much. Financially, you’re better off dealing me in than walking away. Unless you want to retire and let Jenny take over.”

So he wrote me a check then and there, and he even fixed it so everything appears to be on the up-and-up. I even pay taxes on the money; on the books, I’m his personal assistant.

It’s kind of my dad’s fault. Before all this, moral rectitude had been a point of pride for me. I never took a drink before my twenty-first birthday; if a cashier gave me too much change, I pointed out the error and gave the extra back. I didn’t even drive over the speed limit. But it was my dad. He turned me to the dark side and now it’s impossible to give up. You don’t just stop blackmailing someone, especially when it’s all you know and you could never get another job that paid half so well with your skill set, and you’re newly married, with a baby on the way, and a wife who thinks you’ve got a nice, secure position in the family business.

But here’s what really keeps me up at night—not my own sinful path, but my sister’s straight and narrow one. Because Dad is getting older, and Jenny’s always been ambitious. Someday, she’ll get her wish. He’ll step down, or die, or she’ll find some other way to get rid of him and take his place. Jenny’s always been frugal, too. She’ll cut me off. And she’s sharp. She may well figure out why Dad was paying me off. And then I don’t know what.

So that’s why I can’t sleep at night, and why Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning, for me, promise about as much joy as a scheduled double root canal.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

1000 Paper Cranes

After the first dozen, her hands learned the way around the paper: mountain fold, valley fold, crease, pull, lift. Her fingers moved with the precision of a machine but the speed of a kid just learning to ride a bike. She refused to fall. The little pile of paper cranes grew like a stalagmite, one drop at a time.

She had no interest in origami, or China, no Asian influences in her life. She didn’t even believe in miracles. A miracle, however, was what she needed and, not knowing how to pray for one, she taught her hands the folding dance. Every folded crane, she would allow herself to believe, drew that miracle a little closer, even as the minute hand swept its way, again and again, around the face of the clock.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


He counted the money late at night, with the bed sheet tented over his head and a tiny flashlight to help him see the denominations on the bills. The pile was almost getting too big for the secret place in his dresser. Tonight, he counted three hundred eleven dollars, all of it stolen. Once, he’d had a reason for the thieving, something he had wanted to buy, but he couldn’t remember now what that thing had been, except that he didn’t want it anymore. He liked the part of taking the money best, and after that he liked the part of having the money. And the part of having a secret he liked too.

They had fired Rita for that first stack of twenties, so he guessed they would just fire the new maid if they ever noticed, but he was so much smarter than he’d been a year ago. Now he only stole dollars from his mom’s purse, or maybe sometimes a five from his dad’s wallet. He never took a ten or a twenty, except sometimes from his grandmother’s bag, because she always carried a lot, and never knew how much.

He liked the part where he was stealing, a funny Ferris wheel feel in his tummy and head, a scary and delicious upside-down feeling about being sneaky and smart. And he liked the counting part. That was a big feeling, like how it must be to be a grown-up and tell children things like whether or not they could have another Coke or stay up past bedtime to watch the end of the movie.

The bad part was after the counting, the part of not sleeping. He would cocoon himself up in the comforter, very cozy, starting with the delicious idea of the hidden pile of dollars, but something else would shove the nice feeling. There was a picture in his mind, which was the picture of his church, and the place out front where they had the Ten Commandments and it said VIII Thou Shalt Not Steal, and it was a very big picture that always had to crawl in and make him a little bit sick. It was like the game of not thinking about a pink elephant: the more you didn’t want to think about the picture the more the picture filled up the corners in your brain.

Sometimes he saw that picture in the daytime, too, but it didn’t have a sick feeling with it when he was doing the stealing, or if it did, that feeling was not as strong and proud as the amusement park part of taking the money. At night he would wonder if the bad feeling was worth the good one, and sometimes he could even go two whole weeks without stealing, but he never gave the money back and the bad part was always there, and he always got to wanting the first feeling again.

If he was going to feel bad about it anyway, he might as well do the interesting part first.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bears Think They Know Everything

Bears think they know everything, and this bear was a prime example, glowering down his muzzle like a disapproving spinster with a lorgnette at the end of her nose, an eight hundred pound spinster with matted brown fur and teeth the size of my fingers.

Usually, petitioners before the king in his ice palace stood with heads bowed, eyes averted, often wringing their caps in their hands, but bears have no conception of social niceties. “You must move your people,” the bear said, looking my father in the eye. “You might have three days, or only one.”

“The ice people appreciate the concern of the bear people and thank them for it. Inform your people that we will appease the volcano gods.” My father dismissed the bear with a wave. Beneath my flowered wreaths, I smiled.

The bear did not understand. It tossed its thick head. “We bears do not know your volcano god. We only know that the mountain will rain fire and poison. Your palace will melt. Your people will die in agony. We humbly ask you to avert this tragedy.”

The king had already turned away, but I was in a unique position to teach a higher understanding. “Friend bear,” I addressed it, “the ice people can read the signs as well as the bear people, but as a creature of the forest, you do not grasp our spiritual learning. Faith marks our path.”

“Princess, it’s true that we do not understand faith. We animals have only science to guide us.”

I could see the mud caked about his ankles, the parasites crawling over his fur. My father did not believe such creatures teachable, but a queen speaks to even the simplest subject with love and compassion, out of pity for its condition. “Then let me tell you of the gods. The lord of the volcano trembles from loneliness. At dusk, we are to be wed. He shall be lonely no more.”

The creature shuddered, perhaps awed by the power of our religion. “At dusk,” he growled, “you shall suffer burning death. Your skin shall blister from your bones as you asphyxiate on choking fumes and drown in liquid fire.”

I recoiled on my dais, upsetting some of the bridal wreaths, which my maids were fast to recover. Truly, the bear people were ungodly and simple. While its words shocked me, they enraged the king. My father signaled and six soldiers advanced, axes raised. Poor, dumb creature. I had provided an extraordinary opportunity. It chose its fate.

Raising itself up on two legs, it roared, sending a flurry of ice flakes down upon my shoulders like snow. It spun around, knocking the soldiers off their feet. And then it advanced, with speed unpredictable, and plucked me from my bridal bower. Flower petals billowed away as I was heaved, face-first and upside down, over its shoulder into the stinking, lousy fur. The bear’s bones jarred my body as it barreled through the line of soldiers, slid down the ice steps, and bolted through the ice garden. I heard the snapping sound of formations breaking under the bear’s careless paw.

“Stop, beast! You do not know what you do.” I yearned to sooth the volcano god, please my lord, and save the ice people, along with the foolish bear people and the other animals of the forest. I pleaded with it not to steal my future, my right as princess to become queen and wife to the god.

But the bear did not stop. It ran along, pursued, at first, by the clattering of horse hooves, and then ran farther, into the dark forest, leaving my father’s men behind. The stench of the animal invaded my nostrils, and its coarse fur rubbed my flesh. Perhaps I lost consciousness. When I woke, bears surrounded me, a mass of bears all moving together, like a dark storm cloud blown by a strong wind, like an angry, churning river.

“Would the ice people hear reason?” a bear asked.

“What do you think?” answered another.

“I saved one of them, at any rate. One less victim for their barbaric ritual.”

“Stupid animals!” I shouted, in a voice most unbecoming a princess. “You have doomed us all.”

The bears paid me no attention, only grumbled among themselves, and walked on.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Big Scary Man Syndrome

He was three hundred pounds if he was an ounce, and every inch of him radiated mean. I call it Big Scary Man Syndrome. You’ve met these guys: so afraid that people will reject them based on their looks that they take special pains to be preemptively jerky so they can reject you first.

I consider those guys a challenge.

But this guy was really pissing me off. I had assigned my twenty-five freshman composition students an in-class essay, and no sooner had they found their pens and settled down to write than this bullhorn parked his frame in front of my classroom door and began screaming into his cell phone.

“Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?”

Dirty looks had no effect. Some of the kids started laughing instead of writing. I stepped into the hall, all five feet and one hundred pounds of me.

“What did you say?” he screamed. “Now can you hear me?” He hadn’t moved an inch.

“Excuse me.” I favored him with the winning smile that had melted so many Big Scary Men before him. “You get better reception in the stairwell, or outside.”

“I get fine reception right here,” he shouted and turned away, still shouting. “Sorry, I can’t hear you.”

With two steps, I stood in front of him again. “It sounds like you’re not getting fine reception. And this is a classroom building. And you’re screaming in front of an open door.”

He pushed his chest into my face. “I’ll scream if I want to.”

“I’m asking you politely to take your call somewhere else. You’re disrupting my class.”

“I’m taking my call here.” He was breathing on top of my head now, his face red.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said, resisting the urge to raise my voice. “This is a classroom building, not a phone booth. Professors are trying to teach. Students are trying to learn. You are interfering with the education process. This is not an appropriate place for you to stand and scream.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he spat, the ironic emphasis he dropped into the word “ma’am” indicative of anything but respect. “I’m sorry my call is interfering with your learning process.” Then he reattached his mouth to the phone. “Listen, are you listening to me?” he screamed.

Now I had twenty-five pairs of eyes on me as every kid in the room watched to gauge the force of my authority, an authority this guy hadn’t bothered to evaluate. He thought he could dismiss me based on size, but being short has taught me assertiveness. Plus, it’s the rare three-hundred-pound male bully who actually takes his aggression out on a small woman in public.

“I’m asking you nicely to take your call elsewhere, because this space is for learning, and you do not have the right to interrupt my class. I can call campus security if you need help finding an appropriate location for this behavior.”

At last he looked me in the eyes, and while I remained five feet tall, clad in jeans and sandals, he gave a nervous shake of his head, finally realizing to whom he was mouthing off: a professor. “Oh, uh, yeah, sorry,” he said, and dashed away like a shamed puppy.

I turned back to the room, aware now of the rapid thunk of my heartbeat in my chest.

Some of my students had already gone back to their essays, but a few smiled and nodded approval, grateful that I could stand up to a bully, or take their education seriously, or provide a good show. I don’t know which. And, in the back row, my two biggest slackers, bad boys who wrote about smoking pot and missed class to go skateboarding or raving or whatever the heck it was that eighteen-year-old boys did, watched with wide-eyed amazement as I made my triumphant return after a confrontation from which they would have run. I had their attention for the rest of the semester.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Edge

The edge of the world appealed to me, because sometimes the tide washed up amazing artifacts, and because everyone else feared the edge, so I could be alone. My brother used to say that if that water even touched your shoe, your whole foot would wither and fall off, but the spray hit me full in the face a thousand times, and nothing ever happened. You taste salt, that’s all.

Nobody liked me going down there, but they pretended not to know, because almost always I could find something amazing, or useful, or, at the very least, metal, and bring it back to the safe zone. But scavenging was just an excuse. I went to the edge to sit on the twisted, charred remains of the old world, and to look out at the things left behind, tilted battered monoliths, frozen in their death march miles off the coast. The jutted from the water like broken blades of grass. Some people say that humans used to live in there.

Yesterday I found a broken plastic box, with wires and other old things jumbled up inside. It could be valuable. But the important part about yesterday happened after that, when Marina yelled at me from the last road.

“Hey, aren’t you scared of ghosts?”

Probably, it would have surprised me, since you get used to total solitude, but when you spend all your time at the end of the world, nothing can surprise you anymore.

“No, are you?” I turned back to the water, watched it dance around the shattered infrastructure. Every wave tore the crumbling remains down a little further. You’d think she would run away scared, but I heard her feet leaving the safety of the last road, crunching through the fragmented debris, and finally climbing up to sit beside me.

“They said I’d find you here.” But she didn’t chastise me, or warn me, or ask any stupid questions. She just said, “Thanks for saving my sister’s life.”

“I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. And I figured, if you found that thing down here, the edge of the world can’t be as bad as people say.”

Years ago, I had figured that out. “It’s spiritually bad; it’s not physically bad. Bad things happened here, but now nothing happens here, except for the ripples of that first bad thing.” The winds were strong and constant, but I could actually feel her body heat beside me, and in one second, I went from craving my solitude to requiring her company.

“You’re really brave,” she said. “They say the ocean ate the world here.”

I nodded. “Once. Not like it’s going to happen every day. It’s safer at the edge than the center, with bandits and mutants and fighting.”

“How do you find things?” she asked.

“Just look,” I said. “You just look.”

So she jumped down and looked and after a while she squealed, “Metal! I found metal.” The thing she found was so big we had to put my thing on top of it and carry it back to the center together. Before she went to tell her family what she had, she kind of bumped her elbow against mine, and it felt different from an accidental bump, like in a crowded market. It felt like a meaningful bump.

And today I’m sitting here on the same chunk of wreckage and looking out past the edge, but for once, I’m not thinking about the past. I’m thinking about the future. It’s different from being lonely with ghosts. Is there an opposite word, I wonder, a word for a thing that’s not dead and gone, but is still a kind of seed that hasn’t happened yet?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Artist's Statement

I made the mistake of telling Mr. Gibbons that I wished I could draw really well, so I could write a web comic. He said there were plenty of web comics that were nothing more than stick figures, and then he showed us one that was just dots. Talking dots. And then he made that our assignment for the next four weeks: to write a month's worth of our own comics.

I didn’t even know English teachers could do that.

So now I’m going crazy trying to find someone to do the homework for me. It’s got to be someone who’s good enough that it looks like I’m trying, but not so good that Mr. Gibbons actually gets excited about it or tries to put it in the school paper or something. And it’s really got to be someone who isn’t going to rat me out, because English is supposed to be my best subject.

I’d do it myself, really, I would. It’s not that I can’t draw stick figures, or even something better than that. It’s just that Mr. Gibbons is not an idiot, and if I do the assignment, there’s a better than even chance he’ll figure out who drew that caricature of him kissing the principal’s ass on the rear window of his car last year.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Spring of My Content

At seven forty-five, he called the room, just like he promised the night before, and at five after eight, he knocked at the door. I answered, wrapped in the stiff white hotel towel, still damp and slightly steaming from the shower.

“I’m not ready,” I apologized. “I tried.”

“That’s OK.” He rubbed my chin and bent over for a fast, open-mouthed kiss. “We’re important. They’ll wait.” He sat on the bed, not talking about the night before, because that was something we didn’t talk about. We would have to spend the entire day not talking about it. We had spent years not talking about it.

He watched the towel slip to the ground as I knelt to dig around in my bag. My naked body, softer and slacker than it had been all those years ago, still held his attention. “Oh!” I cursed, softly. “I was going to iron this blouse.”

And he leaned down, plucked the wrinkled fabric from my hand. Still kneeling on the ground, I watched him slide an ironing board from the closet, an iron from a clip set in the wall. He unfolded the ironing board, plugged in the iron, and watched me drying my legs as I watched him. By the time I’d extracted bra and panties and stockings from my bag, he was pressing my blouse, thick hands dwarfing the iron so you could almost imagine him smoothing the wrinkles with the strength of his fingers.

“Thanks,” I said. “If you couldn’t guess, I suck at ironing.” And he nodded his head, a silent acknowledgment that spoke of all the things we could not talk about.

There, I felt a heat that surpassed the greatest moments we had shared, dozens of nights in dozens of hotel rooms. Now, the pure and unadulterated care of his big hands, ironing my little blouse because he wanted me to look professional at his side, although I was anything but, overwhelmed any false detachment. Naked, I smiled, my eyes gulping up the scene as I struggled into the stockings.

If I could have held that moment, isolated it from all others and stretched it into infinity, I might have chosen to live there, in the small quiet gesture of his love.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Grow! Grow! Grow!

There is a kabalistic belief that beside the least blade of a grass, there floats a tiny angel, trumpeting the message, “Grow! Grow! Grow!” Some take this as an expression of the ubiquitous divine that compels all life, but others argue for a literal interpretation.

Lirzazel paused in the threshold, grasping the edges of dawn, and hovered with one foot in night and the other in day. Then he stepped through to sunlight and took up the trumpet. “Morning! Awaken! Live!” the trumpet said. The spirits of the night departed.

A single dewdrop clung to the green stalk. Would it run down to the ground and become one with the soil, or evaporate and become one with the air? Could that mere piece of grass incorporate its moisture through osmosis? Lirzazel blasted the trumpet again. “Drink! Live! Grow!” the trumpet said.

Through the rising sun, the trumpet sang a morning song, a photosynthesizing song, and a heliotropic song. The blade of grass perked up, stood straight, and struggled against gravity and entropy to continue the act of self-creation and reach for the light. The little angel sighed into the trumpet and the spirit-brass hummed back, “Grow! Grow! Grow!”

After noon, the angel wiped its metaphorical brow and watched the white light flood the field where it worked. The blade of grass groaned under the searing power, and the angel drew creative inspiration from the divine and played a drinking song, encouraging the grass to suck up moisture through its roots. The grass pulled at the soil and waved gratefully to Lirzazel. Lirzazel played a green song, ending with a chorus of, “Grow! Grow! Grow!”

Just before dusk, a rabbit nipped off the tip of the blade of grass. The creature hopped away, and the grass shuddered. “Heal!” Lirzazel’s horn sang. “Heal and grow! Grow and heal!” The grass bowed in gratitude.

Lirzazel could have played long into the darkness, but angels of the day did not do that. Just as another chorus of “Grow! Grow! Grow!” ended, a spirit of the night tapped Lirzazel’s metaphorical shoulder.

“Quittin’ time,” the night spirit said. “I’ll take it from here. See ya tomorrow.”

Lirzazel let the horn drop from the metaphorical mouth, nodded at the night spirit, and crossed over to the other world without lingering on the threshold of dusk. Home, the angel withdrew the equivalent of a beer from the ether and stretched out on a cloud, taking a deep, reflective sip. The angel couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bras Are Burning

I read an article denying that women’s rights activists ever burned their bras in the sixties. This upstart historian insisted that “bra burning” was simply a figure of speech, coined by a journalist after the fact, meant to mirror the symbolism of the young men who burned their draft cards to protest the Viet Nam war. He said it never happened, that women never burned their brassieres to protest the inequalities of gender in our society.

I tell you, that historian was dead wrong. I was there. In the sixties, we burned our bras all the time. Not in the first part of the decade; in the early sixties, all we ever burned was the steak, and that was our silent rebellion against the drudgery of men, housework, and stereotypes. But, by nineteen sixty-five, we had moved on to our Maidenforms.

When we exhausted the contents of our underwear drawers, we stormed Woolworth and absconded with any undergarments we could find there. Later, we took to hijacking delivery vans and burned bras by the carton, first in fifty-five gallon oil drums, and later, for greater efficiency, in our own furnaces. In the late sixties, it was not unusual for a crusader to heat her home entirely with purloined underwires. We were burning those contraptions in bulk.

Eventually, the practice diminished after a few entrepreneurs decided to cut out the middleman and set fire to the factories where our undergarments were produced. There was an arson trial, but the women were exonerated, arguing that bra burning was protected expression under the first amendment. At that point, though, the project had lost its shock value. Those few that remained trapped by the confines of rigid gender roles went back to burning steaks, although most of us continued to burn the Sears Roebuck catalog, just as a matter of habit. To this day, I will toss Victoria’s Secret advertising fliers directly into the fireplace. My granddaughter asked me why, and I shuddered to imagine a generation of girls growing up without understanding this pregnant moment in the history of women’s rights. I blame those misguided, misogynistic historians.

Nah, I’m kidding you, really. I’m only thirty-five; I didn’t even need a bra until nineteen eighty-seven, and, at thirty bucks a pop, I can’t afford to be setting those things ablaze. Anyway, my rack tips the scales at a thirty-six double D. There’s probably some kind of local ordinance prohibiting me from going out without support. I could cause a car accident.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Once an Artist

The stunning oil and acrylic landscape leered down at him from the studio wall: the last canvas. He had distributed the rest long ago, but he couldn’t let go of this one. The way the towering spires of Atlantis shimmered under the crashing waves of the Maine coast, their fantastic majesty almost hidden beneath the prosaic view from the window of his boyhood home, remained to taunt him in middle age.

Looking out this window, now, revealed a trio of languid contractors scraping on the new masonry wall. He wondered what it might feel like to work outside, then returned to his desk.

The email on his screen waited patiently. “We love the new design! But we’d like it a little smoother around the edges, with straighter lines. Can you tweak the colors, too? Something brighter, maybe, but not too bright. Also, let’s keep it abstract. The bump on the top left almost suggests a strawberry, and we don’t want that association.”

And he opened the client’s file, smoothed the edges, straightened the lines, tweaked the colors, and erased the bump that almost suggested a strawberry.

The next email explained that five thousand dollars had been deposited into his PayPal account, and that they appreciated his excellent work. He double checked. Yes, five thousand dollars had been deposited in his PayPal account. He could not recall his excellent work. The next email was another logo request.

Interruptions usually set his teeth to grinding, but he didn’t mind the doorbell’s two-toned chime just now. It took a few minutes to descend from the attic to the front door, where the contractor, cap in hand, asked him to come inspect his new wall, and then asked for four thousand dollars.

“Let me go get the checkbook.”

Then, nothing disturbed him, except for the fabled, half-seen impression of Atlantis peeking out from the big landscape on the wall. But he drew logos for a living. Expressive, eye-catching logos. Once you started, you couldn’t stop. You had to pay for equipment, upgrades to your home, things starving artists didn’t care about, like nice shoes and flattering haircuts. So he couldn’t be an artist anymore. He had to work.

When the sun set, he did not adjust the lights in the studio, but sat quietly in the dark, his eyes trying to pick out the secret elements of the landscape. Much later, he felt his way to the closet, and things crashed to the floor, bounced off his middle-age knees. With the gait of a somnambulist, he dragged things down the stairs, through the pain, and out the door.

Many hours later, the sun rose on the man who used to be an artist, paint-spattered and curled up in the dirt. The new masonry wall had disappeared. In its place stood a fresh, slightly-shiny representation of the heavens as seen by a medieval philosopher, depicting the planets in their vast spheres, the paths of fiery comets, and the careful hand of a divine creator hiding amongst the multitudes of numinous stars.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last, Best

After the accident, I drifted apart from Sean, which used to be a terrible thing to say about your twin brother, but we were all drifting then, the entire human race.

Anomie, the news anchors called it, back when there were still news anchors, and news for them to report, and people who cared to hear it. We couldn’t get anyone to take care of Sean, give him therapy, prescribe his meds, because every, almost everyone had just ceased caring. Mass suicides stopped being news. Cities burned, farms lay fallow, ships ran aground. It happened so fast, in just a few years, and I thought, well, maybe we’ve just run our course.

Crazy ideas had crept into my brother’s head through the cracks left there after the crash. Next door, a young mother left her baby to bake in the sun, while she jumped off the roof, and Sean hammered all night long, constructing a rainbow bridge from the shed to the garage, and I wandered off, because I didn’t feel, yet, like killing myself, and I wasn’t going to stay there and watch my brain damaged brother create more insanity.

The woods were all right, and the mountains, places where animals still ran and plants still grew, but whatever disease had infected us spread. Something ate away at the wilderness, sucked up the moisture, and receded, leaving yellow dust in its wake.

For years, I had felt content enough to eat berries and leaves, snare small animals and pretend not to witness the decline of human civilization, but one day the desert took over. Looking up, realizing nothing remained, I felt what the others had felt. Finish it, I thought. You’re just prolonging the inevitable. Your species is done for.

“Don’t do it,” a voice said, although no one had spoken to me in many months. He seemed almost to float over the sand, this tall, elfin interloper, pale of hair and skin, like a man cut from the same fabric as the desert. “We aren’t many left, but it’s not over. It isn’t.”

So I shrugged and followed, since nothing remained here.

“We need men like you,” he said as we walked. “Survivors. We’re rebuilding, regrouping. You’ll see.”

And he opened my eyes to the little signs my death-hungry mind had missed when I decided to end it: trees that still lived, grass pushing through rubble, small birds. And soon we came to some ruins, what had once been a city, and I saw women, the first women I had seen in so long I could not remember, sweeping away rocks and hanging out wet laundry, hammering posts and climbing poles.

“We had to go up, a little,” my rescuer said. “Elevate ourselves this time.”

Over our heads, a scaffolding trailed like a vine, wooden planks and walkways twenty feet above the ground. “Come on up,” a man, sunburned with a devil-may-care grin, called to me from the sky, and finally my heart woke, shook off the anomie, and longed to answer.

“Never mind him,” said my guide. “You need to meet the big man. The architect. The inspiration for everything.”

And we walked on, past more and more scaffolds, until we stopped, and there, dangling from a wooden ledge, hung my brother.


“I figured it all out,” he said, thumping his chest.

“You did this?”

“Someone had to. We needed a better way. Had to create something new. A fresh start for all of us. You’ll stick around this time, won’t you?”

My eyes swept over the funny playground rising up from the ruins of the past, and my brother’s eyes, sparkling with possibility. That small, devastating moment, the cracking of my brother’s head, had blossomed into our last, best hope.

“Where do I get a hammer?”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


The boys scooted their new racecars over the stone pavilion, and, on the far side of the pavilion, two little girls watched with round, solemn eyes. “Let’s go,” the girls’ mom said, over and over, but they kept their attention glued to the boys, their fast little toys, the smooth movement of the wheels.

The boys’ father noticed, smiled, remembered. The girls’ mother tapped her foot, repeated herself, and shrugged. The man tried to meet her eye, but she just dug through her purse. He shrugged himself. She was young, pretty, and probably married. He was a middle-aged widower, with raw, limp limbs and a belly that would have been attractive on top of a muffin, but did not have the same effect beneath his paint-spattered T-shirt.

Again, the woman urged the little girls, but their eyes only pointed to the smooth rolling cars. True north, the man though. He didn’t understand these performance moms, always in a hurry to load the kids into the minivan and haul them to the next activity. His boys could scoot their racecars around here all day if they wanted.

In her lifetime, he had laughed at his wife’s minivan, but after her death, he had sold his own sporty two-door Mitsubishi and held on to the Grand Caravan. And before that—long before that—he had first caught her eye leaning against his old Camaro. Girls liked that car. They couldn’t help but look at a man in such a smooth ride.

It dawned on him that boys liked cool cars, and girls liked boys with cool cars. And women would look at him again if he drove something a little more adventurous. A motorcycle, for instance. The helmet would cover his hairline, and the leather jacket would camouflage his gut. His boys made motor noises with their mouths and laughed as they crashed into each other, not noticing the girls being dragged off by the young mother.

They wouldn’t nap anymore, his boys. Their mother would have known how to lull them to sleep, but the secret eluded him. When they got cranky, he loaded them into the minivan, drove them across town, and bought them both two-wheelers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Disney Police

The Disney Police

If the Waldorf people hadn’t gotten to us first, we’d never have figured it out, but Caytlynn started preschool in an atmosphere devoid of those influences. You know—influences that have kids clamoring for a T-shirt, or cereal box, or cheap plastic toy because some corporate entity spent millions ensuring that your child recognizes, adores, and identifies with their licensed character.

Caytlynn didn’t know anyone with a TV, couldn’t name the popular branded figures, and never begged for colorful garbage. At six, she was into insects, and asked for magnifying glasses, butterfly nets, and bug books. We were the family with the home haircuts, dressed in natural fibers, picnicking in the park while our child observed ants.

Judy, the widow next door, wore polyester pantsuits and reading glasses on a beaded chain. She offered unsolicited advice regarding ladylike behavior along with small presents—Spongebob taffies and Barbie flip-flops.

“Aren’t you a little angel?” Judy asked.

Caytlynn puffed out her chest. “I’m an entomologist.”

In a pinch, we left Caytlynn in Judy’s care for fifteen minutes here, an hour there. “What did you do?” we’d ask later.

“Watch TV.” Caytlynn would shrug and go back to her mealworms and beetles. “Can you cut an apple, Dad? They’re hungry.” Later, she added, “I think she’s lonely.”

“The mealworm?”

“Judy. Maybe I should go there. I mean, not just when you can’t find a babysitter.”

Jennie smiled, pleased to have raised such a compassionate child, and arranged for her to visit on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Caytlynn watched TV to be polite and thanked Judy for increasingly elaborate presents: Mickey Mouse ears, Hannah Montana CDs, princess costumes. Then she came home, asked Jennie to give the silly things to Goodwill, and informed her that we must plant milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

The only weird thing about Judy was the night Jennie reminded me, at one a.m., to take the trash out, and I clearly heard a man’s voice, stern and low, from Judy’s kitchen. “If you can’t seal the deal, we’ll send someone who can.”

“They’re tough,” Judy said, her voice strained. “Intellectual.”

“Take this,” the man said, and handed her a wrapped package. Rectangular. About the size of two DVD boxes. “And finish it, or you’re through.”

That Wednesday, Caytlynn came home from Judy’s with two DVDs: A Bug’s Life and Antz.

On Sunday, Judy accosted me over the forsythia hedge. “I’m worried about your daughter's imagination.”

“Because she thought Antz was unrealistic?”

Judy shook her head and toddled up her driveway.

Two weeks later, a moving van pulled up to the house. “Moving in with my daughter,” she said.

“She never said she had a daughter,” Caytlynn observed. “I hope the new people have kids. Or a spitting cockroach.”

But the middle-aged woman in the polyester pants suit who waved over the forsythia hedge a few weeks later brought neither children nor Blattaria, only an open invitation to sample her gluten-free, vegan macaroons. Mary’s association with Caytlynn seemed natural, for she was unafraid to help our daughter collect cicada carapaces and arrange them according to size. Now and again she presented Caytlynn with a realistic plastic toy insect.

“The tops are all right,” Caytlynn said, “but the bottoms are wrong.” Still, she lined them up on the windowsill, cautioning visitors not to examine the anatomically incorrect undersides.

Still, we wouldn’t have caught on, until the day Caytlynn called out to me from Mary’s bedroom window, “Dad! Dad! Mary fell down! And she’s talking funny! I called 911.”

“She’s burning up,” I said when I got over there, so I opened her hall closet, looking for a washcloth to cool her fevered brow, but found no linen.

Her closet contained row upon row of plastic toys. One shelf held dozens of the semi-accurate insects, along with the characters from A Bug’s Life, but there were lines of Tinkerbells, scores of princesses, stacks of plush cartoons characters.

On the bottom shelf, my daughter’s name jumped out from a green file folder. My heart stopped.

The file contained pictures of my daughter running through meadows with butterfly nets, squinting through her microscope, climbing trees; charts of her likes and dislikes; her schedule, my schedule, and Jennie’s schedule; what we ate for dinner, movies we’d attended, our browser history, and on and on. Records going back years, from Caytlynn’s first day at Waldorf.

Beneath that, a dog-eared handbook—Creating Collectors: Enforcing Commercialization. It began, “Enforced commercialization builds a sturdy economy through strong habits of consumerism fostered prior to the age of 8. The Corporation’s efforts toward conspicuous consumption encourage the consumer to create interest channels based on collectability.”

And bookmarked and underlined, page 144: “In cases where the subject’s parents have successfully resisted commercialism (c.f. “intellectuals”) operatives may befriend subjects via academic interests to establish trust before embarking on standard enforcement techniques. See appendix of educational toys.

In the madness that ensued with the arrival of paramedics, those incriminating publications disappeared. Mary disappeared, too, once the ambulance doors closed. A month later, a kindly, middle-aged woman in a polyester pants suit moved next door, but Caytlynn was forbidden to talk to her.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Postmodern Prometheus

For all that six long years had unfurled since the passing of my darling Evangeline, the ocean’s damp seemed to cling to her porcelain skin and dark, curling tresses. I dismissed the illusion as a trick of the cryogenic chamber’s glass cover and glanced at the radar animation on the computer monitor. Outside the lab, the sky squeezed out a thin crackle of lightning.

For six long years, I had perfected my method, on frogs and rats, cats and dogs, chimpanzees, and finally, an executed convict. His remains, having outlived their usefulness after nine successful attempts, chilled in the chamber beside Evangeline’s. His temperature reading held at five degrees below zero. The display on my beloved’s clicked up from eight to nine.

The storm drew closer. There were injections to be given, electrodes to attach, connections to be adjusted, all with the greatest of care.

An hour later, the process well underway, the pounding on the lab door began. “Vick, please open this door.” After so many years of being ignored by my supervisor, I had no trouble ignoring him at the moment of my greatest triumph. “Tell me you’re not doing what your FaceBook page says you’re doing.”

Electricity flowed through the conduits. My eyes remained glued to the stark, smooth flesh of Evangeline’s face, marred only by the oxygen tubes snaking from her perfect mouth and nose.

“It’s not science,” the voice beyond the lab door hollered. “It’s an affront to science. You’ve got to let this go, Vick. It’s disgusting.”

But love would not be swayed, and love was undying. Thunder argued overhead, and the mechanical bellows massaged her adorable heart beneath her perfect breast. A final stab of lightning lit the windows and it was done.

The veins pumping beneath the white cheek filled it with a pretty blush, her eyelids twitched, and her hands, with frantic convulsion, ripped the oxygen tubes from her face, ripped the mechanical bellows from its mount. My Evangeline lived.

Her wide eyes gaped behind the glass panel. Anticipating the shock and fearing her fear, I ripped the cover open.

A low, gagging noise emanated from her throat. She half sat up, then scuttled back. “Oh, god,” she moaned, her voice faint and hissing. “Oh, god. I’m in hell.”

“No! Evangeline! You live! I have stolen you back from the arms of death. For you, I have conquered mortality. We shall never be parted again.

The pounding on the lab door increased in volume. Many men and women demanded entry, like the proverbial angry mob bearing pitchforks. They called themselves scientists, but, no better than ignorant peasants, they would not understand.

Unsteady, like a child, she clambered from the chamber, fell, and glared up at me from all fours on the lab floor, hissing, “Pervert! Can’t you take a hint? I committed suicide to get away from you! What do I have to do? Immolate myself?”

“We were meant to be together.”

She tried to dash for the lab door, which shook with the rage of the crowd outside, but she could not control her newborn muscles and collapsed like an invertebrate. She must rest, convalesce on beef tea and my undying love. In her weakened condition, she needed me more than ever. “Help!” she screamed and crawled past me, this time catching her hand on the locked door and turning the deadbolt. It swung open and she fell into the arms of another.

She disappeared from view as the fools descended upon my equipment.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Weight

165 lbs.: Daniel can’t stop watching Connie’s ass, like two helium balloons stuffed into her size 16 Levi’s, as they march down the football field during band practice. He clenches his drumsticks so he will not squeeze her instead. On the way off the field, some jerk in the bleachers spits on her.

180 lbs.: It’s OK to talk to Connie in chess club, because only geeks go to chess club. It’s OK to invite Connie to his place, because nobody can see them eating together, since his kitchen’s in the back of his house.

195 lbs.: Daniel almost wrecks his dad’s car while fantasizing about prom. In his imagination, Connie wears a backless gown, revealing ample ass cleavage. He screws her in the limo once on the way to the dance, and once on the way back. In reality, he takes Tina Gillespie, who weighs exactly half as much as Connie. Connie stays home.

225 lbs.: The summer after his sophomore year of college, Daniel spots an inviting arch of flesh at the grocery store. He stays cool, jokes, bumps his hip into hers, and takes her to his parents’ house for dinner. When his parents go to bed, he seduces Connie in the basement. The second time they have sex, he begs her to get on top. “Won’t I hurt you?” she asks. He laughs.

250 lbs.: “What are we doing here?” she asks him. “Are we together or not?” All he can do is kiss her, mount her again, feeling like a mountain climber achieving the summit.

260 lbs.: “Why don’t you tell your parents we’re together, at least?” she asks him. He shakes his head. Two weeks later, she moves to California. He dreams of mountains for weeks.

310 lbs.: He ends up in San Francisco five times in the next two years, and she stays in his hotel room each time. She takes up most of the bed, and he fits himself around her curves as they sleep. Then he gets promoted and stops traveling on business.

270 lbs.: After a year with no contact, he surprises her. “You lost weight,” he says, unable to hide his disappointment. She kisses him in his rental car, and he relishes the crushing sensation. “Didn’t I tell you I’m married now?” she says. She comes back to the hotel anyway, but he can’t get his fill in a just couple hours.

300 lbs.: He hates the affair, but he can’t stop. She fills his imagination the way she filled the passenger seat of the rental car. He dreams about her, writes her steamy emails, which she deletes after reading, and waits.

325 lbs.: He begs her to leave her husband. She refuses.

335 lbs.: He begs her to leave her husband. She refuses.

345 lbs.: He begs her to leave her husband. She refuses.

350 lbs.: “We need to dial this down,” she tells him. “I love my husband. Sneaking around makes me sick.” He tells her how much he’s always adored her, how much he wants her at his side, always. “You had your chance,” she says. The earth moves as he watches her ass walk away.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lady Long Legs

Saturdays were made for sitting on the front porch with your cousin, Maria thought, braiding each other’s hair, comparing nicks on each other’s legs, giggling over the boys who wouldn’t look at them now, because they were only eleven, but who would fall over themselves in a few years, when they were princesses at their double quinceanera.

“And then our double wedding,” said Stephany, “when we’re seventeen. Or sixteen, like abuela. And then have our babies when we’re seventeen. And they can be cousins together, like us, and ride bikes to Eegee’s, and sleep over.”

Maria rubbed at the red place, where she had dragged Stephany’s sister’s old Daisy razor over her legs, and smiled with satisfaction at the thin dotted line of blood that appeared there. “Mrs. Linsey won’t like that.”

Stephany evaluated the school counselor’s opinion of high school drop outs by spitting almost all the way across the yard. “Papi says it’s dumb to waste my time in school.”

Following the arc of saliva, Maria leaned forward. “Oh, look,” she said, “It’s Lady Long Legs.”

The cousins straightened their spines without thinking, then slouched into the porch rails, pretending to look anywhere but across the street, where the stately African woman walked with her head held high. She wore a blue print wrap skirt, a green print wrap shawl, and a red print head wrap covering every strand of hair. Her skin was just as black as coffee, and flawless, like a statue of the Virgin. Behind her walked four boys and one girl in descending sizes, but they dressed regular, with Spongebob and Batman T-shirts, and they didn’t have that beautiful walk, the proud long-leg strut that set Lady Long Legs apart from other women.

“You girls staring at that Sudan lady again?” Stephany’s mami was the very opposite of Lady Long Legs, short and rotund, with her straight black braid hanging all the way down her back. You couldn’t see her on the other side of the security door, but she could see out just fine. “Don’t you think she’s got enough problems?”

Maria stroked the air with one figure, tracing the noble gait as the woman passed. “What problems?” she asked.

“Refugee problems. Losing her home problems. Crazy people cutting each other up with machetes in her country problems.”

Stephany rolled her eyes. “How do you know Lady Long Legs’ problems?”

“’Cause I hear the news, mija. On TV.”

Sighing, Stephany whispered into Maria’s ear. “She’s got no problems, Lady Long Legs.”

“She’s too pretty,” Maria agreed. “And she has five kids.”

“You girls think you know everything. You got it all figured out. You come on in and figure out wrapping tamales, how about?”

Mami, we’re busy.”

Stephany’s mami banged the metal security door, so that it rang like a bell, and the girls jumped, giggled. By the time they regained their composure, Lady Long Legs had turned the corner, out of sight. Maria looked to her cousin, waited for Stephany to stand up. They both rose with queenly grace, making their spines straight, their legs long. The security door swung open, and they entered the house like royalty.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


They were, collectively, four of the smartest guys you could expect to meet in any undergraduate program anywhere: Ed, the stereotypically nerdy white guy, studying physics; Lee, the stereotypically nerdy Chinese guy, studying political science; Ricky, the flamboyantly gay Mexican guy, studying performance art; and my little brother, Sol, the stereotypically nerdy Jewish guy, studying math. All seniors at a prestigious state university, all living in the same bachelor pad rental house off campus.

They supported each other like brothers, and were fairly outgoing and extroverted for a bunch of geeks. I visited whenever I could, and we would drink beer, push back the furniture, and dance in the living room, or eat foreign food and attend concerts, or sit around getting high and discussing the nature of the universe. Nice, gentle guys. Non-confrontational.

Lee wasn’t Lee’s real name, but most Americans couldn’t pronounce his given name. Still, he wouldn’t be Americanized, if he could help it, and spoke of his Chinese girlfriend back home. He couldn’t get back to her just yet, though. He needed his Master’s degree. He was the last of the group to hear back from his first-choice school, and announced their decision with a wide sweep of his arms when he saw me.

“So, where are you going?” I asked him.

“Wonderbuild.” He smiled.

“Wonderbuild?” I wondered. With his intellect, you’d think he’d be headed for a school I had heard of. Still, I liked the image it conjured in my mind. Wonder build. To build with wonder.

“Wonderbuild,” he confirmed.

“Where’s that?”

“Tennessee. You know this school?”


“It is a famous school. Wonderbuild.”

I glanced back at my brother, and saw him squinting sidelong at the other roommates. They shook their heads, shuffled their feet, looked out the window. “He means Vanderbilt,” my brother said, his voice quiet and embarrassed. The others hung their heads, avoided Lee’s wide eyes. He had been saying it for weeks. They hadn’t corrected him.

“I cannot say that letter,” Lee confessed. His jaw quivered.

“Vanderbilt. Wonderbuild. Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt,” I said to myself. “Here, put your teeth down on your bottom lip when you say it. Vvvanderbilt.”

“Vvvanderbilt,” he repeated. “Vanderbilt.” He nodded.

The other boys looked up at me, faces shining with approval.

“There,” I said. “Now you can go to Vanderbilt.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Confessions of a Stock Footage Queen

Conventional prettiness meant a symmetry of features, I learned in high school. I read it in my psychology text. The more average the dimensions of ones face, the more attractive. And my face was conventional indeed. They called me pretty, very pretty.

And being pretty, and slender, and on the tall side, I found modeling work. It paid for my amusements in college: beer, road trips, cashmere sweaters. Even when I graduated, I never had a career. Just jobs that paid the rent—I was professionally pretty as a receptionist, a pharmaceutical rep, a restaurant hostess—with modeling to cover the extras. I never had a magazine cover. I scarcely had a magazine layout. I wasn’t quite tall enough, or striking enough, for high fashion. They didn’t offer me runway work.

But they liked my normal, average, pretty face, and they called me. Photographers dressed me up in goggles and a white coat and shot me marveling over Erlenmeyer flasks full of green food coloring or dry ice. They put me in pencil skirts and shot me smiling in front of chalkboards, surrounded by children. They wrapped me in military fatigues and shot me stalking through the forest, carrying guns.

Soon enough, my image came back to me: on the Internet, in advertising circulars, wherever fine clip art was required. My face went everywhere, places I would never go, showing me doing things I’d never really done.

When I moved through the world, I didn’t have the same versatility as my photograph. People looked and saw a conventionally pretty girl and wondered, “Have I seen her before?” and forgot all about me when I passed, because I was unremarkable in my prettiness, just another pretty girl. Merely pretty and no more. No one ever noticed me.

Sometimes I see girls with horrific scars, burns, or birthmarks, girls with unbelievable acne or giant, crooked noses. Sometimes I hear men mocking them when they pass, or children expressing astonishment. Sometimes I envy them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

That Old Terrorist Vibe

The room is crowded, with more guys than girls, which is surprising until you consider that these guys are probably trying to hook up. They’re wearing clean T-shirts, new high tops, and lopsided grins. They’re scoping out the opposite sex. They’re going to learn the Lindy Hop if it kills them.

I’m probably not going to learn the Lindy Hop, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

“Everyone is going to dance with everyone,” the instructor announces. “Don’t worry if you don’t have a partner. We’ll keep switching.”

Although we hardly talk, you can feel the guys’ personalities: the guy who holds his limbs loosely, the guy who already knows how to lead, the guy who’s afraid to step on your feet, the guy who tells you you’re doing it wrong before you even start. How strange to touch so many strangers so intimately.

And then there’s the guy who really, really doesn’t belong. He’s dressed too formally, stands too stiffly. I caught him pacing around outside before the class started, not making eye contact. And when the instructor tells us to change partners, he doesn’t hold his arms out to me as the others do. I have to jam myself into position like a crow bar prying a broken lock. His body shrinks away from mine, and while I’m older than most of this crowd, I’m not that bad. No one else had a problem holding my hand.

When the music starts, he seems confused. Although we’ve been practicing footwork for half an hour, he makes no effort to move to the beat, to take firm and definitive strides, to execute the triple step. He kind of shuffles his feet as if he’s walking in the dark and doesn’t know where the stairs are. He won’t make eye contact. He’s not even trying. It pisses me off. I’m not a great dancer, but I want to make an effort. I want to Lindy Hop. And you can’t do that with a brick. Girls are supposed to follow.

A little later, I compare with my friend. “Did you dance with that old guy? He can really lead,” and she agrees. “What about that one creepy weird guy who wasn’t even trying?” I ask.

“Which one? Where?”

But he’s already gone. He must have left right after he danced with me. “Serious terrorist vibes. Like they told him to try to fit in but he still couldn’t bring himself to touch a heathen woman.” Maybe I’m judging him on his full beard in a room full of clean-shaven guys, or his medium-dark skin, or the pained look in his eyes, like he’s watching some kind of a blasphemous orgy rather than a Tuesday night swing class at the university. Anyway, he scared me. What was he doing there? What was his motive?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kitty Therapy

You created the confluence yourself, without intention: one new house, two new clients. The house was a fix-er-up. The clients, one might assert, were, too. “I’m a copywriter,” you want to yell. “You don’t hire a copywriter before you have a site design! A spreadsheet of keywords and URLs does not a homepage make.”

But you don’t say that sort of thing when you’re a freelancer, and just starting out, and amazed at your good fortune in signing clients who will pay you what you think you’re worth, enough money that you’re not even worried about paying for the house.

But you do scream it at your monitor, and your husband, and the mountainous stack of unopened boxes dominating your office, which will never, never get unpacked or organized, because you have tripled your business workload without cutting your ten weekly volunteer hours, and you don’t have time to make a home for yourself.

And your husband, who, to be completely honest, will be doing the bulk of the home remodeling, will understand, and draw you close to him, even though he’s in the middle of configuring your Internet phone, updating his desktop computer, and changing all the light bulbs to compact CFLs. He will take you into the kids’ room, the one space in the whole house that actually looks like a room instead of a shipping warehouse, and cuddle you up on the futon, and listen to you cry.

“I don’t know what this client wants and I really, really need to nail this account so Sarah and I can incorporate this year and all my instant messages come out sounding wrong and I think people are mad at me because you can’t hear frustration or jokes in text.”

No, he soothes you, you’re a great writer. You’re doing fine. They’re gonna love it.

“And this house is crazy and I can hardly work in that office because if I turn my head all I can see are a million unpacked boxes and I’m never going to get the kitchen in order and there’s so much work to do!”

No, he says, rubbing your head. I’m going to get it all taken care of. I’m going to build shelves and fix the kitchen. We’ll take it as it comes and get the whole house taken care of.

“And my kitty probably hates it here. He went out through the pet door and he probably went right over the wall and decided to go back to the old place and there’s four busy streets to cross and he’s going to get hit by a car and I’ll never see him again.”

Hello, kitty, he says, rubbing his finger together, and you look, and there’s your kitty, looking up at you, maybe just a little dirty from outside, and he hops on the futon and presses his head into your palm, purring, and you sigh.

“Oh,” you sniff. “I guess it will be all right, then.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Art Imitates

“Listen,” he said, and I listened.

What we heard was the couple in the next apartment, their voices pressing through the walls with the urgency of conflict. A domestic situation, as they say.

“Should we be listening?” I asked.

“They know the walls are thin.”

And the argument escalated, words indiscernible, emotions projecting, louder and louder, the sounds of impending violence. Vitriol seeped through the drywall. Hatred penetrated the air ducts. Rage shook the air. The couple in the next apartment would not, it seemed, be a couple much longer.

“Should we call the police?” I wondered. If we called now, they might arrive before the unseen neighbors began heaving the cast iron at each other’s heads.

“Just wait.” He grinned, winked.

My stomach turned. Next door, she shrieked. He thundered. I shook, afraid for both of them, afraid for a world that allowed for such aggression between lovers.

“I’m scared,” I said.

“Hold on,” he said.

As the voices reached their fiercest pitch, I slumped in my seat, resigned. And the male voice, booming through the vents shifted tone, moved toward melody, and then exploded into song. The female voice joined in, lilting above it. They harmonized, sang a passionate duet, and then fell into silence. The walls hum with quiet resolution.

“Theater majors,” he explained. “They’re always doing musicals.” He sighed. “I love this apartment.”

I pushed back from the table and walked toward the door.