Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Stunting of the Heart: An Agony in Three Fits

Fit the First: Colossal Cave

Right foot wedged against vertical rock, left foot on ground as solid as rock can be beneath silk coverlet of cave dust, gaping chasm ahead. Left foot takes leap of faith, falls into space, lands in crevice. Straddling space. Hands find stone. There is advice offered, light from headlamps, quickened pulse a tom-tom counting fractions of a second, but nothing, really, but the next crevice, and the next. The cave shrinks in comparison to this single crack.

The open yaw below churns up the retardant of fear, stirs the breath loud and fast. Lean to the left and push away. Trust in the cave to catch the right foot as it skitters ahead. Looking into the abyss is a mistake, hungry darkness where ground is expected. Floating above takes all the taut, tensile strength of every muscle. Flying is hard work.

Two steps taken, an eternity remain. An impossible journey

Returning to the starting point, floating backward into the dark, a more impossible journey.

Breath. Trust. Step. Fall into the reality of wall, again and again. Make impossible reaches with the legs, noting nothing but the next step and the next and the next.

The terror hovers at chin level, not high enough to drown. The knowledge pushes forward, the knowledge that fear will only dissipate when the gap is conquered. Never start, fear remains. Turn back, fear remains. Reach the end, terror will drain away.

And then, the points become apparent. The advice is unnecessary. Fear is gone and the path is clear. There, and there, and there. Just bounce over the endless gap, and there is ground again. Throw one leg over. The hip pops. Pain with an internal vertigo. Here is where control is lost and the body falls backward into endless space.

But, no. Here is where the brain overrides the body, forces it forward again. Two feet on solid ground, the cave completed. Elation.

Fit the Second: The Key to Your Dreams

I’m going to try on wedding gowns with Lisa and Heather and Jack, because I am getting married in the spring. Between the back gate and the car, something the color of a quarter glitters in the dirt, and I bend over to pluck it up between my fingers. It is a key. Or rather, it is part of a key, the less useful part. The toothy business end has snapped off. This is just the bit with the hole, the part you grasp to turn or thread into a ring to attach to a fob.

There is a word molded into the metal. “Dreams,” the key taunts. It is the key to your dreams. And it is broken.

How? Why? This is my backyard. Who dropped this thing here, this broken dream half hidden in caliche? It haunts me all day as I slip in and out of my clothes, in and out of confections of lace and satin, things I never dreamed of, but need, now, in some way that never haunted my dreams. It was in my pocket, the broken key of dreams, but by the end of the day, it’s gone. While I was trying on fifty dresses in four boutiques, it must have slipped out.

Fit the Third: The Ghost of Relationships Past

They dated in college, and it ended badly, and you wouldn’t believe half the truth if you heard it, but people grow up, keep in touch sporadically. Ten years later she stood up on the bride’s side at his wedding, thinking about how she had really dodged a bullet. You wouldn’t believe any of it, the things he did, the things he said. He called her three years after that, manic, to tell her that he’d only just realized, years later, that she had loved him.

He wasn’t stable.

Something was wrong. You could tell, because his wife was vaguebooking, and there was something about a hospital, and something about needing prayers, and a few weeks later he started texting her, over and over, “Call me, please call me,” even though they hadn’t spoken in five years, since he realized she had loved him once. She gave in. “What’s wrong?” she asked, before small talk could smooth over the reentry.

He had tried to kill himself. Again. He had opened himself. He had always cut, long before anyone had even heard of cutting, he had cut. This time, he had cut deep and gotten lucky and he was not dead.

But he was dead, he said. He had died that night, he told her, his voice flat as a Kansas prairie and far off as the horizon. She asked questions she knew the answers to. He was home again, but it would be a long walk back into the light. He was reaching, searching. He had a wife, a child. The part of him that had lived remembered reasons for living, but he was dead. He had died. He needed others to pull him up from the well.

“Listen,” she said. “I want to tell you a story. Two stories. I went spelunking.”

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dragon on Noise Phactory

No new short-shorts, I'm sorry to say (the novel I'm working on has metastasized, while job, house, and family situations have all come to a rolling boil) but here's a little side project: a collaboration with a sound technician. We've recorded a half-dozen microfictions (OK, one of them is microfact) and he's in the process of adding sound effects.

There are 4 pieces up so far: "Chihuahua Racing," "Bears Think They Know Everything," "Love Potion," and "The Pain of Withdrawal." In the near future, look for "Postmodern Prometheus" and "Grow! Grow! Grow!"

Check out Noise Phactory for some aural pleasure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Just passing this along: received an email asking me to publicize these two writing contests. I know nothing about them, so you'll have to click the links to learn more:

I may toss a few morsels into the maw of the monster myself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


He bragged so frequently about smuggling a lump of hash into the country by tucking it behind his balls that at last I was forced to assume that he wanted me to smoke it for him. Presumably, the hash had been wrapped before it came in contact with his scrotum. In any event, sack hash was better than no hash.

The weed in Israel was uniformly depressing, sold by seedy British guys in back alleys of Eilat, thirty shekels a matchbox. Weed came in matchboxes—about the equivalent of a nickel bag—gritty, dusty, low-quality. We’d separate it on plastic plates: a pile of ganj, a pile of sticks, a pile of seeds, and a pile of sand. Every matchbox contained a nice helping of sand.

Nut-hash didn’t belong.

We were, for the most part, in our late teens and early twenties, hiding from the people we were in our home countries, volunteering on the kibbutz for room and board and a pittance that earned us enough to purchase a candy bar or a stick of real butter in the kibbutz store.

Nut-hash was forty-two, a professional chef who “followed the season,” three months in a hotel kitchen in Hawaii, four weeks at a resort in Thailand. Whatever, wherever. He came to Israel because the foreign girls were easy. The British, I noticed, threw off their inhibitions along with their clothing as soon as the sun hit their skin.

But he seemed stuck on me, and never lost an opportunity to brag: underwear models he’d had, exotic ports he’d explored, the beauty of his ex-wife, who he’d left because, “Can you imagine sleeping with the same person for ten years?” And, of course, the lump of Dutch hash he’d taped between his penis and his testicles.

His chunky but good-hearted redhead roommate had a crush on my well-endowed raven-haired roommate. She and I would stay up late at night, laughing about how they’d never have their way with us. I was in fact sleeping with a Russian body builder who had his own house on the other side of the kibbutz, far from the horrifying volunteer quarters, and also with a soulful Moroccan engineering student, who was running away from his Borderline fiancĂ©e. They knew about each other and were good friends, often boring me with long-winded conversations about math.

The Moroccan revealed to me the redhead’s real reason for being in Israel: he was wanted on a drug charge in New York. His mother had made him come. My roommate was running from her dangerous obsession with Mexican-American gangsters. I was running from adulthood.

Technically, that’s what nut-hash was running from too, but I was twenty-one at the time, and he was twice my age.

The Russian body builder was not running. He had citizenship and lived on the kibbutz because the IDF had deemed him too crazy for the mandatory military service required of every other Israeli.

I didn’t like to smoke pot with my lovers; they were both lightweights. The Russian would take a few hits, cough madly, and then spend an hour debating with himself about whether or not drugs made him crazier. The Moroccan would take a few hits and fall asleep.

Mostly, I smoked with the redhead, because he was a real drug dealer and didn’t mind dealing with seedy British guys in Eilat alleys, whereas I found it distasteful and nerve-wracking. On Rosh Hashana, we took an apple from the dining hall and carved it into a pipe, lighting the weed with a lighter my roommate had brought from her local Hillel.

We didn’t hatch a plan to get at the scrotum-hash, but after the fiftieth time he bragged about his act of daring, my roommate and I double-teamed him. We had shared our sandy weed with him. Didn’t he like us? Didn’t he want to come over to our room and share his stash with us? The redhead got in on it, too. Nut-hash either needed to pony up the hash or stop talking about it.

“Come after dinner,” we advised them.

It wasn’t a terribly impressive lump: a fraction of a gram. Perhaps he had already smoked some portion of it. The guys were overly solicitous, lighting the pipe, complementing the way we’d decorated our room: a combination of our own artwork and images torn from magazines.

When the hash was gone, we stretched our arms in mock exhaustion. “Well, goodnight, then,” we said, shoving them out door. Afterwards, we laughed. It didn’t occur to us that we might be cruel. They had wanted to take advantage of us.

Late at night, the Moroccan and I took a walk out in the desert, where I almost fell into a wadi. Although slender and without strength, he caught me, twisting his own ankle in the process. We laughed together, and I supported him with my shoulder all the way back to the kibbutz, where we had a little sex, but only a very little, because the workday started early.

Nut-hash got some sandy weed from the redhead and invited me to smoke down in the desert, and I went, for the drugs.

I fell into another wadi, but this time there was no one there to catch me. Nut-hash stood up on the ridge watching dumbly as I tumbled into the sand and climbed out again. He didn’t offer to help as I limped back to the kibbutz.

We sat behind the dining hall while he bragged about the places he’d been and girls he’d laid, and the Russian wandered out into the pavilion, but he couldn’t see us in the shadows.

“What’s he doing?” Nut-hash interrupted his narrative to wonder.

“Looking for me,” I said. “He’s my lover.”

“Oh.” He sounded hopeful. “Do you have a lot of lovers?”

I smiled in the darkness. “As many as I need.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Healing Itch

It’s a mad balance between the quicksilver desire of immediacy and the black tar sand that ought to be left alone. It’s a visual comma separating an error on one side and its remedy on the other. It is a thick scab, red-black and strung out like a comet’s tail. There was a mistake in the sixty-third repetition out of sixty-four attempts to jump twenty inches. Fatigue set in, and the sixty-third attempt only reached a height of fourteen inches, with bloody results. To my credit, I finished the workout, achieving the summit for the final two jumps, despite no longer being able to see the target through the veil of tears in my eyes. And here, a week later, the scab down the middle of the shin, six inches long, curving out at the top and in at the bottom, like the f hole of a violin, resonating with the healing itch.

The fingers wish to worry the edges as they peal away, to pry up the alien armor and bring the pink newness to air. There is pain in the act and the result. This, you must know, is a mistake. Do not pick at it, the world warns. But there is the sick tingle that begs for violence and never stops screaming. There is no correct answer.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

University Medical Center, Diamond Building, Intensive Care Unit

Image courtesy of Norbert Kaiser, Wikimedia Commons

There is no place to look. Every time you avert your eyes, they fall on a crying stranger: a fat middle age man bawling into his cell phone, two willowy prepubescent girls weeping into each other’s arms as they tumble out of a conference room full of sobbing adults.

So, for decency’s sake, you look back at your own well of sorrow, but it’s hard to stay there. If anyone so much as murmurs, you whip your head toward them, grabbing at respite, or else your eyes drift from a long maze of tubes to the quiet monitors with their hypnotic waves and meaningless numbers. Something always beeps, pings, or clicks.

“Essentially,” the doctor explains, “his liver is shot. And his kidneys. And his lungs.” Perhaps these are not the words the doctor uses, but this is what she means.

Last week, they said that if he stabilized, if he found a nursing home able to care for a man with not insurance, and if he stopped drinking for six months, then he could go on the transplant list.

This week they’re talking about infections, calling his daughter in the Midwest. “Do you want us to intubate your father? Do you want us to let him go?”

She is young, twenty-two. She says, “intubate,” but when she gets to the ICU they tell her intubation is only prolonging his suffering. He has, perhaps two weeks, with the machines. She asks everyone she knows, and then she tells them, “extubate.” It’s Tuesday, and her tickets are to go home Friday.

His ex-wife, his ex-girlfriends, the people who were his friends and colleagues before this disease became lover, companion, reference, all file through to say goodbye. At first he can focus his eyes and choke out a few words, but after a while, he is no longer there. It is only the machines, and the solemn watchers.

It takes five hours, once they disconnect him, five hours of sinking lower, struggling to breathe, and sinking lower again, until at last the numbers run down to nothing.