I have this friend who believes that we always meet the same people in every lifetime. So the relationships we’ve had in our past lives keep repeating over and over again. Now, I think she’s full of shit. I don’t see life as bumping into familiar souls every day. We’re much more alone than that. The way I see it, every stranger we meet could potentially be the beginning of a relationship. It’s only that one stranger in a million that becomes a best friend or a lover. But this story isn’t about my friends bullshit, or even my bullshit (though I guess I’m the one telling the story so it’s a given). This is about the person I fell madly in love with for about a week and a half.
I met Chia Hui in the fish section of the market. I was staring at a trout, trying to figure out if I needed to skin it or how to cut its head off or what. And then, as if reading my mind, she said:
“Are you going to eat the head?”
“Uh, no. I didn’t think you’re supposed to. Are you?”
“Oh, the head’s the best part! That’s where all the good meat is!”
So, we got to talking about fish, though I admit this is not the most romantic scene, talking in the fish aisle, hovering over bulbous dead eyes. But it worked, at least for our romance.
Now, this is the part where I wish I could say that I invited her over for dinner. But Chia Hui was always the more assertive one in the relationship. She invited me over and we had fish together. We cooked together and talked while we cooked and flirted while we cooked. I stayed the next few nights and we had the most incredible conversations. Only to be bested by the sex.
But I was still the uncertain one in the relationship. Even after staying under her roof, making love to her, and playing with her cats, I didn’t know where we stood. Again, Chia Hui decided this for me. She told me that she loved me. No woman (save my own mother) had ever said this to me before. I didn’t know what to say. So I said nothing. I thought I would see her again, but looking back, I realize now why she never said a thing when I told her “goodbye.”
“You a pumpkin pie fan?” the old man on the porch shouted at Judy. He was creaking back and forth in an old rocking chair, looking every bit like the beginning of that horror movie her brother made her watch last month. The man in the movie kept pieces of children in his basement refrigerator.
“Excuse me?” Judy asked, looking around, hoping he was talking to someone else. The sidewalk was void of life. Even the birds were silent.
“Pumpkin pie is God’s food, you know? Warms the soul!”
“It’s, um… I don’t know about that.” Judy looked around again. Sometimes, she hoped she could just latch onto some passing person’s underbelly like one of those little fish and get carried away from the dangers of awkward social encounters. No such luck today.
“Come on, girl! You either like it or you don’t! I have some cooling inside.” The man stood up on creaky legs. He lurched toward the rail to get his balance and catch his breath.
“No, really. I should get going.”
“Nonsense!” the exclamation triggered Judy’s fight-or-flight instincts. Her knees shook. “Who says ‘no’ to pie?” He tottered through his front door, swinging it open. It almost shut on its own, hanging there, creaking back and forth in the wind.
This was Judy’s chance to escape. She could just run to her house down the street and avoid this way home next week. There was still time, even if she was wearing heels. She’d never talked to this old man before, so who’s to say she would ever need to again? Still, good manners kept her locked in place, if a little fidgety. This was a neighbor after all. And he was so very old. She shifted to one foot, then the other, as if she had to go the bathroom. Maybe that’s what she should have told him. Maybe that’s what she will tell him.
Judy jumped a little as the door hinges squeaked abruptly. Before she could open her mouth with a good excuse, the old man began rambling again. “You know, they say Van Gogh thought yella was God’s color. Now, I don’t know much about that art crap, but pumpkin pie is definitely something out of God’s cookbook.” He walked to the bottom step but no further. Judy tiptoed toward the shivering pie plate, taking hold of it like she would a live rat. “Now tell me how that is! I bin makin’ them pies for 30 years an’ I sell ‘em right outta my home.”
“Oh, really?” she said, flaking off the first bite. “I’ve never heard anything about pie sales. Do you do this every year?”
“Every day! Never sell anything, though. Just sit here waiting and nobody buys anything.”
“You don’t have any signs up or anything. Do you put ads in the paper?”
“Don’t need to! Pie sells itself. People just smell pie and come running.”
“But you just said…”
“Nonsense!” The exclamation startled Judy. The old man smacked at his gums for a while, a blank look in his eyes. Judy averted her eyes from his obvious signs of dementia. Though she wasn’t sure why, she felt that staring at him now was shameful, like staring at him naked would be. She dug into her pie again.
Judy observed the brown glob on her fork. Perhaps it was made of little bits of children like in the movie. The man in the movie made the protagonist eat a plate full of that stuff. It was so gross. Still, the pie in front of her smelled pleasant enough. And it looked like pumpkin pie should. Judy didn’t want to make a bad impression with a neighbor, so she took a timid bite.
“Pretty damn good, eh? I make it with rat testes.”
Judy gagged the pie out onto the man’s lawn. The wretched geezer let out a wheeze that could have been a laugh. “I’m just messin’ wit’ ya! You shoulda seen yoor face! Ha!” He wheezed again. He might have asthma. Or he was really old and his lungs were giving out. Judy hoped it was the latter explanation.
“That wasn’t funny!”
“Cheer up, girly! If you weren’t you, it’d be hilarious! Isn’t that good pie? Try another bite.”
Judy thought of shoving the pie in the man’s face and smiled. She sunk her teeth into the next bite, this time able to pause and chew it. Even though she didn’t want it to be, it was unarguably delicious. The filling was hearty and creamy like a custard pie, but light and airy enough to melt on her tongue. The cinnamon and nutmeg flavors swirled together like the bottom of a cup of hot cocoa. The ginger nipped at her tongue before going down, urging her to take another soothing mouthful. Judy bit her lip so as not to look like she was enjoying it.
Judy remembered that the only survivor of the movie was a scrappy young woman who deceived the man with kindness before killing him and escaping in his pickup truck. In the end, it reminded her of the story of Hansel and Gretel that her grandpa used to tell her.
“I think I’d actually deal with your shenanigans for another pie one day, Mr…” She held on to that last word. “I never got your name.”
“Well, Curtis. Your pie is exquisite, but I really need to get home now.”
“You remind me of Shirley Temple when she and I were going steady. The only way I could snag a girl like that was through my pumpkin pie.”
Judy didn’t want to ask, but the bait was too tempting. “You dated Shirley Temple?”
“Dated? Ha! Yeah, you could say that. She was newly divorced and I was around.”
“You were Shirley Temple’s rebound guy?” Judy wanted to wipe that image from her mind, especially since she could only think of Shirley Temple as a little girl and Curtis as, well, Curtis.
“Yeah, but then she started going steady with that Black fella. That was his name: Black. Charlie Black.” his eyes were washed away in some old memory.
“Well, I’m sure he doesn’t make a pumpkin pie like you do.”
“Huh? Yeah. Yer damn for sure, woman!” He wheezed again, started coughing and rocking back in his chair.
“Are you all right?”
“Maaah!” He dismissed it with a hand.
Judy thought about getting home again to feed her cats and watch Law and Order: SVU. She set the plate back up on the rail. “Well, I should get going. Thank you for the pie and it was lovely to meet you, Curtis.”
He hacked up a wad of phlegm and spit it into a nearby bowl.
“Well, then,” Judy said, not certain what else to say. She rigidly spun on her heel to race toward home. But as she crossed the street, Judy took one last look back at the man. He was rocking in his chair, creaking like an old abandoned swing set, looking glossy eyed as if trapped inside an old fairy tale.
Jack and Leigh Ann
Jack and Leigh Ann are two people of the opposite sex. Jack is walking on the sidewalk. Leigh Ann is sitting on a bench.
“Hey!” Leigh Ann calls out to Jack. “Why are you walking?”
“It’s what I’ve always done,” Jack says, pacing around the bench. “Why are you sitting?”
“I’ve always sat,” she explains. “Would you like to meet my family?” Her mother and sister smile and wave. Leigh Ann’s father isn’t there; he is a walker, so sometimes he walks by on his way to work or wherever walkers go.
“No time for pleasantries. I need to walk,” Jack turns his eyes toward the horizon. “It was nice to meet you.”
“Wait!” Leigh Ann says. Jack keeps walking. Leigh Ann struggles out of the bench and begins to walk after him. “Wait up!”
Leigh Ann’s mother shakes her head. It is just like how she met her husband. Leigh Ann’s mother has happy and sad memories of her husband. Leigh Ann’s mother kisses her youngest daughter on the head. Leigh Ann’s mother and little sister are sitting and smiling on the bench.
Leigh Ann tries to catch up with Jack. Jack glances back at Leigh Ann. Leigh Ann hasn’t been walking as long as Jack. He slows down for her.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
Jack and Leigh Ann walk for years. Sometimes Jack says ” left.” Sometimes Leigh Ann says “right.” They usually go left. Leigh Ann becomes a much better walker.
One time, they stop by Leigh Ann’s family and say hello.
“You have my blessing!” Leigh Ann’s mother yells as they walk past.
Jack and Leigh Ann come to a fork in the road.
“Let’s go left!” Jack exclaims.
“I’d like to go right,” Leigh Ann says.
“That’s a stupid idea. You go right, then.”
Jack goes left. Leigh Ann goes right. Jack is angry. Leigh Ann is sad.
Jack grows tired and lonely. He misses having Leigh Ann to talk to. Jack sees a dry log that looks inviting. He sits down.
Leigh Ann continues walking.
The Girl on the Escalator
I peer through a gap in the up-and-down escalators to look at her naked legs. I want to look up her yellow skirt and see what’s there, but I’m not low enough or she’s too high up. When her blouse comes into view, I can feel my heart speed up and my arm hairs stand on end. Slowly, our faces come into view. She’d been watching my body, too. As soon as our eyes met, she looked away. She must have been as disappointed as I was.
Two Words: Bukowski
Bukowski came riding into the L.A. coastline on a tidal wave of cheap beer, dirty hookers, and salt water. Enough salt water to make a fool into the thirstiest man in the world. He was the ugliest man we’d ever seen, Bukowski. His face looked like someone had carved out Al Pacino’s face and tanned it to make an Al Pacino mask. We all shivered as he pulled that leather face out of the sand. It was pock-marked like he’d survived a plague. He was wearing last week’s five o’ clock shadow.
When we got past looking at his face, we realized everything else about Bukowski was extraordinary too. His head looked longer than it should have been. His smiles looked like grimaces and his frowns looked like a middle finger out a car window. Nobody knew what to make of him. We stood, waiting for him to do something extraordinary, but we soon found that he had come neither to entertain us nor to satisfy our curiosities.
As Bukowski limped onto the beach, nobody moved to help. They simply watched as he came at us, clutching a fistful of papers like a weapon. He was afraid of us and these papers were his only defense, you see. Bukowski collapsed, lacking the energy to stand on his strung out legs. We tried kicking him and he didn’t move. It took us a while, but we pried the papers from his calloused palms.
They were poems, we found. They were raw, first drafts with edits that looked like cigarette burns. Our eyes darted from the poetry to his face and back again. Then, we understood. The entire mob began weeping violently, shedding saltwater tears onto the beach. Some of us reached for the beer bottles, some for the dirty hookers. But the bottles were full of tears and the hookers didn’t want to hang around. All that was left was the poems a beach full of thirsty men.
Flight of the Bumbleguy
“Tennis. Tennis,” the child begs, pulling on his mother’s skirts and you wonder why. You start to think about the back-and-forths of life. “Like chains,” the boy says, and you wonder if the world has gone mad or it’s only you. You’re heading in that direction like a bumblebee heading for a pollen fix. “It’s probably just baby babble,” you tell yourself out loud.
“Are we gonna board?” interjects the Southern woman sitting behind you. When she says “board,” it sounds like it should have a “W” between the “O” and the “A”. That bothers you. “I thought it was an hour before we boward,” she says to her husband. You grip your duffel bag with your feet to make sure it’s still there.
Another child, maybe five years old in red coveralls, starts saying “Six six six” over and over while convulsing. You begin to doubt your mind again and stop yourself. He’s probably just bored. “Look, Mommy. I see a booger. I see them everywhere.” He reminds you of the kid from The Sixth Sense, only a few fries short of a Happy Meal. You continue reading the book you brought for the flight. It’s called Crash. The name doesn’t bother you as much as the fact that you thought it was Snow Crash when you picked it up. People start lining up to get on the plane. You don’t see the point since they’re still calling for first class anyway. All this moving around is making you nervous.
When you looked at the flight information, you were sure you saw that the plane was a P-something. You’ve flown on everything that begins and ends with a 7, but you’re not sure about this p-thingy. It looks much newer than any plane you’ve been on and when the plane starts rolling down down the airplane driveway, it lights up underneath the wing like some kind of sci-fi hovercraft. The pilot tells the score of the Eagles game before you take off. You’re not into sports but you wonder how many people who TiVOed the game are pissed off about his loose lips.
The woman next to you calls her boyfriend. She loves him and misses him. That’s the message. At least one in this couple, you think, is really clingy, but then you notice the three-pound engagement ring on her finger. It’s almost obscene how many diamonds are on that thing. You consider hitting on her.
The p-thingy’s gear sounds like an alarm going off. Just BRRT BRRT BRRT and then it launches. It’s not angled high enough for take-off. Likely, it’s going to crash and you’re going to die. Nobody else is panicking. Are they really all going to die without knowing? Maybe you should tell them.
When you look out the window and see that you’re not falling, you decide that you’re safe, but you can’t relax. You try to jog your knee up and down but there’s not enough room. That girl sitting next to you is dressed so nice with a coat and all in black, always clutching her designer purse. You think about talking to her, but you don’t want to bother her for the whole rest of the flight if she doesn’t want to be bothered. Maybe you could act like a gay man. That way you wouldn’t seem like a creeper. Women love gay men. Especially drag queens. That host on the Travel Channel just loved that drag queen. But you don’t have any make-up to put on. That might be a little weird. Just have to have a little accent but don’t overdo it. It’s more about the non-verbal gestures. You read that in a book somewhere.
But no. It’s probably just better to leave her alone. There’s a buzz in your head that tells you that you might be the one racing for madness. You ignore it and read your book.
By the end of the flight, the plane dips too much, not even jerking down at all. It’s too smooth to be a landing. And the air vents suddenly silenced themselves. You must be crashing. You look out the window. Still clouds. You look up and around the aisles but there’s still not a single person panicking. Maybe it’s just you again. You’ll be fine. Silently, you turn off your light and stare out the window. Without the buzz of your light, the whooshing of the vents, or the babble of other passengers, you bask in the pure silence of the plane. Outside the window, there is blue twilight. Two stars glimmer across from each other. There’s a plane in between them, racing from one celestial body to the other, like a bee moving from flower to flower.
Hanging Out on the Hot Hood of a Honda while High
“California is such a unique word, man. What other word is like Cali?” asked the fast one. “One of a kind, man. One of a kind.”
The slow one thought until the haze passed over his eyes. “What about calimari?”
“Calimari! You are so wise, man. You know that? I could totally go for some calimari right now. Namsayin’ brah?”
“Yeah…” the slow one paused for the haze to clear again. “What about… Caligula?”
“What? Now you’re just makin’ up stuff.” The fast one shot a rapid-fire laugh.
“No…” the slow one began. “He was like Attila the Hun… like Hadrian’s wall in the Alps.”
“Deep, man. You know shit. That’s good, man. I’m jealous.” The fast one took a hit and blew.
A cloud shaped like a giant penis drifted by.
Neither one noticed.
“I think I saw it move!”
“No you didn’t! That was just you poking it!”
“No, really! I think I saw it blink!” The children leaned closer. “Look! It’s breathing!”
“Eww! Gross! What is it?”
“I think it’s a teacher. My parents told me about them.”
“Are they poisonous?”
“I don’t think so…” The teacher rolled over. The children jumped back. A few found chairs to stand on.
“Be careful! Maybe it’s not poisonous but it still might bite. I’m going to find a big rock to squish it!”
“No! That’s so mean! Maybe we can trap it?”
“We can put a box over it. Like, um, a refrigerator box. We have an empty one in my garage.”
“Well, I’m not getting close to it.”
“I’ll do it, you babies. I still think we should squish it, though.”
“What are we going to do with it when we catch it?”
“I can keep it in my room. My parents won’t notice. They’re not home too often anyway. What do teachers like to eat?”
“Hey, guys. Here. I Googled it on my phone. It looks like they’ll eat pretty much anything, though it seems like they like to drink coffee out of cute mugs a lot.”
“I’m not allowed to drink coffee.”
“Well, I think water’s OK. It says they don’t usually attack kids, but there are few articles about some teachers touching kids, so just don’t let it out of its box. It looks old anyway. Should be alright.”
“And punch holes in its box! I caught a lizard once and Mama said you got to punch holes so it can breathe!”
“Yeah, and punch holes in it.”
“What are you gonna name it?”
“I don’t know. Is it a guy or a girl teacher?”
“What do you want me to do, check between its legs?”
“We could call her Jar Jar!”
“Jar Jar was a guy, stupid!”
“Well, who says it’s a guy?”
“Let’s call her Cecilia!”
“No. Let’s call him Nemo!”
“He’s my teacher and we’ll call him… Scruffy.”
“That’s a dumb name!”
“I kinda like it.”
“Scruffy it is!”
“Hey, guys! I got the box!”
“Did you punch holes in it?”
“No! Why whould I do that?”
“He’s gotta breathe!”
“Nobody told me that!”
“Alright, guys! Hey! Let’s just punch some holes and get him inside before it gets dark!” The children got to work.
Long ago, before he was even called Apple Boy, a young boy of ten years of age was eating an apple. His mother told him to cut it into slices and that he would get more apple that way and not be so wasteful.
“Not if I eat the whole apple!” exclaimed the boy before thrusting the core in this mouth.
“Stop! Don’t eat that, you fool boy! You’ll get seeds in your belly and an apple tree will grow inside you,” his mother scolded him, but the disobedient boy kept chewing and swallowed the core, seeds and all. She sent him to his room without supper.
A few months later, the boy began to sprout tiny buds on his stomach. His mother acted like she was worried about the child, but she was secretly gloating that she was right about the seeds. By the time he was thirteen, kids would pick apples off his arms in class and eat them. He would get in trouble for not bringing enough for everyone. Apple Boy came home crying a lot. “It’s okay,” his mother said, “Mommy will always be here for you.”
When Apple Boy turned eighteen, he had really sprouted up, his limbs branching out at great length. “This house is too small for me,” he told his mother, “I need to leave so that I can get more sunlight and rain to grow.”
His mother wept as he unrooted his feet from the ground and shambled out of the front yard. “They grow up so fast!”
10 ——————————————– 10
Panhandling Peter and the Anvil of Inspiration
Peter lived in an old shoe in an alley, nustled next to his ma and pop.
“Ma!” he cried one day. “Why do we have to live with this bottle of pop?”
“’Cause I said so!” His ma replied by whacking him with a spoon. “Now go do your panhandlin’ exercises! It’s only a week t’ your 13th birthday and then ye’ll be a real panhandler. How excitin’!” She shook both fists in the air as she left. Ma did that sometimes when she was really fired up over something or when she was having one of her fits. Peter usually had the right to be worried on either occasion.
But even though it would make his ma right upset, Peter didn’t want to be a panhandler. He wanted to be an explorer or a giant monster with seven heads that breathed fire and crushed cities. He wasn’t sure which one yet. The monster had been a long-time dream of his, ever since he was little. But Peter had been beated with the reality stick one too many times in his life (that’s what Ma called her favorite cane), and he was thinkin’ exploring the world might be a little closer in his reach. It’s rather depressing to give up on one’s dreams, but Peter’s family didn’t have any money to dream big. More than likely, he’d have to go into the family trade.
When Ma had left for work, Peter talked to the only one who listened in these situations: his pop.
“Pop,” he said, “I know you got no ears, but I’m goin’ ta tell you—I ain’t happy here, Pop. I wouldn’t be any better a panhandler than you would, and at least you got a flashy label to attract people.”
Pop didn’t say a thing.
“Fine. I guess I’ll do what I have ta. Maybe I’ll start today, make Ma proud. What d’you think?”
Pop didn’t say a thing.
Peter sighed. Pop was just this cold presence in his life. He was always there, watching him, but he never did any real parenting or nothing. It done beat all, but Peter had no right to complain. Some kids didn’t have a pop.
“Later, Pop. I’m off to work, be man and all that.”
Peter left his alley, and when he rounded the corner, he saw an anvil falling down on his head. Peter had always been taught that in situations like these, he should look at things realistically. So Peter did just that. “Well,” he thought, “this is the end of me.” And the anvil came crashing down.
Peter woke up in a room with an old man sitting in a rocking chair. The old man had a rabbit as a butler, except the rabbit stood on two legs, twitching its whiskers its little butler outfit. The rabbit really creeped Peter out.
“Am I dead?” Peter asked.
“No, boy. Mild concussion. You’ve got a thick skull, there.”
“Who are you?” Peter asked.
“I’m your pop. Don’t you recognize me?” Peter couldn’t see any of the distinguishing glass features in the man’s droopy face, but he nodded anyway. He didn’t want to make this man feel bad, especially if he was his pop. The rabbit cocked its head and Peter felt like he had sour stomach. He tried to focus on a mole on the man’s chin so he wouldn’t have to look at the rabbit butler and its big ol’ teeth and beady eyes.
“Peter, what’s the problem.” His rocking chair creaked slowly, back and forth. When he leaned forward, Peter could see his liver spots.
“I want to be a explorer, or a city-eatin’ monster, but the only thing I can do is panhandle.”
“Habberdashery!” the man exclaimed, and Peter jumped. “Just because you only know how to panhandle, doesn’t mean you can’t do that and explore, too! What was the other thing?”
“A city-eatin’ monster, sir.”
“Oh. Give that up. That’s stupid.”
Peter frowned and nodded. “Yessir.”
“Now I want you to go back and run away from home.”
“Really? What about my mom?”
“Well, what about her? I’ll take care of her.”
“But you’re just a—!” The old man stopped rocking and the rabbit’s whiskers twitched violently. “Yessir. I’ll run away from home.”
“But how do I get back?”
“Well, Flopkins here has to put his magic teeth back into your anvil wound.”
Flopkins sprang over and started hissing. Peter screamed as the rabbit sunk its teeth into his skull.
Peter woke up in a cold sweat on the side of the street. He had some money in his coat pocket, though the change had fell through the hole. Even more, he didn’t have a head wound at all! Had he never been hit by an anvil in the first place? Or can rabbit teeth really heal broken skulls? He wasn’t sure, but he figured he had best get moving. He ought to be in the big city by his birthday.
11 ————————————————– 11
I don’t know why, but daddy says he wants “pizza mind.” He says that when mommy left and gramma died, he was gonna find his pizza mind. I told him I’d help him find it, but he said he needs to find it by himself.
Daddy spends a lot of the day sitting by himself. He sits Indian-style in his room with his eyes closed. Daddy told me that he’s looking inside himself to make himself a better person. I told him he’s already a better person, but he just laughs at me and messes up my hair. I don’t think he likes what he sees inside, ’cause he always looks like he’s hurting.
I had a nightmare one night that I’d found my pizza mind. I could see myself opening up my own head and there was a pizza with pepperonis and sausage and green peppers inside. It was weird because I don’t like green peppers at all! I wasn’t scared of the pizza in my head or anything, but when I found my pizza mind, I had this really scary smile. It wasn’t like a bad smile. It was just that I couldn’t stop smiling, even though I was scared. It was like the me in my dream wasn’t really me.
I woke up after midnight and I saw daddy in the living room staring at the dancing ants on Gramma’s old bunny-ears T.V. He said he brought it down from the attic because tonight was the last night anyone could watch T.V. on bunny-ears T.V. I thought it was sad that gramma’s T.V. wouldn’t work anymore. Daddy turned it off and took me to go potty and go back to bed. I had another nightmare that I was being chased and I woke up early again, but I didn’t get out of bed until the sun came up.
When I got up, I saw Daddy was up. He was eating Cheerios and he had milk on his chin. I told him about the nightmares I had and that I didn’t want him to find his pizza mind. He laughed at me and my heart jumped up in my chest. Daddy had the same smile like the one in my nightmare.
12 ———————————————— 12
Bobby felt an itchiness in his shoulder blades. He was worried at first, but then he thought to himself: “Wow! I must be growing wings!” Bobby had heard a story about how butterflies coming out of their coccoons are too weak to live when they’re helped out, so he decided not to itch his shoulder blades no matter how much he wanted to. He didn’t sleep much at night and he often yelled in pain and bit into his pillow. The bulges that would be his wings grew and became very red and itchy. Finally, he couldn’t help it any longer and itched at his back. It bled and a nest of white bugs came crawling out. He cried, then. He thought he’d have beautiful wings and all he had was a nest of dumb old parasites. Bobby thought that maybe it was his fault for itching them that they didn’t turn into wings like they should have. Maybe he was being punished.
The white parasites heard the boy’s crying and were moved by his suffering. That night, while he was sleeping, they constructed themselves into a pair of beautiful, white wings. The boy knew that the parasites had done this for him, but he was grateful for their concern and decided not to cry anymore. “My!” he bluffed. “These are the grandest wings a boy could ever wish for! Now I can go on to being a normal boy again.” The white insects paused, not knowing what to do, then they disassembled themselves. The boy realized that he didn’t need wings to be happy. He was just glad there was somebody who would listen and somebody who cared.
13 ——————————————————— 13
Super Ball Madness
Takeshi walked by all the games where kids were waving their hands around brightly lit screens, playing drums or guitars or just plain out jumping around like mad. Even though this arcade kept the old games in the back, there were a lot of others that didn’t. What was Japan doing with its youth?
Takeshi liked it in the back of the arcade. Past all the craziness of all the people jumping and bustling, he could enjoy his favorite game: Super Ball Madness.
Super Ball Madness was a simpler, pixilated game, where the player only used a single joystick to move the screen around to make the ball get to the goal. He put a 100 yen coin in the slot and suddenly he felt he had control over his life, his marriage, his mortgage payments…
“Jiisan!” yelled a large voice coming from his hip. The shock from the volume of the child’s voice made him wiggle his joystick too much. He just barely missed the goal and his timer ran out.
“What? What do you want? You made me lose, you know! You going to pay for that?” He shook his finger at the Game Over screen.
“Why would you want to play that game, jiisan? It’s old!”
“What’s wrong with old?”
“It looks like pachinko. I bet you like to play pachinko.”
“Sometimes. But what would you know about it?”
“Mama says the men who play pachinko are all deadbeats who can’t go home and face their wives and families.”
Takeshi felt his eye twitch. Parents never taught their kids anything these days. If he talked like that to an elder when he was a kid, he would have been taken aside and beaten until he was bruised all over. Takeshi reached out and grabbed the kid’s head in an armlock. The kid screamed and tried to run but Takeshi already had him in a vice grip with his knuckles digging into the kid’s hair. “What do you know, you brat!”
“Sir!” A woman approached her. He knew this woman. She always had too much red lipstick on and looked like a hussy. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Takeshi let the kid go running off and crying. “Look, I was just playing this game and…”
“We’re getting rid of that game next week, anyway. Please don’t come back and trouble our customers again.” She bowed politely. Takeshi wanted to hit her.
Takeshi looked back at the screen. The timer ran out and he hadn’t put his initials on the screen. He could see his initials in 9 spots but with one blank spot at the bottom 10th spot. He was on a roll and then that little brat…
“I’m going. I’m going.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and went to the end of the block to play pachinko.
14 ——————————————————– 14
Memories of Grandma
I remember when Grandma taught me to sew. I never could get even a running stitch right.
“Your sewing is just like your writing,” she’d say. “It’s full of loose ends!” Then she’d poke me in the shoulder with her needle. She always did that when I wasn’t doing something right.
“That hurts, Grandma!”
“You know what else hurts? Childbirth! Now go apologize to your mother for being born and tell her I need my diaper changed!”
Mom told me that she had a terrible childhood growing up with Grandma, though she said she loved her mother all the same and we should all love her and take care of her because she’s family.
Grandma always breathed really loud and snored like a bee hive. Sometimes, late at night, I prayed for God to take her. I felt bad about that, but it seemed like she’d be happier in Heaven anyways. Grandma had to be over a hundred years old. Maybe God was waiting for her to screw up so he wouldn’t have to let her in. I like to believe God has a plan for everybody.
15 ——————————————————- 15
Flower Names for Girls
Daisy, Violet, and Rose. The young girls displayed themselves in the window, stretching out their tight hamstrings in the last rays of a cherry-colored sun. Backs to fluorescent lights, their legs placed high on the poplar bar, swaying back and forth. Daisy’s leg quivers. Violet slumps more than stretches. Her instructor straightens her out; he’s too rough with her. Rose has been growing so much, the shirt she’s always worn now raises to show her strained belly button, pulling against itself. There were other students, of course, but these were his flowers.
Evan came here one day, in the fog of one winter evening and glanced upon the girls smiling and standing on their tip toes. He would stop by on his way home from work and watch them from the curb, smoking cherry-scented cigarettes. Soon, it became a routine for him. He began to wonder about this fragile girls in the window. They had no names. They had no stories. He decided that would be his gift to them: he would grant them names and stories of his own making:
Daisy is the shy one. Her pliés are sloppy, but she’s been getting better these past months. Evan can picture her practicing at home, using her sink for support. She looks at herself and thinks that she’s not pretty or talented enough like Rose is. In the studio, when the teacher passes by, she always puts her head down. Evan always see the teacher’s finger flicking upward. He is telling her to keep her chin up, which she does, but Evan can tell she is just looking at her reflection in the window and seeing only ugliness and failure. Evan wants to tell her how beautiful and majestic she is and can be. She has the makings of a world-class dancer if only she had the faith in herself.
Violet, on the other hand, hasn’t been improving at all. She doesn’t go to classes as much as she used to. And she’s often very late. Violet looks at Evan strangely sometimes as she crosses the street. Evan is worried that she might suspect him and ruin the bond that he has with the girls. If they knew about him, it would ruin the purity of their dance. Violet isn’t pure, though. She must have a boyfriend that keeps her from practice. She comes from a poor family that wants her to dance, but she just wants to smoke and listen to music and make fun of ugly kids. Violet argues with the teacher. She doesn’t take ballet seriously and the teacher knows it. He has given up on her, would rather she didn’t stay and wilt the beautiful bouquet he has arranged in his studio. But if someone were to nurture her… Evan stomps out his cigarette and lights another.
Rose is the idol of the class, the older pupil that everyone looks up to. Fifteen or sixteen and almost a woman, she ties down her breasts. They’ve grown out more than she’d like and it gets in the way of her dancing. Just as she takes care of her body, she also takes care of her hair, combing it every morning and night. It shines gold in the sunlight. Evan imagines her as the head cheerleader and valedictorian. She is almost too mature and soon she will be too old. Her parents are trying to make her into something they never managed when they were her age. They push her hard to be studious, to get good grades. They won’t let her go out with friends. She is alone. All she wants is to keep dancing but her developing body may not let her continue as a professional. Deep down she realizes this and will succumb to her parents wishes. She’ll go to college and marry a doctor but never pursue a profession of her own. Rose will be a housewife who dreams of being a child again, dancing with her friends in the studio.
Evan pictures himself behind Rose, wearing black tights. He would support her from the shadows, lifting her high into the air. But nobody would notice him. They would only notice Rose and how beautiful and elegant she is. And he would support her, though nobody would notice. High into the air. And they would only talk about her and her beauty and her grace…
Flustered with his own thoughts, Evan thrusts his cigarette to the ground without stepping on it. He tucks his hands into the pockets of his overcoat, pulling it tight upon his shoulders. The cigarette remains on the curb, smoldering.
16 ———————————————– 16
Mom Mom says that when I drink sleepytime tea that I’ll have good dreams and you know what? She’s right! I used to have dreams about monsters that chased after me and I was never fast enough because of my heart and they would catch me and I’d wake up and go to my mommy’s room. When I drink sleepytime tea I have good dreams about ponies that fly and butterflies that sing songs.
Mom Mom knows about everything. She told me once that God created me special because He has special plans for me. Sometimes I feel like God doesn’t think about me much because my heart is always hurting. Mom Mom has some gunk she rubs on my chest that helps me calm down and feel better. Mommy tells me bedtime stories. Sometimes I dream that Mom Mom is a good fairy that grants my wishes. Sometimes, though, I don’t dream at all. That’s always when the silver worms come. I see them crawling on my eyes and I get scared and faint. I wake up and everyone looks scared and that makes me look scared.
Me and my family used to go to church but we left. Our pastor said that my fainting was because I didn’t believe in God hard enough. Mommy got angry. She and Pop Pop got and a fight because she didn’t like me being in church. Mom Mom said I should decide for myself. I didn’t want to make Pop Pop mad but I didn’t like it there. I like God though, so now we pray at home to Him every morning. Mom Mom and Pop Pop still go to church most Sundays but Pop Pop’s back and legs sometimes hurt too much so they can’t go.
The silver worms sometimes crawl on my eyes but maybe one day I’ll wake up and they’ll be pretty butterflies that sing to me. I’m happy that God made me special and gave me Mommy and Mom Mom and Pop Pop too. I hope we will be happy forever!
17 —————————— 17
Moyo doesn’t know why his brother, Fumai, gets to eat every day and drink clean water. Moyo himself hasn’t eaten since yesterday when he had some stale bread. The bread hurt his stomach but he had to tell himself that it was a good hurt.
Moyo’s parents died of cholera and now his brother has cholera too. Moyo knows he won’t get cholera because he’s strong. He’s faster than all the other kids and can even outrun adults. They have longer legs but they are all lazy. Moyo’s grandmother yells at him a lot. Last week, he used some Zimbabwean dollars as toilet paper like he knows all the other kids do, but he’s the only one unlucky enough to clog the toilet and get yelled at for it. It’s not fair that he always gets in trouble. A lot of people yell at Moyo. He sometimes goes to the stream to throw rocks into it.
Moyo hasn’t seen Fumai in a while. The women at the hospital always kick him out. They say he is a thief. Moyo’s not a thief. Fumai never touches his bread, so Moyo helps himself. Why waste food if nobody will eat it?
Moyo stops throwing rocks.
He sees a flower drifting on the water. Moyo splashes into the water and picks it out. It looks like a bloody claw reaching out to grab something, though it’s a little wilted and the claw is weak. Still, it’s one of the most beautiful flowers Moyo has ever seen. He runs to the hospital to bring a gift to the women. He knows women like flowers. They will tell him how beautiful it is and let him see Fumai and then he will take Fumai’s bread. Moyo laughs at his cleverness.
Moyo’s pants dry out as he runs to the hospital. He holds the flower close to him like it’s his child.
“I have a flower!” Moyo announces, pushing it toward the closest woman.
“Oh, Moyo, you scared me, child.” She looks like she’s going to yell at him, but then her eyes get big like ripe papaya. “Oooh! Moyo, that’s a flame lily! That’s good luck, child.”
He pushes it at her. “You like it? Here! Can I see my brother?”
She breathes really big. “Moyo. Your brother can’t stay here much longer. The hospital’s out of food. We can’t keep anybody here anymore.” The nurses look sad and tired.
“No food?” The flower goes limp in his hand. He tries to push the petals up straight.
“No, but go on up and take the flower up to your brother. I’m sure he’ll love it.”
Moyo nods and does as he’s told. His brother looks worse he has a bucket by him that smells really bad. “I brought you a flower, Fumai.” He puts it on his brother’s chest.
“I hurt all over, brother,” Fumai says. Moyo hates visiting his brother. He doesn’t like how he looks or smells. He remembers when they used to race and Fumai always beat him. Now, all he does is lie in bed.
“They said they’re out of food.”
Fumai doesn’t answer. He closes his eyes.
Moyo feels bad for his brother. He’s probably going to die. The adults never say so but he can tell. They can’t afford medicine and now they won’t feed him. “Grandma’s doing all right.”
Fumai doesn’t respond.
“There’s a place I know that has papaya. It’s picked pretty clean, but I think there’ some green ones still. I can bring one for you.”
Fumai nods, but it looks like it’s hard for him.
“I’ll be back tomorrow, Fumai. Hold on, okay?”
On the way home, Moyo thinks about his brother and his parents and how he’ll never see them again. He feels like something is clawing at his heart.
18 ——————————————- 18
How to LEER: a Presentation on Crisis Prevention in the Classroom
Oh, crisis prevention. You tickle me. But seriously, crisis prevention is a very serious matter. How serious? Well, just think if one of your students started running around the classroom with his pants on his head, yelling profanities about the education system. Pretty scary, huh? So, how does one prevent a crisis such as this? Well, I’ve come up with a handy acronym that can help you prevent even your biggest problem students from getting out of hand: LEER. It stands for “Listen. Emote. Empathize. Respond.” By LEERing at your students, you can establish the attention and emotional connection that adolescents so desperately need.
“Listen” may sound self-explanatory, but it’s a well-known fact that adolescents will run wild using “no one understands me” as an excuse. Don’t give them that excuse. Listening means not just hearing but also understanding what students are saying and how they are saying it. You should also be listening with your eyes as well. Take note of their body language. If your student is wearing his pants on his head, like our problem child above, then you are probably not LEERing at him properly. Instead, you need to survey the situation by listening with your eyes and ears (but never your hands!). Remember: without Listen, you won’t be able to use the other parts properly. All you’ll have is “EER” which is really just a misspelled and misused listening organ. You don’t want that in your classroom.
To “Emote” is to show your students that you are listening. Maintain eye contact and smile to show that you care and you are there for that child. This unexpected reaction from an authority figure may confuse the child into silence, making your life much easier. If smiling and nodding doesn’t work, try frowning and shaking your head. Most problem children will stop what they’re doing immediately, particularly if you look sad and disappointed like their parents probably do. Always make sure when responding to a student that your body language matches your words. Try to be friendly and civil with your students, even if deep inside you want the entire world to burn.
“Empathizing” with your students is harder than it sounds for most teachers. To do this, you’ll actually have to put yourself in the shoes of an adolescent, something you probably thought you left behind when you went to college. Think again, teacher! You’re stuck in school again with a bunch of teenagers and if you’re the type that gags at those “darn kids and their music” then it’s time for an attitude adjustment. It’s not recommended that you as a teacher listen to emo bands, wear tight jeans, and get piercings on your face. But you might want to understand this compulsion to do so. Adolescents are not adults and they don’t think like adults. Their brains are still forming and sometimes they may seem like little crazies running around. That’s because they are. It’s your job to understand exactly where this craziness is coming from, whether it be from a deadbeat dad or the rapid disconnecting of synapses in the brain that occurs at that age. It may not seem like it, but your adolescent students are very sensitive. Treat them gently. Unless they’re just little brats, then you need to move straight to R right away.
Bruce LEE once said, “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water.” The first three LEE steps are the just the LEEward side of the mountain, a desert land without much cloud cover. “Responding” is your chance to bring the rain to your students. “Water can flow or it can crash,” explains Bruce Lee. The same goes for you and your students. You can be either a refreshing shower to them or a torrential storm. But unlike the monsoon seasons of Nepal, you want to be as predictable as the thunder clap after the lightning. Remember to emote properly and send the right message to your class, whether it’s that they are doing a good job or that they need to shape up immediately. Classes will usually have their good points as well as their bad. Always remember to share both sides with them, so they don’t get too uppity or too depressed.
There is really no proper way of teaching and how you LEER at your students is up to you, but I guarantee that opening up communications with students will make your class a better place, free of profanity and with everyone wearing their trousers on their bottoms.
Frank the Factory Worker and the Broken Bagger
Frank the factory worker always started his day by swishing his card through the time clock machine. Like magic, the factory doors rotated and Frank awkwardly shuffled inside.
“Good Morning, Frank!” said Bonnie the receptionist.
“Good morning, Bonnie! Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” And it was. Frank took a moment to enjoy the view out of the break room window as he stored his lunch in the refrigerator. Time for work!
Frank worked on one of the nine bagging machines in the factory. The bagging machines put all of the food into bags and his own bagger’s name was Baggy. Frank and Baggy always spent the day having meaningful philosophical conversations about human and machine rights. Baggy wasn’t part of the union because it was a machine and Frank didn’t think that was right. Still, Baggy enjoyed its job and worked as hard as it could every day.
“If you work as hard as you can, I’m sure the management will see how valuable you are eventually,” Frank told Baggy once and so Baggy just kept on working.
When Frank started Baggy today, the bagging machine let out an awful sneeze and blew all of the bags into the reject bin. Frank shut down the conveyor belts before there was a whole mess all over the floor.
“What’s wrong, Baggy?” Frank asked. “Are you sick?”
“I don’t know. I’m not feeling too well. I think one of my parts might be broken.”
Frank was very upset to hear this. “A broken part? Did those monsters on third shift do this to you?! Who was it? Was it Harry?”
“No, it wasn’t Harry!” cried Baggy. “You’ve always had it in for him, Frank, but he’s really not a bad guy! My parts just wear out sometimes. It’s natural for machines.”
Frank began to sob. “But what will I do, Baggy? You’re all I’ve got.”
“Don’t cry, Frank. Just call Manuel the Mechanic. He always knows what to do.”
“Baggy, you’re a genius!” So Frank paged Manuel the mechanic who came after his break was over with his big rolling tray of tools to check on Baggy’s condition.
“Baggy just needs to have a part replaced,” said Manuel. “He’ll be fine.”
Frank never left Baggy the entire time, except when Rhonda the relief operator came so he could go on break. When he came back, Baggy was good as new!
“Baggy’s all better now,” said Manuel the mechanic as he put his tools back. “If your bagging machine ever gets sick again, let me know.”
“I will!” said Frank. “Thank you, Manuel!”
Frank left for the day with this lesson etched in his heart. Whistling, he grabbed his lunchbox from the refrigerator.
“Have a good day, Frank!” said Bonnie the receptionist.
“You too, Bonnie!”
Frank laughed as he swiped his card to check out and, just like magic, the doors opened for him. It was a beautiful day, indeed, now that his friend was feeling better again.
Parade of a Thousand Orchids
My guide was a British man, fascinated with flowers and Orientalism. Basil had the amazing talent of rambling over a pint about the effects of Chinese philosophy and trade on the Western world. “I see,” I would tell him, smiling and nodding as he continued his rants.
“We’re going to one of the most amazing festivals in this part of Asia: the parade of a thousand orchids. It’s a flower festival celebrating the beauty and prosperity of the village and its women. Seamstresses work almost the entire year to make these dresses. Of course, these are all made of passion rather than the daily affairs of sewing and hemming!” He laughed. I laughed, too, not wanting to seem impolite. I wasn’t particularly interested in flowers or seamstresses, but I did enjoy women and a good parade every now and again.
We arrived an hour early and it was still crowded in the streets with men. In fact, I couldn’t see a single woman or even a little girl in their midst. Basil rambled in my ear the entire hour and I wished I had a pint. As the time came closer, the men’s idle chatter boomed into rigorous hollaring. Basil said that they were calling the women out, though the women usually waited to build up a fervor in the men. I felt out of place standing there quietly with Basil, but then I wasn’t even sure what the men around me were shouting.
The first to emerge into the town center are the youngest wives and women of marrying age. They have red aprons over their white dresses. For some reason, even in their shy demeanor, their dress and actions seemed a little suggestive at times. Even though the dresses went no higher than the ankles, it always seemed like they were about to fly away. “Dendrobium Frosty Dawn,” Basil whispered. I scratched at my chin hairs and nodded sagely. The words meant nothing to me, really, but I let him go on.
Behind the first group of women was a chipper group of little yellow dresses. “Macradenia multiflora,” Basil whispered again. It felt as if we were at the cinema and he kept telling me the plot. I was thankful that he was trying to educate me, but I would have preferred to enjoy the parade by myself.
At any rate, this second entourage held all the young girls of the village, three-year-olds holding hands with fourteen-year-olds. Some of them looked like they’d sewn their dresses together themselves. The older girls stared firmly at the backs of the Frosty Dawn women or at the ground. The little girls looked up at their older counterparts or proudly out at the men, who applauded violently in their presence.
The next group was much smaller: it was the pregnant women. Some of them looked like they could have belonged with the Frosty Dawn girls and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Others were clearly about to pop and had to walk with their hands supporting their impressive bellies. Their maternity clothes were a golden bronze at the sleeves, white shawls at the shoulders, and the brightest yellow around their stomachs. “Paphiopedilum villosum. Beautiful,” Basil whispered in excitement. I wanted to brush him off like a gnat.
“Oh!” he cried, then covered his mouth, even though the men around him were shouting loud as firecrackers. “These are the matrons of the village. Cattleya violacea.” Basil spoke the name with such reverence. To me, they were just a flock of old birds. Still, the dresses rippled like water as they walked. Clearly these were made with a certain extra attentiveness. The dresses were all purple, dressed in the finest of silk. Each fold of their clothing suggested a deeper shade of purple layered within. As the women strode forward, the deeper layers presented themselves more clearly. The men were just as loud, if not louder, since their voices seemed to have organized into a chant like a vocal version of the wave.
Finally, a slow procession of elderly women began to march through the village center. They wore light, white wool coats over their thick purple dresses. The dress was much simpler for these women but unlike the other women, they all sported large floppy yellow hats to protect them from the sun. “Haraella retrocalla,” Basil told me, then tugged on my shirt. “Get ready to join in.” Sure enough, the men began gathering to the sides and behind the group of old women, offering them their arms and cheering them on in the back. Some of the women truly looked exhausted. Others were at a more spritely age and they smiled or cried or waved. Blowing on reeds and banging drums, we men escorted the old women until they reached the end of the line, where all the other ladies were waiting. The women all hugged each other and bowed to the men. The men, quiet for the first time, bowed back.
“And that is the parade,” Basil smiled and exhaled with some sense of finality. “Now, we drink and dance.”
Now that was definitely the event I’d been waiting for. In a finer mood than when we started, I joined in as the men picked up their chanting once again.
Morning Pep Talk
If you can get yourself out of bed in the morning, you’re at a good start. If you can drag yourself to the breakfast table, even better. You can oil up a pan and turn on the burners. You can eat a breakfast of waffles and eggs. You are the spark that ignites the flame of existence.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get in that shower. Just take it slow: turn on the water before stepping in or even undressing; test its warmth with your hand. You are ready. You are water. You are a streaming liquid pool that beads into the pores, cradles the air, and caresses the walls.
Stay positive. Brush your teeth with a smile. Nod while you shave. Look in the mirror and repeat: “you are an incredible reflection; you can do anything you want, mirror man. I like your tie.”
As you hold the doorknob, breathe in the morning. Carry this joy with you as you venture into the strange, tiny world outside your door. You are the golden Eskimo riding the narwhal of freedom to spear the whale of desire.
Primordial Star: a Creation Myth
In the beginning, there was no darkness. Only light. At the center of the Universe, one tiny star, smaller than a candle’s fire, flickered amidst the vast emptiness. This tiny primordial light burned across the Universe unhindered by shadow, lighting up both the heavens and the earth. The Universe would revolve around this very point and every time it completed one rotation, the gods would vote for a new member to watch the star for the countless millennia so that it would not cast the Universe in eternal darkness.
On one such revolution, it came to pass that the young god Punka would watch over the star. Punka, the god of merrymaking, protested to the other gods. He did not see the purpose in it. After all, the star had never gone out and probably never would for all they knew. He brought his complaint to Chemall, the father god.
“Punka,” he said, placing his mighty hand upon Punka’s small shoulder. “All of us gods must take their turn at some point. Even I had to take the very first shift. But what got me through it all was knowing that I was taking care of all of my children and the entire Universe while I was at it.”
Punka tried to find solace in guarding the little star. He watched the gods laughing and playing and wanted to think about how he was protecting them, but instead an overwhelming jealousy bubbled up inside of him. He could only watch in irritation as they played through the endless golden plains that stretched across the Universe. Danilas, the goddess of song, saw Punka pacing about restlessly and approached the young god.
“Oh, Punka! Cheer up!” she said, ruffling his hair. But he didn’t mind as long as he was able to be soothed by that silken voice. “When I was watching the Primordial Star, I would sing to myself and the first few millennia will pass by before you know it.”
Punka tried to sing but to his surprise, his voice sounded like a herd of water buffalo trampling a monkey. He had always thought that he had a good singing voice, but then he had always only sung while he was drunk and making merry. Now, he was sober and miserable. He was starting to think that maybe he wasn’t as charming and fun as he once thought and was deeply saddened by this notion. Punka could not understand how the other gods could just leave him here in torment, suffering alone with this moth-sized star. Punka snuck away when the gods were sleeping off their celebrations and took some wine for himself. He drank until he fell asleep amidst a pile of jugs.
When he awoke, Punka panicked to see the light around him breaking apart. He could feel himself drifting away into the darkness until he grabbed onto a stray piece of light.
“Help!” he cried. He saw Chemall and ran to him. “Help! The light is leaving!” Chemall grabbed little Punka by the throat. “Someone needs to step into the center of the Universe and become the star again. It should be you! I should throw you in right now!”
Punka wanted to cry out in protest but Chemall was holding his neck too tightly.
“But no. I am responsible for you as well as my other children. This is my duty.”
Finally, he let go of Punka’s throat and Punka sighed with relief. As Punka thanked Chemall for his infinite mercy, Chemall seized Punka by his long and beautiful black hair.
“But you are not forgiven! Instead, I will throw you into the void, you little traitor!” Chemall seized Punka by the hair and flung him around his head. As Punka spun around tears in his eyes, Chemall said this: “So, you like to drink, Punka? Then I shall tell you this. If you survive the darkness and find some piece of light to cling to, or a hunk of earth, then I want you to know that alcohol will ruin the lives of you and your children for all eternity. When you drink it, may your memory be foggy and may you forget your merrymaking! And when you wake up, I hope your head is ablaze with fire and shame!”
The curse spoken, Chemall threw Punka into the void by his hair. Chemall then fulfilled his duty by stepping into the center of the Universe. At once, he exploded into falme and became the sun and the sparks and shrapnel from the explosion became all of the stars and planets.
When Punka landed on Earth, he was wracked with shame and drank every night as he watched the stars to try to forget as Chemall said he would. Each morning when the sun rose in the sky and lit up the Earth, he would feel his father’s penance pounding upon his head.
The Tale of Marley Williams Hatch
And so, Marley Williams Hatch decided to play the world’s biggest trumpet. And while Marley was the world’s best trumpet player and knew he could play the dickens out o’ that instrument, old Marley was no dummy either. He knew he had to set everything up just right before he could play an instrument that was twelve stories tall.
First, Marley Williams Hatch tried climbing up on a ladder, but you know what? That fool ladder was much too wobbly. He’d get thrown clear off from blowing on that rickety ladder. So Marley Williams Hatch, smart man that he was, rented a cherry picker to lift himself up. Then, he got himself some earplugs, but his playing was going to be so righteous and funky that he knew those little pieces of foam wouldn’t cut mustard. So Marley went and wrapped his head up in duct tape too. Then, for good measure, he duct taped himself to the cherry picker. Marley’s a big fan o’ duct tape, y’see. Always told the guys at the barber shop that the tape was good enough to send a man to the moon. And just to show off to his buddies, Marley done put posters of Louis Armstrong and Neil Armstrong and even Lance Armstrong just to fill up space on the cherry picker. And because he wasn’t trying to be sexist or nothin’, he put up a poster of Rosie the Riveter.
“They might as well call her Armstrong,” Marley whistled. His audience all laughed it up.
Then, as soon as he was talking, he was playing. Marley Williams Hatch wet up his lips and blew out a tune that even all the kangaroos in Australia perked their ears to and all the whales under the sea sang along with. And every man, woman and child in the audience was stunned into silence. It was strong and soothing. It invaded not the ears but the soul and blew every bad thing clean out. Marley Williams Hatch played soul and blues and bebop and wove them together like a shag rug. Old Marley was jamming like nobody ever jammed before. But even with all his safety gear and all his precautions, a man can only jam so hard ‘fore he hits his limit. By the time the dirty angel sounds were all done, everyone flocked to the giant trumpet, but they couldn’t find his body any place–just his shoes. Most people say Marley Williams Hatch had jammed himself right out of existence, jammed himself so hard, he went up to Heaven–except for his shoes, which Jamie the Finch nabbed while everybody was looking and nobody was caring, because Marley Williams Hatch was no more.
R.I.P. Marley Williams Hatch (1963-2009)
December of 1984.
Not a single cloud marred the skyline that noon summer day in Sao Paolo. But there was rain.
The favelados called it Imaculada Chuva. They said the rain was born out of God’s own eyes.
The first miracle that day happened to Jose Carlos. For the first time in over a decade, the 95-year-old was able to bend his knees and kiss the muddy ground, even though his limbs were stiff with arthritis. The entire street knew of Mr. Carlos’s condition and they all rushed to help him up, thinking he may be dying. When they came up to him, they saw that he himself was crying. “Mary is crying for us,” he said. “The dead are weeping with forgiveness. I can die in peace.”
You see, forgiveness was the most important thing to Jose Carlos. When he was a young man, he had led a sordid life. He led a bootleg operation 1920s, but there were rumors in the favela about his involvement with crime lords, that he became their muscle and did unspeakable things to people just as poor as he is now. Jose Carlos never thought that God would offer a true miracle to the favela before he died and he saw this as the sign of God’s forgiveness for which he’d been waiting his entire life.
“The dead are weeping!” Jose Carlos sobbed.
On the lower end of the favela. Little Davi splashed his bare feet under the warm trickle of dirty water from the gutters above, unaware that his parents inside were making love after having a terrible fight over a broken dish. He splashed through the streets, shouting to the windows above. “It’s raining!” he shouted then found a big puddle to jump into.
The twins, Maria and Mariana, laughed infectiously as Maria fried plantains and Mariana sewed up her child’s torn pants. He had been playing with the older boys again and she was worried he was going to fall in with the wrong crowd. This was the first time Maria had seen her sister laugh since her husband died. They both laughed so hard they cried. Maria’s tear sizzled when it hit the pain.
The bare-chested men practicing capoeira at the beach stopped to squint at the rain falling from the sun. When the rain dried, the capoeira dancers at the bottom of the hill began their furious dance again, refreshed. Their lightning feet struck the air, kicking out rainbows over the hillside of the favela.
On that morning, the favelados said that all sins had been washed away, that they were given another chance and the favelados celebrated in the evening until their legs were no longer good for standing and many still just lay down where they were and laughed and shouted.
When they woke up again the next morning, life resumed as it always had. Though once these were the abused eyes of the desperate, there was a lingering exuberance in their eyes that day. An immaculate rain had come and washed out all the bad things. At least that’s what the favelados said.
Mosquito Creation Myth
There once was a hunter named Haques. He was the most powerful hunter in his village and in the peak hunting season, he would kill more animals each day than the people could even eat. The people told him to slow down and relax but he laughed and said that he enjoyed the killing. This kind of boastfulness made the people uncomfortable. It was well known in the village that Haques did not give thanks to the animals that he killed. He simply enjoyed the act of killing. People from the village would tell him to have respect for the animals he killed but he would just laugh and say, “This is no animal. This is food.” When he killed an animal and it was still alive and bleeding, he would always tell the dying creature, “You are only bleeding because you are weak. If you were strong, you would be watching the blood run from my body instead of yours.” After he said this, he would slit the animal’s throat and then hang it upside down. He would watch until all the blood was drained from its body and then he would carry the body home. Sometimes he would carry three or four carcasses of deer or a boar larger than his own body. The people thanked him for his contribution to the village, though they were wary of his disrespect for the animals who gave their lives.
One day, Haques was stalking a wily fox. He had already killed enough for the day but he had never hunted a fox before and wanted to try. The fox hid in the shrubs and behind trees and it took Haques hours to finally catch with an arrow. As the fox lie there, Haques triumphantly said, “You are only bleeding because you are weak. If you were strong, you would be watching the blood run from my body instead of yours.” When he pulled out his knife to slit the animal’s throat, the fox laughed at him.
“Fox!” Haques said, angry at this insult. “Why do you laugh at me?”
“Because you are a fool. All you do is kill but you cannot see that every time you kill a living creature without remorse, you are killing a bit of yourself as well. Your people know this but they ignore it, because you give them food. You humans are all fools.” The fox laughed again, even in its pain. “Here. I will show you the extent of your foolishness.”
The hunter put his blad against the fox’s throat. “You will be dead soon and you will show me nothing!”
As the knife slid across the creature’s throat, Haques was surprised to find that what came out was not the animal’s blood but a nest of insects. The fox had tricked him, he thought, but how was a bug going to teach the greatest hunter a lesson? He continued hanging the body, but the bugs began to bite him. He swatted at them and was about to laugh at their feeble deaths, but when he raised his hand again, he was disappointed to see only his own blood.
When he returned to the village with the fox carcass, there were swarms of insect biting the people. They saw the fox and realized what had happened. The fox was the most important creature in the forest and to kill it was bad luck. For Haques to show no reverence to the animal for giving its life was a terrible mistake. The people threw stones at Haques and yelled for him to leave.
Haques, bleeding from his many wounds, escaped into the forest. He went to wash off the blood in a pond nearby but the insects had nested there and bit him. For every one he killed, there seemed to be three more and every time it was his own blood that came from the squished bodies. Wherever he ran, the insects were always there, bleeding him little by little until he died one day, a shriveled old man, covered in bites.
You can hear it at night, profaning the air with a jackal whine. The cold wind echoes with sounds of teeth scraping against rock. The locals liken it to a hind chewing glass or a horse smashing apart its own hooves. They call this sound the Krummling.
The Krummling, they say, is a beast with forty legs and a thousand teeth. No one has ever seen the Krummling, but some say it grinds men apart slowly to feed off their terror. The Krummling is called a beast, a monster, and a god, almost all in the same breath. The word “Krummling” is breathed with the same fear, reverence, and repulsion.
The Krummling lives below the cliffside at the edge of town. The locals say that eventually, the Krummling will eat through the cliff and finally eat them. Even so, nobody suggests building a town farther from the sea. The locals have considered it their fate if the Krummling should finally succeed. That isn’t to say they don’t try to deter its progress. It is said that the Krummling goes into a bloodlust when it has feasted, especially on children. It thrives on their fear and grows excited, eating away at the earth faster as they scream. The locals teach their children young to never show fear or even feel it. Every time a child is near the cliff or has fallen down the cliff, the noise increases tenfold in volume, causing the locals told hold their ears in pain.
When the locals are happy and celebrate, you can barely hear the Krummling eat. The noises that plague the night are countered by a loud whooping and hollaring. Some men become so fearless that they go to the edge of the sea and hurl curses at the Krummling. Some of these men, depending on how inebriated, never come back. They fall off the cliff and are assumed to be food for the Krummling. When this happens, the noises become deafening again and the celebrations cease. The locals wonder if it is even worth it to celebrate if people are just going to feed themselves to the monster. Each year, the cliff seems to shrink away faster.
When the locals pray at night, they all include the same prayer. They pray that those caught in the teeth of the Krummling died silently and without fear of the Krummling’s black maw and the darkness beyond.
The Last Hold
Onidas knew the war was over when the giants had finally reached the walls of Svellgard, humanity’s last hold. The giants crushed the bricks of the guard towers with clubs carved of ancient ash trees, bearing the blood and shattered remains of the guards of the East Towers. Their clan’s leader, the hoary one called Vald, stood just out of range of the defenders’ bows, catapults, and ballistas. His beard flowed down to his stomach, long enough to soak from tip to chin in the twin falls of Garbassa. An ancestral sword hung at his waist, the only blade of its size in existence. It is said that entire mountains are destroyed to obtain enough ore for one sword fit for a giant. This sword, Acwellan, was also said to have been taken from another clan of giants that no longer exists and was made during the civil wars ages ago.
Now that the East Towers had been decimated, Onidas cut loose the straps holding his leg plating and sprinted to the battlements in the West Towers. Armor meant nothing in a battle like this. One of the ballistas there was abandoned, its operator either dead or a coward, though dead either way. There is no escape when running from giants. As the saying goes, you run from a giant and you only go as far as his club can reach. If Onidas was going to die today, he preferred a more honorable end.
He signalled for a boy who was delivering buckets from the latrines to the ballistas. He was only a squire, not even a man, though he showed the courage of a knight. The boy came back and tossed the refuse onto the head of Onidas’s weapons. They would all die, of that he was certain, but the least he could do was give one a nasty infection. If all went well, it would travel to its heart and they’d be one giant down a day too late.
He waited until the giants had closed in on their warpath, though the debris from their carnage was shattering even these walls. He loosed his ballista onto one overzealous giant. The gods must have been on his side, for the diseased spear tore into the belly of the giant. He fell, howling in thunderous pain. Vald, seeing this, took his first steps toward the remaining battlements. Each step brought him straight toward Onidas. He sought revenge for a fallen clansman. Acwellan, when brandished, lit up from the sun so that the entire battlefield was hammered by its glare. It is said that a man has never been killed by a giant’s blade. It is a death usually reserved only for other giants. Onidas may have felt honored if not for his overwhelming fear.
The giant crashed his blade into the battlements. Chunks of the wall went everywhere. A smaller bit beat into Onidas’s shoulder. The giant blade sunk in deeper than Onidas would have imagined, digging down into the earth. With his free hand, Vald swatted and twisted apart the other men on the wall, never taking his eyes off of Onidas. The giant meant for Onidas to die by his sword. He drew the Acwellan from the rubble and the sword again glared at Onidas. Having nothing to defend himself against this beast, his courage faltered. Not knowing whether to fight or to run, Onidas merely stood there as the giant raised his massive arm and he could only watch as the arm was stayed and blood waterfalled down onto the battlements. Vald had been feathered with half a dozen arrows, all the size of ballistas. Another clan had arrived.
Onidas saw them emerge, dressed only in blue war paint, all equipped with bows. Unlike the siegers, these giants were equipped to assassinate, not to massacre. They were giant-killers. At first, Onidas was relieved. He would live another moment, perhaps another day. It was a miracle that these giants would arrive to battle the enemy clan. But a realization dawned on him. While this clan may not be bent on their destruction, they were certainly in the habit of taking slaves since giants themselves cannot mine deep in the caverns of the earth like humans can. More than likely, Onidas and the few other survivors here would spend the rest of their live in servitude. His only hope, then, if he would not die in battle today was that perhaps one day the weapon that he and his brethren mined the iron for would be used to kill many more giants.
Onidas sunk to his knees, peering over the gorge that Vald carved out with his blade. At the bottom lie the giant leader, bleeding the last of his life through his mouth and his nose. The fall of Svellgard and the fall of Vald were as one, marking the beginning of a new and terrifying age for giants and humans alike.
Eight Stories About Ironing
Iron (n.): a handheld device used to steam press clothing and eliminate wrinkles. Despite the name, modern irons are made with a stainless steel sole plate, so as to keep irons durable and rust-free. In modern usage, the term “iron” is often used as a metaphor to describe the process of leveling out an article or spirit using any tool regardless of whether one actually uses an iron to do so. The ultimate goal of an iron is to flatten.
In some versions of the folklore surrounding Baba Yaga, she irons out the path behind her so no one can tell where she’s been. I just made this up.
Janet hated doing laundry but she loved to iron. As soon as her husband threw off his shirt or tie upon returning home, she would snatch the bits of clothing and begin ironing. She never kissed him when he walked through the door. He never got so much as a “Welcome home, honey.” Janet’s husband hypothesized that she did this because she is a neurotic bitch with a withered vagina. Her therapist thought the same thing, though instead he told her that she was trying to gain control over her life by ironing clothes. She needed to get out of the house, maybe volunteer or take dance lessons. Janet wonders if this was all true, even the part about the withered vagina (though no one said a thing, Janet is actually very perceptive). She decides she’s going to take up the hobby of ironing more. You see, when Janet irons, all traces of her husband go away. Gone are the scent of his sweat and cologne; gone the cardboard dust aroma from the storage room in the office; gone the smells of his secretary’s unwithered vagina. Gone.
Philosophers and historians say that time is cyclical. Or it repeats itself. The Dark Age and the Iron Age repeat themselves in one form or another, as do the Inquisition, the witch trials, and the Red Scare. I don’t know about such things. I’m not a philosopher. Or a historian. But I do repeat myself.
I was taught to iron on an 8×8 inch square of fabric. This did not prepare me for ironing out oddly-shaped clothing with thick collars and obtrusive sleeves. It did not prepare me for bumpy buttons and embossed patterns. Nor was I prepared for burned clothes and burned hands. It also did not prepare me for heartbreaks and hangovers and sucker punches. I remain unprepared for the fickle hearts of women and the affairs of men. My life is limited to this 8×8 inch of fabric and I still can’t quite get that last crease to go down.
Baba Yaga Again
I heard she kidnaps children, steals their bones and then irons out their skins to hang and dry outside of her chicken leg house. Okay. I made part of that up, too… don’t judge me. Look at yourself.
Paul & Susan
Paul always did it himself. Started his own company. Self-made millionaire. Business trips on his own coin. Ironed his own clothes at the end of each day. One day, they found him at the front of the hotel, smashed into pavement and surrounded by broken glass. His death was documented, photographed, and he was filed away in the morgue.
Susan didn’t want to be young or sexy. She just wanted her face to be perfect. She hated stubble and the texture of a burning log in the fireplace. She went online and looked for porn of people wearing masks. Her favorite was comedy and tragedy masks, but those are hard to find. She read about Paul in the newspaper and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Susan got Botox and didn’t have to worry about choices anymore.
The Ghost of Iron
The ultimate goal of the iron is to flatten. There is a mass grave – a surplus of irons that have done their job and gone to rest. Their ghosts still haunt us, clinking on chains woven from Jacob Marley’s skin. Every year, they come to this very spot, bury their faces in the ground, and howl into pillows made of dirt.
Everyone in the world is dead. I know in my heart that everyone in the world is dead. The countries are all dead. The birds are all dead. The trees are all dead. There are no eyes to see, no ideas to believe, no atmosphere to breathe. Everything in my home is dead. I know in my heart that everyone in my home is dead. My fern is dead. My dog is dead. My family is dead. I have no fabric to feel, no bacteria to digest, no heart to know that everyone in the world is dead. I am dead.
I live across from a dying neon sign that says “seafoo.” It flickers through the blinds and makes my room a shade of green like in zombie flicks. Every night, I battle the rotten green with the technicolor madness emanating from Tru TV.
Mike came by today.
“Long time no see.”
“No shit, dick! You broke my jaw! I had to have it wired!”
“Yeah, but I paid for it,” I tell him. I don’t see what he was getting at.
“But you broke my jaw! I just got the wires removed last week and it still clicks!” He had his jaw clenched, which was probably bad for it, but what am I, his mom?
“And now you’re here. What, did Carla kick you out again?”
“No! I just wanted an apology from you, dick.”
I look at Mike, his strung out eyes darting around. “The couch is all yours, man. You really need to find another girl, you know that?”
“Hey, you shut your mouth! Carla’s an angel, man! A fucking angel!” His jaw pops like a firecracker. “Ow! Fuck!”
I put a bottle to my lips. I’m not his therapist, either.
When people around here go walking around in the evening talking to themselves, they never have a phone strapped to their heads. I guess we’re old-fashioned that way.
Mike and Carla haven’t called for a while. I don’t know why Mike won’t answer my calls. I paid for his surgery and everything. He’s not a very grateful person. Holds grudges. Doesn’t live for the moment. That kind of guy. I think it’s Carla’s influence. She doesn’t like me.
Mike and Carla came to visit today. They’re a match made in a meth lab and just as volatile. Carla goes straight for the fridge.
“The beer’s not for dragon ladies!”
“Shut the fuck up!” her squealing voice is consumed by the frosty caverns that house all my Dos Equis.
“Yeah. Shut the fuck up!” Mike hits me upside the head. It doesn’t bother me much that Mike hit me. I deserved it, after all. It bothered me that the bitch didn’t come over here and do it herself. Mike’s a tool but she uses him like one. Not cool.
Somehow, after a couple hours of drinking and watching T.V., we start commenting on the way that fat chick’s voice sounds on Operation Repo.
“She says stuff weird,” I say.
“She looks weird, too. Who cares, man?” Mike takes down the rest of my beer.
“Sounds like white trash. Ain’t she Latina?”
“You sound like white trash.”
“Hey. Fuck you.” I say. “I’m pure bred Chinese. Ain’t no white trash in my house.”
“Oh, right.” He and Carla look at each other and I know its trouble. It’s like two pieces of flint trying to start a fire, except imagine the flint is two idiots you know.
“Ah soo. Ching chong ping pong pow! Belly good. Me likey fat ratina. Likey berry much!”
I break his jaw.
Carla burned down my apartment building. Mike must have said something wrong.
Days 21 through 67
Bought some more beer. Life is good. The room is flickering green. I turn on the T.V. and it feels like I’m winning.
Mike is keeping me up all night talking on the phone. I get sick of “I’m sorry, baby,” but then they start shouting again. I can even hear her voice, she’s so loud. It’s shrill, cuts through plaster walls like a razor. I fall asleep to their shouting and even manage to sleep like a newborn. It’s comforting to know that, from a certain perspective, nothing ever really changes.
The hotel I’m staying at smells like cat piss. There’s a red sign across the street with two Xs. I need a drink.
“What is that? A fish?” I asked the woman sitting next to me at the bar. I pointed to the black and white tattoo trailing up her arm. I have to admit, she scared me. She sat almost a head taller than me, sipping the froth off a pint of Guinness and staring straight to the back of the bar, as if the Jager on the shelf had insulted her mother. Then again, I was pretty smashed and I would have talked to a grizzly bear if it was drinking next to me.
“Yeah. It’s a koi. A Japanese carp.” she said, in a prettier voice than I would have thought. She had a decent rack, too, but I was sure it was all muscle underneath.
“But you aren’t even Asian,” I said, not daring to mention the fact that she was a woman and shouldn’t be wearing tattoos in the first place.
“So? Do I have to be?” She barely glanced my way.
“I guess not.” I tugged at my beer. “But why koi? Why put a fish on your arm?”
Her throat opened to make way for the dark brew. I waited as she slowly finished her pull, briskly lowering the glass to the counter. “I like them. When I was a little girl, I used to watch them in the pond in my backyard.”
I couldn’t imagine her as a little girl, though I didn’t tell her that. “You were rich enough to have a koi pond?”
“My dad was a businessman. He spent a lot of time and Japan and I guess he liked them enough to get some of his own.”
“Yeah? Weird. I would have thought you got your tats in prison or something.” I laughed. She didn’t. Man, she was making me uncomfortable. “So, um, where are you from?”
I exhaled, smiling. “Oh really? Compton?” That makes sense.
“No,” she smirked into her pint. “That was the joke. I’m really from Seattle.”
“Yeah? That’s cool. What they got up there?”
I almost smiled again, but then I was started to catch on to her game. “That’s another joke, right?”
“Ha. Right.” She chuckled into her beer.
“What? What’s so funny?” She’s totally into me. Why are all the ugly ones so desperate?
“So, what brings you—” But before I could finish, a wild-haired black girl came running up and wrapped her arms around the big woman’s waist. “Hurry up, Joan! I want to go dancing sometime tonight!”
“Sure. Just one more thing.” She put some money down on the counter. “Bartender! One White Russian for my friend.” She looked down at me. “Gotta drink your milk. Maybe one day you’ll grow up.” She left with the dark girl and I saw she had a dragon clawing up her other arm. It made me uncomfortable. I turned back to the counter.
That’s why she was so strange! She’s a homo! Should have known, her being so big and all. Wait until the guys at the office hear about this! I sipped the froth off my drink and thought about sucking on big titties.
“I’m Gonna Shank You”
“If you hand me that towel, I’m gonna shank you,” he told me.
“I don’t know what kind of incentive—”
“If you hand me that towel, I’m gonna shank you.” This time slower with his left hand cupped around an imaginary shoulder. He locked eyes with me and the right hand made a fist, pumping in a stabbing motion.
“Okay. I won’t hand you the towel.”
“No. Hand me that towel.”
“Why? You’re just gonna shank me.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You said it!”
“Oh, that. Well, you know I just say things…” he waved an open palm, pushing his lips out in a kissy-face. Then he stopped and got stone-faced again. We locked eyes and the palm turned into a fist. “But if you hand me that towel, I’m gonna shank you.” He started laughing, an open-mouthed cackle that cut the air.
“You’re fucking nuts. I’m leaving.” I slammed the door behind me, but I could still hear that laugh. It got louder, no mirth to it at all. He just wanted me to hear it behind the door.
Why do we have to go through this every morning?
Birds don’t fly free
“Man, look at those pigeons. It’d be nice to be free like them,” Oz sighed.
“Those birds ain’t free,” Huggie replied. “Ain’t nobody free.”
“They can fly anywhere they want. I’d call that free.”
“Oz, you’re a damn fool. Check it.” Huggy reached deep into his pockets and scattered bread crumbs on the dirt. The pigeons swarmed around him.
“So? They’re hungry.”
“I put bread crumbs to the left, Birds go left. Bread crumbs to the right, they go right. No free will.”
“That don’t prove anything, man. They don’t have to take the crumbs.”
Huggy laughed. “They always do, fool! You grow wings and fly, we’ll see how far you get. You’ll be doing the same shit, talking the same shit, only down in Mexico instead of here.”
“Doesn’t sound bad to me. People can change, you know?”
“Yeah, if the man throws bread crumbs some other place. Problem is, we only got so many breadcrumbs and they all leadin’ right. Here.” He knocked on the bench. It sounded like a hollow door.
“Breadcrumbs. I don’t know what the fuck you’re saying anymore, man.”
“I’m sayin’ that everythin’s decided for us the day we born. We live in a prison the size of the world. Ain’t no way out of it.”
“I don’t want to listen to this shit, man. Ain’t nobody tellin’ me what to do.”
“Motherfucker’s deluded,” Huggy laughed, then punched Oz in the shoulder. “Eyes up. Here he comes.” Huggy whispered. He got up out of his chair. The pigeons scattered. “Trey! What’s up, my man?”
Trey’s eyes bulged like a fish. “Wait! No!”
Huggy and Oz had been sharpening their screws the entire day before. Each one slid into Trey’s neck like they were going into a corn cob.
“Motherfucker looks like Frankenstein,” Huggy laughed.
A crowd gathered around, clouding the scene in an instant. “Oh God! Someone help!” Oz yelled to nobody in particular. “This dude’s been stabbed. Man, somebody stabbed this guy!”
All the prisoners moved in to get a better look. Some of them laughed. Others were furious, but the guards came with their rifles and trigger fingers and nobody could do a thing without getting shot first.
“Back in your cages, you fucking animals!” the warden screamed. The men filed into the prison.
“Shouldn’t we get a doctor?” a guard asked.
“Ain’t gonna do nothin’ now,” the warden spat, watching Trey’s bulging eyes and his blood mixing with the dirt. “But I’ll tell you what. You get the doctor an’ I’ll call up the coroner. We’ll see who comes out on top.”
When the yard was clear and the guards had herded the men back to their cells, the pigeons flew back to the yard to finish the leftovers.
Yes. I’m a Black Widow, but I’m not a widow. I’m unhappily married to a male spider who just squats around the web doing nothing but waste his precious energy and cost me precious sleep. I get so agitated with him sometimes. It’s only when the web vibrates that I know I’ve caught something but he just keeps moving around and I can’t get any rest. He’s probably scaring away the gnats around this garage, too. Who made this web? Who supplies for this family? Certainly not him, and he doesn’t show a lot of gratitude for it. My friends said I should have slurped up his liquefied remains a long time ago, but I decided that I loved him and that marriage should last forever. Now I just sit around, looking at him wave around that big red hourglass on his backside. Every day I see that and it’s as if it’s just mocking me. “What are you doing with your life, Tabitha? It’s just whittling away and you could do so much more.” But then he turns around and I see those rows of loathsome eyes just leering at me. Sometimes I just want to coil that sucker up and inject all my venom sacs straight into his face, but it’s marriage. Marriage is supposed to be forever. I just don’t know how much more I can take, though. If he doesn’t shape up soon, I may just have to eat the bastard.
“I don’t care who you have sex with, as long as it’s with me,” said the male bonobo to the female.
“What did you say?”
“I said I want only you,” he put his lips out to kiss her.
“Noooo. No, no, no. What about all my girlfriends?”
“But I want only you,” he said, puckering his lips again.
She pushed him away. “But what about my other male sex partners?”
“Am I not enough for you?” The male bonobo said, holding his hands to his heart. He looked crushed.
“How about I just have sex with other male bonobos when you’re not looking?”
“Look, pal, I’m trying to work with you here. You’re saying I can’t have sex with any females either?”
“Hmm. How about only when I am looking?”
The female bonobo threw up her hands. “Why are you making things complicated? All I’m asking in this relationship is that we can have sex with whomever we want, whenever we want.”
The male bonobo stuck out his lower lip. “But that’s not what I want.”
“Hey! Humans do it.”
“Humans like to wear pants.”
The bonobos were silent for a moment. “Point taken,” the male replied. “But I love you.”
“No you don’t.”
“You only love the idea of loving me.”
The bonobo scratched his head. “Huh?”
“You’re getting me all strung out. I’m going to go have an orgy with my girlfriends.”
The male bonobo watched her leave, then he went to his favorite termite hill and poked it with a stick, even though he didn’t really feel hungry at all.
There’s the couple hugging under the towel but they’re really having sex. There’s the crack team of metal detectors, dressed all in black with their black shades on who are looking for buried treasure or the lost ark or something. There’s the pigeons that need to be told where the line is and the seagulls who know the line but decide to cross it anyway. There’s the old woman touching the guy’s face who’s sleeping. There’s the old guy who’s sleeping in his black Speedo, like two red suns about to eclipse. There’s the young woman sleeping off her hangover facedown with no towel. There’s the guy with the clipboard who posts on Craig’s List every week to field test whether female condoms retract from having ocean water creep up there while having ocean sex — no one ever comes. And there’s always, always that couple under the towel, a writhing mess of polka dots and sand.
Flowers in a Green Vase
The flowers in the green vase stared at John politely.
“You should go to her,” they seemed to say.
“G-go to whom?” John replied.
“You should go to her,” they repeated.
“I’m afraid I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
The flowers paused for a moment. “You know who we’re talking about. Go to her, or we’ll tell her what you did.”
“Wha-what do you mean?” John looked around nervously. It was only him and the flowers.
“We know what you did on that business trip to Miami. What would your mother think?”
“You leave my mother out of this! What do you want?”
“We want you to go to her and tell her what you’ve done. Tell her everything.” The flowers seemed to lean toward John, their bulbs shooting menacing glances. John flexed his hands, as if he wanted to strangle those stems, snap them in half, leave them broken on the floor.
“Look, flowers. I am a respectable man. I just got off work and I’m resting my tired feet. I don’t need any lip from you.”
“How’s Cindy? Your secretary? We know you like her.”
“Cindy and I have a purely professional—”
“Do you want to do those things you did in Miami? You should go to her and tell her all about it. Tell her what you did to that prost—”
Later, when his friends came to visit, they asked about the vase.
“I really liked that flower arrangement you had,” Raymond’s wife said.
“Oh, I know. Knocked the entire vase over while I was changing out the water. I was thinking of getting a bowl of wax fruit, instead.”
“Yes. I agree. Flowers always die so easily.”
Sweet vs. Sour
The two stared at each other for hours before blinking. One had a rifle in her hand. The other, an ice cream cone. Somehow, the ice cream cone never melted. It looked like ice cream, but maybe it was just plastic. Onlookers called the police yelled through megaphones. Neither moved. That is, until the rifle began to drip.
Teddy Bear Eyes
“I was tired of waiting.”
The note was signed “Leila” with her signature teddy bear face, this time a tear drawn below its raven eye. The bear’s head caved in Liam’s grip. His nails stitched a smile into his palm.
Liam thought about the times that he and Leila spent shagging on the carpet, screwing on the table, and fooling around in the den. They also, on occasion, had sex in the bedroom.
Without actually wanting to remember, Liam thought about how Leila liked to go on long walks. She, of course, convinced him to go, too. He would bitch about his feet and they’d talk bollocks about how they were going to live in a hot air balloon and raining cream puffs on the general population. It was only more recently when she’d starting nagging him about marriage and meeting her parents. He couldn’t give a toss about that. It didn’t change the fact that he loved the silly cunt.
In the den, there was a pair of rocking chairs that Leila liked. She’d bought them at a garage sale, said they’d be sitting in them when they were old farts and had a porch. Liam had left his putter on the floor; he’d been practicing his putting last evening. Leila’d always hated him being messy. Liam picked up the putter, felt its weight in his hand, swung it a few times like a cricket bat. With a deep sigh, he turned on the antique chairs and smashed them to pieces. By the end, there wasn’t a chunk bigger than his fist. He’d wanted to turn it into splinters, but that wasn’t a job for a putter. He could see that now.
He walked into the kitchen to grab a bottle of Scotch he’d been saving for their anniversary. He didn’t bother with a glass but took the whole bottle with him.
Liam strutted back into the bedroom, hoisting the putter over his shoulder and heaving the bottle to his lips. The bear’s black, crumpled eyes stared at him from under the lamp, looking demented and afraid. He’d almost forgotten about it. Liam offered the bear the bottle. The bear didn’t take any of the drink.
“What? You don’t want any?”
The bear stared.
“Fine. More for me, then. You’re not such good company, anyway.”
More memories came without Liam asking for them. Leila sharing a bottle with him in the parking lot. Leila making breakfast for him. Leila kissing his bruises after he’d gotten the piss beaten out of him at a game. Leila crying in the kitchen after finding out her little sister just got married. Liam threw the putter into the wall. He covered his eyes so the bear couldn’t see him weep.
Wine and Cigarettes
“Don’t throw them away!” Stacie cried. ”They were so young! Life hadn’t burned them out yet!”
She dropped to her knees, pleading for her lost cigarettes.
Karen, holding small trash bin in her hand, was not moved. “You mean you were going to burn them out!”
Stacie’s angelic pleas turned to devilish grin. “Tee hee.”
“Pfft. Don’t ‘tee hee’ me! You told me you were going to quit!”
The face changed again, this time to a puppy. “But I needs ‘em. Puh-leez don’ take mah baybees away! I would jus’ die.”
“Guh. You’re awful, Stace. Tell you what…” Karen took the bin to the fire escape, dumping its contents to the dumpster below. Stacie clutched at Karen’s clothes, screaming for her to give her back her babies, that she was an awful, horrible woman for taking them away. A man having a smoke in the alley below looked both worried and disturbed. “Hi!” They both chimed, retreating back into the apartment. Stacie began giggling to the point where Karen thought she wouldn’t stop, so she beat her over the head one good one with the trash bin.
“Ow! Hey, Kare bear! That hurt!”
“Yeah, well that wasn’t funny! I have to live here, you know!”
“I live here, too!”
“You squat here, you mean.” Karen rubbed her temples, afflicted by her frequent migraines. “Gah. I need a drink.”
Stacie, eager to get on her friend’s good side, went scurrying in to the kitchen. “I’ll open us up some wine!”
“Yeah, like you need it.”
“I do! I’ll be going through withdrawals any minute now. Need something to keep the edge off.”
“Just trading one addiction for another.”
“Look who’s talking, drunkie. Here.” She handed Karen a glass. The red wine sloshed to the brim.
“What kind is this?”
“Dunno.” She turned the bottle and squinted. “Something French.”
“Ah.” Karen took a liberal first sip. She didn’t actually care what it was, but it seemed the right thing to ask. Careful not to spill her vine-grown ambrosia, Karen slumped into the couch. Stacie remained standing, pacing around with her wine. Her constant energy made Karen agitated. “Well, they do make good wine.”
“I don’t know if I like the French,” Stacie paused to keep her wine from sloshing out of her glass. “They’re so hoity toity.”
“Hmph. That’s what they want you to think,”
“Well, they’re doing a good job then.”
“They’re just putting up a face to keep everyone from moving in and drinking all their wine.”
Stacie put out her lower lip and crossed her eyebrows. She did that when she was thinking hard. Karen thought it looked ridiculous. “I guess that makes sense,” Karen nodded. “Maybe that’s why they can sell it to us for so much money.”
“Amen to that, sister.” She took another big swig and stared at the glass for a while. “You know, I really like drinking out of a wine glass. It makes me feel like I’m delicately choking a tiny person.”
“Hey!” Karen regretted showing her vulnerable side and began confiding in her wine.
“Oh, come on, little Kare Bear. I was just joshin’ ya! Here. My little man’s empty. Want me to fill yours up?”
“We’re just going to keep going like this, aren’t we?” Karen mumbled. When Stacie came back with her glass, Karen drank deep and graciously.
“A toast to good friends!” Stacie smiled.
“Salut,” Karen replied, but she smiled anyway.
“Back for more pie, eh?” Curtis whistled through his teeth.
“No,” Judy said, holding her fresh-baked pie. “I thought I’d bring a pie as thanks for last time.”
“What is it?” he licked his lips, though that could have just been to get moisture to his mouth.
“Mmmm,” Curtis slid his dry tongue over his lips again. “I’d take a taste of your cherry any day, little girl! HAAaaa~!” His laugh turned into a wheeze and then a wet cough. Judy had a lovely grandfather who was always a gentleman in the presence of women. She had thought that it was just the era, that all men raised then learned to treat women the same way, but this man was dispelling all her illusions.
“Are you all right?” she finally asked.
“Fine,” he coughed. “Fine. Just get me some water with that pie.”
Judy looked for some bottles of water around the kitchen, distilled water in the fridge, anything she thought an old man should have to keep healthy. She eventually decided that there were none and decided to use the tap. “Here. It’s from the tap. I don’t know if you had anything else, ” she said, offering the drink to him. She waited for some kind of response, but he merely nodded his head as he took the glass. “I’ll go cut up the pie.”
Judy had an easier time finding the pie slicer. It was old, silver, with a flower design. Perhaps it belonged to his wife. Given the abruptness of their first conversation, she hadn’t asked Curtis much about his family or personal life. She hadn’t seen her sitting out with him, so she and the neighbors all assumed he was a widower.
When Judy cut into her pie, red cherries oozed out. The crust was golden and resisted a little against the slicer before flaking apart. Curtis’s pumpkin pie was good, but Judy’s pie could win awards! She took two plates out and gave him the second slice that hadn’t fallen apart.
Curtis’s hand shook as he blew on the forkful of pastry. He chewed, slowly, swallowed, then put his fork down on the plate. Judy waited eagerly for a reaction as the man licked his lips.
“You know, my wife was a terrible cook.”
This was not the response Judy was hoping for. Judy smiled, taking a few deep breaths. She reminded herself that he probably didn’t have long to live and strangling him wouldn’t be worth it.
“Oh? I didn’t know you had a wife.”
“Sixty-two years. Loony as a cuckoo bird, that one. Couldn’t read anything without her glasses and she’s dyslexic to boot. ‘Curtis,’ she’d say to me. ‘Why do we have something called “bear slices” in the pantry?’ An’ I’d tell her, “Nonsense! Those are pear slices, you old bat!’ We’d argue like that for fifteen minutes and then hobble to the bedroom and make love. I’d be her papa bear and she’d be my little Goldie Locks.”
Judy tried to erase that image from her head. She put some cherry pie in her mouth. The cherries were delicious, just a little overripe, but the texture tasted bad today, like loose skin. The thought of old people sex was affecting her palate. “What happened to her – your wife?”
“She died,” he took another bite of the pie and made a face. Judy bit her lip, trying to be civil.
“I mean, how did she pass?”
“Pass? Oh. Ovarian cancer. Doctors gave her a year. She lived five months.”
“For what?” bits of crust flew from his mouth. He pointed his fork at her. “Did you give my wife cancer?”
“No. I just… I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Maaah! I didn’t lose nothin’! She’s dead!” He didn’t seem at all worried about his wife dying. All manners and protocol told Judy that she should be horrified by this, but she also felt a bit of admiration for him. Curtis didn’t tip-toe around death. Her family used to mourn every little thing. When her grandfather died, she wasn’t even sure whether anyone was genuinely sad for his passing or they just felt like they had to act sad. It was a horrible thing to think about them, but…
“Gad damn it!” Curtis cried. His pie fell to the ground.
“Don’t worry. I’ll get you some more pie.”
“No. Sit down.” She did as she was told and folded her hands in her lap, just as she’d always been taught. Curtis, cherry filling on his shirt, sat with legs spread out wide and his hands tucked under his belly.
“You know, if my wife heard me say the Lord’s name in vain like that, she would have flayed my hide. Got in the habit of sayin’ it like that fucking Dan Aykroyd guy.”
“That was the movie. ‘W’ere on a mission from God.’ You know?”
He sat for a minute, smacking his gums and staring into space. Just as Judy was about to say something to break the silence, Curtis opened his mouth. “Gad, I miss that crazy bitch.” He sighed, coughed, then closed his eyes. He looked like exhaustion had come and scooped everything out of him in an instant.
“Are you all right?”
Curtis bowed his head. She thought it was a nod.
“Well, perhaps I should be going, let you get your rest. I hope you enjoy the rest of your pie.”
“Goodbye. Don’t bring pie anymore. I’ll bake.”
“Bye, Curtis. Have a good evening. It was wonderful seeing you again.”
When Judy got home, she screamed into her pillow.
The Funniest Zombie Knock Knock Joke Ever
Zombie engorged from eating too many brains: Mwarrgh.
Jawless zombie: Ackle-clok?
Zombie engorged from eating too many brains: Mwarlgh-huh.
Jawless Zombie: Ackle…ackle. CLOK!
Zombie engorged from eating too many brains: MWARGHHhuhhhh… hhuh… ungha. Ugh. Uh…