A Glittering Nothing

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-8-42-00-pmWe were just fine living our lives the way we wanted to, thank you very much. We woke up in the pm and went to bed in the am, gathered our socks and shoes around us in bed so we’d always be ready to run away, even in our skivvies. We were about something, although we knew not what that something was. We were channeling Sid and Nancy, just standing there, trying to look cool with our foot and back against the wall, a cigarette trailing our fingers like a conductor’s baton at rest.

We made love in the soft moments of the night, when the cicadas were still at it, their cries the only indicator that there was a world outside our own. We had glorious times filching unlocked bikes from the park and riding them down a hill usually used for sledding, handlebars jolting and jostling, us holding on tight. We had taking bricks from the failed construction across the street and seeing if we could roof them without breaking any windows.

We had a tendency to fight when the leaves were on the ground so that someone could stomp out and crunch them underfoot, wanting desperately for things to be like how they were in the easy days, if there were any.

We had to go get real jobs and settle into a nice neighborhood and have some docile children and live out the rest of our lives in a real swell place. We went out in the rain instead, let it plaster our clothes to our bodies like so much papier-mâché, and our feet were underwater attractions in the aquarium of our shoes. We filed for divorce though we had never married and tore up the documents when they were served, sprinkled them over the server’s head and snapped a shot for his confetti wedding.

We had a creamy nougat center and we knew how many licks it took to get to the center of us. When we wanted something, we simply took it and walked away. We had a tendency to narrate all aspects of our lives, and would stop when you or I had to leave. The narration was for both of us or none of us. We had days where it would all stop like a glittering nothing as if we were on a train car lurching before a big halt, screeching, blaring on the horn though there’s no reason for it. Yes, that’s what it was like.

We gave it all up, then started using again, then stopped kind of. It was complicated. We had a way of preparing it that differed from normal usage. We had the gleaming in our eyes when it hit and we were fire in our selves and everything went slowslowslow till it came and went, and we’d be done with it this time for real. We’d for real be done and through and so Past It.

We were not Past It. We wanted to be just in a couch, not out there getting It, using It, and the way we worked was to capitalize our hurts. How many times did we flush It and trash It only to be knocking on that milky door again.

We gave up for real and let our lives come back. The way it was at first was that everything had the color drained from it. The color seeped back in slow, the way the taste of apples changes when you purge yourself of junk food.

We tested what it was like to be normal humans again. We debated over what our story should be, whether it should be about our shenanigans or our using; the silly or the serious. But maybe we could make it about both. Maybe we could make a flash fiction story called, “A Glittering Nothing” and make this our story in condensed form.

We wrote the flash fiction story called, “A Glittering Nothing.” It was not this flash fiction story, you can be assured. This is just named after that one, in reference to it. That one was far better than this one could ever be. That one had real grit and heart, and it made you laugh in the appropriate places and cry in the appropriate places too.

We had to make sure not to fuck it up. When you’re writing a story, you can only carry on the ruse for so long. You have to keep your audience in mind. Kill your darlings. And all that. So with that in mind, we really trimmed it down. We tried to make it entertaining. We checked our word count and tried to keep it short, but not too short.

We let the reader really peek behind the curtain. We let them in on the writing process, had a Q & A. It was really something, you can be assured. Sorry we couldn’t do that for this one, but it’s a different situation. So for instance, the original “A Glittering Nothing” went silly, then serious, then metafictional. This one doesn’t do that. This part might seem metafictional, but in reality it’s just a polite explanation. We didn’t have to do this, but we thought it would be best. We didn’t want anyone getting confused.

We couldn’t decide just where it would end, but we considered doing that thing where a story bookends itself, giving the reader that precious a-ha moment where everything literally comes full circle. Well, we’re at 911 words right now, so we’d better stop soon. If we go past 1,000 it’ll no longer be a flash fiction story about a flash fiction story but a short story about a flash fiction story. But anyway, we’re not going to listen to your limits. We’ve got no time for that. After all, we were just fine living our lives the way we wanted to, thank you very much.

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All of Her Away

Breakup

What you did at first was act like it didn’t matter. Like it wasn’t a significant portion of your life that’d just gone, dissipating into a cloud of nothing. There was checking her Instagram every day, then once a week, then on the bad nights with JD poured into plastic cups. Then there was blocking her and that lasting a month before unblocking her again. Before seeing her with another guy.

There was slamming the phone down, going out in -3 before wind chill, breath vapor on the wind, and running. There was thinking the motion would warm you up, but being sorely mistaken. There was not feeling your hands or your face and getting snow in your shoes. There was running till you couldn’t feel your feet. There was, when you came back inside, seeing the blood on your feet, and the metallic taste in your mouth.

There was drafting up the emails that you’d send to get her back, the texts you composed, ready to send. There was the soulhurt that comes with these things. There was opening the box of old mementos and seeing the pictures not yet you-less, not yet her-less but together, alone together, and seeing her face is like looking into a tunnel where the light barely cuts through and you can only just see through to the other side.

There was sleeping in till 9, then 10, then 11. The perks of being your own boss you said at first, until you’d get no work done and lie on the old couch where she’d sleep when she came over, insisting against sleeping in bed with you though never telling you why. And the way you’d accept everything she said or did as sacrosanct. The Gospel according to. And all that. There was having nothing in the fridge, surviving off of bananas and desperation. There was having a clear rubric of where (y)our life was headed, a little outline pinned to the wall, and then tearing it right the fuck down.

Finally, there was taking all of the old mementos and hauling them into garbage bags the same way Joel did in Eternal Sunshine, if only it were that easy, just ripping out the brain tendrils that the other left in you, erasing them just like that. But you took the bags and you set them out neatly on the curb, next to the full garbage can, and you went back inside and watched as the garbage truck came and hauled all of it away. All of her away.

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen

Orange juice :)

When I was little, I thought it was possible to know everything. I collected encyclopedias, dictionaries, old textbooks Dad left around. I read about things I didn’t understand so I’d remember when I would understand. I hung around conversations in Dad’s office, picked up on facial cues and double entendres. Understood that when the whiskey was around and Mom wasn’t, things would happen.

Closed door. Knock. Open. “What are you doing?” “Things.” Lather rinse repeat.

One day I came into the kitchen to find a naked woman drinking orange juice straight out of the bottle. I told her that wasn’t very hygienic. That she should pour it into a glass. Dad came in and nearly passed out. Shooed the woman out and into the living room, where I could still see her guzzling from the bottle, sitting on our couch.

“Want to play a game? Hey. Let’s go into the den and play a game, doc. Ignore the lady.”

“She shouldn’t be drinking straight from the bottle. It spreads germs.”

“Sure. I’ll tell her. But don’t tell your mother. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“It’s just things anyway. Only things.”

“Okay.”

He bought me a brand new OED a week later. A new word, one I heard Mom hissing behind closed doors:

Infidelity

NOUN

1. The action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner:
‘her infidelity continued after her marriage’
[count noun] ‘I ought not to have tolerated his infidelities’

2. Disbelief in a particular religion, especially Christianity.

Origin Late Middle English (in the senses ‘lack of faith’ and ‘disloyalty’): from Old French infidelite or Latin infidelitas, from infidelis not faithful (see infidel).

Infidelitas. Latin. Romans. Gladiators. Cool.

I spent the rest of the day charting the origins of gladiator fighting, first held in 310 BC by the Campanians in celebration of their victory over the Samnites. How the practice changed over time, but almost always followed a military victory. Celebrating death with death. The way Dad would gargle mouthwash before Mom got home. The way he straightened his tie and shooed the women out the door, friends, all of them. Friends, Romans, countrymen.

Shakespeare and his tragedies. The Hubris of Macbeth. Hamlet. Alas, poor Yorick. So much to learn. The orange juice lady back. This time with her clothes on. Coming over more and more often. Dad putting empty whiskey bottles in the neighbor’s trash. Changing and doing laundry quick enough that it’d be done before Mom got home.

Trying to think of knowing everything in the context of an image. Clear. Transparent. A house made of glass giving way to more houses and more glass. The goings on of everyone out and on full display.

Sitting with Mom on days that Dad’s out busy. Asking me if anything was on my mind. Anything at all. Anything your father might have said or done.

“Can I be excused?”

“Why?”

“I don’t feel good.”

“You seemed just fine a minute ago.”

“Please, Mom?”

There must’ve been something desperate on my face, because she actually let me go.

Not even hiding it from me anymore, the orange juice lady out and playing card games on the kitchen table. Solitaire. Early 18th century. From Latin solitarius. See solitary. Showing me how to play, how once you have the Aces you have to pile one card on top of another on top of another till every card is gone. Dad watching me watch her, his eyes glazed and far away.

Mom coming home.

The tears and the apologies and the hands held to hit but dropped at the side. The orange juice lady walking one way then another like a pinball locked between two bumpers. Dad nearly stumbling over, though from the whiskey or situation it isn’t sure. Probably both.

Then it’s watching the cards scatter then fall as Mom grabs the table, one at a time, an avalanche of them, and it’s in seeing a thing that you truly know it. That you can read about it, hear about it, but until you’ve seen it right there in front of you, you know nothing.

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Pictures of You

You in a fever dream, sweaty, gloss-pooled to the bed like a face fighting past plastic bag. Something freeze-dried.

You marching down the stairs in my boots and hardly anything else, wearing a cowboy hat you stole from the resale shop that one time, me wondering how in the hell one successfully steals a cowboy hat.

You in a dollar store Halloween costume augmented by my makeup job that left you looking like Frank-N-Furter after he got out of the pool at the end of the movie, before Riff killed him.

You holding a camera to my face, the resolution good enough that you can see the reflection of my camera in the lens, a hinted whisper of me off to the side.

You afloat in the pool with all your clothes on, unbuttoned shirt set stiff above the water, a struggling jellyfish below, shirt tails wishing and washing in the mini undertow.

You blocking the camera with your hand, unsmiling, in a way where you can imagine my come-on laughter, my protestations or prostrations, whichever came first in the end.

You in the crack of the bathroom door, trying not to smile and doing it, caught in mid-get out, when you used to laugh at these things, these towering simplethings.

You in the bed again, not feverish but cold, you can almost see your breath rising from you, the only way of describing you here being sarcophagal.

And the last one, when you were gone but your impression remained, mountains and valleys of bed that Lilliputians could explore, wondering where to settle down but having no idea where to start.

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What’s in Your Pockets

For what it’s worth, the way you’re doing it is right, precisely because there’s no right way of doing it. So there’s that. Nothing for you to worry about, really. No, I’m not hiding my derision behind my smile, it’s just how I look when I smile at people, I guess. No, I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic with the “I guess.” It’s just how I talk. Yes, I’m here because I care about you. There isn’t any other reason. No, I know it’s not like what they show on TV. I know it’s a personal experience that I can’t begin to insist I, like, understand at all. I can just see how it affects you. All I have to go on are your words and your appearance. No, that wasn’t meant as a dig against the way you dress. Again with the whole no right way of doing it thing. Yes, I support you no matter what. But if you’ve fallen off the wagon there will be consequences. No, I’m not trying to threaten you. I just want you to know that your actions have consequences. Okay, that was a bit patronizing and bitchy of me to say. I see that now. I apologize. No, I’m not apologizing just to placate you. I mean it. I just think there’s a time in a person’s life where they get down into deep psychic hurt, like bottom-out hurt, like plunging into icy water with no land in sight hurt. Yes. It is. Yes, that’s where I see you right now. And it’s– Yes, it’s scaring the shit out of me. Because I look at you and I wonder which picture of you they’ll use when they talk about you on the news. No, I’m not trying to be dramatic. Yes, I know you can make it through to the Other Side because you’ve already been to the Other Side. No, this isn’t any different. The only thing that’s different is the time and the place. I know you have memory issues. The Fog. I get it. No, I’m not trying to play doctor, it’s just that you’ve had a set of recurring symptoms that come back every time you use again. No, it’s– Yes it is. It is using. That’s the word for it. That’s the nice word for it, if anything. Yes, I do believe it accurately describes your situation. I just think that you have no concept of, like, how to get out of this black hole that you’re spaghettifying towards right now, as we speak. Spaghettification is happening and I’m worried that we won’t be able to un-stretch you this time. It’s just a chance. An opportunity. You don’t have to call it by any other name. You are the sole keeper of you. All I can do is darken your door and stay by your side. It’s like when I found you in the snow that one winter, how you nearly frostbit your ass, your hands. You stayed off for six months after that. And we were proud. Are proud. I am. But listen. You have to hand me what’s in your pockets. You have to rifle through your hiding spots and give me everything. All of it. If you’re in this, you’re in this. Because. All right. Let me tell you a story. When I was 4 and 5 and 6 my dad molested me. Made me put on dresses that he had to “adjust.” Would belt me when I resisted, so the welts were like little inching worms. I called them my little gummy worms and would watch every day as they burrowed under my skin before finally disappearing. It stopped for a few years. But then I’m 13 and developing. Mom’s working late more and more. Dad’s beer breath makes my eyes water. When it happened I was in the shower, singing some Christina Aguilera song. He opened the door quietly. I didn’t know to lock it then. It happened in the shower, his clothes soggy and sticking to me as we both slipped around and took down the shower curtain, nearly smashed our heads into the wall. The bruises on my wrists didn’t go away for weeks. So I report him. Tell them everything. Dad goes away and I go to the Center. At the Center they make you do groups and art therapy and meds and the whole nine. Mom got diagnosed the first week I was in there. I stayed so long that I could chart her cancer fight through how much more hair was gone this week, when she started to wear hats and bandanas. You get it. Mom says we’re fighting this together. Whatever this is, we’re fighting it. Every day she visits I’m losing more of her, like she’s fading away into the background. I ask her how she feels and she says big and strong. Every time I ask her, even when her body is caving in on itself, this is what she tells me. “I’m feeling big and strong.” Then one day she doesn’t show up. The doctors are too-nice to me. I know before they tell me. Graduate from the Center the next week. Woohoo. And you know the rest. Foster care. Group homes. Working. Getting my own place. All of that. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m saying all of this. I don’t know the reason. But I do know you. I do know you. Yeah? You mean it? For real this time? All right. Okay. Let’s start with what’s in your pockets.

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