Bad Show with His Son

modern architecture

I’m living in an apartment in Winston. I get up sleepily, and my roommate wakes up just as late. It seems as though I don’t know who my roommate is, although I do. I decide to go for a walk outside. It’s winter. I look around outside for my coat, expecting that there’s some sort of place where it’s being held. I look all over the place, only to find that I’m already wearing my coat. Someone’s calling me. I answer: It’s Donald Trump. It’s blustering cold outside as we talk, Donald overly friendly as if he needs to prove something to me.

I’m walking to Subway, and when I get there I order three cookies and a small drink. Trump comments on the fact that the small cups are pretty big now. I think about making a tiny hands joke but think better of it. I’m suddenly transported to where Trump is calling me from. He sits as I stand, some foreign dignitary beside him. My gym shoes graze his and I consider punching him in his orange face but think better of it.

Now I’m back outside, walking home. When I get to the door of the apartment, there’s a kid feverishly trying to get inside, yanking on the doorknob. He eventually backs up and I get inside. I don’t let him in.

A fiery blonde is waiting for me when I come inside, doe-eyed as she feels me out. I’m still on the phone with Donald Trump, and he asks what the matter is, why I’m not talking. I ignore him for a moment, taking in this mysterious stranger. She smiles as she slinks closer to me, engaging me in conversation even though I’m still on the phone.

She flirts with me until I have no choice but to hang up on the Donald. She moves up against me, grazing me with her chest mischievously. She turns and walks away, looking back to beckon me on. I follow without a moment’s hesitation. There’s a chair that reclines. I get onto it and she straddles me as I recline it fully.

We kiss passionately and I taste her hot, metal breath. She pushes into me, closer and closer till we’re nearly fused. Close is not close enough. We pause momentarily, look into each other’s eyes as we take in what’s happening between us. I look to my right and there’s my roommate sitting patiently, waiting for us to finish.

The fiery blonde gets off of me, looks around for a moment. Stalling. She makes up an excuse about needing to pee and moves for the door. The door is still being pounded by the little kid, but she opens it anyway: “Jesus, kid, you’re going to break the door down.” She closes the door and the kid resumes his fervent attempt at entry. His slams on the door reverberate throughout the apartment.

The TV is on, and a trailer for a new movie called “Bad Show With His Son” is playing. A kid has stowed away a massive monster in his parents’ attic. The monster’s fat folds are multitudinous, a single horn sprouting from his head, calcified. His eyes are hollow, yet still some warmth comes from them.

The boy’s father enters the attic, bewildered by the beast. He yells at his son for stowing away the creature and leaves. He comes back with a chainsaw and wields it, aiming for the monster’s horn. The beast evades him as the kid shouts at his dad to leave his new friend alone. In the struggle, the father accidentally chops into his son’s neck. The trailer ends by showing off the five horror awards the film has recently won. Black screen. The song goes, “Bad show with his sooon. Baaad show with his sooon.” The dream ends here.

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Lit.cat Love!

My story “Dandelions on a Summer Lawn” is now live in the 18th issue of Lit.cat! Give it a read and be sure to check out all the other great work the issue has to offer. Thanks so much to all those who gave this one an early read and cheered me on. This one’s for you!

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One of Those Things

Sunset

He checked her Instagram on a Sunday afternoon, remembering simpler days when they’d lie sprawled on the hood of his car listening to “The Suffering,” one earbud a piece. They’d look out over the pepto pink sky and just listen. They’d trade off vocals when it came to the chorus, smiling as they sang so that their performances were affected. And when they went to the concert to see it live, him holding her up so she could see the lead singer belting it out.

And there she was doing the same thing, collecting scraps of his life in one-off posts, scouring likes and comments for clues, wondering what ever happened to undo what they had together. It was just one of those things. She remembered above all else how they were when they saw each other again after a long absence, like a ship come to moor, drifting effortlessly toward shore. There was parking outside his house at night and shining a laser pointer through his window till he joined her, careening through the neighborhood like bandits, no destination in mind, just driving.

And now she sits alone in her room watching the ceiling fan turn and turn and turn, her cat nuzzling her hand, pausing over his number, wondering if she should text, and she composes something, deletes it, starts over.

And there he is in his room, thinking he might text her, or send a snap. Maybe tag her on a funny meme. There were so many options. He settled on an email, trying to catch up after these long years away, detailing what he’d been up to since then, leaving the possibility of meeting up dangling at the end like a worm off a hook.

She responded almost too fast, giving her own account of the years’ goings-on, agreeing that meeting up might be a good idea. She proposed a date and he accepted. Then of course there was actually having to get ready for the thing, wondering if they should go, both of them, but eventually doing it, getting ready and going to the agreed upon spot. Then there’s that thing where you see this person after all the years apart, taking in the subtle differences, the way that features have made good on their promises.

They both wonder if they should move in for the hug, and it becomes an awkward thing between the two of them, wondering if the hug should include a pat on the back, but it doesn’t, and when they move apart there’s a moment where their faces are inches apart and they look into each other’s eyes knowing what should happen but won’t.

They stand in silence until she breaks it with a hi. Nothing makes noise around them. Everything is still. He says hi back. They haven’t planned much beyond this point, but something has to happen. They walk to the park adjoining her apartment, watch the way the sun dapples the leaves on the trees before they fall, fluttering safely to ground. Their hands are in their pockets, but for a moment their instincts kick in and they reach for hands that can no longer be grasped. Their fingers graze before they remember, warmth in this early Fall cold.

Neither of them speak, just walk and take in the chill of the air, the sounds of cars dopplering by. Everything sounds piped in. A mother passes them pushing a stroller. They both wanted kids, but he didn’t after they broke up. He couldn’t tell if it was a “her or nothing” thing, but that’s how it was. It was just one of those things.

She tells him she’s really missed him and he says he’s missed her too. The silence comes back and they stay in it a while. He asks if she still wants kids. He doesn’t know why he asks it, but she says yes.

They find a bench and sit down.

She sets her purse down between them and they stare out at the leaves on the trees, their variegated colors. He opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Instead, he places his hands in his lap. She reaches into her purse and pulls out an iPod. He watches as she plugs in the earbuds, scrolls to her song of choice and hands an earbud to him. The opening notes of “The Suffering” play. The two of them look out over the sky coming down to dusk, pink turning to purple, and just listen.

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Hover

Hover

The way her nipple slid in and out of view was like the fin of a shark peeking over the water and falling away for a stealthy approach. He let her subsume him, this woman, let her slide into all the days and ways that he was a man. They came to the surface, gasping choking breaths, tunnelling a way through the water to seaweed and refuse on the beach. When they came to, they were lying there, on the beach, toes dug into the freezing sand, and that’s where they slept all night.

It was on the ridge of a large and vast mountain, scarves to keep the cold out, breathing filtered air, and that’s all their love was. Just a filtered version of a thing that couldn’t be reached. They made love on the ridge in the freezing cold, her wetness turning to ice as he moved inside of her. It was them on the ridge, kissing like this was the last thing they could do, becoming the beast with two backs.

Or maybe it was in the way she rolled over to let him come in, legs tangled in knotted seaweed, gnarled and gangrene tendrils of it twisting and convulsing in the light of the moon. It was a rollicking fever of him with another woman, making these motions with her on the same night, minutes later, barely waiting between the two of them. It was an appetite like a wild beast.

It was her knowing all the time, inhaling the scent of the other woman on his cheeks, neck, chest. It was being aroused before being heartbroken, and the way he looked at her like that, in the night, in the glow of an old, dusty lamp, saying with his eyes that he couldn’t stop this, that it had gone too far.

It was clawing their way through the sand dunes, naked feet like grappling hooks, knowing that if the sun were a little closer they’d be walking on glass, if they could even walk at all. And him receiving a text, then a call, stepping away to take it. Looking at her as if he could stare belief into her. She pulled away from his hand’s grasp and walked on.

It was the scent of sex on his body that would stay no matter how many showers he took, stuck to him like a scarlet letter. And the way she would take out her notebook and journal next to him in bed, detailing her woes, hoping he’d see them, though he never did, chose not to, deliberately looked away.

It was in the way she never said it out loud, as if to speak it was to give it power, was to allow it to exist in the real world. She took to hovering above the ground, just over the surface, face facing floor to the point where she could smell carpet, could feel its fibers brush against her nose. When he’d walk in she’d fall to the ground with a thud and gasp in breath.

It was in the way she’d claw every available surface till there was blood under her nails and they’d break altogether, crack and splinter like wood being bombarded. It was in the way she screamed into her pillow at first, then stabbed it, then set it on fire and threw it out the window. She could still hover, now feet above the ground, now grazing the ceiling, now stuck to it.

And how he came home that night, buttons of his shirt torn off, lipstick imprints on his chest, his arms, and how she fell when she hovered that night, splitting her lip on hardwood, and how he came down to help her, put ice in a baggy and held it to her mouth, kissed her forehead to make it all better. And how it actually did make it all better, if only for a moment, before the next time.

It was him giving it a name, admitting he had a problem and that he’d stop. It was her believing him and not having to hover so much, being able to stay on the ground. It was when he came home like a wounded dog and she could see it in his eyes, wouldn’t need him to explain, to enumerate, to expound. She was done.

It was her lying facedown on the grass while he was out, and hovering gently above the blades. It was rising above the hedges, then above her house, and up still past the tallest trees in the neighborhood. It was seeing all of her neighborhood, then city, then state. It was seeing her country, her planet, then beyond the stratosphere. It was gliding past satellites, sliding swiftly and silently into the coldness of space. It was rising till she was clear of the solar system, then shifting toward milky nebulae swirling in stillness, hollow pinks and blues, then beyond even that, through black holes, flying faster now, higher, although what was higher was now lower. It was flying on beyond the infinite and only then exhaling.

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Secrets Secrets

Fighter

When I was little, like five or six, I watched my dad fight for money for the first time. It was our little secret. He’d come up to me, bloody-lipped, and remind me what it was I had to say. I’d go, “Secrets secrets are no fun. Secrets secrets hurt someone” and he’d slap me upside the head before buckling me up in the car.

He’d clean himself up real nice while Mom worked the third shift, apply ice to his lip and wash away all the blood. He went through bleach like nobody’s business cleaning up all his tanks. The jeans would go through the wash three, four times before even some of the blood would come off. It became so I was his little partner in crime. His thinking, I’m pretty sure, is that if they see he has a kid, maybe they’ll (subconsciously or otherwise) lose the fight. Most fights it was $25 if you lost, $50 if you won. If Dad was on a losing streak he’d tell me he was “counting his quarters.” Guys bet on the side, raking in cash or giving it away.

I scooped up my father’s teeth when I was seven, big root structures like the undersides of trees poking out of them. He’d later say he was glad they were back teeth. Easier to hide from my mom. The guy who knocked them out threatened to do worse, and the organizers held him back as he bellowed. My father had been taunting him. My father liked to taunt people, whether that was a good idea or not. His thinking, I’m pretty sure, is that if he taunted them, they’d get pissed and sloppy, and he’d be able to get some good shots on them. It rarely worked, but he did it anyway.

I was eight when my mom found out. Call it an anonymous tip. We still don’t know which of our neighbors squealed, but they must’ve seen him coming in all bloodied up one too many times. She didn’t know it was from fighting until I told her. My father chased me around the room when I said this, threatened me with everything in the book. Told me to come and take my punishment like a man when I ducked around the kitchen table. Mom told him off and he stopped coming after me. I’ve never seen so much malice in a man’s eyes as I did then.

What the fuck was my father thinking? Didn’t he have any concern for anyone other than himself? And what did he think he was doing bringing his kid around with him to this? Didn’t he have any sense in that thick skull of his? He was to quit doing it immediately. But honey, he already had a couple fights lined up. No way out of them. And she didn’t give a shit if he had a shot at the heavyweight fucking title. He was done. Did he understand that? And yeah. Yeah, he understood fine.

He went out the next week. Call it a compulsion. Call it an addiction. Call it willful stupidity. We were out of the house the next day, divorce proceedings to follow. I don’t know for sure because I never did see him again, but word on the street is he kept on fighting, this time to pay for child support. We moved somewhere quiet and shaded with big, leafy trees. Last I saw of my father was a bloody old tank that slipped through the cracks and into our laundry, one of the blood stains shaped into a heart.

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Oranges

orange

When it came time to come home, I was cold and hungry and tired and I had no idea yet that Drew was dead.

Mom greeted me at the door, smile too put on, hug too tight. Dad even hugged me. Dad never hugged other males. I brought a bag of oranges with me, set them on the table. I knew how much Drew loved oranges. Past tense. “Drew’s coming home” is how they put it. Mom searching my eyes for recognition, her own tearing up. Dad put his hand against the door frame. He punched it once, twice. Mom stopped him before he could split a knuckle.

We did the usual. Mom hauled out the photo album, blew the dust away from old polaroids. I remembered then that you’re not supposed to shake them, that doing so can damage the image. A couple of them attested to this fact: a shot of Drew and I with a blob between the two of us, another with a streak erasing Drew’s face.

Drew and I weren’t ever close. More like we were on the cusp of being close but one of us would always fuck it up at the last second. The last time I talked to him, the last thing I said was fuck you.

Everything in Drew’s room was just as he left it. Sports stars adorned every conceivable bit of wall space. Pennants to schools Drew never went to topped these. Everything still stunk of his cologne.

I went through his drawers, finding socks, the odd memento, condoms. Nothing that could paint a picture except when taken as a whole. I dug under his bed for the three-digit lockbox that was rusting out at the bottom, the one I never decoded. I fiddled with it a while before it gave way: lucky guess.

Inside: the old Nazi pamphlet our grandpa brought back from the war. And there Drew was going off to war a couple generations later, though never coming back from it. More mementos, a couple trophy pictures of girls he’d been with. And there, at the bottom: an old polaroid of us as kids, Drew propping me up by the armpits and me perpetually laughing at something off-camera. I touched the photo, rubbed Drew’s face. I put the photo back and closed the lockbox. Put it away. Punched the ground until my mom downstairs asked if I was okay.

When we would eventually see him there in his box, American flag covering it, they’d refuse to let us see him. It’d be a closed casket. When they said we couldn’t see him, I punched one of the soldiers in the face. I was put in a chokehold and told to calm down as my face turned red and a vein bulged in my head. I said I was calm. When they let me go, I straightened myself up. I cried onto his box, my tears coloring the oak like so much watercolor.

When I finally made it downstairs, Mom was there putting away old trinkets, little gifts Drew had given her over the years. Dad was in the kitchen peeling an orange with his hands, ripping off little tendrils with his thumb. He let the pieces of peel fall to the floor.

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Amari in My Heart

Life Cast Projection Test

I name the little person who screams inside my chest Amari. Maybe chest isn’t specific enough. Maybe heart is better. She stays quiet most of the time, only every speaking up when she knows that something’s wrong. I spend whole days trying to find what I will give her for dinner. She is very particular about the food she eats, especially for dinner. What I do is I open up the door in my chest and feed her little bites. She’s very particular about the bites I feed her. They must be just right.

When we are done with feeding, I close the door in my chest and try to do something that will please her. Lately it is becoming difficult to please her. She is always wanting extra attention, but when I give it to her she acts as though I’m smothering her.

She loves taking walks the most. When we take walks, she sings with the birds, chirping along with their songs till I can feel the reverberations in my ears, up and down my spine. When she sings on our walks I have to be careful to avoid other people for fear they’ll poke around in my chest for the source of the singing. You can never be too careful.

I go on a date with fear in my heart. Amari has been known to act up before, and she’ll probably do it again. I feed her little bits of turkey to calm her down before the date and hope the tryptophan kicks in for an early nap. She’s wired, however, and there’s no way to calm her down. I go on the date regardless. We meet at a lovely sushi restaurant I’ve been dying to check out. My date looks just like she did in her profile picture, and I hope I look the same too.

Amari coos in my chest, soft and quiet. I suppose she likes my date, or is at least comfortable. Luckily it’s not loud enough to hear. I’ve had dates hear Amari before, and it’s always the same. If I don’t trust them, I’ll pass it off as something else. If I do, I’ll show them the door in my chest, open it so they can see Amari. Not one has accepted her, the door, or me.

It wouldn’t do to leave Amari at home. I’ve left her out for extended periods before, but the outside world is much too cold for her. She needs the constant 98.6 degrees of my body to sustain her. She’s a delicate creature, no matter how feisty she can be.

I don’t remember how long I’ve had her, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know if it was at birth that she appeared to me, but I know that I’ve had her for as long as I can remember. My mother tried her best to accept her, but the whole situation gave her the chills. My father wasn’t much better. He thought she was an abomination but always made sure not to say it in front of me. I’d catch snatches of parental arguments, dad insisting we should pluck her from my chest and toss her out, that she was a disgusting parasite. My mom would always argue that maybe there was a purpose for her, that there had to be a purpose.

But anyway. The date. We placed our orders and made small talk over warm sake. Amari cooed warmly, replicating the melody of what was playing in the restaurant. She did it loud enough to be heard but her reproduction was similar enough where you couldn’t pick her apart.

We discussed literary matters, the latest books by Haruki Murakami and Zadie Smith, the brilliance of David Foster Wallace. Junot Díaz and his Oscar Wao, Drown, This Is How You Lose Her. She remained as brilliant as she seemed from her profile, and I think I kept up well enough too. Amari hummed quietly to herself as we ate California rolls and sipped sake.

Somewhere around the second course, Amari got impatient. She started babbling to me in her language that I’d never quite been able to decode. I told her to hush and my date asked me what I’d said. I told her this was lush… luscious. Great. It was all great. She looked at me like I sneezed onto her food and I attempted to steer the conversation back on track. Amari still kept it up all the while. At first, she sounded as if she could be a person at a nearby table. My date was none the wiser. In time, though, she got louder. A temper tantrum was common with Amari whenever I didn’t open my chest door and acknowledge her or at least hum or talk back to her. My date asked what that noise was and I asked what noise. She told me it sounded like a kid having a meltdown, but there were no kids here. I said I had no idea and guided us back on track again.

Amari quieted down from there. We debated the ending of The Broom of the System over dessert, and when it came time to it, I covered the check.

She invited me back to her place. We feverishly undid each other’s clothing practically the moment we walked through the door. I tried to leave my shirt on, which she fought against again and again. When she asked, I said I felt self-conscious. She insisted it was okay, that I could trust her. I unbuttoned my shirt one button at a time. Held the shirt together, then let it slide apart. Dropped it to the floor.

She wanted to touch the door, so I let her. She wanted to open the door, so I let her. Amari blinked at the light and cooed at her. She collected herself, acclimated to the sight of Amari, and cooed back. Closed the door. We laid down and made love on her bed.

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The Light of Your Eyes

Sunset

It was in the way you told me that summer night that we’d find a way back to each other, one way or another.

And how the postcards came in a full stream when you went on your great adventure, then steadied out, then went to a trickle, then stopped altogether.

It was in the way I couldn’t find your address when you were living abroad, and so we went months incommunicado.

It was us meeting in a crowd at a concert when you came back, and the way the glow of the sunset caught your blonde hair in a halo.

It was making love that first night back, in the backseat of your car, parked on one of the Smoky Mountains.

And then, maybe it was you heading off again, chasing a band halfway across the country, and how I said I’d be here when you got back.

Or maybe it was the fight when I saw you kiss the bassist, you telling me I didn’t own you, me saying it’s not like that, it’s just that we were supposed to be together, you saying I was maudlin.

There’s the way we made up after you left the band’s gang of roadies, catching a movie at the drive-in, my hand creeping up your leg.

I think of how I left to go off to grad school, and how I saw no one that first semester though I had the opportunity.

How we skyped to keep the flame alive, trading off horror movies to watch, and the way your smile was hurt at the end of each call.

I think it’s the way I came back for summer break and we entwined on your porch hammock, saying that this night wouldn’t end if we didn’t want it to.

It was you soaking my hand with your tears, holding me to you, not letting go even though I had to leave, had to make my plane, so we made love and I caught the next one.

It was drinking at a dorm room party and being forced by a friend into dancing with a girl who was eyeing me, and kissing her under the glow of Christmas lights.

It was skipping one Skype session, then two, telling you I was busy with schoolwork while I just couldn’t face you, couldn’t look you in the eye.

It was telling you when I couldn’t hold it in any longer and the way your face voided of all emotion, how you looked me in the eye before hanging up.

It was reaching your voicemail again and again, then you telling me to stop calling, so I started texting instead.

Maybe it was when you finally answered me, said this wouldn’t happen again, and I promised it wouldn’t, swore to you.

It might’ve been in the way I sent you flowers at the end of every week, not letting up though you told me to stop, laughing as you did.

I think it was the way the girl from the party hit me up, asked what I was up to, and I hesitated before telling her I wasn’t free.

I’m thinking it was asking you what we were, you asking why we had to be something, why we couldn’t just be.

Or maybe it was asking why we were exclusive then if we were just supposed to be, and you demanding rather than asking that I didn’t want to be exclusive.

It was ending that Skype call and punching the wall till I made a hole, nursing my fist after, icing it with frozen peas.

I’m pretty sure it was coming to see you unannounced, getting there just in time to see the guy you’d been fucking drive away.

How you flushed when I asked what that was, what the fuck that was, and you trying to tell me you get lonely sometimes.

Or maybe it was me screaming you don’t think I get lonely too, you think I don’t know how hard this is, whatever this is.

Or saying I wish I never met you, you crying right after I said it, and wanting to take it back but not being able to.

There was how we ended that night, together in your hammock, both of us crying, your head against my chest.

After that, there was me leaving again, with no guarantee that what happened wouldn’t happen again.

There was getting home and hitting up the girl from the party, coming back to my dorm room and fucking.

There was ditching out on the Skype calls for a week, then two, then a month, barely answering texts from you.

Then of course there was you calling and saying you couldn’t live without me, that you had no idea why I was doing this.

It was me saying I couldn’t do this anymore, this constant back and forth, and that if we were together we were together.

And you saying okay, and me saying no, I mean it, and you insisting that you did too, and the way I admitted to fucking that girl.

And how you said it was okay, it was in the past, granting me clemency just like that, and how I wanted to kiss you so bad in that moment.

There was dropping out of grad school and moving halfway across the country to be with you, and living together.

But more than all of it, than anything at all, it was catching the light of your eyes in the Arizona sunset when I told you that I loved you.

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