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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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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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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In Which We Enumerate What We Will and Won’t Do

Secrets In The Attic

We are far more resilient than you might think. We are like mice, or cockroaches, or other various resilient things. We are savvy inasmuch as our savviness can be measured or quantified in an accurate fashion, using beakers and graduated cylinders and the like.

We are potent, like the first time you tried to make a mixed drink and almost choked, definitely sputtered. We are like that time you stepped in the leavings of a dog but did not know it at the time and so attempted to scrape out the remnants of it with your bare finger. We are most definitely self-aware.

We will humor you when you play games of twenty questions to guess who we are, but we will not give you an ultimate yes or no. We like to dress up like people from the old days and act like we are people from the old days when in fact we are not. We won’t take no for an answer.

We had no discernible childhood, but we will act as though we did if pressed. We will be very convincing from a distance but something will be off about us when you look closely. We have reached a consensus and we will not be attending the party. We will not accept your conciliatory remarks. We are staying. We are leaving.

We have been here long before you and we’ll be here long after you’re gone. We will never be gone, or else we don’t think we will be. We haven’t nailed down the details just yet.

We often catch ourselves in the mirror and think to ourselves that we are quite attractive. We are told by people using the mirror in public bathrooms that we are quite attractive. We open up doors for strangers and keep them open for an uncomfortable length of time.

We address what our flaws are without putting in any effort whatsoever to correct them. We are sometimes lazy creatures. We behave if our full names are stated in a stern sort of voice. We have tattoos and piercings everywhere. We do not care. We care very much. We are a paradox, but not one of the sciencey, mathy ones.

We take all precautions and leave nothing off the table. We turn the tables. We do anything that somehow involves tables. We possess brains that are really very good brains. We insist you give our brains a look-see.

We will not do what you tell us unless you brandish a weapon, and even then we will only think about it. We are dreaming constantly, even when we are awake. We recognize the logistical issues of constantly dreaming while moving about in space in the real world; it’s quite difficult.

We encourage you to read our blog. We give you our card. We can conceptualize the concept of infinity. We are ending world hunger as we speak. We never speak, besides in text form. We recognize the sovereignty of barge micronations that are parked in international waters.

We are making a list of all the people who have cute laughs. Unfortunately, we do not laugh. We can laugh, we just don’t ever do it. We were at that addiction recovery meeting that one time even though we weren’t addicted to anything. We came for the free coffee and stayed for the story ideas. We don’t write stories, but if we did we’re pretty sure we’d be excellent at it.

We would never say psyched or pumped, even if we did speak. We would say excited and nothing else. We have no opinion on the possible existence or non-existence of God. We have no opinion because we already know the answer. We will never share this fact with anyone, for fear of mass uprising.

We date occasionally, but nothing serious has come of it yet. We aren’t holding out hope, but the prospect of being able to spoon someone does sound pretty nice. We aren’t sure if we can die, but all evidence points to our being immortal. We insist that you don’t quote us on it, but it does seem that way.

We are when you wake up with drool covering your pillow and you flip it over and resume sleeping. We are that bonfire that slows everyone down when walking past to enjoy the smell and the sight. We are the way out when you feel like you’ve fallen down a long and dark well. We are the way back to the surface.

We are doing just fine, thank you very much. We are working toward a change, though we know not what it’ll be in the end. We are power. We are fame. We are willing to fight for what we believe in.

We know what your greatest fears are, but we don’t capitalize on them. We are cool like that. We will grab hold of humor and never let it go. We can compromise when we want to. We can see the future but we choose not to divulge. We will see you, alone, in the dark, wandering, unsure of where to go, and we will take you by the hand and guide you out.

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You Again

Metamorphosis

“No, I don’t mean it in like a metaphorical sense. I mean you’re literally, actually, a different person.”

You look in the mirror. Open your mouth. Check your gums.

“See?”

There’s no change whatsoever. It’s you there, staring back at you.

“I was halfway about to call the police, but then you got up and started talking. You still talk like you.”

You go back to looking in the mirror. You could use a shave. Other than that: fine. Other than that: you.

“Did you just read The Metamorphosis? Are you trying to Kafka me?”

“See? You used Kafka as a verb. It’s you.”

* * *

She refuses to be seen with you anywhere. People might think she’s cheating. You call off work. Try to make yourself scarce.

It comes in stages. Your nose. Your lips. Not quite right. Not quite you. She sees you.

“Your nose is back! Your mouth, kinda.”

As you change, so does she. She waits in anticipation like a kid on Christmas morning. You “change back” slowly, then all at once.

You stand in front of the mirror, her behind you, you somebody else.

“See? It’s you again.”

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Cafe Studies

café

It can be found in the girl at the cafe as she raises her oversized cup up past her eyes, the girl with a habit of cutting spirals into the skin of her thigh, seeing to herself nothing but a drain pulling her down but to her future husband something like a whirling galaxy. He’ll be surprised she hid it for so long, but she’ll say you get good at it after a while.

It’s in the crossed, jostling legs that jingle keys but not the reason for the jostling, the sarcoma that’s come back in the breast of his wife, occurring in less than 1 percent of breast cancer cases, but she’s got it.

There will be the barista hiding his trans identity from family and friends, dipping toes in water with adjusted pronouns, the liberal use of binders. Eschewing makeup, then cutting off his long locks, cringing when his family thinks it’s just a phase, one that’ll hopefully be over soon. As if he could just turn it off, delete the dysphoria, go back to being that little girl that you know his parents see, take it all back and become something that didn’t even exist back then. He knew who he was for as long as he could remember.

There’s the elderly woman whose husband fought in Korea and stayed there after the war, taking up with a woman he met and trying to pass off for dead back home, but word travels far, even from the Far East. She tore up the letters, the photos, all of it. She heard he’d just passed. They had a service back home, she was invited. His other woman didn’t go, just yesterday it was. Today she sits in this cafe, ordering a latte, wondering about memory and forgetfulness, about the undying passage of time.

There will be the man with a substance abuse problem, on parole for a DUI when he was ready to stay sober this time, wanted to, but his dealer got back in touch with him. He saw the same old people and cracked, went back to using. He’s wondering what will happen with his visitation rights after this charge, if he’ll be able to watch his boy grow up or will be shut out until he’s eighteen. And then what? Is he even considered a father at that point, or nothing more than a sperm donor? He was going to toss it all out before he was pulled over, give it all up after this one last high, but this high will cost him dearly. He’s waiting for his parole officer to come and relate his fate.

You’ll see the professor waiting for tenure, about to meet with the student he needs to discuss terms with, the professor so-called “happily married,” the student with text messages and pictures that could put him out of a job and marriage. They’ll be discussing terms of class passage, and the student doesn’t even know that he was going to give her an A before the blackmail. Now she might try for more, might collect hush money. This girl used to be the bully of the spiral-cut girl when they were much smaller than they are now, and the spiral-cut girl will consider cutting again when she gets home, replaying memories she buried deep. It was the student’s behavior that drove her to cutting in the first place, the student giving one of those false “Hi!”s now, the cringeworthy ones that are disgusting.

The professor was good friends with the soldier who went to Korea, the two of them growing up together in the cornfields of Indiana, capturing lightning bugs and making fake crop circles with tennis racquets strapped to their shoes.

The trans man will meet the substance abuser in the emergency room, both of them going to psych–the trans man for a dysphoric panic attack, the abuser for detox. They’ll chart their changes and recoveries over lunch, trading hospital food with each other and musing on the people they are, the people they want to become. The substance abuser will get the pronouns wrong at first, but after being told will get them right every time. They will trade numbers before they go.

The elderly woman will end up in the hospital shortly after the service of her once-husband, a pain in her chest that won’t go away. During the routine checkup, it will be discovered that she has cancer. She’ll become a close confidant of a certain woman with sarcoma, keeping her spirits up day after day, making it her life’s mission to cheer this woman and fight alongside her, war buddies they are, even sharing the same uniform of hospital green, bald heads to prove their solidarity.

All of these things will happen, but for now there’s nothing more than people in a cafe, sipping their lattes and trying to forget the passage of time.

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The Nature of Falling

portal

He woke up falling. The world around him, when he was sure he wasn’t blind and was seeing very clearly, was the color of ink blooming in the pocket of a pair of pants. He wasn’t certain, but he assumed he was falling at terminal velocity. He could only just make out his hands. They seemed to be more hinted at than fully existent.

When he attempted to turn to look up, there was a loud screeching in his ears that stopped him from trying. He wondered when he would hit bottom.

It occurred to him to pray. He wasn’t sure just who he should pray to, or how. He was born Catholic but had lapsed in his later years. He became a C & E parishioner and then nothing at all. He had had a brush with Buddhism. But then did the Buddhists pray? And if so, to whom? He might be wrong, but he didn’t think the Buddha was revered as a deity. There were the many gods and goddesses of Buddhism’s big brother Hinduism. Would any of them bother helping an old man falling into nothing?

Was he sure he was awake? They say pinch yourself to–yes. Very much awake.

Maybe there were walls just out of sight. If he could adjust his angle, maybe he could fall towards one of them. He attempted to adjust his body but was greeted with screeching once again.

Change. There it is, the change. He reached into his pocket and pulled out change. Tossed it as far as he could, and: Nothing. Either the walls were vastly far away or they were nonexistent. The old man ventured to guess the latter.

Was this some sort of punishment for sins unknown to him? Could this be his version of hell? He’d never really been much of a sinner, and falling didn’t scare him any more than it did the next man. That is to say there wouldn’t be a special reason for his hell to be falling forever. And besides, there weren’t any distant screams to be heard. But still, there was the screeching, strategically used to discourage peeking behind the curtain.

So someone or something was behind this. But who?

Could he be hallucinating, hearing the screeching when there’s nothing there? Or was this whole falling bit nothing more than a drug trip he couldn’t remember starting? But he hadn’t been on anything in years and wouldn’t start back up again now.

Isolation tanks. He’d read about them, about how they induced hallucinations by cutting off sensory input. But that wouldn’t explain not remembering ever stepping into one.

There. Memory. What’s the last thing he could remember? He found his memory to be like the ripped pages of a journal: He could remember last week, but anything more recent was ragged and missing.

He had gotten up, gone to work, gotten up, gone to work.

But then. There was a man. A man he met while sitting on a bench, watching commuters pass by on a bridge, stealing away at the sun climbing and blinding its way down into the river below. He could not know for certain, but he was sure he was thinking the same exact thoughts as the other man on the bench. They passed many minutes like that, saying nothing, only watching. Only thinking the same thoughts. The other man broke the silence first. He said his name was Mr. Black. That he’d been waiting for this man, our protagonist who is presently falling. It appeared they didn’t share the same thoughts after all. OP inquired what MB had been waiting for.

For you to fall into my lap. OP stared into MB’s beady eyes which were black marbles descending into nothing. He said…

Nothing. That’s all he could remember. Still he fell into nothing, the fall having not so much a sound as the absence of sound. He maneuvered so as to look up, bracing for the screeching sound. It never came.

What did come was the giant face of Mr. Black, laughing a laugh so deafening it seemed to shake the air all around OP. Mr. Black reached down into the hole and plucked OP by the leg. Mr. Black was the size of a planet, maybe larger. Each pore on his face could house an ocean. OP could feel the blood rushing to his head as he was being dangled.

The experiment is complete, MB boomed. He pulled OP out of the hole, and as he came out, MB became normal-sized again. Suddenly they were back on the bench, utterly normal. Mr. Black stood up, said Good day, and walked away.

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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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Where the Sun Used to Be

He woke up on the bathroom floor of his room in the locked ward. His legs, when he could move them, had strings tied around them, at the ankles. The strings rose up to the ceiling and stopped in the far right corner of the room. The tension on the strings was great, as if a team of elephants were pulling them in the opposite direction.

He could see a sliver of light coming through his bedroom’s sole window if he crawled away from the bathroom, but a sliver is all it was. He scratched and clawed at the strings and his legs as if he were a wild animal stuck in a trap.

He could see the light, but not the source of it. He was filled with the knowledge that the sun wasn’t merely out of sight, but it was out of existence. He called for help, but his parched mouth couldn’t utter a syllable. He was naked and so attempted to cover his shame behind the curtain that separated bedroom from bathroom, but this was not effective.

For a moment, all he saw was his room filled with water, over his head and nearly touching the ceiling. When his vision became antediluvian again, he found that the unbreakable strings had been given some slack. Even so, he couldn’t pull pants over them, so instead he put on his largest shirt and tugged on the bottom of it until he was decent.

The ward was empty. Not in the figurative sense of there only being a couple nurses and patients, but empty empty.

Every time he got near an exit, the strings pulled him back. He found a pair of scissors at the nurses’ station and tried again to free himself, but the strings withstood even the sharpest of blades.

When he looked out the solitary window in his room, the passing cars and people moved like they were fighting their way out of quicksand: slow and morphing into their surroundings. Coming back to his room one day, he looked for his window but it was gone. The section of wall that covered where it was looked like it had been there since the hospital opened.

He ran the water to wash his face, but the water avoided his hands like a cat hunkering down to avoid a pet. When he put both hands directly under the faucet, the water ran upwards and settled at the ceiling.

The next day, he woke to see portraits covering the room’s walls. They were all of him, usually sleeping but also trying to break free of his strings. The paint on all of them was dry, and each portrait appeared to be very old. Every night he took them down, and every morning they appeared on the wall again. If he destroyed a painting, the painted carcass would be gone by dawn with two more in its place. He thought of the mythical Hydra.

He let the ceiling-bound water go until it covered his head. This was no use, though, as a drain opened on the ceiling and sucked up all the water. When he stopped eating for weeks, he’d wake up with a full belly.

Once he rolled his ankle and could not move. Next morning, his foot was outfitted with a professionally secured ankle brace.

All the while, the unbreakable strings remained. He tried to tangle the strings by walking from room to room, crisscrossing here and there. Not only did the strings not tear, they began following him like a leash that could go taut at any moment.

He searched inside for fear, but there wasn’t any. There was a feeling like a cup condensing on the outside while bone dry inside. He spent days recalling words that fired at random in his brain:

Raisin–Dried, wrinkled. Can be eaten.

Sunset–Milky window. Fades away.

Time–Fluid and unruly. Can’t be trusted.

The next morning, he came to on a cold tile floor that left a grid on his back. The people had returned, but they couldn’t see him. He took his things and left the hospital.

He no longer had a name. He no longer had a shadow. But he’d always have the strings, stretching up, higher now, perfectly straight, up past the clouds and beyond where the sun used to be.

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The Secrets of the Stars

We came down from the campo before the sun had fully risen in the sky, the air smelling of dung and of whiskey and of the swamp. The gators appeared on street corners like sentinels guarding sacred treasure, street signs strewn across roads like so many fallen branches after a storm. You could see where the floodwaters had stopped from the houses that still stood, brown water lines along their outer walls marking the height of the world’s smallest man, or else implying a tub that had not been properly scrubbed.

We collected what we could, I remember, what had not been ruined in the waters. You would stop the truck, let me out of its bed, and time me with your stopwatch as I looted the lawns. Notepads with half their leaves torn out, the rest yellowed from the flood. Whole boxes of balloons to fit the necks of to hoses, vessels with which we could control the water. An unbroken mirror, antique, and tying a stained blanket around it with twine.

I begged you to stop at the houses with walls nearly toppled, wanted to document them with the camera I found, but it was not safe and you would not let me. The marooned liquor bottles were not off limits, however. You sipped their bitterness as the sun came through and splintered light on the hood of our dusty truck. I asked if I could have some, that this time was different, and you actually let me. You’d pour swallows into the cap, alcohol spilling onto your hands so that you had to be careful when lighting your cigarillos, and I stuck out my tongue as if that would rid me of the burning.

We would drink till the world swam in my eyes, and then we would drink some more. I was young and unpracticed, so it didn’t take much. But you had years of experience. When the occasional officer passed through, you ducked into the cab and I the bed, not even daring to breathe until they had passed, them thinking our truck just one more abandoned auto among hundreds.

If it weren’t for the sign still left standing, there’d be no way to tell that our street was our street. Our house was spread in pieces across the road, shingles and siding covering photo albums, the plastic recorder I just got in music class. I remember you slowed the truck when we came to the wreckage, acted as if it was so you could take a swig without spilling, as if you had no idea where we were. When I asked if we could stop you acted like you hadn’t heard. It wasn’t until I yelled that you acknowledged my question, that you answered by speeding up.

I remember watching my ruined neighborhood recede behind me, the hood looking more like a garbage dump for monsters than a place capable of human habitation. The smell of the mud spraying out from under the tires, infused with the stink of human waste and loss. The taste of stale whiskey still clinging to my lips like a whispered secret I didn’t want to keep. The sun blinding my eyes like a beacon or a warning or both. I remember being surprised when it wasn’t the fall that hurt, but the tumble afterward. The mud unforgiving despite what you’d think.

You got a block out before noticing I was gone. By then I’d scooped up our lives into my arms like a misshapen infant, ran off into the swamp where your truck couldn’t reach. Your eyes when you stopped at the edge and got out, me able to see them when I turned my head and just kept running. Your voice as it carried into the sticks and I left a trail of dropped items behind me. I found a dry patch of land and passed the hours by scoping for gators, their eyes glowing after the sun fled from the sky and night enveloped everything.

I came back to the campo next morning, not knowing what to say to you and so saying nothing. Instead, I handed you the things I carried out of the swamp and you accepted them, stole furtive sips from your flask and ran your fingers over these things as if they held the secrets of the stars. And for all I knew, they did.

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