I’m Trying to Tell You Something You’re Trying to Tell Me

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“Then what happened?”

“Well… you know.”

“Jesus! Tell me you didn’t tell her what was in your head. We talked about this. You are not the type of person who can share what is in your head. I mean, not right away. Maybe, not ever. But come on!”

“I know, I know. I just felt–“

“You just felt safe with her didn’t you. Did you look into her eyes and feel a connection? Your entire dating life is like the same first 7 minutes of a date where you can’t just listen and not have some stranger’s eyes make you feel like you need to emote or something. It’s like the Groundhog Day of speed dating or something, except your mouth is what turns these dates into speed ones.

Did she run?”

“No!”

“Oh, don’t act like that’s never happened before. Remember the girl with the purple hair who—“

“She excused herself to use the restroom.”

“And when she came back?”

“She never came back.”

Nursery Unrhymes, 2020

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Dear Liza,

There’s a whole in the bucket. Do not chew it. The doctor advises to “take sublingually.” We can break your jaw with the garlic press if necessary.

I’ll pick up some fiber additive on the way home tonight.

<smooches>,

Henry


[Sung to the tune of “Ring a Ring o’ Roses,”, aka “Ring Around the Rosey”]

Ring around the CDC,

Pocketfull of corona,

COVID! COVID!

We all fall down.


[text message exchange]

Me: 14.2 lb/hr

Dad: ?

Me: That’s the answer to that question you asked throughout my childhood about the woodchuck.


Headline: LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO BURNED ALIVE IN AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES, MANDATORY HELMET LAW RESCINDED FOR FIELD MICE


It was only after Humpty Dumpty fell that the years of chronically underfunding the healthcare system came to such stark light. Put him back together? Ha! The King’s horses and his men were scraping by in this gig economy. Ride sharing they called it.


Little Miss Muffet,

Bound prone to a tuffet,

Barely fed and wane;

Last seen with a trafficker,

Who’d sat down beside her,

And disappeared her the very same day.


Headline: 380 YR OLD FORMER WARD OF MOTHER GOOSE REVEALS SEXUAL ABUSE, NURSERY RHYMES TO BE ERASED FROM ALL HUMAN MEMORIES


Jack and Jill had gone up the hill but down below a mob had formed. They posed next to their pitchforks and took selfies. They shouted into their smartphones. Jackelynne came down and ruined their childhoods. Voicing her new pronoun hurt their tongues. They were demanding a right to familiar endings.


It’s acid raining, it’s warming,

The humans are swarming.

They plundered the Earth

for all it’s worth

And the future looks rather alarming.

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APOPHENIA. The human tendency to seek patterns in random nature, where there are no patterns to be found. See also: ghosts, gambling, and the passions of religious mania and prophecy. See also: what happens when your lover’s brain breaks down while the world is burning.
    I was born the day they found a face on Mars. it was a lie, of course; it was a geographical anomaly, a trick of the terrain. We want so badly to make sense of the cosmos, to see it in ourselves. We turn shadows into sockets, bright smears into mouths and eyes.
    We turn the universe into our mirror. #narcissus, naturally.

― Amber Sparks, And I Do Not Forgive You

Shortening Telomeres

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For more chickens than I can count, I tried to make sense of things. And stuff too. Like jamming canned, colored dough through a pasta press. Almost everything looks better when flattened and cut with uniform lines. But the two birds in the bush cackled and the one in my hand? Gone. I was grasping nothing. Maybe at straws of such exquisite wavelengths they slipped undetected between my cones and rods. The clocks ticked asynchronously. Microwave trays performed their slouched turns toward Bethlehem. And none of it amounting to a hill of ancient grains. Now, in the ungodly quiet of the midday, you can hear the permafrost cracking. The barely dried-again scabs on your neck begging your chewed nails not to scratch at the polystyrene tickle in your throat.

(Note: An almost autonomic writing triggered by reading Sabrina Orah Mark’s “Wild Milk.”)

Of the Vine

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God grant me the iniquities to transgress my bourgeoisie upbringing, to satiate my lewd desires, and the wisdom to be guiltless. For it is in these perilous times that we must dive into the libidinous deep end and allow the insatiable urges of our corporeal vessels to thrust, grind, and rub about. 

And so, with prayer whispered heavenward, did Anselm begin each day. He would then spend the next four hours on foot in a circuitous route that took him past and repast four separate markets. He would annoy each vendor in his quest to find the day’s perfect, green grape. Molesting countless bunches with his pudgy fingers. Often ripping one or more from their brethren only to quickly cast them aside. No seller with a modicum of sense would tolerate such nonsense but for the distinct possibility that Anselm would choose a grape from their stall. For if he did, he would pay five hundred times the worth of a whole bunch. Every day for the one perfect grape. This is why inheriting money is so dangerous.

The human mechanism loses all sense of purpose and sense when gifted anything much beyond the bare necessities. Anselm was no exception. But nature respects no wealth because it simply cannot be bought. This would be a new lesson for Anselm.

One season, the pernicious skies simply stopped pissing on the terra firma grapes called home. What began as a shortage turned almost overnight into a complete absence. The bins in each of the four markets Anselm sullied held deflated, bruised orphans, and a few denuded vines left behind like anorexic castoffs.

Deprived of his only sustenance, Anselm still began his day with the same prayers but his faculties were eroding.

… the inequities to falsely accuse my witnesses… the wisdom to practice indifference, … the… perilous deep… World without end. Amen.

Unable to face reality and degraded by self-inflicted starvation, he returned to these same vendors despite no change in their supply. They offered him substitutes, even attempted to force feed him for free, but Anselm’s ways had virtually ossified and there was simply no dissuading him. Pyrexia gave way to a higher, sustained febrility, and his muscles atrophied to the point where he resigned himself to a supine position along the hard dusty floor of his neglected kitchen. Some sort of internal clock still registered the morning time and each day he whispered his prayer until he sent the last one unintelligibly heavenward:

Gahgrandsme…
inneckitiez… duhguildofmylewd…
duhwizzdom…
Lettuce notinto …tation.
ah…

  ah… 

    men.

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We have a rich literature. But sometimes it’s a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music.

Don DeLillo, Conversations with Don DeLillo

Aqueous Humor

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Note: Submitted to Ad Hoc Fiction‘s 150-word limit, weekly microfiction contest (Issue 181: Chill).

Under the crazed diving board not far below the surface persisted a pocket of concentrated cold. Unfazed by sun or moon, ‘twas known by young and old alike—they referred to it, almost reverentially, as The Chill. A treasured mystery, a supernatural perk of membership. Lifeguards closed the diving board only when attendance ebbed lest crowds flutter and tussle near the pool’s end just to touch the phenomenon. Invisible and not even the size of a football, it elicited goosebumps and giggles, leaving those it touched with a brief sense of transcendence. Local researchers had poked and analyzed The Chill to no end for years. None could remember a time before it.

Decades later when the pool had been closed, the grounds were eventually bulldozed. The remains of a small, missing child freed from his now broken concrete tomb were scooped up directly underneath where the board had once been.

 

Mannequin Memories

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I was reading Rachel Kushner’s The Flame Throwers yesterday when I came across this passage:

“Gazing at department store mannequins as if they possessed something essential and human that she lacked. Mannequins were carefully positioned to look natural, looking off in this direction or that but never at us. This was part of the Sears Mannequin Standard. My mother had worked for a short time as an assistant window dresser at the Sears in downtown Reno. She was given a booklet with a list of instructions, the most important being the no-eye-contact rule. If the mannequins made eye contact with the shoppers they would disrupt the dream, the shopper’s projection. A mannequin’s job was to sell us to ourselves in a more perfect version for $19.99.”

I was suddenly taken back to my own childhood and the Sears in Security Square Mall in Woodlawn, Maryland. My family shopped there fairly frequently. I had little interest in the merchandise but was fascinated by the layout and the internal geography of such a huge place. The “landscape” would change from department to department. As an only child until age 11, it was just me and one or both parents. They would frequently give me a long leash and I would usually wander off do one of two things—either use the clothing racks like a secret tunnel system as I disappeared inside them or, the more favorite of the two diversions, pretend I was a mannequin. In the clothing section, they would either have mannequin families or a few children mannequins grouped together. While my parents were shopping or waiting in the checkout line, I would try to make myself part of the mannequin display. I might step up on the white platform, stand next to my new best friend, place a hand gently on their shoulder, and stare off into the same distance as if we were sharing what might become a lifelong memory. A true moment. But I wan’t interested in the moment or what we might be staring at. What I was interested in was whether I could so accurately mimic a mannequin-esque pose and remain so still that the other shoppers would be fooled. I would breathe as slowly as possible and try not to blink and then a couple might pass by and a woman would say something like “That mannequin looks so real!” And her boyfriend would say “That’s because it is real!” And then my composure would fail and I’d smile or laugh. And so would they as they walked on through this materialistic wonderland. Even if no one noticed me, I enjoyed becoming part of the landscape. Hiding in plain sight.

Later, as a parent myself, I would try to distract my own toddler while my wife shopped and would ask him questions about the mannequins: Where did they come from? What did he think their names were? Usually, this would take a dark, humorous turn, especially in Ann Taylor Loft where the mannequins always seemed to be purposefully missing an appendage. We would run around like we were in a horror movie: “Ahh! They cut off that one’s foot! Don’t go over there, it’s where they chop off the heads!!!” Or we might try and figure out which employee was responsible for the beheadings. The child loved it. The wife would just sigh and shake her head.

Mannequins. Never forget they have stories of their own. And they are excellent listeners.