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:

inneckitiez… duhguildofmylewd…
Lettuce notinto …tation.




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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.



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I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.

– Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond

Measure Twice, Cut Once


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I had become an altar boy because I was hoping to be molested. Didn’t work. I stopped wearing underwear because it made me feel like a porn star ready at a moment’s notice. The moment never came. I tried to join an incel group. Just made me want to shoot my new brothers. Octopuses are incredibly intelligent and my uncle owns a diving company. Thought maybe there was a chance at an interspecies romance. The octopus I met just thought it was fun to unhook my oxygen tank. I suppose in a way, all these instances had fucked me. Just not in the way I’d imagined. Life is like that sometimes, right? Gives you lemons, you make lemonade, slip in a roofie, accidentally imbibe the dosed drink, and wake up not remembering how you fucked yourself. #redefiningFML!

Maybe I was going about this all wrong. Entirely. So I cut my penis off one day. Cutting board on the table, me on my tip toes, upper thighs pressed up against edge, butcher’s blade swung down hard and decisively, cauterized with a culinary blow torch immediately after. My take on crème brulee. The intoxicating smell of burnt pubes wafting about. This might not have been my smartest decision. Nor was it my worst. (Don’t ask.)

I got a little obsessed. Started cutting off other body parts. A finger. A couple toes. We live in a society with too many things. Tried cutting out a rib. You know, kind of experience the same thing Adam did. Wasn’t going to try and make a female out of it. I don’t have a God complex or anything like that. It’s fucking hard to try and cut through a rib. I passed out. The hospital staff were no longer buying my “work accident” explanations.

Couple months later, I met a woman named Sally on line. She seems wonderful. Generous. Kind. Beautiful. We’re supposed to meet in person this Friday for coffee. I’m just not sure how to explain to her the parts of me that are missing.

Kids Say the Darnedest Things


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Afternoons, just past lunch when her 5 yr olds slowed slightly from digestion-inspired fatigue, were when Ms. Newsome turned to the trusted circle rug. Her band of little humans would gather round sitting “Indian style” and awaiting the days letter. Today’s letter was K.

From the large foam border running the north wall of her classroom she dislodged the foam letter K. It was a dimpled purple with proud battle scars where students had bent or bitten or tugged its sans serif ends over the past few years. It may have been her best investment thus far as a teacher. Every one quieted quickly in hopes they might get to hold the mystical letter or be the first to offer up a word whose beginning it graced.

Ms. Newsome held it with two hands above her head. “Class, today’s letter is the letter ____?”

“K!” they shouted in surprising unison as they filled in the space she’d left hanging in the air.

“That’s right. The letter K. Can anyone tell me a word that starts with K?”

“Kite!” little William Sheffeld blurted out.

“Remember to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.” Ms. Newsome walked the tightrope between encouragement and discipline like a big top performer.

“Katie, would you like to give us a K word?”

“Cut.” She spoke so softly the class was still waiting for her answer.

“Would you please say that louder so all your classmates can hear, Katie?”

“Cut.” If anything, the second attempt was actually softer but her classmates had quieted, a haphazarded show of support.

“That’s very close. It has the right ‘kuh’ sound but cut is spelled with a C.”

Katie had curled up inside herself like a potato bug.

“Anyone else have a K word? Yes, Douglas.”

“Korea. North Korea.”

Oh, how they never ceased amazing her. She was proud to be their teacher. Before she could affirm his answer, Douglas began to speak more.

“Do they have first-strike capabilities yet?”

“Douglas, I don’t think– ”

“What’s a ‘first strike’?”

Before Ms. Newsome could identify from whom that question originated, know-it-all Samuel Klein was answering:
“That means they can launch warheads able to fly over the whole ocean and hit American cities.” With perfect timing, tomboy Lisa Sands said: “KAHHBOOMMM!” She smacked her cupped palms together to great effect. Katie began to whimper.

“Now class, I need you to focus.”

“Kashmir begins with a K!” Was that shy Francis?

“Does Caliphate start with a K?”

“Douglas where did you learn– ”

“Khomeini starts with a K!”
“So does Kykes!”
“And K.I.A.!”

“CLASS!” Ms. Newsome screamed.

Their wide-eyed stares full of fear and disorientation like she’d set off a flash grenade. Silence but for Katie’s sniffles as she tried to halt her tears.

“Return to your desks. Place your heads down. And close your eyes.”

They scurried into order. Their desks in five rows. Each row with three students. They had all turned their heads to the right, away from Ms. Newsome as she switched off the lights. For the remaining 86 minutes of their school day, not a word was uttered. The only sound was the awkward squeak of the letter K being pressed back into its foam setting.