We all start out innocently. One or two strays—orphans, really—you let them into your life. Maybe you keep them for your own enjoyment. Hidden. Maybe you gift them to the right person. Rarely, because of their condition, you sell them. But it never ends there. You’re always on the hunt. You lower your standards. Start accepting the ones with permanent markings, viewing these minor imperfections as desirable as you run your fingers along their forlorn spines. Sometimes they’re not even your type. It’s a grey area, but what isn’t? A line you straddle between collector and middleman. You always want more. A deep sacral desire drawing you to new, used, hard, soft… whatever remains. You’ll spend your last dime for more and you won’t raise an eyebrow at the ones others discard. Lost in the system. Not really even on the radar. Their value long overlooked by the newest “goods and services.” You care for them. In your own way. It’s a bit lewd. Some might say unhealthy. But these books need you.
I could tell she was dreaming by the way her eyes darted underneath the closed lids as her fingers twitched involuntarily. The streetlight filtering in through the blinds cast striated bands across her face and body. I could see that her breathing had quickened. Was it that recurring dream she described being whisked down the rapids in a suit made of balloons? Was she scared? She almost looked to be smiling. Perhaps she was dreaming of another man. What would it be like to see inside another’s dreams? I sighed and gently brushed a few strands of hair from over her face. She took a deep breath and her whole body seemed to sink an inch deeper into the bed as she exhaled. I felt an inner peace watching her sleep… the rhythm of her breathing, the relaxation in her face, that sense that she was safe and potentially happy. Can one be happily unconscious? I had spent decades fighting my own need for sleep and yet I found it so right for everyone else.
She began to shake a bit. Almost like she was shivering. It passed almost as quickly as it had begun. The she began to moan. A deep sort of hum. I mistook it for something positive at first until I saw the grimace on her still sleeping face. Her jaw clenched. Her eyelids squeezed into narrowing folds. I usually tried not to wake her in the middle of a sound sleep—it was almost always more disturbing than whatever she was dreaming. Mostly, she didn’t remember her dreams. Nor did she seem to have that many bad ones. At least, not that she admitted to. Her whole body began to shake violently enough so that the headboard tapped against the wall. I’d only seen this once before in real life when I was in grade school. A male classmate with epilepsy had a seizure on the floor just before we were dismissed for the day. She had flipped over so that her back was to me. I threw an arm up and around her and pulled her firmly against me. “Shelle, Shelle.” I spoke trying to wake her. The shaking diminished some but she did not wake. As she pulled slightly away from me a band of light crossed over her ear quickly—it looked as if something shiny and sticky was coming out of her ear. Dark. Possibly blood? “Shelle?” I said louder. She went rigid on her back. I grabbed the sides of her face, cupping her cheeks. “Shelle, wake up. It’s just a dream.” She began to froth at the mouth. A raspy noise coming from her throat. Her eyes still closed. I sat up and opened her eyes by pushing my pointer fingers up as I pulled down with the sides of my thumbs. My throat constricted like I was about to vomit as I gazed into blackness. Just empty sockets. No eyes, no blood. Just holes in her cavernous skull.
I started to yell “Shelle!” but before I got pass the “Shhh” my left shoulder began to shake. Garbled deep within my head like underwater sounds was a voice repeating something over and over. It grew louder and louder until I finally understood it, like my head had burst out of a pool: “MICHAEL!” I jerked backwards, eyes suddenly opened. Michelle was leaning over me. “You were having a bad dream. It was just a dream.” I inhaled sharply not realizing I’d stopped breathing entirely for a bit there. I blinked and stared at her. She kissed me on the cheek. Told me to go back to sleep as she lay her head on my chest. My own breathing eventually returned to normal aided by hers pushing gently against me as she fell back asleep. My eyes surveyed the dark room, sliding over silhouetted furniture, the dark outline of clothes against a pale rug, a door on the wrong wall.
None of this was familiar.
I sat at the keyboard waiting for something to come out.
Libertines lulled by libations…
It’s not that I couldn’t think of anything to write or didn’t have anything to say. It was more like ten thousand things wanted to come out all at once.
Houston drowning in the background…
Like a herd of wild sentiments. Let one through and you’ve got a stampede on your hands. A few minutes exploding into several lifetimes worth of worry-thought-frustration-anger-diatribe-anxious-impulsive nothings.
Fine people on almost every side…
And then emptiness. A vacuum. So instead of relieving the pressure you work in reverse. Put more stuff in there. Read more. Eat more. Watch more. Listen more.
The Dow high on itself…
See if we can jam this flesh balloon until it bursts and no border exists between here and there, you and me, this and that.
But this too shall pass.
“Ya been keepin’ out of trouble?” my Uncle Joe asked.
“You know it! I’m the early bird gettin’ the worm and all that.”
“Don’t forget that you’re working hard to play hard, right? You look a little rundown–gettin’ enough rest?” he said.
“Oh, I figure I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Heheh.”
He hugged me, said something about the apple landing near the tree, and told me to keep up the good work. We wished each other a good-day-god-speed-happy-trails-goodbye-for-now. He mumbled something about my having greener grass as he turned and walked off into the sunset. I thought he might be vaporized.
I was counting my blessings on the way home when I passed a babe in the woods beating a dead horse. I didn’t know him from Adam, so I just tried to mind my own business. The winds of change made it feel like a dark and stormy night was approaching quick as a bunny. The town floozy was on the corner like clockwork shouting that “a hard man is good to find!” I thought she’d have thrown in the towel by now, but apparently there were still a few men of honor who would touch her with a ten foot pole.
As I turned the corner at Memory Lane, I tripped. Talk about taking a load off! Before I came to my senses, I was staring eye to eye with a green pill bug. Worried that he’d heard through the grapevine that I was not playing with a full deck of cards, I tried to beat him to the punchline. “Knock, knock.” I said. “Who’s there?” he replied. “Your mama!” I laughed like a hyena. He told me it was better to burn out than to fade away, at which point, he let down his hair, curled into a ball and started his rolling anti-moss-gathering maneuvers. I took this as a sign from God and began to watch like no one was dancing.
It felt as if a moment of truth was upon me. At the end of my tunnel vision, a light, brighter than a thousand sons. Either I had my wires crossed, it was darkest before the dawn (aside from that weird light in the distance), or I had indeed had my fifteen minutes of fame.
DATE DESCRIPTION/PAYEE COST
October 5th | Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club $57.89
October 6th | Jezabelle’s Floral Emporium–anniversary arrangement $45.00
October 7th | Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club $104.37
October 8th | Joe’s Swedish Massage Warehouse $300.00
November 4th | Institute for Couple’s Counseling $50.00
November 11th | Institute for Couple’s Counseling $50.00
November 18th | Institute for Couple’s Counseling $50.00
November 25th | Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club $450.00
December 2nd | S. OWE DOTES Divorce Attorneys $350.00
December 25th | Hilltop Motel–week’s deposit $500.00
January 1st | Morning Heights Apartments, Inc. $2,400.00
January 15th | Child Support Payment #1 $675.00
January 16th | Kit Kat Gentleman’s Club $150.00
January 19th | Morning Heights Clinic–STD screening $50.00
January 21st | Gurn’s Pharmacy–prescription ointment $68.19
February 10th | Gurn’s Pharmacy–prescription refill Insufficient funds
Note: I wondered whether one could tell a story using someone’s checkbook or credit card statements. It would be akin to turning the reader into a kind of investigator piecing together the clues… filling in the blanks. Could you create a sense of character? If so, to what degree? This was my initial draft above and while it was an interesting experiment to attempt, I don’t think I’ll be doing so again.
She’d bought a used Monopoly game box at the Salvation Army thrift store for three dollars. Two-thirds of the contents were missing or severely damaged. A previous banker had run off with all the five-hundred dollar bills. But all she needed was the Get Out of Jail Free card. She would be mailing it to the President today. No letter or note. A fake return address: Kessler’s Karmic Kards.
Another daily act of Resistance. These individual efforts anchored her, gave roots to her existence since the election. Like many, she’d felt traumatized by the results. Ashamed. Embarrassed. For a long time, just in plain denial. For nearly a month she waited for that anyone to come to the door and inform her this was just a mistaken alternate future. The repair team would have the historical mechanisms reset in the next 4 to 6 hours. Be prepared for a slight interruption in communications services as the present was corrected.
No one ever came.
Like the stages of grief. Like PTSD. What could she have done differently? Anger. She’d stopped talking to half her family. Politics was politics, but this? Pure betrayal. Factions divided and these divisions hardened. Ever so briefly there was a hope that things might not be so bad, that the campaign rhetoric was just that: talk. Then came the reality. Inauguration followed by a shitshow circus. She’d marched. She’d donated. She’d phoned her representatives (and not-her-representatives). She’d protested. She’d countered every crude and hateful comment (real or virtual) with fact, logic, and actual American values.
She seldom laughed. Masturbation led nowhere.
She wore gloves to handle the envelope. As she walked to the mailbox, her confidence in what had seemed like such an empowering, witty idea crumbled. She was still one of many millions of grains of sand whose collective efforts grinded out a difference, but she suddenly felt isolated. Overwhelmed, she sat on the curb. She tore up the envelope. She would not have noticed the tears streaming down her face but for the salty taste on her lip.
Was this defeat? Acceptance? All she felt was a glorious sense of relief.
JT Conway, Payload Commander, saluted me formally just prior to severing the tether that had anchored me to the space station. It starts as a drifting away but soon I’ll be herdling through– Wait. Herdling? That’s not right. Soon I’ll be hurdling through space. Shit. That would be like slow motion leaps over a series of small meteors coming at me. I’m like an interstellar track star. But the oxygen in my suit is malfunctioning. I’m struggling for air. A darkening vignette creeps in from the edges of my vision. The next meteor is there already. I’ve misjudged it. My front foot clears it by a few centimeters. My back foot catches and I begin to cartwheel. An already meaningless down switching places with up as starlight specks blur into celestial arcs. Rate of rotation increasing. A moment before I black out I think: Now. Now I am hurtling.
Near catastrophe looks a lot like the everyday. Were we privy to the infinite close-calls and lethal near-misses we might be paralyzed by fear. And so it was not until 2042 that we Earthlings discovered just how close we came to invasion. One that would have enslaved us to a most ruthless overseer. In hindsight, we can chuckle at our good fortune. While the larger data transmission is still being translated and analyzed, a couple recently deciphered work papers of reconnaissance agent WWK-2r shed some light…
[WWK-2r FIELD REPORT ^*… EARTH YEAR 2013…
All local leaders identified. Moderate mammalian intelligence levels. Substandard technologies and defenses. Previous recommendation to initiate planetary colonization rescinded. Hold orbit 5 rotations. Further study of alpha class species required.]
[WWK-2r FIELD REPORT ^’… EARTH YEAR 2013…
Previous hierarchy assessment modified: Bipedal species appears to be second in command. Subservient to class of beings made of metal and glass. Alpha beings use bipeds for transport, power supply, and breeding. Control maintained through simple system of light flashes and tonal variations. Denuded bipeds in rock biomes stop in mid action to pet, talk to, or power alphas. Massive resources directed to alpha breeding and custom fit electrical grid maintained for life of alphas. Alphas vary slightly in size. Rectilinear outline with scant depth. Appear to have no appendages. Bipeds serve as pack mules. Majority of bipedal wake cycle devoted to flat alphas. Symbiotic relationship unknown.]
Scientists at the International Googlex Labs report that held-orbit resulted in a meteor impact of commensurate size and destruction wiping out what many believe to be the only class A PKD-Recon ship ever to appear in our galaxy. Field reports were logged in ship’s data fields but transmission to the central unit never breached beyond our solar system as far as current diagnostics reveal.
At first, I was all ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ, but then she said no and I was like ◔̯◔. A little later it seemed like I could just get away with a ♥‿♥. Boy was I wrong. Now it’s back to ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ. I told my sister about it and all she had to say was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I don’t think I can take much more of this. (ಥ﹏ಥ)