Rook Ridge (By Brendan Albetski)
“How many dead men live in the woods?”
“I asked: How many dead men live in the woods?”
“I’m afraid the question don’t make much sense, Sandy.”
The sun was going down over the trees. Sandy and Burke sat out in front of Sandy’s store. The overhang no longer kept the setting sun out of their eyes.
“Well if you’d have seen old Albert Abercrombie today you might. He shuffles into my store like he always does, practically smacks his head on the doorframe like he always does, and then goes and buys enough provisions for maybe half a week. A whole week, if you were living light.”
“Did he cause you any trouble?”
“No, he never said word. He just paid and left, like he always does.”
“Well he only comes to town every couple of weeks.”
“That’s just the thing, isn’t it? He only buys provisions for maybe half a week, but he doesn’t come back for three, sometimes four weeks! How’s he living on half a week’s provisions for that long?”
“Abercrombie lives off the land. People used to do that, you know. He’s a hunter.”
“Bullshit, he’s a hunter. He can barely bend low enough to get under my door. He ain’t sneaking up on shit in these woods. He’s a dead man walking, I tell you.”
“Sandy, just because a man lives in a way you don’t understand don’t make him any less a man.”
Sandy and Burke sat in silence on the porch. Sandy fidgeted with the tab on a beer can.
“Something about this place don’t feel right. Never did.”
“Place don’t feel nothing. It’s you who don’t feel right in it.”
“One way or the other, my skin is always crawling. That Abercrombie looked at me today. I peered up under those big eyebrows of his and I looked him right in the eye. I don’t think he was expecting it but I don’t think he cared either. I got this feeling: like fingers walking their way all around my skin.”
“And now you’re spooked. Give it a rest, he’s a creep, but he’s not a monster, and he’s sure as hell not going to follow you home and murder you with an ax.”
“I didn’t say anything like that. It’s just the feeling. I knew what it was because it wasn’t foreign. Because I think I felt it all my life and just never realized it.”
“You’re an odd sort, Sandy.” Burke crinkled the beer can in between his fingers.
Sandy nodded, “Perhaps I am.”
The name of this story is “Tense.” I am was.
We live in the house near campus that houses English majors. In the woods behind our house lives the ghost. He has a beard and he will say, I am lost and thirsty.
That is all he says.
Sometimes he will glow blue, but all we can think of is tense.
I was lost and thirsty, someone says.
But he is present, someone notes, which means he currently is lost and thirsty.
He is only current in that he is something that was started in the past and is now finished in the present as something that is finished can also be in some ways present, someone chimes. So: He has thirsted and gotten lost.
Now you are confusing things, the other says.
Now you are just emphasizing any words, says the other.
Shush up, says someone by the window. It is certain that he has happened in the past and is continuing into the present, perhaps even into the future so thus: he has been lost and thirsty.
Or if we are to believe in our hearts that he will continue into the future, and why not?, then perhaps: He will be lost and thirsty.
Scars sing of tales untold, of the epic stories that have traverse the land of Dermis. Once flat plains, unmarred and pristine, now affected by time and trauma and a few mistakes or five. But it is all the more interesting, with its imperfections. Such a chorus could be dedicated to each, a record of its life, a memory of what once was.
There Goes A Regular
I promise to keep this brief (or at least try):
So I’m moving to New York tomorrow morning. I’m anxious, I’m scared, I’m excited, and I’m ready (I think, I hope). I have one million feelings about Los Angeles and leaving it and joining its largest rival but those are feelings that are too specific to just me and who needs the umpteenth tl:dr navel-gazing “I’m leaving LA, I’m joining New York” blog post? My love letter to Los Angeles will be a perpetual draft I will write every single day I get to stay on this earth. It’s home in so many ways and the people here are so wonderful that it breaks my heart into three-dillion microscopic pieces just attempting to wrap my head around it all. Everyone knows I love this city like a family member and everyone who lives here that I love already knows how much I care.
But I did want to say something about taking chances and the soft braveries I’d like to believe still exist in a generally easy and calm generation. Someone wrote something several months ago about how the simple act of asking someone out in public is a truly brave moment because it’s honest and accepting of the numerous ways it could go wrong. And I think that’s true and great. Am I moving to New York because there are more job opportunities and I can live without a vehicle and to fux with the career rut I’ve been stuck in out here? Yes. Am I also moving across the country for love? Hell yes.
And, as many people have timidly expressed, could things potentially go south—financially, mental health-wise, relationship-wise? Yes. Everything can be fucked with. But I’d rather live my life trying and believing in optimism and love and all the other wonderful things that exist in this silly world to balance out all the obscene horrors.
I’m not the most pragmatic person in the world. I’m down to gamble and wing it, for the most part. But there is a very, very small village in my mind’s landscape occupied by roaring Pragmatic Pagans—they’re wild creatures who occasionally pop into the foreground and try to squash my optimism for chance and randomness. Not often, but sometimes, their moon howling parties remind me to briefly tour their allotted zone in my pink-tissued fake world. Most of that world is occupied by a soft suburban romanticism. When I visit them it is only brief, flighty tourism, for I could never live there, there in that beautifully prepared and calculated land of pragmatism because truth be told, I’m just not cool enough. For twenty-six years I have been far too romantic to be ultimately cool. And I thank my my gushing, soft, emotional zones for their openness and their tenderness and I thank the fading beam of youth, of which I will hide behind, for its ability to make synonyms of stupidity and bravery. And I will hope with all my dusted bones that moving 3,000 miles from home—from family, from the desert-baked basin of myself with Mojave air forever filling my cells—for love (for love!) will fall under the category of bravery, simultaneously winking at the notion that it wouldn’t exist without at least a dash of the stupidity category. O, how I can sleep with that rationalization! A well-rested, possibly brave and definitely dicey, sleep with wild dreams of exploration and love and growth rather than the dreamless log-like slumber of a comfortable, sure-footed fool, calculated and cowardly.
And here I begin, like a screaming come across the sky. Los Angeles, I fucking love you.
Thanks for all the greatness, you beautiful friends who continue your own LA stories.
The Invisible Man
He woke up every morning, alone. He’d eat breakfast the same way, staring intently at his meal, watching the cutlery sink into the food, warping textures, severing sinews. He would wash up, brush his teeth, and then dress himself without any input from anyone else. Just before leaving for work, he’d straighten his clothes in the mirror, which will be the last time anyone sees him each day.
He rides the bus to work. He sits meekly, a compact package of arms and legs cinched in tight against the torso. He keeps his nose firmly planted in a diverse array of books, a new one every day.
He works in a call center. He makes calls, he buys lunch, he chats on his breaks, but no one talks to this man. They talk to their customer, their coworker, their employee, but no one speaks to the man. They exchange the pithy pleasantries, the “have a nice day,” the “how ‘bout that weather,” the “can I speak to your manager.” Such things are not communication, they are not interaction, and both they and he know this. They don’t speak to him. They don’t listen to him. They don’t see him.
He returns home, and eats dinner like he ate breakfast. Alone. He washes the dishes, brushes his teeth again, and in the mirror, he is seen for the first time in hours. As he stares at the man in the mirror, trying to make up for a day’s worth of invisibility, even he begins to look through himself. He contemplates the prescription bottle behind that mirror, behind the man. The legacy of his last bout with insomnia, a gift from a therapist who, like so many others, didn’t really see him. They expired years ago, but he thinks that they might still be able to do what he needs them to do. To make him visible to the people on the bus, and at work, and at lunch. To make them see him through his everlasting absence.
And like every night before, and every night to come, the bottle remains behind the looking glass. He crawls back into bed the same way he woke up: alone… and invisible.
Bite me, Pt 2
We decided to take her car. For one because I’d had way too much to drink for my little body to start driving, and besides, my motorcycle only seats one. The car was one of those new little hybrid things, and it looked green in the low light. When she turned on the car, the radio jumped mid-song into some light ambient electronica, a nice change of pace from the bar’s hard metal, which I could almost still feel, even down the block from the place. It was something I hadn’t heard before, which is getting rarer and rarer as days go by. It was also quiet enough that we could still talk. I was just about to shift the conversation away from myself and onto her, but she beat me to the punch. Ah well. Ladies first, right?
“So, what’d you say, your mother bit you? Isn’t that illegal, for a vampire to bite a kid?” I guess she was focusing so hard on driving the car that she didn’t have anything left for tact. It was that, or she just didn’t know better. Either way, I decided not to lecture her on manners. She’d picked me up because I looked like a cute kid. No reason to spoil the mood by getting all old and crotchety.
I rolled thoughts around in my mind, trying to decide just how to answer her without opening up too much. There was a little bit of drunken sluggishness there, too. After an awkward silence, I thought I’d given her the implication that she’d hurt my feelings a little. I tried to play into that, and then gave her the brave smile of a child who was covering his emotions… It hurts my head even now just trying to think about what I was trying to pull off, and what must have been going through her head at the time. Anyway, I went into character, a dash of tragic child, a dash of wizened elder, and a hint of mystery and adventure.
“I was born in the British colony of Pennsylvania, March 12, 1746, to a farming family. I was the youngest of seven boys and girls, cuz you know, those where the days when you didn’t raise children, you raised farmhands. I honestly don’t remember much from before I was turned, just the things I was told, and things from books I picked up.
“But a when I was just under three years old, my house got attacked by a feral vampire. At the time it was just me, my mom, my dad, and my brother Nathan, who was all of four at the time. The rest of the family had taken the harvest out to sell at market, I think. Anyway, like I said I don’t remember it, but the way my mother told me was that she was feeding me and my brother lunch while my dad did some work outside. He yelled into the house for help and called out ‘VAMPIRE!!’ My mom sprang into action, and told Nathan to get Dad’s shot gun, while she ran outside to help. I was a little to clueless to realize just what was going on, but I remember feeling on edge, if only because Mom was too. A minute later I heard the loud unmistakable noise of gunshots, and I decided I should see what was happening.
“By the time I got there, all I could see was mom and dad lying next to each other on the ground, with mom holding dad close. Mom said the last words he said were ‘Take Care’ before slipping away. The vampire had sucked him dry.
“Mom hadn’t fared much better… She was still alive, thank God, but she was weak. Even worse, she now bore four fang-holes on her neck, marking her as being turned. I don’t remember what she looked like before, but after that was the way she looked for the rest of her life.”
Sherry decided to interrupt me here. “So, how exactly does a vampire turn someone? What’s so different about four fangs than two?”
I paused again, though I tried to catch myself this time. I had to figure out the right way to tell her this without giving away too much. “Well, see, these two fangs,” I slid out the fangs from my upper gums to demonstrate, “are just for sucking blood. When a vampire wants to turn someone, they have a lower pair that pushes their own blood back into the bitee, sharing the vampire disease if you will, as well as any other contagions the biter may be carrying. It’s really a pretty disgusting process, something like regular human sex.” I decided to stop there, and let her signals tell me where to go next.
“So can I see your lower fangs, then, too?” She was pretty obviously interested in the turning process, and was starting to stare at me with a hint of awe in her eyes.
I got a bit of good luck just then, though. Someone was smiling down on me. “WATCH THE ROAD, SHERRY!” I pointed ahead to the red light. Sherry slammed her breaks on and lost her train of thought. As the car skidded to a halt a few meters from the light, I answered her question. “I don’t think now’s really a good time.” I took a nervous gulp. “Maybe later.”
I hate lying to them.
She didn’t seem to notice, and just went back into the conversation. “So where were we? You told me how your mom became a vampire, but that doesn’t explain why she bit you. Did she bite all her kids and start her own coven or whatever?”
“No, you were right earlier, that sort of thing is against the laws. Both humans and vampires forbid turning children.”
“So why did your mother do it then?”
“Because she had to.” I took another sigh, and tried to get my story back on track. Somewhere in my head I knew that this whole sob story was just making her want me more, which made it easier for me to get what I wanted, but at the time I couldn’t get the thought that this was really cathartic out of my head. “Well, after dad died, we lost the farm. We’d made enough on the one harvest that we could afford to move in with my uncle, Mom’s brother Jeffry, and his family. No one told them that mom had been turned, but they pretty much knew. Anyway, that was the house that I spent the rest of my human childhood in.
“Times were tough. We basically had to hide Mom, and claim that she had died with Dad. It was hard for Uncle Jeffry to get enough food for us all… Anyway, eventually, I got sick. Cholera, I think, though the details from back then are kind of sketch. All I remember is lying in bed sick, and I was looking up at Mom. Jeffry was telling everyone that she was just a maid. The doctor had come in from Philadelphia, and was giving me his best care, but eventually he said something along the lines of ‘There’s nothing I can do.’
“Mom heard him and just flipped out. She let out this inhuman-sounding howl. It’s not a vampire thing so much as a mother thing. She knew that if she turned me, I wouldn’t be sick any more. But she also knew it would mean death for her. There wasn’t any room for appeal. Any vampire that attacked a child was to be killed on site. I looked up in her eyes, and it was half hazy. I remember her saying ‘I love you, son,’ and then she just started sucking.
“I felt each prick… It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before or since. I’d seen mom feed before. She was usually rough about it, not caring, just hungry. But this was very gentle. She was somewhat rushed, but she still took care. I didn’t feel like I was being bitten so much as being held. It was…”
I stopped. We’d come to a park in front of her place. A dorm. Oh boy, college meat. This should be entertaining.
Eventually I realized she hadn’t left he car yet. She was staring at me, with her eyes sparkling like she had just heard the most wonderful fairy tale. “That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard, Andy.” She took my hand and pulled me out of the car through her door. She lead me like she was my big sister, or mother. So many of the girl’s I pick up (get picked up by?) have weird issues with children. They see me and just stop at the seven year old body, and decide that I’m their little brother or new son and they’re gonna adopt me. You women who think you are objectified by men have no idea how guilty you are of the exact same thing.
So anyway, we got to her dorm, and she turned on the light. It was a typical dorm, lightly furnished, papers and books all over the place. She sat down on one of the beds and patted at her side, motioning for me to join her. This was actually the first time all night I’d gotten a good look at her. The light in the bar was terrible. She, on the other hand, was actually very beautiful. Nothing like a supermodel or anything like that, and a little too heavily made up for my tastes, but I decided that she wouldn’t be a bad person to spend a night with. I sat down next to her and leaned into her side, my head resting on her bosom. I was glad that it doesn’t make me shudder the way I had in the past. I’ve learned to get past the issues with relating every pair of above average breasts to my mother.
“Hey, Sherry,” I whine in a well-rehearsed voice. “The lights are kinda bright. Do you think you could turn them off?” She kicked off both her shoes, and one of them hit the target. The lights switched off, and we were alone in the darkness. I know it’s cliché, but I like the darkness. It’s the greatest equalizer to me. Nothing can take away from my size, but at least in the dark I don’t LOOK like a vampire. Or a kid.
My internal musings were interrupted by Sherry leaning back. I was surprised and fell on her, prompting a laugh out of both of us. Her laugh turned into a sigh as she stretched her hands out. I could almost feel them arching out behind her head, scraping against the wall, and then sliding around me. She was done being polite about it. She wanted me to be with her. I felt her hands grab me and pull me on top of her, and suddenly I was facing down into her eyes, and her lips were locked to mine. I moved my hands over her body in ways I knew from experience she’d find pleasing, and she did the same to me.
Eventually she broke our kiss and put two fingers over my lips. “Tony,” she purred. “I want you to bite me. I want to be a vampire too, and then I’ll be with you and you’ll never be alone.”
“You really wanna do that for me?” I asked, kissing at her neck, letting my lips find the spot with the biggest flow. I knew she didn’t It was just some combination of alcohol, tiredness, and infatuation with the concept of me, but I’ve learned to play along.
“Yes. Please Andy. Bite me.”
I didn’t need any more prompting. I dug my teeth into her. Not my fangs; my actual teeth, giving her an initial surge of pleasure. I felt her arching her back under me, with me riding her like some crazy beautiful beast. That’s when I struck. My fangs slit into her neck like twin needles, and instantly found purchase. I started sucking away at her throat. I could feel her having an almost orgasmic sensation from her pleasure. I was her wildest fantasy come true.
I was exactly that. A fantasy. Everything I’d told her about how vampires pass it on, how the lower fangs are what makes new vampires, was true. But it only applied to females. Males can’t make their lovers (or drunken college hook-ups) into fellow vampires. I didn’t want to spoil Sherry’s evening, because she was so into the fantasy, so I told her what she’d wanted to hear. I’d told half-truths. I’d omitted the crucial details. I didn’t tell her that because vampires have no human reproductive system, sex is just an inconsequential game with us. I didn’t tell her there was nothing I could do to make her one of us.
I’d learned over the centuries exactly how much blood you can drain from a person. Too much and they die on you, and the cops love to persecute vampire offenses. Too little and you’re still hungry. But if you time it right, you can get just enough blood from a person to make them pass out. That’s what I did to Sherry that night. When I felt her slipping under, I retracted my fangs and became nearly instantly docile, gently kissing her, cooing her to sleep under me. I pulled her covers over her, and let her dream about the vampire she wished she was. That’s all it was. A dream. That’s all it would ever be. Just a dream. Same as me. A one night stand. A myth you can’t prove to your friends because I slip out under the cover of darkness. Alone.
I’m always alone.
The clock on the wall said 2:15 as I slipped out of the dorm room. I reached into my pocket for my phone to call a cab home. Instead my fingers found a pen and some paper. I scribbled something on it. “Andy– 512 296 4140” As I slid the paper under her door, I couldn’t help but think that I was gonna regret it the next day.
Oh well. One day at a time. Maybe tomorrow I wouldn’t have to be so lonely.
When you think about it, there’s something quite fascinating about unmoving pictures. You could be staring at a photo of a woman smiling at the sky with a classy pair of shades and a large pink sun hat, but those would be the only details you have about it. You don’t know her backstory. A man could have broken her heart earlier and the Raybans are only a means to draw a veil over her puffy, bloodshot eyes and tear-stained lashes, and the smile was convincing enough for the camera but not her soul. She could be wearing her deceased mother’s sun hat; the only sun hat she would ever wear because she never liked to hide her hair underneath anything so bulky.
You could write a million story lines with just a random sample of photos. Two childhood friends building sand forts by the beach could be the start of an epic love story; a girl who looked as innocent a child’s dreams could have been a wicked heartbreaker in her past life; and a widow slicing onions in her kitchen on a rainy day could have other intentions in mind with the blade in her hands. I just find it amazing, the life you can bring to a lifeless depiction.
I am a very small thing, composed of a multitude of even smaller things. An animated aggregate of things insignificant on their own but together structure something seen as complete, something seen as ‘whole’. And that confounds me, because although I lack no essential pieces, although my physical body is fully composed; I know that I am in no way whole. In fact, I am ridden with unseen holes that support the paradox of my existence. And in some uncontrolled consciousness I continue to dig more of them; inside of myself and inadvertently inside of those around me. In rare moments of what I take for clarity, I arm myself with shovels and I desperately attempt to fill them. But I inevitably make them larger, and I inevitably push you all away because you know how to fill them and keep them filled outside of my proximity, and I don’t think I blame you. Too many holes and not enough dirt; not enough holes, too much dirt. So I throw in the shovel and I kick in what I can.
And I keep to myself, my vices, the sounds that I love despite my yearn for silence, the books that I hate despite associations and connotation, my nausea and disgust; and my fucking vegetarian diet because I always felt strange eating something else’s flesh. “But don’t get me wrong, I don’t care if you do, it’s just a personal thing.” Maybe less humane, more just a phobia. And I sit and I nervously chew at the skin on my bottom lip and the skin on my fingertips, and I tear it off and I swallow without a second thought.
from a distance
Do you know the number of times I have punched your name into my phone and typed out a message, before deleting it and replacing it in the back pocket of my heartbeat? You’d be shocked if I told you that more than once, I have walked a mile to the nearest phone booth so you wouldn’t know it’s me, dialled in your number, waited for your hello, and just listened to your voice for a while without saying a word. “Hello, hello, hello. Is anybody there?” Do you know how many times I have been at the brink of saying YES. I am here. Look at me. I am right here and you are right here, and this is what is left of me because you are the rest of me, do you understand that? Do you understand that I can’t go a minute without your name cutting through the queue of my thoughts to make it onto my tongue and leap into my life? Everything is you you you you, and you don’t even see it, do you? You don’t even realise that I have been circling myself, having conversations with you that you will never be aware of. I have been trying to get through to you. But the reception in your channel of trust is too disconnected to let me in. I have been standing with my heart in my palms at the doorstep of your acceptance, waiting for open arms, but only getting silence in return. I confused my echoes for your answers just so I would hold on for a little longer.
Do you realise that you control my entire day? That my centre of gravity exists in the space you take up inside of me? That you take up everything? I don’t know what this is. I don’t know if you‘d call it love, or obsession, or loneliness. But this feeling feels like no combination of twenty six letters can do it justice. My fingers hover over these keys, trying to find a way to describe the plumbing of all my pipes and parts that have been leaking from my eyes for the lack of light in my chest, but no matter where they land, I will never be able to explain what you do to me. You are a masterpiece. You are a thought that clings to my lashes at 2 a.m. and doesn’t let them fall into the safety of sleep. You are a sound that is always buzzing in my ear no matter how many times I try to thwart you away. You’re here to stay. Now that I know that someone like you exists, I don’t think I can settle for any other shade of brilliance. No one but you can quench this thirst in my chest, this lag in my breath. It’s always been you, you, you, you. So I will continue to write you messages that you will never read, to breathe into the phone booth with your voice on the other end of the line asking if it’s me. I will talk to you at two a.m. while facing the empty side of my bed. I will love you like this- from a distance, until you see me at sea and decide to leave your shoreline.
The cloud of exhaust snaked out of the rusty, beige and brown VW bug and I was reminded of my parent’s home country. It’s terrible that such a horrid stench had to creep through my nostrils and stain my sinuses to take me back. I think of the war-torn land often. I wish to travel back there and trip over the jagged streets and slide my hands over the bullet holes in the walls of my grandmother’s apartment again. The country is more than the broken limestone buildings and polluted air but nothing really transports me back to the taste of a juicy lamb shawarma sandwich or has me stumbling through a narrow souk bumping into dangling deep blue evil eyes and filigree-painted Turkish coffee cups, quite like the thick, lingering flavor that ejects from an eroding vehicle as it changes gears.
I WANT PIZZA
Her delicate hand reached up from further under the bed linen, and touched my stubbled chin. Her soft cheek was resting on my stomach, and her deep blue eyes looked up at me – vivid in the ethereal light that enveloped us both. We had been in bed all day, and as the sun rolled across the open window; we lay cocooned under the fine white sheet from my head to her toes. The sun was bright still, through the fabric, and the fresh early-evening air was rolling in off the Pacific.
‘I want pizza,’ she said, before adding, ‘some good pizza. The best pizza round here.’ Her eyes remained fixed on mine – my chin doubled due to the angle of my gaze.
In agreement, and considering we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I swept the sheet from us. In the half-second it took for the cool breeze to touch our gently perspiring skin, we realised how hot it must have been – even under a sheet as thin as that – breathing and re-breathing the same air.
I can’t remember the order in which we got ourselves ready, but before I knew it we were out of my beach-hut and walking on the sand close to the surf. We walked with purpose – the fresh air and drop in temperature reasserting our hunger. She was wearing a well-fitted white top and a flowing, light-blue skirt. My shirt was open, with her right arm underneath its back – clasping my waist just above my cargo shorts as we walked. I carried our sandals in my hand that wasn’t draped around her shoulders.
‘It’s so beautiful here,’ she said.
We didn’t need to look at each other to acknowledge what had been said – her arm and my hand tightened a little – leaving our eyes free to take in the pale summer sky and everything under it.
‘I’m happy,’ she said, casting a glance out over the water – about to continue talking.
‘I’m hungry,’ I interrupted, grinning.
For a moment there was no response, I was left looking down at her hair, waiting for her to turn and reveal a light-hearted smile to match my light-hearted cheek. She did turn, but the smile was absent. Her grip around me loosened, and the tone of her voice dropped as my stomach did.
‘So you’re not happy then, just hungry?’
Her eyes darted about furiously, searching my face for an answer. I was being sincere; I was happy – just ‘trying to be funny’…
‘Of course I am sweetheart,’ beginning to panic, ‘why has this suddenly got so serious? We are having a nice time, and in these past two weeks that I’ve known you…well, you’ve been wonderful.’
‘Oh, I see. I’ve been wonderful. So what you’re saying is, now you’ve got me into bed, you’re bored?’
‘What? No!’ I desperately tried to collect my thoughts, completely shocked by the level of hostility which had apparently come from nowhere. ‘Just look at us…or at least how we were a minute ago,’ we had now separated from our interlocking walk, and were stood facing each other – ignoring how our feet were slowly sinking in the cool, moist sand.
She looked at me with an air of scepticism, ‘How many girls do your bring out here then? Have you got another one turning up tonight?’
In my panic, my desperate attempts to preserve the evening began to sound like guilt.
She continued, ‘I just don’t understand how you can simply say that you are hungry when I was about to say…’
I took a step back.
‘You were about to say what?’
She clenched her fists by her side.
‘I was about to say that I loved you!’
In hindsight, I can see that my response to this statement contained a less than acceptable level of tact:
‘After two fucking weeks?!’
We both stood there stunned. The tops of our feet now covered in dark, sloppy sand. I still cannot forget how, in that moment, she looked truly inconsolable. And yet, what had I actually done? She took a step backwards, away from me and towards the surf – her eyes glistening with tears that she held back vigilantly - until that step - that raised foot that touched down on what must have been a particularly soft pocket of sand. She lost her balance and tipped backwards – falling into a shallow but fast-moving wave – drawn inland by the moon.
I lunged forwards – my arm extended to pull her up out of the water.
‘Don’t fucking touch me!’ she snapped, her cheeks splattered with a mix of sea water and tear drops.
‘Look, I didn’t mean it that way,’ I begged as she stood up. She ignored the cement-like sand on her clothes and palms. ‘Let’s get some food, a drink, and we’ll talk it over, OK?’ There was a pause. ‘I like you Evelyn, I really do. You just took me by surprise is all.’
She was silent – chin down, toes pointed in. The only other sounds were the mellow crashing of the waves, and the squawking of a group of gulls, watching from the up-drafts around the edge of the cliff. We stood for a moment longer.
But as the waves continued to roll, and the gulls headed in to roost, I had a change of heart. Her irrational behaviour that evening could not be undone, and my unwillingness to accept it could not be forgotten. We’d made it through two weeks before this first altercation, and as far as I could see, it was completely unjustified. Sure, when I think about it now, she was probably just having a moment of insecurity - people seem to get sucked into all of the positive emotions at the start of a relationship – but the endorphins and pheromones that flow so fully in those first moments of intimacy can also lead to anxieties. Or in my case, defensiveness. So I decided not to wait around for this to happen again. I had been trying to be my best self for her, but sooner or later I would relax, and what would she think then? What would she complain about? Shit, I couldn’t even say I was hungry without her getting emotional.
Sharp intake of breath to break the silence.
‘There,’ I said, placing her sandals at her feet, ‘I’m going to get pizza.’
‘I’m not coming.’
‘OK,’ I said. And as I walked towards the cliff-top beacon that was Mario’s Pizzeria, almost smelling the incredible scent of the ovens, I didn’t look back. And she didn’t follow.
And The Award Goes To...
Today was an award ceremony at my school. I am still sick with something, I think it’s bronchitis. Tonsilitis, one of those evil viruses. Whichever, I am sick with it and it is hampering my ability to communicate, it’s making me more socially inept than ever. I’ll start off with the good, I suppose. I got to know the German exchange student, Hannah. She has, dark ginger hair and freckles, and she wears glasses. She’s super cute, and nice. She and I ate donuts, together in the cafeteria, and we talked about her school back home. She said the only thing she misses from Germany that she cannot get here is, the bread. She says that her school has no school colours, no pep-rallies, and no reconigtion ceremonies. Honestly, I could live without the pep-rallies. In my head, I was thinking, “Off to Europe!”, but my smile was saying, “Oh, yes, yes, American schools are the Gods of all schools in the universe.”
It was after our conversation over the donuts when things started getting bad. My anxiety rose up behind me, like a snake. I felt it swoop down, and sink its fangs into my neck. The venom, coarsing slowly through my veins.
“And the award goes to…”
“And the award goes to…”
“And the award goes to…”
“And the aw-…”
In my head, I stopped the lady from finishing her hackneyed phrase, and began screaming… “Stop the world, I wanna get off!” Also in my head I escaped from the suffocation and the worthlessness, and floated away on a cloud somewhere, anywhere but where I was. Worthlessness, and hopelessness. I was drowning in them both. I cannot swim, so you can imagine the pain I went through while sinking to my death.
“Top in the country!”
“The students who went to Zaragoza Spain!”
“The students who won the creative writing contests!”
And that is when it hit me hard. The shock was that of a shark, sinking its teeth deep into my shin until it hit the bone, snapping my leg in half. Creative Writing contests?!?! I thought. Creative Writing is my oxygen. My food, my life. How did I not know about these contests. I am Vice President of Writers Cafe. I read my poety, spilled my heart and soul in front of those lifeless teachers, and I had no idea about these creative writing contests?!!? And that point I wanted to die. No, actually, I needed to die. I felt completely worthless as a writer. For a while, I let the painful annoyance and grief of not knowing about these contests eat at me, like some disgusting parasite. Then, I went outside, into the sun, and saw the blue sky, glaring back at me. It’s simple. I thought… Just like my counselor said, I know what I need, it’s just the matter of getting it. So, a plan fell into my lap. I hunt down the English department and demand they give me all the information a young, aspiring writer needs in order to enter these, seemingly confidential, “contests.” Second, just keep going. I’ll never get anything if I choose to stop now.
I look at it this way. A flower. A little bud, trying to turn into a beautiful rose, looks around it, and sees that there sunflowers, and daffodils, and hydrangeas are all in full bloom. It decides to give up, move farther away from the sun, because, what’s the point of sunlight, when the other flowers have gotten all they needed, right? And, when the rain began to pour, instead of rising to become hydrated, it decides to hide beneath the confinement of soil, and dirt, instead. If the rose bud becomes intimidated, and gives up the process of blossoming, it’ll never become a full-grown rose. So what’s the point of giving up? What is the harm in trying? Giving it a chance. Trying to bloom. The worst, possible outcome would either be a torn petal, or a missing thorn. But even that petal will not die. The wind will find it, pick it up, carry it off, somewhere into the earth, or into the golden glow of the sun. And the missing thorn, well, one can do without an extra bit of weapontry. After-all, the beauty of that determined rose will be enough to scare off any hand that may try and hurt it.
So, I think that’s what I’ll do. Become that rose. The past is the past. So, my head may have been visting the clouds while daydreaming. Or, the winner(s) of those writing contests could be eager, greedy hoarders and decided not to share their new-found discoveries to the Writers Cafe Club, (which I am vice president of). Either way, it doesn’t matter. I have a plan, a path, carved out into the dirt.
“And the award goes to…those who try to find sunlight, even after the sun has died.”
Taking the Bus
The train creaked up and everyone who had a ticket for the bus got off and filed outside to the man in the yellow/green jacket. The people stood around excitedly, each person triple checking where they should put their bags.
‘Scunthorpe.Hull,’ the driver said, pointing to two separate compartments.
The next person stepped up, showed him their ticket, then repeated the question.
‘Scunthorpe.Hull,’ the driver said.
I had lost my bus ticket on the train, but still had the train ticket. There was no way I could have got on the train without a ticket, but the driver would want his chance to um and ah, raise his eyebrows and tell me, ‘Weeell, without a ticket…’
I stepped up.
‘I’ve lost my ticket, but I’ve got the one from the train.’
The driver’s eyes were glued to his list of ticket holders.
‘Need a ticket,’ he said.
‘Well, there’s no way I can find my ticket number, but they wouldn’t have let me on the train otherwise…’
The driver walked off.
Everyone clambered up onto the bus. For some people, everything other than sitting at home is an effort.
‘Have you got your ticket number in an email?’ a man asked.
The man was leaning against a column, smoking. ‘Use my phone,’ he said, handing it across.
His hair was red and the same colour as his beard. Both were shot through with patches of grey.
I fiddled with the phone whilst he blew smoke out of the side of his mouth.
‘I’ll sort it for you,’ he said, holding out his hand.
I passed the phone back and waited.
‘Shit signal,’ the man said as the cigarette burnt down between his fingers.
We stood in silence and more passengers came washed out of the train station.
‘I don’t know why this guy thinks I’d want to sneak on to a bus toScunthorpe,’ I said.
The man smiled beneath his beard. There was still a problem with the phone. The bus was running late. When the new passengers were on board, the bus would depart.
‘I’ll wait until they’re on. My ticket number will be left on the list.’
‘Sure?’ the man asked.
The man blew out his last breathe of smoke. ‘Come get me if you have any trouble,’ he said.
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘I will.’
The man went off and got on the bus.
The driver was busy telling people where to put their bags again. When he had finished I called across. ‘So can I get on?’
‘Have you found your ticket?’ the back of his head asked.
I ignored him and got on the bus.
I was ready to nod to my bearded friend as I filed down the aisle, but I couldn’t see him.
I asked a woman if I could sit down next to her, but she did not answer, so I answered myself and sat down. The bus took off. After twenty minutes we hit traffic. Waiting at traffic lights, the driver stalled the bus. I laughed quietly. The driver got the engine running, then the bus shuffled forward, wheezed and died again. This time more people laughed. When we got where we were going, I would wait for the bus driver to hand me my bag, look him in the eye and say, ‘Well, we got their in the end.’
The bus trundled along. Outside black clouds were seeping across the sky, but patches of brilliant blue managed to cut through and sunlight slanted down in sharp columns. After a while we hit heavy traffic and settled down into it. The old man across the aisle had fallen asleep and was snoring heavily. Old people seemed to be able to fall asleep at a moment’s notice. It was like a compromise with death. I looked at the old man’s ears. Long black hairs crept out of them, spreading across the soft parts of the ear, like a battalion of soldiers, advancing from inside.
We had stopped moving and outside stood a small pine wood. I stared out over the old man’s head. The ground beneath the pine trees rolled gently upwards and away from the road. The sunlight fell through the trees in brilliant patches, and the grass was the same vivid green wherever the light hit.
The bus rolled onwards. The woman next to me was sleeping, her head on the window. Her face was screwed up into a tight scowl, the lips pouting and the corners of the eyes pinched, as though what she saw when she was awake distressed her, and what she saw in her dreams was not much better.
After a while, I slept as well and then, sometime later, we reached our destination. I got off the bus. The driver was crouched over, leaning into the baggage compartment. A pile of suitcases waited on the pavement. The driver’s hand closed around my bag, then he threw it out onto the floor, automatically. I bent down and picked the bag up. The driver stood, stretched out his back, then went over and began to tell the new passengers where they should put their bags.
I moved away from the bus, crossed over the road and began walking home. The clouds were still there, but the sun was doing its best to hold on to the day.
I like how your left hand slides down my face and how your fingers trace the cliff of my chin, slipping the stones from my spine-
I lose the bitter in my bones to taste the saccharine that sleeps on your lips.
I like how even when my eyes are closed under the 1AM glow of residential streetlights and I pause to gather all of your secrets under my tongue, I know you’re smiling because the sound of your breath skips across my face like apple blossoms in June;
and I know those only bloom in May but there’s an honesty in the way the freckles on your cheeks speak to the fallen stars on my skin.
I like how hours seem like minutes and that when I’m driving, the faintness of your hand in mine leaves whispers in their creases that I’ll listen to when I get home.
I like how these last lines took me 2 hours to write because looking for metaphors to describe how I get lost in your hair, is like trying to differentiate between the constellations for me (I’ve never taken astronomy).
I like how I can recall all of that based on the albums we’ve shuffled through and that the stereo still playing in my head falls silent when I try to find notions that rhyme with sublime.
Your whispers had built its home in my ears; “Don’t you ever cut off your hair.”, then you go back sniffing the lavenders I’ve planted in my scalp for you. But then, my unpleasant thoughts have not always been a good soil. The field that you love the most always withers, yet you never got used to my chopped off hair in your bedroom floor as my birthday present to you.
Commitment frightens me, I think that was the first thing I told you when you professed your love for me. I’m not a very honest person but for you, I tried my best to be one. I told you that my broken heartstrings could no longer play any melody, especially the one you wish to hear, but you just laughed it off.
I tried to save you from this pain, dear.
I wish you believed me when I told you that I cut people out of my life the way I cut off my hair; impulsive and ruthless.