Web Site Remodel
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They call it shrapnel in my head but it’s a needle in my cerebral cortex that stitches my thoughts into patterns I recognize when the meat cleaver opens my heart and kills all the ghosts that hide out there, Doc.
And Doc says we’ll figure it out together, but something outside my perception yammers to come in and I ratchet his words into another cubicle of my mind. Outside, a cloudless day stands erect and birds fill the air.
Feels like San Pedro or Long Beach when I wake up: my tongue ripped thick with sea salt and diesel stink, eyes filled with yellow streetlight burlap sky. Rats gnawing ropes over by Terminal Way
in my head.
Two guys hurry past my bench with underbreath mumbles about bums.
What do they know? Ocean breeze is still free.
Night. Always night. We applied our masks, raised the curtain, crossed a stage and recited our lines. Instructed words, foretold. Within a dream within a conviction that a thespian forgery of life must upstage the ashen reality we performed outside the confines of the theater.
A play with three acts. Performed to perfection. In silence we thanked the audience as they in cacophony applauded our bows. Forever driven to the accolades of a faithless public. Tragedy. Comedy. Death and becoming. For two hours, we birthed distraction from our human isolation, allowed them and us to briefly both escape.
Learned a long time ago that people want to hear what they want to hear, not what you really think, so when my father asked me how I was doing, living on the edge of nineteen years under the sun, cut off from the world, unsung and alone, I told him fine, mentioned nothing of the volcano that babbled inside me, furious and ready to erupt but somehow calm, methodical, because a volcano carries no malevolence for its victims, only an uncontrollable desire to breach its confines and redspread its hot seed over the land.
My father nodded and went back to his newspaper, an old fashioned guy, still paid for paper, and I rose from the porch where we were sitting and looked up at the sky that looked down with its dark clouds like it wanted to swallow kids like me and then spit them out because we don’t belong here and we don’t belong there either. We leave a bad taste wherever we go.
Every morning, Indians. As I wait for the bus, a coffee in my hand, Indians. They come from the alley next to the pawn shop. Chief wears newspapers and duct tape. I’m unclear what we’ve done. Or if I’m guilty.
“Good morning Chief,” I say. “What’s the plan?” Same thing I say every morning.
“No plan,” says Chief. His tribesmen nod. Everyone has mud on their shoes.
“It’s time you called me God,” he says.
Khary Bello at the boardinghouse window. Morning. Tattered side city. Scattered sky clouds. Small hunger. No voices. August.
Streetside, shoes cracked, he walked. Each day the same. Walk the old districts for a small job for a small coin. Sweep out a doorway. Throw a bag of trash in a pile of other bags of trash. Pity work for an old man, but he managed. On occasion thrived.
On the sidewalk a hatch opened in his mind and a voice dropped in that spoke in broken tiles and sparks from a bench grinder. It grated out the word bomb and Khary Bello put his hands to his head and whispered oh god.
At times, beneath the lunar inception of night, when old memories, sharp and serrated, slice his serenity, Enrique Roberto Lopez Sandia recalls when he was a child on his way with his parents to the old country and how he wondered why one country should be old and another not so old and how his parents had little tolerance for his nascent peculiarities and so threw from their mouths repelling spears of words like: because I said so. And: one day you’ll understand.
In the harsh fluorescence of the airport terminal Enrique had crossed a threshold with his left foot first instead of his right and knew that a majestic misfortune would soon slide from the skies in retribution for his error, for he had read the great Book of Fates and had acquainted himself with all the reckonings that stalked a life. He knew how they stood ready to strike like a phalanx of hostile intendants if the unaware or careless should stray from the cautious path.
When Ernest Hemingway killed himself with a shotgun in 1961 just shy of 62 years old, he did it because he saw the spiritual progression of those two numbers and because he had too much success in life, said Marcus as we paused outside a barber shop on the Avenue of Saints just down from the cathedral.
I was trying to light a cigarette and almost dropped my matches. That’s nuts, I said once I got the cigarette going. Who kills himself over success?
I’ll tell you kid, said Marcus. A guy seriously wounded in the war. A man with four wives and two plane crashes to drink to.
More reason to live, I said.
To you maybe, said Marcus. But Hemingway saw his death coming later that year and wanted to show it who’s boss.
Tuesday. Hollis Jenkins walked to the mailbox. Never a letter, but he had to clean out the junk every damn day. If not, some kid would pull it out and throw it in the street. Because he could. Mean or unpleasant or merely bored. A world of because they could.
Hollis had no affection for the outside world. Only a fierce defensive duty for his house and property. A government pension bought him beer and meat. And ammo. Beyond that, for all Hollis Jenkins cared, the world could bathe in its cesspits.
The man came home. Like many do. Tired of his job. His life. The rent due and a bank account barely. A movie on TV and he watched it without watching. Some old black and white thing about a man who came home to a satchel of money in his bedroom because he had robbed a thief.
It didn’t make sense. The man came home like so many come home. From the movies with popcorn in their teeth or from work with dread in their heart. Movies. Life. They don’t make sense. Maybe the man got off at the wrong stop when he left work. Or the movie. Life just the flip side of death.
Nothing existed before his blindness. The past too was sightless. For uncounted time he lay enclosed in darkness alone with disjointed thoughts in his dark world. A voice said wake and he stood, a boy in a lighted room next to his father in bed who slow exhaled a tubercular life. A voice said sleep and again his eyes filled with unyielding black. He breathed quiet and slow another long time in the dark. A voice said wake and the final fire in the world entered. Illuminated his cell. He sat alone, naked, adult. Skin translucent and spotted. Clothes lay nearby, he dressed. A stairwell, descent. A sign read Hospital St. Thomas. He pushed open the door to a city street filled with nimble light and life.
Can you help me? he asked a passerby and the person said no for haste of a promise to be someplace when a bell chimed the hour of agreement.
Night. He pushed the old car hard for the shipyards. Missed an onramp out of San Fernando, dropped onto the streets of Van Nuys. Rushed when he could down the carchoked boulevard. At stops his redlight brakefoot edgy, eager to free the engine from its idle.
Crime scene ahead. Ambulance, stretchers, sheets. He took a hard left on Magnolia, ran deeper into the body of the night. Cop said driving too fast but we’ll let it go this time. A shared forearm tattoo. Brother both victims of the same wargod pressgang that flew home so damn many coffins.
Right there inside the hall of Senators full of meat and presented to the cameras that pick him up and shoot a verdict of his face out to the world sits Mr. Stuart Alexander to testify before the political dinosaurs that will soon hobble out and question his beliefs and practices in the hope that they may stay relevant within their shrinking constituencies and maintain on their juiceless features the captivating glow of a television spotlight. Young Mr. Stuart Alexander, accustomed to getting what he wants, doesn’t fear the senatorial relics that teeter on the brink of extinction. The world belongs to the fresh.
Do you see us? asks Senator Erstwhile, chairman of the committee and grandfather to at least three dozen boys and girls who have unfortunately inherited his fryingpan face and his overactive eyebrows.
You are barely visible, says Stuart Alexander. On the edge of worthlessness and sooner gone better.
I was talking to the cameraman, says Senator Erstwhile. We still rule the world.
A bell in the distance is always a bell and not yet a death knell as you grasp brambles and branches for a ration of natural guidance and consent to a series of red streaks they grant as stigmata on your forearms and hands.
You are not an abandoned spirit, rather one of many pilgrims who follow a related road, a path scratched on a map with sticks and hard blood that carries you to another garden door.
Laura stood in the kitchen, stared out at the neat rows of brown houses.
Morning. Gray sky. A knock on the door.
“Sign here.” A clipboard. A letter.
She closed the door, held the letter, looked at the sender, set the letter on the table, went back to the kitchen, stared out at the houses. A light rain fell.
The day moved across the sky. The gray remained.
At dinner, she told Paul. His face stayed stone. “We better read it,” he said.
His beliefs are living beings, Holden says, talking about himself again. At first they fall as impoverished angels into his eyes as dawn paints the window reddish. Then they lather his daylight with hard thoughts of who should receive a suggestion of death and who a short sentence of life. They tumble into the crevices of his doubts, clamoring with their sharp edges of how he must rise and admire his administration of justice.
What's that? I say. You're not a great god, not even a mayor or a teacher. Only a failed novelist.
True, he says. But we all have more inside.
Give me more coffee, I say to the waiter. He bows and retreats to the kitchen.
It wasn't always like this. Before the world rolled clouds across the sky faster and made clocks our masters, we rode from one end of our neighborhood to another on bicycles, playing the pedals like drums. We pounded rhythms with a ferocity that thrust phantoms from our dreams and gave them flesh.
Holden clears his throat. Do you remember how we loved Antonio?
As a bird I would gently fly high above buses and those who mount sidewalks on a hardline damp day of waging war with office chores and bills to pay – but I’m a mere creature of arms and legs, and cannot reach an alien heaven from this Avenue of Saints. I’m stranded on the far shore of salvation.
On this street James and Julie and I are in the rain, our cardboard roof tapping the same slow hymn I remember from when I was a simple victim of family pain that thrust me from a home into the cold.
Once this city rested on a heart, but now it’s broken and spent. Some few lucky grabbed a good life by the throat and squeezed it hard with their coffee delight and the freedom of another birthright. And oh, how they do fast-track their feet when they pass, never sleepless at night of what would happen should they not make the rent on time.
A 10 p.m. streetlight cracks through the store window, casts mirrored letters on the floor, shines the shoes of three old strangers in line with a bag of chips or a bottle of seltzer for a Thursday night of bingo or some other senior fun when the bell above the door sounds and Baz Osborne, tall with 19 short years of life enters. He carries a gun.
“Everyone down,” he says, waves the gun in the air. “Please.”
Erkin Polat, owner and night shift clerk with a cloudy beard, starts to drop.
“Not you,” says Baz.
Marcus Benson, second in line, retired parole officer, speaks up. “Just a minute, young man. I’ve got a bad back. I can’t get down on the floor.”
When I got off the plane in Astrakhan, the airport terminal was completely deserted. It was about 1:00 a.m. and I had expected few people but this degree of emptiness was a little unsettling. I followed the signs – they were in both Russian and English – down the corridor to the customs office. Nobody was at the counter. After I called out once or twice without success, a woman came in through the door I had entered, walked behind the counter, and approached me.
“Yes?” she asked.
“I just arrived,” I said. “I’m here to get my paperwork processed.” I laid my passport and travel documents on the counter, slid them over.
She rustled through the papers for a moment. “Where are you coming from, Mr. Bloom?” she asked.
They say you can’t turn back the clock, but Hector knew better. At night, as he moved from building to building, window to window, to observe unfolding secrets of ordinary people that hid behind their curtain cracks, he always encountered a peculiar sensation that started in his calves and moved into his upper chest. It reminded him freshly of life when he was a young boy which, outside of these excursions, he could never fully grasp.
These glimpses gave him goose bumps. They needled a dream closer to reality, a dream that people would one day stop hiding their true nature, expose themselves for who they really were, soft bellied up, like frogs on a science table. It wasn’t aberrant to dream, Hector would whisper to himself from the shadows, only deviant to pretend to be pure.
Caleb lived in the shed. “Boys live in sheds,” father always said, a scarred man with one good eye, “live in sheds until my god says when.” Father was unschooled, rigorous, and committed to the shape of his faith.
Caleb was twelve years old. Sometimes on a cool night he stuffed leaves in his pants. Mornings, he cleaned his teeth with fingers in the creek after father unlocked the chains.
Mr. Stone put his drink down. Someone had knocked on the door.
“Yes?” It was a girl, about nine years old.
“I like your house,” she said. “May I come in?”
Mr. Stone nodded. She came in. He closed the door, went back to his study. The girl followed.
“Would you like a drink?” asked Mr. Stone. He pointed to the whiskey bottle on the table next to his chair.
“Sorry, I didn't mean…I thought for a moment you were…”
Morning breaks the window open, sets sunlight to shatter on the floor, the scorpions to scatter. They run for walls, but Jordan climbs from bed, his dream head raw, brooms them to the door.
A young boy appears, still untouched by caution, a child who never had a fall he couldn’t master or a creature from which he couldn’t run. His name is Ethan. He climbs in through the window when the sun creates the trees each day. “Good morning, Mr. Jordan,” he says.
Man walks in, sees a body, steps over it, grabs a bottle of water from the cooler, steps behind the counter, dials the phone.
“Don’t ask how,” he says, “but I just witnessed a parting of ways. This earth, that life. 700 block, liquor store. I’m out of here.”
Odd Fiction For You
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Index of iteMs
Here's a list of currently available items.
- The Recognizable Sky
- Goodbye Rudy For Ships
- All Our False Faces
- The Beautiful Lopsided Eyes of Trigger Guards
- Social Progress at the Bus Stop
- Day of The Bombing
- Destructive Effects of Irrational Beliefs on a Mother’s Spine
- Life and Death of Ernest Hemingway
- A World of No White Paint
- None of This Makes Sense
- The City of Open Air Asylums
- Terminal Los Angeles
- Inside The Hall of Senators
- A Strong Path Of Roses And Rocks
- Duty To Conceive
- The Passages of War and Sickness
- Far Birds Above The Avenue of Saints
- Baz Tries Crime First Time
- Final Arrival
- Secret Watchers of Other Lives
- Kill The Man or Kill The Messenger
- The Crying Girl
- Mid Afternoon Crime in Allegory City