Category: writing craft

Vincent and Lily (part of a story)

I wrote this some day ago and still like it. Please forgive any typos and mistakes…I don’t have it in me to do anything more than cursory proofreading. 

Birds tire of flying after a while. One bird named Tom was exhausted and said to his wing mate, “Listen, I gotta take a rest. I’ll catch up later.”

Tom’s wing mate Fred snorted as much as a bird can snort, which honestly isn’t much. It’s kind of a stupid little noise, but there you have it. “You won’t catch up. You’ll get lost and die.”

“Wow, that’s kind of mean,” Tom said. “I won’t get lost. It’s impossible for birds to get lost, anyway. It’s possible I wouldn’t find the flock for a few days, but to get lost is something that—”

“It happened to Cecil,” said Fred.

When Fred didn’t elaborate, Tom pressed, “Er, who’s Cecil?”

Fred cut an irritated, beady eye at Tom, and sighed. Also, a rather silly sound and lost in the rush of wind. “Cecil was a bird who got lost.”

“And?”

“And died.”

“You know this for a fact?”

“It’s common knowledge, Tom!” Fred snapped. “Now keep flying and leave me alone!”

“Nope,” said Tom. “See ya… or not.” And with that, he dropped out of formation and flew to the ground.

Once there, Tom curled his legs under himself and sat in the grass. It was an unusual position for a bird to take unless it was wounded, which Tom wasn’t, and it occurred to him he could get snatched up and eaten. But just the thought of flying to a nearby tree made him tired, and before he knew it, he’d fallen asleep.

“You’re the bravest bird on Earth or the stupidest.”

The feline voice brought Tom fully awake, and he stared nearly eye to eye with a large tabby cat. “I’d like to think I’m not stupid,” Tom said, just for the sake of having something to say and possible forestall his imminent death, “but I’m not particularly brave, either. So, in response to your remark, I must say that this isn’t such a simple matter of black or white, yes or no. There are gradations, even with birds.

The cat glared at Tom. “That was an unnecessarily long and philosophical statement. Usually, birds just freeze when they see cats.”

“I suppose I’m not most birds,” Tom said and wondered how long the cat would stand for his sass.

“No, you’re not, at that,” the cat replied thoughtfully, settling into the grass. “I will not eat you. I stalked you, of course—instinct and all that—but I’ve already eaten. Couldn’t swallow another feather.”

“Ah, well, that’s good news for me,” said Tom, standing up and shaking his wings. He felt much better now that he rested, and he was sure he could take to wing in an instant, leaving the cat and possibility of death (no matter what the cat said behind). But he was curious. And since there was no saying about curiosity killing the bird, he stayed.

“What’s your name?” Tom asked.

“Which one?” the cat answered. “What humans call me, what I call myself, or my secret name?”

Tom’s eyes widened. “Cats have secret names?”

“Of course we do. We’re among the few creatures that do.”

“Well, what is it?”

The call rolled its green eyes. “I’m not telling you that, bird. It’s my secret name for a reason. But humans call Lily.”

“That’s a pretty name,” Tom said. “I’m Tom.”

Lily placed her face on her paws. “That isn’t such a pretty name.”

Tom shrugged his wings. “No, it’s rather dull. I wish I had a secret name, like Max, or Dash, or Vincent.”

“Vincent?” Lily echoed in surprise.

“I knew a wise bird named Vincent,” Tom said. “He was great and taught me a lot.”

“So I’ll call you Vincent. Vincent the bird. It seems to suit you better than Tom.”

“But… that isn’t my name,” Tom protested. “It isn’t what my parents named me.”

Lily opened her mouth in an enormous yawn, and Tom shivered at the sight of her teeth. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “You can be whoever you want to be.”

“The flock would have a thing or two to say about that,” Tom muttered.

“Well, I don’t see any other birds around, so I dub thee Vincent the sparrow. Wear your name with pride.”

Tom—Vincent, his mind insisted—fluttered his wings excitedly. “Vincent. Yes, you’re right. I will be my own bird.”

“Excellent,” Lily said. “I’m glad to have helped a fellow animal out. And now, I must be off.”

“But wait,” Vincent said. “We just met. Where are you going?”

Lily blinked lazily. “Home, silly. I’m an indoor and outdoor cat, and I’m ready to go inside. I think. I might change my mind when I get there, but I’m ninety percent sure I want to go inside.”

“Can I come with you?”

Lily laughed and said, “I don’t think my humans would take well to a sparrow living with them.”

“No, I could fly along with you and make a nest in a tree, assuming there are trees where you live.”

“Oh, there are plenty of trees,” Lily said, “but what about your flock?”

“Who needs them?” said Vincent, feeling suddenly brave. “They were going somewhere boring, anyway. Same place every year. This sparrow wants something different.”

“Well, I can’t promise that living in a tree in my humans’ yard will be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done,” Lily said, getting up and stretching, “but I suppose it would be different. All right. Come on.”

“Hang on a second,” Vincent said. “Do you mean to eat me… like, at any given time?”

Lily pondered for a moment and then said carefully, “It’s technically possible. If I don’t get enough food inside, or if my wild side kicks into high gear and I just have to kill something, I could eat you. But I’ve never eaten a bird I’ve met. It’s just too strange and wouldn’t be worth the guilt.”

“Do you feel guilty when you eat birds you don’t know?”

“Of course not.”

“What if one said, ‘Wait, my name is Cecil, I got lost from my flock, please don’t eat me?”

Lily narrowed her eyes. “That’s a very specific hypothetical situation.”

“Well?”

“I don’t know. I would like to think I wouldn’t eat a bird once I learned its name, but perhaps I would and then feel just a tiny bit guilty. Also, have you ever seen a cat stalk and kill a bird? It’s all over pretty quickly. There’s not a lot of time for chit-chat.”

“Okay,” Tom said. “I trust you. I think.”

Lily shook her head. “You’re an odd bird, Vincent. It’s getting late, and my humans will get worried

The Death Munchies?

Who knows? I came across this yesterday when I was looking for another story draft to finish. It made me laugh.

“I’ve got the death munchies,” I said to an abandoned sea shell.

The world turned and turned for no good reason other than it had always turned and didn’t see any point in changing things.

There was a girl who painted herself into a corner and she came to love it.

A porpoise solved my grandmother’s crossword puzzle, the one she started during Reconstruction and never gave up on, even after she died.

There was a pig in a thistle. It was embarrassed.

“Did anyone hear me say I have the death munchies?” I asked.

huh1
a man with the death munchies

Something deep and troubling had occurred…(story draft)

I began writing this story in 2008, and I’m surprised I’m still able to connect to the characters and their voices. I didn’t think they had anything else to say.

For now, I’ll call this story complete. It never had a title, and I can’t come up with one now. So it goes.

 

trailer
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s time away, and it rippled through the park like electricity. He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstances. There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.

And this time, things felt much different. Worse. A fundamental shift had taken place.

His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of a lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week. Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor. What good did that do? He was a contractor, for God’s sake. Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying. He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel. He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place. Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house. It was one thing Martha dug at him about. “When are you gonna fix up the bathroom?” she would ask.

“I’m not a plumber, Marth,” Ed replied.

“You could fix it and you know it. You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”

If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she? The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives over in Robinson county. Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum. He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.

Maybe he was good for nothing, except maybe hammering two pieces of wood together. Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.

But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened. Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.

***

The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins.

“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150. “How many rocks did you put in there?”

“You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the truck door and peering around the darkness of the lake. “I hope no one’s out here.”
Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily. “Too cold. Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty. And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught if we hurry. Come on and give me a hand.”

The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging. Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and, after bobbing around like a ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.

Martha sighed. “Well, that’s that.”

Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind. “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”

“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”

“What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem Lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette. After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly. And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door. She was a dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”

Jilly shook her head. “I don’t know, Martha. Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air. Jilly gasped and jumped back. “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do it when you’re alone. Don’t try to drag me down, too. I’m right as rain with what we did.”

“All right. Can I bum one of those?”

Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack. “I guess you need a light, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought you quit.”

The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp. “I’m starting back now.”

***

Ed was about to nod off sitting in front of the TV when someone started banging on the door. He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock. It was midnight, and still no Martha. She wasn’t the one banging on the door. Even if she’d lost her key, Martha would be howling Ed’s name and calling him all sorts of things.

Ed polished off the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door. He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong déjà vu that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.

“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue. Under the sallow front porch light, the girl sobbed uncontrollably. Her lip was split in several places, her left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant. Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.

“Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.

Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket. “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom. He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief. “You want some water? Maybe something stronger?”

Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam. Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls. She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch. “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice sounded. “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”

“What happened?”

Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and paused before saying, “Your wife. And Jilly. They did this.”

Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—many of them not good—but a murderer?

“Fuck you!” Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder. “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed! They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake! I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”

As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated. She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair. “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”

“But…why?”

Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh. “Why? Because they’re lunatics. And because of me and Jilly’s husband.

Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was becoming more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone. Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia. And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it?

Georgia sighed and took another drink. “After a few more sips of this, I’m gonna need you to pop this shoulder back in. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Ed said.

Georgia stared at her bloodied palms. “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else. You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit. But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”

“I guess.”
Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain. “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up. She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body. “And I’m gonna want some clothes. Don’t know why they stripped me.”

Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam. He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry, and the anger was growing. “You ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

Then three things happened: Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door.

***

No one said anything for what, to Ed, felt like an incredibly long time, but was only a few seconds. He had read somewhere that the human mind goes into hyper alert mode when it encounters a serious threat. Time seems to slow down, and looking back, it’s like you can notice every small detail. In super slow motion, Ed watched his wife’s expression go from blank to shocked to scared, and then turning, he saw Georgia’s expression morph second by second from hurt to animal rage.

Time snapped back into place, and Georgia flung herself across the room so fast that Ed didn’t have time to react. Martha outweighed Georgia by a good fifty pounds, but she wasn’t ready for the attack. They both tumbled out the door, off the porch, and into the dirt.

“You tried to kill me!” Georgia screamed. “You dumped me in the fucking lake and left me for dead!”

People were running now to see what the commotion was, and when they arrived at the little plot of dirt and grass in front of Ed and Martha’s trailer, they were treated to an eyeful. Georgia Jenkins, naked as the day she entered the world, was straddling Martha Irwin and choking her. “How does it feel, bitch?” Georgia yelled. She dashed Martha’s head against the ground.

Ed was just about to pull Georgia off his wife when Georgia suddenly let go of Martha and sat back. “Get me some goddamn clothes before I freeze to death,” she snapped at Ed, “but nothing of hers. Some of your stuff is fine.”
Martha was on her hands and knees, coughing and vomiting up what looked like chicken pot pie and Kool-Aid, and it smelled like stomach acid and whiskey. Jilly broke from the crowd of onlookers and was going to help Martha up, but she stopped when Georgia said, “Leave her. I know you had reasons to hate me, and while I’m not real happy about you trying to kill me, I get where you’re coming from. That piece of shit”—she kicked a rock at Martha—“is a cat of a different fucking stripe.”

Ed came back with what he figured were reasonable clothes for Georgia: a flannel shirt, jeans he hadn’t been able to fit in for ten years, a braided belt, some white socks and a pair of old slippers. Georgia stood up and took the clothes, saying, “I’m stepping in here to change. See to your wife, but you make sure she’s still here when I get done.”

“Okay,” Ed said, nodding. He looked at the crowd, which had broken up. People had their own problems to deal with, and when it was clear that Georgia wasn’t actually going to choke Martha to death, they decided it wasn’t worth their time anymore. The only people who stayed were Jilly and Pesto Bill, an old man with rheumy eyes and who was missing his left arm from a farming accident.

“You gonna let that girl whip on your woman like that?” Pesto Bill asked Ed.
“I reckon I didn’t have a choice,” Ed replied. Pesto Bill shrugged and walked away, whistling the same tune he always whistled, “That’s Alright, Mama” by Elvis.

“Georgia said I couldn’t touch you,” Jilly whispered as she bent over Martha, who was still coughing. Her breath wheezed in and out of her lungs. Every time she tried to speak, she coughed. She finally gave up and sat back in the dirt.
“Listen, before Georgia comes back here,” Ed said, walking forward, “I gotta say, this is the dumbest thing you’ve ever done. And we both know you’ve done some dumb shit over the years.”

Ed directed his comments toward Martha, but he glanced over at Jilly so she knew his statement included her, too. “This is attempted murder. It’s not like you just scared the girl or tried to run her off. You threw what you thought was her dead body in the lake. What was your plan after that? To keep that terrible secret for the rest of your life?”

Martha shook her head, but she didn’t try to answer. Ed would have found out, of course. Martha wouldn’t have been able to keep thoughts of Georgia’s murder hidden. He did his best to stay out of Martha’s mind, but the murder would have been a flashing red beacon that he couldn’t have possibly ignored. He would have confronted her, she would have denied it…and then? They would pretend it hadn’t really happened? Ed wasn’t sure he could have done that.

Georgia stepped back outside into the chilly air. She was more composed, and it looked like she had tried combing her hair. Ed was once against struck by how pretty she was. He stepped aside and let Georgia pass, keeping his mind as far away from hers as possible.

“You two listen, because I don’t plan on repeating myself,” Georgia said. “I’m not calling the police or pressing charges or any of that shit because it’s not worth my time. There’d be a trial and lawyers and people poking their noses in my business, and I’m not having it. But Jilly, you’re leaving. Tonight.”
Jilly didn’t move. She looked like an animal staring into headlights, and she stayed that way until Georgia clapped her hands together. The clap sounded like a gunshot, and Jilly jumped. “Go!” Georgia roared. “If I see you around here again, I will shoot you in the cooter, I swear to Christ.”

After Jilly had scrambled away, Georgia turned to Ed and winked, though there was no mirth in her expression.

“As for you, Martha Irwin,” Georgia said, “you’re staying put where I can keep an eye on you. I haven’t decided your punishment yet, but believe me, it’s coming. There will be hell to pay for what you did, but I need to think on it.”
Martha stared at Georgia and then Ed, her expression pained. Aren’t you going to do something? it said to Ed. Ed sighed and turned to Georgia. “Can we talk for a moment inside?” he asked.

“No,” Georgia said. “I’m tired. But thank you for your help. Martha doesn’t deserve you.” She whipped around to Martha and said, “But just because I feel that way doesn’t mean I was going to fuck him, you stupid cunt. Are we clear?”
Martha nodded, and so did Ed. Georgia said, “Okay then. Ed, I’ll return these clothes to you after I wash them. Right now, I’m going to get a drink and sleep for a day or two.”

Ed didn’t say anything as Georgia walked away. When she was out of sight, he gave his hand to Martha, who took it grudgingly and pulled herself up. “We gotta handle her,” she whispered, wincing in pain as she did.

Ed reached out the smallest bit with his mind to touch his wife’s, just to see if what she was saying was bravado or if she really meant to try to kill Georgia a second time. He pulled back almost immediately after skimming the black, hot surface of her thoughts. She was serious, God help her.

Ed didn’t say anything as he helped Martha inside the trailer. He hoped Jilly was packing and getting ready to split; he hoped Georgia was back in her trailer and able to have a moment’s peace. As for him, he was going to have to find a new way to live with Martha…but he didn’t expect that would last long. One way or the other, either Georgia or Martha were going to have to go. And after tonight, Ed wasn’t sure which one he wanted it to be.

To Finish or Not to Finish….

That is the proverbial question. I have so many stories I’ve started and never finished that it’s become par for the course. If I have a good start–characters I care about, dialogue that flows well, a decent plot–it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll move onto something else. Part of the reason is my ADD (undiagnosed, but it sure feels like it) and part of it is that I write in short bursts, before work or between online teaching sessions. At least, it used to be that way. A few months before our house fire–so last April–I began writing less and less. After the fire, I stopped almost completely. Up until then, I had written primarily poetry, and had amassed a decent list of publication credits. But then the poetry stopped flowing, and I took a break.

I actually did more than take a break. I killed my first blog–writingforghosts.com–and killed my first music site, too. I wanted to disappear. I suppose the feelings were linked to the fire and being displaced. Now that we’re quarantined and my kids’ lives have been completely transformed and my wife is working from home, I’m going through another spiritual shedding of skin. But it’s okay. I don’t have to spiritually destroy anything else. I just need to accept things as they are and adapt, which is always difficult for me. I’m not exactly a go-with-the-flow-guy.

I’ll mention here in passing that I’m in recovery, and that I blog about it here. So all these internal changes happen in relation to my alcoholism. This site, as it was previously, is for creative writing. Just know that much of my work, if not all of it, is informed or at least touched by my ongoing recovery from alcoholism.

Below is part of a story I began more than ten years ago. I dug up the file this morning to see if there was any spark still left in the story, and there was. It’s small, but it’s there. I’m going to try my best to finish it. I gave it a once-over for grammar and typos, but probably missed some things. Here’s part one:

Something deep and troubling had occurred during Ed’s absence, and it rippled through the trailer park like electricity.  He couldn’t come right out and ask his wife Martha what it was; if she knew, she would lie like she always did, no matter the circumstance.  There was a time when he and Martha were close, and he would have gone right to her and said, “I got that feeling again,” and they would have talked about it, probably made love and talked some more. But they were different people now.

And this time, things felt much different.  Worse.  Ed could taste it with every breath, every beat of his heart.  A fundamental shift had taken place.

 His horoscope was no help at all. Whatever Ed had—the sight, clairvoyance—wasn’t always reliable, but it was still a hell of lot more accurate than astrology. But he was in the habit of reading it, if only to get a chuckle. Today’s read: Cancer – You should avoid any extra projects this week.  Outlook is good on the creative front, but beware strenuous labor.  What good did that do?  He was a contractor, for God’s sake.  Labor was what he did, but as the cards fell, he wasn’t doing anything today, though not for lack of trying.  He and his partner Joe Frampton had just come back from a job in Williston, and his back ached like someone had beat his spine with a shovel.  He didn’t have anything in the works until next week, when he and the crew were going to do some demo work out at Greg Anderson’s place.  Nothing to do today but contemplate his own list of unending chores around the house.  It was one thing Martha dug at him about; his apathy toward the work needed to his own house.  “I swear, it’s worse than the cobbler’s kids with no shoes,” she’d gripe.  “When are you gonna fix the bathroom?”

“I’m not a plumber, Mart,” Ed replied, using the name Martha hated the most.  “Mart,” she’d spit, “like I’m a Wal-Mart or something.”  Ed had once rejoined with, “Well, you’re as big as one,” which earned him a punch in the eye.

“You could fix it and you know it,” Martha replied, ignoring the nickname.  “You’re just lazy and good for nothing.”

If he was lazy and good for nothing, what was she?  The exact same. Martha hadn’t worked since being a cashier at Winn-Dixie in high school. She hadn’t even been a good mother. Their first child, a backward looking boy named Rye, was serving ten years for armed robbery, and child services had taken away eleven year old Kelsey to live with relatives in Robinson county.  Ed called Kelsey occasionally, and his only daughter would grunt through the conversation and smack gum.  He hadn’t visited Rye in nearly two months. As bad of a mother as Martha had been, he knew he wasn’t exactly in the running for Father of the Year.

Maybe he was good for nothing except hammering two pieces of wood together.  Maybe Martha had the right of it, after all.

But none of this explained the overwhelming sense that all wasn’t right, that something terrible had happened.  Ed sighed and grabbed another beer from the fridge and waited for Martha to return from whatever nonsense she was up to.

 

The nonsense Martha was up to involved disposing of a body, specifically that of Georgia Jenkins, aged twenty two.

“God in Heaven, Jilly,” Martha growled as she dragged the duct-taped and blanket-shrouded body from the truck bed of her friend’s dusty Ford F-150.  “How many fucking rocks did you put in there?”

 “You’re just out of shape,” Jilly said, slamming the car door and peering around the darkness of the lake.  “I hope no one’s out here.”

Martha dropped Georgia’s inert form and breathed heavily.  “Too cold.  Everyone else is inside, warm and toasty.  And we’re out here dragging a body to the lake.”

“What if we get caught?”

“We won’t get caught if we hurry.  Come on and give me a hand.”

The two women dragged the body to the edge of the lake and eventually got the corpse pulled between them and began swinging.  Georgia Jenkins connected with the icy waters of the lake with a tremendous splash and after bobbing around like ghastly cork, sank beneath the surface.

Martha sighed.  “Well, that’s that.”

Jilly tried and failed to suppress a shiver that had nothing to do with the biting wind.  “Unless she comes back to haunt us.”

“Shut up with that nonsense, Jilly.”

 “What, you don’t believe in ghosts?”

 Martha withdrew a battered pack of Salem lights from her front pocket and lit a cigarette.  After a greedy drag, she answered, “No, I don’t believe in ghosts, Jilly.  And if I did, I wouldn’t be waiting around for Georgia’s sorry ass of a ghost to come dragging its chains to my door.  She was dumb bitch in life, and probably dumber in death.”  She paused to take a drag on her cigarette.  “Nah, Georgia’s enjoying the flames of Hell right about now.”

Jilly shook her head.  “I don’t know, Martha.  Maybe we shouldn’t have—”

Martha flicked ashes at Jilly, and a tiny piece of hot rock sizzled in the air.  Jilly gasped and jumped back.  “If you’re gonna turn spineless, do when you’re alone.  Don’t try to drag me down, too.  I’m right as rain with what we did.”

“All right.  Can I bum one of those?”

Martha grimaced and grudgingly offered the pack.  “I guess you need a light, too?”

“Yeah.”

“I thought you quit.”

The cigarette trembled in Jilly’s grasp.  “I’m starting back now.”

 

Ed was about to nod off sitting in front the TV when someone started banging on the door.  He snorted and shook himself awake, staring blearily at the clock.  It was midnight, and still no Martha.  Unless she’d locked herself out again.  But no, because she would be screaming his name

 Ed polished off  the last of his beer as he stumbled to the door.  He was shocked to find Georgia Jenkins—naked and shivering—on the porch. But then he immediately felt such strong de ja vue  that he stumbled back for a moment. This is it, he realized. This is what’s wrong. Something with Georgia.

“Georgia, what the hell…” Ed started, but the words died on his tongue.  Under the sallow front porch light, the girl that had been Georgia Jenkins sobbed uncontrollably.  Her lip was split in several places, he left eyes swollen shut and the color of eggplant.  Lashes lay like spiderwebs across her chest, and her right arm had been savagely yanked out of socket.

 “Get in here, get in!” Ed said, tenderly taking Georgia in under his right arm and walking her into the trailer. When he touched her, it felt like sparks shooting through him. For an instant, he hurt everywhere that he saw wounds on Georgia’s body. The feeling faded as quickly as it came, but Ed started shaking like the girl.

Georgia’s sobbing increased when he shut the door and left the room to fetch a blanket.  “I’m not leaving you, Georgia!” he called wildly from the bedroom.  He dashed back in the living room an draped the blanket around the girl’s bruised shoulders. When his fingers brushed her skin, he didn’t feel any pain, which was a relief.  “You want some water?  Maybe something stronger?”

Georgia nodded, and since Ed wasn’t sure which she preferred, he went to the kitchen and returned with a glass of tap water and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Georgia reached for the Jim Beam and took three strong pulls.  She shuddered and lay back against the threadbare couch.  “I’m okay,” she said, and Ed winced at the way Georgia’s broken-glass of a voice.  “I’m okay. Well, at least I’m not dead.”

 “What happened?”

Georgia turned her good eye to Ed and waited nearly a full minute before saying, “You wife.  And Jilly.  They did this.”

Deep inside, Ed knew it was the truth, but he still said, “Georgia, come on.” Martha was many things—none of them good—but a murderer?

 “Fuck you!”  Georgia’s voice, no longer broken, filled the trailer like thunder.  “Martha and Jilly beat me and left me for dead, Ed!  They wrapped me in a blanket and taped it up and dumped me in the goddamn lake!  I got out because they’re too fucking stupid to do anything right!”

As soon as the fury had entered Georgia, it evaporated.  She sank back onto the couch and into the blanket, glaring at Ed from a tangled of wet brown hair.  “So fuck you if you don’t believe me,” she went on quietly, “but this isn’t the kind of thing a girl’s mistaken over.”

“But…why?”  Ed’s ability didn’t give him insight into Martha’s reasoning, though in the back of his mind she thought he could sense her red-hot anger…and something else. Jealously?

Now it was Georgia’s turn to laugh.  “Why?  Because they’re lunatics.  And because of what I did with Jilly’s husband. 

Despite the bruises and cuts, and the dislocated shoulder that was become more uncomfortable to look at with each passing second, Georgia Jenkins’ beauty still shone.  Sure, lots of women in the park were jealous of Georgia.  And yes, Georgia hooked up with John Martin after he and Jilly split but before he cut town for good, but to kill her for it? 

 “Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about us having a fling, and I won’t either,” Georgia sighed and took another drink.  “After a few more of these I’m gonna want you to pop this shoulder back in.  Okay?”

 “Yeah,” Ed said.  “Okay.”

Georgia stared at her bloodied palms.  “I get lonely sometimes, just like everyone else.  You know, when men do it, no one gives a shit.  But let a woman run her life like she wants, and she’s a goddamn whore.”

“I guess.”

Georgia shrugged and winced when her right shoulder flared with a fresh wave of pain.  “Let’s get this over with,” she muttered and stood up.  She let the blanket fall, and waited while Ed studied her naked, brutalized body.  “And I’m gonna want some clothes.” 

Ed reached out and took a hardy pull on the Jim Beam.  He reached out and touched Georgia’s swollen shoulder. If he concentrated, he could almost get inside Georgia’s head. She was scared, but more than that, she was angry.  “You ready?”

“As ready as I can be.”

Then three things happened:  Ed snapped Georgia’s shoulder back into place, Georgia screamed so loud the windows rattled, and Martha opened the front door. 

 

 

Expatriation Date

A short while ago, I talked about freewriting and how it was my truest writing voice…which I still maintain. Of course, editing is always essential. And certainly not everything that emerges on the computer screen or in a journal deserves to see the light of day. I thought I’d share this one, however, because it amused me.

For more of my feelings on freewriting, see this previous post.

On our second date, she asked what my expatriation date was. I asked if she meant expiration date, which I’d known since I was a boy. 1/15/2040 is while I’m designated to die.

“No, idiot,” she said, “I don’t care about that. I mean expatriation date. When you’re leaving this goddamn country. How do you not know about this? Were your parents entirely worthless?”

“I was adopted, and those people—I don’t like calling them mom and dad, they don’t deserve it—ended up being worthless, yes, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please enlighten me.”

Her eyes crossed and uncrossed, for no discernible reason. She hadn’t done that on our first date…at least, not that I noticed, that’s something I think I would notice despite not being the most observant person.

“I just told you what it was, moron,” she said and evicted her own teeth. Now that was a show worth the price of admission. Her teeth marched out and shouted various things about the indignity of it all, and she bore it was classic stoicism. When her teeth had left, she crossed her eyes again and they stayed that way.

“What is going on with you?” I asked. “Are you doing that on purpose?”

“I don’t do anything on purpose,” she replied and melted into a gelatinous puddle. I sighed and left enough money on the table for our meals plus a generous tip. The server grabbed my arm before I left and kissed the hollow of my throat.

“Do you want to know my expatriation date?” I asked the server. She had purple hair and entirely too many eyes.

“No,” she answered in a husky voice that sounded better in her head than in my ears.

“Good, because I don’t know what that is.”

Later, we planted daffodils and sang songs about rusted cars.

Writing, or Better Known as Banging My Head Against the Wall

Well, stupidly, I thought I could write something of substance. Ha. Here’s what I wrote:

“I don’t have time for bestiality,” Mr. Warble said.

“Noted,” replied Ms. Eye Drop.

It was the dead of winter. The trees felt like crying but were too cold to do anything but sigh. In a distant land, someone invented love. In a distant time, someone invented death.

I sang into an unplugged microphone, something about leftover dreams and dust.

Raymond Chandler, it ain’t. I love Chandler, by the way, but that’s neither here nor there. I could just as easily say, “I love Stephen King” (which is true) or Stevie Smith (also true).

The thing is, I know my writing voice. I have a distinct poetic voice and a less distinct fiction writing voice. I suppose that’s because I haven’t spent as much time developing my fiction writing…except I have. It just seems like I haven’t. But I wrote fiction almost constantly from the age of 16-33. I wrote five books, two of which are half-way decent. I have an untold number of stories, both finished and unfinished. I’m quite familiar with the craft of writing fiction; I’m just not as good at fiction as I am with poetry.

Why’s that such a problem? It shouldn’t be. You don’t see Joyce Carol Oates lamenting that she’s not as prolific a poet as she is a fiction author. The inimitable Billy Collins does not, to my knowledge, rail out against the Writing Gods that he doesn’t write killer short stories. He’s a poet, and a damn good one. Why not be content with my gifts, such as they are, and let it go at that?

Because I want to be good at fiction. Though If I’m honest, my fiction writing voice is the same as my stream-of-consciousness voice, and I’ve apparently decided that isn’t good. Ever since I began scribbling in journals and typing away at an electric typewriter, I’ve been most comfortable letting the words just flow. That method works well for poetry and sometimes as an idea-generator, but it doesn’t make for compelling fiction. It makes for weird and confusing passages, and while they often make me laugh, I’m afraid others would have a hard time getting through them. “Okay, that’s just a waste of time,” I imagine folks saying. “What the hell’s wrong with him? This isn’t a story! This is just nonsense!”

I’ve never posted or shared in any form my real writing… the immediate, fiery words that erupt out of me and go in so many strange directions. Again: why is this bothering me so much?

so many questions….

And no, that isn’t me. Well, it is, but heavily edited with FaceApp because it makes me laugh as much as it horrifies my wife.

You may see some freewriting over the next few days. and it will be strange. Stay tuned…or stay away.

Some Thoughts (and a poem)

As some of you know, my family and I experienced a house fire last June. We lost almost the entire second floor of our house, and while we were all okay (and out of town when it happened), we also lost our bearded dragon Oscar and our gecko Merlin. 

The event has been hard for all of us, some more than others. As we move from temporary house to temporary house, and as work on our house slowly gets underway, I find myself ungrounded and questioning a number of things. I suppose that’s all understandable. I remain steadfast in my sobriety, if nothing else. Writing has been elusive for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that I usually don’t have anything to say. Or when I do have something to say, I have no desire to share it. This is perfectly fine; it’s not like the masses are teeming to read my words. But perhaps there is something to be said for sharing my work. A friend of mine told me not terribly long ago that given the state of our country and world, putting art into the world is more important than ever. I don’t necessarily feel that way, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. As another friend said, feelings aren’t truth.

For now–at least, for today– I choose to believe my words matter. Perhaps they matter to one person only. That’s okay.

Enough navel-gazing. Here’s a poem.

Wary

I hate the way you look at me
like I did something awful,
as if I murdered your father
while he watched the sun set,
counting the moments until
the light passed and he resumed
his skulking and sniffing, nosing
out prey as he roamed the rooms
of the duplex where you grew up
and grew wary of everyone—
especially men—and where you
vowed never to be ensnared by a look,
a word, a promise, or a threat…
you, swimming forever in a sea
of dark compromises while the sun
remains hidden as long as it can.

Have You Ever Been to the Grave? (freewriting)

I’ve been on a creative writing break for about two months now. I didn’t plan to take a break, but I’m glad I did. Doing so frees up my creativity so I can write more music…it turns out I have a hard time spending energy on both pursuits. I’m sure the pendulum will swing the other way in time.

I still engage in freewriting periodically, as is my wont. I usually go back through it to find a theme or a few lines for the beginning of a poem. I’m not sure if there’s anything here worth saving, but it struck me as interesting nonetheless:

Do you ever want to speak about the funeral? No. Of course not because you were all, “Uh, I can’t stand dead people!” and then you went somewhere and got drunk. Do you think it was easy for any of us? The rest of us had to sit there and take it, deal with our pain. We had to listen to that idiotic preacher spin a story about a man I never knew existed. It sure as hell wasn’t our father, which you know if you’d bothered to stick around.

Have you even been to the grave? God, you’re so disappointing. You have some pair of balls showing up here and expecting me to forgive you. If I start forgiving you for this, where does it stop? Am I supposed to forgive you for everything? Is that how forgiveness works? Is there some kind of statute of limitations on forgiveness, like a certain number of crows that are allowed to gather before they officially become a murder? Don’t look at me like that. Jesus. I’m making perfect sense, but you don’t understand anything because you’re so focused on yourself. If there’s a god in heaven, which is highly suspect, he doesn’t care anything about you. You were a tragic mistake, a slip of the pen, a scribble in the corner, an accidental union of chromosomes that somehow managed to make it out of the womb and draw breath. If I could go back in time, I’d kill every single one of your ancestors.

Well then. (ahem)

We the Birds

Flannery O’Connor says, “I write to discover what I know.” I love this sentiment, but I also write to discover what I don’t know. The following poem came from a freewriting session…and I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with it. I like it, and it speaks to me, but I can’t exactly articulate the feelings it stirs.

Writing for me is something mysterious. I feel truth when I write, and then I stand back and say, “What am I trying to tell myself?” I usually have an idea or two, and sometimes I just shrug and say, “Erm…okay. I guess I needed to get that out.”

We the Birds

We eat from the ground
and shake with purpose,
remembering the night
we were set free and how
the rest of the flock stayed
in the girl’s night-dark hair,
which was a nest, a memory,
all things to all people
and all things to all birds.

You overthink everything,
your mother the crow blinks
in Morse code, and a small
man with hollow knees sits
at the desk and takes down
the words, his eyes dots,
his mouth a dash, his ears
two seashells–if you listen

to them, you don’t hear the sea
but the endless drone of space,
that cold nothingness, that eternal
home of ours that calls us now,
even though we’re only birds,
even though we know nothing.