I wrote this some time ago as a poem, but I think it works better as prose…maybe. I suspect it should be longer, but I don’t have it in me to produce long pieces, be they poems or prose.Once upon a time, yes, but those days are gone, and I suspect they won’t return.
“I ate a butterfly,” my son confessed late one night when the moon hid her face and the stars had twinkle-toed their way into the Great Beyond where giant creatures soared through interstellar space, a comforting prospect for me and my dutiful, sky-gazing, only child.
“I’ve heard worse,” I told him. “Hell, I’ve done worse, though butterfly eating isn’t the best thing in the world. You’re mom would have had a fit.”
I remember the time she cried in the backyard and I kissed her eyes until she stopped. She told me about memories she couldn’t have had, images of a past life she lived under violet clouds and three moons. We agreed that she was from another planet, and we acknowledged how terrible it was that she had to die on this one.
My son and I think that she must be one of the space creatures now, her cavernous mouth agape as she drifts in the cold darkness, lonely until she bumps until another creature she hopes is me or our son. Perhaps one day it will be, but for now she sighs an alien sigh and flaps her dark wings.
Back here on planet Earth, we struggle on. We etch our memories in sand, knowing they will fade with rushing water and wind. Some of us eat butterflies. The rest of us learn to forgive such things and try to smile.
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.
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?”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
It was a dark day when I decided to kill him. I don’t mean spiritually dark…it was fucking dark, like the sun had gone out or something. There wasn’t an eclipse or anything, it just got dark. Looking back, I’m glad it was like that, like the world was in shadows. And now that he’s gone, I can get on with what’s left of my life.
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?
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.
Writing something weird is better than writing nothing at all, eh?
Do you remember the time with scaled that mountain and you fell and busted your back? Jesus, you were laid up for six months in the hospital, and you did all that physical therapy. What was the therapist’s name? You slept with him, which is all kinds of fucked up, but I try not to judge. I try and fail. Ha ha.
Darren, that was his name. I’m not saying he wasn’t attractive, but you getting in bed with him made as much sense as a lizard in a blender, which–I don’t mind telling you–doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense at all. That’s what my daddy used to say, before he turned to stone. Speaking of weird-ass things, how many people you know that just, like, suddenly turn to stone? It threw me for a bit, I’ll tell you. And when other people started turning to stone, I figured it was some kind of chemical attack, some country that had cooked up this lethal gas that made people into statues. But it turned out a gorgon had gotten loose, which would mean that she had been held somewhere to begin with, for something like a thousand years, and then she was set free and she was like, “Fuck, it’s been a long time, I’m going to set these eyes on the first miserable bastard that comes along,” and bam, just like that, Daddy was stone. He had just woken up, had his first cup of coffee, and opened the front door. Little did he know a gorgon was slithering down the street.
That’s the kind of fucked-up world we live in, Jenny. Trump in the White House, gorgons roaming the streets, ol’ Ms. Shookapoo coming down with the gout. Did you know women could get gout? I thought it was a man thing. Hell, I hope I don’t get it.
No, Jenny, it wasn’t Medusa! Lord God! It was another one. Maybe they cut her head off and put it in a bag, and they’ll keep it around in case something big-ass monster shows up, like they did with Medusa, who’s apparently the only gorgon you think existed. Crack a book open, Jenny, and get off that damn YouTube!
I swear, you and the YouTube! Its like you think it’s magic or something. Maybe it is magic for you and you’re under its damn spell, so I think it would be best if I just smashed the daylights out of the computer and run over your phone in my truck. Then what, Jenny? Then you’d be more worried about the damn gorgon, is what.
I came across this story snippet as I was going through some old writing, and I was struck by how often cannibalism comes up as a theme in my work. Also, for every completed story, I have perhaps fifty or so partial stories. So it goes.
No picture for this one. I’m not terribly keen on Googling “cannibalism.”
“I’m supposed to care about something, you know,” Ben said as he chewed on a face.
“What if I’m a sociopath?”
“Well,” Donovan observed, “you’re eating a human head. And just because you’re supposed to do something doesn’t mean you should. Shit, I’m supposed to go
to church, but I don’t. Also, I’m sitting here as you demonstrate you’re a cannibal, so
what does that say about me? I’m supposed to stop you, right? Or at least protest in
Ben sighed. “I’m not really a cannibal. This is processed.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re eating a processed human, which they say tastes like the real deal.”
“You haven’t eaten a real person, right?”
Ben sighed again. “No.” He could have, of course. There was nothing stopping him
from exploring the black market and picking a body. It would be dressed-out and
ready to cook. Instead, he was gnawing on human-flavored gelatin face. What
respectable cannibal would eat a face, anyway? Could you even cook a head and have
the features stay in place? Maybe if you closed the eyelids and simmered it in broth,
Ben reasoned. The facsimile face he was dining on had gooey, sweet-flavored eyeballs.
He imagined the real deal was a bit tougher and more salty.
“So why are you worried you’re a sociopath?” Donovan asked. “I mean, the current
“Because like I said, I don’t care about anything. Not school, not girls, or cars.
Nothing, man. It’s a scary feeling.”
“Which means you’re not a sociopath. Do you think a real sociopath pauses to
reflect on his lack of empathy?”
“Maybe. Like, early in their sociopathy.”
“Have you ever tortured or killed animals?”
“That doesn’t mean anything, Donovan. The mutilation of animals is only one
indicator in a wide variety of cues that might signal someone’s a sociopath.”
“Well, for someone who doesn’t like school, you don’t seem to have a problem
learning. At least about sociopaths.”
Ben shrugged and ate.
Donovan studied the beheaded false corpse before him. Eventually, Ben would have to
remove its clothes, and Donovan didn’t want to be around for that. Ben had
ordered a male corpse, which Donovan guess was better than a female corpse, but he
really wasn’t sure why…
In the spirit of Joyce Carol Oates. Please pardon any typos I may have missed.
If she looked closely, she could see a pattern, and she could see herself in the pattern. This didn’t happen every day, of course–she had to be in the right frame of mind and receptive to receiving the pattern and her place in it. Over the years since the accident, she estimated that she’d detected the pattern about fifty times. Of that fifty, she’d located herself in the pattern about twenty times.
She couldn’t talk about the pattern with anyone, not her husband, not her sisters, and certainly not her friends. But they weren’t really friends, were they? And as much as she loved her sisters and her husband, that weren’t of ultimate consequence. The accident had proven that she could live without them. She could live without anyone, or so the pattern indicated, and she believed the pattern over all things.
After the accident, she lay in a coma for three months, and that’s when the pattern had come to her. When she woke to her broken body, her torn and disfigured face, the pattern was burned into her mind. She remember the fiery way it came, like the tongues of flames that appeared above the apostles head on Pentecost, She’d known she was on the brink of death; that feeling permeated everything. In the coma, she had a series of dreams, all of which were lit by the fire of the pattern. It flickered over walls, highlighted the ground, filled the sky. Sometimes she dreamed she was a young girl, and other times she was a old woman. No matter the dream, no matter the non-sequiturs her mind strung together, the fire followed, and she felt peaceful.
Nearly a year of physical rehabilitation followed her waking, and she bore it with uncharacteristic stoicism. Her husband said she was remarkably brave, and she just nodded. He was afraid of her, afraid of her new-found strength and determination. Her doctors were skeptical that she would walk again, but she was walking after six months. She underwent two surgeries on her face but stopped short of cosmetic repair. The scars formed their own pattern, and she liked them. Her husband urged her to get the cosmetic surgery, but she wouldn’t be swayed.
When she was cleared to leave the rehab unit, she found her house stifling. It was no longer her home, she realized, and she convinced her husband to sell it. In the home’s place, they settled into a small apartment in a neighborhood that made the husband uncomfortable, but he found that he couldn’t tell his wife no. She had been returned to him, more or less whole, and every day was a gift, or so he told himself She wanted to move, and so they moved. He would grow accustomed to the neighborhood with its loud music and questionable young men who stood on the corner, laughing and smoking and hitting each other. He had been a young man once, but he had never acted like that.
She went for long walks, even though it was painful. She walked with a limp and would for the rest of her life, or so the doctors said. That was all right, she decided. Her new neighbors stared openly at her, disturbing by her ruined face. That was all right, too.
She couldn’t have explained the pattern to anyone, even if she felt they could be trusted. The pattern defied description, and it could be apprehended by her alone. It made her sad sometimes that she couldn’t locate herself always in the pattern, but ultimately she decided that was the nature of life and, indeed, the nature of the universe. The universe didn’t have to include you in its plans, but it was wonderful when it did.
As much as she could determine from the pattern, she had only to follow it when prompted. The first indication had been to leave her house, which she had done. The next part had been to walk through her neighborhood as much as she could, mentally mapping the terrain, and she did that.
She hadn’t worked since the accident. She found she hated her job and work in general, and she was relieved when she discovered her company had terminated her. What a horrible thing, work, she realized. Her husband was an investment banker and made more than enough money to support them both, but he wondered if she wanted to perhaps get a part-time job or maybe volunteer. She shook her head no. It’s not that there wasn’t time for such things, for there was, even with the promise of the pattern. But she had no desire to do anything unrelated to the pattern.
Her husband was more patient than most men, and he felt overwhelming guilt whenever he allowed himself to wonder What’s wrong with her? She’s healed physically, but it’s like the rest of her is just…elsewhere. She would have agreed with that sentiment, had the husband shared it. She was certainly elsewhere in her mind, her spirit. She was seeking the pattern, having seen it enough times to crave more. But she was not in control of that. She simply had to remain open.
The woman’s sisters and friends slowly separated from her, and they shared worried whispers about her less and less. Eventually, her husband took a job and Seattle and said he would return to move her there with him, but he never did. She didn’t mind. He still supported her. Her bank account was alway full and never need replenishing. She had more than enough money for food and the occasional item of clothing she bought.
All the while, she continued her treks through the neighborhood. As time went on, people developed stories about the strange woman who limped up and down the streets, her eyes scanning back and forth, sometimes talking to herself. The stories ranged from true, that she’d been in a terrible accident that affected her mind as well as her body, to patently false, that she was a cold-blooded murderer who had done away with her husband. Most people felt sympathy for her, but some hated her for no reason other than she was different. One day, some kids in a car threw rocks at her, one large enough to leave a jagged gash in her forehead. She fell to her knees.
“Crazy bitch!” one of the kids sang out from the open car window as it sped away.
She stared at the concrete, tracing its web of cracks with her fingers. “The pattern,” she whispered, knowing everything–the accident, her sisters and husband abandoning her, the cruelty of the world–was worth it.
I don’t remember writing this (no shock there), but I thought enough of it to keep it in my “story drafts” folder. I also have a folder called “lousy ideas,” and the files in it are cringe-worthy.
Anyway, I have no idea if I’ll do anything more with this, but I like the idea of a woman going to an alien therapist.
If I think about for too long, give it more than just a passing consideration, I start to question the whole system. And that’s not good for anybody, especially my family. I have to think about them first, you know. I can’t let anything happen to them. It sounds like you’re under a lot of stress.
Everybody is. I’m not special. I just keep my head down and do what I’m told, report to my job, and continue accepting things the way they are. Your father didn’t do that, did he? In fact, he rejected the way things were.
Yes…and he ended up disappearing. I try not to think about that, either. It’s been five years. He could be alive.
No. He’s gone. I know that. Can we move on? Of course we can, but we’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t discuss the more painful aspect of—
Everything is painful, Roger, but some things are pure agony, and I choose not to dwell on those. You decided to come to me, knowing my specialty is Emotional Calibration. For the program to function successfully, you can’t avoid the ‘pure agony.’
You’re not human. Jesus, I should have gone with a person. Just because I’m not human doesn’t mean I can’t help, Audrey. In fact, I’ve helped many people, some of whom are your friends.
(sighing) I know. And you decided to call me Roger.
Well, it’s certainly easier than your real name, which I’m sure I couldn’t even pronounce. I could teach you, if you’d like.
No. That’s okay. All right. So, Audrey, if we’re not going to talk about your father, would you like to discuss your job? Or perhaps your standing in the community? I understand you received a recognition last week.
I’m slowly crawling out of the funk of a long-lasting, unexplained fever…and regaining my equilibrium in others ways after a difficult past few months. Writing hasn’t been much of a priority. Today, I feel well enough to return to the keyboard, so I’m taking advantage of that.
I’ve been reading a lot of Joyce Carol Oates lately, and I see her influence on the following piece.
It wasn’t enough that he could see her, he wanted to be close to her. He wanted to lean in, take a deep breath near her neck, and luxuriate in her scent; he wanted to meld his flesh with hers and disappear into the darkness forever.
Daniel slowly lowered the binoculars and squinted at her form, so far away. From this distance, she could be anyone. She was just another person sitting at the outside cafe, drinking a coffee. He couldn’t see her delicate features, the gentle slant of her nose, the spark of her eyes. He couldn’t see her lips curl in a secret smile or her brow furrow in worry.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Daniel turned at the voice, a flutter of panic in his stomach. The police officer wore a smile, but it was forced. The smile said, I’m trained to look like this when I approach people, even shifty-looking sons of bitches like you.
“Yes, officer?” Daniel said automatically. The binoculars suddenly felt awkward and heavy in his hands.
“May I ask what you’re doing?” the office said. Even though he was in full uniform, including what looked like Kevlar under his short, his face was free from perspiration, and it was at least 90 degrees outside. Daniel had been sweating ever since he stepped out of his apartment, but that wouldn’t deter him from his purpose.
“Bird watching,” Daniel replied. He’d practiced this, of course. He care nothing about birds, but he’d memorized the local birds by studying various Internet sites. He could ramble off facts about cardinals and blue birds and even the migration patterns of geese.
“This doesn’t seem like an ideal place for bird watching,” the officer said, pleasantly enough. The radio on his shoulder squawked to life, and he reached out and turned down the volume. “I mean, standing here on the sidewalk downtown.”
“You’d be surprised how many different species are here,” Daniel said.
“Be that as it may, I’m going ask you to move along. The park isn’t far from here.”
Daniel gripped the binoculars. If he left, he could lose track of her, and who knows how long it would be before he tracked her down again? Lately, the girl had been changing her routine, and it frustrated (and tantalized) Daniel to no end.
“Sir?” the office prompted. His smile was gone now, and his voice carried a slight edge. “It’s time to move on.”
“Of course,” Daniel said. “I wasn’t trying to bother anyone. I just spotted a scarlet tanager and got excited.”
“Where was this bird?”
Daniel smiled. He brought the binoculars back up to his eyes and focused on her. “Right over there,” he murmured.
Lately, writing has taken a back-seat to other things in life. That’s the way of it. I found myself with some time today and thought, “All right, let’s get crackin’.” I wouldn’t call the writing session a complete failure because I came up with some lines that made me laugh.
“You can’t reason with Nazis!” the boy screamed, and by God, he was right.
He flourished, like a man named Steve flourishes in a crowd that’s dangerously low on people named Steve.
She drowned in that crippled man’s pond. I mean, what the hell? Who drowns anymore?
If you find a hat made of orangutan hair, keep it. Yeah, it’s illegal, but it’s worth it. You put that thing on when it’s just you and your lady, you better to hang on to something, because it will get crazy in the bedroom.
And that’s that. Maybe tomorrow will yield more substantial results. In the meantime, I’m thinking of taking one of the lines and turning into…well, something.