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 don’t write fiction much these days because it comes out as a garbled mess, as evidenced below:
Norm Reddick was from Nebraska but he died in South Carolina, where no one should die…or live, for that matter.
It was July 5, 2019, about a year before corona-virus fucked us all over. Norm would have done fine with quarantine and isolation, because he was one seriously solitary dude. He died alone, in his kitchen, where by all accounts he was making mac and cheese and Vienna Sausages (a meal fit for a king, if you ask me, but no one asked me). When a neighbor noticed, three weeks later, an odd smell emanating from Norm’s place (in the middle of July, in South Carolina, where the mercury hovered at 98 degrees that entire week), she said to her friend Curly Cue Wilson, “It smells like that time my grandmother died and we drove up for a visit and the smell hit us as soon as we climbed out of the car. Lord Jesus.” She called 911, and they hauled Norm Reddick out on a gurney, covered by a sheet. The neighbor—Judith McLaren—shook her head and said to Curly Cue Wilson, “That’s a shame. Norm Reddick was halfway handsome. If he’d bothered to comb his hair once and while, he couldve been someone’s sweet dream.”
Curly Cue nodded but kept silent, and not just because she was a selective mute. She was thinking of Norm Reddick and how Judith was right. Even with his unkempt hair, Curly Cue thought Norm Reddick was a strikingly handsome man.He had been her sweet dream, and now he was gone. But had he lived, would he have ever noticed Curly Cue ?(real name of Ramona Piddle, but called Curly Cue on account of her pig-like nose and her affinity of all thing porcine, not including Norm Reddick who, if anything, had resembled a deformed whooping crane…but all things being equal, a deformed whooping crane that, even without minimal effort, met Curly’s definition of attractive).
“Well, that’s that,” Judith said and brushed her hands together as if ridding them of dirt. “Time to get back to our own miserable lives, eh, Curly?”
Curly nodded her assent, and later, dreamed that she and Norm were at Morrison’s cafeteria together, eating trout almondine and drinkng sweet tea. A waiter, who was missing an arm and had a spectacular gold tooth, approached them and ask, “Is everything to your liking?”
That was one clue she was dreaming; waiters never came to your table at Morrison’s or any other cafeteria. Curly wasn’t even sure why there waiters there, except they could carry the trays of the old people who couldn’t manage it. The other clue she was dreaming was that she talked freely and effortlessly. She often sounded like Lynn Redgrave in dreams, and that was okay with her.
“We’re fine, thanks,” Curly said in her dream.
The waiter smiled. Norm Reddick cleared his throat, and the waiter’s smile slipped. “Actually,” Norm Reddick said, “this fish is cold.”
“You’re eating it, sir,” the waiter said. “With gusto, I might add.”
“I’m also going to die soon,” Norm Reddick said, “so could you be a pal and heat it up again? Just nuke it, that’d be fine. You don’t need to fool with oven.”
“It would be my singular pleasure, sir,” the waiter said with a certain note in his voice that told Curly heating up Norm Reddick’s trout almondine woud actually not be a singular pleasure. And then Curly began to cry, because Norm Reddick said he was going to die…and her dream-self knew it.
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’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.
I would like to present myself as living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, I thought, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for today. Or any day, for that matter. I was as mindful of my thoughts, as good as any Jedi.
The dark woman who rented out umbilical cords shook her head. “God doesn’t like the Jedi, you idiot,” she said.
I stopped sewing myself back together. I didn’t know the dark woman could read my thoughts. Troubling. I shielded my brainwaves by placing a metal colander on my head.
“That only works with the aliens,” the dark woman said. “And not for all of them, either. Don’t you know anything?”
I know I hate you, I thought, making the words in my mind burn like fire.
The dark woman smiled. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, smiling.
I’ve given up trying to write traditional stories (at least, for now). Instead, I’m just letting the words do what they want. In this case, the words made me say, “What the hell?” Incidentally, the picture has nothing to do with the story. I just typed “weird” in the Flickr Creative Commons search bar and clicked on the one that made me laugh.
“Is there somewhere we can talk privately?” Glinda asked. She wasn’t the Good Witch, or a witch at all. She was just Glinda, and she didn’t know how to dress herself despite being thirty-three. She had a maid help her. The maid’s name was Fuzzy. She was a cat, but a really smart one with a keen fashion sense and a remarkable vocabulary.
“Like the moon?” Charley suggested. He was fond of the moon and its wild temperature swings. He was also rather partial to radiation.
“The moon’s too far,” Glinda lamented.
“It’s not that far if you travel with your imagination.”
“Like Mr. Roger’s?”
“Sure, if Mr. Roger’s was a kick-ass space explorer.”
“Mr. Roger’s is plenty kick-ass without adding ‘space explorer’ to his already impressive resume,” Glinda said. Her hair dragged the floor, and she suffered from excessive optimism, the kind that made Charley nervous.
“Whatever,” Charley said. “Are we going to the moon or not?”
“Not. What I have to say can be said here. It’s private enough.”
“The bugs are listening.”
“I’m not worried what a few bugs think, if they think anything at all.” Glinda took a deep breath. “Ok, here it is. I’m worried you might not be real.”
Charley rubbed his chin. The thought had occurred to him, too. It was troubling notion, that he might not be real. Glinda’s realness was never in question. Was that strange or is that how things were supposed to go?
“Does it matter if I’m real or not?” Charley asked. “We still like each other.”
“We do?” Glinda felt warm inside. She thought Charley kind of hated her.
“Well, we tolerate each other.”
Glinda felt her insides clam up. She would never be the apple of Charley’s eye, or of anyone’s. The only creature that loved her was Fuzzy…maybe. Or maybe Fuzzy was just doing her job?
“Now that we’ve settled that, I’m off to check out the moon,” Charley said. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
“Yes,” Glinda whispered.
“Toodle-oo,” Charley said and blinked out of sight.
Glinda settled onto the floor and tried to cry, but she’d forgotten how. Or maybe she’d never learned in the first place.
This is Beverly, a cranky woman in her late sixties who had a bit to say during a freewriting session. I’m not sure what’s going on with the tree at the beginning.
I haven’t made grits since my niece Laura was two years old, and on that day, my pear tree decided to bloom the fuck out and scared me half to death. One second it was all scrawny-looking, and then wham! Full fucking bloom, right outside the kitchen window! I mean, it was like God was playing a joke. Or the Devil was. It sounds like something that mean old bastard would do. Then again, God’s been known to throw folks a curveball from time to time, too, so I’m not sure. All I know is the whole episode made my Laura pee her pants, and that just about ruined our breakfast Who could concentrate on eating after that? I sure as hell couldn’t, and Laura was screaming like someone had pressed a hot iron to her face.
Aside from trees exploding into bloom, it was a pretty average day. Creepy Joseph Carrera dropped by and asked me to water his plants while he took a two week vacation to Akron, Ohio. “Who the hell goes to Akron for two weeks?” I wanted to know. “Isn’t your life shitty enough?”
Joseph coughed into his arm (which I appreciated because I catch colds like nobody’s business) and said in that puny little voice of his, “Akron is where Alcoholics Anonymous started.”
“And? What’s that got to do with a wheelbarrow of orangutans?”
Joseph went on to tell me that Akron was where Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob put their drunk heads together and came up with the idea for AA. He also said he’d been sober for nearly a year and wanted to go see the home of Dr. Bob for his sober anniversary.
“That’s all well and good,” I said, not wanting to get bogged down in hearing how Joseph got sober. I’ve heard enough testimonials from former drunks to last a fucking last time. My first husband’s a recovering alcoholic H got sober about a year before he left me for a hot little twenty-five-old accountant. I didn’t care so much that he split, but for a twenty-five-year old? And he was nearly fifty? Jesus wept.
“But what the hell else do you plan to do?” I asked. “Akron’s not exactly a hotbed of fun and frivolity. In fact, it’s kind of fucking dump.
Joseph grinned his crazy grin, which he always does when he’s uncomfortable, and my cursing caused him no end of discomfort. But it’s not like I was going to watch my Ps and Qs around him, of all people. Joseph Carrera was as weird as they came. I wouldn’t have surprised me if the police arrested them and then searched his place and found people cut up and hidden in freezer bags down in his basement.
Joseph babbled about going to see the Cuyahoga River and the Akron Zoo (be still, my beating heart) so I rushed him out and said I water his damn plants. He told me he’d put the spare key under the weird little statue of a scantily-clad boy he keeps on on his porch. It’s supposed to be Peter Pan, but it looks like a ugly-ass kid playing dress-up. Not that a statue of Peter Pan looking like Peter Pan would have been better, you know?
Once Joseph left, I shooed Laura out to play and told her if she sees any crazy shit with my trees to come and get me. I needed a nap.
After a long bout of freewriting (which included trees exploding into instant bloom, a computer coducting a therapy session with a teenager, and all manner of peculiarities), this scene emerged. I don’t think there will be a second part, but who knows?
“Hey, you remember when we all had phones?” Clary asked.
Ben popped his head up from behind the sofa. God only knew what he was doing back there. Looking for change? Scraps of food? His dignity? “You mean landlines?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Clary said. “Those were good days.”
“How?” I asked. I didn’t want Ben in this, or any, conversation. In fact, it would have been nice if Ben had found a discarded piece of pizza crust, popped it in his mouth, and then choked on it. Such are my fantasies.
“Because you had to answer the phone if it rang,” Clary said. “You couldn’t just ignore it.”
“Well, there were answering machines,” I pointed out.
“Okay, Beth, before answering machines. Those were the days.”
“I think I’m stuck,” Ben muttered from behind the sofa.
Clary and I ignored him. “The good old days were never actually good,” I said. “At least, not as good as we remember.”
Clary shrugged. “I think they were objectively better than now,” she said. “People were more connected. We weren’t all stuck on our phones and Facebook and Instagram and all that shit.”
“A little help here?” Ben said, a little more loudly.
“Yeah,” I went on, “but we still had problems. People may have been more connected, but as long as we’re all big, walking bundles of neuroses, there are issues. I think things are better now. We can segment our craziness and choose to not inflict it on others. That’s why I don’t have any friends. Present company excluded, of course.”
“You’re such a cynic.”
“I’m literally stuck behind the couch!” Ben wailed. “Will one of you get off your asses and move it so I can get out?”
“Fine,” I sighed. Clary hopped off the sofa and she and I moved it forward a few inches. Ben, sweat dripping into his excuse of a beard, crawled free. “Jesus, that was awful,” he panted.
“You’re such an idiot,” I said, shaking my head.
“Hey!” Ben protested. “Why are you being so mean tonight?”
“It’s my talent,” I said and walked toward the door. My people meter was full, and it was time to make myself scarce.
It’s Halloween, and I’m sitting in my oldest son’s taekwando practice. Close to me, three mothers discuss various things. I let their conversation drift in and out of my head as I wrote this spooky little piece. Please forgive any typos; it came out in a rush.
“I just want them to play, but the little one starts digging,” says one mother. Her name is Jessica. She holds her pink-encased, glittery phone in her left hand as she scratches a lesion on her face with her right hand. She’s not an advanced case, so they let her out and mingle with the other mothers, all of whom are in various stages of the disease, but none so bad that Death has quit being polite and just barges the hell in, here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?
“Well,” says another mother–this one a small, blonde woman named Kathy who had fine features but now looks like the victim of an acid attack–“maybe you shouldn’t let them play in the graveyard.”
Jessica makes a disgusted face. “Let’s not call it that, please.”
“What the hell would you prefer?” asks Octavia crossly. She is the third mother (women aren’t allowed to gather in groups larger than three). Her red hair has started to fall out, but she’s styled it such a way as to minimize the damage. She looks almost normal from the right angle in the right light.
“The Resting Ground, as we’ve been taught,” Jessica replies and begins swiping on her phone. “No one likes my posts anymore. Dammit.”
“Because you’ve lost a kid,” Kathy says. “It brings people down.”
“But I have three more,” Jessica protests.
The other two women shrug. They know how it is, and Jessica does, too, even if she denies it.
“My youngest is the cutest thing,” Jessica goes on, loudly, as if others are listening. It’s just the three of them on a deserted street, but they’re never truly alone.
“The one who was digging in the graveyard?” Kathy says.
“The Resting Ground,” Jessica replies between her teeth.
Kathy and Octavia share a look. “The Resting Ground,” Kathy corrects herself.
“Yes, Baby Kenneth.” Jessica’s fingers fly on her phone as she searches for a picture of her child. “He’s very curious and very healthy!” she practically shouts as she holds her phone out for the other women to see.
“Adorable,” Octavia mutters, and Kathy just nods. Satisfied, Jessica closes the picture and goes back to her homepage. She scratches the lesion harder.
“How much longer do they say you have?” Octavia asks Jessica, not unkindly.
Jessica blinks several times before she answers. “I told them I didn’t want to know.”
“But Donald knows.”
Donald, Jessica’s beefy husband who nabbed a coveted job in the slaughter house last month, most certainly knows. Jessica has promised him not to tell her, and Donald is playing along so far. Unbeknownst to Jessica, he’ll wake up her up in the middle of the night three days from now and reveal her expiration date.
Jessica will visit each of her children and kiss their brows. She will linger the longest over Baby Kenneth, tasting his name in her mouth, tracing his eyebrows until touching him no longer feels real.