Tag: short stories

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.

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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.

 

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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. 

 

 

Trees Exploding into Bloom (a scene)

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.

Beth, Clary, and Ben (a scene)

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.

Time to Read

One of the benefits of being a teacher is having summer break, and even though I have both my children home with me, I have more time to read than I do during the school year. After teaching all day, making supper, dealing with baths and breaking up fights, my wife and I make a little time to watch a show and then get in bed to read. I can usually devote thirty minutes to reading before I’m ready to sleep (while my wife, if she’s really into the book, can read until one or two in the morning).

This morning, I woke up and continued reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams. stephen kingI haven’t read Stephen King in quite a long, and it’s been even longer since I’ve read one of his short story collections. I bought this after reading a book I just couldn’t get into. And then I remembered seeing King’s story colletion, so I got it and jumped right in

I love King’s prose, but it can bog down the story in certain novels. He’s a master of the short story craft, even though in the book’s introduction, he says that he’s still an amateur at 62. It’s comforting to hear that, given how much I struggle with fiction.

I always write better fiction when I’m reading something good, and even though horror is not my genre, I used to write fairly good “speculative” fiction. I haven’t tried my hand at it in a long time…and I also haven’t bothered finishing a story. Poetry is easier for me because I can finish one in a relatively quickly. Fiction takes time, and I’m usually pressed for time. While I like flash fiction, it doesn’t call to me. I still believe a good short story should run about twenty-five to thirty pages, double-spaced (I’ve forgotten the word count I used to shoot for). I could do that before I had children. It’s a lot harder now.

But I have more time this summer, and I’m thinking of going back to some short stories I started. I’ve kept them in a file called “Stories Worth Finishing.” I’m not sure if they’re worth finishing or not, but I’m not going to learn anything more about fiction writing unless I actually finish a damn story once in a while.

So don’t hold your breath for some exciting, ground-breaking, awe-inspiriting story to appear on the site in the next day or two. Expect something messy with some decent dialogue and a rushed ending; that seems to be my speciality.

Leaves for a Pillow (a brief story)

After the first line, this quite short story wrote itself. It’s not perfect, but it sent a chill up my spine, so maybe it’s on the right track.

Leaves for a Pillow

“You’re very kind,” the girl said, kneeling on the ground and gathering leaves.

The boy just watched. He wasn’t kind, but the girl didn’t need to know that yet.

When she had enough leaves, the girl walked back toward the farmhouse. Not enough for a pillow, but a girl start. The boy followed but stopped on the porch while the girl opened the door and went in.

“Do you want to visit for a while?” the girl asked. “Mama may not mind. She’ll be in the kitchen, fixing supper. Daddy’s gone to town for the day.”

The boy studied the girl. He liked her bone structure, her fine ankles, the tilt of her head and the slow blink of her eyes. She dazzled in a bar of sunlight. He nodded.

“You don’t say much,” the girl remarked, turning and facing the boy. “Or anything, really. Can you talk?”

The boy nodded.

“But you don’t have anything to say right now?”

The boy nodded again.

“Well, then,” the girl said, “I need to get these leaves in a pillow case and gather more. I’ll introduce you to Mama first. Come on.”

The boy followed the girl into the kitchen, where a tall woman stood over a sink snapping beans. She turned and regarded the girl and boy with narrowed eyes. “And who’s this?” she said coldly.

“I don’t know his name,” the girl said. “I found him in the woods. He’s very kind.”

The boy studied the girl’s mother. He didn’t like her bone structure at all. The girl didn’t favor her at all, lacked the woman’s long face and protruding brow.

“We don’t take in strays,” the woman said. “Get gone, boy. We don’t have an extra plate, if its food you’re after, and we don’t need help on the farm.”

The boy didn’t move. The girl said, “He doesn’t talk.”
“I can see that,” the woman snapped. “Is he deaf?”

“No,” the girl answered.

“This is my house, you understand?” the woman said, tossing the beans into the metal colander and closing in on the boy. “You’re not welcome here, no matter what my daughter says. Go back to where you came from.”

The boy still didn’t move. The girl said, “Can he help me put leaves in my pillow.”

“No, he can get his ass out of here,” the woman said.

The boy flicked his right hand, and the woman disappeared. The girl gasped. “Where’d she go?” she demanded.

The boy shrugged.

The girl thought for a while. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad with her mother gone. She could be quite cruel, and the boy was very kind. Her father might be a bit put out. Maybe the boy could make him disappear, too.

“Would you like to help me now?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded and followed the girl upstairs to her room.

Writing Prompt (fiction)

I think I wrote this last year using the book The Amazing Story Generatorthough I’ll have to check.  In any case, the story is funny…which is a nice change of pace. 

Prompt – The night before the wedding, an avid comic book collector grows an extra arm.

Suddenly, there it was, jutting out slightly below his right arm-pit. A rather pitiful limb, to be sure, but a limb nonetheless. A little arm with a little hand, which waved at Norman.

Norman closed his eyes, wishing the whole thing away, but the extra arm remained on his future brother-in-law, Harry, when he opened his eyes. There they were, a mere hour before the wedding, standing in a stuffy room in the back of the church with their tuxedos draped over chairs, and Harry had three arms. “Bloody hell,” Norman said. “Holly’s not going to go for that.”

Harry struggled to put his shirt back on, sighing. Thus covered, his torso looked bumpy, even with the small arm firmly pressed to his side. He certainly didn’t look normal, and Norman doubted that even a tuxedo would draw people’s attention away from the sight of Harry’s ungainly midsection. “I could tell people I have the gout,” Harry said.

“Gout affects your feet,” Norman pointed out. “It’s not known for causing one to sprout an extra limb. What exactly did you get into last night?”

“You were there,” Harry said crossly. “We shut down the bar and then tramped over to the park to howl at the moon. After that, I stumbled back to the hotel. When I woke up, I had another arm.” Tears came to Harry’s eyes, and he tried unsuccessfully to blink them back. “I’m not getting married today, am I?” he asked.

Mostly likely not, Norman thought, but he put on a brave face for Harry. He liked the man, after all, and thought he and Holly were a good fit…or as good as either would get in this lifetime. Holly bore a frightful resemblance to an ostrich, all wobbly neck and a beaky nose and a tendency to hide her head in the sand when life threw problems at her. Harry was a fat, terminally unemployed man who adored comic books; he could ramble on for hours about the blasted things if you let him. The two professed undying love toward one another scant weeks after they met, and Harry sought Holly’s hand in marriage from Norman and Holly’s father. That was a sight to behold–enormous, unshaven Harry hopping from foot to foot, sweating mightily, as he stuttered his way into asking for Eddie Turnbolt give his only daughter to Harry in marriage. Eddie had been drunk, as usual, and weaved his head back and forth, trying to focus on Harry.

“You want to marry Holly?” the old man had asked. “What the hell for?”

“Because…because I love her very much,” Harry replied haltingly.

Eddie shook his head, his massive jowells swinging back and forth like a bloodhound’s cheeks. “It’s a bad idea, I’ll have you know. That girl is naught but trouble and hasn’t more than a few pebbles rolling around in her brain pan. I swear her mother knocked the sense out of her one too many times when she was young. Me, I could never raise my hand to my kids, no matter how terrible they got. But their mother…sweet Mary, mother of Jesus. That woman had a punch.”

“Is th-that a yes…or a n-no?” Harry asked, sweating even more. The entire top half of his shirt was soaked; droplets of perspiration darkened the dingy carpet of the living room.

“What?” Eddie howled. “Oh, that. Yes, good for you two, be happy and blessed. Just make sure you wrap it up, son, because neither one of you have business siring any offspring. Now leave me the hell alone.”

Norman re-appraised the current situation, hoping some brilliant plan would spring to mind, a plan that somehow included his sister looking at Harry and saying, “Oh, that? Just an extra arm? That’s nothing. I love you for who you are inside, dear.” He supposed it was possible, since Harry’s exterior didn’t recommend much. Still, his mind turned up zeros when he wondered how to brooch the topic with his sister…and on her wedding day, nonetheless.

“Well,” Norman said, clearing his throat, “we’d best get about it. Come on.”

Harry clung to a chair in front of him. “I can’t leave. It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.”

“That’s your biggest concern? That seeing Holly is going to somehow going to cast a pall of darkness over your otherwise blessed day? You have no reservations whatsoever about your additional appendage?”

Harry hung his head. He looked very much like a boy rather than a man in his mid-forties, regardless of the number of his arms. “I don’t know what I’m going to say, Norm, or what I’m going to do if she rejects me. I mean, I couldn’t blame her, with me being a freak and all now.”

“Let me talk to her first,” Norman suggested. He turned to leave, and then asked, “Are you absolutely certain nothing out of the ordinary happened last night?”

“No, not at all. Now, if you’d asked me about yesterday morning….”

“What happened yesterday morning, then?”

“I got into a bit of a row with a gypsy.”

“A what? Did you say a gypsy?”

“Yeah.” Harry sunk into the chair, his large, sweaty back covering the front of the tuxedo and wrinkling in. “They don’t care for that term anymore, you know. They prefer to be called–”

“I don’t care what they want to be called. Are you saying you were cursed?”

“Looking at this,” Harry replied, sticking out his third arm from under his shirt and wiggling its fingers, “makes me wonder.”

“Good God. You said it was a row. What happened?”

“Well, the old woman asked me for some money, and I said I didn’t have any. It’s true, I don’t carry money with me, just my card. If I have money in my pocket, it’s going toward comic books, and I’m trying to cut down.”

Norman flashed to an image of Harry sitting in a room full of comic book addicts, all drinking awful coffee from styrofoam cups and muttering sympathetically to each other about the siren song of super-heroes they all found so hard to ignore. “And then what happened?”

“Well, then she spit at me–not the first time that’s happened, mind you–and babbled something in another language. Then she made some weird gestures with her hands and moved along.”

Norman’s face sank into his hands. “And this isn’t the first thing that sprang to your mind when you woke up with an extra arm?”

Harry looked out the small window. A few people had gathered outside to smoke in the chilly air. “You know, I’m only guessing the woman was a gypsy. I just know gypsies from shows and movies. She could have just been a crazy, homeless woman.”

“I think we have sufficient proof she was a gypsy.”

“So now what?”

“Well, if this was a show, we’d track down the gypsy woman and beg her to remove the curse, but that can’t happen today. You’re due to get married in less than an hour, depending.”

Harry groaned. “She’ll hate me! She’ll hate me and never want to see me again!”

“Okay, chuck the first idea of me talking to her first,” Norman said. “Come on.”

“Now?” Harry squealed.

“Now. And hide that damn thing as best you can.”

The two men wound their way through the church to where the bridesmaid were, most of them sneaking drinks from flasks and tittering to each other. One girl with frizzy black hair like a poodle said, “Hey, you can’t go in there! It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the big moment!”

“We have a rather pressing matter that can’t wait,” Norman snapped and opened the door where he presumed Holly was. And right he was: she and her maid of honor, some distant cousin from Leeds they’d scared up at the last minute and pressured into the job, were standing before a floor-length mirror. The cousin was carefully applying what seemed to be a third layer of makeup on Holly’s bone-thin face.

Holly’s eyes blinked rapidly when she saw her brother and Harry, and the cousin fussed around her cigarette, “Now I’ve got to do your bleeding eyes again. Christ on a crutch.”

“Harry, what’s wrong?” Holly sounded alarmed. “You not having second thoughts, are you?”

“No, of course not!” Harry protested. “It’s just…this.”

Harry unbuttoned his shirt, and Norman averted his gaze. With just two arms, a shirtless Harry wasn’t exactly a balm for the eyes. He, like his name suggested, was enormously hairy. Ape-like, Norman thought on more than one occasion, which prompted further speculation as to why he’d seen Harry without a shirt so many times. Certainly that wasn’t normal…then again, neither were gypsies cursing people with third arms.

“What?” Holly said. “Oh, dear, you’ve grown an extra arm.”

“I have, at that,” Harry said, looking down at his body.

“Bloody hell,” said the cousin as she lit another cigarette from her dying one.

“Those were my words,” Norman added. He studied his sister closely. She didn’t look as revolted as she did stunned. Stunned and curious, but possibly accepting.

“Well, that’s all right, then,” Holly said. “You got two arms for holding me and one for grabbing my titties or woo woo. That all works out.”

“It does?” Harry exclaimed in wonder.

“Sure it does. You’re kind of like a superhero now, aren’t you?”

Harry beamed. “Yes, I am,” he said. “Right. I’ll go slip into my tux and meet you later, you sassy thing.”

Holly winked. “Can’t wait to see what that hand gets up to tonight.”

“All right, that’ll do,” Norman said and ushered Harry out of the room. He turned and looked at his sister, ready to thank her, but she and the cousin were already back at the makeup game, staring intently at Holly’s reflection.

When he was out of eyesight of the drunk bridesmaids, Norman lifted his shirt to check if everything was squared away, making sure there were no burgeoning handlings pressing through his flesh. There were none.

And he was surprised to feel a slight pang of sadness at that fact.

Experimental Writer?

The writer Lydia Davis, with whom I’ve just become acquainted, said in a 2007 interview with the Boston Globe,

“I haven’t met a so-called experimental writer who likes the term. It must be people who aren’t experimental writers who call people experimental. It’s just the wrong word. ‘Experiment’ carries the suggestion that it may not work. I prefer the idea of being adventurous, exploring forms.”

Davis’ quote keeps ringing in my head and makes me wonder about the fiction I write. Is it experimental? Maybe. Most of my pieces aren’t “finished” in the traditional sense, and most of them flow from brain to fingers to keyboard. I write and then usually I have to go teach, or change the laundry, or make supper, or tend to one of my children. I rarely have hours stretched before me in which I can write. I would love to believe I’d fill that time with writing (now that I’m sober, I have a better shot at that), but I’m not sure if I would. 

I suppose Davis is right when she says that experiment may carry the idea that the piece may not work. Another way of looking at that “not work” is failure, and that’s not something I apply to my writing anymore. I like some pieces better than others, but none of them are failures. The only failure is when I don’t write. 

Shifting gears slightly, a colleague of mine asked recently what I wanted to be when I grow up. My truest answer is a full-time writer. Since I’m only 42, it’s an achievable goal. In the meantime, I’ll continue to teach, write poems…

and “experiment” with pieces like the following.

Dr. Bee and the Nurse

He couldn’t tell if there was going to be an end to the meal this time, but he knew if there wasn’t, his daughter would have something distracting to say about it. He supposed he was programmed for that, so he shouldn’t complain? Right? Like he was a yes-man to everything else in this god-forsaken world, so why not that? Why not when it came to his little deaths, his children? King Lear never had it so bad.

Now, why did he go and say something like that? For one thing, he had sons, not daughters so there was one huge difference between himself and King fucking Lear. There were others, he knew, but he couldn’t remember more than the gist of the play right now. That was happening more and more lately, his inability to recall poems, plot lines, entire plays he used to teach, year after year, to classes of mouth-breathing Philistines who wouldn’t know good literature if it reared up and took a money shot to their balls or wee little pussies, so pristine and good, pure stock from the Puritan passed down and watered through baptisms and Baptist fellowship chicken bakes, where fat fathers stuffed their sweating bodies into ill-made suits and Mamas bathed in cheap perfume because you never knew who was looking or smelling. One couldn’t be too careful, even the Holy Spirit picked up on whiffs of sin, and what better way to mask that than with oie de toilette and bacon fat?

Oh, to be forty again, he thought, moaning a little. Was he asleep or just comfortably reclined? Who the fuck knew? “Comfortably Numb,” his oldest son, Falcon, would say, trying his damnedest to sing. The old man didn’t care for the original, let alone his idiot son’s butchering of the song. Jesus Christ, he was thirsty! And not for water, which is all the headstrong and head-banded nurses, seriously suffering in the art of beside manner and tender ministrations, seemed to bring. What about some whiskey, for God’s sake?! Something with some fucking kick to it, not just water, and for the food! Jello which shook like some red lady’s pock-marked ass, and some kind of torture-gruel that looked unfit for prisoners-of-war.

What was that dream, where I was the hero? What fucking war was that? Korea? Vietnam? The Big One that left Owen in a wheelchair, covered in his own shit half the time until his cross-eyed whore of a wife thought to change him? Jesus, so much suffering, so much pain on this blasted rock, and most of it never documented in pages, just left to rot in the minds of rotting bodies in the rotting ground. None of it matters.

He was sure he was awake now. The lights were brighter, poppier, and noises had the acute taste of metal. A fine meal to satisfy this craving, he told himself, and then he said it aloud, his voice a rusty pipe banged on by a screwdriver.

“Say what, Dr. Bee?” asked the nurse absent-mindedly, hovering somewhere near him, her giant, pillow-like arms able to suffocate him in a snake’s split-second. Oh, he knew! He knew! How could he not know?

“Say what, Dr. Bee?” the nurse asked again, taking a moment to cough up something extreme and hideous, her chest vibrating and nearly exploding with juice, the kind that made the Good Doctor wonder what the hell was next. Some drugs, he dared hope. Anything to take the sting of this pitiful existence away.

Did he have daughters? He did not. “I do not,” he said.

The nurse craned her head, big as a child’s balloon about to pop, toward him. “I gotta change you now,” she said. “Time to get and see if them britches is clean or soiled.”

“If you come near me,” said The Teacher, clear as a newly forged, bronze bell–the kind that’s inscribed with philosophy, its tongue made of some kind of amazing metal that never fades nor loses its ability to coax dulcet tones from its outer shell–the lip, shall we call it?–and therefore, the peals would go on and vibrate into eternity–“I will cut your jugular and watch you bleed like a stuck hog.”

Well…that took care of absolutely nothing. The nurse changed him and out the door she went, muttering curses.