Tag: story

Vincent and Lily (part of a story)

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

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

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

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

“It happened to Cecil,” said Fred.

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

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

“And?”

“And died.”

“You know this for a fact?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s your name?” Tom asked.

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

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

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

“Well, what is it?”

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

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

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

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

“Vincent?” Lily echoed in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I come with you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course not.”

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

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

“Well?”

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

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

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

Things That Happened Since You Left

A lot of my writing deals with the difficulty of authentically communicating with another person. Even as I type these words, they fall short of conveying what I wish to convey, and so the problem is compounded.

On a related note, I believe I would make a terrible interview subject. I can imagine it going something like this:

Interviewer: Your poems are dark and absurd but seem to hint at the gulfs and chasms between people and the challenge of bridging those gulfs and chasms. Can you speak to this?

Me: Uh…not really. I just like words and the process of putting them together.

Interviewer: Oh. 

Me: Yeah.

*Sigh*

Things That Happened Since You Left

“What’s been happening?” you asked. So I told you:

A famous man huffed and puffed and shrank himself to the size of a blade of grass. His glasses fell off and he died, blind and alone.

A horse in a nearby town decided bathtubs were smarter it was.

The mayonnaise rebelled and said it would never be a part of a sandwich again.

Various microbes learned French and moved to Canada.

The soil disagreed on whether or not it was nutrient-rich and voted itself out of reality.

A march was held for the veterans of inconsequential wars. No one attended, and the veterans cut themselves with glass flowers.

You blinked.

I suppose it was a lot to take in.

You went away again. I watch for you through the window, but I don’t expect you’ll return.

Awake (short fiction)

This is part one of my story about mannequins coming to life at night, a scenario I first read in a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) style book when I was young. I’ve since looked for the book online with no success (this might be it, but I can’t be sure). The book chilled me to the bone, but I read and re-read it, trying out different outcomes. If you’re familiar with the CYOA books, you know the endings can be quite dark. In one ending, your left as prey for the evil, animated mannequins.

In my mannequin story, there’s no boy or girl trapped in a store after the mall closes. It’s a love story, and a sad one, at that. I haven’t done more than spot editing, so there are undoubtedly mistakes and things I’ll change in the final draft.

If she stood away from the security lights and stayed in the shadows, Ashley almost looked human, which made Barry more than a little uncomfortable. They had agreed to be themselves with no adornment, but Ashley had applied lipstick and eyeshadow, and she had found a wig. Her lips were curved in a permanent smile, even when she was upset.

Barry looked around the department store, but he didn’t see any other mannequins about. They used to all animate at once, exactly fifteen minutes after the mall closed. It was magical, all of them gathered in the center of the first floor by men’s casual wear, looking at each, flexing their plastic fingers which didn’t move more than a little, but any movement was a miracle.

That had been close to a year ago, and Barry supposed it was inevitable that the newness of consciousness had worn off. That still didn’t account for the different animation times…or the fact that some of the mannequins didn’t animate at all.

Barry took a few halting steps toward Ashley, suddenly unsure of himself. He considered changing his shirt, a complicated task that usually required another mannequin, but he decided against it. He would stick with the plan he and Ashley made. If she wanted to break it, fine. She was her own…person? Her own entity? Barry didn’t know. He imagined he felt a headache coming on, which he knew wasn’t possible. He could barely feel when he touched something, as if he had stunted nerve endings. Perhaps I do, Barry thought. Perhaps I have a functioning brain, but the rest of the system isn’t complete. Would it ever be complete? Barry liked to think so.

“Good evening,” Barry said to Ashley. He remained formal with her. It seemed the right move.

Ashley didn’t turn to face him. Her cool, flawless face stared at an unseen point on the shadowy wall. “You don’t approve,” she said after a moment.

“I don’t approve of what?”

“The lipstick. The eye shadow.”

“It’s not that I don’t approve,” Barry said. “I just thought we were going to be ourselves.”

Ashley turned. Barry had to admit that she looked good. Somehow, she had expertly applied the lipstick and eyeshadow, and the blonde wig was situated perfectly on her normally bald head. She had always been more flexible than Barry. She had almost a complete range of motion in both her hands, and she could turn her neck more than a few degrees without causing tiny fractures in the plastic. Other mannequins usually whispered jealously about Ashley’s abilities, but Barry saw none of them around tonight.

As he scanned their corner of the department store, he realized they were the only two that had animated. He saw Evan in his corner, wearing the store’s latest fall jacket, along with a red scarf, jeans, a flannel shirt, and hiking boots. Beside him, Joey–no more than ten if he’d been human–wore the same outfit but in a smaller size. From where he was standing, Barry couldn’t see Elizabeth, Cierra, or Tonya. He also couldn’t see Alex, the half-mannequin with no eyes whom Elizabeth usually carried to the center of the store.

He heard no voices. He and Ashley were only ones awake.

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.