30 July 2012

My Hope - It Burns

A confusing memory for Parentheses Miller left this delicate, fragile daughter of an English teacher desperately searching for softer, whiter sand. Sand is only so soft, it seems, and it can only get so white. She dropped down and sat with her legs crossed, sitting right at the edge of the water, where the warmish waves lapped at her bottom. The prackle-fish hiccuped from a distance.

There was a smile in the sky that had not been there earlier, and Parentheses smiled back. The smile broadened, and soon the lips of the sky reached from horizon to horizon. They opened ever so slightly and made the sound of a Gulliper bird. Parentheses called back. The lips sang in harmony with the call of the surf and the prackle-fish danced beneath the waves. Parentheses stood up once again and brushed the wet sand from her bottom.

With five great strides, Parentheses strode to the beach-side altar. She felt the sand, once again hot beneath her feet, and it seemed like a suction on her arches and on her heels – her legs could barely pull her feet along for each step. Reaching the beach-side altar, she removed the single pearl on the fine gold chain that hung around her neck. This she placed on the altar.

“Come down,” she seemed to say, to the unknown god. “Come down and receive my offering.” All was silence around Parentheses Miller, however. No conversation was forthcoming. No words spoken to an unknown god. No instruction or prophecy from the same. Parentheses stood before the altar with eyes wide open, hands spread out to the heavens, feet sinking deeper and deeper into the fine, powdery sand.

In a moment, in a heartbeat, the pearl on the fine gold chain turned as black as night and was swallowed in a tiny puff of smoke. Parentheses pulled her legs from the deep white sand and returned to the water's edge, content to know that a confusing memory could forever stay a confusing memory and that softer, whiter sand could never be as cool and as perfect as the water's edge. The prackle-fish hummed with glee at her return, and Parentheses laid down to make sand-angels in the sun-dappled surf.

26 July 2012

Caritas, of One Sort.

Trap-style (fat-lover and pepper-eater) walked with a talcum lilt in his baggy, saggy drawers to a rust bucket dumpster. A worn, thin man sat cross-legged on the soggy asphalt – soggy asphalt, soft and loamy, holding urine and rain water with equal affection. The rust bucket dumpster made a backrest for the worn, thin man, who blew imaginary smoke rings through licorice lips.

“Where's my coffee, Trap-style?” The worn, thin man croaked as a cloud of dust and sharecropper nightmares poured through the licorice lips.

“'Ain't got yer coffee.”

“Piss-bucket. You always screwin' me over.”

“Piss-bucket yerself. 'Ain't got no money.” Trap-style kicked a little piece of asphalt that had broken free from the road, and it felt like sponge.

The worn, thin man scratched at his eyes. Blood should have flowed freely at the wish of his fingernails. Only crusty-dust ash mites fell like stars.

“I used to have a coffee machine,” said the worn, thin man, “and I used to make coffee in it every day. There were some days that I used to buy a tube of crescent rolls and I'd get the ones with frosting. Pop those damn things in the toaster oven and bake 'em up. They come out nice and hot. I let 'em cool a bit and put the frosting on 'em. Damn, they's good. I'd stick a damn thing in my mouth and eat it. Shit, maybe eat two. I'd drink up that coffee and it was sweeter than the sweat off a witch's nipple. I'd drink it up nice and hot from my coffee machine and I'd never hafta' go and wait for a piss-bucket Trap-style to get me no coffee from a mom and pop. Shit.”

“Piss-bucket yerself,” said Trap-style, kicking at the asphalt. “Witch's nipple.”

The worn, thin fingers clawed and scratched at the ropey, dopey eyes, scratching for blood, scratching for life, clawing for hope and a cup of coffee. No blood. No hope. No coffee.

“I had that coffee machine, and if I had it now, I'd make me a cup and then you know what?”


“I'd make another cup.”


“No. You know what?”


“I'd give it to you.”

And so the soggy asphalt (soft and loamy) held the urine and rain water with equal affection. The dumpster made a backrest and Trap-style kicked a sponge.

24 July 2012

Could You Please Pass the Mineral Spirits?

My name's Pladgett, and I'm just trying to keep cool. Yeah, it's a hot one out here. No...no...I'm not gonna' make any trouble – I just want to cool off. So damn hot out here. Where from? I walked over from the shelter on 11th. The director, she's a nice lady. Pakistani. She lets us keep some extra food in a little 'fridge behind the office. We just can't stay there during the day, 'cause we're supposed to be out looking for work. So I'm just hot and I can't go back in there until after six. I'm gonna' try to sleep off most of the heat of the day.

Yeah, yeah...I'm looking for work. Yeah, I used to be essentially a machinist. No, I wasn't really a machinist, but I did all the same kind of work. Really. I coulda' been a machinist, but I didn't want to waste my time with classes. Book-learning. Yeah, I just kind of floated around for a while. Where? I got a brother in Washington State...you too, huh? Yeah, so I spent some time out there, and I had a really good job offer on a fishing boat, but I don't want to get tied down, you know? I worked as a night watchman, and then I did something dumb and hurt myself so I drew disability and kinda' lived off that for a while, doing odd jobs that I didn't tell anyone about and taking cash for them. So I spent some time floating around. I been to Idaho. You been to Idaho?

So I'm just trying to keep cool. No, I'll stay out here, thanks. I don't mind it so much. Oh, no thanks. I don't ever want to take anything from anyone. I'm just gonna' spend some time just resting here in the shade and then maybe go down to the mission across town and get some lunch. You been there? They feed anyone. You don't even have to be homeless or unemployed. There's this one guy, he pulls up in a Chrysler convertible every day at noon and walks over for a sandwich, his piece of fruit and a cookie. I figure that if he can do it, then hell, I'm entitled to it. Some guys go up to him after, when he's leaving, and ask him for money so they can buy some booze, because this guy's dressed real nice, right? So they ask him for money. Me, I couldn't. I don't ever want to take anything from anyone. I just get my sandwich and cookie and piece of fruit and I leave.

Yeah, it's warm. No, no...I'm OK. I just sweat real easy. I take some medicine that the doctor gave me. I go over to that free clinic just across the river and I show them my card and I get my medicine, so I'm OK. When I was in New Mexico I got doing some kind of dumb things and I got hurt and the doctor thinks that it's probably a result of that. I got some internal injuries doing some things I shouldn't have. Then I got sick on account of it, and now I gotta' take this medicine every day. They say It would cost a couple of hundred bucks a bottle, and it doesn't even last a month, so I gotta' make sure I don't lose my card, so I can get it for free. No, no...it's OK. I just sweat real easy. I just want to hang out here under the tree for a while where I've got some shade and stay cool.

How's that? No, I believe in God, though. He's got me through a lot. Churches are just for people who aren't strong enough to make it on their own and they just need someone else to hold their hand. Not me. I'm not religious. I'm real spiritual, though.

That one church does the dinner for us at the shelter, though, and that's pretty good of them but they got so damn much money they better do something like that. The meat is real crappy sometimes though. You'd think they could do better. Hell, they expect us to eat that when there's so much fat in it. I wonder how many of them from the church would eat that shit when there's so much fat in it? One time I just slammed my tray down and sent the food flying and said it was shit and then I wasn't let back in the shelter until after everyone left. Hypocrites. So I ain't religious.

I gotta' be careful with how much fat I eat, so you know what I mean. That's like trying to kill me. I'm not gonna' let anyone do that, and I'm not gonna' take anything from anyone. Damn, it's hot. Yeah, thanks. That hits the spot. I guess I was thirsty. Thanks. I gotta' get over to the clinic and then back to the shelter for my lunch – you got any bus tokens?

23 July 2012

The Sorry State of Muffins in Cudahy

A terrible toothache and an out-of-body song lifted Manny's spirits high – as high as the drugged little monkey in his back pack. Manny had been in the habit of carrying one of several drugged monkeys in his sporty canvas backpack, and from time to time he would let the monkey run free. Have you ever seen a drugged monkey running free? Do you remember how I said this would happen in the “Cosmic Cock-time”? Well, it has come to pass.

Perhaps we are living in the Cosmic Cock-time. Perhaps. I like to think that we are.

Manny's drugged monkey (when let free) ran straight for a muffin that lingered upon a fence post and that glistened in the morning sun. Large-crystal sugar stood proudly on its golden surface. The monkey reached for the muffin and upon lifting it from the post revealed its lack of depth. Such a shabby little muffin top would be sure to taint the palate of a drugged monkey, and Manny knew this. He unsheathed his flyswatter and waved it furiously at his sweet little drug-sotted primate. It was no use, for drugged monkeys love muffins, no matter their sorry state.

Public outcry was overwhelming. Calls for the ban of inferior quality muffins echoed through the valley, and lawmakers thumped their chests and gave grand speeches. Performance artists slapped raw meat against themselves and dribbled latex paint into their navels.

Muffin bakers shook with fear.

The level heads never prevailed and soon the inferior-quality muffins were no more. Church bells rang. Lawmakers thumped their chests and gave grand speeches. Performance artists giggled as the latex paint in their navels dried and contracted, producing a most pleasant and arousing sensation.

Manny strolled out in the bright sun of a warm, new day, and released the drugged little monkey from his backpack. The monkey ran straight for a slightly deformed brioche that sat upon the fence post.

Wait For It...Wait For It...

Just gonna' get me some coffee...

11 July 2012

Cochise and a Chaser – Shove This

“D'you hear that bellerin' of that ghost inside? That'd be the ghost right inside yer' gut. Lonesome ghostie, id'n it? Root 'round and come up empty. Ghosts always comin' up empty.”

Those would be the words of Mayer. Mayer and his ducks would wander for hours outside my house by the river, in the days when I ate more cheese and drank that stuff that the big-gut man called “kirsch,” except it wasn't really kirsch. Dig? Mayer asked me questions without end, it seemed, and most of them made me feel scared or lonely or tired or small or wanting to have another big handful of pills – especially the white ones, which, when taken with enough vodka will make you feel like a red-chested Indian chief and sing like Ethel-freaking-Merman.

“What're you gonna' think about on yer' deathbed?” Mayer would ask me. “Yer' golf game gonna' give you comfort on yer deathbed? Yer' damned buddha with the stickin'-ey-out rubby belly? That damned buddha? That damned buddha gonna' give you comfort on yer' deathbed? Yer' money? You ain't got enough, and if you did, would it give you comfort on yer' deathbed? Comfort on yer deathbed?”

I would have thought Mayer had an unhealthy preoccupation with deathbeds, but I knew better. His son had died and on a fish-cold, gape eyed, hound-shrieking night took to wildly screaming on his deathbed – screaming to God and screaming about how he didn't spend any time taking a whole range of particular questions seriously. These were questions that the nuns in grade school had asked him and which he had grown to think of as being rather silly. But as he laid there on his deathbed, he realized that the questions were perfectly rational and that the nuns were not as silly as he had thought.

Neither were the questions silly.

So his son laid there on his deathbed, screaming about how stupid he felt, now that the end was drawing near and about how he had wasted a lot of time and energy pursuing other questions that were now seen to be the truly silly ones.

“Automatic or manual transmission?”

“Do we send Trent Jr. to a Montessori school?”

“Paris or London this spring?”

“Should I just let it go gray?”

“Single or double breasted?”

“Straight up or on the rocks?”

This last question, although falling into the “silly” category when seen from a long point of view, was actually one of the more practical ones. Sadly, the son probably did not consider that question quite enough.

Anyhow, the deathbed is sometimes sweaty, sometimes hot and dry, sometimes cold and scary as hell. The deathbed is sometimes a bed, sometimes a car seat, sometimes the pavement, sometimes clutching the cool porcelain of a toilet bowl. Sometimes watching as a fright-wigged clown knifes you in the back lot of a trailer park while a kid looking like Opey Taylor plays with a paddleball. Deathbeds come in all different shapes and sizes and we are always surprised at the different forms they take. Whatever the deathbed, there is always a heart ready to lament the questions of life that went sadly unanswered and (more sadly) unasked.

Have you found the key?

Like a tin of sardines, like the Vicar said. Is there some stuck in the corner? Some you can't quite get to? Is there some in the corner of your life? I know there is in mine.

And then I return to the voice of Mayer as he strolls past my old house; as he strolls past with his ducks and wanders for hours outside. Mayer stuffing fast as he rolls and he rolls, and strolls with his ducks – Mayer and a lonesome ghost, like ghosts always are. Ghost in your gut, like the Mayer-man thinks; handful of pills and Mayer-man stinks.

“D'you hear that bellerin' of that ghost inside? That'd be the ghost right inside yer' gut. Lonesome ghostie, id'n it? Root 'round and come up empty. Ghosts always comin' up empty.”

Ghosts are always coming up empty.

06 July 2012

From the Penultimate Chapter

(Excerpted from Balloonheart, a forthcoming work.)

I figured I was about a mile away from my destination, and the route led me right between a few sparse copses of trees – little scatterings of brush and the odd patch of hardwoods. I was getting tired and more than just a little dehydrated, and above all my guard was down – I just was not as alert as I should have been. I shouldn't make excuses, though.

“You're gonna' want to put down that rifle, farmboy.” The voice was off to my left, coming from near a patch of brush. I heard a lot of rustling, and the sound of a lot of safeties snapping off.

I instinctively put my hands up, and let the carbine fall loose on its sling. It was hanging at my chest level, and certainly not 'down'. If someone wanted my weapon 'down,' I would have to pick it 'up' first. This posed a potential problem, and I didn't quite know how to handle it.

“I said put down that rifle, farmboy,” said the voice.

“I don't wanna' touch it,” I shouted back, keeping my hands as high as I could.

“Deke, he's got it on a sling,” called out another voice, this time from my right, “he can't drop it.”

“We ain't takin' him in 'till he drops it.”

“I can't drop it,” I called back, “I want to but I can't.”

“He can't, Deke.”

“Hang on,” called the first voice, presumably that of someone named 'Deke.' I heard brush being pulled back and out of the corner of my vision I saw a man in kind of a homemade ghillie suit rise up out of the brush and start walking toward me. He slowly crossed the fifty or so yards , and as he drew close he raised his scoped bolt-action rifle level to a high ready and slowed his approach. You just don't even make a move, you hear me?”

“Yes sir,” I said, my nuts all the way up in my throat. I kept my arms up in the air, and in my mind I tried to go to my happy place.

05 July 2012

Squatpiler Got Lost (Summer of 1988 in 1,000 Words)

Hairy Ruddard, sanitation engineer...there he goes, throwing bag after bag of refuse into his mighty truck. Titty-Boy follows along, or drives the truck, or finds himself hanging from the back of it as it lurches through alleyway and lane. “She-it,” cries Ruddard, pressing the accelerator to the floor and narrowly avoiding old Miss Quonsethut's Siamese cat. “She-it,” cries Titty-Boy, his fingers white and straining to hold on to the truck.

Over and around the suburban routes they fly, extracting garbage from can after can...can after can. Up and down the hallowed lanes the waste-mobile speeds, with Hairy Ruddard grinning his wet, toothy grin – the little lines of tartar and unswallowed food clinging to the gumline, where the teeth disappear into his swollen tissue. His own fingers and knuckles white upon the steering wheel, his hair damp with sweat and thick with grime, red-maned idiot crap-wagon driver speeding like a hell-for-to-pay of crazed-prison wild-ass driver. Press that accelerator, Ruddard.

The mighty duo pulls up at a rickety old garage, dusty and smudgy as the pair themselves. Dusty, smudgy, rickety garage with a pile of bags behind it. Out of the cab of the waste-mobile hops the red-maned idiot man, diving into the bags with glee. Over and over and over his heads the garbge bags arc, high into the air, settling with a comfortable, dusty 'whompf' into the collection bin of the truck. Titty-Boy blows his nose on his sleeve, examining the flecks of dust and black dirt that come out in the mucous. “Git hoppin', shitter!” cries Ruddard at Titty-Boy, narrowing his brow and flinging faster, “lotsa' shit ta' sling!”

In a breath, in a heartbeat, in a moment. The truck is loaded and Ruddard throws himself into the cab, guns that mighty diesel and pulls away. Titty-Boy holds on for dear life.

Squeals to a stop, does the waste-mobile...squeals to a stop outside the rear entrance of the public library, thick with concrete lions, but only the backsides of concrete lions, you must understand. Titty-Boy first removes the specially-formulated blend of concrete polish from his overalls, and then the hand-crafted goose-down dust-rag. He gives a quick polish to the backsides of the concrete lions, and then squeals with glee. Ruddard has already begun slinging garbage bags, his white, white fingers straining to poke through the black multi-ply plastic bags. The plastic groans and creaks beneath his bony digits.

Up and over and in and 'whompf'. Bag after bag after moist and dripping bag holding waste from the aquatic exhibit and the naval exhibit and the marine biology exhibit and the prancing dooh-dah exhibit. 'Whompf,' goes each and every bag, 'whompf'. 'Pankle-cled' goes one lone bag as Titty-Boy drops it and books pour out. Big books. Dry books. Little books. Moist books.

'Pankle-cled' goes the bag as it hits the side of the waste-mobile. 'Pankle-cled' as it falls to the ground. 'Pankle-cled' as the books tumble out. Titty-boy wonders and grabs at a book. Feels it. Sniffs it. Tastes it. Runs his tongue over the cover. “Dumb shitter Titty-Boy” thunders Hairy Ruddard, slinging bags. Laughs. Laughs with his gut poking through his t-shirt, curly hair and a piece of cheese gracing that navel deep enough to swallow a roll of quarters. A crumble of blue cheese, most likely, or a white cheese that has spent too much time with a roll of quarters. “Dummy! Drop yer tongue! Drop dat ting!”

Titty-Boy holds his treasure high to see if sunlight will filter through. A dusty blue cover blocks out the light, and Titty-Boy blows the dust out of his lungs, making the chocka-poo sign with his blistered lips. “But there are words in here!” The chocka-poo sign is raised on high and Ruddard drops a bag and howls. Words might hurt, and words might burn.

Ruddard holds a hairy, sweaty forearm against Titty-Boy's cheek, pinning him to the waste-mobile, and leaving a salty smear against such fair flesh. 'Whompf' is the sound of Ruddard's fist on Titty-Boy's ear. “No-no is de book. Got it?” Unswallowed food breaks free from the gumline and the toothline and goes airborne and spatters on the Titty-Boy face. 'Whompf' goes the fist again. 'Whompf' is Titty-Boy on the ground. Faster and faster Ruddard slings the bags, clearing the alleyway and giving a smirk and a snort and a finger and a flick to the backsides of the concrete lions. “Giddup!” shouts hairy Ruddard to the Titty-Boy as he hops back in the cab.

Titty-Boy gingerly shakes an overly whompf-ed head, listening for the little pieces of pottery to spill out of his ear and onto the pavement. 'Tinkle, tinkle' go the pieces of pottery. “Giddup! Hurry!” shouts Ruddard, gunning the diesel engine and scratching his crotch. Cheesey aroma floats through the cab. Ruddard inhales deeply and grins.

White knuckles grab the steering wheel and a meaty foot-filled boot presses hard on the accelerator. Hairy Ruddard laughs a throaty laugh, coughs up recently-swallowed food broken loose from gumline and toothline, coughs it up and spits it out the window at the trees and cats and passing hookahs. “Summa de wholla it!” shouts hairy Ruddard, looking for Titty-Boy in the side mirror. Arched back of Titty-Boy and his white knuckles on the side of the waste-mobile. Holding on for dear life. A meaty foot-filled boot presses hard on the accelerator.

A dusty blue cover opens and then closes and gets slipped into the back pocket by Titty-Boy's one free bony white-knuckled hand. He leans to the side and smiles back at Ruddard, making a mental, invisible chocka-poo sign with his ghost-hand. Over and around, through and through the suburban routes they fly, extracting garbage from can after can...can after can.

There they go.

02 July 2012

'Found This Cicada, Dead

Over that little rise. Seen them horses just standin' there. Just over that rise, where th' trees stop and that field starts goin' on. Dan Marbles was walkin' over there and he was eyein' up those horses as he 'as walkin' over there. That Dan Marbles ain't no good, and I seen him just walkin' there and he's always talkin' t' himself like there might just be some kinda' demon or something in his head – that sunburned head a' his. He's always lookin' so sunburned and when he takes off his baseball cap he looks like those old-time pictures. He looks like those folks in those old-time pictures where th' men been out in th' fields all day long, and they been wearin' a hat, so their faces get sunburned, but th' top of they's heads, well, they stay all white. So when they go into th' picture-takin' place and take off their hat, well, they got this big old white top of they's head right over th' top of they sunburned face And it looks all kinda' strange. But that's how Dan Marbles always looks.

“Pith,” it seemed like he said. “Pith and marrow,” and I never had any idea what he was talkin' 'bout. Dan Marbles had a lot of stuff goin' on with him, rollin' back in forth of that head a' his. Maybe that's a good reason his danged name is marbles. Like I said. Marbles. They go rollin' around in that head a' his.

Those horse th' next day, well, one a' them was dead. Right up on over that rise. That little rise right over there, like I said. Where th' trees stop and that field starts goin' on, like it goes forever. It been cut but good, and it looked like someone was pretty damn angry with it. Like a man been sayin' “pith” to it and “pith and marrow,” and th' only one who knew what th' heck it meant was th' one doin' th' sayin' and th' mutterin' with th' knife.

'Man mutters with a knife when he's just walkin' and eyein' up horses, then you know that a man ain't right and a man like Dan Marbles, well, he's gonna' hafta' pay.

One way or 'nother.

Dan Marbles done been stupid when he lifted up that girl's dress in school and he been stupid since. Th' girl's brother beat th' livin' shit outta' that fool on th' one day, and that Dan Marbles come t' school in a Hallowe’en mask th' next. It was a mask like an old man, bald, with wrinkles and like a demon was comin' outta' him what worked with Dan Marbles just fine. No one was surprised with a demon comin' outta' Dan Marbles, 'cept we all thought th' demon was still in there. Like Pisser's uncle the preacher said about demons, sayin' they get into folk just easy, but have a harder'n hell time gettin' outta' folk. When they come out, it ain't pretty.

Dan Marbles, shit, when he stood there lookin' at them horses over that little rise, just standin' there, just over that rise, where th' trees stop and that field starts goin' on, well, hell, I knew. I knew like I never knew nothin'. But then, it ain't all that mucha' surprise.

Man's mutterin' with a knife and the knife goes int' that horse and he starts wav'nit in the horse's guts, then hell, that horse ain't gotta' chance. Damn stupid fool. Damn stupid fool.

Damn stupid fool and I remember his old man takin' a pipe t' him once, back'n we was kids. Yeah, just like a pipe from a sink or a toilet or a kitchen sink, I s'pose. Just a pipe, and his old man hit'im 'cross the back and th' side a' his head. Dan Marbles done got in trouble for doin' somethin' stupid like a damn stupid kid we all was and done th' same stupid shit. Only we din't all get hit with a pipe from a kitchen by our old man. Only Dan Marbles. But that din't get th' demon out, neither. I guessed it mighta' got it in there, tho'. Who knows?

Don't know if'n his old man muttered with th' pipe or if he shouted. I saw it. We all saw it. Out in th' yard and his old man been drinkin'. We couldn't hear it, only seen it. Th' sound in my ears was a rushin' and screamin' inside for Dan Marbles. A rushin' like you hear when your blood's flowin' too fast t' keep up with. A rushin' like you hear when a storm's comin'.

A man mutters with a pipe and a demon goes in. 'Man mutters with a knife when he's just walkin' and eyein' up horses, then you know that a man ain't right and a man like Dan Marbles, well, he's gonna' hafta' pay.

Gonna' pay.

One way or 'nother.