I’m disgusted. To think that thing is out in the world, walking around, and no one knows about it.
You’re not a genius. I don’t care what you say. Every morning you fidget behind your newspaper and the sound of it cripples my senses—the ceaseless crackle and swish of paper pages being turned by nervous hands. You should be nervous. You don’t know what you put out there.
We don’t even know if it’s still operational. It’s been weeks. I hope it fell in the river. I’ve been hoping that ever since I saw you open its back. I don’t think I was truly bothered by it until that moment. I had seen it when it was all mechanics, but avoided your workroom for the part that came next: Its gestational period. That skin. When you peeled it back and I saw the wires I felt my dinner rise up in my throat. What a waste. You could be a genius if put to proper use. But this is like shooting a rocket ship into the ocean.
I stayed at my mother’s for a week. The week it found its voice and started walking around our house. I couldn’t scrub the floors hard enough after it left—there are not enough open windows to air out the stink of oil and lubricant.
I walk around town haunted. I look for new faces on the street, people I don’t recognize. I never saw its face. I don’t know what I’m looking for. A stranger in the crowd with a too-perfect gait, a rigid, toothy smile, eyes that don’t see anything.
I really hope it fell in the river.
Did you know that I saw you leave? I watched you from the upstairs window, like a ghost.
How strangely we perceive things. I never expected to wonder, of all things, how and when you packed a bag. What a strange first thought to have. When did he pack a bag? Where was this bag? How long had it been packed?
I don’t think I’d ever seen the bag before. A long, black duffle bag with thick, white canvas straps, and metal studs on the bottom to lift it off the ground.
We have a high shelf in our clothes closet, but it’s really my shelf. You never kept anything there, as far as I can remember.
The closet in our front hall has coats and shoes and some cassette tapes in shoe boxes, but I never saw that bag in there. There’s absolutely nothing under the bed—you’re fanatical about that. I remember the first time I kicked off my shoes in the bedroom and one shoe bounced under the bed. It was like the Princess and the Pea; you knew something was under there and couldn’t rest until it was out and put in its proper place. God forbid something be underneath us while we sleep.
Was it balled up inside your sock drawer, folded in on itself and shoved into the very back, where no one would see it? It could have been under a couch cushion, or better yet behind one, and I suppose I might not have felt it or noticed. But that doesn’t account for when you filled it, and where it lived after it was filled. It didn’t have to hold much; essentially, it was a go-bag. The house still has a lot of your things in it. I wonder whether you’ll come back to pick up everything else.
I watched you throw that mystery bag into our car, across the driver’s seat and onto my seat. You got in after it, and never turned around to look at our house. The car turned on and you drove away, and I craned my neck and held my cheek to the window to see if you would look back, but you didn’t.
A quickie to meet my postaday obligation.
You often smell. It isn’t necessarily a bad smell–a touch of hay, maybe a whiff of sweat, just the tiniest bit of fish (the result of your pesceterian diet)–but it is augmented by less pleasant, albeit occasional smells.
You’re quite gassy, for example. And when you’re anxious, you pant excessively, and the fishy smell increases.
You curl up to sleep, folded inward like a baked cinnamon roll. Unlike the last dog, you dream. Or at least I can see you dreaming–something I’ve never seen before. Your toes flex and separate, paws wholly twitching, top lip fluttering like you’re whispering an animal secret to the night.
Sometimes, in the midst of dreaming, you bolt upright, your neck and head strained to the ceiling. You howl painfully, haunted by another life only visited now in sleep.
I could write about you for days. Not at this moment, because I can’t stop looking at you, but maybe someday soon. Your terrible allergies, like mine. Your half brown, half white fur, a mirror to my skin. Your terribly desperate fear that we might leave you and never come back. As if we could.
I know you’ll leave us first. I don’t want to talk about my terribly desperate fear. I don’t know what to do with it.
The road exists but briefly, illuminated in an 8-foot scope courtesy of the car’s headlights. We’re driving into some great, cavernous mouth, traveling on a ceaseless tongue, moving deeper and deeper into the belly of the night. I look behind to see nothing, no road behind us, a flicker of red light closing the mouth shut.
We don’t exist. That’s how I feel. We’re parting the darkness like a body cutting through water, but it closes up behind us and only opens if we keep pushing, keep moving. It requires that we struggle. If we stopped, we would go under.
I can’t remember where we are going so late at night. I can’t remember where we came from. I try to see the sky but the forest is too close to the car. Branches draw sharp claws against the windows where the road is thinnest, and the trees choke off the skyline, vanishing the stars.
Something happens to a body that can’t see stars. To look too long at a universe without depth is suffocating, like putting a whale in a fishbowl.
I don’t know where I’m going without the stars to guide me. The forest rushes past, a black bur of unforgiving darkness, and I know that there could be anything ahead. Anything, or nothing.
(Writing something on the go, from my phone, so i don’t miss my postaday personal obligation. Hence, the ode to tea.)
Doubled over with a stomach ache, insides churning and gases bubbling, the pungent spice of peppermint permeates the pain and lulls it to slumber.
Too many cups of coffee turn the stomach acidic, work the brain overtime, deny the body of sleep. A quiet cup of green tea, leaves so young they’ve only known a day of sun, ushers in–the perfect understudy.
Earl grey sits for an exact period of time, or turns bitterly tannic. English breakfast with milk and sugar: Drink As Dessert. Curled Jasmine pearls unfurl in water warmed to just bubbling, barely boiling, and must be removed quickly or the liquid grows petulant and tart.
Chamomile and lavender, golden and sun-sinking purple, settle the mind for dreaming. Oolong the color of orange peels melts like butter on the tongue.
Antioxidants. Clean caffeine. EGCG. Tannins.
In my dreams I drown in this room.
Water pours in from some unseen spout in the floor and quickly engulfs the space, waves slapping noisily against the walls and lifting furniture to float. I sit in my bed and pull up the covers around me, piling them against my body like sandbags on a stormy shore.
I’m drowning in this room. Water reaches the top of the bed and unfurls at my feet, cold as dead skin. I feel my nightgown grow wet and heavy. There shouldn’t be waves; there isn’t a tide, but breakers form with no distance to travel, no relief from their fitful, foamy tantrums. Soon I’m standing on my bed, icy water creeping up my body, the touch unwelcomed and inescapable.
There is no door. There are no windows. Pieces of furniture blip out one by one like clouds dissipating in a heated sky. There is only my bed, and the impossibly cold grip of the water as it crawls up my legs. The parts of me it touches instantly go numb.
By the time it bubbles up under my nose, I can’t feel anything. Each inhalation draws in water. I can taste the salt on my tongue. The ceiling is so close, I can see small, hairline fissures in the white paint. They connect and spiral outward like a spider’s web.
I’m drowning. I gulp water into my lungs spasmodically, like a dying fish.
Each time I sputter awake, gasping for air, I wonder. Perhaps next time, I’ll stay under.
100-word response to Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers photo prompt.
by Janet Webb
They were looking for a place to stay. I turned them away.
A brilliant star penetrated the coal-black sky, hushing the other stars to diminutive silence. They fluttered in its despotic presence.
A cold wind whipped across the sand. It invaded my home, conquering my bones with such a chill, I had to catch my breath.
I turned them away. She, so large with child, her eyes hungry for rest, leaned against her husband. He hung his head despondently.
An extra room sat behind the wall that held the fireplace. Empty, warm, dry. I refused them.
The garish star flashed bitterly in the abyss.
Today was my birthday! I wrote this in 10 minutes! I apologize, but I did not have time to write more, and my concentration is off. There is brand new angora yarn sitting here, waiting to be petted and admired. And I must do that.
People always want to know what the end is like. That’s the first thing they ask when I come for them. “What does the end look like?”
You would think, having existed for as long as I have (if you can even measure my existence), that I would have grown accustomed to this question.
Today I watched a small baby let go of life. He withered and deflated like a balloon leaking air. It was night, and no one was aware he had gone. Losing the little lives are not just hard for the ones left living. The little lives are the most difficult to usher over. They are irrevocably restless. Unclassified, and with no tethers to cut, they are like small fires with nothing to feast on. Blind, pure purpose and intention, without deliverance. It’s very easy to lose them in the effort to carry them over, and I have sadly been responsible for many a wayward, irrational energy left ricocheting around the earth. I am not proud of these oversights.
“What does the end look like?” I can only smile. I do not know. I’ve never been there. I am the passport to a country forbidden for me to visit.
My existence is busyness. I am grateful for that. There is no time to think about what the end looks like. There is no time to wonder, after I’ve led the last of everything to the edge of nothing, whether someone will come to show me the way. Or whether I will even be invited.
The fire was still burning when I left. I had a thought that I should put it out, but I was worried it might wake you. The house gets so cold so quickly.
Outside it was misty, the light pale gold. The sun pulled up into the sky, dragging the day behind it, nudging the reluctant world to wake. It felt like it could sleep another hour; birds hadn’t started chirping and the air felt drowsy, laden with the remnants of the night.
I looked at our house, the door we painted red so passers-by would know we were friendly, the spot where we planted tulips that never broke the earth, the porch we littered with rocking chairs no one would ever fill. We built a little birdhouse and hung it from the porch with wire. It never housed any birds. I think it held too much of our scent.
The road was dusty and cold, no cars in sight. The sun drifted aimlessly, alone in a cloudless sky. Trees shivered quietly against a meager wind. I could hear my feet crunching gravel as I walked down the road.
I left the fire burning. If it snuffs out the heat leaks away and a chill settles into the floorboards and walls, and the rooms just aren’t warm enough, no matter how many layers you wear.
I left it burning. It should still be warm when you wake.
I had a tough time writing today, but I finally squeezed something out with only 15 minutes left before midnight. We do what we can!
We went on warm afternoons, after the sun had soaked the earth with heat. If you placed your hand on the clay ceiling you could feel it seeping through between stiffened roots. The roots were like an old man’s five-o-clock shadow—short, crisp, and prickly ticklish.
A plank wood door was hinged to a frame cut into a small hill. A simple door, there wasn’t even a knob, but it served a purpose. It felt like a home.
We lived there for brief moments—on sunny summer afternoons, or for a quick hour after school. It was our life on a parallel timeline, occupied by virtue of that little earth-bermed home. Not the future or the past, but another of our possibilities. I think the best one.
In that dusty, barren hut I wasn’t trapped by agoraphobic parents. I wasn’t failing Math. I didn’t have a very sick little sister who, contrary to my parents, would cease to live should she go outside. You didn’t have a drunk father. You didn’t have an older brother. You didn’t have to go to church.
We had a tremendous life there. We moved in stools and a trunk, and filled the trunk with food and secrets and used it as a table. We played cards and talked for hours. We had our first cigarettes, beers, and kisses.
When you moved away, I didn’t know what to do. I went to our home, but you weren’t there. I sat inside and thought I didn’t lose him; nothing happened. I waited to see if my desperation would conjure you. The sun grew old and sank down in dejection beneath the hills, and I watched our little home fall dark, the portal to our life slowly irising shut.