#17 – The Wall

Ok, deep breaths: 620 words. But that’s ok, because when it got to the point where I knew for sure I was going to go over my word count, I just went for it. I think that means I’m all right.

Life has been difficult lately.

My days are strung together like a Newton’s Cradle. Yesterday was a bad day so today will be a bad day, and yesterday colliding with today will knock a bad day into tomorrow. A constant velocity of disappointment is maintained.

Unfortunately, yesterday was a bad day.

My girlfriend left me. As if that weren’t sufficiently depressing, she took my dog with her. My dog, as in a dog I owned before I mistakenly moved her in. It might have seemed like Pax liked her better, but if it were up to her he’d be stuffed with treats and overweight inside a month. Which I guess will happen now.

There’s a leak above my toilet. That doesn’t sound outwardly terrible, but the apartments in my building have cloned floor plans—my lump of narrow hallways and tight doorways was definitely pushed out of a busy playdoh factory. If it’s leaking above my toilet it means my upstairs neighbors’ toilet is leaking. Anything dripping on my head while I’m sitting on the toilet is guaranteed to contain some fecal debris.

There’s more, but who cares? Something great happened, and nothing great has happened in months.

I was walking through my neighborhood, taking in the night. My area is sort of rundown—people don’t pick up after their dogs, garbage stuffs the sewer grates, and I wouldn’t recommend walking alone after dark, although I often do. It’s weird, but I feel myself sort of expand when I leave my apartment and walk around my neighborhood. It might be cruddy, but at least I’m not sitting inside, crushed and compressed by the lack of space. I can stretch and breathe, fumy as it is.

Tonight I turned a corner to face a wall that had been excessively graffitied—it was kind of like the Jackson Pollack of graffiti murals; numerous taggers had slapped down their marks in an untamed hodgepodge of braggadocio. It took a studied concentration to untangle an individual message from the morass.

I was looking at the wall for about three minutes when I saw it. Buck up Chuck. Now, my name isn’t Chuck—it isn’t even Charles. But there was something about the writing, how simple it was, no fancy scrawl work or blown out letters—no real artistry at all. Just as if someone walked down the street holding a can of spray paint, and stopped to write a message. Like it was meant to find someone. My face lit up.

The next day, I couldn’t find the message. I inspected the wall for at least ten minutes, but it wasn’t there. It seemed to have disappeared in the daylight. As odd as that was, I found something else. Smile Awhile. Same writing, same hand. Probably the same can of spray paint, too. I smiled, then laughed that it made me smile.

So far it’s been twelve days. Every day there’s a new message. Play today Be Happy Chappie. The previous day’s tag always disappears, the new one popping up in a different place. It’s like the brick wall is a lake of wonderful things that float to the surface and then sink back under in turn.

I haven’t become sick of it yet, which might be the most amazing thing about it. I caught myself whistling today as I left my apartment to go see the newest message, and I think I actually hopped off the last step on the way out. Can you remember the last time you hopped? I can’t.

Every day, when I’m about a block away, the same thought occurs. I push it to the back of my brain and stomp it out as quickly as possible, but it always pops up. I’m afraid to say it out loud.  I figure if I just do what the wall says, I’ll be okay.

#16 – The Dream

This is for Stephen. He provided the collage, which is titled: “Poe, tho often Depressed, could at times be a charming host. Was the visit real, or was he dreaming of Lenore because he could still feel her in her shawl?” The picture at the bottom is a Louis Hine black & white photograph, which Stephen manipulated to produce this haunting trio.

Incidentally, I had a lot of trouble writing this. I think these pictures are so soaked with meaning that it was difficult for me to focus on any one strain. Everything rushes to be included, but there are only so many words.

photo 1 (2) photo 2 (3) photo 3 (4)

I sleep fitfully. She is gone. Her shawl lies heaped across the chair. I cannot move it. Her scent dreams quietly within the crumpled silk. I will not awaken it. It is a beast best left to slumber.

She visits me in dreams, gently plucking a lute my mother owned. The tune falls in and out, as if she were slowly retreating from and returning to me.

I know if I open my eyes and face her, she will pull back, dutiful as the tide, receding forever. My Eurydice. I am a failed Orpheus, without any song. It is her music that Hell weeps to, and Heaven strains to hear. Her footsteps that I wait for, softly falling behind me like dead autumn leaves.

Every night I turn to see her—a fool’s errand.  She vanishes, folded back into the woven threads of silk draped on the chair.

#15 – The Theatre

I try not to notice.

At night the actors leave. The stage is cleared. I turn the lights off one by one—house, backstage, stage right, center, stage left, spotlight—each switch lands like a heavy footstep, echoing in the spreading darkness. I check that all the seats are folded—not as a rule, but because it comforts me to know they are uniformly shut, like birds sleeping head under wing. With only the hallway light to guide me I leave the theatre, locking the door behind me.

I have the only key. I made sure of that after the last play, when I discovered actors hanging out in the space after hours. Someone was even sleeping in the back, although I can’t imagine soundly. Now the locks have been changed, and I’m there for every performance and rehearsal, locking and unlocking the space. It deprives me of time outside the theatre, but at least I’m assured nothing is happening unbeknownst to me.

I pretend not to see the seat lying open in the center of the audience. It’s there every morning, sticking out like a dead tooth in the rank of closed seats. The stage is untouched, the lights, off—nothing else has changed. Just that one seat.

The room bristles like a cornered alley cat. I am as unwelcome as the revelers I kicked out.
Today I turn on all the lights—house, backstage, stage right, center, stage left, spotlight. Every day, I fight the urge to sit in that seat. Today, I lose.

The house goes dark. Something hisses.

물귀신 (Friday Fictioneers 02.15.13; 100-word limit)

© David Stewart

My father disappeared three years ago.

A Christian missionary, he was visiting South Korea to spread the Word. I begged him not to go. Shamanism was popular again; it would be too difficult. It would make the people angry. He insisted.

A young girl died in the Nakdong River—a baptism gone horribly awry. My father described the water rising up to swallow her. He could feel her being pulled away. His mission was ruined. He disappeared shortly after.

They said Mool-Gwishin took him. A drowned spirit. The little girl. Took him as payment for her soul.

I wonder who will pay for his.

#14 – The Trees

Hegelstraße - planet

Papa says my problem is I think too big.

Space is boring. The universe, repetitious. You can wander forever, as we have, and not see anything new. Stars are stars. They are born and die and the universe forgets them, if it ever noticed. Nothing is fresh in eternity. Nothing changes in a closed loop.

We float, looking for the perfect spot for a new world. He points to planets I’m allowed to practice on, and I build on them.

I’m fascinated by trees. Of all the things to put in a world, I find trees the most interesting. They reach for more than life allows, always straining for a little extra room. I plant them down and watch them grow, and imagine that they must miss me, terribly, to pull at the air the way they do.

So yes, I build my planets improperly, the trees so oversized that they curve around the earth and tangle in one another. I can’t help it. A branch grows and sprouts a smaller branch that sprouts a twig, and always, in every iteration—big and small—they reach.

I have a problem with scale, but so do the trees. That’s what I tell Papa. We want more than we should.

#13 – The Umbrellas

How silly this place is. I think I’m rather tired of it.

People laugh and dance all day. We eat chocolates for dinner. Birthdays are celebrated hourly. The children wear only the brightest colors, ask only the most darling questions, and never, ever cry.

Small birds sit on the windowsill in the morning, waiting until you’re ready to get out of bed. And then they actually help you dress. They whistle a crude tune, vaguely identifiable but slightly off— flat or sharp I’m not sure—and lift your clothes with their little talons to help you. My God, sometimes I’d like to dress myself, you know? God forbid I dressed myself.

It never just rains. It rains confetti (which, by the way, is an absolute mess to clean), or soap bubbles, or warm chamomile tea. Do you know it rained red umbrellas once? They floated down from the sky, handles swinging back and forth, carapaces settling in licorice branches. I felt like I was being mocked.

Our fountain spurts candy. Real candy. We have gumdrop streets and taffy houses. Our windows are made of sugar, which is terribly annoying. They break constantly. The children suck on the shards.

The sun smiles. In the morning he bounces (bounces!) up into the sky, turns around, and opens a big, flaming grin.

I want to have a bad day. I so desperately want to have a bad day. A day without singing and dancing and laughing.

My red umbrella sits by the door, waiting for the rain.

#12 – The Dog

I failed miserably with this one. 334 words. And I’m still not particularly happy with it. Oh well.

©Ying Photography

©Ying Photography

I’m waiting for the day the dog doesn’t come anymore.

The first night he arrived at my back door I assumed he was hungry and wanted food, but instinct told me not to let him in. He set off my reptilian brain—the panic button of the amygdala. By morning he was gone.

The next night I decided to leave out a little plate of hamburger meat. I wasn’t certain he’d be back, but I imagined if he were hungry it might be nice to find a small meal. I stood behind the door and waited. The sun sank and splintered behind the trees, and I heard crickets tune their raspy stridulations, setting the pace of the night—an organic metronome. Darkness bloomed in my backyard. I waited.

An hour went by, maybe more. I didn’t see him walk up. The eyes do funny things in the dark. He was standing at the door, staring at me, the untouched plate of meat directly beneath his feet.

This went on for weeks.

I’ve never owned a dog, but I know dogs pant. They don’t stand fixed for hours without shifting their feet, or sitting. He doesn’t sit, never opens his mouth. I haven’t seen him blink. He simply waits at the door, presumably for hours, then leaves at a certain point—daylight? Who knows. I don’t wait to see him go.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being silly, and should let him in. Maybe if he scratched at the door, or barked. But he only stares. His eyes are black obsidian, two stones rooted and immovable, terrifyingly stubborn. When I first looked into them it was like peering into the forest at night, out beyond the glow of my warm home, where the light ebbs on the shore of darkness and dies.

Something is coming. I wish he would tell me.

I wait for him every night now. He comes and stares at me and I stare back at him until I’m too tired, my eyes spotty with night-blindness, and I have to go to sleep.

#11 – The Lake

I failed my word count challenge again—this is 284 words. 
I may cut it up later.

ice on water

She drowned when she was only three. I wasn’t watching. She went down so fast and the spot where she was standing smoothed so quickly, I was left staring at a giant lake with infinite places where she could have been. She never broke the surface. It was like something just pulled her under.

Mama blamed me. She was right to. One minute Anna was stamping her red sandaled feet in an inch of water, the next she had disappeared. I was so young at the time, and my imagination filled in the gaps strangely—in my mind I saw her walking into the lake, each step a bite to sate the water’s appetite. Chomp, there go her shoulders. Chomp, her neck. Chomp, she’s gone.

That was the summer that lasted forever. The sun was a blinding, accusatory eye glaring down from the heavens. The lake was empty that season. Anna had poisoned the water and no one wanted to go near it. The lake was dredged, but nothing came up. She was just gone. Everyone thought I’d lied.

I never told anybody what happened on the first day of winter after she died. How the lake froze over with the thinnest layer of ice and how that layer sprouted crystal blossoms of perfectly formed ice flowers—they looked like the King Protea I had seen once at the Botanical Gardens, bulbous at the base with rays of petals bursting from the center. A sea of tiny suns.

They disappeared shortly after, melted down by the morning light. But I saw something before they were gone—a tiny red sandal cradled in an ice flower out in the middle of the lake. A little gold buckle glinted in the dawn.

#10 – Le Violon d’Ingres

Le Violon d'Ingres, by Man Ray

Le Violon d’Ingres, by Man Ray

When I was young, I told everyone I met that my Mother was a violin. Of course no one believed me, but it was true. Little girls can say what they want without much repercussion—the blessing and curse of a gendered age.

My Father was a reserved man. He never spoke of my Mother, but that was not surprising—he barely spoke.

Father found chatter offensive. He loudly clucked his tongue and sucked his teeth at people talking on the street, and tugged my hand to rush me past their noise. We rarely went out so as to avoid the cacophony of life that set his teeth on edge, though it wasn’t the sole reason for our isolation.

The only sounds my Father could bear were the lilting, dulcet tones of Fritz Kreisler. He loved his music. There is nothing that so soothes me like the gentle keening of Kreisler’s violin, he would say. He especially loved Massenet’s Thaïs Meditation;  he listened to it every night before bed. I’m certain he always cried at the end.

As I said, my Mother was a violin. I know this because of the soft, silk-like strings that slip down my spine, and the delicate, mirrored f-notes that stand sentinel astride them. Father’s back is unremarkable, so it must be a gift from my Mother.

I have never played a note. He keeps me covered always. I think he’s ashamed. I think Mother must have played beautifully.

I wonder at her song, and what it sounded like.

#9 – The Lamp

This entry pushes my word count to 324, but I couldn’t help it. Might trim it later. 

lady lamp

I loved her, I really did. I could have loved her to death, if she let me.

But that mouth. That filthy, foul, wretched mouth. All the hate that poured out of it. The darkness. God, she was abysmal. A horrid human being, cold and cruel and rotten to the marrow.

But I loved her. The look of her, onyx eyes and moony skin, and her length—fingers that dripped and legs that ran down like milk spilling from a table. My God, was she heavenly.

But that fucking mouth.

I went to him for guidance. I knew what he was, what he did. A neighborhood boy hurled rocks through his window once—once! and was gone. The parents didn’t bother looking. They packed up and left town and that was the end of it. Everybody knows not to cross him.

I went to him in a panic. She was making a cuckold of me, and loudly. I was desperate. She has a dark soul, I said. I can’t bear her anymore. He looked at me over dented, wire-rimmed glasses—they appeared as if he had bent them himself.

Away, then? His voice was grating, like craggy rocks rolling downhill. Suddenly fear filled my body.

No, no. I couldn’t stand it… to lose the sight of her… it’s the only bright spot of my day. 

Ah, he said, and went back to his work as if I’d already left. 

I went home, but she wasn’t there. A week went by and I stayed inside, peering out the window only to see if she might walk up the path. Nothing.

It took me two weeks to notice the lamp on her bedside table. It was beautiful, stunningly so, with a blood red shade that turned the whole room pink when the light was on.

At the base sat a lovely, pale woman, her skin opalescent as moonstone, her hair dark as a raven, an unknown sadness set in her eyes.

But my God, does she ever shine bright.