#23 – The Road

Shining in the tender darkness

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.

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#22 – The Tea

(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.

Tea.

#21 – The Room

house of floods

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.

A Place To Stay—Friday Fictioneers (02.22.13; 100-word limit)

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.

Any room?

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.

#20 – The End

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.

#19 – The Fire

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.

#18 – The Home

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.

#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.