“If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” - Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I'm retiring this blog...I'll be posting stories, poems and novel excerpts over at AllyMalinenko instead.

Come, join me. We'll have a blast.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Before we start you should know that I accept my role in all of this. I get it. It’s no one else’s fault that I died. I made my choices, from the stealing all the way to the end. I did that. And while it would be easy to start this story with my meeting Rori it would also be a bit of a lie. It would be far too easy to say it was all her fault, even though, truth be told much of it was. I’ve learned, post life, that one must take responsibility for ones choices. For instance saying “from the moment I met Rori at 3:00 in the morning inside the Quick Kleen Laundromat I was doomed,” while true, really doesn’t leave room for all the intricacies of a relationship, complexities of life and the overriding factor of personal choice.

A more proper place to start would be with the stealing. Then we’ll get to the Laundromat. There was quite a bit of stealing. You’ll probably want to know what I stole. And you’ll probably want to know why. I don’t know the why. But here’s some of the what:

1. A stack of 45 issues of Tourniquet, the top grossing amputee porn magazine in Canada
2. A plastic orchid in a ceramic pot (I thought it was real.)
3. A 256 page manuscript for a sequel to Goonies based on the premise that Sloth does not get out of the pirate cave in the end and turns into a human/pirate/sea monster hybrid and attacks the descendants of Chunk in something akin to Grendel’s raids on Hrothgar’s hall.
4. 17 buttons from 17 different coats. Usually the one from the bottom but not always.
5. 4 diaries from 4 separate friends, none of which I have read.
6. A complete set of silverware to serve 10 dinner guests including serving spoons and tongs. None of the pieces match or are similar in any way and all were taken from different people.
7. A shower head
8. A small wooden carving of Basho, the haiku master (and I know it’s him because it says so on the bottom)
9. A 12 inch bust of George Washington
10. A 62” plasma screen

It wasn’t something that I could really do anything about. In most instances I didn’t even remember doing it. It was sort of like a drunk’s black out. I was standing there, in my friend’s apartment waiting for him so we could go to the bar or something and then by the time I got home, it was in my pocket or my car or tucked under the crook of my arm without me realizing. But I do treasure those things and I keep them all together, hidden in a storage shed in the basement of my building. Except for the TV. At night when I can’t sleep, I go down there, and spend time with them, as if they need company. I feel a sense of duty about it, having taken those things that belonged to other people and locked them down here. I do that. Anthropomorphize things. Rori mentioned it the first night I met her. Most people only do it with animals, but I do it with inanimate things. So I got down there to keep them company. Or to keep myself company probably.

“It’s not healthy,” Rori said, staring at me over the dryers at the Laudromat on 3rd Avenue, her face cast in the sickly yellow lighting, the black liner under her eyes smudged, her hair, a half grown out blond dye job, tangled curls, a mess. Everything about her was a mess. I probably fell in love with her in that second.

“What isn’t?”

“The way you treat things. You think your socks are lonely. Or unhappy or something.”

“I don’t think that.”

“Don’t lie. That’s unhealthy too. And egotistical.”

That was our first conversation. I mean, Christ, who starts conversations like that? Rori does. I watched her out of the corner of my eye like she was a foreign creature, yanking her wet sopping clothes, into a broken laundry basket. When she leaned over, I ran my eyes down the gentle slope of her back, her ass like a cherry hanging from a stem. She caught me too, spun her head around, her hair catching a bit in her mouth and I looked away. But not fast enough. I’ve never been slick. She sighed and slammed the basket down. That was when I saw the first one but I didn’t even really notice it. It was just this sort of shadow that hung around Rori, as if she had more than one. But it was there, just above and behind her. Distinct from her but also, a part of her. Like I said, I didn’t really notice, not consciously because I was too busy slipping my dirty fucking hand into her basket and pocketing a pair of her wet panties. Scarlet red, lacy, slightly torn at the waistband, thong. Christ, looking back that was the worst and best thing I ever stole. Ever. You would think I would be a little embarrassed about that, maybe leave it out. I mean, Jesus I stole a stranger’s wet panties out of her laundry basket when her back was turned. But you know what is funny about being dead? Shame sort of vanishes. It’s all gets sort of two dimensional. It’s just a question of what I did or didn’t do. Emotions stopped being a factor.
I kept the panties with me. I didn’t put them in the storage. When I got home, I laid them on the white coffee table, though not before cleaning up the wine stains. They were simply gorgeous. I leaned back on the couch and looked at them. Every man, and I mean every man, spends a ridiculous about of time wondering what kind of underwear women wear. At the grocery store, at the office, the pretty ones, the shy nervous ones, even the fat ones, we wonder about their big fat underwear. These days, with women walking around with their thongs poking out, that little whale tale of temptation, it’s all too much sometimes. And now I had her underwear. Rori’s red thongs, lacy, slighty torn at the waistband as if she had them pulled off of her a little too roughly. I started thinking about that perfect cherry ass, hanging off her spine like that. The thoughts just wouldn’t stop. Had I been paying attention I might have seen the shadow, creeping along the wall, almost blueish and misty. A faint thing, something you would think was just a trick of the light until you saw the light change and it didn’t. But I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy getting a hard-on looking at her fucking panties.

About two hours later, I’m dozing on the couch and there is a knock on the front door. I checked through the peephole ‘cause you never fucking know in this city and there she is, same wild hair, same sallow skin, sunken eyes, heavy eyeliner, cigarette dangling from those thick pale lips. I fumbled with the lock like a fucking school boy feeling his first tit.

“Yes…hello.” She just stared at me, took out the cigarette and blew the smoke in one steady stream out the side of her mouth. I saw just a sliver of her tongue tap her tooth and felt the sweat break out on my back.

She removed an errant piece of tobacco from her lip. “Yeah, I think you have something of mine.”

I resisted the urge to look back over at the panties still lying prostrate on my coffee table like evidence of an affair.

“I’m sorry?”

She pushed right past me. Not wait, that isn’t even right. She didn’t push. She just stepped forward and I moved. It was that simple. She clomped into my apartment in heavy boots, her jeans, her tight black t-shirt. She stood in front of the coffee table staring down at the panties. I panicked. I’m sure I said something completely fucking stupid because honestly there was no way you could intelligently explain what you were doing with a stranger’s pair of fucking panties lying on your coffee table when said stranger appeared at your fucking door. I didn’t even know her name yet.

“Those are my panties, too,” she said, looking over her shoulder at me. I should have noticed the use of the word too. I should have realized that the thing she came for was not her goddamn underwear, but I’m not that fucking bright. She looked around the room for awhile, those deep sad eyes, as if she was searching for something, before she laid them on me.

“You can keep them,” she said and walked back towards the door.

“Wait,” I said, rather stupidly. At the door she stopped.

“I’ll see you soon,” she said sucking on the cigarette.

“What’s your name?”

“Rori. And you are Frank,” She walked down the dimly lit hall of my building and there were the shadows again. As if there were four of her, the shadows like silhouettes, followed her. Any rational person would have wondered how she knew my name. How she knew where I lived. But I wasn’t rational. I could smell the lingering scent of her, soap and cigarette and then something else, something so fucking feminine it was like it practically had its own light. After that I didn’t care. I only cared about seeing her again.

It was a Tuesday or Wednesday night or some boring shit like that, just one of those empty sort of nights you know, where it feels like the city might have moved on to a new day and left you behind. It was unusually quiet on the street and I had spent the last couple of days in this funk. Guilt I guess, I didn’t know. Something. So I had been downstairs, balling over my dead grandmother, in the basement, polishing the stolen silverware set. God, what a picture huh? A grown man, 35, hair starting to recede up front, slightly paunchy, sitting on the floor of the storage room, crying his eyes out because he can remember exactly what his grandmother’s silverware used to look like. Delicate, sort of thin, like finger bones, small flowers etched around the edges. Stained. Everything my grandmother had was stained, from smoking, from life. You name it. I guess it’s hard to go 78 years keeping everything clean. I can see her, in her little housedress with her little pale legs sticking out and her soft thin hair. Her hands spooning out tomato soup into a bowl for me. The plastic tablecloth over her little round kitchen table. The whole apartment, cluttered, stuffed to the gills and dusty. And this is what I’m thinking about sitting on the floor of the storage room in the basement of my building, crying and polishing my unmatched silverware that I stole from my friends when the cops showed up. I got to tell you, at moments like that, you wonder if you can really get any lower. Turns out, you can.

I think my grandmother might have been a klepto too. My mother said she was but my mother is a fucking drunk so take that for what you will. And I don’t mean she has a few too many at the neighbor’s kid’s graduation party and has to get help walking home. I mean she is at the bar like it’s a full time job, one she can actually hold down.

So, I’m in the storage place crying like a baby over my dead grandmother. Who knows how long the cops were standing there for, probably forever, before my super, that crooked old son of bitch who never fixed the fucking window in my apartment, clears his throat. This dull sounding little “Ahem.” And I look up and see them.

“Are you Mr. Frank Zielinski?” the cop said like we’re at the fucking airport and he’s the driver I’m waiting for.

I wiped the snot off my face and looked up at them. “Yeah.”

“Can you please come with us?”

“What is this about?”

“Please get off the floor Mr. Zielinski and come with us.”

So as you can imagine that little crooked bastard of a super let them into my goddamn apartment while I was downstairs, which honestly, I would have thought was illegal and sitting in the middle of the damn room was the plasma television, which as I’m sure you figured out, was not stolen from friends. I boosted it from the back of a truck. You would think in a big fucking city like this that cops would have way more important crimes to solve. I mean, you see that shit all the time on television with the crime scenes and the hot brunettes in lab coats. Why aren’t they doing that? Instead, they are putting the screws to me over a fucking plasma television.

So I got arrested. Rori bailed me out. This is exactly how the conversation went when I called her with my one fucking phone call.

“Rori, I got arrested.”


“I said I got arrested.”

“Yeah, I heard you.”

“Can you bail me out? I mean I hate to bother you and everything but…” and then I just sort of stopped talking. Rori was dead silent on the other end of the phone. She didn’t make a sound. For a moment I thought she hung up and I was going to have to spend the night in jail. But then I heard the sound of her chewing on her nails, a habit of hers. There was that low sucking noise and the click of teeth coming down on the nail, missing it and hitting each other. That was what I was listening to standing in a fucking police station. I wanted to shrink down and crawl through the holes of the mouthpiece of that phone and go right into her mouth. I never felt so goddamn desperate in my life.

“Rori, please. I don’t have anyone else to call.”

“I know.” And then nothing but the sound of her spitting out the excess nail. I imagined her floor must’ve been covered in the little slivers. I tried to picture Rori standing in her place. I’d never been there. Not for the weeks we had been together. It always happened in my place. I don’t know if I even want to see where Rori lived. She shouldn’t even have a place, have bills, have light switches, all those normal things that normal people have. She should live in outer space or down with the mole people. I can’t picture her writing out a check or doing dishes or mopping the floor. It’s impossible.

“So are you going to?”


“Bail me out.”

“Fine.” And then she hung up. When she showed up with the money it was just this big ball of cash. Rori walked into the police station in ratty jeans and a black t-shirt the clung to her in a way that made me ache. Her hair, all twisted and curled and out of control. From her lips dangled a cigarette which, when informed she couldn’t smoke inside the police station, she stubbed out on the desk calendar of the man in front of her. And he didn’t say a fucking word. Only Rori could get away with that. I know why, now, but then I just thought she was some kind of goddess. She took the wad of cash, all rolled and crumpled, and she dropped it on the counter in front of the cop.

“I’ll pay you back,” I said barely able to keep up with her on the street. “Rori, I promise I’ll pay you back.”

“You will. With interest.”

“Okay, I will. Whatever you want.”

The truth was I would have done anything for Rori. Anything. And she knew it. Every time. I suppose if she were alive at a different time she would have been the cause of the bloodiest wars, some sort of patron saint of heartache but here and now, in this shit time, this end of days, there was nothing. Nothing to make better. Nothing to scare up. Nothing to change. So we just went back to my place and fucked.

That sounds horribly crass doesn’t it? Rori always said I was an asshole and I guess she was right. But she got her shirt off before we’re even up the staircase and the sight of that tattoo, a vine snaking up her spine and spreading across her shoulder blades, made my cock jump to attention. Plus with her, it was like an event. It was a life’s work, an opus. When it was over, you laid there thinking you had really accomplished something. Even if she smoked through the whole damn thing. And she was one loud girl. I mean, christ, this wasn’t your average moaning, it was a deep cry. Cathartic. You felt it in your bones. You felt changed afterwards. Like you were just on the edge of dying. Maybe that should have been a fucking hint.

I asked her where she was from once. She looked at me with those deep mournful eyes, that sallow skin. Finally after forever she said, “Castle Keep.” That was the most I got out of her.
It was around then she just stayed. She was there when I woke up or when I got home. And if she wasn’t there, I sort of panicked until she got back. My desire for her, and I’m not talking about sex here, I mean for her, to physically see her, to smell her, to know she was living right there next to me, breathing at night, became crippling. It was all I cared about. Then I just stopped going to work. I stopped seeing my friends. I stopped going downstairs to polish the fucking silverware. I had Rori. I didn’t need anything else.

It was toward the end that I finally asked about the shadows. Maybe I should have asked sooner. Maybe it would have made a difference, saved my life, even. I don’t know. I don’t care now.

“What the fuck is that?” I asked, glancing down my long hallway. Rori sat on the couch smoking and reading the magazine from the New York Times.

“What?” she asked without looking up.

“I swear I saw something.”

“You did,” she said, exhaling. “Everyone sees something at some point.”

“No, like a shadow or a figure.”

“Yes, that is what I said.”

I sat on the couch next to her. I watched her eyes dart over the page, examined the tangle of her hair. The line of her cheekbone, like a cliff’s edge. I realized sharply and distinctly at that moment that I was madly in love with her. I don’t think Rori was even capable of love and that didn’t sway me. I fucking loved her.

“What was that?”

“What?” she asked finally looking up from the magazine.

“I saw it the first day too. They look like people’s shadows, figures.”

“They are,” she said sucking hard on her cigarette.

“They are?”

She just nodded. It was always like that. Every fucking conversation. She just stared at you with that blank “are you stupid?” look and you wanted to die.

“What are they?”

“They are the dead,” she said. Just like that. Matter of fact. The dead, lingering around my hallway. Lingering on the street. Lingering wherever Rori went. “They are with me.”


“Because they don’t know where to go.”

Rori picked up her bag and rummaged through it. She pulled out small prescription bottles and set them on the table. She kept digging. I picked up one of them and the name on it was “John Masini.”

“Who’s John?” I asked not even wanting to know the answer. I wondered when the last time I ate was. It had to be yesterday. Or maybe the day before.

“He’s gone now,” Rori said pulling out a little plastic bag filled with more pills. She reached out and touched my face. “Open.”

Her hand was so cold it made me flinch. She placed the pill on my tongue and I swallowed it. Rori leaned back on the couch, and slid her big toe down my chest to my crotch and I felt my cock jump against her touch. Within a moment I had slipped her shirt over her head and her nipple was in my mouth. When I came she moaned, low and mournful, her tangled hair caught in her throat.

We took more pills. We fucked some more. At one point, I saw a shadow standing right over us, as if it was watching but I didn’t care because I was too far gone. All I wanted was to be inside her, all the time. For the rest of my life.

I lost track of time. It could have been days or hours. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. All I needed was right there, the line of those pills we crushed and sucked and snorted and swallowed and Rori’s skin against mine, cold sweat, the heat of her pussy, the sounds she made, feel of her when she tightened up right before she came. That was all I ever needed. I forgot the life I used to have. This was better. Better than anything.

I think she warned me. I can’t be positive because it is all sort of fuzzy. I threw up and inside I saw it there, like a little aborted fetus, this lob of mucous coated in blood. Like my soul was thrown out of my body.

“You are taking too much Frank,” Rori said from behind me. Then she was next to me. Her dark eyes, darker. “Too much.”

I asked her why she didn’t love me. I told her I would do anything for her.

“Why did you take those people’s things, Frank?”

“Because I couldn’t stop.”

“They didn’t belong to you. The things you took from me didn’t belong to you.”

“You think I wanted to be like that? You think I wanted to steal?” I asked her this because I felt desperate. The notion that she is going to leave me settled like ice in my veins. For a moment my head cleared and I realize that I would do anything to keep her. Anything. I watched the shadows settle on the walls of the bathroom.

“No one likes what they can’t change about themselves. You think I want to be this?” she says, bitingly. I felt sick and desperate. I felt her pulling away. She got up off the bathroom floor and the panic swept in. I coughed two more globs of blood into my hand and smeared it, like a child, onto my pants.

When I stumbled back into the living room she stood near the door, trying to light a cigarette.

“Rori, where are you going? You can’t go. Please don’t go.”

“Stop it, Frank.”

“Rori, I..” but I couldn’t talk. I could see her looking at me, looking through me as if I am already
one of her shadow things. “Don’t go, please, stay here. We have everything we need here.” I grabbed her arm, too hard, I think because she twisted it away from me. I realized I had to get her back on the couch, back near the drugs, back in my arms. My vision narrowed to a pinpoint. I could barely walk to the couch, and fell forward onto it. I righted myself, fearing she had left, but I saw the glow of her cigarette near the door. I heard the click of her teeth on her nails.
I lined up the rows, one after another. I put out enough shit for hours.

“Please,” I said, my voice sounding like it was coming from another creature.

Her face got lit up by the cigarette as she inhaled, watching me. It was dark outside, late. I didn’t know what time it was. Or what day it was anymore. I didn’t know anything but that I must keep Rori here or I’d die.

“I’m not one of the things you stole that you can lock up in your closet, Frank,” she said softly.

“We are all responsible for our choices. You took something from me. You brought me to you.”
At that point I know she was trying to tell me something but I didn’t care. I started sucking down the lines, one after another. I felt my heart thumping in my head and I started to sweat. Badly. Very badly. I told her I loved her, how desperately I loved her. At least I think I said it. I can’t be sure if I said anything out loud. The vomit came fast, hitting the table, ruining some of the drugs, before I got over the arm of the couch. I reached up, wiped my nose and saw all that dark red blood. I think I knew it then. Maybe I did. Maybe there is a part of you that knows when you see blood that black, that thick, blood that is supposed to always be on the inside, coming out, that it was the end.

Rori knew. That is what her kind does. They signal death. They don’t cause it, but they wait for it. Rori looked at me, her finger lifted and pointed and out of her mouth came a moan first, light and melodic and then it changed into a wail, a funeral dirge and then her face contorted into a scream and I couldn’t stop the noise. She transformed, her skin whiter, her hair wilder, everything seemed stretched and she clutched at herself like a possessed thing, her mouth wide, her head thrown back, the horrid noise of her cries. I begged her to stop but I couldn’t talk, could hardly even keep my eyes open. My chest burned like it was on fire. Rori just screamed and screamed and I fell into it, like falling down the rabbit hole.

That’s when I died. Just like that. I was found on the floor, soaked in my own sweat, a dirty wine stained t-shirt clinging to what was left of me. I’m pretty sure I had pissed myelf. Rori was gone by then. That asshole landlord had the door knocked down. I guess the smell had hit the hallway. I don’t remember the actual act of dying. I just remember being with Rori and wanting nothing but to be with Rori. And then I was here. I was one of the shadow people. For a while there was nothing but my empty apartment. I couldn’t leave the place, couldn’t even go downstairs to touch my things, provided I could touch still. I was lost, I remember that. Not because I was dead, like I said my emotions just sort of checked out, but because Rori was gone. Just gone. And I didn’t know what to do without her. I couldn’t get passed the door. It was like a wall. I couldn’t leave. I sat and I waited. I waited for Rori.

And Rori came. I saw her through the window, standing in front of the building on the sidewalk late at night. She was dressed in this white dress that made her even more pale. She pointed at me and waved me forward. Then I could go with her, follow her.

“Frank, it’s over. I am the aos si, the Other People, the Banshee,” is all she said before she lit her cigarette and turned down the street. I felt cold, cut off, but being near Rori felt like life. All I wanted was to feel something like life again. There was no white light, no angels, no devils for that matter either. I was just alone and I didn’t have anywhere else to go so I followed Rori. I became one of her shadow people.

There’s a new guy now. He looks sick already. I think he might have seen me the other day, I saw his eyes linger towards me when he fucked Rori. I’m sure it won’t be long till he’s dead too.

Monday, January 10, 2011


We all knew that once the sun went down it would not rise again for many many days. Days cobbled together out of many hours, many minutes, and many seconds in the blinding cold. We knew the future was there, that it lay out in space but it too seemed frozen, shimmering just on the horizon of the last sun we will see for months. We were trapped, most of us scientists, the rest barely even seamen. This was Antarctica, 1897.
We crossed the Antarctic Circle long ago, longer still since we left Belgium. Already one man was lost, sucked overboard when the waters came hard. We saw him for some time, clinging to the rope he had but no one could pull him back up. Attempts were made but we almost lost the Captain. The sea was too rough and eventually he just let go, bobbing for some time before he was gone.

Then the pack ice came. Thick like a living thing. Constant. And when it transformed it became a wall, a floor, a solid structure and here we sit. Prisoners. The boat does not move, does not creak. She has been silenced, stopped in this wasteland, the only thing to see for miles. I would like to see her from far off, sticking up, this foreign object built of wood and nail and rope and yet, still run by the bone and blood of mankind. By his heart. A child’s toy left in a field. But even now she is changing. The ice climbs up the sides like a sea creature, its tentacles reaching farther up the bow and stern; the snow dots the deck. The hull is beyond us. All that wood hammered together by man, lay encased in sheets of ice. The floe has claimed her for at least the winter.

I never knew that ice was more than just clear. More than just white. I never knew that white was blue and also violet, scarred close to red at times, and then coming back to a green translucence like the petals of a plant this continent has never seen before burrowing deep into the black. I believe at times, leaning hard over the side till the wind cut through me, that I have seen every color there is to imagine trapped inside the ice. I believe, but I do not pray. Not out here in this land that does not belong to God.

We have told all the stories we can tell, real and imaginative yet the time refuses to pass. No one has seen the captain for many days. There is talk of madness on board. The food is scarce and the captain has forbidden the eating of penguin, which are stored below deck. Before he closed his cabin door, he walked from bow to stern discussing the problem of food with Amundsen, the first mate.

“But the seal, sir, and the penguin. Surely the men will benefit,” Amundsen says as they pass me again on their endless loop.

“Do not mention it again,” the Captain says, words I have heard before but still cannot comprehend. The other day I heard the men talk of mutiny. I nearly laughed. To where? Frozen in this wasteland our only leader is the ice. We will stay for as long as she says stay.
There are those who already suffer from the sickness. Cook tells me that without meat we cannot stave off the scurvy. I have seen them, covering their mouths, the gums spongy and pocked with blood. I make secret bets with myself on who will lose their teeth first. Sections of the deck are slick with frozen loose excrement. The odor lingers having nowhere to go in this
endless cold.

There was a fight the other day. I wonder how these men have the energy. Even in the darkness you could see the red and purple blisters that batter the hands and, as we all know, spread up the arms and legs. Madness is just as catchy. Those that are not succumbing to the sickness and cold are becoming too aware of their situation. They argue over days lost, days spent in darkness. How many days has it been now?
Knudsen, a sailor, has stopped sleeping. I see him on deck pacing. He climbs off the ship treading across the ice. He yells as if someone can hear him, his voice bouncing in all that open air. He screams he is going back to Belgium. Cook tells me he could be trouble.

“We have to be careful, Henryk.” Cook’s lips are barely visible under the moustache and layers of frozen ice. “Some men might not make it,” he says. “Some men.”

I nod. I like his accent, the light syllables of his American words.

“Let me listen,” Cook says, pulling back my shirt. His bunk is untidy. Messy for a surgeon, I think. He listens to my heart. His fingers pull at my lower lip showing my teeth. He nods. “You’re still okay, Henryk.”

Still means for now. The Captain has still not been seen in quite some time. Where is the Captain, I ask no one in particular. Jules, another officer, says he is laying down, that he wrote his will and is waiting to die. I watch Jules when he tells me this, his face flat with an inchoate violent need. We cannot listen to him. Jules does not know. Last night, the raspy bark of my bunk mate shook me from sleep. I made my way above and found Nansen, the black and white tabby, our faithful companion. We feared her lost as she too had not been seen in quite some time, but there she was, wrapped up in the thick coils of rope, her tail covering her face. I was so happy to see her again and reached out to pet her but she growled and hissed, stumbled off the coils, slinking off in the darkness. Even Nansen is not safe. I wonder if I too am going mad to mourn the sickness of a cat over these flawed men.

I have become so aware of the sky, looming above. It is inescapable. I wonder how I never trembled before. Lately, I am struck with the desperate panicked need to be in a place where the future keeps coming and coming, like wind down your throat. A mouth you cannot close.

“We need to eat meat to stave off sickness. Something must be done.” I hear Cook and Amundsen speak to each other. I hear Amundsen’s thick accent say, “The Captain is lost.”

Finally. Now we can save ourselves.

“We never should have sailed so late,” Cook adds. “Not into that ice.” No one has wintered in Antarctica. Not before us. When the food comes out, men rejoice their bloody lips cracking into smiles. The meat helps. The sickness seems abated. There is hope, which is needed as much as, if not more than, light.

It is short lived. Lieutenant Danco is gone. Emile. He ate at the table last night, sat next to me, and we talked of tomatoes as fleshy and thick as a man’s heart. We remembered the color red. And this morning he never rose from his bunk.

“It was his heart,” Cook tells me but all I see are tomatoes. “Probably a condition worsened by our condition.”

We cut a hole in the ice. We weigh his feet to be sure. My hands tremble tying the ropes around his finnesko. The ice is already forming, growing little crystals across my gloves and down the rope, a spidery web of cold that keeps us all here. His hands are tied in front, palms together, as in prayer. It is a constant midday twilight. We commit his body to the deep. I watch it slip hard and fast across the ice and down into the water.

Later, I lay on the floor of my quarters, my ear pressed to the silent boards of the Belgica and I think of him down at the bottom of the ocean, anchored to the seabed, his body swaying back and forth in the endless movement of the tide, fathoms below this captive hull. To be subject to nothing more than the will of the deep, is that better than locked in the wide open darkness up here? Is it more peaceful? I think of the frozen waters, the sight of the hull above trapped in the ice. The deep dark pressure against Emile. I wonder too if we shall escape such a fate. With one hand I reach up to touch the tender bloody gums where my tooth once was. With the other I pick at the notches on the floor that I have used to try to track the endless days without the absolution of sun.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The One Ton Woman and the Amazonian Half Man

The show was a flop from the very start. Carnivals as a rule had trouble in those days but time had made it impossible to relay on the old standbys. Bearded women were cured by cosmetic surgery. Snake charmers were a dime a dozen. Fire eaters were listed as an insurance risk. It was getting harder and harder for decent hard working circus managers to pull together a show.

And then there were the protests from the animal rights activists, complaining about the treatment of the elephants. The elephants! For godsake they were treated better than the people who worked there. But who the hell cared about the people right? The costs were adding up, the revenues dropping. You get ten tigers to stand at attention and roar with each whip crack you get a yawn from kids. Only candy sales were up. And that wasn’t enough to combat the lot fees, insurance, feed and housing of rare snakes, elephants, tigers, et al, and twenty very disgruntled overworked carnival hands who, if the sources are correct, were staging a Guatemalan revolt in their shared trailer.

The manager sat at his cramped desk in the back of his dimly lit trailer, and rearranged the bills for the seventh time. He stacked the past due and the really past due and the foreclosure warnings into three distinct piles. Not surprisingly, this caused no change in their collective arrears.

There was a knock at the trailer door and the manager barked to enter.

“Sir,” said the carnival hand, rubbing his dark hair back and forth with his large palm. “There’s a lady…er…to see you.”

“A lady?” The manager said re-adjusting his bill piles. “What does she want?”

“To see you sir.”

“Is she rich?”

“Um….” The worker briefly exited the trailer letting the door slam behind him and then
re-entered. “No sir, she says she’s not rich. She’s looking for work.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“Here, sir. She’s looking for work here.”

“She pretty?”


“Is she an accountant? Can she make these bills go away?”


“Whatever, send her in.”

“I’m afraid I can’t sir.” The carnival hand looked genuinely terrified at his inability to comply with his boss’ request.

“Why not?”

“Because she can’t fit, sir,”

“Can’t fit, you say?”

“No sir.”

“Christ.” The manager got up from his desk and placed his hat up on his head. He shooed the man out of his trailer and before exiting checked his teeth in the mirror near the door.

“Morning, sir,” the woman said, as soon as the trailer door opened. The circus manager faltered but managed a feeble reply. Standing before him was the largest woman he had ever seen. The largest woman, he believed, that may have ever lived. She wore a pink strapless dress that stopped just below her knees. Or what the manager assumed were her knees, but seemed to be just more layers of pink and dimpled flesh. Her bust alone must have needed an entire bolt of fabric to cover. At her side was a small man, who had neither arms nor legs, just a torso and a head. He was tied sitting upright on a skateboard. The skateboard had a string tied to the axle and the end of the string was held by the woman.

“My name is Irene,” the woman said. “This is Vincent. We are looking for some work.”
“Work?” the manager repeated rather stupidly.

“Yes sir.”

He was surprised by how soft and childlike her voice was. Her vocal cords somehow managed, strangled and suffocating under the rolls of flesh and fatty tissue, to capture such dulcet tones.

“What kind of work are you looking for?” the manager asked. Unable to resist the urge, he ventured around to the back of Irene and her very tiny friend. Irene craned her neck to see him. Her bottom was even bigger than her front.

“Well I can sing sir and Vincent here, well, he doesn’t do much, but as you can see he’s got no arms or legs.”

“Indeed,” the manager said circling back around. He bent over to get a good look at the sad eyed Vincent on his skateboard. His diminutive features, those black coal eyes and pug nose, clustered in the center of his face, rallying together like bugs. His skin was pasty, slick looking.

“But we thought that maybe we could be part of the act.”

“Part of the act?”

“Yes sir,” Irene said.

“Part of the act?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How can you be part of the act?”

“Well sir, like I said, I can sing and Vincent here is something to look at.”

“Something to look at?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You are both something to look at. I mean, my god, my great grandfather would
have killed to get his hands on you. But that was back then. You can’t be in the show now. I mean, look at you!”


“Listen, I get it. The Fat Lady and The Half Man. It would have been a huge hit. In 1896! You can’t go on stage today. They will run me out of town.”

“I don’t understand, sir.”

“Look, Irene, you seem like a really nice…girl. And I’m glad that you are comfortable with your body, but this is the 20th century. I can’t go putting you on stage. It’s…well it’s just cruel. I’m sorry. I have no work for you.”

“But sir, every carnival needs a fat lady and a half man.”

The manager looked her at her face. It too was soft and tender looking, puffing at the cheeks and dimpling at her chin. The rest of her was just like that; as if she had never had a callous finger or a scabbed toe. She looked like an overgrown baby, soft, pink and gigantic. “Irene, I’m serious. I’ve already got the animal cruelty people on my back. I don’t need human rights people to join the throng. If I put you on stage, as magnificent as you are, they will string me up. You understand?”

“It’s a sad day when the freaks can’t even work at the Freak Show,” croaked Vincent, his voice much lower than anyone would have expected. The manager looked down at him but said nothing.

“I’m sorry for taking up your time, sir,” Irene said. “We’ll be going.” She turned around, waddling on her shockingly small feet and walked away, slowly, tugging Vincent along with each step. The manager watched them go.

“Wait!” he said before they reached the circus gate. “Wait!”

Irene was renamed Baby Irene and a placard was set up containing a caricature of her seated on a swing, with a small pink umbrella in her hand. In the background was a draped red curtain held back by two yellow cords. Her name was plastered over the top. In two small bubbles at the bottom it said “The One Ton Woman, 960 lbs” and in another bubble it said “Alive.”

Vincent got a similar sign treatment, though his caricature showed a much tougher looking creature. His sad bug eyes were gone and instead he was depicted with a snarl, a black wiry eyebrows jutting off his face, and his torso twisted to the side like a bean with no arms or legs. He was cast as the “Amazonian Half Man” and the placard informed customers that he was available “Only here” and “A fierce version of Nature’s mistakes.”

“You look handsome,” Irene said when she saw it. Vincent smiled at her.

“Everyone ready?” the manager asked doing the rounds. Though she was reluctant, she handed over the rope so that the manager could wheel Vincent down to his tent. She watched him go away, sadly hoping they would not be apart for too long.

“Through here, miss,” said the carnival hand holding back the tent flap for her. “You sit right there,” he said motioning at the swing in the center of the stage. There were three planks of wood hammered together and rigged to the ceiling.

“Is it safe?” Irene asked.

“Of course,” he replied. “We tested it on the baby elephant, miss.”

“Everything good?” the manager asked ducking back into the tent.

“Yes, everything is fine.”

“Okay, you are going to sit there and sing and let people get a look at you. Your costume is right there,” he said pointing behind a small wooden shoji screen.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Listen, Irene, if there are any problems, you know I’m going to have let you go.”

“I understand, sir,” she said slowly walking towards the screen. It would only cover half of her. She looked up at the manager.

“Oh right of course,” he said snapping for the man to bring another. “Good luck,” he said as he left.

Later that night, the townspeople wandered in. Oklahoma was a hard sell anyway, the Sunday preacher warning the townsfolk about strange devils. But the crowd was all right and the acrobats did the act where it looked like one of them was going to fall and die and then they caught each other at the last possible second. Always a show pleaser.
The manager made his way around to Irene’s tent. He watched the small group of people there open their wallets, hand over the admission price and file into the tent. He waited with baited breath, his ear pressed to the flap. There was a murmur of conversation that died down as Baby Irene took the stage. He heard stifled laughter, clearly from children who were hushed by their parents. He heard nervous coughing. It’s never going to work. It’s too much. They will be shut down in a week.

He did not stay to hear her sing. But when it was over, and the flap pulled back to let the crowd out, he noticed something strange. They were all stricken, as if they had just exited church after a particularly moving sermon. On their way out, each of them, pressed more money into the hands of the ticket taker. Women were moved to tears; men, stoic.

The manager headed backstage. Irene stood there, still in her pink performance outfit. He took her hand and kissed it.

“You must have been wonderful.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“They were giving me MORE money. This is….this is incredible.”

“Thank you, sir. So we may stay?”

“Stay? Of course. Of course you must stay, my sweet Baby Irene.”

“And Vincent, too?”

“Vincent, too.”

They extended the stay in Grady County, adding two weeks onto the tour. By the time they made it to Pushmataha, Baby Irene’s stature and voice where already on the lips of the townsfolk. The people thought she was an angel from God. The Guatemalans agreed. But the manager knew better. She was a Venus of Willendorf, a goddess robust in breasts and abdomen and vulva. She was fertile. She was land to be sowed and now, she was money. They were making more money than the manager ever had. He couldn’t even being to fathom his own fortuitous luck. Texas and Louisiana were similar. It wasn’t until Terrebonne Parish that things changed.

The Magician arrived in a black carriage pulled by four white horses. His name was painted on the side. He pulled the carriage to a halt, the horses snorting and foaming and dismounted without a word in the center of the fairgrounds. The Guatemalans gathered cautiously. The Magician opened the door for a twisted toothless woman. She exited the carriage, crippled and bent like a fisherman’s hook. The newcomers entered the manager’s tent without speaking to the workers.

“It is to your advantage,” he told the manager, who rubbed his face with his palm. He eyed the old woman.

“And who is she?”

“Of no concern to you,” the Magician said. The old woman, with her milky eyes, stared
upwards. Occasionally she whispered into the Magician’s ear.

“I have a main attraction. She’s done quite well. I’ve very happy with her.”

“Not like me,” the Magician said.

“Prove it.”

The Magician gathered them outside the tent. He rounded up the three ancient elephants the show had, their grey skin pocked with scars. When they vanished into thin air and reappeared on the other side of the circus, with trumpeting alarm, the Guatemalans crossed themselves. The manager nearly cried. There was no more discussion after that.

“Bruja,” they Guatemalans whispered when the old woman passed. She spat at them and they hustled away, crossing their chests and foreheads. Later they talked amongst themselves about how the fruit they fed the animals would rot as soon as she passed.

The glass tank arrived by horseback in the night. The Magician only practiced at night when no one could see his secretes. Baby Irene could hear the chains rattling as he refitted the locks and filled the tank. Each time she heard the sound of his body hit the water and the slam of the lid she held her breath. He struggled inside that glass water tank for what, to her lying in her bed, seemed like hours. When she heard him come out, coughing and gasping for air, she took would breathe heavy.

The crowd doubled. The Guatemalans held prayer sessions. They gave Baby Irene a rosary which was too small for her to fit over her head. They pressed it into her hand.

“Bruja” they warned. “Mantenerse alejado de bruja. NiƱo, rezar, rezar.”

When the show came to Biloxi, the Magician paraded the elephants down Main Street. There was still water flowing and their heavy fat feet splashed against it, trunk to tail, trunk to tail. The Magician announced the show. The people, lost, hungry came out of their broken homes, down the water swollen streets left by the hurricane.
After the show, the people, dazzled, charmed even, left money on their seats. They filled the hat the monkey passed around. They couldn’t give away their few precious dollars fast enough.

The Magician asked for the grandstand from inside Baby Irene’s tent.

“He’s bringing in more money,” the manager said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“Yes, sir.”

Then he argued for the whole tent.

“You cannot have two main attractions. It doesn’t work,” the Magician said. The old woman stood just behind him, her fingers tugging at the tails of his coat. She opened her mouth, showing rotten gums and a blackened tongue. “Her or me.”

“But Baby Irene has been with us for so long now,” the manager said, looking away from the old woman. There was a buzzing in his head, as if it were filled with mosquitoes. Things had seemed so much easier when it was only money. “She’s harmless.”
The old woman whispered into the Magician’s ear. “You cannot have two main attractions,” he repeated and turned to walk out. “Her or me.”

“Okay, wait,” the manager said. “You can have the tent.”

It was moved for the performance that night. They put Baby Irene in the smaller tent. She had to share it with the acrobats who spoke no English but offered some of their stew to her.

Before the performance that night, the old woman wandered by alone. It was strange to
see her moving about without the looming shadow of the Magician and the carnival hands spat on the ground as she passed. When she entered Irene’s tent, she smiled a gaping toothless smile at her. Irene nodded and smiled back. The woman rummaged through the tent and approached Irene with a small hairbrush.

“Cheveux. Juste an peu..sil vous plait,” she said, her voice guttural. She put the brush in Baby Irene’s hand and then with two gnarled and twisted fingers she dug out some hair. She held it up to show Irene and opened her blackened mouth.
Irene sang that night. And every night after wards, as the carnival lumbered across the gulf.

Vincent noticed first, which of course he would. He asked if she was feeling alright.

“Just tired,” Baby Irene said. “Just tired.”

The Guatemalans crossed themselves when she passed now. The baldness started in the back of her head. It wound in concentric circles. Hair came out by the handful, clumps of it. Baby Irene only cried when no one was watching, her shaking hand compulsively touching the skin of her scalp.

They fitted her for a wig and she sang every night.

Then the rash started; a large red splash across her face and over the bridge of her nose. Vincent cried when saw it. Baby Irene hushed him and used her skirt to wipe away his tears. She promised she was fine.

They used makeup to cover it and she sang every night.

There were skin lesions, joint pain and swelling. Irene walked with a limp now. But still she sang every night.

The manager fretted. He feared it was contagious.

The Magician changed the name of the show. The manager didn’t protest. Not even when they painted the Magician’s name across the banner.

The Guatemalans held vigil by her bedside. The prayed over their beads, over Irene’s sleeping bald form. The lesions spread mapping their way down her arms and legs. Then, the worst part happened.

“Bruja,” they whispered. “Bruja.”

Irene started to wither away. It was a drastic weight loss, as if her skeleton was being squeezed out of her body. Her hand turned boney first, even as her arms were still fattened and dimpled.

The manager fretted. What was happening to the One Ton Woman?

Then, her voice went.

For the first night since she joined the carnival, she did not sing. She lay in bed that night and spoke only once.

“Please, may I see Vincent?” she asked, her voice like gravel.

The Guatemalans brought him in on his skateboard. Before he even approached her bed, he could smell her, the skin spoiling, the body rotting. The propped him up on the edge of her bed. They didn’t speak. Vincent’s tears dropped onto her shoulder.

“Are you dying?” Vincent asked.

“I don’t know,” Irene said. “My voice is gone.”

“I know.”

They sat in silence and listened to the lions roaring in their cages.

“I think it’s over then,” Vincent said.

“Maybe,” Irene sighed.

The manager with hands wringing brought in the doctor. He put the large metal stethoscope against Irene’s chest and listened.

“What is it?” the manager asked.

“Lupus. Possibly.”

“Are you sure?”

“I would need to do a test.”

“A test?”

“Yes.” The doctor reached into his black bag and removed a sheet of paper. On it, he
wrote a sum.

The manager took the paper and looked at Baby Irene. The Guatemalans had fitted her with the rosary. It hung limply on her buried in the folds of rotting skin, now splotched and marked with lesions and pustules clustered like fish eggs on her body. The manager looked at the paper and shook his head no.

The doctor closed his black bag and left the tent.

“Bruja,” the Guatemalans told Vincent. They pulled him on his skateboard away from the tent. Away from Irene. “Que fue maldecida por la bruja.”

When they passed the lion cage Vincent told them to stop. They left him there. He watched the creature for some time, its yellow mane tangled with knots and straw. It watched him too, with sharp unblinking black eyes.
Vincent knew what the Guatemalans spoke of. He knew what he had to do. Long ago he had a grandmother. She had not loved him, no one had every really loved him before Irene, but she taught him things. Things from the old country. Vincent knew there was only one way to undo a curse.

He leaned forward, and rolled off the skateboard. Using his neck and chin he inched his way across the grass to the edge of the lion’s cage. The creature stared at him with renewed curiosity.

He pulled himself, painstaking inch after painstaking inch, wriggling past the bars. This took a long time. He was tired and his neck hurt. His face was poked by the reeds of hay lining at the bottom of the cage. He struggled. He sweat. His tears mixed with the sweat and blood from the scratches. Finally, he pulled himself through the bars into the lion’s cage. He lay there panting, trying to be brave.

The lion, with renewed interest, stood up, and padded his way over to the strange thing that had crawled into his cage. It sniffed Vincent. Hot puffs of air blew out its black velvety nose. It smelled sharp, like raw meat and feces and fur. It nudged him with a paw and Vincent whimpered slightly. He thought of Baby Irene lying in the tent, wasting away to nothingness. The lion reached out a paw and pushed down on Vincent’s body. He felt the claws rise out of the creatures paw, slowly, and press their needle points into his flesh. The lion roared loudly and Vincent felt it in every molecule of his being. He trembled slightly. He closed his eyes. This was it. This would save her.
The lion sniffed him again, its nose rubbing against the side of Vincent’s face. He saw the creature pull back its lips, the whiskers brushing past his eye. It snarled, showing thick yellow fangs sunk in black gums. The smell of the lion coated Vincent.

“Please,” Vincent said softly.

The lion lifted its head and the cool night air again touched Vincent’s skin. It yawned,
letting out a small squeak.

“Just do it. Just end this,” he said to the creature. “Break the curse.”

But the lion lifted his paw off Vincent’s body, stretched like a kitten with its haunches in the air and headed back to the corner. It flopped down on the hay, curled up and went back to sleep.

And Vincent lay face down in the dirty hay, small specks of blood staining his shirt from the lion’s paw. He could just see the moon through the cracks of the bars and he watched it and he waited. He waited for something, anything, to happen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The stray cat gave birth to kittens. Four of them lived, which was a bit of a miracle considering. Prior to the birth, she crept over the black stones of the tawny red clay city. The fat sun that hung so determinedly in the sky finally relented and slipped toward the horizon. The cat settled down. She moved only when the people hide. And when they moved, she hid as best she could. People started to come to life again now that the sun was gone. They crept out of doorways and opened shutters to let in the hope of a breeze. They carried their prayer books to the open mosque in the center of the square. They bowed and prayed and filled the hours.

She was pregnant. Very pregnant. And in being pregnant with a litter her movements where hampered which is a very unfortunate situation to be in as a cat. Especially in this area. There were children to contend with. They did not like the cat. Any cat. Especially the one girl.

“Get out of here!” the girl screamed, stamping her foot only inches from the cats face. The cat pulled back and hissed, baring all its teeth. She swiped a paw out and nicked the girl’s bare toe. The blood glistened. The girl ran away. The cat was pleased.

She cleaned herself, her fat rolling belly. The cat knew she had to find a place to deliver these kittens. There was nowhere safe in this city. There was a spasm of pain down her back that made her legs twitch. She wanted to run but couldn’t.

Later that night the girl came back. She yelled at the cat again, her face contorting into a snarl. The cat dug her claws into the dirt of the road and hissed back, teeth showing, ears flat. The girl kicked at the road, a shower of dirt and pebbles flew at the cat. She tried to run but managed only to hobble under a nearby car. The girl laughed and peeked under the car. The cat pulled herself in as close as she could. Her eyes stung from the dirt that was now stuck in them. She didn’t dare lick her paw and try to clean them out. She didn’t dare move. Still was safer. She waited for the girl to go away.

Days later, right before the waves of pain that would send the cat leaping, with a half born kitten falling out of her, the girl came back. The cat watched her; her and another one. Taller. Stronger. She could smell the boy before he rounded the corner. They spotted the cat and laughed. The cat purred to calm herself. The kittens inside her rolled over and over each other. The boy climbed the stairs behind her up to the balcony. The cat watched him and wondered what he was doing.
He lifted a glass jug which shone in the sun, the light blinking off it like a warning. The cat started. Something was wrong. She could feel that.

“Do it,” the girl on the street yelled. The cat turned her attention to the noise and the boy above her, on the balcony tipped the jug pouring thick olive oil out of it which splattered and smeared the cat in its slime. The cat tried to run again. The oil coated her fur making her skin itch horribly. Hobbled, she hid under the car, behind a wheel. The children laughed, their voices fading down the road. The cat tried to clean herself, desperately knew she had to clean herself. Her rough tongue pulled at the oil soaked hair. The kittens inside her rolled over and over again. It was time.

Only four would survive. They would be confused by the foreign smell of their mother, her fur still matted with oil. They would nip and cry and refuse to drink. The ones that died, their necks twisted, some half formed, she left under the car for a day. Later she would gather them, one by one, her mouth closing over the loose skin on their necks. Some had no necks so she dragged them by whatever she could. She lined them up, neatly, right on the front step of the girl’s home. She cleaned them each in turn and then she ran away to wait till sunset when the girl would find them. She would wait to hear the girl scream.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This is Work

“Split the log with a quick sharp blow,” my father said.

I felt the wooden handle of the axe in my hand, my toe tapped the steel point. My father took a step back, out of the sunlight that hit the back of the field. In the shade he seemed thinner, older.
I hefted the tool up, surprised by the weight of it, as if I were pulling in a great fish and propped it on my shoulder, the way they used to show loggers posed in magazines. I put one hand on my hip, being funny.

“What are you doing?” my father said, swinging his big paw hand around at the back of my head. “That’s how people get hurt. You think this is a game? This is work.”

I held the axe with two hands, brushing off his remark.

“One quick sharp blow,” he repeated setting the log upright.

I nodded. I lifted the tool over my shoulder and let it come down with just the force of gravity. I hit the log slightly off center and the axe stuck. I struggled to pull it out, but it refused to budge and then the whole mess fell over. My father put his foot on the log and with only one hand pried the axe out.

He lit a cigarette which he kept in his mouth as he flipped the log upright, lifted the axe and brought it down with a clean solid stroke that cleaved it in two. The sound of the axe in the wood echoed over the field, all the way back to the house.

“You see?” he said.

He handed me the axe. I watched him roll up his sleeve. The flesh there was still white, paler than the rest of his tan arms. I could see the scars on the inside of his arms, track marks.
He lifted another log back up on the post, exhaled a cloud of smoke over my head and nodded.

I hoisted the tool up and brought it down with a grunt. This time, I made contact but the log split unevenly, chipping the wood so that little flecks went everywhere. I covered my eyes fearful of anything getting into them. One section, like a piece cut from a pie, lay at my feet.

My father took the axe and cleaved the log in half. Mere seconds. He handed me his cigarette and told me to hold it. Then he cut another one. And another one. And another one. The sweat started to bead on his head.

“You see,” he grunted bringing the axe down, “this is how you do it. You need to know this. You need to know how to do this. Men need to know how to do this.”

His cigarette felt small and tender between my fingers. It was a damp where his lips had been. It felt like a little finger, like my baby sister's finger when she was still learning to walk. It felt breakable and I resisted the urge, watching my father lift and split log after log, grunting and sweating in the fading light, to snap it in half. Oh, but I wanted to. I pressed down on it with my forefinger and thumb, feeling the squish of the fibers in the filter. It was so tender, my fingers shook with need. My father continued to cut the log. He was speaking to me, I realized that, watching the sweat gather under his arms and around his neck. He was telling me about being a man.

When his head was down I brought the cigarette up to my lips, just to put them where his had been. Just for a moment.

“You hear me?” he said lifting his head and then seeing me there, “What the hell are you doing?”

Monday, August 2, 2010


The brown house was on fire to the attic. There was absolutely no way the damn dog was still alive but the man, moved to do something, anything really, kept approaching the firemen. They stalled him, pushing him aside. They had work to do. There was a fire. These were the things they told him. The feeling of displacement jarred him. He couldn’t help but notice how much he was not a part of this thing that was happening to him. He watched the flames crawl out the window. In stories they always say the flames lick something, the sky for instance. He noticed this was remarkably not true. When the firemen left, deeming this a job well done, the man looked up and down his street. He noticed with some degree of alarm that none of his neighbors had come out to gawk or worry over him. This wasn’t that kind of street.

When it was over, he walked inside, through the space that had once been the door. Immediately he felt what it was to occupy a negative space; an inverse; a nowhere. Inside were the guts of everything he once used and owned. Things he had selected from the numerous shelves in stores. His plates, his blanket, towels, razors, picture frames. The things we all collect to build a life. Now just twisted plastic melted into bizarre shapes, singed metal bent and mutated in its death. Cabinets in the kitchen stained from smoke and fire. In the living room, his couch was just metal springs, smoking soaked fabric. He ran his foot through ash and soot. It had happened so quickly he thought to himself. It was a simple decision; like a prayer murmured by a non-believer. It was spontaneous and obvious. Something had to be done about all the newspapers. This was the only available solution he had left.

He found the dog in the attic. It must have run up there in terror, he thought, leaning over it. The smoke must have killed it because the dog, the damn dog, was still untouched. Everything downstairs was destroyed, but not an inch of the dog’s wiry hair seemed singed. It lay on its side, teeth bared as if growling at the black curling smoke that entered its lungs. Its tongue was stained black. Only one eye was open. The man picked up the dog and noticed in death it held more weight than life. He started for the stairs. This was the change, he had prayed for, his finger rubbing together in need just hours ago. It did not last as long as he had hoped. It didn’t last as long as he needed. This was supposed to be a re-birth, he said to the dead dog under his arm. They were alone now, again, as they were before. It was so easy to step between the doorways. From a ghost to a man, briefly, far too briefly, and then without warning to a ghost again.