I’ve just begun my walk down the side of the moon, but for whatever reason the little inertia that used to be present has now completely disappeared, and instead of staying relatively secured to the sidewalk I’ve begun spinning into space untethered, and as I feel myself drifting further I realize that perhaps it was supposed to end like this, the moon a glowing pearl shrinking away while the charred remains of earth spin silently in the distance, a smoldering orb lit just enough to be seen in the death of space as the bony fingers of gravity brush against the hairs on my neck and the air rapidly escapes my lungs in gasps that don’t seem to end with each spin dizzying me further and further separating me from the sidewalk I left unexpectedly moments prior and know I shall never return to or walk upon or skin my knees against the surface of or wash the chalky dust from ever again because the nebulous decider of fates has decreed that I shall return to where we had all started right that very instant, that’s that, pit-pat, run along now and please do burn to ash on the way down, thanks a lot & much obliged, owe ya one, and I have no choice or say or any literal physical sway because the emptiness of space has taken my freedom of motion from me in an act of melodramatic jilted bitterness and so I’m spinning spinning away and the moon seems smaller than ever as the heat hits my back then my front in succession while I catch glimpses of that alien world below me and now I suppose I’ve accepted this all as my skin melts away from red muscle which follows close behind but not after my glimmery star-white bones blacken and splinter and become powder that disburses across the planet and touches each and every inch of each and every dead continent and really, I’m fine, because it’s my fault I had decided to take a walk anyway.
I Love a Volcano and Loved a Cat (I)
That god damn cat is scratching at my bedroom door.
Each skishskishskish is punctuated by two seconds of silence and a meow, no, not a meow, a gurgle, a near-hiss, the sound of air escaping from underwater, the promise of something much worse waiting to be uncovered. He operates like clockwork with this routine, a skishskishskish, a pause, a wet drawl, repeat until your eyes are drawn wide against the cream white ceiling that begins to dance with more and more imagined colors and dots and faeries with each unblinking second that limps by.
My husband sleeps soundly beside me, the bastard, the fink, the last string tying me to this world. I mull over the idea of waking him up to deal with that vermin, consider rolling around listlessly until he senses something is wrong, further consider coughing and wheezing to wake him less ceremoniously, seriously contemplate pinching his hairy ass and slapping his hairier ear until he awakes with a start and a cry and I yell until he gets that thing to shut up, permanently if necessary.
I do none of these things. I stare at the ceiling. I count my teeth with my tongue. I cascade my fingers in matching patterns against the old and pebbled fitted sheet of my queen-size mattress, left thumb right pinky, left pointer right ring, the middles, so on, each touching down at the same time, until I count five revolutions. All the while the damned cat continues his cadence, scratch-pause-gurgle, and I begin to get paranoid that he knows I’m awake. Now not just paranoid- I’m certain he knows I’m awake and he’s just waiting me out. He thinks he can beat me in this game of early-morning wits. I think he’s right.
I try and take my mind off the noise. I move onto other things. I move onto tomorrow’s planned routine and imagine each step as though it were projected onto my ceiling, playing out like a grainy film from down at the old Lindenhurst theater that I used to take Frankie too when he was a boy. This is how it unfolds: I drag myself from bed although the sunlight seems so wretched and mean, I shower my aging body with a cucumber melon body scrub, I eat one and a half bowls of store-brand corn flakes, my husband sitting across from me reading the paper, oblivious to the cutting glances I steal towards him. I’ll kick the cat when he’s in my way, audibly mutter ‘oops,’ internally smile, grab my keys, head to work, keep my veneer well-manicured under the constant hammering of the students with late notes that shuffle to my desk in the office, the phone calls from concerned parents, the thinly veiled sexual advances of the school principal, eat my turkey-and-mustard-on-rye, leave at four. Head with a stone heart to the therapist’s, fumble awkwardly through my weekly session, drive home with a knotty stomach knowing that the cat will be waiting for me. I’ll cook a mediocre meal that my husband will feign as little interest in as I will the sex we’ll have later that night until I’m back where I am now, all glass eyes and finger counting, my sheetrock canopy the only company I keep. I shiver. I realize I do not want to sleep because I dread tomorrow. A fleeting second passes where I consider the cat my savior for keeping the sun from rising swiftly while I sleep. I swallow it back down.
When I decide the ceiling has begun to make me feel worse, I steal a quick glance at the bedside clock. I squint. The red monolithic numbers inform me that it’s three forty-two in the morning. In nearly two and a half hours the more silent of my two bedmates is going to scream at me to get up until I punch it in the head. My husband will continue sleeping, snoring lightly. I won’t envy him necessarily, but I will envy the sleep he’ll be holding on to then, how so little seems to bother him, and how nothing particularly seems to rouse him outside of a firm shake on the shoulder. So our life together has always been, so it shall continue to always be.
I decide that maybe I’ve had enough of the hellcat trifecta and gradually slide my thin legs over the side of the bed. The movement between the linen and my cotton sleep pants builds static electricity and now my pants cling to my shins, making my dry skin ache with itch. I slide on my grey slippers, the weathered and battered ones that were a Christmas gift from Frankie years ago, the ones with the cursive letter ‘P’ on the toes, and stand to the sound of my knees popping like firecrackers. This must surprise the cat because the noises stop, but only for a few seconds. As he has now confirmed my awakening he begins his song anew, more frenzied, out of order, a special present for the woman that wishes to eviscerate him. I bit my tongue to keep from crying out in frustration.
I slid across the floor and swing the door open, quickly, hoping to catch the little bastard right on the nose, but he’s moved out of the way in what seems to me like anticipation. He brushes against my legs and the static causes a stir of crinkly pops to arise and I get zapped and I curse. He doesn’t have me fooled; he is a smart god damned bastard. Our eyes meet and I shiver a little, the green outside rims glimmer in the little light that isn’t swallowed by the black slits cutting through them, out of which the night seems to pour, filling in the spaces around me. I think he might be smiling at me. I shiver harder this time.
I walk out into the living room where his food bowl sits overturned beside the plastic meal placard that I remember Frankie buying a couple years ago when he first found him living under the dumpster behind his job. Frankie’s excitement yielded a wealth of toys, bowls, cat furniture, scratching posts, every accessory imaginable. The cat was lucky to have him for an owner, to be sure. Now whatever’s left is frayed and weathered or missing or crushed or permanently unreplaced. He protests whenever he can, which is why the food bowl is now upside down, the gravy from last nights’ food pouch drying in a crackling puddle on the hardwood. He meows. I sigh and walk to the kitchen to get him his highly desired late night snack, not because I want to treat the little shit, but because I want him to shut up so I can suffer alone in peace.
I hit the light switch in the kitchen and electric white melts into my eyes and seizes the front of my head with ache. I raise my hand to my forehead, move across the linoleum and gingerly pick a packet of food off the stained cupboard shelf. With great relief I steep the kitchen into night once more, but bump my shin against the low coffee table on my way back to the cat’s bowl. He meows again while I wince with pain, and this time I know that’s his way of laughing.
I hastily empty the chunks of horse or possum or whatever the hell into the ceramic bowl and leave the room as he sprints to his meal, and all the way from the garbage can to the hallway to my bedroom doorknob I hear him scarfing it down greedily. My stomach turning brings me one last shiver as I climb back into bed, pull the covers beneath my chin, squeeze my eyes as tight as I can, and whisper my now-nightly mantra of, ‘soon he’ll be dead, soon he’ll be dead, soon he’ll be dead,’ while my husband wheezes softly beside me, oblivious, no doubt dreaming of some surreal green pasture and clear blue sky that my eyes will never again in my life have a chance to drink in. I wait impatiently for the cold, bony hand of sleep to grip me once more.
“Timmy?” I say through squinted eyes.
I’m out delivering a lunch order at a funeral home and I’m surprised to see my cousin standing in the lobby wearing a suit. It’s a charcoal grey. His tie is pink and this frustrates me. Timmy is always inappropriate with choice of clothing.
“Timmy, what’re you doing here? Who died?”
“You did, Chuck. Chucky’s dead. You died.”
Ice slips down my spine. I’m unclear of the circumstance but I know the feeling. I’ve lost. Pressure thick and ragged pushes into my rib cage and I know it’s over. Defeated, I let fall the spinach salad in the white paper bag and allow my cousin to lead me to my viewing.
“There, there Chucky baby, it’s okay. We all knew you were going to die eventually. Happens to the best of us. Don’t get any fucking dead person stink on my new suit, shithead.”
He guides me, hand pressed against shoulder to the acceptably crowded room. The line’s not out the door or anything but I’m satisfied with the amount of mourners. It’s the demeanor of some of them that throws me off, some tapping their feet and sighing with the howdarehekeepmewaiting and thisiscompletelyunacceptable and it makes me uncomfortable to know that they’re all staring although not looking at me at all. I try to speak a solemn apology but instead I belch dust and cobwebs and small pebbles of dried blood.
Tim lends me a hand climbing into the stained casket using just the passable amount of effort possible, appearing as if he were truly helping. When I’m in he closes the lower half before moving to the top. He sees the confusion in my eyes as he closes it and he leans in close enough so that the wretched curls of stale cigar smoke stain my dead skin.
“It was a bad accident Chucky. You’re all fucked up and you’re dead. That the way things is sometimes.”
He laughs at this and I realize how drunk he must be, although when I lift my hand to my face I realize he’s telling the truth. I’m all fucked up. My left cheek hangs loose like the tongue of an old work boot. My nose has disappeared, nothing but two holes placed precariously between my mouth and eyes. My eyes are gone too and when I run my hands over the stitch marks that crisscross my lids squeezing them tightly shut I realize I can’t see anything anymore and haven’t seen a thing since I got here. It doesn’t really matter in the end because the casket’s closed now. People laugh heartily outside, but whisper in between each chortle like they’re talking about me, making nice when I’m around and talking shit when my eyes and ears are closed and I’m in a casket and a horrible accident fucked up my face and I’m dead.
I run my tongue around my mouth and then I start to chew down when I notice something’s lodged in there. It’s spinach. I can’t tell if it’s the spinach or my blood that makes my mouth feel coated in mercury. I’m dead and fucked up and it’s all an accident. Poor old Chucky. Poor poor dead chuckdeadydead chuckychuck.
The casket melts into the dry floral scentend air and now they’re forced to breathe me in and I’m everywhere at once and it seems I get the last laugh in the end, hahaha you assholes, because now they have to breathe in ol’ Chucky because there was an accident and I got all fucked up and now I’m dead.
Bar on a Thursday
The sign above the urinal advertises a Journey cover band featuring the former lead singer of a different Journey cover band and I begin to think too heavily about the market for Journey cover bands in this country. An imitation of a parody boggles me and I have to struggle to keep from accidentally pissing down my pant leg. Is there a market for cover bands of cover bands? Does the Journey cover band featured here next week perform covers of that first Journey cover band’s songs? How many miles does a man have to walk to consider a journey accomplished? Has anyone truly stopped believing? Finishing and zipping provides me no answers, just more questions and the dampness that only freshly dribbled-in boxers can bring. Shit. Or piss, rather.
The white lane lines are perforation marks and I fold the highway under my car as I drive along. It’s selfish of me, but I can’t find the time to care. I don’t want them to follow, any of them, the shadows that swallow thoughts in gaping maws and pack themselves close and tight into blistered swollen lungs. I ease back in my seat with my knees arched high against the steering wheel, letting cruise control push the night air away from my car. I’ve driven on 81 plenty of times in the early morning but it’s never seemed so dark. The four o’clock sky threatens to blend with the earth until all is one leaving the solid to evaporate away beneath my spinning wheels. I can almost feel my rear wheels and the back of my car tracing upwards in a circle, letting my car flip end over end , pulled through the dark on needle thin fishing lines from heaven’s reel. I have to concentrate to keep the sensation of weightlessness down.
There’s no one else out here with me except for the occasional 18 wheeler and even they don’t keep me company for long. Whenever I see one on the horizon I slide across lanes and slip past them like hot butter against the roadway. A few miles out from Cortland I see two of them mingle words with one another through the flashing of lights. I hear their voices cut against the silence of night in soft whispers of metal crushing against metal. They are polite, but their tones are unnerving.
I’m not sure what makes the thoughts bubble up, but I can’t help but see my car careening through the guardrails at every bend I close in on. I wonder which way gravity will sway me and I wonder how mangled my body will be in the wreck. I can hear the sirens calling in the distance to respond to my broken body buried within the husk of my shriveled car. I can taste the blood on my tongue and I can feel the bits of glass freckle my skin. I don’t think I’m crying out in pain, but maybe I am and just can’t notice it over the squeal of a fresh car wreck.
Talking drones from my radio, talky talk, syllable tongues rising through inflections of gibberish and gobbledygook. I try to pay attention but the words compact once they touch my ears and no matter how loud I raise the volume everything’s too quiet. It’s all too, too quiet. I want to roll down my windows and spit drooling shouts out of them. I want to dig my fingernails into the chalkboard of night.
I’m tired and all I want is sleep. I wish I could take back my handiwork on the highway, smooth out the crinkles and unfold the perforations. I want to peel back the black tar like a stamp and tuck myself in underneath it. I want my dreams to melt out from my ears and become the stars in the sky and then I want those stars to fall on all the cities of the world so that they all know what dirty rain feels like on clean skin.
After a while the city rears itself onto the horizon with a withered yawn. From afar the streetlights shine like tiny suns. It warms me until I see the red towers stretching up. My stomach turns. I’m filled to my throat with sick. I can’t escape the towers no matter where I go. They wait for me at home, they followed me away to college, and now they stand tall and flip me off, flashing fingernails at the tip of each steel finger. They transmit to me the hurt that sits beneath the skin and muscle and bone of my forehead. I can’t escape the signals they send. The next two miles stretch on for days in the slender frames of seconds.
When I finally pull off the exit I see two people walking backwards up the sidewalk, trying to trick me. I don’t fall for it. I keep driving.
I pull up to the old yellow house as the sky begins to defrost into blue. I lock my car doors from inside because pressing the remote gives a short horn blast. I don’t want to disturb the crescent moon and send him careening back angrily from the corners of the horizon, quieting the change in colors until it eases back to black. I don’t want the night to be never-ending.
I’ve arrived a few minutes before the sun. I go in the house and leave him outside, hiding shy behind the mountaintops, mulling over his trip and the reasons why he made it until he finally musters the courage to break from his pacing and creep along across the sky slowly, over time casting himself further and wider onto the trees and lawns and houses and streets and sweat and blood and bone.
George Bailey Lassoes the Moon
I’m waiting for the moon to fall
On a frosted glass winter night,
When invisible clouds shudder off snow –
Dandruff from God’s shoulder.
She is the largest white flake in the sky,
Taking the longest journey down to my waiting mouth,
Tongue unfurled from gaping jaw like streamer paper;
A dull pink finish line for a celestial body and its eventual descent.
The cold air encapsulates each breath in dead space,
A fraction of life lingering for someone else to find.
A murder settles in the distance with a steadied beating of wings,
A canopy of black feathers that hovers inches above white earth,
A piece of the night that came alive
And settled upon nocturnal snowfall
To mock my days and weeks of waiting
For one silver fleck.
My head becomes a new center of gravity
That draws the orb through invisible tracks in the air.
My fingers still reek of teriyaki marinade even though I’ve washed them three times, rubbing them violently under warm water until pink. Suddenly I’m frightened that someone will come and take them from me when I’m sleeping, remove them while I’m miles away and bring them home to the family as a meal, the freshest catch of the week. They’ll grill each one until they’re thoroughly cooked through and they’ll be served for dinner to the Peterson family, husband Rich, wife Jean, twin daughters Shelly and Stephanie, son Richard Jr. They’ll each get two, an even division, although Richard Jr. usually doesn’t finish his portion and slides the leftovers under the table for Chicago, their German Shepard, who’ll happily eat whatever the boy will give him. Perhaps my fingers will be served with a side of cauliflower or broccoli, some macaroni and cheese, followed by Jean Peterson’s famous Dutch apple pie for desert. They’ll eat with smiles and ask one another about their day, how school is going, when Richard Peterson Sr.’s next promotion is due, who’s turn it is to feed Chicago. The Peterson family will eat and later go to sleep in a quiet house, feeling warm, safe, and full.
Meanwhile I’ll sit empty handed and wonder why I didn’t prepare hamburgers instead. I will no longer be able to write. My only voice in this world gone, I’ll sit in silence and feel sorry for taking advantage of the ten truest friends I ever had.
The knife sunk in.There was a howl that filled the crowded bar, pushed out the walls and ceiling as if there wasn’t enough space to contain it. Ellie pulled the knife out.
Drip drip drip
Her husband’s brown jacket was soaked red under his right shoulder blade. As a reflex she wondered briefly if she’d be able to remove the stain by pre-treating it.
The knife sunk in again. Ellie didn’t push as hard because her first plunge taught her that flesh and muscle were softer, more pliable than they had always appeared as if the weight of a day’s stress bore no physical effects after all. Another scream arose in the now silent room. Everyone around Ellie slowly became aware of the situation, turning with drinks in hand to witness the origin of the shrieks. Ellie’s husband began reaching back to deter his attacker, but she stood at a distance to avoid his grasp. She pulled the knife out again, this time from a spot a few inches left of her previous mark.
Drip drip drip
A trail of blood came back with the blade, scattering small red flecks across the front of her pants suit. Seconds, hours, months, years leaked from her husband’s back and collected in a shimmering pool beneath the stool where he sat.
The knife sunk in a final time. Ellie felt disembodied hands pull her away as a gurgle lurched forward from her husband’s mouth. A lung had been grazed, punctured. The knife stood buried to the handle in his back.
Drip drip drip
He slouched forward onto the bar feeling suddenly tired. His head rested against the waxy wood while his eyes gazed dumbly at the highlights from yesterday’s game while it screamed scores and statistics as if to compete with the sudden shock of silence.
Hours earlier, his fist slid across her face. He had gotten angry as he was known to. She cried out, a deep despairing wail, as she watched him grab his expensive leather coat. The door swallowed him whole as he crossed the threshold until the only evidence of his presence was the crumpled form in the bedroom. Ellie’s bottom lip was split and the blood met with her wayward tears. They mingled together all the way down to her chin, where it hung for a few seconds before falling onto the hardwood floor.