He licks his berry-stained fingers, sucking sticky sugar and who knows what else from beneath the nails.
“You know that’s filthy?” Clara’s eyes search his face. He’s all angles. With how easily he devours food you’d expect curves and rolling skin.
Heath leans back in his chair. Appraising. Giving her a once over. “Perhaps,” he pauses, slipping his finger back into the sweet filling pouring out from the crust in front of him. He leans into her and feels her breath catch as he wipes the sticky mess across her mouth. Their faces almost touch, and she’s still not breathing. “Tastes good though,” he exhales as his tongue pushes its way into her mouth.
And he’s right.
It’s like eating light. It’s like drowning in oxygen. And she cannot stop. It is a hunger she could never describe. And she cannot stop. Her insides are bursting, but she cannot stop. The process of eating this pie has become her one and only need. And it never ends. And Clara must eat it all before he gets the chance to take anymore from her. She feels sick. She wants to stop. She needs to stop. She is suffocating. Food filling her so fast that her stomach cannot contain it. Red dripping from her mouth.
Heath holds her face down in the viscid expanse of sweet debris. “It’s alright, love. Keep going until you can’t. Keep going until your heart stops…”
And Clara weeps as the syrup fills her up. The sugar rushing through her veins, crashing into her heart. And her body cannot keep up. But still she wants more. And just when she thinks she will not fill until it is too late, he pulls her neck back. Her throat is exposed and her mouth is begging her to dig back in. “My turn,” he whispers and sucks every last bit of her out. And he keeps going until she can’t. He keeps going until her heart stops. Sticky morsels clinging to his throat. He keeps going because he can’t stop.
Sloth (This is a Ghost Story)
There's a stain on the wall about four inches to the left of the television set. The stain has been there for a long time. If Daryl were to look at it closely enough, which he never does, he'd still be able to see the spindly remains of an unlucky fly's legs. The fly’s left wing had fallen off from the wall about two weeks after its death, and now rests at the wall’s edge where it meets the floor, paper-thin and invisible, caked in a thin layer of dust.
A poorly-performed burial service.
Sometimes Daryl looks at the stain, but then whatever TV program he’s watching snatches his attention back, and he forgets about it again. Today, HGTV is on. Daryl thinks of changing it, but his hands are covered in barbeque sauce, so he leaves the remote where it is and continues eating. Onscreen, a kitchen is being gutted. Someone is taking a hammer to the cabinets, and Daryl wonders if the man’s safety goggles will leave funny marks around his eyes. He takes another bite of his chicken wing and then sets the plate aside, mostly untouched. He hasn’t had much of an appetite lately. Can’t even bring himself to lick the sticky sauce from his fingers, so he just rests his hands palms up on his lap, fingers curling inward.
There is a sink down the short hallway and into the kitchen, and he thinks of going to it. He’d take the plate of wings with him, maybe, so he could put the leftovers in the fridge for tomorrow. To Daryl, it doesn’t look like the countertops in the kitchen on his television screen are all that outdated, but a woman named Casey insists it’s necessary for the eventual cohesion of the space, and Daryl figures she probably knows better than him. It looks satisfying, breaking up the pieces and starting all over again.
Outside the window on the left side of the couch, the sun is making its slow descent. Orange bleeds into the room, folding itself into the single, beige pillow and disappearing. Daryl doesn’t notice. They’ve started in on the master bedroom now.
In the daylight, Daryl tells himself that there are things worth doing.
Sometimes he goes to the grocery store and stands in the aisle underneath the blinking fluorescents and tries to remember which kind of ice cream is his favorite. In the end, he just gets chocolate. He’s glad for the automatic checkout lines, the robotic voice of a woman he doesn’t know that asks how many bags he’d like and tells him he can insert his credit card now. There are people here. He can see them even beneath the ugly lights. Terse glances at calorie counts, the playful gaze of a girl holding up a sushi roll for her boyfriend to see. (This one, babe?), a mother reaching for a dropped pacifier, eternal patience etched into her smile lines. Daryl knows he belonged here, once, but the world passed him by a long time ago, and God knows it won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Certainly not for him.
In front of the TV again, Daryl dips into the ice cream container. He’s sure there’s a bowl somewhere in the kitchen, but the cabinets always seem to glare at him, wondering why they’re not being updated. Today, it’s a crime show of some kind. Flashing red lights, caution tape surrounding the outside of somebody’s shattered, suburban life. The camera follows a sandy-haired man and his giant of a partner into the house, bloodstains smudged sporadically along the carpet as they make their way into the foyer. A melted bit of ice cream drips onto Daryl’s socked foot. He ignores it.
“Could be a ghost,” the sandy-haired man says only to his partner, voice dipped too low for the other investigators to hear.
Huh, Daryl thinks. Not just a regular crime show then.
Outside his window, the sun has been down for hours. The dead fly on the wall beside the television screen loses another leg, weightless and tiny and impossible to notice. A packet of barbeque sauce from Daryl’s chicken wings has tipped over, seeping sluggishly into the beige pillow closest to the window. Tomorrow, Daryl will see the unfixable stain, and he will be filled with an overwhelming sadness that cannot be explained.
The day after that, he will sit back down on the couch and finish off the rest of his ice cream. The pillow will be flipped over, barbeque sauce side down.
A poorly-performed burial service.
The text read, how’s your mother doing? The coded text message couldn’t come soon enough. Translated, it means I’m ready when you are. Instantly ripe, just under her tee shirt, her push up bra seems to tighten, and her lower lips pucker.
“I’m taking the dog out for a walk,” she yells. Reaching for the leash, she delights in the sight of her delicate arm hair standing erect.
All of them hear her, none of them care to acknowledge her. Her youngest is lost in Star Wars Battlefront II, the middle one is poorly managing algebra frustration, the oldest is lying on her bed jilted, and her husband is watching Fox News annoyed at the interruption, rewinding without satisfaction, as she closes the front door expectantly.
The ice and slush don’t hinder her as she steps off the curb. How many times has she gotten away with this ruse? Not enough, she thinks. Never enough. She wants more even as she’s getting it.
He lives alone, drinks too much, gambles and looks older than his age. Fourteen years her junior, he jokes that she’s his MILF and she takes it as a high compliment, as if the young loser down the block beckoning her is a valued prize she’s won. Neither of them remembers who made the first move as they passed each other walking their dogs. They could blame it all on the dogs, pulling towards one another, each enthusiastically lifting a leg, noses in taboo places.
Ringing the doorbell with a steady hand, she won’t wait long for the door to open. The smell of stale beer doesn’t bother her as it would in her house, nor do the spent cans and fast food wrappers on the floor that would normally have her blow a gasket. Her dog knows the drill and runs out the back slider, happy to romp with his dog pal for as long as it takes.
The blinds are closed, the lights are dim, and the ponies on the racing channel have just left the gate as the passion explodes between them. Clothes fly and land mingling with the debris as the clock stops. There is nothing other than the act on her mind as she completely devours every inch of his unshowered skin. Why would he shower before she comes, or after?
“Harder. Harder.” She screams and moans and he knows he’s already giving it to her as hard as he can, so he slaps her bare ass to accommodate the pain she craves.
Somewhat breathless, as if dignity had ever been in the room, she asks him, “Do you still think I’m beautiful?” “Of course I do,” he says, not really lying. None of his friends know about her, neither does his family. Why would he tell them? She’s just an easy lay. Uncomplicated; that is as long as her husband doesn’t find out. He shakes off that thought, content that this arrangement contradicts his previous girlfriend who wanted marraige and kids.
They talk for a few minutes about the dogs, the ponies and his job while she slowly gets dressed and uses the comb that he leaves for her in his desk.
“See ya,” she says, as if she’s saying good-bye to someone she just met. The street is empty and dark, as she starts walking back to them, wondering if she should order Chinese take out or pizza. “Let them starve, for all I care,” she thinks, because for a single minute, she is full.
Hands on my skin
They caress away my fears
Whispers in my ear
That tickle my soul
Lips touch my lips
And stars erupt
From the space
That once separated us
I grasp onto you
To every strand and thread
Afraid that you’ll unravel
At my touch
All I want to do
Is hold you close to me
And feel your warmth
Drain the ice from my heart
I feel your breath
On my skin
As you bless my lips
With a summer breeze
You push me down
And I see the light in your eyes
Your eyes close
As I open my eyes
I wipe the slumber
From my weary eyes
And sit up in my chair
As the chiming bell rings
You give me a smile
And I feel sick inside
As you walk by with your hand entwined
In the hand of another girl’s
You’re the Seventh
“Tall pumpkin spice latte for Angela!” the tall, male barista shouted with a wink in my direction.
I grabbed my drink, enjoying the warmth it gave my hands, and sat down next to my friend Olivia. It was Sunday afternoon and time for our weekly coffee date where we would catch each other up on our lives and gossip about mutual friends. That day I felt particularly relaxed, as I knew I had the week off and had no reason to rush home afterward.
“Did he wink at you?” Olivia asked as soon as I sat down, “He’s cute.”
“He’s gay,” I said with a roll of my eyes.
She looked at him and shrugged.
“Well, have there been any other men piquing your interest lately?”
I sighed and recounted how my coworker, who I had no interest in, had increased his usual amount of flirting. Next, I told her about some annoying catcalls I’d been getting from construction workers on my street. That was the extent of it for the week.
“What about you ’Livia?” I asked with my usual nickname for her, “Have any men been getting your attention lately?”
“Not a single one. I’m really starting to hate guys,” she said, deeply glaring her bright green eyes.
I touched my drink to hers in agreement before taking a big sip. Our conversation moved on to the ridiculous amount of friends we had that were getting engaged. At the age of 23, neither of us could understand how so many of our friends were engaged already. Eventually, we hugged and parted ways for the next week. Olivia off to do laundry and me to buy my week’s groceries.
We live in a world where, for women, the smaller your body, the bigger your power. Therefore, in order to stay thin, my weekly menu never varied. It just made it easier for me to keep track of calories and other nutritional values. Robotically walking through the aisles, grabbing food items was mechanical. While not paying attention, I ran into somebody’s overly filled cart. As I fell, my skirt flew up, and several items fell on and next to me.
“Sorry!” I heard the voice before I saw the face.
I pulled my skirt down and then accepted a hand from an attractive male stranger.
“No, I’M sorry,” I told him as I started to help pick up some of the fallen items.
I grabbed some raspberries and blueberries as I gazed at his blond, wavy hair, and laughing brown eyes.
“These are all crushed. I’ll go get you some new ones,” I told him.
As we walked over to the fruit section, I inquired if he was having some sort of celebration because of the amount of food in his cart. It turns out that was just ONE of his carts. As a chef, he often tested out recipes at home before trying them at work.
“What restaurant do you work at? If the food is as good as the ingredients I’d love to try it. I’m off this week. Maybe I’ll treat myself tomorrow.”
“Well, if you went tomorrow, you wouldn’t get to taste my cooking. Mondays are my day off. How about you come over to my place tomorrow morning and I’ll make you breakfast?”
Normally, I wouldn’t accept that type of offer, but I was in drawn to this man in a way I wasn’t used to. I agreed, typed his address into my phone, and made plans to arrive at 9:00am the next morning. Used to having dates at night, rather than the morning, I wasn’t sure what to wear. Settling on a short, fitted, floral dress, I drove off to the address I had typed. When I arrived, my jaw dropped. This was no normal house. It was more of a Gothic castle. But, the address matched, so I decided to go ahead on knock. Before he even opened the door enough for me to see his face, I could smell the food. In a trance, without even saying hello, I walked towards the kitchen.
“Sit down and I’ll bring you something,” he directed.
“Sorry, hi! Thank you!” I said, trying to regain some sense of politeness.
I tried to concentrate on forming sentences, but was having trouble exhaling. I just kept inhaling the intoxicating scents. A few seconds later he set a plate down in front of me and gave me a fork. I dived in as he described the food.
“Those are lemon blueberry pancakes with raspberry whipped cream.”
“Oh my God,” I said between bites, “where do you get raspberry whipped cream? It’s incredible!”
“I created it,” he said simply and walked away. When he returned I was finishing my last bite of pancakes. He replaced my empty plate with a full one.
“Egg white omelet with butternut squash and sweet potato hash browns,” he announced excitedly.
It didn’t matter what he called the food, it looked and smelled too delicious not to eat. After that and some chocolate mocha scones, I felt as if I were going to explode. I regretted the choice of the tight-fitted dress.
“Maybe you’d like to borrow something more comfy to wear for a bit?” he asked as if reading my mind.
Again, that’s not the sort of offer I’d normally accept, but this dress had begun to suffocate me, so I accepted. A moment later he returned with a gray t-shirt and some white and gray plaid shorts. I changed in the bathroom and went back to the kitchen.
“This material is so soft! Where did you get these?” I asked him.
“Actually, those belong to my brother.”
“Oh, does he live here too? That makes sense -this place is huge! Do many people live here?”
“All my brothers and I live here. There are five of us total. Six if you include one of my brother’s son.”
“Five boys! Wow, your poor mom. Are they all as great of cooks as you?”
“No,” he laughed, “We’re all very different. But, let me get you something to eat, you must be really hungry.”
I was about to protest when my stomach growled. Impossibly, I was indeed hungry again. My logic went out the window and I decided to trust my senses. My first sense was to kiss my date. Next, it was to sit for more food. As more and more food was placed in front of me, I ate until he stopped bringing it.
“It’s getting late,” he finally told me.
I looked at the time on my phone and shook my head disbelieving that it was actually almost 11:00 at night. I thought to myself that time was acting very strange. Then I thought to myself: I’m going to throw up. I gagged.
After being directed to the bathroom, I ran to it. Then I puked until every inch of my insides felt raw. My body collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. I inched up when I heard a light knock and crawled to answer the door.
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” he told me, “but you must be tired. The door to your right is a guest room. You’re welcome to stay in it tonight.”
“Thank you,” I accepted his invitation.
I knew it would take all my strength just to brush my teeth and make it to the guestroom bed. There was no chance I could get to my car and drive home safely. I fell into the deepest sleep of my life. When I awoke, I was not alone. I tensed, feeling a body next to me. Had my date creeped in and taken advantage of me during the night? I didn’t feel violated.
No, nothing like that could have happened. He must have been concerned about me last night, came to check on me, and fallen asleep, I told myself. But, when I turned around, I screamed. I had no idea who was laying next to me. The, admittedly cute, man ran a hand over his buzzed head and blinked a few times, showing glimpses of his water blue eyes, before closing them again.
“Shhhhh,” he told me.
“I will not ‘shhhh!’” I warned as I scooted away, “What are you doing in my bed?”
“You’re the one in my house, wearing my pajamas.”
“Your brother lent them to me after he cooked for me. I still don’t see why you’re in this bed. This is a guest room, right?” I said, my fear and anger both already subsiding.
“My room needs cleaning and I’m tired. This room is clean. Let’s not argue. It’s early.”
“I should say goodbye to your brother and go,” I said without really wanting to do either.
“Oh I’m sure he left for work already. Go if you must, but personally, I’d sleep a few more
hours first. Aren’t you tired?”
I was. The combination of all the food and all the energy it took throwing up still had me tired. Plus, it did still seem to be early.
“Actually, I am. Should I, um, go to another guest room?”
“Shhh, just sleep,” he encouraged me.
Against my better judgment, I shrugged and lied back down. Within a few seconds, I had fallen asleep. At some point, I started to wake up and felt his arm around me. Instead of moving away, I snuggled deeper into it, and allowed sleep to take me again. At one point I remember groggily waking up and kissing him before falling into another slumber. When I woke up again it was to a voice I didn’t recognize. I felt around the bed, realized I was alone, and sat up to see who was talking to me.
“Is this yours?” I was asked by a man holding my dress.
However, what was in his left hand was of the least interest to me. The man standing in front of me was the single most attractive individual I had ever seen, or even imagined possible. His wet, dark hair matched his dark brown eyes perfectly, but even that couldn’t hold my attention. His abs could only be described as an eight pack, followed by that dangerous V shape which pointed to the soft white towel hanging around his waist. I’d never wanted to grab a towel so badly.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he told me.
“Um, yes, sorry,” I said, shaking my head to gather it, “What time is it?”
“It’s about 11:30 in the morning, Gorgeous.”
“That’s it?” my surprise momentarily distracting me from my obvious staring, I grabbed my phone.
It was indeed 11:30 in the morning. On Wednesday.
“Did I sleep the entire day? Oh my gosh, I need to get home and-“
“Shower?” he supplied as he tossed my dress at me and used the now free hand to rub some water off his hair.
“Yes,” I replied, shamelessly staring again.
“You can use the one in the bathroom next door. There’s shampoo and everything else you’ll need in there. There’s a robe on the hook and I can grab you a towel for your hair.”
“Can it be that one?” I scandalously proposed as I stared down at his.
“If you’re lucky,” he said with a wink and walked away.
Blushing at my sudden boldness, I took that as my cue and went into the bathroom for my shower. Normally, I turn the heat all the way up. Today, I turned it all the way down. Despite the icy water, when I climbed out of the shower, I felt hot. Had the water simply evaporated off of me in an instant, I might not even have been surprised.
I put on the robe and wrapped a towel around my hair that I hadn’t remembered being there before. Had he come in and put it there while I showered? The heat in my cheeks increased. I left the bathroom and wandered back to the guest room where I had left my dress. Next to it, lying leisurely on the bed, this time sporting a pair of low cut jeans instead of a towel, was the unbelievably sexy man.
“There’s my dress. Help me put it on?” I asked with my hands ready to drop my robe.
“No,” he replied, “You can’t put that on. It’s dirty.”
“Maybe I like it dirty,” I replied, not believing my own voice.
I watched as he slowly walked over to me, lifted my chin, and kissed me. My arms went around his neck instantly and I was determined to never release him. The next thing I remember is waking up in that bed again. Somehow, I was in another pair of pajamas. I quickly overcame my disorientation –I wanted that man again. But, when I opened the bedroom door, I was facing another stranger. His indigo eyes searched mine immediately.
“Hello,” I said, “I’m looking for one of your brothers. He’s-”
I was interrupted by a small child running down the hallway.
“Daddy!” the black-haired child screamed and ran into the man’s arms.
The pair had the same eyes, hair, and obvious love for each other. My heart melted.
“I’m hungry. Let’s go eat!” the child announced.
“Whatever you want,” his father told him as they started to walk downstairs.
The kid whipped his head back and shouted, “You’re eating with us! Come on!” Obediently, I followed.
The rest of the day, I was at that child’s mercy.
When he said to give him something –I gave it.
When he said to say something –I said it.
When he said to do something –I did it.
There was no end to his wants and expectancy to get them. As I grew hungry –he didn’t care. As I grew tired –he didn’t care. But, neither did I, for some reason. He wanted all of my attention and refused to let an ounce of it go to another. And it flattered me more than I would have thought possible.
“Now we’re all going to have a sleepover in the living room!” the child demanded.
“As fun as today has been, I really think it’s time I go home,” I tried.
“No! I need you to have a sleepover!” I agreed. Right before bed, I received his final demand.
“Give me a bedtime kiss!”
I tried to give him a kiss on the cheek, but he turned his head so it landed on his lips. We all laughed and fell asleep on the floor. When I awoke in the morning, the child was gone and I was left sleeping next to his father, who woke up at the same time I did.
“Where is your son?” I asked right away.
“He’s off with his private tutor. Then he has piano and swimming lessons. I make sure that he has everything he needs. He’s perfect.”
I stared at his father as he continued to brag about his son and how he was the one to make him. Normally, the bragging would turn me off, but as I was completely enamored by the child, I couldn’t help but think the bragging was deserved. What deserved praise more than raising a child? The child’s confidence and intelligence was a result of his upbringing.
His father was the reason the child was so amazing. Any other children he had would probably turn out just as perfect. I could be the mother to a perfect child, if only I were with that man. Well, there was once place to start. I kissed him. Then, he continued to talk about himself until I eventually fell asleep, smiling at his achievements.
Saturday, I awoke with a start. This time, rather than waking up alone, or with one man, I was surrounded with all the men I had met in that house, with the addition of another. His long red hair was slicked back and his long beard was pointed like a dagger. I watched as his sharp green eyes glared at each of the men in turn.
“You fed her until her body couldn’t handle another ounce! It started to reject the food and made her throw it all up!” he screamed at my chef.
“And you, keeping her in bed the ENTIRE DAY! If you had let her go home as she wanted she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see this one,” he yelled as he switched his focus from my snuggling buddy to the sexiest man in existence.
“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” is all he asked before a punch caused his victim to fall on the ground.
I started to move forward to help him, but the child’s insistent whisper against it kept me in my place.
“Oh, yes, how can I forget the little brat who always gets his way and the father thinks so much of his parenting skills that he lets him? You’re as bad as the rest of them. YOU ALL TOOK ADVANTAGE OF HER!” he roared.
He’s right, I realized. They had, in their own ways, all taken advantage of me. And each of them had allowed the others to do so as well. In the entire place, this stranger was the only person really sticking up for me. His harshness wasn’t just warranted, but I gladly welcomed it.
“Thank you,” I told him, before placing a kiss upon his cheek.
“GET OUT OF HERE!” the stranger growled at me, causing a shiver to spread throughout my body.
With that direction, I quickly dashed outside and into my car. I drove home without looking back. Even though it must have been morning, exhaustion hit me again, and I immediately changed into a pair of my own pajamas and went to bed. In the morning I
awoke to a text message from Olivia.
Cant wait 2 C U today and hear abt your week off!!!
My mind was reeling over the week’s events, but I decided to still go on our weekly coffee date. Maybe my friend could help me organize my thoughts. When I arrived she was
already sitting at our usual table with two drinks.
“You got my drink for me! Thanks ’Livia!”
“No problem! So, any men catch your attention this week?”
“Yes! You won’t even believe it!”
Olivia scooted forward in anticipation, those green eyes glowing.
“I met a cute guy at the grocery store Sunday night and let him make me breakfast at his house Monday morning!”
“Oh my gosh!” she squealed, “What did he look like? What was his name?”
“He was tall with blond hair and brown eyes and…oh, wow. I never asked his name!” I laughed.
“Angela! How do you not know his name? I’m guessing you didn’t sleep with him then,” she laughed as well.
“No, I slept with his brother!” I said before seeing her face and adding, “Not like that!” Sleep sleeping…like where you actually sleep!”
“Um, how did that happen? His brother was insanely attractive or something?”
“No, I mean he was cute, but it was their other brother who couldn’t have looked better! And the way he kissed!”
“Two brothers? Did you learn their names?”
“Oh my God, NO! I didn’t learn a single one of their names. I can’t believe there were six people there and I don’t know any their names.”
“SIX? How many of these six did you kiss?”
I didn’t answer in words, but my blush did it for me.
“You kissed all six men!” I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head.
“One was a kid!” I said before realizing that didn’t help my case.
“Seriously, Angela? What is WRONG with you?”
“You’re just jealous!” I threw at her.
“You’re right, I am,” were her last words before kissing me.
I stared at her, speechless.
Awkwardly, she tried to change the subject, “Want to try some of my scone? It tastes so good it’s sinful.”
I didn’t know what to make of Olivia’s sudden attitude, but I also didn’t know what to make of how I’d been acting the entire week. After parting with Olivia, and pretending things were normal between us, I made a decision. I needed to return to that house and confront each of the men. I drove back to the address, but was unable to talk to any of
The house was no longer there.
Damp fingers on raw mirrors
dewy body meeting needs
sodden edges of lust
drops of drained abundance
contortionists in washed sky
puddle of flipped throwbacks
tides of ecstasy overflowing
wants watered by nectar
showers of soaked release
drenched by your touch
drained by the moisture
of my soggy limbs
struggling for dripping air
saturated embers, wicks
searching for last breath
vapors of my soul.
I lusted after you
even if I never expected for it to be true
I visualized how it would be
the taste of your lips
the touch of your skin
the smell of your wounded soul
in my warm embrace,
I didn't want to share
I wanted you for myself
my mind filled with pictures and sensations
of my fingers against your thighs
and your hands against my back
nails digging in
and passion filling us both
the unseen bruises under your skin
felt like bonded courage that only my soul could respond to
I lusted after you
and when I close my eyes
I know that I still want you like that
I am full of this sin that burns so good
red flames, guiding me your way
flash against flash
sin against sin
those soft lips of yours calling me in
but is it a sin to love you like that?
in that way?
but sinners are just like that
remind me, how soft, did you say they were...?
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
A man’s man
Instead of a workshop, my grandfather had a metal shed. It wasn’t an ordinary outbuilding, though. It was a deluxe model.
Aluminum construction, painted wooden floor, raised above the earth on concrete blocks, it measured eight feet wide by twenty-four feet long. Wired for electricity and complete with two light fixtures and multiple electrical outlets, the thing was built to last.
In fact, it still sits on my family property surrounded by cotton fields and swaying pines.
He didn’t tinker and build, he tinkered and grew things. A practical, pragmatic man, he planted vegetables year round; never a flower or ornamental shrub to be found. There would always be a small crop to tend. If there weren’t potatoes in the earth, there’d be tomatoes or cabbages above it.
One of my fondest, if macabre, memories was our hunt for rat shot. As a ten year old, I had no idea what rat shot was, nor why anyone would want to shoot rats. Presumably, one trapped them as opposed to shooting them, given potential bullet holes in walls and floors as the result of missing a scrambling little target.
One afternoon, he growled “Get in the truck. We’re going to find rat shot.”
Never one to turn down a trip to Wal Mart, off I went.
As he hunted high and low on the shelves in Sporting Goods, I was off perusing the GI Joes. $2.44 each. I always managed to scrounge together three bucks for a trip to town, but when Papa took me, it was his treat.
Respective prizes clutched in our hands, we mounted up and returned home.
“Why do you want to shoot rats, Papa? Won’t it put holes in the wall? Do you even have rats? Why not just get a cat?”
He laughed, which was a rare treat. He was badly out of practice, gruff; it was almost a cough.
The man had a winning grin, though, when he chose to feel.
“Rabbits in the garden. They’re eating the cabbage,” he explained. “You’re going to hold the light. I’m gonna put rat shot in their ass, run them off. They won’t be back.” He laughed again, but this time, mirth had become wrath. In retrospect, that cheerless chuckle was a little more comfortable for him. It was a better fit for his forlorn moods and far-off gazes.
The ratshot shells were filled with pellets about the same size as large pieces of ground pepper from a grinder. These were housed in a .22 casing, which are about an inch long and as big around as the headphone jack on a smartphone. This tiny little example of modern munitions has effective range of maybe 10 yards. Beyond that, they spread out over too great an area, and the velocity of the pellets is too small for the pellets to do any real damage.
In short, Papa wasn’t going to be hitting any rabbits, since he’d be shooting at them from 30 yards away.
The night crept along, and we left Lawrence Welk playing on the old Sears television. As instructed, I carried the light and he weilded his old revolver.
Covetous, beady little rabbity eyes shone devil-red in the righteous glow of our halogen spotter.
Thunder rolled and hares fled, and lo, the cabbages were saved.
Three weeks later, Papa’s pride forced him to try to hide the fact that he found lead shot in his stir-fry, but everyone at the table shared a knowing smile.
His metal shed contained all the tools of his gardening trade. Rakes, shovels, hoes, fertilizer and a fancy motorized tiller were all lined up soldier-straight and parade-ground neat. Cubby shelves filled one aluminum wall, and each cubby was filled with a different assortment of seeds, almanacs, or mysterious odds and ends which baffled me but were certainly cataloged by the master of the house.
Prominent just inside the door, tucked back in the shade, there stood a chair. On the floor next to that seat, there was a small white plastic bucket half filled with dirt. Remnants of Carter Hall pipe tobacco littered the sandy soil. Beside the bucket, or sometimes on a clean spot inside it, sat a disposable Bic lighter and an old pocket knife he used to scrape out his pipe’s bowl.
The chair itself was simple. Light blue, steel, folding.
Opposite his chair, an old oscillating fan sagged beneath its own weight, so hot and humid did it get in that aluminum shed. It still ran and turned, but it was a struggle after years in South Georgia summers. That fan struggled, nearly defeated.
Not him, though.
A child of the Great Depression and a Pacific Theater veteran, the jungles of the Philippines and the heat of home weren’t so different.
He never had air conditioning in his house until Carter was in the oval office.
He was a man’s man, stoic and unmoved even by Mother Nature. He was defiant, implacable, wrathful and wooden.
So it was something, then, when he bought a second folding chair for his only grandson.
I’d quietly sit in that shed with him, shaded from the sun and upwind from pipesmoke, both of us using that poor fan’s breeze not to stay cool so much as to stay free from the gnats.
So it was something, then, when I became less interested in things he left unsaid in what passed for stories he’d tell. When I became less interested in the comfortable silences. When I stopped sitting in the shade of that aluminum shed as I got older.
So it was something, then, when he folded that second chair and propped it against a metal wall, behind that oscillating fan, out of the way and off to the side.
So it was something, then, when that chair was never unfolded again.
Now his own man’s man, stoic and unmoving, his grandson finds himself undone by the memory of pipe smoke and the sight of a simple folding chair.
So it is something, then, that I’m greedy for just one more summer afternoon in comfortable silence with the only father figure I ever really knew.
Doth the Sun Envy Thee
“It’s really not that important,” Genevieve told her uncle, but he insisted. Now here she was at the place where he swept the floors and polished the glass, the Gallery of Exotica Regained.
It was a place for a certain kind of art.
“Wander around, Gen. Find your muse,” her uncle advised. “If you stare at the wall all day, you’ll never finish that poem you have due tomorrow.”
Finish? I haven’t even started it.
How was this supposed to help? She didn’t want to write about animals in cages.
Maybe if she closed her eyes, if she didn’t see the walls or bars, she could find inspiration in the sounds. A hoof clacked against a wooden deck, and Genevieve pictured a horse trotting beneath her as they crossed a bridge, a castle town behind them as they set out on an adventure.
Hmmm, what rhymes with adventure?
A bird squawked, and she saw herself in a jungle, waves of heat from an erupting volcano lashing at her cheeks.
“Whoa, hold up!” an unfamiliar voice called. Hands grasped her shoulders, stopping her, and Genevieve’s eyes flew open to a wall of flame that stole her breath.
She leapt back, guided by the grip on her collarbone.
“It’s a bad idea to walk around here with your eyes closed and an even worse idea to get too close to the phoenix cage. He has personal space issues.”
The bird bobbed his head as if agreeing, back turned and wings spread. Could his flames melt the silver bars of his cage?
“Name's Jules, like Jules Verne,” the stranger said, and she finally looked at him.
“Genevieve,” she whispered. He didn’t seem much older than her, a year maybe. Probably already graduated and lucky enough not to have homework anymore.
“I see you’ve got a notebook, Genevieve. Are you a writer?”
Was I staring? Yes, stop that; he’ll think you’re weird.
But those eyes, they’re like the sky just as the sun disappears. And that crooked smile is so cute. I could write my poem about him!
No, no, that would definitely be weird.
Genevieve tucked a loose lock of curly hair behind her ear. “No, I’m not really a writer. I’m just trying to do my homework assignment.” A horrid thought occurred to her, and she gasped. “You’re not really Jules Verne, are you? Like, a creepy recreation of him?”
He laughed. “They haven’t created anything sapient here yet.”
She gulped. “Yet? Are they trying?” Was it right to try to create intelligent life?
Jules shrugged. “They’re striving for perfection in their craft, and I think that will result in a form of sapience eventually. That’s why I’m here.”
Oh that grin is going to melt me faster than the phoenix’s wings ever could. She fixed her face, trying to look attentive but not too attentive.
“You come here a lot?”
“You could say that.”
“Often enough to be a good guide? I’m supposed to find something that can be my muse.” She looked up at him through her lashes, nervous he would say yes, afraid he would say no.
Instead, a neigh answered her.
“No, Tempesta, I didn’t forget you,” Jules called, fishing a baggie of the feed sold at the front entrance from his pocket. The smell of seaweed filled the air as he opened it and offered the treat to a small, slender horse standing at the edge of her pin.
She wasn’t just a horse, Genevieve realized upon a second glance. She had wings with soft white feathers. These covered most of her body, flowing into a deep gray with blanched spots like snowflakes.
Tempesta stomped her foot as she downed the last pellet in the bag.
“Hey, you know I’d love to give you more, but your nutritionist would have my hide,” Jules chuckled, patting her forehead.
Genevieve stepped up next to him. “Um, is she a pegasus? Can she really fly?”
“Yes, and who knows? She’s still just a filly.” With one last pat, he crumpled the baggie and returned it to his pocket. “She’s the first one they’ve had that lived beyond six months.”
Genevieve frowned. It was sad, and she didn’t want to think too hard about it.
She followed Jules, not really listening to him, just reveling in the sound of his voice as he pointed out this or that.
I really should just write my poem about him.
Should I ask his permission first?
Her gut twisted.
What’s the worst that could happen, really? He’ll say no? He’ll call me a freak and walk away? He’ll make a post about me on social media, but no one I know will ever see it…probably.
She bit her lip and looked up at his back, but over his shoulder gold caught her eye and refused to let go.
It was a fish. No, not exactly. The creature beyond the glass wall and dancing with a horde of bubbles had the figure of a woman, legs fused together, golden scales climbing from what would have been her toes to above her breast, like an off the shoulder gown. She swam in sweeping figure eights, tail fin long and flowing like a beta’s. Two similar fins extended from her back like wings, a transparent, fiery shimmer.
A line immediately jumped into Genevieve’s head: Doth the sun envy thou?
She plopped down on a bench and wrote it. Jules peered over her shoulder, eyebrows raised, and she pulled the notebook to her chest, warmth coloring her cheeks.
“W-what is she?” Genevieve’s face darkened further. She meant to get Jules’ attention off her notebook, but the question was stupid. Obviously this was a mermaid.
But Jules didn’t look down at her in pity or amusement. He didn’t scoff or tell her she was dumb, and Genevieve sat a little straighter as he sat next to her, both their gazes on the creature in the tank.
“She is the Koi Maiden,” he explained, “and she is the Lead Artist’s masterpiece. The Lead Artist has painted some of humanity’s wildest and most gorgeous imaginings, but this is the one she’s most proud of.”
“Her chosen medium is genetics, but they prefer to use art terms here so people forget these pieces are living animals. They don’t just look alive. They are alive, but as long as you don’t think too hard about that, it’s okay. It’s just art.”
Art. Living poetry. Was it fair that one living being could hold such beauty? Genevieve reached for words to describe the sight: scales imbued with drops of sunlight, eyes wide, molten stars burning somewhere between gold and red.
The Koi Maiden smiled as bubbles tickled her, lips puffy. Genevieve’s own reflection stared back at her in the glass, faint and chiding. She tried to pucker her own lips to match the gorgeous creature’s, but she looked silly. She was nowhere near as beautiful: thin lips and dark, freckled skin, eyes that people assumed were closed most of the time. What if she got colored contacts, if people could see her irises burning like that? They would know she was awake, looking at them. Would they see her then?
Her notebook fell from her chest, her pen going to the paper.
“Why the Old English?”
Jules. He was still here.
Genevieve turned to him languidly, trying to pretend her heart hadn’t just transformed into a forge. “Doesn’t it sound more poetic? I’m supposed to write a poem.”
“Any kind of poem?”
“Yeah, but I’m not very good at it.”
He leaned closer, raising a brow at her one, pitiful line.
I’d even take beauty like his. It’d be better than what I’ve got now.
“Maybe you’re trying too hard to force a voice that isn’t yours.”
She grimaced. “What do you mean?”
“Do you normally go around using thee and thou?”
She scrunched her face and stared. What did he take her for?
Jules put up his hands. “Some dialects still do, and the words aren’t quite as they were with their original usage. You’re free to write however you want. A poem is supposed to be your soul poured onto the page.”
How very poetic. Maybe she could steal that line? Should she write a poem about poetry?
He pointed to the last word she had written. “Thou was the subject of a sentence, and thee was the object. Like when you say I did this, but this was done to me. Thou did this, but this was done to thee.”
“What are you, some kind of English teacher?”
“I’m a linguist. When one of these creations begins to ‘talk,’ I’m going to be the first to communicate with it.”
“That’s…a very interesting goal.”
Genevieve turned back to the tank. The mermaid stared at her, inferno eyes like fingers brushing along Genevieve’s arms, beckoning her closer.
“Can she see us?”
“As easily as we can see her.”
“It’s like she wants us to come closer.”
Jules stood. “Then let’s do it.”
But Genevieve didn’t move. Her stomach churned, and no commands reached her legs. Jules took one step, and the Koi Maiden dashed off, ducking behind a rainbow-colored rock on the other side of the tank.
“Too bad,” Jules sighed. “Well, I’ll leave you to your muse. If you come up with something good, you’ll show it to me, right?”
At Genevieve’s subtle nod, he walked into the tunnel leading to the next room, his echoing footsteps a beat to which she situated her pencil on the paper and wrote slowly, scrabbling for words to describe her thoughts, trudging them from the far, muddy corners of her brain.
Doth the sun envy thee
How thou stole its splendor
Who painted its light within thy scales
And sealed its glow beneath skin so tender
She read back over the words again and again, trying to figure out what should come next. Her neck twinged, and she looked up, rubbing her nape.
The Koi Maiden was there, scorching eyes branding her again. Genevieve rose, notebook held loose in a limp arm at her side, the other lifting to touch the glass.
“How I wish I could be you,” the human girl whispered.
The Koi Maiden tilted her head, webbed hand rising, its differences made all the more plain—clawed thumb, ring finger longest—as she placed it against Genevieve’s.
~I envy you.~
Genevieve stumbled back. The sentiment hadn’t been spoken. It wasn’t a sound or a thought, but something Genevieve felt shake in her bones. She squinted at the maiden, those puffy lips in a pout, round eyes slightly downturned. As if their hands were linked by invisible strings, Genevieve was reeled back to the glass.
~I envy you.~
“Why would you envy me? You’re so beautiful.”
The Koi Maiden tilted her head again, filament hair flowing with the movement. ~I am how they designed me to be. You are beautiful by the grace of chance.~
Genevieve blushed. “If I could look like you, though, I would.”
~You would stay here forever?~ Her tail flicked, somehow reminding Genevieve of a cat.
“What do you mean?”
~Those like you leave and return, which means there is a bigger world for you to wander.~
Genevieve’s eyes roamed the tank. It was large, integrated into several gallery rooms, an artwork on its own with corals and rocks that might as well be jewels. Alcoves waited to be explored, bubbles invited one to dance, and everything had a sparkly, gilded sheen. But would she want to live here? Forever?
This was nothing compared to the real world and its wonders. Mt. Fuji, Victoria Falls, the Grand Canyon. This fish girl would never see them.
Her flush deepened as she realized this creature also got zero privacy.
~Would you really switch places with me?~
Genevieve ripped away, breaths heavy. Yes, she wanted to be that gorgeous, but to give up her freedom, her humanity?
She saw the strings tying them together, towing her back to the glass, the temptation. She desired that beauty, but did she really want what all would come with it?
She tried to tear away again, but the strings gave her no leeway. She was trapped, eyes widened, staring into a fire burning under the water.
The notebook dropped with a loud, jarring sound, and the dark, freckled girl blinked, gaze falling to it. She didn’t look at the Koi Maiden again. Scooping up her notebook, she ran.
The next morning, the poem she turned in read:
Doth the sun envy thee
How thou stole its splendor
Who painted its light within thy scales
And sealed its glow beneath skin so tender
They know not to look into thy molten eyes
Ringing with a smith’s blow
For that is how thou draw them in
And never let them go
To the man I used to love the most,
You ripped out my heart,
and made me a ghost.
To the man who promised to always be there,
you've left me questioning...
"Did you ever really care?"
To the man I thought was my soul mate,
you stomped on my my heart,
and filled me with hate.
To the man who asked me to be his wife, you've hurt me so badly,
that I'm scarred for life.
To man I thought it would be 'til death do we part,
you tore open my chest,
and chewed up my heart.
To the man who fathered my beautiful child, you murdered my faith,
and left me defiled.