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Here’s a sneak preview YOU’LL only find here on Prose (Because I love this community)
Mike opened his eyes against the darkness. Blinking in the black hallway, he felt as if he was moving through liquid. The night-time fog still clung to him. The little workout timer that sat on their toilet stated that it was 5:04. Mike flicked on the light and felt instant regret. Lightning struck his eyeballs. At the same time, a slug of mucus edged its way up his throat. He closed the door behind him, took a piss, and began his ritual. The demon burned all the way up Mike’s aching esophagus until he was able to expel it with one shot into the sink. Once Beelzebub was freed, Mike turned the tap on full, and blasted the red-brown bastard down the drain. Fuck it, he thought. I’m quitting today.
He squeezed some toothpaste out and began to scrub his mouth. In the mirror, he saw his thin brown hair get caught in the up breeze of the heater. He had a simple, toned-down version of the pompadour he’d seen on most men these days. He didn’t like to have to style it every day, but he liked the look of it with the top slicked back like a greaser. Mike ran a hand through his hair. He rolled his eyes at himself and felt a pang in the inner muscles. Stretching his eyes wide, he saw they were bloodshot and tinted yellow. There were dark shadows underneath them too. Mike spat out the toothpaste, along with more tell-tale phlegm, and then he tried to smile at his reflection.
In the hallway, Felix, his wife’s twelve-year-old cat and best friend, mewed and scratched at the door. Mike opened it and the grey tabby brushed past him and went straight to the litter box.
“You better not be taking a shit,” said Mike, but Felix only blinked at him and rooted around in the gravel. Mike turned back to the mirror. If he tilted his head up towards the vanity lights, he wasn’t that bad looking. His eyes, despite their haggard appearance, were a pleasant brown with gold rings around the outer circles. He was tall and wide in the shoulders. His body was not toned the way it had been in his twenties, but it was still strong from years of football, hockey and, of course, hauling patients in and out of ambulances.
He was mostly just out of shape; his pale stomach showed under his t-shirt as he stretched and yawned. He hiked the shirt up over his head, revealing a pair of large, lax pecks dotted here and there with round scars.
On his back were matching scars. Mike had blanked on where these marks came from; just some stupid drinking game involving cigarettes and college boys, he figured. He ran his fingers through his hair while narrowing his eyes and frowning slightly. That’s alright, he thought, but then he looked down at his hand. There were mousy-brown hairs tangled in his fingers. He bent down to shake them into the garbage. As he stood up, Angie appeared in the mirror beside him.
“How’re you feeling, Hon?” Her concern showed through her toothy smile. What she meant was, I heard you coughing all night.
“Fine,” Mike replied, trying to sound fine—not wanting to alarm her or give her that casual false promise that he’d given so many times before. No. Mike was tired of talking about quitting. Tired of feeling like shit in the morning and shit at night. He felt like his life depended on giving up this vice, and there was no need to jinx it by saying so out loud.
Angie caught on that he wasn’t telling her something. She wanted to press him, but she was nervous of the back and forth—nervous of being the nagging wife her first husband had always accused her of being. No. If Mike wanted to talk about his health, he could say so. She bent down to scratch Felix who now wound himself around her ankles. He purred loudly.
“Okay,” she heard herself saying. Her green speckled eyes met Mike’s in the mirror. She turned from him and examined herself, feigning care about a stray grey hair in her shoulder-length, blue-black braid. At 6’2”, Angie was four inches taller than Mike, though she had a habit of stooping. Years of childhood bullying made her cautious of standing at her full height. Seated in her office or conference room, she was the picture of poise, but standing, she preferred to shrug and pop her hip out—anything to seem shorter than she was. In their cramped bathroom her stature was unmistakable, but she leaned over the sink and busied herself with a makeup bag, otherwise ignoring her reflection.
Mike could not help but steal glances at his wife as he took a capful of mouthwash and swished it through his teeth. She really was attractive apart from her lack of confidence. Mike didn’t care about that though; it made her modest in his opinion. In public, he’d learned to ignore her twitchy eyes and compulsive smiling. In private, he never shouted or showed aggression. She was humble and charming and, most importantly, she was kind. Angie was a vegetarian. Mike wasn’t. He sometimes wished she’d show him the same kind of love she showered their cat with, but then again, Mike wasn’t the affectionate sort.
Angie had anxiety, hand delivered with a bottle of benzodiazepines, by her first husband. Jackson Forcier gave Angela Dane many things after their wedding day, including broken bones and a busted nose. The nose had been reconstructed beautifully. Only the slight bump on her bridge and a tiny scar gave it away. Angie and Mike both had scars. They even shared a scar. Each had had their collarbones snapped at some point in their lives.
You would think she’d be able to hold her own—this tall, Amazonian woman—but Angie’s gentle heart kept her from defending herself even when her life had depended on it.
Mike realized he’d been staring at the jagged pink scar that ran the length of Angie’s cheek. Angie caught him with a look, but went back to her own reflection without comment. That scar was the last thing Jackson Motherfucking Forcier had gifted her. If Mike could have been there when it happened... Mike looked away. Violence. He saw so much of it in his line of work, or the results of it anyway. He pulled out a length of floss and set to scraping the crevices of his teeth. Angie was applying some cream under her eyes.
When she stood still like this, immune to the world around her, she was a painting of alabaster skin and raven hair. The little cracks at the corners of her mouth and eyes were testaments to a full smile. The little rolls under her full breasts were testaments to joy. As Mike slathered on some shaving cream, he found himself wondering how they must look together: he with his sunken eyes and permanent grimace, she with her incessant smiling and aversion to eye contact. To Mike, of course, Angie was beautiful and successful. She owned her own marketing firm that served local pharmacies, real estate agents, and contractors. It’s not that big of a deal, she often said. Yet even though her business wasn’t reaching multi-million dollar deals, she was still a big player compared to him, an overworked and underpaid paramedic.
Eternity passed them by with only the sound of Mike’s razor, shucking the day-old hair off his face, along with the little puff-puffs of Angie’s makeup brushes. How she managed to cover that scar still amazed Mike. It wasn’t textured. Her doctor saved her from that fate. It was just pink, and it became pinker anytime she flushed. She was flushing now. That’s how he knew she knew he was looking at her. Neither spoke. Even as he watched the process from the corner of his eye, Mike didn’t quite understand what he was looking at. First one layer, then another, then another, then powder and the lightest blush. She was flawless.
Felix interrupted his thoughts with a respectful mewl.
“Be right there, Sweety,” Angie chimed.
She would make a great mom. Mike let that thought pass, as he’d let it slip away ever since the day they’d stopped talking about a baby. Mike wouldn’t mention her beauty, or her brains, or her motherly perfection. It would only upset her. He didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t upset her these days. He had to pull himself out of the ditch he’d been living in. Nothing he ever said felt real. He was on a conveyor belt and too often he’d agreed to try as soon as he was off the darts. He was supposed to quit before his 39th birthday, back in June.
Angie had set up their room with candles, soft music, and rose petals she’d painstakingly plucked and placed about the bed in a heart. Mike wasn’t supposed to see the scene until after his birthday party. He’d run in for his keys when his father keeled over the barbecue, but he’d never even mentioned what he’d seen. It was too painful. Cleaning up the undisturbed flowers the next morning had been painful for Angie too, but she’d never mentioned trying again. A silent contract had been drawn up.
His father, Alan, had been his best friend and the loss sent Mike reeling into nicotine and drink. Now it was October and Mike had become a serial smoker and reclusive drunk, which was difficult considering his profession. He hadn’t sunk so low as to carry a flask around, but he’d slip away to sneak a drag anytime he could. Sometimes his patients would smell it on him and either ask if he could stand a little farther back, or they’d ask if they could bum one. He’d been called into Peach’s office three times since June too. The first was to instruct him that he’d been given a personal number to call to reach a therapist; Mike never called him. The second was to warn him that his late entrance every other morning had been noted. Even with the warning, he was only able to make it on time three out of four days. The third time was to kindly ask him to take a leave of absence and, as Peach had put it, stop avoiding his therapist and start mourning properly.
Today was the first day back, but nothing had changed over the week he’d spent recuperating. If anything he’d drank more and smoked twice as much. Apart from that, Mike remained a high-functioning addict, even if his liver did feel like it had been functioning at 40% since August.
Felix meowed a little more urgently now. They both looked. Mike smiled over to Angie, and Angie smiled down at the cat. When he looked back into his own reflection, he saw the razor pressed against the skin of his throat, Mike watched a dribble of blood roll off into the sink, and thought about his marriage dripping down the drain too.
Angie and Mike had been married for about a year. They were only in their late thirties—very late in Mike’s case. Still, health problems weren’t supposed to tear them apart for another ten years. Mike’s late-night therapy sessions with the whiskey bottle and the little white quacks put him on the fast track towards—well, neither of them wanted to talk about the big C. This morning, it was too much for Mike to let go of both his vices though. He chose smoking because it felt easier than alcohol. He knew he’d have to cut back on that too if he really wanted to end this. Frankly, he had no motivation to quit even though he knew better than most people what was in store.
Meanwhile, Angie struggled with her thoughts on coming to terms with this new partner in her life. She remembered when they used to spend their late nights together. Now, all he wanted was to take a bottle out onto the balcony and sit there on his own. It was like he thought his dad was out there, smoking with him. Angie was determined not to leave Mike just because he was sad though. She’d promised herself that much. Hell, she’d stayed with Jackson five years after he turned mean. If she could stay for a monster, she could stay for a man who’d lost both his parents too young and who was only trying to find comfort, even if it had become Southern Comfort. Angie was going to see this marriage through. She just hoped he wouldn’t smoke himself into an early grave. When it seemed like they would be in this hollow space in the bathroom forever, Angie put away her instruments. She observed herself and then Mike. He met her eyes in the mirror.
“Well, I’ll see you this evening then,” she mentioned. Mike deposited his whiskers into the sink and wiped his mouth. They kissed with a mediocre smacking sound. Then with half-smiles, they parted, each smelling the fading morning dew of the other and wondering what exactly was left for a couple once they’d come to this crossroads.
Mike dawdled away the rest of his morning, trying to keep himself barricaded indoors, not wanting to be tempted to buy a pack before work. He wound up settling for one shot of whiskey and then one more for the road. He was late to work again and Peach, his petite, strawberry-blonde supervisor, was pissed right off.
“You’re a pain in my ass. You know that? Michael?” Mike looked up from the floor. “What if we had had a call? Tom and Sara have been waiting twenty minutes for you.”
“Sorry, Peach.” He was. “I’ve been sick all morning...” She eyed him. “But I’m okay now.” Peach looked him up and down, reading the dark circles under his eyes like newsprint.
“Well, it’s not much of an apology. I just hope you’re actually taking your health seriously.”
Mike nodded emphatically. Even when she was mad at him, he liked her. Since the day he’d set foot in her office four years ago, having transferred here from Prince Rupert, it was a crush that never seemed to stop crushing him. He liked her curvy body. He liked her no-nonsense attitude and her cursing. He liked her curly hair most of all. Peach had the bounciest hair he’d ever seen. Where Angie’s were temporary and his mother’s had been limp, freeze-dried curls, Peach’s were perky and sun-kissed. She was also one of the most intelligent women Mike knew; the other being Angie, of course.
“Don’t let this happen again,” Peach was saying.
He nodded, but then shook his head.
“No, it won’t.”
After backing out of Peach’s office, Mike clocked in then found the crew and muttered an apology to some of the others on duty that morning. Eric just shook his head and clapped Mike on the back. The newest member of the team assumed the only reason anyone could have for being late was because they were having some raunchy sex at home. Zane said nothing but handed an inspection sheet over to Mike. Tom and Sara were already ducking out of their uniforms when they saw him coming. Mike gave them a tired wave and found himself muttering more apologies. It was his first day back and already he’d pissed off half the team.
Then he felt a slap on his shoulder and Val was saying, “Welcome back.” Mike smiled at his partner. The 53-year-old ex-soldier was 220 pounds of old-man muscle and divorcee practicality. Next to him, Mike felt like a freshman even though he’d been a paramedic for ten years and an EMT for four years before that.
“Thanks, Val. Good to see you.”
They puttered through the daily inspection. Mike was in no shape to make small talk and Val didn’t press him. He appreciated how the older man knew his moods. They’d been partners on and off for four years now, and they had a clear sense of each other after thousands of hours of dealing with their patients’ pain and suffering.
Mike’s throat was still raw. He was itching for a cigarette, but he couldn’t bear the guilt of lighting one up. He picked at an old scratch on his arm instead, peeling off the dirty brown top layer—another bad habit for a man in his line of work. Unsurprisingly, the gash started to bead up with blood. Mike took an alcohol swab to it, swearing under his breath as if surprised by what he’d done. Twelve minutes later, a call came about an overdose some fifteen blocks away.
“You’re on, rookie,” called Val, tossing the keys to him. Mike smiled. He had only driven the vehicle every day of their partnership. Val was myopic but refused to wear his glasses so long as he could avoid it. Keying the ignition, Mike let out a sigh. He put on his cap, tossed the ambulance into gear, and began the day by scraping the right side of the vehicle against the garage panels.
“Fuck,” Mike breathed.
Luckily, the sirens weren’t on so only a few umbrellas outside turned to see what had happened. Luckier still, he hadn’t busted the light or damaged the tire. There was just a perfect line of cat claws along the side door. Once he’d checked out the damage, Val shrugged and got back into the vehicle.
“Come on. They can put your head on the block once you’re finished saving lives.”
It was rainy season in Vancouver, though Mike couldn’t really remember a season without rain in this city. He managed to avoid any further destruction, but the day fell down around them in wet, miserable drops. The overdose turned out to be a waste of time. The supposed victim either was only sleeping or he’d been frightened away when they arrived. The request for help had been made on an unregistered phone number; no one in the area could even point them in the right direction.
They went to three more calls before lunch. Then there was another overdose sometime around noon, and this one was real and frothing and fatal. Then a heart attack only an hour later, and less than an hour after that, someone was suffering unspeakable pain in their stomach, which was possibly appendicitis, though they wouldn’t let Val or Mike near them for an assessment. The patient made a miraculous recovery when he found out that, no, they were not able to just give him something for the pain and, yes, he would have to be registered when they reached the hospital.
By the end of the twelve-hour shift, Mike felt like a bent-up cigarette. He hadn’t had a single smoke out of guilt—plus he’d left the pack in the glove box of his Ford—so he was desperate to get into his truck and chain-smoke the whole way home. He said goodbye to Val and the others, including Tom and Sara who were ready to start their next night shift.
Mike liked Tom; he was the one who worked nights with him. He didn’t know Sara all that well. She worked four days here and then the next four at another hospital in North Van. She was only about 22—a nice kid though, and noble as all hell. She was the kind of EMT who would stop at nothing to save people. This, while admirable, usually amounted to the expensive replacement of drugs and equipment without an increased survival rate. It was something Tom would need to train out of his protégé before she became a paramedic. Mike didn’t want to chat with them. He was thirsty for more than the dust-encrusted hospital water. He changed out of his uniform and washed the day’s memory off his hands.
Walking past Peach’s office, he peered in. She sat behind two computer monitors and her hair was still in perfect ringlets even after a full day. Her skin was glowing, and not just because it was next to the screens. Peach, like Angie, was a strong, capable leader. Besides having to deal with all of the timetables and route schedules for employees, plus all the station’s inventory, she was also responsible for complaints, wages, and all manner of disagreeable paperwork. Yet, she never complained except with sarcastic bouts of misanthropic cursing.
It was all of these qualities that had made him fall in love with her in this very office during his interview back before the dawn of time. In fact, when she’d presented him to Angie as a blind date two years ago, he’d been taken aback. Getting to know Angie had in many ways smoothed out this school-boy crush. Still, he often wondered what it would have been like to marry Peach, with her cool demeanour, her smooth, blushed cheeks like the fruit she was named for, and that mane of hair. Peach looked up and smiled, oblivious to how long he’d been standing there, or unfazed.
“Oh Michael, it’s okay. You can go. I’ll have the insurance papers for you tomorrow.”
She turned back to her monitors.
Mike’s memory lapsed. “The insurance papers?”
“Yes,” Peach replied slowly, “for the incident with the wall this morning.”
Mike flinched. “Right.”
He questioned why she kept him on, unless she really did have feelings for him too; she probably only felt sorry for him. Ever since his father passed, he’d been pushing the limits of work ethic. Not only that, but concerned citizens were always phoning in with his ID number, either for his poor bedside manner or because he smelled of cigarettes.
“Right,” he said again. God, he needed a drink. “Well, goodbye.”
Peach caught the resignation in his voice and looked up again.
“Wait, Mike. Are you alright?” She didn’t wait for an answer. “I worry about you. You know that don’t you? I worry about Angie too. I haven’t seen her in two weeks and I think she might be getting depressed from worrying about you too. Both of you better show up for Thanksgiving, you understand.” It wasn’t a question. Peach was Angie’s best friend. She was the one who caught the bouquet at their wedding. If nothing else, the fate of Peach’s potential future husband rested in Mike’s hands.
“Course we will.” Mike didn’t know what else to say, but that was the beauty of Peach; she never held a grudge and she never let a silence turn sour.
“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow, Michael.”
“Yeah, thanks. See you, Peach.”
As soon as he was safe in his truck, Mike smacked open the glove box. His pack was there waiting for him. He fumbled to withdraw the last skinny wolf. Well, if that’s not a sign, he thought, twirling the cigarette between his fingers the way his dad used to. He wasn’t deep in thought the way his dad used to be. He was just trying to remember where his lighter was without having to pat himself down. Then he realized it was right beside his spare keys in the little dish that Angie kept in the hallway. It was a big-eyed fish that she made in her pottery class last year. Its bulgy stare still made him smile even when he’d forgotten his keys in its mouth day after day.
With the mystery solved, there really was no point in wishing he had some other form of fire. He’d lost his truck’s old electric lighter, and he wasn’t about to go buy a Bic just to light his last cigarette. After one longing look at the small white smoke, he sighed and slapped it back into the compartment.
The drive home felt like a loop for Mike. He tuned into some AC/DC on the radio and went over the trials of the day again. The routine in the bathroom with Angie, the lack of sleep, the lack of motivation and libido… Everything was normal, yet inside something seemed irreparable. It was as if Mike had read his obituary in the mucus this morning. Was this how people managed to quit? It felt anticlimactic.
His thoughts turned to Angie, who had the same dark circles under her eyes as he did, although she covered them up so well. He thought about whether this change would really be enough to salvage the feelings they’d had prior to his dad’s death and his own health deteriorating. He had to do this. His sanity depended on it and so did his marriage. If he didn’t quit right here, right now, this could be the real end.
He realized his fingers were twirling against his thigh. Alan Perry, his dad, used to have a trick where he could pass a lit cigarette between his fingers while holding a bottle of beer in the same hand. He had to quit once his arthritis had set in and he burned a strip across the back of his hand. Mike couldn’t think about his father at all without flashing back to their last meal together. Val, Tom, and Peach were all there, plus the night shift sierra, Rita, and Angie’s parents. They were throwing a barbecue in the park for Mike’s 39th birthday. The day they planned to try for a baby.
Alan didn’t look good. He hadn’t looked good since his wife died in 1973, actually, and Mike always felt guilty that he chose to block out the memory of his late mother. Her death was part of the reason Mike didn’t want to have kids. His dad just stood around at the barbecue staring at people, muttering under his breath. He had been muttering insults, Mike realized when he got up close. Alan was acting off ever since Mike picked him up. Then he threw up blood.
There was far too much blood intermixed with the chips and dip on the grass. What was worse, was that his father fell face first into it. If it had been a cartoon, maybe it might have been funny. In reality, it was the scariest thing Mike had even witnessed. Scarier than any emergency.
Mike wanted to drive his dad to the hospital, but he too was inebriated; that would have been the end of his career right there. But Val insisted on driving and Mike held his dad in the back seat. Mike wanted to help with his intake, but the emergency nurses pushed him out of the room. When Alan puked up more blood and lost consciousness, it was enough to sober Mike completely. That night, the doctors discovered the burst vein in his esophagus. The next day, the report came that he had class C cirrhosis. He was given a few months.
“No donor list.” His famous last words.
Maybe two weeks after that, he had another hemorrhage in his sleep, this time in his brain. The stroke lasted well over twelve minutes, even with emergency intervention, and it cost his dad his life. Mike was there to see it happen, but once again he could do nothing to prevent it. Sometimes, the inability to save his old man hurt more than just losing him.
Tears started to blur Mike’s vision. He veered off to the side of the road next to Livingstone Park. Closing his eyes, he could see his dad’s yellow fingers still twirling an unlit cigarette, and sans bottle, even while he wore a hospital gown. Mike killed the engine and sat in darkness, trying to remember what his mother used to say about his dad while he was on the road and they were left behind at the farmhouse up north. Was he the gleeful, amusing friend that Mike remembered, or the “bastard” his mom used to scream he was whenever he left alone? Hell, his mom was worse. She’d called his dad all kinds of nasty things, but she was the one who decided to overdose and leave her husband and their fourteen-year-old son. Mike tried to remember a time when his mom didn’t have her drug of choice warming up on a spoon—fuck. He broke the thought stream and wiped at his eyes.
Breathing out, Mike rolled down the window. The outside air was so frigid it made the tear streaks on his face sting. He heard conversation on the air and saw two figures walking along the path towards him. He wondered if the couple in the distance were smokers. If they had a lighter, then Mike’s conscience could be clear. He would just ask for a light, smoke this final dart, and start fresh tomorrow. Maybe he would even forgo his ritual nightcap. They were within shouting distance now and Mike could see two small orange orbs at their fingertips. He made his move, finding the cigarette but dumping the contents of the glove box all over the passenger’s seat in the hunt. Then he opened the truck door with what he hoped seemed like indifference instead of fiendish haste. He realized his seatbelt was still on right before he made a real fool of himself. With shrugged shoulders, Mike approached the pair.
“Scuse me,” he called to them. They looked up with the butt of a joke between them, and Mike continued, “You gotta light?” The boy stepped forward and brandished his lighter, clearly not interested in getting too close to a stranger who had just been sitting there in a truck, in the darkness.
“Catch,” he said, tossing the lighter from about ten feet away. Mike held out his hand nonchalantly and the lighter passed through his fingers and hit the ground. He retrieved it, fumbled to get his smoke lit, but the lighter was non-responsive. No matter how he shook it up, tilted his head, or spun around, Mike could not resuscitate. Finally, the girl approached with a laugh.
“Must be a dud,” she said. “Take mine.” Mike was grateful she didn’t throw it. Her small hands were warm when he brushed them. As she handed him the lighter he could see the details of her face. She looked about sixteen; she had the same kind of heavy eyeliner and red lipstick that Angie wore in her old high school photos.
Mike struck the flint, thanked her, and the boyfriend interrupted, “Can I have my lighter back?” Mike tossed the empty lighter back without looking, hoping to catch him off guard, but of course boy wonder caught it like he’d been waiting all day for the throw. Mike returned the other lighter to the girl. She brushed his hand this time. Mike could have pulled her fingers in towards him, but he resisted the urge and dropped his hand to his side. He made eye contact only to realize she had been staring at him the whole time. Now she stood unmoving, even while her friend was heading off down the path.
“You don’t look so good, Dude,” she said with slipshod concern. Mike shifted on his feet. She probably saw the tear stains.
“Yeah well, getting old does that to you.” His voice sounded gruff even to himself. He inhaled from his cigarette. After a day without nicotine, he felt buzzed from the hit. His throat was still raw, but he willed himself not to cough. He’d hate to really scare the kid.
The girl smiled, but the boyfriend called over his shoulder, “Smoking’ll do that to you too.” Mike glanced at the lit cigarette in the kid’s fingers.
Without mentioning hypocrisy, Mike muttered, “I’m actually thinking of quitting tomorrow.” The girl’s face lit up.
She said, “You know, my grandpa quit smoking when he was 86. He still died of lung cancer, but it was pretty amazing.” Mike wasn’t really sure how to reply. He didn’t have a chance to though because she kept talking. “I had one cousin who quit with Nicorette, another one who used those pills—you know, the ones that give you freaky nightmares?” She took a drag off her cigarette and continued, the smoke obscuring her voice, “Course, you could always try hypnotherapy.” The other youth finally registered that his friend wasn’t going to follow him, so he rejoined them.
The boy said, “What kind of therapy?”
“Hypnotherapy. I looked it up when my mom threatened to kick me out if I didn’t quit. First they get you into a state of relaxation, then they make suggestions about things you already want to change. Like if you really want to quit smoking,” she looked directly into Mike’s eyes, “then your subconscious will open up and you’ll be able to work towards your true desires.” She took another drag, but found her dart was only half lit. She held it up and blew on the tip to keep the spark. Looking into the cherry of her cigarette, she said, “It’s kind of spiritual if you think about it...”
The boy didn’t let her finish that thought. He threw his butt to the ground and said, “That’s stupid. My dad says you can only quit cold turkey, and everything else is just a suit of science.” Mike smiled. He thought the kid was probably right, even if he didn’t know what he was saying. For a minute they all stood around in the smoke clouds, the boy kicking rocks and the girl still staring—off in the distance, back to Mike, down at her cigarette. Finally, Mike realized his own cigarette was halfway through. He hastily bid the kids goodbye, hoping to savour the last few drags without these two.
“Good luck.” It was the boy’s sarcastic groan.
The girl said nothing, only waggled a goodbye with her fingers.
Once again in his cockpit, Mike inhaled the very last of his smoke. His throat burned fiercely and his eyes watered from the stray fumes. He closed his eyes, waiting for the pain to subside. Then he methodically double-checked every empty pack in his truck for one last cigarette. He ran his fingers along the inside of the boxes, trying to will one into being. Eventually he had to give up and go home.
Angie was passed out in bed when he got back. She must have taken one of her pills when she got home. Sometimes she did that when work was stressful. Or when she’s avoiding me. He could hear her snoring while he fished around in the fridge for any dinner she might have prepared. Nothing but leftovers from the night before. That was fine. She worked hard too. He always liked it when she surprised him though.
Felix made an appearance while Mike was putting together a double Alabama Slammer, hold the orange juice. The cat sang for his supper even though Mike was sure Angie would have fed him before she went to bed. She never forgot about the cat.
“Come on, you deadbeat.” Mike poured a handful of kibble into his dish while Felix wrapped himself around Mike’s legs. He stared down at the silly cat, with his fluttering tail and his big ass.
“You’re getting fat,” Mike told him. Felix looked around, licking his chops. He looked to his left, then his right, and then he blinked up at Mike as if to ask, Who exactly are you talking to?
Mike couldn’t sleep yet. He was still wired from being on for twelve hours. He slumped onto the couch, his drink in one hand and a mix and match meal in the other. He flipped absently through Netflix shows before landing on some kind of true crime series. Around midnight he retreated to the bedroom.
Angie’s deep, peaceful inhales made Mike sigh in unison. He undressed and crawled in beside her, careful not to touch her, yet aching for her to wake up, roll over, and nudge herself into his outline. She always did that when she was sleeping naturally, but tonight she kept on snoring. She was deep in the realm of zolpidem. Mike lay stiffly on his back, breathing softly, until sleep overtook him.
#Booklaunch #Canadianauthor #Debut #Horror #Thriller #Psycho
ode to a star
you’re a beauty, like a crimson rose in this constant field of weeds and gravel, a glimmering star in this endless night. yet, you are most likely unaware of my existence, let alone my feelings.
the way you carry yourself, your beautiful laugh, your earthen-brown eyes, everything about you - i feel like a sinner, like eve eating the forbidden fruit.
i cannot ignore it any longer, this feeling that gnaws at my heart, the constant butterflies in my stomach whenever you are around. i am in love with you, but you’d never love someone like me. the love i feel is something considered unnatural, wrong, sinful. you’d hate me, if you knew.
and someone as beautiful, as kind, as perfect as you deserves a better person. i am full of flaws, imperfections. so all i can do is admire from afar, wondering what we could be.
maybe, if i was different, you’d love me.
He was brilliant and still. Like a mountain or great oak, disobedient and profound. Energy older than the wild things. Something man strives to be. Excellent and right, his eyes welcome you to your final resting place, he is familiar with death. Acquainted in past lives, they greet each other as friends; but Moses will never reach the promised land. Lofty forsaken guardian of this restless place, I will drink to you in the lowest of places. Your bones will long for rest and your heart will ache from their inconsistency. Your demons will scratch at the back of your feet; but in the end, you will be true, and the world may never know.
It was a slow build.
Years of trauma closing in
Behind the smile
And the wide, bright eyes.
Pillows soaked with tears,
I was at a precipice.
Shatter or move forward.
A movie with a mother sobbing over
Her dead son,
The flood gates collapsed.
Do or die.
I wrote a letter to end all contact
With an abuser.
Ran to my parents' room,
And showed them my suicide letter,
A poem about a suicidal girl,
And the letter to the abuser.
I expected help.
I expected effort.
I expected support.
I was reprimanded,
Slapped with a bible verse
And thirty minute devotional,
And sent to bed.
That's when it happened.
Vulnerability isn't an option;
If I ever wanted to heal,
Then I'd have to do it alone.
i ′ m / i n / l o v e
and that’s when it happened,
it wasn't a moment of realization,
not a second of revelation.
it was a light snowstorm
that covered our hearts with stardust.
when you cried so deeply,
and i held you in my arms
and kissed your forehead.
when i yelled out in pain from living,
and you whispered,
i'm here, baby.
when we kissed
and my mind had no other thoughts
but of you.
when i saw you for the first time after
less than a day
and was immensely relieved to feel your safe touch.
when i held your hand
and knew that this is the soul
i am going to live my life with.
that's when i knew.
i'm in love.
The pencil I dropped
The music teacher, Bella turned her back. Her large dress, with draping sleeves, revealed the hairs growing from her armpits and a hint of her bra. The dress was a flame of yellow, orange and red.
We sat on the chairs, in a circle and she tried to teach us cannibals of fourth grade, about Motifs in the songs. She played Beethoven, and the kids played on her nerves. She was not cut out for this, poor Bella.
But I listened, I always listened. I liked Bella’s lessons very much. I’m crazy about music, and I was also strangely drawn to the perfume that she was wearing.
I remember her soft eyes, as she answered some of my questions after class. She was not what you would call my mentor at the time. for that age, my grandfather, who was a remarkable pianist, would fit the mentor role. But because of the strange loose dress, and the scent she had, and of course, the amazing music, she was somone for me. definitely set apart from the other teachers, whom I mostly hated.
Maybe a quasi-mentor.
So she got upset when the kids were throwing their paper balls. She walked back to the record player and took the needle off the black disk, and Beethoven stopped. No more intervening phrases, that I enjoyed listening to in modulation. No more Harmony. Just silence.
An ugly sort of quiet, that made me feel guilty that we were not quiet enough, collectively.
Secretly, I hoped this was just going to be a short lecture . Bella had days, where a short talking to, followed by a threat, will be enough. after we would go back to the music. Sometimes, after we tried her patience, she even let us play along with items from her percussion box: cymbals, castanets , chinese boxes, whistles, kazoos, drums and triangles. perhaps this was her way to compensate for showing her anger. These occasions, where we got to play along with the music accordng to some kind of musical score was a joy and I got so excited every time. I was really a weird kid.
But this time, it wasn't meant to be. Bella didn't give us a quick lecture and then out with the toys.
This time she was in one of her darker moods. She brushed her long hair in an agitated way and told us to take out the notebooks.
This was going to be a punishment. But it serves us right, we pushed her too far.
"..Now. NOW... Since you can't listen to the music, and you don't want to be nice, We are going to have a dictation." she proclaimed
So what can you do?
I took out the pencil and got ready to write. I hate dictations. My spelling is terrible. But what can I do?
Maybe, so I tought, when we get this thing over with, Bella will feel that we served our tme and let us play a bit.
"Musical instruments.. In-Stru-Ments " Bella annunciated the difficult word
“..create sound by a varaiety of methods. All musical isntruments cause air to vibrate Vai-Brea-TT. The vibration of the air is the sound we hear" She continued.
But then, I lost track of the dictation, because Eddie, one of the other kids, swiped my pencil and threw it down in the center of the ring. I scrambled to find another pencil , while the class laughed, and fell into chaos again.
"Eddie. you grabbed the pencil! I saw you" Bella shouted. she was just boiling over. I've never seen her so angry.
"Get up, and come here and pick up his pencil" Bella said. But Eddie refused. He was the class brat. He looked at her defiently as if saying "you want it-you pick it up!"
It was getting very tense now. Bella was standing over the fallen pencil in the middle of class. And she was looking like nothing I've seen before.
If a teacher that you hate looks evil, then it's just expected to see the lava coming out sooner or later. But what about the teachers you like? What do you do if they get livid? what is that going to be like?
All I knew is that we were in the middle of the dictation which was already punishment. What if she gives us something worse?
What if we don't play with the music any more?
"Did you hear what I said? " demanded Bella "Eddie!! come over here NOW and get the pencil!" she roared.
My heart was beating fast. In my anxiety, I figured that it would be best if we could just get on with the dictation and forget about Eddie.
I got up and ran to the pencil. After all, it was MY pencil.
The class was laughing and it was so noisy.
I reached the pencil, and bent down to get it.
"Drop that pencil." Bella was shouting. this time at me. "I told Eddie to do this! " Bella face was turning red. The noise and the laughing and her anger and the pencil and the stress.. and I was sure we will not play again today.
I was completely flustered. It didn't register, exactly what she said.
Drop the pencil? Why drop it? didn't she want me to have it so we could finish the dictation?!
I did not know what to do at all. So I just stood there with Bella towering over me. With her strong perfume and her flaming dress and her armpit hair that looked oddly green in color, and much too long...
And she told me...commanded to drop the pencil, again.
"Drop the pencil! And get to your seat!!" she shouted. again.
Conflicting oreders. I was going to go to the seat, but why would I go back to my seat without the pencil? It didn't make sense; Don't I need it for something?!
I clutched the pencil in my confusion and the laughter got louder. The kids were having a ball with this. I was usually not the guy getting shouted at in music class. I did not know what was going on.
And that's when it happened. The slap.
I did not feel pain. But I heard the vibration of the air, as the skin of my cheek was struck, and the sound that came with it, like what we were writing in the dictation. Bella's slap across my cheek sounded like a bell, and the hollow that was my head rang in echo.
Bella stood there, for a moment, and I was hoping that we will get back to the dictation, maybe even playing some music. But then, I caught on to what just happened.
I dropped the pencil, as Bella told me. I stood there for a while. The class was silent. The Echo was still ringing apparently. I didn't know what to do . Again.
Could I come back to my seat? Could I stay standing?
What a ridiculous situation. One of many that I have been through.
Finally, I decided to walk out of class. Bella said nothing. she stood there still, In that quiet class, with her trange dress, and the strong perfume. and that was it.
She was fired a few days later. I did not have any music classes in school for the rest of the year. I was moved to an art class in my timetable and wallowed away with sticking dry leaves on paper. As if that could compare to Beethoven.
The rest of the kids in my class did get music lessons, and that hurts the most in a way, because they didn't even seem to want to have these lessons. Life is absurd sometimes.
But I kept learning about music in other venues. my pian teacher, my grandfather. And to this day, I am still a very big fan of classical music and I even became a teacher myself. Working with young kids, today I have met many brats, and I can understand the tensions that Bella had to oparate in. Kids can be hard, and unbalancing. They can pick on displeasure and disapproval, and some turn it as an easy source of entertainment. I never found out what happened to Bella, I don't even know her last name.
I believe that she was compltely overruled by anger. That this outburst was a singular occurance in her life. I hope so.
I still wonder, sometimes whenever I meet a woman wearing Bella's perfume, If it would be ok to ask for the brand name. but I always fear that I'll get slapped. so I never do.
About The Author
Bestselling novelist Torrence Thrashford is the author of the well-known story BEWILDERWORKS. This whimsical tale was translated into more than 25 languages. Born in Ethiopia, Thrashford had a rough childhood. Beaten, Raped and Enslavd by her own parents. Her only joy came from fictional literature. When she was 16 she escaped to live with her uncle and started writing fictional tales. One of which would become the world renowned book we all keep in our collection of classics.
Cover Design by Isabella Walker Romero
Cover Photo © Thrashford
All Rights Reserved Under Thrashford
Zzyt’kiin 65. Author, Overlord, Pastry chef.
Since last year’s greatest best-seller “How to live with yourself in a vassaliated society” which artfully introduced us to all the new inns and outs of the global ragime, Zzyt’kiin 65 has done it again. The reculsive invader says he has been writing since he was a larva. He tries to focus in his work on bringing out the true benevolant character of the mother-queen, but he hopes his books are not seen as meer user’s manuals to the new and exciting life he has unleashed. He hopes that we all learn to subjugate willfully to the wonderful hirarchy, while still keeping room for moments of relaxaion. After all, everybody needs to brush their antennas sometimes.
Growing up, Zzyt’kiin 65 found his passion in literature. His commentary poems which were added to the special reprinting of the previous book, shed light on his early childhood. (e.g. “kissed by the antlion”). It was only after arrival at earth that he discovered that there was actual demand for his talents, as he was requested to formulate THE ARTICLE OF SURRENDER. Zzyt’kiin 65 also finds time to dabble in the confectionary arts of which you will definitely want to read in his upcoming sequal, schedulaed to be relased this february.
I was published at 7 when my work was chosen to be featured on the school bulletin board and published many times over and very many ways since. Having your work
published is not a life goal, having your original ideas change one life is. Write what you know, what you've experienced uniquely through a hard-worn life. Use honest words, never before spoken, my heart to yours. Write it because only you can. Write it for the one soul looking to hear these exact words to give them the hope of a new perspective.
My hope is that my ideas will cause thought that cause changes for the better in one life. Many New York Times Best Sellers never achieve this, while some short statements written on a bathroom stall wall do. Fame never equals success and the value of your words is measured in the success of lives improved not simply disrupted. In reaching one person, my hope is that that one person reaches another than another in lasting insight.
So you’ve looked at the inside of the back cover. Aren’t you a curious one?
The award-winning... no.
Critically acclaimed... well, maybe. Is it too braggy? But who is stopping me, I wrote the whole book leading up to that back cover and then some. I deserve some bragging rights.
So, critically acclaimed writer, the creator of your favorite fantasy universe (if you pretend that J.R.R. Tolkien, G.R.R. Martin, and good handful of other writers, with or without R.R. in their initials, do not exist) who was born in... No, I am not telling you. That's called being private. And mysterious. Mostly mysterious. And still struggling with the biography part.
Anyway, now that you have checked if my biography has changed or not, do you want to relieve me of my struggle and just flip the book to its front cover and start reading from there?
It's infinetely better than what you have found here, I promise you.