When I was young I made a game called Egg. I’d sit on the sidewalk and call my sister, “Come look, come look! I am an egg!” or “Oh-no, where did this egg come from?”
First I’d curl my knees up to my chest and put my hands over my head, making muffled chirps. If she was playing along she’d knock on my head. If she was bored, I’d crack myself and burst from my own shell. Then I’d lay down and vibrate. An egg, frying on the sidewalk. Aunt Mary said it once and we thought it was the funniest thing. Ever since then I’d been trying to make her laugh.
Sometimes she wouldn’t come, or she’d sigh and walk away, so I’d lay down and watch the ants, wonder where they were going that was so sure and important, and I’d create lives for them. “Freddie, you get off of Carl. He’s trying to get home to his wife. They’re having pot roast for dinner and a baby in the oven.” I’d lay there until my mother found out and shouted at me that cooking on the ground is unsanitary and if I planned on laying around all day, at least come inside and pick the fuzz off the carpet.
I’d stand up and brush the dirt and pebbles and bugs from myself and caress gently the relief pattern the concrete pressed into my arms. I’d run inside and shout about the terrible skin disease I’d developed and probably we should call the CDC. Once, she’d called my father at work and he’d pretended to be the CDC. Since then she mostly shooed me away or told me to let her know if I started sprouting coarse black worms from the affected area.
On my work nights I walk home. I get off the bus, cut through an empty parking lot, and walk two blocks down an unlit street. Tonight, search lights crisscross the clouds, calling me back downtown.
All week, the same guy has been sitting in a third-floor window beside a box fan filtering dense summer air into his room. He watches movies on his computer with his shirt off and all the lights on. It’s so easy to see in, I can’t help but stop to wonder about him, to examine the visible parts of his life. It’s like he lives in a dollhouse.
I know he’s seen me at least once: yesterday, while I was between shadows in the dim edge of a porch light halo. I lifted my hand to wave and he answered.
Tonight, his light is on and the movie is playing, but he’s absent.
“Hey,” he says, from the front steps. He is wearing a white t-shirt.
“What’re you doing?”
“I just got off work,” I said, looking down at my blue polo and khaki pants. Sometimes I think about showing up to work in blue pants and a khaki shirt, just to see if my manager would laugh. I’d probably have to bring my real clothes, though.
“I think I’ll probably do some writing when I get home.”
“Yeah? What do you write about?” He didn’t sound bored.
“Sex and pervasive melancholy. Mostly,” I said. “What kind of movies do you watch up there?”
Briefly his eyebrows furrowed, like someone had called his name in a roomful of strangers.
“Y’know. Whatever I can find on the internet. Sometimes I video chat my girlfriend.”
“Yeah? Does she live in Colorado or something?”
“Nah, she’s in Uptown.”
“You video chat your girlfriend who lives on the other side of the city?”
“Technology is astounding.”
Now I had a partner. Sometimes he’d come down to fry me on the sidewalk but most nights we’d just wave.
When I was a child my feet were rough from the summers spent running barefoot over gravel at my grandparents house, and the hot Texas concrete at home. Concrete that was so hot you could, literally, cook an egg on it. My feet were so rough you couldn’t even cut them with a knife. Rough enough that I always thought the people who would walk on coals weren’t doing anything special.
During those summers I came inside daily with new skinned knees and elbows from playing tackle football in the street. New scars that arrived from random adventures with friends and cousins. I once rode a bicycle off the roof of my grandpas barn. My cousins had told me they’d done it before…they hadn’t. The thorn bush I landed in didn’t help matters. I hopped a chain link fence only to have a spoke slide into my thigh. Missing my femoral artery by mere millimeters. I still waited an hour to tell my mother because I had torn a brand new pair of jeans. I hated those faded gray jeans. That one took four stitches inside and four outside. I almost took my cousins eye out with a bb during a bb gun war. I shot him through a large wall of sheet metal. Aiming blindly.
We would chug beers in my Uncles work shed. Betting who would finish it the fastest. We held on to the illusion that we were adults. Sneaking a cigarette every now and then. Using language that would normally get us a beating at home.
We were immortal.
During these childhood years I never had a summer love. I regret that. I also regret the young love found in small towns. To know everything about someone simply from having grown up with them.
I didn’t have my first real kiss until I was sixteen. In the fourth grade I chased a girl into the girls bathroom and had her kiss me…but that doesn’t count.
I always wanted to know what it was like to lay in a Texas field and count the stars, a girl curled into my arm. Crickets singing their song.
To take my dads truck out for a date on a Friday night.
To share a milkshake.
To have a love that preceded working and paying bills.
I didn’t even have my first real date until I was out of high school. I lost my virginity to someone that wasn’t worth it. I haven’t had a relationship last longer than a year.
The unattainable youthful love wasn’t from lack of trying…mind you. Nor was it because I was uninterested in girls.
My friends and I would ride our bicycles down the street, baseball cards in the spokes, debating about who the prettiest girl in school was. Swearing to each other that as we sat in class we could see their skirt rising. The trickeries of teenage eyesight (that still happens). One such girl I asked out five times, from the fifth grade to my junior year. She never said yes. Being in a college town we would sit on the curb down the road from sorority row and watch the girls come out in clothes entirely too tight for them. We would idly drool at them during annual car washes. Wondering. Waiting. For the time when we too were in college and could get girls like that.
I never did…I wonder if they did.
I was the kid that got passed over while playing spin the bottle…because none of the girls wanted to kiss me.
I was the weird kid that sat in the back of the room and kept to himself.
I was the kid that played sports but never had a popular position.
The kid that sang in the choir, and worked on the newspaper.
Growing up I’ve always seemed to have a best friend that was better with the ladies. First it was Jason, then it was John, now it’s Steven. I’ve lost count of the number of times a girl, or woman, has asked me if they were single. Of the number of times I’ve talked to a lady for hours only for them to eventually ask me that very same question. To flirt with reckless abandon and find out they were only talking to me to get to them.
I always wondered what it would be like to hold hands under the lights and noises of a high school football game.
To pick up a date at her parents house.
To sneak a goodnight kiss before the porch light comes on.
The romantic, elusive, summer love.
So now I still hit the concrete. My feet are still tough. I drive a car instead of riding a bicycle. I still sit on the curb watching women go by…only now I do it while sipping can beer and grinding cigarettes under my heel.
And I’m still waiting for a summer love.
I’m still waiting to curl up with that lady and read the stars.
Still waiting for my quick goodnight kiss on a front porch.
I’m still waiting.
the grain of it scraped against his cheek, drawing blood that pooled in the cracks and the crevices of it. little bits broke off and found their way under his skin, into his pores, nestled in his 10 o’clock shadow. his hands were destroyed. the fragile bones of his fingers tasted fresh air, the flesh around them turning brown.
he tried to stand, but it was too much. his wrists collapsed under his weight and his chin smashed into the ground. his back arched in pain, making the loveliest curve, and sending shivers through his naked body. his breathing had slowed to a pace normally reserved for slumber. the crackle in his lungs grew louder with each shallow pass. his mouth curved into the most wicked smile, the mixture of blood and spit and bile spilling on to the ground. he trembled in the cold; the 6am sunless sky offering no warmth.
as his last breath escaped, he closed his eyes and silently thanked his mother for giving him the strength to follow through with everything. his toes curled and his hands spread, as if he was coming to a climax; death was his final orgasm, shaking him violently from this mortal coil. the concrete beneath him remained steady and unyielding.
“It’s weird,” she says, kicking a chunk of eroded cement. It’s not a very hard kick, more of a foot-push than a kick, really. It’s a sad little action that fits in well with the scene.
We’re walking across an abandoned basketball court, in the middle of a park that is more of a health hazard than anything. It would be considered the bad part of town, if the town was that kind of place. It’s too small for crime, though, so instead of shady drug deals and midnight muggings, there is only disrepair and neglect.
It’s not a ghost town, exactly, because it’s still hanging in there, but it might as well be. The folks left, they’re practically ghosts, hanging onto lives that ended with the oil bust, too stubborn to move on, even though there’s nothing left for them.
We swore we’d get out of this place, ever since we were little kids, we swore we’d tell this one-horse town to kiss our ass, and we’d never come back.
It seemed possible, it always did, even as we graduated from our teenage years into our twenties, and even when our twenties passed by and dropped us into our thirties. That’s how life goes, though, is you tell yourself there’s time, there’s still time. For things to change. For dreams to come true. And then one day, you wake up, and you realize your dreams have left you behind: there’s not enough time to catch them, not anymore, not without the power of youth that you somehow squandered while dreaming.
“What is?” I ask her. We cross the court and step into the knee-high grass that hasn’t been mowed in years. If this was the kind of place that ever got rain, the weeds would have over-run the entire park, but as it is, the heat kills off all the vegetation every summer, blows it away every autumn, and then makes the false promise of life every spring.
How often have we made this walk together? More than a thousand, I bet, since we were both little girls. We’d come here after school, ignoring the other children, caught up in our world together, our world of dreams, where everything is possible, and there’s always time.
We’re women now, although I guess you wouldn’t know it from our accomplishments. She’s a waitress at the truck stop down the highway, I’m the day manager at the convenience store on the other side of town. You wouldn’t think that’s much to brag about, but those are actually the two most prosperous businesses in town, if you don’t count the feed yard just outside of city limits.
“It all is.” She takes her place in her swing, I sit in mine. She’s on the right, I’m on the left, it’s the way we’ve done it since we were seven years old. She’s right-handed, I’m left-handed; when we were little, we sat like this so we could hold hands. We needed our dominant hands to hold the swing-set chains.
We don’t hold hands while we swing anymore. Hell, we don’t even swing any more—the rusted-out chains probably couldn’t take that kind of abuse. We sit side-by-side and we talk about our dreams, about how we’re gonna get out of here some day, and we sway gently back and forth.
“Life is,” she says.
I just sit in my swing and kind of push with my feet. She’s in one of her moods. It’s not a bad thing, I suppose. Jen has always been smarter than me, and we’ve both accepted the fact that when she gets like this—introspective, she calls it—there’s not much I can do to contribute. She thinks deep, and I don’t. I don’t think it’s because I’m stupid, really—I tell myself that, anyway. I just think different than her.
In our moments of silence, I think about how I could re-arrange my furniture to make the space look bigger, or I think about things I could do to make inventory at the store easier. She thinks about…well, I don’t really know what she thinks about. Serious stuff. Big stuff. She thinks like those people who write big books think.
I guess I first started noticing it in Junior High, and it became super obvious in High School. We talked about going off to college—took the tests and everything, applied to a few different schools. I never got accepted, sure as hell didn’t get any scholarships. She said she didn’t, either, but I don’t think that was the truth.
We talked about moving to Amarillo and taking classes at the community college, but we never could get enough money saved up, so we just kept talking. Kept dreaming.
She’s staring out across the playground, at the basketball court. I stare at it, too, trying to figure out what she sees when she looks at it. I can’t see anything but a wasted-out patch of cement, though. I know better, but I’ve just enough box wine to ask her.
“What do you think about when you look at it, Casey?”
She laughs a little laugh and shrugs. “Same as you, girl—a time-weathered basketball court that probably had dreams of lasting forever and being more.”
I kind of want to cry when she says that. Instead, I fish a cigarette out of my purse.
“It’s just weird,” she says.
“Tell me. Talk to me.”
“Everything. I mean, things change so much, you know? So much.”
“Looking at that basketball court, it was never much, right? Just a chunk of concrete in the middle of a town in the middle of nowhere, you know? But you look at it, think about it, it’s so weird.”
Her words are slightly slurred, not too bad, but enough so that she’ll try to explain her thinking to me. We aren’t the same kinds of people, even though we’ve been best friends for pretty much ever. We know each other, the strengths and weaknesses of our relationship. For example, I generally know better than to ask about her deep thoughts that I know I won’t understand, and she generally knows better than to try to explain.
But it was a rough week for both of us, and we decided to unwind with a box of wine and some fun music, and just for the heck of it, we decided to walk down to the park, just like we used to do when we were little.
you look at it, think about it, it’s so weird
She says “you,” but she means her. She knows that when I look at it, when I think about it, all I see is a ruined basketball court, but she forgets stuff like that, sometimes.
“Concrete,” she says. “I mean…I don’t know. It’s so diverse.”
I nod. In my head, I think about the many uses for concrete. Buildings, birdbaths, a base for a clothesline. Sidewalks. Whatever.
“Like a plant,” she says, and I realize I’m not following her line of thinking.
“Yeah?” I ask.
“Yeah. It’s there, this seed is, right? All it wants to do is grow, but there’s concrete everywhere, holding it back, you know? But it pushes and pushes, and it breaks through. This little sprout, it can grow up through the cracks, it can thrive, it can bust through and live.”
She reaches over, and I hand her my cigarette, even though she was supposed to quit several months ago. She has, for the most part, but she still takes a drag or two, when we’re shooting the breeze and drinking.
“And then you think about it another way. They pour it as a foundation, you know? It’s there at the bottom, it supports skyscrapers and runways and all of that. It’s so solid, it’s this solid thing that keeps everything from crashing down, it holds you up, supports you. You don’t even think about it, it’s just there, a part of your life that’s so important, so necessary, and you think it always will be.”
There are tears in her eyes. She’s not really an emotional kind of girl—even as her best friend, I’ve only seen her cry a handful of times. I want to reach out to her, I want to hug her. But something inside tells me not to. There’s more to this, there’s more I need to know.
So I stay silent, and I try to think like her, and I stare out across the overgrown park at the shattered basketball court.
“Then you think about those mafia guys from the old movies. The sleep-with-the-fishes guys. They tie some guy up to a chair, put his feet in a bucket, dump concrete in there, throw him overboard, let him sink. The concrete weighs him down, pulls him down. Traps him.”
“Kills him,” I say. There are tears in my eyes, too. I don’t know why, really. Everything seems way too emotional, too serious. Talking about stupid cement, and we’re both crying like our first loves are breaking up with us.
“It’s just weird,” she says. “It’s so weird, how a thing can be so good for you in certain situations and so bad for you in others.”
It’s true. True of a lot of things. I mean, cars, you know? Cars can be used to rush you to the emergency room and save your life, or they can be used by a drunk driver to kill an entire family. Plastic can be used to make a bag to hold blood that keeps you alive, or it can be wrapped around your face to suffocate you.
It really is weird, the diversity of things in our life. I’m a little proud of myself, because I feel like I’m thinking on her level, like I’m…well, like I’m smart like she is.
I want to tell her about my observations, my revelations. But the part of me that kept me from hugging her earlier keeps me from it. Instead, I take her hand in mine, just like when we were little, and stare out at the basketball court, and I try not to cry.
Home. All the lights out, except for the one over the stove, pale yellow light that indicates bedtime. I’m drinking a glass of water, hoping it will magically fix the lack of sleep and the intake of too much alcohol. Hoping it will make tomorrow a little more tolerable, when I wake up with a headache and a stomach ache, and whatever other aches that come along with drinking too much when you’re too old to drink too much.
And that’s when I understand.
The revelation is enough to make me sick. Literally. I run to the bathroom, and puke out the water I’ve been drinking, as well as the booze that I had before that. Also the chili-cheese fries that I had for lunch.
I brush my teeth after, even though it sucks to brush your teeth when you’re crying. It’s time for a heart-to-heart talk with myself, and I guess I’d like clean breath for that kind of discussion.
I sit on the couch, and I think about my life. I think about Casey. My best friend of forever. I think about her life and I think about my life, and I think about her talk about the concrete.
I was supposed to be too dumb to understand it. She wouldn’t have mentioned it if she thought for a second I’d get it. She wouldn’t have mentioned it if she hadn’t been a little drunk.
This guy she’s been seeing, it’s pretty serious. He stopped into town to look at wells, at oil locations. New way of drilling, and his company sent him out to see if our little town was worth investing in. She’s been seeing him for a few months now, it was supposed to be a casual thing, but they both have feelings for each other.
He’s leaving on Thursday—six days from now. He asked her to come with him. She told him no. She told him her life was here, everything she knew was here. She told him she was too scared.
But I get it, now. It’s not any of that.
It’s because I’m here.
I’m her concrete. I held her down, I supported her, and now I’m dragging her under.
There’s this bottle of pills, I’ve had it since I messed up my back a few months ago, I only took a couple. There’s another box of wine in the fridge. I could take them all, the pills, and I could drink the wine, and I could take myself out of the equation.
But that would wreck her, ruin her. I know her, and I know that the guilt would be too much. She’d never leave. She’d mourn like those dogs you hear about, the ones who die at the graves of their owners. She’d waste her life, and I love her too much for that.
So instead of drinking wine and taking pills, I pack a suitcase and I write a letter.
It’s a short letter—I’ve never been too good at writing stuff.
You’re my best friend, and I love you. Thank you. Thank you for telling me, showing me. I have to get out. And you do, too. The things that once held us up are now dragging us down. I know you’ll be okay—you always have been. I hope you have enough faith in me to know that I will be okay, too.
That’s it. I write her address on the envelope, put the stamp on it, and drop it in the mailbox as I walk to the bus station.
It’s ridiculous, I know it is—leaving everything behind. But it will work out, I think. Because you can’t just dream forever.
They’re like concrete, dreams are. They can support you, they can build you up. But they can also hold you back, and drag you down.
Sometimes I wonder why people don't question the ground below their feet. Maybe it's faith, or obliviousness, or a different chemistry than mine. Maybe they're just distracted by their days.
I'm not sure I can believe in the concrete.
Maybe it feels real enough for anyone else. Comfortable. I could live with that.
It can make you feel the most alive when the feet touches the concrete. An impulse impossible to quench to see where it leads. The feet run until it reaches the end and then continues out into the wild. Away from everything as the smell of the warm asphalt slowly shifts to wood and dust and animals that hides just out of sight. The sun play olly olly oxen free between the trees and the slightest of breezes caries parts of you back to where you left the city behind. Shadows of atoms made of shampoo, sweat and skin. The feet though, they don’t care and caries on. To see where this new place goes.
My idea to track the “story time saturday” tag is not working out so well; it’s a little hit-or-miss. I’m posting the ones that have been sent to me, and the ones I’ve found by tracking the tag, but I know some have been missed because the writers have had to let me know they existed.
If you don’t see yours up within the next hour or so, let me know so I can reblog it!
Everybody around your last bed thought you kept calling for your brother Mike, who is gone five years now. But I heard different. Your hands, restrained after too many times trying to remove the tube that was keeping you alive, rocked against the cloth straps. A look of pain and distress that I'd never seen you display, and you mumble through the morphine:
"My God!" And then barely above the volume of breath, "hear me."
Two weeks is such a short time.
Story time Saturday:
"We wrote our names in wet concrete
when we were but school children
who marveled at the wonder of the world.
They tore that school down last year
and with it the tiny patch of history
that had lasted longer than our love."
My fingers fumble on my shirt buttons. You stretch across the bed and feel the pillow where I was recently. Your eyes open to a squint but you do not ask the question. You don’t want to know where I am going or why.
We have been crumbling ever since we decided living together was not the best choice after all. We parted things; we divided custody of the cat. We even said the words that would end things, should we not be ourselves.
Instead, we come winding into each other over and over, desperate, hungry, lonely, selfish. We only deserve each other and we never truly want to be alone. Sometimes we merely risk wanting more.
I want to brush these fingers along your cheek, the rested tight marble that does not move in sleep. Your posture has resumed rest, and though you are not at peace, this is the closest you will get all day. Even in sleep, you often wince in pain to imaginary torsions, portions of your back that have decayed. You are so old. You are only 25.
And I, so young. I hear it every day. I have students much older than myself that marvel at my mastery of the English language. Genius, one replied. Another had it much closer.
“Lucky. You are so lucky to have grown up speaking English.”
Lucky, so lucky to have found you, so lucky to lose you. So lucky to be entwined with you and never moving, always grasping.
I want to curl into the comfort of your smell, the softness of your skin and the hardness of your sweat, sticking our skin together as if a band-aid. Will we ever come together again?
I close the door quietly, and I descend the stairs.
It’s going to happen tomorrow, if you want to participate like you did last week. (Last week made me so happy, by the way!)
So here’s the deal: I don’t want to limit anyone’s preferred method of storytelling. Maybe you don’t like writing so much, but you’re a fantastic photographer, artist, musician, game maker, film maker, or whatever. Well, that’s great! I want you to tell stories however you feel most comfortable, and I want you to make things that you like and are proud to share!
Last week, I asked people to put stories into my ask box, but I think this week I’ll try something different. If you would like to submit your story anonymously, or you just don’t want it on your own blog for whatever reason, by all means send it to me and I’ll post it on my blog. But otherwise, post your story on your own blog and tag it “story time saturday” so I can find it and reblog it here. Sound good? Great.
I’ll give you a word to use as inspiration. I always have an easier time coming up with stuff if I have something like that to work from, but don’t feel like whatever you do has to be specifically related to the word I give you. You don’t have to use it in your story at all, but I hope it helps by giving you a tiny platform from which to jump.
The word this week is: concrete.
Now go make things! Yay!
(And a big big thank you to lynchianbedhead for suggesting that this be a recurring event!)
One of the places I looked at buying a plane ticket to was San Francisco, but the flights home wouldn't have worked out to get me back to Calgary in time for work on Tuesday. It is a shame. If I had gone to SF I would have had oceans and you!
Awwwww, dang it. Well. Next time you’re feeling impulsive, you know where to point your plane.
She lay beside him naked and sobbing. He wraps his body around her like a blanket and gently caresses her breasts and the subtle curve where her neck meets her shoulders. He closes his eyes and gets lost in the slow measure of her breathing, her smooth brown skin pressed tightly against his chest and the sweet jasmine smell of her hair and the circular motion of her feet as she gently rubs them against his calf. She is not aware of the movement, an involuntary action that seems to soothe her when in crisis.
On nights like this, when she wants nothing more than to just simply die, it is the body contact—the stillness of it—that calms her. He opens his eyes, permitting his gaze to travel across her long legs and hips. He feels ashamed that he wants her so badly when she is feeling so low, like he has just been caught eye-fucking Helen Keller. Still, his cock grows hard nestled in the soft round cheeks of her ass. It feels like heaven. His grandmother, who believed in things like heaven, once told him that heaven is all around us. Now he wonders if she was right; that heaven can be found in the cracks and crevices of the world, like a badly needed cigarette rescued from the bottom of a purse or the flower that blossoms from a hole in the sidewalk. Because despite her sadness, he wants nothing more than to press his tongue through her soft lips and gritted teeth; to grab her tightly by the throat and to fuck her hard. “What are you thinking?” she says. “Nothing,” he says, as he gently strokes her cheek. “Close your eyes and get some rest.”
“You’re my type, and I would totally fuck you, but I know I’d be a dick about it. We wouldn’t hang out anymore, we’d stop talking as much… we could have meaningless, unemotional sex, but I think you deserve better than that.”—
I don’t remember how we ended up on this topic last night, but this was how a friend explained to me why he and I have never hooked up (despite the fact that we are both incredibly rad and attractive people, of course).
Whether this is indicative of true friendship and respect or just some skillful smooth talking, its probably the nicest possible way to say “I don’t want to fuck you.”
Better late than never?
Walking to the bus just before 6am, I see two men waiting there in the dark. One, tall, in a red windbreaker, perhaps in his early 60s, says, “Oh, I see how it is!”
I hear breaks, turn, and see the 15 coming down the street, right on time.
“We’ve been freezing here for an hour, but you walk up like it’s nothing and the bus rolls right in.”
I shrug and smile.
He continues, “I bet you got a watch. I should get me one of those.”
“They are handy,” I answer.
He turns to the short, round-faced, brown-skinned man next to him and says something in Spanish. The other man smiles as he responds.
Watchless continues to rant, though good-naturedly.
“One hour we been out here, and you just walk right up. Man. Not that I blame you,” he assures me. “I’m just a little jealous.”
The 15 pulls up, but it’s just a shuttle. We’ll have to wait.
He chuckles. “Good! Now you have to wait here with us!”
I smile. “Waiting for the bus builds character.”
He laughs. “I don’t need any more character.”
He’s close enough now that I can smell his "character." Drunk already, or still drunk? At 6am, it could go either way.
We stand in silence for a moment.
“Yeah, I gotta get me a watch. It’s ‘the Nineties’!”
I’m not sure if he’s kidding, considering it’s not the Nineties and wristwatches became popular in the 1920s.
He continues. “Gotta keep up with the times.” Again, with exaggeration, “It’s the Nineties!”
He pauses. “Wait…no it isn’t.”
Now I laugh. “Hasn’t been the Nineties for ten years, dude.”
“But what do we call it now?” he challenges me.
I shrug. “No one seems to agree. It’s just ‘the new millennium.’ Not so terribly new anymore, I guess.”
He nods. “Yeah, I’m ready for the next one.” Now he guffaws loudly.
“In the next millennium, maybe I’ll get a watch!”
Oh, early morning drunks. They walk a fine line between amusing and obnoxious.
“So is this poetry?”
Her father glanced at the pink shell and smiled. “It’s broken.”
She ran ahead and crouched down to study the sand. “What about this flower?”
“Sweetheart, look at it. Three petals are missing. Soon the sand will bury it or the sun will dry it up.”
“I thought you said poetry was about feeling.”
“Beautiful feeling,” he corrected.
“Flowers and shells are beautiful. Even if they're broken.”
“Sometimes. Usually only as metaphors.”
She dug into the sand with her toes. “I hate metaphors.”
Her father laughed. “If I say the cracked shell and wilting flower are poetry will you show me your pretty smile? You know I hate it when you get angry at me.”
“It’s just…sometimes I wish I could lend you my eyes.”
He frowned and started walking again. “Look,” he said, in the tone he usually used to change the subject, “it’s a crab.”
She leaned over to study the cream colored claws. “I think he’s dead,” she said softly, touching the shell.
“Don’t do that,” her father scolded. “Now you’ll have to wash your hands.”
“It’s poetry,” she said.
“It’s a metaphor.”
She stood up slowly and her father wiped his own hands on the legs of his shorts.
“Now let’s go find you a bathroom to wash your hands.”
Bartholomew Mason – Bart to his friends – was a paragon for superheroes. A pillar of the community who had given more than forty years of his life to fighting villains and politicians alike to carve out a place in the world for those who were different. The ones who sought justice in their own way. When heroes turned on each other, he stepped between them to resolve the crisis. When his sidekick was killed, he was the first to speak and ask for peace. As the Alchemist, he had appeared on television and radio, the front pages of every paper, proud that he never saw the need for a secret identity.
And he still wouldn’t pay for proper bulletproof glass.
I adjusted the sandbag beneath the stock of my rifle. Shooting from three floors above, the angle had to be perfect. Sharp enough to penetrate the window without losing the momentum to erase the Alchemist in a single shot. The breeze was negligible, the air clean enough for Alpha City. It was a capital of industry and science, with enough runoff in the water to produce the next generation of heroes. Or it had been, until Bart Mason had designed a filter for the public that everything potable and crystal-clear once it passed through the pipes. A good man, loyal to the city that saw his rise to fame.
A glance through the scope confirmed my suspicions. With the cheek-piece pressed firmly against my face, I watched him move through the kitchen of his high-rise. He smiled at some private joke as he poured a glass of orange juice, playing the average civilian in a blue shirt and striped boxers. Content in his cage of glass and steel, having the utmost faith in the security firm on the first floor that catered specially to heroes. They were dedicated men and women, keeping a live body or two on the live camera footage twenty-four hours a day. Half a dozen guards patrolled the floors with a pair standing watch at each elevator. Most were ex-cops or ex-military, working out a nonstandard living just like me.
The Alchemist sunk into the cushions of his leather couch, eyes trained on the fifty-inch flatscreen mounted on the wall. He downed his orange juice in one long swallow and set the glass aside, tension easing from his shoulders when he propped up his feet. A soft beep from the device to the left of the sandbag warned that the EMP bubble keeping me off the casual scans of the Grid had less than an hour of battery life. This had been a long vigil.
Everything was in place. The curved dish to my left, ready to disperse the sound of the bullet. It would split and echo, rising a hairsbreadth above the crush of traffic ten stories below. To the satellites cataloguing thousands of images a second, to the speakers on the balcony below me recording every word Alpha City said, to the world, I was invisible. My finger moved to the trigger.
Sniper training taught me to shoot between heartbeats. It was so much easier when you don’t have one at all.
The ball of my finger against the trigger was calming, familiar. Bart Mason smiled, then laughed at whatever he saw on the screen. I let him finish as the crosshairs aligned on his mouth and shining white teeth. His breath was slow, measured, but I let it replace my own. The city and the wind faded away, leaving only a target.
Spider-web cracks splintered the window all the way to the frame. I knew it was only imagination that I heard the bullet strike the back of his brain, but the wet sound lingered in my thoughts as I looked through the scope. The damage to the glass left the view opaque and distorted, but stroking the zoom on the rifle let me see through the point of impact.
Bartholomew Mason, aged seventy-one, sat peacefully on his couch seemingly unaware of the blood soaking into the curves of leather behind his head. His eyes hadn’t had time to widen in surprise. I counted sixty seconds in my head as every alarm in Eden Heights blared, confirming the kill. There was no hitched breath or the twitch of a fingertip. My work was done.
I broke down the rifle and retrieved my sunglasses from the edge of the roof, pushing them firmly against the bridge of my nose. The refracting dish and pocket EMP returned to my backpack, the fabric thick with dust from being thrown down too many fire escapes and stairwells over the years. With the gloves and sandbag stowed in another zippered pouch, I threw the pack over my shoulder and walked towards the elevator door. Sirens howled as a black-and-white came to a screeching stop in front of the building. The police wouldn’t question a woman who looked like a tourist. In this city, I was faceless, nondescript.
I was a ghost.
Ooooooo, I love this one! I want to see it drawn in panels.
You asked for stories last night but I didn't see it until this morning. Here's my little one (sorry if this is a dupe, the first submission didn't look like it went through):
"One morning a man woke and decided to go on a journey to the world beyond. He'd had nothing of value and therefore took nothing with him and left nothing behind. Indeed, he even had no one who cared enough for him to call out as he was leaving.
He walked long and far – sipping water from cool pools and feasting on wild mushrooms. He hid in the darkness from the wild animals he encountered for fear that they would consumer him as soon as they found him. He was cleaver and quite thought himself so and continued on his journey.
Finally he reached the end of his journey and stood before the seal of the Gate that was no Gate. Legends told that beyond was a world of “fire” and “heat” and there would be immense suffering for the one who opened the way and they would be utterly destroyed. But he was cleaver and unafraid, so he squared his shoulders and pushed as hard as he could to open the Gate.
Suddenly the Gate opened and he was burned by the terrible “light” that burst through. He twisted and turned to escape it but he could not flee deep enough away from the Gate to escape. Finally he noticed a great shape before him, flung himself at its feet, and hid there where the “light” was weaker.
While he was catching his breath and waiting for a chance to return home, the great shape moved further and further into the light and away from his home. And while he was quite cleaver, he could think of nothing more that to chase after the great shape and continue to hide at its feet. He spent a long, long time running after the great shape’s feet.
Finally, the “light” had weakened enough that he could venture out from the great shape’s feet without pain. But by then, he had traveled far and could not find the way home. Weeping, he returned to the great shape’s feet and waited for his chance to return home.
To this day he remains there, clinging to the first thing of value in his life."
The car always smelled faintly of her perfume, a subtle combination of apples and spice. He would never tell her but often after he dropped her off at her parents’ house, he would just sit in his car—sometimes for an hour or more—just breathing in her smell. He still carries it with him today. Sometimes it wakes him up late at night and he imagines remnants of her on his sheets. But there is no one there, except for his sleeping wife, who after ten years of marriage, seems to have no scent at all.
So much story contained in just five sentences. Damn. You are good.
Instead of attempting to cook, we mischievously decided to eat at one of the chain restaurants located a few blocks from the house. In our three years together, we’ve resorted to this option less than five times, but there are those evenings, like this one, where nothing seems more fitting. Our dinner and drinks were over-priced, but they surprised me in quality and deliciousness. I know that scientists work for my happiness with this meal somewhere far away in a lab, but I’d like to note that they’re doing a good job.
After our short walk home, we were already drenched in sweat. He took a flat sheet from my closet and set about tucking it in between the tiles of the drop ceiling so that it hung to the base of the loft. We climbed into our “nest” with the churning a/c unit and slept comfortably, blessedly, while the rest of the world roiled in heat outside our zebra-print fortress.
I once loved a woman who had a heart like ocean glass: gently rippled but still so perfectly smooth, spotted gently with bubbles of air that held secrets I'd only hear if I ever found the strength and the sorrow to somehow break the vessel. She wore summer dresses like they were sewn on her form, like an extension of her skin, like dancing leaves on a swinging bough blown by wind just before the sunset turns most golden. She held me close and knitted my blighted body together with ribbon and string made up from patience and coloured with passion, but when the winter storms came she mercifully let me fly, free and easy as any seabird could possibly hope. I can remember her face, her skin, the curve of her brow and the feel of her weight, all of it soft and silken as though sung to me once in a dream.
I think of her often, with my toes in the sea and my head in the clouds, and my weathered lips cannot help but smile.
This is so gorgeous. I was hoping I’d get a story from you.
An overwhelming numbness, one that takes hold and consumes.
It bleeds from your mind, trickles like ice down your neck and down your spine, stretching through to your fingertips, crippling you, staining every part of you, holding you with its cold embrace. Burry your face in the darkness, closed to anything other than the nothingness you feel. Beyond shock and not yet agony, the numbness envelops you, drowns you, comforts you.