Attempts at fiction

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the wake of eight grad school rejections, I feel like a toppled water-skier, floating dizzily in the foamy trail of the boat with a bad case of vertigo. An understatement, I think, to say those rejections rocked me. But post-dog-paddling to shore (and wearing out metaphors, as is my trademark), I’m feeling more free than I did with the concept of graduate teaching and days on days of assigned poetry hanging over my head. I figure grad school may not be the right direction at the age of not-even 21. I’m too rebellious and anti-institution. (That was a joke. Laugh please.)

Positivity is the way to go, then. A friend told me it’s only for optimists and children, to which I added “Chris Traeger.” Bless him. If I could have a spirit animal . . . let’s be real, he’d be useless . . . but I would certainly want Chris Traeger. Like having a dog that talks.

In any case, this has been stewing on my desktop for a couple of months and I’m not sure if I love it or hate it. I might want to burn it, but it’s an achievement, so I also want to frame it. The only reasonable way to go is publish it on the internet for everyone to see! Narcissism. Fiction hasn’t really been my strongest point. Short stories have typically fallen woefully flat. This one, however, feels like a beginning. So here’s Yellow and the Oak, a tribute to not going to graduate school and trying to write fiction instead. Click the link to see a full pdf. Click the comment feature if you have useful things to say, including “You’re the worst” and “You should never write anything ever again” or “You should stop using self-deprecation to be funny because that’s old hat.” Particularly the last one.

Okay, bye.

 

 

 

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Porcelain and Bicycles

October 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Brain matter rebounded inside my skull as my lips struck the heavy black tarmac and slid, skin tearing and boiling on the summer pavement. Bicycle tumbling in a clatter and Heidi’s feet pounding with a shock in every step.

Feral vocalizations reverberated through the neighborhood as I exploded to my feet and ran with the blood and the teeth and the bones crumbling from my face; I screamed in the knowledge of the things my brain wouldn’t let me feel. Heidi ran after me. Half a mile I ran, hell-bent for home and reaching for Mother, but knowing she wasn’t there.

My world listed into a green sky; reality was a poorly-laid tilt shift. I saw Heidi dumbstruck, dialing my father and I remembered mother in the hospital, so I shrank in the green grass sky and let it fade.

Morphine. I thought I was better. Told my father we could go home; everything was all right now. Baby blue into my dark and I wavered in his sad that I couldn’t feel. Leaning against the tree trunk legs, hanging on when the world started listing numbly and maybe home wasn’t ready for me yet.

The beans ejected themselves onto my feet and pooled on the white sheets, shifting into small human kidneys taunting my numbness. A process of untangling, tubes and beeping and a red light holding pressure on my finger; bed pans clattered on the cold tile. Cold. My feet were cold.

The world listed and I didn’t move. Bandages ripped from small hands that latched on to the bed as the world spun and flipped, whirling in the fuzzy blue and red geometrics on the wall, taunting, leering at the numbness forcing fingers away from buttons that’d make it fade. Yelling between the wires holding back words.

Faces in the window again. Faces speaking platitudes let me pray for you and can I get you anything as if the wires clenching my teeth tightly closed weren’t sign enough. No Trespassing, I wanted posted. Platitudes wouldn’t bring me back my face.

Tree trunk sleeping while daughter falls.

It’s not my own face anymore.

Plates

October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was eating chips and salsa when I heard them yelling. Again. I put on my headphones to shut it out, trying to focus on my book. They hadn’t stopped fighting for the past few weeks and I knew it was all jealousy and passive aggressive pent up feelings and they needed to sort it out, but their fighting wasn’t good for my digestion. I choked on a sharp piece of chip when I heard the first plate smash. I imagined the emotional gore in the kitchen and I groaned. I knew I’d be tiptoeing around it for weeks. There was a thump. A body hitting the refrigerator. Something about “the fucking dishes” and that made me giggle. I’m still a little immature, I guess. The noise level went up an octave. My sound-canceling headphones were a joke. You understand I had to go do something. I was three weeks tired of playing peacemaker, but The Grapes of Wrath wasn’t going to read itself, and their soundtrack didn’t make the Joads easier to understand.

“Guys. Calm down!”

They didn’t even hear me. Jesse, in the middle of a shriek, sent another plate whirling. My mother’s plate. No. I dove for the kitchen floor and caught the white ceramic inches above the tile. Their fighting paused as I rose, growling, to my feet. Megan had hair tangled around her fingers and I was pretty sure it was Jesse’s.

“I get wanting to smash things. But seriously, use your own dishes. Oh wait, they’re all mine.”

I almost wanted to swallow that last bit. I guess it was a little low. Megan was particularly offended by it. Jesse couldn’t have cared less, but Megan had some complex about being poor. I mean, we were all poor, but I got a job and spent my money on dishes and a gym membership. She was jobless and her parents cut her off, so sometimes I could cut her some slack for being a bitch, but this time, I was pretty stuck on the fact that I needed to read my book and I had a fitness competition in the morning. Solving a dispute between two college girls, friends or not, was definitely not on my list of to-dos.

“Geez, can’t you solve this over a beer or something like civilized people? You’re not in high school anymore.”

I hated the way I sounded. Like my mother when my sisters and I would fight, accusing us of immaturity as if that would shame us into rightness. Didn’t work then, didn’t work now. Jesse and Megan laid into me. Amid the mostly indiscernible words, I caught a couple phrases. Nosy. Busy-body. Not your problem. Bitch, it is my problem. You don’t have a mute button. You’re in my apartment. I wanted to spark the violence again, but my peacemaker neediness kicked in and I started talking with open hands and pointing my feet at them and throwing myself under the bus like an idiot.

“Tell me why you’re fighting. One at a time.”

They talked over each other, pushing and shoving with their words. Megan found her way to the front and dominated, like she always did, pretending to be smart and logical. Girl is on a nationally ranked debate team and can’t even communicate her relationship issues without pulling out someone’s hair. My scorn must have shown on my face. She came at me like a wet cat, hackles up and growling. I batted her away, but not before her fake nails pulled red from my arm. I guess I must have snapped a little, then. I mean, I’ve always been a little angry. It’s just this time, I had a white plate in my hand and blunt force trauma is easy with Crossfit arms.

I don’t live with them anymore. But I did finish The Grapes of Wrath, at least seventeen times. I could probably read it a couple more.

Tree Trunk Falling

October 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

I thought my father was a tree. The way he stood between the church pews, still and unmoved, when everyone else swayed. I pretended my father was a tree. I’d count the rings in his palms to find his age and when he wore green, I knew I was right. My father was a tree and I was a squirrel, skittering around his feet, across his shoulders, dangling from his burly arms.

I drew my family at school one time and my teacher wanted to know why my mother held the branch of a grinning tree. She thought I didn’t have a father. I thought she didn’t have sense. Surely it was obvious that my father was the tree.

When the ancient pine crashed down on our house, that one wet summer in ’99, I wondered if that was how all trees died: consumed by their environment. My father told me about the circle of life, but I didn’t understand, so we watched Lion King until I got it. I learned about baobab trees and started to wonder what kind of tree my father was.

In 2005, when the second set of neighbors lost kids to a drunk driver, I realized my father was an oak tree. His Spanish moss beard. His steady roots digging deep into the ground he chose for them, unrelenting when she begged him to move neighborhoods. I never worried, even after another driver crashed into our garage and died there, a piece of his windshield sticking out of his forehead. My father said “survival of the fittest” and I was glad he was fit, because when trees fell and the world crashed into our house, he stood against its movement and spread his arms like the old oaks to keep us safe. But even oak trees fall sometimes. I’d thought my father was a tree; I knew it when he fell.

Fitzsimmons

September 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

No, it was a song, then. A song that reminded me. We were driving. Golden hour on the uptown. Good morning. You were singing to me, again for the first time. Broken window rolled down all the way and you will find love. Went uptown craving autumn, looking for a pumpkin pie and in the 5 o’clock everything felt pure, pure fall, freshly pressed. Quiet of December in the twang of a mandolin and seeing out west a prick of sunshine running back to trace the arc of your irises. Warm and brown and steady, holding. I caught our image in the truck’s slick side and saw love holding on to a long-haired self, fleeting as it shimmered in the bending of the semi’s metal body, matching rhythm with a smooth-wrist strumming.

It was his song that made me think of it. William. William Fitzsimmons made me call you and I think I’m sorry, but don’t you remember?

There was frozen pizza sticking to a pan we forgot to oil, cheese dripping off the sides; we watched it gurgle on the oven floor until the smoke came out, black and wounded. You opened the old brown door and let autumn in and it caught you up in a whorl of leaves. I think it overcame you and you kissed me in the kitchen, then, soaked in smoke and shaking towels at our mistakes.

Caught up in a whorl of falling. Up or down, it didn’t matter, because each direction ended in a cup of coffee and a two-sided “I’m sorry” except for when it didn’t.

I think I’m sorry this time. I wish there was a cup of coffee waiting, too, but you’re busy I remember and autumn was a while ago. It was a song, then.

The birds of spring returning

Your ghost I burn

Night Swimming

September 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Earth is old. Dry of age, dry of want, see her languish back upon herself like a dissatisfied lover. I trace her crumbling along tiny fault lines, from rock to boulder to lacebark elm and rest my bare feet at the old roots for a blinking moment. Then, quickly I flee, pounding through the leafless dark, searching once again: searching for the green, the damp, the jeweled grasses sleeping in the east.

A sudden halt, my pounding feet arrested by a cool splashing. Crests of dark water, wild in their basin, come roiling up the wide red bank of the midnight beach to crash against these dusty olive pillars like young tsunamis. Old cotton shivers in a fresh wind; released, it flutters down to the dry red sand. Deeper and deeper the pillars go, striding resolutely in a ribald march to the center. Eyes up, then, treading through the star waves, the heavens rippling over skin and hair and sibilant body. Ears beneath the surface hear no pings of responsibility, fingers, detached from the sharp blinking screens trickle limpid through the black wet something, lightless and unencumbered. We glide in a starry silence, devoid of prickling necessity – harried by land and graceful by sea. I am limitless, floating airy beneath the belts and winks and glimmering flirtations in the wide expanse of sky. Sky-sheet water-bed sinking.

There is no greater disconnect.

 

Hummingbird

September 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

It was the height of July and the hummingbirds had zipped back into their old haunts of our small summer paradise home to raise their families and take advantage of the multitude of bright red feeders my mother set out every year. Three-feathers, a hummingbird named the summer before for the three jewel-red feathers that shimmered on his throat, returned to raise his own family and we watched from the kitchen window as he taught them how to drink the sugar water. It’s not often a child of the suburbs has a chance to watch two generations of a hummingbird family grow up in her own backyard, but looking back, it’s plain my brother and I weren’t just children of the suburbs. Embraced by our mother’s brainchild, a small, colorful wonderland of native plants and labyrinthine pathways through greenery, we grew up in a bubble of trees, flowers, and hidden corners under bushes where we’d share the dried fruit and nuts I would swipe from the old white refrigerator. Some days, when the hummingbird feeders were low, Mom would set the sugar water boiling on the stove and I’d have a chance to swipe that, too. Occasionally I felt guilty, stealing food from the jeweled birds I loved so much, but the sugar-free candies and bowls of damp carrots were never quite enough for growing children. We stole sugar whenever we could, even eating it raw in the forts we made of couch cushions. But when the sugar in the jar got low and we couldn’t steal anymore without coming under suspicion, we would wait impatiently until mother went grocery shopping, which was less often than we would have liked. I fancied myself a strong-minded child and figured I’d survive these short separations from sugar, but my brother, on the other hand, was a small addict, destined to hit rock bottom sooner rather than later. That sooner came on a particularly hot Tuesday, I remember, and we’d been fighting all day. I’d lost each battle decisively, my words or my fists always too small against his two extra years of experience in the rough world. Frustrated and repressed, I trudged moodily around the house, racking my brain for a sneakier way to exact revenge. I was sitting in the living room, sulking over my favorite Eyewitness guide (one about hummingbirds, naturally) when I happened to look out the front window and see my brother, standing on the tips of his toes and tilting the hummingbird feeder until a steady stream of sugar water poured out and into his mouth. I watched, gaping, for a good five minutes, as the feeder quickly drained and he stood there, sticky and pleased. Like any loyal sister would do, I ran to my mother, visions of revenge and timeouts dancing the tango in the back of my eyes. After running through the entire house without finding my mother, I began to deflate. What if she’d left? I spun in a quick circle and directed my body towards the back door, on a beeline for the vegetable garden. I found her alternating between pulling up mosquito grass and slapping loudly at the mosquitoes settling cloud-like on her darkened skin.

Um. Mom. I shuffle my feet, as if to suggest this is a difficult thing for me to tell. But I must do it, for the good of the hummingbirds, and my brother’s dental hygiene. Mom. The hummingbird feeder is empty.

I filled it this morning. She doesn’t look up, but keeps pulling weeds and slapping at mosquitoes. The high pitched whine sounds off in my ear and I slap foolishly at it, missing the mosquito and successfully disabling my left ear for the time being. Perhaps revenge isn’t worth getting eaten alive, I decide. But I give it one more try.

Well, I saw a really huge hummingbird drinking from it, I say. He was really big. Probably the same size as Kody. Looked a lot like Kody, actually. She looks, then. Quizzically. I see the realization hit her and follow her triumphantly as she marches into the house, snatches Kody by the shirt front, and demands to know the truth. Gleefully, I watched him shrink in her grip, nodding his head miserably. Grounded for two weeks, with extra yard chores. She walked away, shaking her head. Once her back was turned, I did a small, gloating dance in his doorway before scampering off to revel in my genius. He didn’t speak to me for a solid two weeks and I felt powerful. He may have been stronger in words and in fists, but I was small and malicious, weaseling my way into good graces and using them for all they were worth.

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