Come Get Me

There was a little bit of time driving back from Davis early Thursday morning, on my way to work, where I realized I felt no weight, no tension in my chest. For a brief moment I recalled what it was like to carry nothing, nothing at all and decided I should savor it, because oh how quickly it would pass. 

You get used to it: the taught pull, the ever present tension. A vague sense of panic constantly grasping on, a passenger you never welcomed, but one among you regardless. A demon (some ugly little shit) that just sits inside your ribs and pulls at you from the inside. I wish I could go to the surgeon and have it removed. It’s so physical, I’m certain it could just be removed. But I’d be wrong about that. 

I think of Thursday morning like I think of that year Hanukkah started the day after my brother’s birthday and ended on Christmas Eve: a kind of sublime coincidence and cataclysmic celebration I can never recreate. And even if I could, I’m not a kid anymore, it’d never feel the same. But still I sit here longing to pull it out, to empty my chest and feel light for just one more moment. Because I can’t accept this, the way I am. 

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Scattered Monuments

How unceremoniously a year passes. How monuments of our lives marked by the comings and goings of others, the departures and settlements of ourselves, become faint whispers carried away in the comings and goings of each day. In so many ways you think: “I should have gotten used to this by now”. I should be comfortable with this feeling by now. And in so many ways you think, “I’m too used to this now.” I am too ok with this feeling now.

How do we reconcile the passage of time: The steady augmentation of reality into memory into “what was his name?” A gaping pause because you feel badly for forgetting, incredulous that you could! But you did. We all do: forget a little, soften, harden and fixate on truths that never happened, become complacent with the terrible things that did. Pet lovely people and count your lovers on your finger tips (forgetting to include yourself) who remind you to stay, to go, to be true. 

I’ve stopped looking forward because there’s already so much right here in front of us. An overwhelming swell in a song so boring and obvious and perfect; it could be no other way. If I can just get through one more day, just today. And then the year passes: marked with scattered monuments.

Unfinished Stories: Grandpa & Grandma Greenway

Robin Nyström and I wrote this one! Read all Unfinished Stories of Jeff Crow’s blog and watch some Nicolife why don’t you (also from the Brain of Robin Nyström).

Every year my parents would wave their goodbyes in the damp summer heat of late July and send me off on a train from Pittsburgh to Boalsburg. I was picked up at the station by Grandma and Grandpa Greenway, who drove me to their lodge deep within Rothrock Forest, where I spent two weeks under their supervision.

I remember the small pond that nested in a bed of tall grass on their property. Grandpa and I kneeled next to it and watched the tadpoles swim around in the mucky water. I remember when Grandma and I took a bike ride to the old limestone quarry. I remember dinner time on the porch, when we looked over the towering pine trees as their shadows grew and the sun set. I remember the laughter-filled evenings with card games and charades and homemade kettle corn.

But there is one memory that stands out like a razor blade in a box of cereal.

Around supper time, on that particular day, I was reading a comic book at the kitchen table, when Grandpa called my name and pointed to a steaming bowl on the countertop, filled to the brim with a red-and-green soup.

”Will you bring that out to your Grandmother?” he said. “I bet she’s mighty hungry right about now.”

“What is it?“ I said, eyeing the bowl with a wrinkled nose.

“Curry lentil soup,” said Grandpa.

My whole face scrunched up like crinkled paper.

“I know you don’t like curry,” said Grandpa with a chuckle, “so I’m making you tomato soup with a side of cheese toast.”

My facial muscles relaxed again.

“Go on now,” said Grandpa. “And be careful.”

When I stepped onto the porch, I noticed that Grandma had fallen asleep in a sun chair. I didn’t want to let go of the bowl with either one of my hands, so I nudged her cheek with my nose. She blinked and looked at me.

“Hey,” she said.

“I brought you dinner,” I said.

Grandma smiled. She cupped her hands around the curry lentil soup bowl and leaned forward, letting the steams envelop her face.

“My, oh my,” she mumbled.

Grandma took a deep breath, inhaling the aromas. Then she sort of jerked back as if taken by surprise. Without another word, she raised the soup above her head and tossed it into the yard—bowl and spoon and everything.

I stared at Grandma, slack-jawed and shell-shocked.

“Aconite!” she shrieked, jumping out of the sun chair like a scorched wildcat. “You’re trying to poison me with fucking aconite!”

She stormed back into the house, and I followed at a distance.

“You didn’t think I could smell the wolfsbane with all that curry?” Grandma screamed as she pounced into the kitchen. “You pathetic old bastard! How dare you drag Eliza into this?”

Grandpa whipped around, armed with a slice of toast in one hand and a block of cheese in the other.

“Be quiet, you old crone,” he hissed with fiery contempt. “Spare me your righteousness! You know damn well the promise that I made: in sickness and in health, ’til…”

“Shut your mouth!” said Grandma, and she made her fists into little balls. “You never knew how to play fair, Oswald, did you? It’s just like that time you tried to push me off a cliff in the quarry!”

“Oh, yeah?” said Grandpa. “Well, Petunia, dear, what about the time you knocked me into the pond and tried to drown me?”

“You think that’s bad?” roared Grandma. “How about the time when you gave me an overdose of sedatives and tried to bury me alive in a coffin beneath the apple tree?”

“So what?” snorted Grandpa. “Remember when you tricked me into picking up your wedding ring from the kitchen sink while you turned on the garbage disposal? You were gonna bleed me dry, you witch!”

“Bah!” said Grandma, and her body shook with rage. “This has gone on for far too long.”

Grandpa let go of the toast and the cheese, letting them tumble to the counter. “I couldn’t agree more.”

“I say we settle this, right now, once and for all.”

“Fine by me,” said Grandpa with a shrug.

Grandma Greenway stomped forward and reached for an 8-inch cleaver from a stainless steel knife rack. She turned to her husband with a feline grin.

“This here is my weapon of choice,” she said with a snarl. “Now pick yours, old man, and let’s fight ’til death do us part.”

Grandpa paused and produced a hard stare that settled first on Grandma, then drifted toward me.

He lifted his hand and wagged his crooked finger in my direction, “The girl. She’s my weapon.”

“You’re sick! I told you to leave her out of this!” Grandma belted back the cat within her growing more savage.

I did nothing. I remember that quite clearly. I was waiting for them to have a good laugh. For Grandpa to pinch my shoulder, and Grandma to poke fun at how frightened I looked. What a stunt! We’d all reminisce about it when we were with my parents for the winter holidays.

“Gah! Have it your way you wretch. You always have.” Grandpa dropped his finger and gaze and picked up the cast iron skillet he had just browned my toast on. The pan seemed to give off a quiet cackle, it must have been the butter and crumbs sliding over it’s hot surface.

They circled each other for a moment, like wild dogs approaching one another in a abandoned parking lot. They we’re moving clockwise, Grandma nearing me as Grandpa tried to maintain North to her South.

“Out of the way Eliza!” Grandma Greenway pushed me hard with her free hand, never once taking her eyes of Grandpa.

I fell backward onto my butt and hands. My body forgot to take a breath. I choked for a minute, then gasped and swallowed all the oxygen I could.

When I stood I saw Grandma inhale a deep breath and upon releasing it explode at Grandpa, lunging at a speed I’d never seen her approach. She held the knife out directly over her head.

Grandpa blocked her attack, using the skillet like a shield. I heard the blade screech down the surface of the cast iron. I set of chills crawled over my skin and creeped into my ears, tickling me in the most disgusting way.

With a forceful grunt Grandpa swung the skillet from one side of his body to the other, just barely missing the side of Grandma’s face. As Grandma flung her body back to dodge the swing her arms had lurched forward, and though unintentional, Grandma made her first cut just above Grandpa’s knee.

“You fucking HAG!” The words fell from Grandpa’s mouth, but hey didn’t sound quite like him. It almost sounded like a younger man. Then I saw the blood gathering in his khaki colored pants. It colonized the fabric then moved on, dripping to the floor.

The three of us were watching the blood for what felt like a small eternity. Then Grandpa sprang forward, but he must of over estimated the strength of his newly wounded leg. It collapsed under his weight and he tumbled on top of Grandma, pinning her to the ground under his body.

The cleaver had fallen from her grip and spun out on the tiled kitchen floor.

Grandma stretched her arm out in a desperate reach for her weapon. She was sweating and heaving under Grandpa.

Straddling her, he lifted his torso with the skillet still in hand. The skillet that made my toast. He pulled it back over his shoulder, winding up again, this time for a blow that would surely make contact.

I jerked forward as if hooked on a line controlled by Grandpa’s flailing cast iron arm. I plowed into him just as he made a sharp wince, dropped the skillet and grabbed his left shoulder. He collapsed onto his side, legs still draped over Grandma, my body draped over his.

Grandma shimmied out from under us with a rodents urgency. She grabbed the cleaver and held it up over her head again, waiting, threatening.

“Get up you sonuvabitch!” She was half way between a screech and a dry pant.  “Get away from him, Eliza! Back up girl!”

I scrambled away, in a kind of crab walk, falling over my own feet and Grandpa Greenway’s.

He wasn’t moving.

I felt my stomach tighten up like a massive fist had suddenly taken hold of my organs and squeezed hard. I wretched for a moment, or forever. This part is what’s kind of unclear.

Grandma nudged Grandpa with the bottom of her slipper. He still didn’t move. She kneeled, and I couldn’t quite see what she was doing, but it seemed like she was poking and prodding at his face and eyes and neck.

She stood. Her shoulders dropped, as did the cleaver. “Good riddance.” She sounded sweet again, like she did on our bike rides, and ushered me into the sitting room.

“What a gift Eliza. You’re such a help.” She touched my hair and squeezed the top of my knee.

It took time for the ambulance and the police to arrive. We were so deep in the woods. All that time in the house with the man Grandma and I killed.

“The poor girl,” Grandma told the handsome officer, “She was in the kitchen when it happened. I just heard the ruckus. He must have collapse when he had the heart attack and tried to grab onto to knife rack to steady himself. OH, THE BLOOD. Poor Eliza, hasn’t said a thing since it all happened.”

The medics wheeled Grandpa out to the narrow, pebbled driveway under the sublime white of a sheet. Grandma and I watched from the doorway, the pond water to our left dancing under the setting sun.

“How about that soup and cheese toast?” Grandma asked as the flashing cars pulled away, the pebbles crunching and grumbling under their wheels.

I nodded and we went back inside.

Unfinished Stories: The Headache

Yet another installment of Unfinished Stories wherein one writes the beginning to a story, submits it to our ringleader Jeffery Crow, who then gives you a story to finish. The following is a collaboration between Dawn Locklear and myself. You can find more like this on Jeff’s blog: http://www.swordnquill.com

The Headache

The florescent light clashes with the sun streaming through small and high windows over the office kitchenette. That’s about the most interesting thing in the place, the rest is sort of painfully typical–disappointing. It’s a tight space. Secondhand appliances crowed the counter, and passive-agressive, coffee-stained notes about cleaning up after oneself are Scotch Taped about. We’re all hiding. Well, I’m not. I’m rifling through the first-aid kit that hangs from the wall opposite the microwave, searching, but it’s growing more futile.  Dan and Jen are hiding. Dan’s gaze is buried in his phone, but he still manages to match Jen’s fervency and disdain. They’re whispering loudly. Too loudly, but I don’t care enough anymore to suggest they keep it down.
Jen’s tote is slung over her shoulder, it looks uncomfortable, but she also doesn’t care. Her voice seems strained; she’s whispering so goddamn loud, “The upside to this is that she’s such a cunt she’s convinced me to go out to lunch. Either of you want to come?” Jen punctuates her request with a quick, tight-lipped smile.
I’m giving up on the triage through the first-aid kit, tossing pill packets aside when I blurt out, “This is all fucking expired. Do either of you have any aspirin?”
“Yeah,” Jen starts as she relaxes her shoulder to let her tote slide down. She’s digging through the special kind of abyss that is a woman’s bag, “I think I have some Midol in here.”
I must look some kind of way because Dan has actually allowed his attention to stray from his Galaxy and is eyeing me with concern. Or pity. God, I think Dan pities me right now. God, he’s opening his mouth. I’m dreading this. “Are you OK?” That’s all he says and I’m kind of relieved. His attention quickly strays, which usually annoys me, but this time I’m grateful he doesn’t bother to wait for an answer. Aiming his question at Jen, Dan asks somewhere between a plea and a whine, “If I go will you drink with me? To spite Cunty McCunterson.”
I shoot a hard glance at Dan, “You can’t say that.” He can’t say that. I don’t care how much of a cunt this woman’s being, he can’t say that.
“What? It’s true. You hate her too.” Dan doesn’t get it. Dan never fucking gets it.
“You can’t say ‘cunt’.” I try to simplify things.
“That’s bullshit. Jen just said it.”
Jen finally shakes out a few pills into my hand and I crane my neck under the faucet of the kitchen sink and turn the water on. The sink itself is tiny, like a water fountain and my hair touches the bottom on the basin. It’s grosses me out. I take a swig, get my head out of there and throw the pills back to wash down with the water. As I’m wiping my mouth I reiterate to dan that it doesn’t matter, HE can’t say that.
“Yes, Dan I’ll surely be drinking.” Jen is trying to cut our tension and she turns toward me rather impatiently, “Are you coming?”
Dan shoves his phone in his pocket and they’re both squared up facing me, poised to get the hell out of this fucking kitchenette. But something doesn’t feel right. Maybe I’m just lightheaded from whipping my head out from under the faucet. I can’t tell, but something’s a little off.
Of course it’s all off, my head feels like it’s going to break off.   “You two go on, I need to sit down.”
They both roll their eyes at me and spin on their heels in unison to leave.  As my eyes close, I jump at the slamming door.  They are both the worst fucks, I gotta leave this place.   Eyes close again to still the headache.
What fucking dumb shits…BOOM, CRASH.
Horns blaring and cars collide jar me up and on my feet to the window.  All I can see looking down at the street is Jen’s stupid pink coat.  Oh geeze, they look dead.  Are they dead?  Sirens blare and my head is suddenly clear.  Do I go down there, do I stay?  Do I hide like them?
I hurry down the several flights of stairs and the first thing I see is blood draining from under cars and that awful pink coat.  Police are just at the scene to take charge and back up the people.
I just stand there, staring.  I’m not hiding now.  As a matter of fact, I start to wonder how I can change the apartment around.  How getting rid of all their disgusting shit will be so good, even freeing.  Is that evil for me to think?  Especially now?
Damn it.  It is.  But I really hate them and I didn’t cause their demise.  Or did I?  Constantly fed up with them and pissed off…did I save myself from this crash on purpose?  Did my head really hurt that bad to stop me from going or was that feeling of something wrong making my head feel like it was going to fall off?
Panic sets in as I stumble up the stairs and my body starts to shake while bolting the door.
I barely make it to the window to look down again, WHAT THE FUCK?
They’re gone.  No blood, no bodies, no police, no commotion.   SHIT-FUCK…

Unfinished Stories: Daughter/Mother

Another Unfinished Story from a project the ever talented Jeffery Crow introduced to me. One week you start a story and submit it to Jeff, the next week he gives you someone else’s to finish up. You can find more on Jeff’s blog here. the following is a collaboration between Jeffery Crow and me.

Daughter/Mother

Mom was home. She knew not so much because of the sound of the door opening, like a vacuum seal peeled back from the edges of a prepackaged snack. And not so much because of the sound of keys jangling and clacking against too many tacky keychains. And not even so much because of the dart of light let in to the dark and cool apartment. She knew because she suddenly felt tired. She knew because Mom’s exhaustion hung and clung to all the crevices she passed, and the nature of an apartment two sizes too small meant that there were a thousand million crevices for exhaustion to crawl into and breed, and then for a girl to fall into like a field of Poppies.

She didn’t know it at the time, but all this made her sad, and so she didn’t look up or turn toward the door.  She continued to watch DuckTails with her legs stretched out, straight ahead, under the coffee table and her back posted up against the seat of the couch. She always preferred the floor. Mom left her things, including the clacking mess of keys, by the door in a clay dish the girl had made and painted at school. Mom came and sat on the couch behind the girl, a leg on either side of her shoulders, and touched her fine blonde hair.

“This is my favorite one. With the druids,” Mom whispered sweetly to the girl, “but it’s scary, don’t you think?”

The girl shrugged, pretending to be in rapture with the program, though she’d seen this one a thousand million times. It was a tape after all, and if she was honest, her favorite thing about the tapes was putting them in and out of the tape player they had.

“I brought you some chicken fingers from work,” Mom continued as she pulled her fingers through the blonde tangles, gently undoing the thousand million knots the girl had worked in on the windy playground.

Finally something peaked her interest. She turned toward Mom, ready to receive dinner, to participate in the necessary exchange of words in order to earn her feast. She looked into Mom’s face, hopeful.

“Can I have milk with them?” the girl managed to squeak, her voice breaking with an homage to the prior hour she spent in silence.

She watched her mother look towards the dark kitchen.  “Of course you can.  Why don’t you go get plates and forks and we can have a little picnic right here in the living room.”

The girl dragged herself out from under the coffee table and walked into the kitchen, her mother still sitting on the sofa.

– – –

Her daughter was home.  She could tell, not because of the lights turned off, or the sound of DuckTails through the thin door.  Really, it was the sense of relief she felt when she walked through the door.  She could breathe easy, knowing that her only daughter was safe, and that she had made it home safe to her.

The dim apartment had the smell of a small space closed up for too long.  She resisted the urge to open a window, hoping to keep the outside world separate for a few minutes more.  She placed her keys in the clay dish that was the product of a kindergarten project, presented proudly to her by her daughter.  The keys made a reassuring clacking, the handful of keys against a collection of key-rings, each a reminder of happier times and trips.

She walked into the living room, her daughter in her usual spot on the floor, legs stretched under the coffee table, back against the couch.  DuckTails played on the TV, an old VHS.  She secretly knew that her daughter really just enjoyed putting the tapes into the old player, but that was ok. DuckTails was one of her favorites anyways.

“This is my favorite one.  With the druids, but it’s a little scary isn’t it?” she asked, hoping that perhaps she wasn’t growing up as quickly as it seemed like.  The girl shrugged, seemingly taken by the animated characters on the screen.

Working through the tangles in the girl’s blonde hair, she said, “I brought you some chicken fingers from work.”  The girl turned quickly, at last that smiling face.
“Can I have milk with them?”

The mother looked at the kitchen, thinking about the last real meal she had eaten.  Of the last time she had been able to go to the store.  “Of course you can.”  She felt the day catching up to her.  “Why don’t you go get plates and forks and we can have a little picnic right here in the living room,” she said, hoping the excitement she tried to inject into her voice would cover her desperation.
As her daughter got up and bounced into the kitchen, she felt her throat closing with emotion.  Once she knew her daughter had walked into the kitchen, she allowed the tears to fall.

Unfinished Stories: To Give a Mouse a Cookie

A friend of mine, Jeff Crow, started a project to keep our creativity going. It’s rather simple. One week you write the beginning of a short story and submit it to Jeff, the next week he sends you someone else beginning to end. You can read the entire collection here on Jeff’s blog as they are added. The following is a collaboration between Dawn Locklear and myself:

Give a Mouse a Cookie

“Give a mouse a cookie…why would I do that?”  She asked the man in her dream.  “What the hell?” jarred awake and terrified as lightning struck the tree above her.  Cascading leaves and branches creating a soft cave over her.  ElizaMay sat stunned and shivered in the panic. 

After her thunderously wicked start, she began to calm because it was so quiet and there was such a sweetness in the air of cedar and vanilla.  Unfolding her knees from her chest, she felt the tingle that her arms had fallen asleep. She must have dozed off in that position and obviously stayed in her own clutch during the attack.  With hands dropped to the ground, she surveyed her encapsulated space.
It was cool and barely lit though the leaves.  Yet there was a dance and flutter of light that sparkled upon her in the tiny alcove.  As she started to relax, colours floated around her, small ones at first.  This made ElizaMay giggle.  Then ribbons of the rainbow spectrum swam in the area like the aurora borealis, and this tickled her into laughter.
Like magic, a tiny little man appeared and offered her a cookie.  Startled, she looked him up and down and took stock of just how dinky the cookie was in his hand.  Stunned and immoble, he offered it to her again.  So she took it and marveled as it grew in her hand.  When she looked back to him, he was gone, replaced with a very sweet poka-dotted mouse that stood at attention to her.
Bewildered and amazed, she indeed gave the mouse the cookie.  As the mouse nibbled, she noticed the eyes twinkled and this made her happy.  With this, ElizaMay was content.  She leaned against the tree, looked up in time to see a hole opening in the roof.  Standing up, she could look about and see that other than the broken huge branch, all was well.  With a tear of gratitude she bent back down, hoping to see the little man or mouse, only to find but a chunk of cookie.
ElizaMay cleared the roof away, stood admiring the incredibly massive tree before her.  It was always her favorite place to rest and now even more it would hold a most amazing splendor for her.
With her left over cookie in hand, she walked home.
The sun was warm in just the right ways, an occasional breeze lifting and carrying the heat if it ever dared to become uncomfortable. Though ElizaMay felt so comfortable, in fact, that she thought to herself about how one would never have guessed lightening had struck just moments earlier. As the cool breeze was about to lift that thought off her breath, ElizaMay turned around to look back upon tree. It’s leaves danced in the light, like flecks of sun bouncing off the sea, as if performing a ritual for their fallen brothers and sisters. ElizaMay smiled to herself, allowed the lightness of it all of fill her up and continued on the path home.
She felt so chipper that her arms swung a bit more freely with her steps and she rather absentmindedly ate the bit of cookie still poised between her fingers. With home in sight, and possibly the extra little kick the cookie provided, ElizaMay skipped the rest of the way to her backdoor.
The day carried on into the evening with a lingering kind of pleasantness, straight up until ElizaMay was tucked into her bed. She sleepily spoke of magic to her parents as they turned out the lights and left her door just barely ajar. She smiled and recalled the smell of cedar and vanilla.
ElizaMay was about to turn on her side when a tiny flicker in the doorway caught her eye. She sat up, but it must have been nothing. She moved to settle into bed once again and as she turned to rest her head—She gasped! It took a moment to catch her breath and focus. The polka-dotted mouse appeared on her pillow, at attention, just as before.
ElizaMay suddenly remembered her walk home—the cookie. What had she done with that cookie? Her stomach gave a small rumble as if responding to her question, and ElizaMay’s spirit sunk just a little. The mouse ran it’s paws over its head and ears then stretched them out toward ElizaMay, then back to its small snout. It did this a few times, gesturing for a snack it seemed.
There was only one thing to do. ElizaMay offered her hand out to the mouse; it stepped onto her fingers and found a comfortable grove in her palm to rest. The two slipped out of bed and made their way down to the kitchen. ElizaMay set her friend gently on the counter, she too then climbed up and rose to her feet reaching for the cabinet.
Even on her tiptoes, on the kitchen counter, the hidden box of cookies was still just out of reach. She was about to give up when the box started to inch forward on its own. ElizaMay grabbed hold of the box and realized with it came her polka-dotted companion, suddenly swept off his feet when he no longer had to push. She giggled, then caught her herself, before she made too much noise.
The box now torn open revealed what they had come for. ElizaMay reached in and pinched a cookie between her finger tips. She pulled it out and offered it to the mouse, but in a blink the tiny man had appeared! He swiped the cookie which immediately shrunk to a laughably dinky size and darted a judging glance at ElizaMay.
“What are you thinking?” he squeaked in a voice as dinky as the cookie. “Give a mouse a cookie…” he trailed off shaking his head then—POP! The tiny man vanished followed by—POP! The mouse was gone to with a shake of its fist. ElizaMay couldn’t help it: she laughed.
She laughed all the way back up to bed, and through her dreams. She may have even woken the next morning still laughing.