So my car is totaled thanks to those lovely Memphis zombies (you know those guys, wandering in the middle of the road despite oncoming traffic and crosswalks) but you know the old man is a real trooper for playing the Christmas show at the HiTone after undergoing a short stay at the Med and some CATscans. Good going, Strangler!
Going to try to be productive, but I'm 98% sure my wisdom teeth are coming out after Christmas, so I'll be cloudy for a bit.
Here's some metal work. Brass Sangre Libre tiger pendant for Nick Ray.
Done with finals so now I can clean the apartment.
Have you guys watched Superjail!? I lost my stomach for Adult Swim a few years ago but Superjail! is super refreshing. You know how near and dear psychedelic imagery, violent montages, and horror vacui surrealism are to my heart.
It had to happen sooner or later. I've been hit, hard by my annual yearly sickness. Usually it will stay at bay till about January but it was feeling a bit anxious this year. Luckily, I have angels like B.Kanther to bring me medicine and watch tv with me. I'm trying to actually get some illustration work done but I get dizzy if I sit up too long. Instead I made a sick day playlist:
'Simple Overture' by White Shoes & the Couples Co. from s/t 'Wedding' by Shelby Bryant from Cloud-Wow Music 'The Lantern' by The Rolling Stones from Their Satanic Majesties Request 'Two Thieves' by The Compulsive Gamblers from Crystal Gazing Luck Amazing 'Golden Apples' by Country Teasers from Destroy All Human Life 'Night Running' by B-Film from Plastic 7" 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'' by Nancy and Lee from Nancy and Lee 'Green is the Color' by Pink Floyud from Soundtrack for the film 'More' 'Dark Sky' by Les Maledictus Sound from s/t 'Empty Boat' by Caetano Veloso from s/t 'The Nightingale' by Angelo Badalamenti from Twin Peaks Soundtrack 'Julie With...' by Brian Eno from Before and After Science 'Flute Thing' by The Blues Project from Projections 'Home at Last' by Steely Dan from Aja 'Love With Fun' by Riz Ortolani from Cannibal Holocaust Soundtrack 'Whatever You Like (cover)' by Anya Mariana from Gossip Girl 'Hellhole Ratrace' by Girls 'No Chance to Choose' by The Contents Are from Through You 'Silver Cloud' by la Dusseldorf from La Dusseldorf 'Room 33' by Greg Ashley from Painted Garden 'Simplicity' by Ace of Cups from It's Bad for You but Buy It
I had to put the T.I. cover because the most ridiculous Gossip Girl occurrence happened during that song and I was watching it earlier this morning when I woke up puking.
It takes about 10-12 bucks and a couple of hours if you keep making mistakes like I did but the end product is awesome.
(I did deviate from the instructions. The chain is sewn under the hem tape but I like being able to see the metal. Instead, I closed the hem around the fringe and sewed the chain on top, a stitch every other link.)
(Three pieces of flash fiction. Working on illustrations for them at the moment.)
They were separated young. When they came home from the hospital, their mother began cutting apart their dresses. She worked for the next couple of days under a yellow lamp fogged with cigarette smoke. In their now separate beds, they fell asleep to the hum of the sewing machine. The following Sunday they went to church. The girls sat inches apart, thumbing the new hems along their skirts. While no one was looking, the girls slipped a hand under their dresses to feel the hem along their pale thigh. They could feel the ghost pressure from the other. A line was drawn between the two of them by the bright red velvet of the pew cushion. During prayer they reached for each others hands but stopped at either edge of the new barrier: separate and alone.
When you were living alone with your father and falling asleep before he came home, you called your mother an evil woman. Just left the family without a letter or took a thing with her. That spring you were stung by bees in the apple orchards and had to suck out your own stingers. As the humidity settled over the house, you walked around naked through the disheveled rooms until the mill whistle blew. You found your dog dead under the porch while retrieving a baseball.
Meanwhile, your awful mother was in the arms of a man and damp from the basement atmosphere; High up in the mountains where no one could hear and she never called you once.
After the bees had started disappearing, your mother was picked up off Highway Eleven. Covered in wet grass, she didn't say a word. Roadside trash was tangled in her graying hair, washed with runoff water, she was stiff and cold and could never sit up straight again.
All the women in town said she had been asking for it.
My father shoots stray dogs. They wander into our pasture and torment our bird dogs. Their white teeth gripping and pulling at the chain link cages till they bow. Our pointer continuously howls and chases his tail in a manic state till my father pulls on his boots and stomps to the gun case. I find the dry trails of mud leading down the hallway and out back. The withered pile is always a different color and size. Sometimes it's a stocky, maned chow or a wolf-like mutt, and this time, a small framed, sleek black generic dog. Their skeletons remind me of cathedrals: the flying buttresses of the rib cage, the vertebrae pews, and the columns ornamented with lifeless sinews. The dog's mouth is wide open in silent worship. I pick up a rock and stand over the body. It's dead eyes are set on the horizon, frozen in a pursuit of the tree line. I'm still staring at it's eyes as I drop the rock on it's skull. The sound is hollow and wooden and reverberates. My hands are over my ears and I'm running back towards the house. I'm leaning against the door in the hallway. The sound is standing on our welcome mat and echoing patiently, waiting for me.
More than a month ago, I wrote this short story for the Memphis Magazine fiction contest. I haven't heard anything in a while, but it's about time I posted something.
For the fifteenth day in a row Beth awoke to the rustle and scraping under the floor. Carmine with his spoon, licking and smacking and gorging on the clay under the house. Before she ever had a chance to start breakfast he was pushing aside mothballs and exiling raccoons for his feast. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, she listened while palming the eggs. Rolling the brown shells in her hand, she followed the wet drag of Carmine's utensil on earth, stepping quietly and standing above his head. Carmine with no facial hair for the clay to cling to. Carmine who filled the gaps of lost teeth with red dirt. Carmine with the guilty red hands. Beth watched the egg whites spread and solidify as the front door flapped open and her son wiped his feet on the mat. "Morning," he said, sucking on his finger and wiping his free hand on his pants. She turned slightly and nodded, eyes still fixed on the frying pan. Carmine pulled his chair across the floor and sat at the table. "No snakes under the house today. The mothballs must be scaring them off. Sure makes the house smell though." With the heat came the serpents that coiled under the porch stairs, running from sun and anxious to surprise. When her husband was still around, each leaky pipe meant wrestling with the reptiles and the slim chance of wrangling them out of dark spaces in the house. They waited behind the icebox, between the wall and the bathtub, and once beneath their son's crib. After finding a large, black snake arranged on the floor beneath the sleeping baby, her husband bought mothballs and sprinkled them under the house. Not a snake since, but with every rise of the heat index, the fumes permeated the house. Even after the end of summer, the mothballs stayed, ammoniating Thanksgiving and Christmas. "Why bother sitting at the table if you already filled up on dirt," Beth asked, scraping the eggs from the pan and onto a waiting plate. "You're going to eat the foundation right out from under the house. One day we're going to wake up six feet in the ground, mud covering the windows and no way to get out the door." Carmine swung his stained feet back and forth as he watched his mother pick at her breakfast. He glanced, uninterested, at her plate, then pushed his chair back from the table. "You don't have to be so mean, mama." Her fork scraped against the plate, shrill and familiar. "Boys aren't meant to eat dirt. You're getting too old to make mudpies. Do the boys at your school do that? Push away their lunches and start tucking in the ground," her voice rising as she stabbed her eggs with the fork. "We're not poor. I cook you three meals a day and even then you sprinkle dirt on your plate." "It tastes better," he mumbled, running his nail on the edge of the table top. "The dirt under the house is the best dirt. I don't like other dirt that much." Digging in his pocket, Carmine fingered a saved clod and resisting the urge of crumbling it over his mother's eggs when she had her back turned. "I'm going to the river, mama. Going swimming." He slid off the chair and started towards the door, looking over his shoulder at his mother. Beth stared back at him with sunken eyes and a hunched back. Every day she slumped forward further--he was waiting for her nose to touch the plate in front of her. He ended the image with the slam of the screen door. Beth pushed her plate away and listened to the hot air move through the house. "He wouldn't be acting like this if you were still around," she said to the empty kitchen, "no, you would have already tanned his hide if he walked in here every day with dirt around his mouth." She got up from her chair and began to clear the table. Beth examined the small potted herbs on the window sill and started filling a small cup with water. As she was pouring small amounts of water into the plants' pots, she noticed the bright orange smears leading from the door to the kitchen chairs. Cursing, Beth filled a bucket with soapy water. She kneeled on the floor and scrubbed the boards, soaking the hem of her skirt. Carmine kicked up dust as he walked down the road. He stood with his head back and mouth open as if in a snowstorm as the sediment fell onto his waiting tongue. As he made his way down to the river, Carmine peeled his shirt off and tied it around his waist, scratching at the clay stains. The stains didn't budge and he decided to wait till he got to the water's edge to wash out his shirt. When he reached the river, Baron was waiting for him. "I didn't think you would show up," Baron said, "I thought your mama might of made you stay home." Baron sat on the low branch of a tree, already in his underwear and sweating. Carmine shook his head as he stripped off his pants and crouched in the water, rubbing his shirt against a rock. "Naw, she was mad but I left before she could do much." Baron jumped from his branch into the water, splashing Carmine as he continued to scrub. When he was sure Baron wasn't looking, Carmine shoved a fistful of mud into his mouth. He rolled it around and sucked it down slowly. It felt good and cold as it slithered down his throat. Baron waded over to Carmine and pressed his finger hard against the boy's shoulder. "You're already pink, chief." "Don't do that," he said, slapping away his hand. Baron splashed water in Carmine's face then swam back into the open water. He finished with his shirt and laid it over a shrub to dry. "Why don't you come out and swim?" Carmine looked at Baron and clutched his stomach. "I got a stomach ache." "Did you eat something bad?" Baron laughed and splashed in Carmine's direction. He replied by swatting water back at the boy and waded further from the shore. Baron disappeared under the surface laughing and Carmine vomited into the river. Beth was sitting at the window with her chin in her hands when Carmine came home. His wet shirt was draped over his shoulder and he was holding his sunburned stomach as he walked up the steps. "I don't feel good, mama." He stood before his mother and placed his head against her stomach. "My stomach hurts," he said, holding onto her hand. She looked at her son and placed her hand against his forehead. "Well, you feel hot but that could be from being outside. Go lay down and I'll bring you some water. If you don't feel better by tonight, I'll call the doctor." Carmine vomited for the rest of the day into his mother's mop pail. By evening, the doctor was beside Carmine's bed, holding his wrist and staring at his watch. "How long have you been feeling bad, son?" "This morning when I went swimming. Came out of nowhere." The doctor nodded and took out a thermometer. "Eat anything strange? Bad meat? Raw eggs? Anything like that?" Carmine shook his head and looked at his mother. She furrowed her brow before saying, "Well, he's been eating dirt and mud for the past couple of weeks." The doctor looked at her, then at the boy. "Is that so?" Beth sat with the doctor at the kitchen table, holding a cold glass of water against her sweaty hands. "Where's he been eating dirt?" "Under the house. Probably at the river, all over--I have no way of knowing." The old man looked at her a moment while he readjusted the lapels of his jacket. "There are all kinds of things in mud, but what you have to worry about is parasites. Your boy's feeling sick because he's got a belly full of nematodes," he said, "It's nothing too serious. It's the same kind of worm a dog gets from eating scat. I'll give you some medicine that'll push them out of his system." She stared at the doctor in disgust. Not only was the doctor's comparison of her son to a dog outrageous, but the idea that her son was full of worms turned her stomach. "I really appreciate you taking a look at my boy, but what I want to ask you is why is he eating dirt? It's just not right! It's not normal!" "Now you don't need to get upset. It's not right but it's not unusual. There are lots of people who eat dirt. Sometimes your body is missing something that it needs, and sometimes that something is in the earth itself. A lot of the time, kids or pregnant women eat dirt for the iron. I even read a newspaper article that they've got a group of people in Tennessee that eat the clay right off the bluffs of the river. They bring buckets just to carry it home with them.", he explained. Beth sat twitching in her chair, her hands upsetting the water in the glass. "Don't look so worried, Beth, he'll grow out it sooner or later. I'll give you a prescription for some iron pills as well." He snapped his bag closed and stood to leave, briefly stopping beside Beth to place a hand on her trembling shoulder. "If you need anything else, give me a call. Here's the prescription. They should be able to fill it at the pharmacy." The door slammed, causing Beth to jump. She leaned her elbows on the table and quietly began to cry. The next day, Beth dressed Carmine and led him to the front seat of the car. "Where are we going, mama," the boy croaked. "We're just going into town to get you some medicine," she replied, shouldering her purse and wrestling with the car door. She started the car and poked Carmine, gesturing towards his seat belt. After he buckled himself in, Beth pulled out onto the dirt road and drove towards town. Carmine twisted the knobs on the radio, searching the full spectrum of dial. Between the static and pops of disc jockeys and jingles, Carmine turned to his mother and asked, "What did the doctor say was wrong with me?" "Just a little bug," she said, the corners of her mouth jumping, "we'll get you some medicine and you'll be all better real soon." The car crawled down main street before stopping in front of the drug store. Beth gathered up her purse and turned to her son. "You just wait here for me. It'll only take a minute." She got out of the car and smoothed her dress before opening the pharmacy door. A bell chimed when she walked in the building. She walked past the black cushioned stools at the soda fountain and lightly ran her fingers over the edge of the bar. After nodding at the gangly boy replacing glasses, Beth approached the counter and stared at the collection of candy jars. "Oh, Beth! What can I do for you today?" A woman in a pink uniform smiled at Beth as she approached the counter. "Hi, Gene. I just need to have this prescription filled. How are you doing," she said, digging into her purse and handing the woman a yellow slip of paper, "I'm sorry Baron and Carmine couldn't play longer yesterday. He's not feeling too good." Gene smiled and took the slip from Beth. "I understand. Just hope he gets better soon so Baron will have someone to keep him company," she paused and examined the note, fidgeting with the edges of the paper, "let me go get this. Just a second." As Gene left, Beth stared at the black and white tiled floor. "Gene," she started,"Baron hasn't said anything to you about Carmine, has he?" "No. Just that he was feeling ill. Why? Is something wrong?" Beth stared blankly and shook her head. She smiled, saying, "Oh, no. I was just wondering." Gene smiled then went into the back room. Beth clasped her hands together and knotted her fingers. No one else knew. She let out a small sigh of relief as Gene returned with a white bag. "Here's his medicine. I'll just add it to your account. Tell Carmine I hope he feels better soon." Beth thanked her, grabbed the bag, and quickly walked out of the store. When they arrived home, Beth measured out a dose of medicine and tipped it into Carmine's open mouth. She handed him a glass of water and sat with him on his bed. A breeze came through the open window, blowing the tacked up pictures on the wall. Above Carmine's bed was a calender, a picture of the Lone Ranger, and a picture of the boy's father. Beth placed a hand on his ginger head and smoothed his sweaty hair. She touched his hot, freckled cheeks and smiled softly. "You need to get some rest, okay? Try and relax for a bit while I work in the yard. I'm right outside your window if you need anything." As his mother walked through the house, Carmine could hear the floorboards creaking. He lay on top of the covers and looked out the window at the clouded sky. He dragged his nails against the wall behind his bed and turned his attention to the picture of his father. Before Carmine was two years old, his father died of pneumonia in the middle of January. The boy often wondered what things would have been like had his father lived. He thought his mother would be happier, less worn and impatient. She wouldn't have to work out in the yard in the heat or shampoo other women's hair at the beauty salon. Carmine wouldn't have to come home to an empty house after school and wait at the empty kitchen table. He rose up to look over the window sill at his mother in the flower bed. Her skirt was gathered at her knees and brushed across the dark soil. Beth tossed aside handfuls of offending weeds and lightly touched the leaves and blossoms of the plants. She had her wilted brown hair tied up in a scarf, stray strands plastering themselves against her sweating forehead. Stopping occasionally to brush sweat off her forehead with her dress sleeve, she worked silently and intensely, never noticing Carmine watching her. Beth raked the dirt through her fingers and thought of her husband. When she was pregnant, she would take care of the garden while her husband mowed the lawn and gathered pine cones and dead branches. He would fill up a wheelbarrow and guide it behind the house, throwing the brush into a large pile to eventually burn. Sometimes they would light the fire at night and watch the embers float into the dark sky. They ignored the heat and mosquitos and stare at the flames until the fire slowly died. One day, her husband was tending to the bonfire in the backyard while Beth was planting day lilies. She had watched the heavy smoke from the pine needles snake above the house and stopped mid way through digging a hole. Turning her attention back to her work, Beth had stared at the fistful of dirt. It looked cool and dark and felt good in her bare hand. She brought the dirt up to her nose and smelled it; rich, strong and heady. Compulsively, her mouth had opened and she pushed the soil into her mouth. It was surprisingly moist and soft. It hadn't felt grainy or intrusive. She swallowed slowly and looked at her now empty hand. Just as she had gathered a second fistful, Beth was interrupted by a loud voice saying, "Are you eating dirt?!" Her husband had angrily grabbed her arm and continued to yell. "Why in the hell would you shovel dirt into your mouth? What are you thinking?!" Beth felt a drop of water land on her bare arm. She looked at the gray sky and stood up, shaking the dirt off her skirt. On the porch, she wiped her feet off on the front mat and entered the house. "Carmine," she said, removing the scarf from her hair, "you better shut that window. It's raining." Hearing no reply, Beth walked into Carmine's room. The room was empty and quiet. She walked across the room and opened the closet door, pushing aside the boy's hanging clothes, finding nothing. The rain outside came down in loud sheets. "Boy, you better stop fooling around," she said, stooping to look under the bed. Slowly, Beth realized that Carmine was nowhere inside of the house. The curtains had all been pulled aside, doors hung open and the kitchen cupboards were all opened wide in pursuit. Her mouth twisted as she pushed open the screen door and stood on the porch. The sky had turned completely black and her calls for her son were drowned out by the rain. Beth ran back inside and grabbed a flashlight from the cabinet full of cleaning products and old sponges. Her bare feet slapped against the bowing boards of the front porch as she ran down the front steps. Dropping to her knees, she turned on the flashlight and started to crawl under the house. The clay clung to her elbows as inched along, searching with the yellow shaft of light. "Carmine! You better get back inside right now!" It smelled wet and musky under the house. There were no sounds of scraping or chewing; no wet swallows and no Carmine. Beth laid on the ground exasperated, smearing the red earth on her white dress. Tears ran down her face as she inched out from under the house and began running across the yard and down the muddy road. "Carmine!" Beth's feet slid and sunk into the mud on the road. She continued to yell the boy's name as her running threw the beam of her flashlight frantically. The rain beat hard against her shoulders as she headed to the river, a tight knot in her diaphragm of worry and guilt. She stood gasping for breath, legs splattered with mud and her wet hair plastered to her face. "Carmine!" Beth thought of her son face down in a bed of mud, filled to the brim and blue. She approached the river in a panic. "Carmine!" She surveyed the water and felt defeated. The muddy water had picked up speed, white capped and violent. Branches of trees and various debris rushed by, in and out of her periphery. Beth collapsed onto the bank, sobbing. If he had been here he would have surely been swept away by now. Taken miles down the river, or worse pulled under and held fast by rocks or dead trees. In the distance, Beth could hear a high moan. She followed the sound, her flashlight revealing pieces of swaying trees and churning water. The light finally landed on the form of a young boy clinging onto a low lying branch off the bank. "Carmine!" She ran forward, slipping on the bank and sliding up to her knees into the water. The current pushed Beth forward towards her son, threatening to tow her downstream. She gripped the muddy bank, dirt lodging itself under her fingernails. Clawing towards her son, Beth's knees barely breached the surface and her skirt stuck to the back of her thighs. She drew closer to the branch and began to see her son more clearly. He was shirtless and covered in mud. It was caked around his mouth and on his hands that gripped the creaking branch. Reaching him, she held fast to the limb and moved slowly towards him. "Carmine, take mama's hand and I'll pull you up on the bank, okay?" The boy nodded, wide eyed. His muddy hand grasped at his mother's waiting hand. Grabbing onto her palm, his sticky hand squelched and their fingers interlocked. Beth pulled the boy forward, her feet sinking into the river mud, turning her legs into deep rooted pylons against the current. She grabbed him into her arms and started to slowly move her feet forward, bringing them to the shore. They collapsed onto the bank, intertwined and crying. As she carried the boy back home, the rain slowing, Beth ran her hand over his mud caked hair. Her dress was stained with brown and red from the mud and clay. Carmine's pants were heavy with dirt, his arms wrapped around her neck and his head resting on her shoulder. "I'm not going to eat dirt anymore, mama," the boy said quietly. Beth shushed him as they approached the house, climbed up the steps and stood in the kitchen. Water dripped off of them, washing away the mud that gathered in a puddle on the floor. She didn't rush to clean it up. She didn't wipe off the boy's face. They silently stared at each other, two pairs of green eyes in masks made of earth.
I just got back from the beach--my shoulders are peeling. They look like dinosaur shoulders--Shouldersaurus. Getting a few pieces together, trying hard to write, raging up a brainstorm for my big metals project. I've been teaching kids at the art camp for two weeks, about to start another two week period. Up to Iowa at the beginning of August. Trying not to think about my career and education life after graduation. Or at least think about it without wanting to cry out of frustration. It's nice to be three deep in college and realize that you might have made the wrong choice and as you watch the DOW plummet and the sun continue to rise, you realize you have to keep going and hope that there's a good technical college near you that has a radiology program.
Because I like bones.
I could take home the x-rays people might not want. Maybe?
Experience the wonders of health insurance and vacation days.
Just got back from South Carolina/North Carolina for spring break. Spent last night at the King Khan and the Shrines show exercising my new found right of buying beer and trying not to have a panic attack. Started on new medication that makes me fall asleep instead of pushing me through an actual anxiety onset. Need to take some pictures of the kind of stuff I'm doing (jewelry, x-ray glasses, big drawings) and post new writing (when I can actual lift my writers block). I watch too many movies now so I spend all my time arguing with people about directors and looking like a prick. Hint: A beer will make me shut up.
There were no cars in Vinson Stag’s garage; only a white table with a shell reloader sitting in the center. When he was younger, Vinson would stand beside his father watching him reload shotgun shells for hours between beers and old country songs on the radio. The empty shells sat in metal army surplus boxes next to the legs of the chair, hollow greens and reds, their gold heads dull in the shadow of his father’s boots. As he selected a shell from the box he said, “Always remove the old primer and never have heat near this machine, understand?” Fitting the shell in the first slot, his father pulled hard on the lever and with a metallic crunch the tiny piece would fall into a small container of now inept metal bits. A new primer was placed into the machine and with another fall of the lever the head was restored. Vinson’s father grew his beard out when there was snow on the ground. When he hugged him at night, it smelled like cedar and gunpowder. “When you put the powder in the shell, be sure not to spill it everywhere,” he said with another pull of the lever. The gunpowder hissed through the funnel and into the shell until the switch clicked and stopped the flow. After inserting a bright red piece of plastic into the shell, the machine rattled as the remainder of the case was filled with shot pellets. Tammy Wynette was moaning on the radio as the final lever pull sealed the shell and it was placed gingerly into another metal box. Vinson received his first rifle at the age of ten and every gun owned by his father at the age of forty. They sat on the deer hoof gun racks in the back room, surrounded by turkey wings, various antlers, and taxidermy birds. There were photos of Vinson and his father on the plains with felled antelope or up to their waists in snow dangling limp pheasants from their gloved hands. Vinson never had the facial hair of his father in the pictures, just shallow peach fuzz on his upper lip. He never married but chose to stay shut up in his cabin in Black Hills under the dull lamplight of a wagon wheel chandelier, drinking beer and black coffee. The cold winter air drifted between the floorboards from the basement where Vinson kept his extra freezer and worn table. At night he descended down the steps and pulled the chord of the light bulb that hung above the table before switching on the radio and sitting down. Using an electric sander, he careful traced over the edges of mount boards for trophy displays. The sawdust coated his pants and boots and fall to the floor, slowly changing their dark colors to lighter hues. Vinson typically used darker stains for the wood. The tips of his fingers were often dark brown with hints of yellow from chain smoking. He never smoked in his workshop because of the turpentine fumes. A couple of days after the funeral, Vinson polished his father’s guns while listening to Tammy Wynette records and organizing ammunition into their appropriate boxes. He kept cleaning and rearranging manically for two days sporting dark circles around his eyes and the rough stubble of a much older man. The liver had gone first, then his heart begin to harden, and finally the black tar shellacking his lungs—that’s how his father went. Each organ ceasing one after the other in such efficient order that it reminded Vinson of cleaning an animal. “Always clean them carefully, Vince,” his father would say, “don’t just throw everything in a bucket and call it finished.” He could picture the hands of doctors taking apart his father piece by piece on the operating table and throwing them into a bright orange Home Depot bucket. When his mother called the next day, Vinson was polishing his boots. Their conversation was short and practiced, a formality. No, he couldn’t visit this weekend, and yes he was doing fine, he didn’t need anything. Both of their voices were hollow and clipped, lost in the background static. The exchange began to drop off and was ended reluctantly even though nothing was said. His mother finally sighing, “You should really talk to someone…living up there alone.” After hanging up the phone, Vinson continued to polish his boots. After his father died, Vinson could never bring himself to pick up the guns and go out hunting again. The waiting and watching and patience lost its appeal. He tried once, a month after. Picking up his shotgun he walked into the woods and waited atop a deer stand. The air was dry and the last leaves clung desperately to their branches and he waited. Squirrels dug through the layer of dead foliage on the ground while crows screeched on naked branches and Vinson thought of his father’s unblinking eyes scanning the tree line waiting for the pointed silhouette of a buck. The crunch of dead leaves brought him out of his nostalgia. With his head bowed to the ground, a large buck entered Vinson’s view. The animal was built but slender, fur matte in the light of dusk, the ten points of his rack seemingly growing from the forest floor. Vinson brought his scope to his eye and aimed for the vital spot below the shoulder. As the animal continued to nose through the leaves, he tightened his finger on the trigger following the deer’s motions with the end of his gun. Vinson remembered his father in the backyard carving into the body of a stag and gently placing the organs into a five-gallon bucket. The air smelled like musk and blood and the wide brown eye of the deer was glazed over, barely reflecting the light from the headlights of his father’s idling truck. Its tongue hung out of its open mouth accompanied by the sound of internal digging. The image of his father as a field guide illustration returned: arms held apart and the body splayed open, a caption below reading ‘Fig. 12-The Process of Gutting’. Vinson stared at the animal in his scope as it quickly lifted its head, startled and ran into the forest. Only then did he notice his open mouth and wet cheeks. Salt and mucus were running down his face and hollow sobs echoed from his chest and through the trees. The crows had quieted and the forest was silent as he placed his gun in his lap, useless and impotent and cried into his gloved hands.
Currently, Brendan and I are putting together a book of short stories. I'll post a couple of excerpts from the book and continue to keep you updated.
Rats From a Sinking Ship
She lived on the top story of the Nine Story hotel; which was floor five, not nine. It was early afternoon because Columbo was on television. Mandy liked this show because she thought Peter Falk was the ultimate gumshoe and she enjoyed watching his glass eye roll around while he bashfully worked his way through an interrogation. At the beginning of the third season of Golden Girls, Mandy’s visa had disappeared She now found herself living in the Nine, cleaning the rooms in the early morning during game shows, finishing up in time to see her afternoon soaps. Her real name was not Mandy, but Mandarin, like the orange. As she dressed to begin her shift, she found the toe of her wool sock chewed out. Her big toe stared up at her from her gray clad foot, pink and venerable. This had been her last pair of intact socks. Three years ago, Mandy had come to the United States from Romania with one suitcase. In her jacket pocket had been an envelope full of changed bills and in her suitcase, three sweaters, two white shirts, a skirt and two pair of pants, a pair of boots, and a blank notebook. She had wanted to write the great American novel without knowing a word of English. After sitting in front of a television for an entire night, Mandy realized the novel lay on the screen between news sweeps and the woes of complicated love affairs. She quickly filled up her notebook, front and back and the margins, with stories of long lost siblings, evil twins, unrequited love, house fires, and mystery babies. When she had gone back to read what she had written, whole pages had been chewed from the binding, slowly disappearing every day until the notebook remained an empty cover. As the wheel on Price is Right turned, Mandy walked out of the door and down the hall to the housekeeping closet. The toile wallpaper was interrupted every seven steps by a heavy wooden door gilded with a number. The wall scones buzzed, casting an anemic, yellow light over the hallway. She would have been more distraught over the loss of her work in progress if it hadn’t happened before. The vanishing visa was only the first indication that it had followed her. Sometimes she saw it in the hallway, or in guests’ rooms, staring at her with beady, red eyes. Pushing the cleaning cart down the hallway and into the elevator, she checked her watch. Married With Children would begin in four hours, giving her plenty of time to clean the bottom two floors of the hotel. As the doors open Mandy lowered her eyes to the floor, avoiding the glance of the hotel manager, Mr. McFadden. “Good morning, Mandy,” he said, quietly. “He…llo,” she replied, hesitantly, tripping over her tongue and shoelace at the same time. She grabbed the handle of the cart, catching herself and leaving a raspberry on her knee. Mandy tried to hide her embarrassment by mumbling to herself in Romanian and smoothing out her skirt. Before McFadden could say another word, she was already hurriedly pushing her cart down the hallway nervously pushing her hair back behind her ears. In another life, McFadden would be perched on horseback wearing shining riding boots with a deep scar on his face, acting as the silent general of an army. This was not to say he was ruthless, but immediately intimidating to the enemy. So much so that their Cavalry would drop dead at the very sight of him. Halfway down the hall, Mandy saw it sitting beside Room 106 flashing its long yellow teeth at her beneath its whiskers. Mandarin had been seeing the rat since she was very young. The first time was during a particularly cold winter that produced countless blankets of snow on the ground. Her brother and she had separate rooms at this point and each had their own space heaters to keep their rooms warm. Mandarin would sit up at night and watch the snow line creep closer and closer to her windowsill. One evening while hanging up paper snowflakes, she saw the rat sitting on her desk. It was about the size of a small kitten and white as the ground outside; two small, red eyes set deep in its pointed face. She had not been threatened, disgusted, or even afraid of the rat. In fact, she thought it was very pretty. It would sit on her desk with its tail delicately curled as she read or played with her dolls. Mandarin tried to show the rat to her older brother but by the time she managed to drag him into her room, the rat was gone. Eventually she decided that the rat only liked her and was afraid of the rest of her family. She never told her parents. They would only kill the rat or chase her special friend out of the house. None of the special cleaners used by the hotel were on TV commercials. These cleaners were in large, white bottles prefaced with INDUSTRIAL. Mandy had found out through several trials that only wearing rubber gloves would keep the cleaners from staining her skin and fingernails, and prevent the tips from turning pink and burning when she touched her face or arms. The first three rooms of the first floor yielded no tips but plenty of cigarettes in the ashtrays and disheveled bedding. She carefully gathered their dirty laundry in the service sacks to do later between the six o clock news and her favorite prime time shows. Mandy was careful to never touch the bedside tables, especially the drawers. Guests kept their valuables next to the Bibles. Keeping away from the guests’ personal items meant that Mandy never had to feel remotely responsible if anything disappeared. The last thing she needed was to get fired or attract the attention of the police. Without her visa, she would be deported. A couple of weeks after Christmas, snow continued to fall. She had an easier time falling asleep knowing that her rat friend was watching her from her desk or sometimes her dresser. One morning she woke up freezing in her bed. The heater wasn’t on. Mandarin wrapped herself in her blankets and looked at the heater. The power chord was chewed in two. When she showed her parents, her brother mentioned that she had been saying she had a pet rat in her room. Mandarin was punished for not telling her parents sooner. When she was sent to bed early, the rat would stare at her from the desk, flashing his teeth and sneering until she turned away. After her shift, Mandy sat in her room on the end of her bed with a TV tray perched on her lap. Her microwaved dinner oozed and bubbled in its plastic container until she punched through the condensation on its saran wrap cover. Mandy liked to eat her dessert first; tonight, delicately eating a soggy, cardboard brownie. She smiled between bites as the laugh track from Three’s Company peeled from the television. Her feet dangled just above the floor, her exposed big toe tickled by the fibers of the carpet. This was her favorite part of the day. The cleaning solutions wiped from her hands and a clean set of clothes that didn’t emanate ammonia. After she finished eating, Mandy would lay in bed and watch until the national anthem played and the station ended their broadcasts for the evening. Only then could she sleep peacefully. With the covers over her, she turned off the light and lay in bed, trying to ignore the small shadow sitting atop the TV. On Wednesday, a watch disappeared from Room 206. On Thursday, a set of earrings went missing in Room 104. Friday yielded a total of ninety-six dollars missing from two rooms on the second floor. Normally this wouldn’t bother Mandy if all the rooms hadn’t been on her two assigned floors and if she hadn’t been the only maid on duty that week. McFadden tried to assure the guests that they had simply misplaced their items, but only when another large sum of money was reported missing did he call Mandy into his office. The manager’s office was covered in framed pictures of famous movie actors and actresses, pictures of the founders of the hotel, and McFadden on trips with his family. His desk chair was high backed and made of worn leather. When he sat in it, Mandy thought of Napoleon on his throne, the hotel register mirroring battle plans. McFadden kept his hands laced under his chin as he rested his elbows on the desk. “Mandy,” he said, slowly, “There seems to be a wave of misplaced items on your floors. You’ve been here for…is it three years now? I’ve been telling the guests that you are a hard worker and very honest, which you are, but it is becoming increasingly harder to defend you when items continue to disappear. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Mandy shook her head. She kept the hem of her skirt stretched tightly between her wringing hands. It was hard for her to look at McFadden when his expression was so grave. “Mandy, have you been stealing from the guests? Taking their things?” She shook her head again, biting her lip. “I need to hear you say that you understand, Mandy,” McFadden said, furrowing his brow. Taking a deep breath, Mandy whispered, “I do not…take. From people.” The manager knew that Mandy could not understand English and because he knew this, he asked to look in her room. As they stood together in the elevator, riding to the fifth floor, Mandy begin to cry quietly. The hallway seemed to stretch miles as they walked to her room and McFadden unlocked the door. Mandy had left the TV on; when she came home it was someone to greet her. As the manager kneeled and looked under her bed, Peter Falk pointed his finger at a cornered, murderous husband. “Isn’t that what happened, eh? You killed her. Took her money and left her on the floor while you sat on a beach in the Caribbean?” Mandy snapped back to reality as McFadden emerged from under the hems of her comforter, pulling a gnawed shoebox out from under the bed. The box was full of torn scraps of notebook paper, peppered with bits of legal yellow; arranged lovingly in the center were the missing pieces of jewelry, the watch, and two wallets from guests in the hotel. “Oh, Mandy,” McFadden said, shaking his head. As she stared in horror at the box, she glanced at her bed; the rat perched on the floral comforter sneering up at her. Mandy began crying hysterically and pointing at the bed, screaming in Romanian. The manager grabbed her arms trying to comfort her, looking from her wretched face to the bed. “I don’t know what you’re saying! I don’t see what you’re talking about!” She began miming erratically, forming mouse ears with fists and imitating the rat’s sneer. McFadden finally lost his patience and clutched Mandy’s shoulders as she continued to cry. “Mandy, I’m sorry but I cannot continue to let you work in this hotel. Tomorrow I expect you to have your things packed and out of this room. I’m sorry, but we cannot tolerate theft.” He picked up her room keys as he walked out of the door, leaving Mandy sobbing on the floor beneath the gaze of the white rat. That night, Mandy sat at the edge of her bed without her TV dinner. The glow from the television illuminated her puffy eyes and red face. The canned laughter from the sitcom did nothing to cheer her up, but instead mocked her. They were all laughing at her misfortune. Mandy tried to focus on the show but couldn’t without her eyes falling to the now packed suitcase on the floor. As the theme to The Jeffersons began, the sound cut out and was replaced by white noise; the screen now filled with static snow. She violently pushed the buttons on the remote with no change. The sound filled the room, soon accompanied by Mandy’s sobs. On the windowsill the rat sat illuminated by the static. As Mandy stared at the rodent she felt her anger growing as she recounted the numerous times this vermin had ruined her, bringing upon her endless misery. Enraged, she threw open her own bedside drawer and took out the hardbound Bible. Mandy hurled the book at the rat, missing the animal and breaking the window, the bible falling to the sidewalk below and the winter air filling the room.