Category: Episode 10


Episode 10

Well, we have lasted 10 whole episodes and still folks are coming by to read the dark and bizarre droppings of this great family of writers we have been blessed with.  When this all started we weren’t sure how it would take off….if it would last more than a few rounds, but it seems flash fiction is building momentum.

This episode skirts around the idea of “denoument” and I don’t mean in the Merriam-Webster definition of the final outcome of a story, but more the French origination of the word that means to become untied.  There are so many things in this world that could set our lives to become untied…tiny things we never see….a sight….a sound.  This is the dream we are creating in Episode 10.

You find some familiar writers to IBAS such as Timothy Gager, Len Kuntz, Jeffrey Miller, Mike Whitney and Shawn Misener.  You can sample some new blood too with Angel Zapata, Alexandra Brunel and Justis Mills.  Enjoy the unraveling.

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She was pretty so I wondered if she could ever go with me, a blond haired blue eyed boy with two ruptured testicles, nearly pureed from a bike jump gone horribly wrong. We were both too old to be here, two teenagers in with the sick and small at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for Children.

I was one table away from her but close enough to hear her fork hit the plate as she stabbed at her Mac and Cheese.

“What are you in for?” I asked.

“Life and a late lunch,” she said. “But there’s not much to that.”

“That’s simple. I like that.”

She swallowed hard, her mouth a hard straight line. “Actually, they need to remove my uterus. If my heart doesn’t go into arrest, then after the surgery, I’ll have doses of radiation.”

“My sister had a baby and her husband said that the uterus looks like one of those McDonald’s cardboard cup holders, you know the gray ones. You’re not missing anything”

“That won’t ever be me,” she said, stirring her coffee, stirring and stirring.

“You should get to know me better. There’s a rush.”

“You have a lot of balls to come down here and say that.”

“I’m trying to keep it light,” I say.

“Why not. I have a lot of stuff.” she said.

We talked until the last horizontal light of the sun shone through the windows. I was sore from wheeling my chair next to hers at the table, thirty minutes ago; hadn’t had a painkiller in a while. “You should visit me later and watch stupid TV in my room,” I tell her.

“At home we don’t own a television. We don’t own things, but yeah, I could stop by,” she said.

“You could meet my family,” I acknowledged.

“Mine too,’ she said. The cafeteria windows were pitch black by now and everything felt chilly.

“Don’t be nervous,” I said when I reached out and held her face in my hands.

“Why not,” she said just before the first kiss.

I put you to sleep in blue ice, fragrant with vodka, an odor our daughter used to call sour grape juice.

Now you are a sober stare, a startled Barbie doll.  There are no words, no going back to beaches and midnight love-making under eucalyptus.

It has to be cold, yet you don’t shiver.  It must be something to witness what I’m doing, but remain helpless.

You do not breathe or blink or call me criminal.

You stay beautiful as that day I took this photo, when you drew back the shower curtain and I snapped you from the neck up.

Now your neck is frosted, your face too.  Fog is taking over.  It leaves a smudge of blue, smothering your face, and the memory of you, sealing both in ice, thereby pardoning me from the pain of having to provide a proper goodbye.

Jonathan took out a sheet of paper and began another letter he knew he would never send.

The letters were part of the punishment he inflicted upon himself three times a week. On Tuesday and Thursday, he punished himself at lunch he took in the park across from his office when he saw young mothers with their small children running, playing and giggling. On Saturday afternoons, when he did his weekly shopping at Costco, the punishment was crueler and unjust when he saw the fathers with their children—either pushing them in a baby carriage or holding their son or daughter’s hand as they shopped.

He could have easily avoided those places and gone somewhere else for lunch or shopping, but the punishment was of his own design and atonement.

Each time he saw the mothers and fathers with their children he thought about his own children whom he had not seen in years. In the photo he kept on his desk, the boys had never grown older; after all these years they were still six and two. The oldest one had his arm around his younger brother. He remembered the day he took the photo of them, the day they had gone to the amusement park. The day the oldest one rode the rollercoaster for the first time and his youngest got ice cream all over his face and clothes.

He picked up the photo and touched their faces through the cold glass. It had been so long since he last heard their voices; he wasn’t even sure what they sounded like anymore.

That was the same day when he yelled at the older one for not watching his brother more carefully. It was on their way back to the car, when the youngest boy ran across the street nearly getting hit by a car.

“I told you to hold onto your brother’s hand,” he screamed, “and not to run. You both could have been killed.”

“I’m sorry, daddy,” the oldest boy cried. “I’m sorry.”

It hadn’t been his weekend to take the kids, either. The one weekend he had been looking forward to all summer to go to Chicago with some buddies from work and take in a Cubs’ game, his ex had to drop off the kids on Friday night.

“I’m sorry. I have to go out of town on a business trip. I won’t be back until late Sunday,” she said, standing in the doorway of his tiny apartment, with both boys playing hide and seek behind her.

“What about your mother,” he said, remembering the contingency plan they had agreed on, for such an occurrence. “Can’t she watch them?”

“She’s visiting friends in Chicago this weekend.”

The irony was not lost on him. His ex-mother-in-law was also a big Cubs’ fan.

She kissed the boys on their foreheads, told them to be good, and then rushed out of the apartment to the waiting airport limousine.
At night, when he took out the pen and paper and sat down to write a letter to his boys, the same letter he tried to write every night on the days he had lunch in the park and the weekends shopping at Costco—that was when the punishment gnawed away at his heart and soul. In his desk drawer were months of unfinished letters and finished letters stuffed in envelopes that he never got around to sending. He wasn’t even sure if the address he had was still the correct one. Each letter began the same way, “I’m sorry for what I did and hope you will forgive me” – over and over.

Of course, penance never came easy for a tormented soul; it would never be enough punishment for that rainy night on the way home from the movies when he lost control of his car and the accident that took his family away from him.

He took out another sheet of paper and started another letter

The sidewalk is the ghost of pink poppies. Janitorial crews still scrub at broken blooms, but this concrete won’t come clean. I face the ground. At the curb, a shard sparkles near a crumpled paper cup. I wait until the sweepers tap tin pans of street dust into black trash bags. I bend, like a bough-bound cradle, and lift it up.
 
Two days ago, she was at her desk, analyzing spreadsheets.
 
*              *              *
 
“Ready for a break?” I peek in and ask.
To my astonishment, she grabs the stapler from the sill, winds up for the pitch, turns and takes gravity by storm. The office window bursts into pearl-drop petals. Cubicle padding does little to dampen the noise. There’s a rush of warm air. My hair shifts, static drawn from the shoulders.
She climbs the ledge, looks back. “He used to call me his angel,” she says. When she raises her arms, the white shawl she wears unfurls like wings.
I leap forward; fingers entwine a loose thread of cloth, then let go. My eyes absorb her flight.
 
That evening, candlelight illuminates the shadow of countless bouquets. The vigil is short. Crowds drip into cliques, cliques spill into solitary me. I stare at the sidewalk stain, search for some sign. There’s nothing written there in blood.
 
*              *              *
 
Dusk assaults my memories. The shard of glass in my hand refracts the dying light. I perch above her pink-buffed outline, form a fist and squeeze. Scarlet life-drops meld into the imperfect imprint of death.
 
I look up. The office complex touches the sky. Several stories up, pigeons braid a nest with a torn piece of hem. I stretch out a bloody hand and wait.
 
I know it’s only a matter of time before all feathers fall.

When it was over, I took stock.

I abandoned life on the island, burned my portfolio, and travelled north to a city where I might live again as I please: anonymous, in a city of strangers. I could not admit it even to myself but events had disturbed my sense of self, my core, my understanding of what I know, who I am, what I do.

It was months before I grew calm enough to work again. One afternoon, overcast, April, apparently no different from another, I packed the crisp white pages of my workbook into my black bag, carefully checking my brushes. Four new sets lay in their silver box, awaiting my command.

Here is something true: there are those who are hunters, and those who are their prey. Celebrity holds nothing for the hunter, whose work is to be invisible and then to strike. For many years I had accomplished this goal on the island; by destroying my portfolio, I had consigned my quarry to oblivion.

But some things, like memory, are not destroyed by fire. And while I can no longer sit in the sun of my home ground, luring the innocent towards their destiny, I sense another future here, in this café. This grey city will be my home, and with this black ink I will make my mark upon its heart.

I will continue, at the edge of things, to play the game my gift demands: to reveal the hidden, to fill the blank pages of my sketchbooks with truth. They never know just what their likeness has cost them; such is the mercy of a clean kill.

She is wearing a dress he has seen before, two sizes too big on
someone he loves. They sit at a circular table, too small for a
chessboard. He challenged her earlier, but she declined. He hopes at
least she plays. She asks what he’s drawing and he lies to her,
himself, and says it is a general. Really it is her.

He is trying to sleep but she is breathing loudly through the wall. So
is the girl next to him, which usually he likes. The door is firmly
shut. He thinks of questions he wants to ask, long and faceted, part
A, part B, part C. They are none of his business, he is told, though
he has never asked them. Not of her, anyway. Not loud enough to hear.

He is grateful she did what she did, exactly as she did it. He is
grateful that he is done sitting in his car and screaming, sitting in
his bed and shaking, walking in large circles, always caged. The
gratitude swells up sometimes, and he feels the hot foggy privilege of
this particular reality, of the girl wrapped around him, skipping on
the surface like a stone.

A year ago he remembers sitting in his car before game night,
screaming into his arm as loudly as he could. He remembers walking in
and winning all the games, which felt similar. He remembers shaking
the hands of his opponents, saying with his mouth that it could have
gone either way but with his eyes that it couldn’t, that it was his
all along, that he’d never let it go.

He thinks of more questions on the train ride home. In all the
commotion, they boil down to one.

Richard played the piece again, slowly, fingers stretching for the high notes while the left hand kept the bass line moving. Then the theme, both hands hard. The notes on the score blurred, every phrase reminding him of a different melody from a long-forgotten time and place, of a radio or phonograph song. An epiphany: how in the name of miracles could Beethoven have written anything at all while stone deaf? In those days with quill and ink…

Another fumble, he started again, mind scattered into shards of nonsense images. Did Glenn Gould experience visions like this? Did all great composers? Rachmaninoff ‘s Prelude in C # Minor, the three thematic notes, restated again and again, building, building… The flurry in the middle, a breeze to play, his ‘banging piece’.

Came Stanley’s voice, a clarion call to his befuddled mind, “This is what happens when you try to play piano on acid. You pick up good vibrations and she gives you the excitations.”

He heard laughter somewhere, ack, damn Russians. He thought briefly about trying Ravel’s Bolero, and knew instantly – that would be madness. Too late! The oboes and their hypnotic opening theme was already crowding all else from his mind. Or was that Scheherazade?

The sim chip paused, inserted titles, credits and anti-piracy admonitions. Mongo blinked and the Featured Escapement clip initiated: “Long ago, in a galaxy…” The Cro-Borg snickered: he loved the Ancients’ humorous take on history…

I spent years embraced in the thorns of a recurrent nightmare where surgeons scooped out my guts, sent them away with the mailman, then reconnected my chest makeshift to my legs, wherein I resembled a chunkish dwarf minus an abdomen.

A giant stoma the size of a toddler’s fist blossomed out of my right side and constantly rocketed liquid shit everywhere I went.  Even when I tried to cover it with a shirt the force of the spewing blasted through the fabric and continued to relentlessly spray the walls, the trees, people, whatever was around. In the end I would lock myself in the bathroom and stand hunched over in the shower, hot water barely sheathing my body while the stoma wriggled and firehosed away.

The doctors and psychiatrists bombarded me with sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs, even painkillers, until my quaint little medicine cabinet became an addict’s dream, and in the dream, I became an addict myself. I shoveled three codeine bombs and four tiny barbiturates just to entertain the concept of a restful night.

But when it really happened all of the final threads tying me loosely to reality were violently cut, one by one, day by day, as each act played out before me. First the cramping, then the doctors, then more doctors, then IV units and heavy drugs, intubation and shiny knives, and finally a seemingly infinite recovery. The real stoma was tinier and less aggressive than it’s dream brethren, yet in many ways just as terrible. When they eventually tucked my intestines back into my grateful stomach after more than a year of sitting on my ass, reality came back to greet me in all it’s beautiful and terrifying forms, from work to sex to debt, but the nightmare never left. Me, without an abdomen, baptizing the innocent in feces.