Category: Episode 24


Episode 24

Episode 24 is upon us and it is a dream weaved full of apathy and sometimes severely pathetic humans.  It is my hope that you will read all of the stories from start to finish as they were arranged a certain way to make some sense of the theme.  Feel free to then go back and read your favorites individually.

I am pleased to welcome 7 new writers to the IBAS family:  Zack Moll, Eric Hawthorn, Brian Le Lay, Allen Masterson, Autumn Humphrey, Meg Tuite, and Jenean McBrearty.  Also, a grand hello to our repeat offender Maude Larke.

Enjoy.

Aleathia Drehmer

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The man in the cell had worked out a system. He scraped tiny boxes into the cement walls with a piece of stiff wire. The boxes began in the upper left corner above his cot. Since the light that made its way below the iron door was so dim, the man had to squint, his face mere inches from the wall, to see his work.

In each tiny box he etched precise vertical marks. Everytime he heard the faint, single clang of a bell—from what he assumed was the courtyard—he added another mark. The day was over when he had filled the tiny box with 24 scratches. With his piece of wire, he scraped another box beside the completed box, beginning another day. Every seven boxes were enclosed in a larger, rectangular box to mark a completed week.

He couldn’t track the minutes. His piece of wire was too dull to make such hair-thin marks. Plus, the bell in what he figured was the courtyard rang only once per hour, he was pretty sure. There was no accurate way to track the minutes, other than to count the seconds, which entailed a level of concentration he couldn’t muster. The man nodded off now and then, and also he was interrupted by the daily plate of food stuff that slid in beneath the door.

Still, his system—which had already filled two of his cell’s walls with rectangles enclosing tiny boxes containing tinier vertical scratches—was quite effective. If there was anyone to tell, he could explain with mathematical certainty that 89 weeks, 3 days and 17 hours had gone by since he’d found that piece of wire.

You have to think about the possibility of predestination.  That whole notion of ordained events, of characters congealed, as inevitable as iodine in the ocean.  I could very easily just decide to believe in it.  Give myself over profoundly to the planned, programmed rolling out of my days.  To leap into the settled, settling notion that all was fixed and to be relied on to be fixed, even though we get it in the face because we don’t have the right to the roadmap.

It would mean that all the stupid things I’ve done were done just because I was supposed to do them.  Perpetrated out of divine project.  And therefore to be embraced.  Foot placed proudly in mouth, I could assume the position as an ace of alienation, a first-class fabricator of failed relationships, a phenomenal seeming improviser of irremediable faux pas.

It would mean that I was born a putz, that I would have to remain a putz.

It would mean that I would not be responsible for any of it.

It would mean that I would no longer have to try.  I could just give up.  The inevitable, explainable, evidential display of providential design I would need to accept, adhere to.  Like breakfast cereal to teeth.

Can you see how tempting that is?

The Mickey Mantle wannabe labeled MISSING on the milk carton–front tooth cracked away, the space the size of his father’s wedding ring–resembles you and me when we were his age.

It doesn’t get any easier, you know.

At ballet class Emily learns to pirouette around her desires like Mommy does in the kitchen; spin on graceful tiptoes like a damned dradle–an indentured servant with a pricetag dangling between her legs. Emily dances through the pain of pale pink thighs bruised purple-blue by father’s beltstrap friction and when Teacher inquires with a curt note penned on a crooked paper airplane, Mommy scrawls a hasty reply insisting the scars on Emily’s nervy knees are from poor coordination on the scorching hopscotch blacktop of back-to-school September recesses.

In Winter it’s “she fell down an icy staircase.”

And in April she slips in a puddle of rain and motor oil.

“Oh, Emily; be careful,” says the teacher.

I sit in hospital and doctor’s waiting rooms. Most of the time they don’t even notice me. Too many other people waiting to get blood or urine samples, root canals, colonoscopies, chemotherapy, x-rays, glaucoma tests, MRI’s, wart removals or pre-cancerous skin burnings. I wait for someone to sit next to me. I let them strike up a conversation. Something banal about the weather or how much longer they are going to have to wait. I nod, agree, flip through magazines if they have any.  Thing is, I have a knack for riding out time insulated by the worries and trauma of strangers. Their faces are twitching, furrowed racks of pain. The blood inside them is moving much quicker than mine. They sigh a lot and tap feet, scratch unknown itches, cough that dry socket kind of cough, sniffle, blow their noses and fill out forms. I am not beholden to anyone. No clock or watch frightens me. I do not have to be anywhere so I sit with the rest of them. I believe I radiate some comfort their way. Someone they can talk to or remain silent with, but not alone. There are no restrictions with me. I’m neither manic nor depressive. I just am. I’m sure I will develop some sort of tumor, toothache or bowel obstruction at some point. I mean everybody does, right? And when I do, all will be as it should. I’ll be sitting patiently in someone’s waiting room, maybe staring at a magazine listening to someone’s chronic story of pain or maybe telling my own.

I agreed and left it at that, preferring to volley the task of conversation and  give-a-shit to the pro. Honesty is a beautiful theory, but the remedy won’t always be taken. Either the bitterness of the spoonful or the twisted expression on the face which tries to swallow will taint the occasion, turning the doctor into a sick fiend, the patient to a thing of pity.  I had my beer, pipe and eight walls to keep me.  They had no legs to move.

“There are just so many better ways to handle it, it seemed so immature…”

By know I’ve learned to nod. The turn of the page that let’s us move on, whether or not we’ve skipped a word.

“I don’t care if you think he’s the biggest douche ever, I would never say that about anyone you were dating. But more than that, it’s the other things you said that hurt.. I don’t practice what I preach? That I shove my faith down your throat?  That I’m dumping my bullshit on you when I bring up my problems? That I want answers from you when I’m not willing to help myself?  I was just trying to talk to a friend, but if that’s how you view me I don’t know why we were ever friends in the first place.”

I nodded, sipped my beer, lit a partial butt from the tray, saying. “That’s a very good question.”

I’ve heard the door shut a dozen times since then. Each of us bitter, each of us cured.

In a little blue suit she stands, still as a portrait, facing east into the morning sun.  She holds no purse or bag, hands empty at her sides, save for a piece of paper crinkled between two fingers.  In the calm of the morning no breeze moves the long locks of black hair which fall about her shoulders.   Before the noise of the day begins, before cars stir the dust, before children skip to school, the woman slips off her blue leather pumps.  Over the metal rail which holds the world back from the river she climbs, her body making barely a splash as it hits the water below.

On a nearby terrace a man watches the woman. He doesn’t flinch when she goes over the rail, and he doesn’t wonder at the paper the woman held in her hand.  He finishes his coffee, and remembers handing her the message, in his mind seeing the flourish of German words written there, and knowing she would understand them.

Suhela watched the townsfolk harvest the corpses from the sea, sidestepping the jetsam of the torpedoed l’Impassibile, and line them up like flea market merchandise on the Sicilian sand. Most likely it’d been a Wolf Pack. The Brits didn’t target passenger craft; they had better manners.

One of the mangled could have been her. She couldn’t remember who she was with when hull shattered. Probably Torin Eggert—what a hard little prick he had. No wonder his wife sulked in their cabin. But he tangoed well.

She stretched out among the rocks, her elbow resting on a mica-looking black one, and rested her chin on her hand. A man rushed to the shoreline,  dragged a legless child from the water, and laid her at the end of the row like a period. Someone formed a goal post with two short legs and screamed, “Here they are!” and put them next to the child. Quotation marks. The first man dropped to his knees and rocked back and forth, using his sleeve for a handkerchief.

“That’s my papa,”  Suhela heard a voice behind her say, and turned around.  A little girl with tear-streaked cheeks was pointing to the rocking man. Suhela noticed the child was wearing a white organza gown just like hers. She looked back to beach. The man’s contorted face was looking heavenward. What was her last thought before the everything disappeared? Oh, yes. Where was the waiter with her martini?

A  hand offered her a long-stemmed glass. “Is this what you want?” Mephistopheles said.

She took a sip. “Yes,” Suhela sighed, “makes up for the sightseeing  being cut short.”

“I’m glad. This beach, this martini— it’s all you’ll have forever.”

“Life was boring. Could death be different?” Alone, she felt the breeze turn cold as the film began again.

“What could you possibly want with my endorsement, Senator?” asked Bobby Beige, the weathered pop idol who was in the middle of his latest comeback tour with his singing group, “New Addiction”.

“Well, Bobby, you epitomize the demographic we want to one-time shock into the voting booths come this November. You see, most of your fans have no idea about politics, or government and how this country should be run. We’d like you to be our defibrillator, so to speak.” Senator Haley pedantically addressed (thumb atop half-clenched-hand-gesture included).

“What’s a defa-defu-bi…”

“Defibrillator; It’s a shocking device to get the heart pumping when a person goes into cardiac arrest. It’s a metaphor, Bobby.” The Senator’s split vein on his high taught-skin forehead began pulsating ever so slightly. Getting celebrity endorsements for President wasn’t going to be easy. He may have to fire (or make disappear) his newest campaign manager for concocting this Bobby Beige idea.

“You see, Bobby, a recent poll shows that your fans will pretty much do whatever you tell them to. Remember when you said in an interview that you loved your dog so much you wish you could eat him?” An “accidental” car crash would be one way to rid himself of his campaign manager, and maybe get him some sympathy pointsfrom the media…

“Yeah, I remember, but I didn’t want no one to go eatin’ their dogs. PETA’s still sending me death threats over that.” Bobby squirmed a little at the mention of the dog incident.

“No, no, son. I’m just asking you to use that kind of, shall we say, ‘mindless prompting’ to get your fans out to vote (for me, of course).” The Senator’s fists were fully clenched and getting sweaty at this point. There are poisons that can’t be detected.

“Alright, I’ll do it, but I don’t know shit about bringing anybody back to life with electricity, so make sure nobody asks me about it.” Bobby adamantly stated.

Maybe a raging housefire or accidental shotgun’s discharge during a pheasant shoot….

“Hey, Senator, what exactly is a ‘metaphor’ anyway?”