Attempts at fiction

March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

Okay, bye.

 

 

 

Red Dirt

October 27, 2013 § 1 Comment

“I have ink but no pen.”

Anne Sexton

The narcotic tingle of possibility, running up and down her body, skiing around vertebra moguls. She feels words kicking. Her fingers tremble, but reaching, falter in the empty, finding no pen. So the white page lies blank and passive before her.

Hands scramble madly across her desk, flipping papers and textbooks and other voices into the air as she searches. Panic is a corset. Words rise and prick against her hot skin.

Breathless she craves the pen. The explosion of ink across the page, spreading thickly over the once-white surface. Corrupting and polluting, but creating. Planting something growing in the warm darkness.

She breathes for the swell of the pen in her hand, the pulse of words that come. Something bewitching rising from the stains. Trapped by the pen, by her need for it, she’s at the mercy of its coming and going, not her own.

Frantically scrambling. She rips sheets from the bed. Frames from the wall. Drawers upended on the floor and in the mess, she finds nothing.

The door crashes from its hinges as she plows through the doorway, falling to her knees in the dirt, the words roiling inside her, voracious for release.

Her fingers caress the wet red dirt around her knees. She trembles, glancing down. Gasping, suddenly. Words. Words coming through the dark red and she realizes. No pen. She writes in the dirt with her finger.

Porcelain and Bicycles

October 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree trunk sleeping while daughter falls.

It’s not my own face anymore.

Khaki Tents

October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

My tennis coach wore white like a lie, accessorizing his Mr. Clean white polo and his khaki shorts with a ruddy leer.

I was fourteen and chunky when I started taking tennis lessons, with nothing to worry about in terms of unwanted male attention. I had plenty of unwanted attention from myself, and once I met my coach, I reveled in my rolls. My cousins, my beauty queen, harpist, pianist, horse-back riding cousins, on the other hand, had none of my happy troubles. Their trophies from modeling competitions were taller than me. Taller than them, even. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed Erica’s strawberry-blonde and freckle combination, or Erin’s premature curves.

I watched my coach that first day. Felt my tennis racket falter in the air when I saw him teaching Erica the right hand position. We were learning how to serve. He stood behind her, positioned her hand on the newly-taped racket, guided her body through a serve. It could be so innocent. It was, until I saw his eyes as they consumed her, enveloped her in his want and I ran to the back fence and threw up my water and my granola bar, panting in the summer wet that rolled off the tennis court. Told my mother something about “being overheated.”But that was the moment I look to. The moment when I began to realize adults weren’t safety. Adults weren’t better or stronger or more moral than I was. They wrote the system that I lived under, and sometimes that system could put its hand on my waist and get away with it.

Sometimes that system could make us run laps while he stood in the middle of the court, arms crossed, feet planted, grinning at us as we jogged. My best friend explained the term “pitching a tent” to me that same summer and in disgust, I remembered the khaki tent on the tennis courts and wondered how our mothers never saw.

Plates

October 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

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

“Guys. Calm down!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree Trunk Falling

October 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

bedside

October 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

don’t open your window at night

night wore the stars on

a cape

tied bulky at his throat and I

swathed in periwinkle cocoon of jersey knit

curl, small and watch

small groans of protest creaking upward -

the window swollen with wet and age – rebel I disobey

creep nearer to open outside

to crisp black night and his fluttering

cape

counting sheep

in a single thundering moment, reverberating

lighting rips through the cape until even the stars

wink out in dismay and I

curl, electric to watch

unmoving even as night’s sky

sheds her mourning in darkly wet jewels to shiver

through my screen and swell

my window

in my cocoon dark with sky sorrow

I melt smaller but

in earth-breath roaring

they hear

and come thundering down themselves

the hall

don’t open your window at night

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