Friday, June 24, 2016

Congenital Failure

Genital heart disease. That’s how I heard it when I was ten. My parents were in the kitchen refilling each other’s drinks and whispering about Uncle Steve. That’s when they said it — that he’d died of genital heart disease. I was sitting around the corner in my C-3PO pajamas, listening like I often did to their recounting of the day’s events. Now, I knew what genital meant. I’d looked it up in the big dictionary in Dad’s office after I heard my fourth grade teacher tell the nurse that I’d been hit in the genitals. It had troubled me because I was absolutely sure the baseball had hit me square in the nuts, but who was I to argue. I was ten. So, to find out that this area, which I had already gleaned held a great deal of mysterious potential, could lead to my demise really knocked me for a loop. I lay in bed that night switching my silver flashlight on and off trying to see the beam travel between the instrument and the illuminated circle that appeared on the ceiling with each click. I figured the disease must manifest as some kind of problem between the genitals and the heart. I knew the heart was in charge of love. I’d eaten my fair share of candy hearts: I’m Yours, Be Mine, et cetera, et cetera. I figured that, perhaps, the afflicted genitals kept the heart from functioning properly, or vice-versa, leading to either a bursting heart, or balls, or both. I imagined my testicles exploding like miniature Death Stars: first the left, then the right, and then my heart.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Equal To Or Less Than

Johnny ate paste and failed spelling tests but nobody cared. When he brought home his first F, his father told him, without looking up from cleaning his gun, that numbers were all that mattered. Spelling, he said, was for pussies. Johnny did well in math.

Johnny liked to play alone. When he played with other children, phone calls had to be made. His favorite place was the marsh. It stayed muddy all year and there was no one. Johnny liked the smell, equal parts growth and decay, and he liked birds. He would watch them for hours, herons mostly, standing in the shallows. He liked the way they moved, scanning the water for food. They had purpose. They were precise. They were probably, he thought, good at math.

For his birthday, Johnny got a slingshot. He took it with him to the marsh and watched the birds until the scene became unbalanced: There were 4 where there should only be three.
rock  +  slingshot  -  bird   =   balance
Johnny walked to where it fell. It was dazed but not dead—a purple heron nearly as big as the boy. He stood watching it struggle to stand, then reached down and wrung its neck. Holding the dead bird, he was surprised by the weight of it. He dropped it, knelt down and began to cry. He cried for a long time and then stopped. Johnny carried the bird to dryer ground and with his hands dug a shallow grave. He walked home. That night, as he lay in bed, he could feel the bird's neck, the warmth of it in his hands, the texture of the feathers. Even now, just before sleep he feels it: something in him reaching to balance the twitch of life against the weight of the dead.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

American Paint

On the morning of the day that he died, Jenny's grandfather took her across the road to feed the neighbor's horses. On the way, they gathered windfalls from below the apple trees. He showed Jenny, as he did each time, to keep her hand flat, to let the horse take the apple from her palm. She knew, of course, but listened.

When the apples were gone, they headed home. Crossing the road, he stopped and looked down at Jenny with the same expression he had letting her sneak sips of his Piels when Mother turned her back.
   — Next time, I'm going to steal one. I'm   
going to take one and ride away.  
Probably the Paint.

   — Grandpa, we don't steal.

   — Perhaps we do? Perhaps we should start?
As they crossed the yard, he reached up, picked an apple and held it out in his palm. She smiled and took it with her teeth.

That night there was no story. The room was too warm for sleep. Jenny went to the window hoping to see one less horse asleep in the field, but it was a moonless night. A line storm was approaching from the west and gathering clouds hid the stars. She couldn't see apple trees or fence or field. It had all become part of the darkness. She opened the window as far as she could reach. Pre-storm gusts came across the field filling her room with the scent of apples, lilac, the horses. She closed her eyes, feeling again the warm breath in her palm. When she opened her eyes, expecting the black window framing a black world, she witnessed instead fireflies, startled to flight by the wind — thousands of tiny victories illuminating the void. That night, she slept beneath the open window. She awoke in the morning, fearless.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

"3 Matches" acrylic on board 8"x10"

Smoke & Other Indications

Jimmy played with matches. It started when he was eleven. He found them in the dugout: GOAT MATCHES printed in gold above a creature with the white-bearded head and front legs of a goat and a serpent's scaly green body. Red horns spiraled ornately. Cloven hooves straddled a tilting globe patterned with lines of latitude and longitude, continents abstractly drawn. When Jimmy picked up the box to inspect the creature more closely, he could hear the wooden matches shift inside.

That night, Jimmy couldn't sleep. The full moon through the curtains illuminated too much. He carefully opened the window. The air smelled like a freshly extinguished campfire. Brushfires had been burning throughout the inland hills and even the cool coastal air was touched with smoke. Jimmy moved slowly. The slightest sound would send his mother running to his brother's room, wild with hope that he’d returned. But the bed was always empty. Jimmy knew it always would be. He sat at his desk and removed three matchsticks. He lined them up, each one equally capable of destruction, salvation, or stasis.

Snap of ignition.     Light.     Heat.     Wavering.     Extinction.

Jimmy watched the finger of smoke rise and dissipate, then set the spent match down. Twisted and blackened, it looked like a dark bone from some small animal — a salamander, Jimmy thought, or a bird.

When he finally slept, Jimmy dreamt smoldering hillsides. In the ashy landscape, enormous burned matchsticks sent tremendous columns of smoke into a striking blue sky. Then, at the top of a ridge, something moved. Jimmy turned to see the goat-serpent wrapped around one of the matches, white head and red horns brilliant against the blackened wood. With galloping hooves and slithering body, it quickly ascended, reaching the top and becoming the smoke that drifted into blue and vanished.