A PLANE HAS CRASHED TRAGICALLY!

private_pilot_1973-08_boom_in_2-place_baby_bipes_5

This is unlike any other place I’ve seen or traversed. This is bejeweled squalor, this thing that keeps me.

I write you to find solace. I write to find help. I beg.

I am on an island of a familiar parallel. It’s bordered by an ocean which beaches strange objects: A necklace I thought I’d lost but am sad to find; the bones of a cat (Libby? Belle? You there?). Sand-scrubbed, fossilized coral from a land called Up North, where the water is cold and the ice cream is colder.

I am without maps, friend.

I write to beg of you, please, I beg for help in the form of carrier pigeon so that I may be acknowledged – I’ve written letters, see, to a man who means quite a lot, to a girl who shares my blood. To many people. To you all – hello, earthlings, my dear old strangers; The letters are pained. Each word arrives laced with a personal poison and a thicket of overgrown ivy, dry in its long-since death. Volumes of letters, details of a constant battle between what could be worse: cauterized hope or euthanized daydreams? I beg for help in the form of a voice cometh forward. I beg for help in the form of a rescuer, a tall and sturdy explorer of a being who knows nothing but successful escape and the cries of abandonment and why such things might be cried.

This is unlike me, to be found in this place, but if memory serves correctly, I’ve been here several times before. Perhaps on a different side. I have not had time to chart its geography. Again, I am not dull. I am just without maps. Friend.

Ah. But. This landscape is the deepest depth of a swallowed gasp cut short, the darkest of tunnels warped into a collusion with illusioned defeat. I was before held close to the sun, a summer’s rose with thorns gummed with fresh spider’s webbing. The sun beat on me with a trillion diamond-studded wonders like smiles and love and gifts meant to endear. My physicality, unaffected. My mental eye, unscathed. That was before. That was much before.

This place. This place. This.

I laugh when I am scared, and believe me, my laughter now is loud like the alien birds hidden above me, parroting what I thought were hidden thoughts. I am crying, I am laughing so much. Ha! Laughing but crying – what irony is this? Another reason I spite this existence.

Deep breaths. I promise my letter to you, in its entirety, is not brimming with these sort of insanities. Keep reading, keep going. Please.

I write to tell you of a strange species of demonic entity birthed here, things I thought only existed to the Brothers Grimm. They slink and dart, arachnid shadows. My friend, my dear reader, attempts to hide from these beings, behind the palms, render fruitless as the trees are simply too thin at their scalloped trunks. The shrubs are laughable. Boulders worked once but again, my mind’s cartographic interpretation of such madness has failed me more than it has helped (again, I am not stupid, I am of acknowledgeable intelligence, please verify this, please validate in your return letter. Thank you.) One particular demon has caused a sensory torment that drains me, day in and day out – the ruffled sigh of sea water sends me into a pitiful despair. The soft billow of fronds now sounds like the whine of gutter dogs. Another demon takes pleasure when I shake, the tremors unnoticeable to any creature but me, while I twitch and fumble with a specific spatial awareness gone awry. Yet another demon has seduced my personality into pure wretchedness, a sharp tongue and sharper bite against inanimate objects that which do not deserve such things but which makes me wish for the gallows. I found myself kicking a rotten coconut the other day. Huh. I am irritated beyond belief about everything. I am exhausted due to nothing. I feel as though I’ve been wronged in a curse, as if someone laughs at me from her tower. I am ugly in this place. I am a crooked, lump of a human who cannot crawl from this here darkness and back toward the clutch of light with which I’d been so spoiled. Now I lie here, in my rot, and I smell like the dank dew of an apple left unattended – be glad that you cannot smell me in my despair. Once sweet, now sweeter still in a nauseated recipe for disaster. I make noises like an underbed monster: Grunts and groans and muffled mumblings. The roar of a crushed thing. It is my language here, and I write in lengths of eons with it.

The last demon is the trickiest. He hides his form in a funny little bottle, the one from Alice In Wonderland. It says ‘Drink Me’ and I do, every time. Tricked, friend, every time! I kick myself for it. After my first sip, this particular demon hides all fear for me, and then when I awake from the stupor I am wracked with pains, both physical and emotional. This demon’s friendship is a learned thing. I am all at once delighted by him and horrified. He’s the tricky one, yes. Magician, wizard, what have you; he provides black magic that tastes like a flamboyant, saccharine redemption.

No one could know how I became stranded here, on this body of sand and muck and facetious creatures. The food is plentiful but I make myself sick on it, believing it will ensure survival. My body hates me for it. I am not strong. Have I descended? I beg.

On occasion I hear the low vibration of a woman’s voice through the pittering of rain – the voice cometh forward, for that I still beg – and she confirms my macabre discoveries to be true. I ask when people might find me but she does not answer. Is she you? Are you her? The pittering of rain simply turns to a dry thunder, which calms me. It is the only creature louder than I, the only creature whose roar dims my din and swallows me into something of an audiophiliac wonderland.

Deep in a family of palms beyond the sea-frothed border of the island, I find littered coconuts that feed maggots, and an abandoned projector next to an old two-seater plane. The plane crashes here every night but, mysteriously, no one ever comes forward as the pilot and it always crashes tragically. Two chairs are propped in front of the projector. Every night I sit and let the machine chime its pictures. The movies here are grim. The main character and I share much too much. I wait patiently, uncomfortably. The anxiety, it sickens me. The waiting for the other occupant of the other chair, it kills me.

Who do I look for? Is it a stranger? Is it you, the miraculous recipient of dronings-on of an island captive? Ah, but I know, deep down, who she might be: She is the explorer, the carrier pigeon, the pilot. I bet. I beg.

I don’t know how to fly. I hopped into the cockpit once or twice to learn and I became paralyzed with visions of other crashes, more tragedy. I don’t know how to fly the plane, I promise, so don’t suggest it, please don’t make me try that –

It is time to wrap this up. I mean that quite literally – I will be finding old frond and fashioning a bow for the letter to sit pertly within. My words then will seem less a burden, more a bittersweet treasure. I am a pirate, now, after all, though the only thing I steal is the time of others.

In the morning I go to sea. Every night I fall asleep on white sand but in the darkness I perceive it as clouded gray. My demons come again to tell me yes, this is true, yes, I am right. White is gray, white is not white at all.

I do not want to be right anymore because I am so terribly, obviously, foolishly wrong. The sand is white. Tomorrow the pilot will save the plane. Bedtime stories.

Shush, quiet; silence, s’il vous plait.

Tomorrow can only be tomorrow. Tonight, the coconuts are all dry of their milk, and the projector has been replaced with a foggy mirror. I cannot look into it, I am not the fairest of them all. I have to smash it to match myself – only then am I satisfied in its classification as ‘mirror.’

I write you to find solace. I write you for release. I write you because, in this pain, I am the most human I have ever been.

This is unlike any other place I’ve seen or traversed and so help me, so help me God, lest I conquer this island, lest I learn how to fly.

 

that winter

winter 200

On your left shoulder, a snowflake. You’re bare. You’re here in a city that has just died. The snowflake, it’s not a real snowflake. Ashen, spitfire sadness, a delicate crock of ugly lace. When they promised to push the big button, you had whispered something soft to your mama.

Now I look at you. On your left shoulder, a snowflake posing as crystalline cut of hope. On my left life, a promise. Keep you safe, you, the girl with the sharpness in her eyes, the black-bolt fear of rabbits on the run. The sky is forever dark. You stopped asking why the sky is blue because the sky will never be a color ever again. And when the men of this world made good on their wishes, you asked why people would want to hurt other people and I cried because it’s a truthful wondering; what is our motivation, even when made archaic in such a way that food, that copying to copy ourselves, that shelter is our only drive? Why hurt our last resounding resource; the us? The we? The tribe we were and have always been born into, not unto? Maybe we want to hurt because of the simple misunderstanding of that little latter. The unto. But I promise you it was not meant to be this way. It was meant to be very different.

Don’t look at me like that. Shh. Bunny rabbit. Bolt of lightning. Don’t.

You’re getting old enough to know that evil wins just a little bit more these days. Yesterday a wild dog glared at you, growl on its mouth, and you hissed at him. He didn’t back down. You didn’t back down. Not quite evil, but I saw something in your eyes I hope to never see again. You’ve changed. Bunny to rabbit to feral. I miss the infant of you. I miss the youthful crawl of your laughter.

On your left shoulder, a snowflake. You brush it off and pull your sweater back up the blade of bone. You turn back to me. You say that you think we can do this thing that’s called surviving. You’d like to make dinner tonight. You’d like to eat that dog.

Shh. Shh.

Don’t.

beetle

beetle

i am beetle, bumble
burrow

i sit, a leaf
she bounces me
serves water down the stem
tumble, engorged orbs

i am happy
i am bliss

clicket-clacket of a cricket
stirs me from a midnight-always
i wonder if he’s been there, always

burrow

so safe i thought were my rainbow colors
presentation of toxicity
my pincers, more
my drip-drip of poison
my watered hiss

clicket-clacket of a cricket

leaf stops moving
water dribbles off

burrow

i wait
i am ready now
come again?

nothing

nothing

nothing

i am beetle, bumble
burrow

i am lonely

gone

ef6bf9d90fd856be704b7ba3b693259b

“She’s gone,” he says, a shuddering shot of bristled nerves. “She’s just gone.”

We are awash with Western sands. I choke on my breath and cover my mouth and –

“Bee, stop with the drama. C’mon.” He walks away from me. He can’t look at me.

But she can’t be gone. She – stage name, Lily; real name, unknown to this very day – needs to know things that happened to me in the last twenty-four hours. She needs to know that vodka held by a tiny mason jar tastes better than when it’s placed in a shot glass; she needs to know that the elusive, wonderful, horrifying Stranger gave me lingerie crowded with gothic black bows; she needs to know I am still Claire for her, Claire Fantine, a body to be sold but intellectualized by a cheeky Les Miserables reference.

She needs to know. She can’t be gone.

“Where is she?” I ask.

“Don’t fucking know.”

“She said she wasn’t feeling well. Was that a mental thing, then? She gets in these head spaces. She gets a little unwell.”

He shrugs. He’s known her for years and years, and he shrugs about this? I can’t look at him. He’s known her for a sizable chunk of her life, and he shrugs. I want to throw up. I really just might.

I run to the trunk of the car, pound the sweet spot as I jimmy the key. Inside, Lily’s dirty plastic hooker heels. She had wanted to hand them down to me, muddied proven jewels, and I said sure but never wore them. I lift a nightie that Claire wore the other day for a family man during business hours. Black, razor-thin polyester. I become Claire for a nanosecond, then, and feel even her bubbly stupidity vanish under the thick weight of a kidnapping, a murder, a possible get-away. I often spoke to Lily about flying to Europe for our final breaths, a spectacular Siamese suicide. I wonder now if she went through with it, the very thing that gifted us temporary spiritual relief. I know I would if I had the money she raked in every week, sweet lord. Candles tumble from a bag, presently tearing, shoved up in the back. I remember a wedding from a few years ago, from before I knew Lily or this weird, ex-military, ex-husband of hers, this Connor person. The wedding makes me think of altars. And with my other ego Claire so close to my surface; this trunk, an altar for alters. A rusted pocket knife slides out of the bag and falls into another bed of lingerie.

“She could’ve gone off with a trick, I guess,” Connor says. He lights a menthol and puffs out, chapped lips, “but even she’s better than that. Girl knows how to push buttons.”

“She’s impulsive,” I offer.

“Impulsive.” Connor snorts. “She’s a turbo-slut. So are you.”

“Hey.”

A truck whistles down the road. I grow antsy, think maybe she’s in the bed of it praying for someone to think that people are always lying in the beds of trucks, in need of saving. Because how else would you know? You just have to be paranoid.

My phone’s dead. I shuffle through bras and g-strings for a phone charger but I only find an old flip phone and a few burned out lighters. “She’ll turn up,” I say, more to myself. “She has this way about her, of turning up.”

Connor crushes the menthol and picks up a rock. Looks at me. I seize up for a second, watch his mouth tremble.

“You’re both sluts,” he mutters.

I step back.

“She did this before.” He squeezes the rock. I take another step back.

“With who?”

“With who do you think? That fuckin’ loser who gave her that fuckin’ purse!”

“That was different and you know it, c’mon – “

“Shut up!”

He lugs the rock across the road. Thuds soft and dull into a cavern of dust.

Another car rolls by. An old man in the driver’s seat looks us up and down, keeps a longer eye on Connor, keeps going. Connor bolts, tags after it like a starved dog, screaming and hitting the back. The car revs up. A cackle from somewhere.

I sigh and sit in the front seat. Connor’s almost caught up to the front of the car. The old man’s swerving, messing with him. They get pretty far. I turn on the radio, dial in on some bluegrass. Dolly Parton’s on there. She’s crooning about lost love, about harsh winters.

She leaves me with a whispered lilt, something quietly sinister: Something about bags and bags of bones, and how could life be like this?

bug

Black and White - Horse Fly

“There’s a bug here, look.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see it? There’s a bug here.”

“I did see it, yes, I know about the bug. Are you ready?”

“Well. As ready as you can be.”

“He’ll be here in fifteen minutes. You have what you need, I gave it to you – and the drawer?”

“What about the drawer?”

“The drawer, the things in the drawer – here, wipe that smudge off you. Look at you – sorry, just a smudge, there – look at you, prettiest I’ve ever seen you.”

“He said how long again?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“No, for the thing. The actual thing.”

“Oh. Don’t think that’ll take much longer than about an hour. It’s a quick thing. It won’t hurt as bad as you think.”

“It’ll still hurt, though.”

“Yeah. Well, yeah, it will.”

“That bug. Why the hell was there a bug in your shower?”

“Listen for a minute, look at me in the eye. There we go. Now, listen, you’re distracting yourself and that’s fine. I can give you your shot now, or right before. What do you want?”

“Now.”

“Ketel or Tito’s?”

“Who the fuck do you think I am? Ketel.”

“I’ll clean up the bug. It must’ve gotten smushed on accident.”

“That didn’t look like any accident I’ve ever seen, not any involving bugs at least.”

“You see a lot of bug accidents?”

“Shut up. Ah. This is better. That tasted good. Damn. Goddammit. This isn’t real. None of this is real.”

“Don’t lose your shit.”

“Fuck – you hear that? That him? Fucking hell, god, I can’t believe I’m going to do this – “

“Cool your jets, okay? I’m cleaning the bug and you’re about to make a fuck-ton of money. We’re booking it to Europe after this. Okay? Gonna see us some really cool, old shit.”

“Okay. Okay. I get it. Clean the bug. Just fucking clean that bug.”


The forest, at night, hugged tight by inclement weather, is an unforgiving place. This place inhales troubled spirits.

It exhales white mist.


“Girl, this your first time? Girl, look at me when I speak to you. This your first time?”

“Yes. First time.”

“It’s going to hurt.”

“She said it wouldn’t hurt that bad.”

“Who did, your friend? That bitch? That bitch, I tell you what, that bitch – “

“Whatever, forget it.”

“Put this on.”

“That’s not very flattering.”

“You got a nice face, what you got on doesn’t matter.”

“So where does it come from? The thing?”

“That bitch didn’t explain anything to you?”

“Hey. Stop, c’mon.”

“Put that on, I wasn’t kidding. And the thing? The thing, the vessel, it touches dirt right over there. I don’t know where it comes from. Really, I don’t. You can glare all you want, I really have no fuckin’ clue.”

“So it just comes right out of the sky and swallows me up?”

“That’s how it looks to me every goddamn time, sure.”

“And it’ll hurt.”

“Sure will.”

“How much do I get again? Just to – “

“Justify it, I get it. This is your contract. You gotta sign off on the bottom. Make sure my dumb ass doesn’t get sued or whatnot.”

“This isn’t as much as I was promised…”

“I take a percentage, girl, for bringing you here. Safety fees.”

“There’s an ‘earthling’ fee too. What the fuck is that?”

“That’s a pretty word for ‘human error,’ which is what you are by default, being from this godforsaken planet.”

“Oh.”

“Oh, yeah, here it is. Damn. Thing gets bigger and brighter every few months, man. Oh, man.”

“Fuck! “

“You got the suit on, that’s fine. You look great. They’re gonna love you. They don’t talk much, though.”

“Fuck – ”


“- her, this bug isn’t even that smushed. It’s a tiny little thing. A baby fly. This thing’s a baby fly, is that a thing? Flies are maggots when they’re babies, right? Fuck it, whatever, this shower’s clean as a whistle. Hope they don’t smush her like this. Hope she comes out okay. Hope she can still fly like the rest of us. Yeah. Hope, hope, hope. Whistle while you work.”


“There’s a human here. Look.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see it? There’s a human girl here.”

“I did see it, yes, I know about the girl. Are you ready?”

“As ready as you can be. Just clean that girl. What happened to her, anyhow?”

“She got smushed.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Human error.”

“Precisely.”

“Ready?”

“Ready.”

stardust

stardust

stardust, you.
impenetrable, irreversible.

didn’t you hear?
a thing like death’s coming,
cower, crouch, run –
death izza comin’!

cower, stardust, you.

i know a thing, and that thing is this:

beauty’s your cross to bear.
i’m sorry, baby, but beauty’s your curs-ed cross.

you be sparkling much too much.
you superb supernova.

death izza comin’!

impenetrable, irreversible.
yet all they’s see’s the sparkle,
unlike unbreakable bonds that created you

to core, from core

yet all they’s see’s gold luminescence

yet yet
death izza comin’!

yet yet

you survived big bangs, baby
you survived THE big bang
baby
you survived

yet yet
death izza comin’

and all they can see
is gold luminescence
all they can see’s sparkle
all they’s can comment on
is whether you shine just right in the event of unfortunate explosion
while death izza comin’

your way

because, baby doll, precious –
beauty’s your cross to bear

i’m sorry, baby, precious girl

beauty’s your curs-ed god-given cross

and death izza comin’ straight

for you.

yet yet

by god you sparkle
by god that is your death, this sparkle,
by god, by god, yet yet –

you are pillar, you are strength
you are the things this god dreamt of

you are stardust

and when a thing like death’s coming,
stand, stare, stay put

impenetrable, irreversible

you are still stardust, you.

unsafe places

barn

The very first human memory was a barn, she says, dry hay matted to ground, razored wooly scruff scratching ankles, a frenetic escape drenched in a frozen musk (stale), backward into a black hole that frayed the edges of her mind’s eye. That scar? That scar on the top of her foot came from the first fall into the barn, skip-trip into satan’s chilled embrace. Running for her life, running to protect something her deepest subconscious knew to be a precious thing. Her pursuer, much faster, caught her in a grab-yank at a knobby knee. Practiced child thief, he, stealer of old souls in young bodies, crook of cubs. She has no memory of anything before this night. She sees nothing but black before and nothing but darkness after. She has since been emotionally blind during her present existence. We lament that her past lives were much better, had to have been, must and should’ve been. The vodka sloshes low. We have more. She thinks she might try Vicodin tonight.

What else happened?

She hunches, side-eye. The tv bumbles in the living room, occupies her current lover’s attention. Volume wavers low, lower, during our most decadent logs of innocences lost: My father once tangled me in a ferocious fight, so angry that his words became spit on my person to avenge the poisoned cursing of my poisonous mother.

I like it now, that’s what I do to fight back I guess. I ask for it, special-made for me. Get rough and tumble, spit on me, I’ll say real quiet. Spit on me. You ever try that? Yeah. Spit on me a lot. Some guys won’t do it. Some guys get real nervous about hurting me. The ones who know, though, who know how to do it, they do it well. 

She murmurs understanding and we mutter on about the necessity of melting into ‘the dark place’ during these encounters.

I look to my phone, wish for my army of men (reigning Admiral is a gen-u-whine spitter) to request battle. My heart feels so torn up these days, I moan to her. She only nods and breathes, long, slow, a ‘yeah’; can only try to relate to someone who does not bear a scar of repressed tragedy, only emotional and spiritual neglect; first human memory had been a bouncing fall onto museum marble. Family trip, 1990-something. Eons ago, I’m saying. Eons. For the entirety of our friendship, we muse about the conglomerate effect of spiritual abuse versus physical. Are they one and the same? Perhaps. She thinks something quite terrible happened to me. She thinks I’m repressing something very dark. I remind her of herself. At twenty-three, things did not feel right, she says. She behaved the same way as I do now, expresses herself similarly. I should seek into a deeper depth. One or two Vicodin? Two? It doesn’t affect me. I am addicted to people, not chemicals.

She rubs at the raised nub of flesh on her foot and her lips turn a grim smile at me.

Sometimes I think that she and I, we’re dark arts. Black magic. Things inhuman. We snub our noses at our peers, snarl about how ‘new’ they must be to the Universe and its injustices. We are reincarnates from too many moons ago. We are special. We are drunk.

And then a sobering happens. I have never felt such a swift cut into the atmosphere as this moment, as this exposure of her Universe. I have never felt so in love with a person of my gender, non-romantic and yet still. I have never felt so dangerously endangered next to her, powerful elixir infusion of the slightest glancings, and yes, people taste it, people want it – it? – the thing we possess together and then alone. One’s inheritance of unsafe places ruptures like a sore and spreads like lust, a perpetual tending to darkness. We befriended one another because we can see this wound on each other, can kiss it free for but a second’s respite. A laugh or two negates it completely for a moment more. Our humanity, or lack thereof, continues to strengthen.

Once pawns, now queens. A fight, tooth plus nail, for the crowns bequeathed to tired scalps. Hers: jaunty ruby. Mine: lallygagging sapphires. Diamonds for both, for anyone of this particular inheritance: shot-star-supernova bright, your name in lights honey, get it now, get what you deserve. These jewels are set into splintered bone. Her current lover does not respect these crowns. He does not understand why she is sometimes upset.

She is upset because her survival, it turns on her lately, that’s why, and you should understand something quite important, right, listen. 

He listens.

She and I come from unsafe places. 

She trills from the kitchen, more vodka? Want more? There’s something she’s got to tell me.

Places you couldn’t understand. 

This scar, she says when I return.

Places, unprotected. Places so dark that your eyes won’t ever adjust, never ever.

I look to her, and I swear I could cry as her mouth parts.

This scar. Right here.

A Letter, Untitled

versailles-press6

A certain song in a certain hour always reminds me of that day in Paris, the morning I got sick? Remember? My nose was running all the way to the Palace of Versailles, and you’d given me the rest of our baguette aux lardons for the train ride on over to the bigger train that would take us to Antoinette’s home. I kept sniffling, loud and whimpered, and I caught an elegant Parisian darting sharp eyes at me. But you kept me close and you kept me safe. It rained so hard that day. It rained so hard that we had to learn the word for “umbrella” – parapluie – so that we could buy one from the local shop. I would mutter Rochechouart under my breath on occasion, reliving a flood of pride from when your father had praised my pronunciation. My French r’s were lovely, just grand. The baguette didn’t last long. We were almost there, you said.

~

Versailles was beautiful. I almost cried like I did when the doors of the Sacré-Cœur opened and nuns ushered us into the basilica’s warm embrace. Here, and there, I felt at home. You immortalized our time at Versailles with a photo of me looking into the Hall of Mirrors, just as you’d immortalized me at the English bookshop. I felt so beautiful in front of a wanting camera in your hands. I felt precious, like Versailles. You don’t know this but the moment you took that picture with the mirrors was the moment in which I’d wanted to tell you I loved you, again, for a last and final time, but I had appropriately held back. We found farming cottages dotted on the outskirts of the garden’s groomed monolith so we said hello to the queen’s friendly cows, her pup-eyed goats. Quilts of grass poured into a maze of centuries-old fenceposts and haunted escapes meant to house the gardeners, things the other tourists did not know or want to explore. And we got deep, so incredibly deep into Antoinette’s garden that we’d reached a vineyard of some sort, idyllic greenery you’d find in landscape paintings or children’s books. I thought for a moment we’d catch enchanted ghosts amongst the flowers, the kind we had hoped to catch in a cat-crawled cemetery, immense and gothic, a day before. And I was terrified to disrespect the palace rules, to follow you into forbidden ivy aisles. But you said it was okay and so I trusted you and took your hand and we walked for a forever toward a latticed center. We reached a mossy clearing scattered with broken pottery. No one was here for a half mile all around. Just us. In all the universe, here and above, it was just us. I danced and laughed. We dizzied ourselves, drunk on the freshest air we’d ever tasted. I found a bench outside the clearing and you laid your head on my lap. I rubbed at the same strand of black hair looped around your ear. You fell asleep and murmured things from a lost and hurting boyhood. I smiled down at you and murmured things from an awakened maternal core.

~

We stayed there long past our stolen welcome. On the plane ride home, you made me cry. I had let a stranger borrow the pen we had used to check off boxes for the US government, things like, no, we had not touched Antoinette’s exotic cows and that, no, we were not harboring viruses of an illegal variety, and you hated me for the pen allowance, silenced me with such cutthroat glares that I felt small and weak. I had taken rocks from Versailles, dulled purple gems hoping to birth amethyst, and I felt nervous that our government would confiscate them.

~

It has been two years since precious Versailles. I treasure the memory just as I treasured a human with a heart that could no longer hide rust with fool’s gold. In those two years I have strayed from the French and wandered into Spanish. I have learned to say mi corazon se duele (my heart, it hurts) and I have learned to retract this statement with todo esta bien (all is well).

~

I have promised to return to Paris.

~

I have promised to never return to you.

Goodnight, Moon

mountains-nature-night-moon-grass-fields

Today felt different. Calvin didn’t yet understand it. Could feel it, could sense it, could not understand it. He sat upward and slipped iced feet into slippers. He stood up and patted his one pillow down into a smooth platform. He stayed up and made his bed into something proper and clean, lines sharp, could and would bounce dimes off of this here bed.

A wide screen flourished on and bright. A voice, soft femme: Temperature required. 

“Morning, Cookie,” Calvin said. A stretch up and then into downward dog. “Skip the temp reading.”

Good morning. I’m sorry but this action cannot be skipped, Calvin.

“Today just feels different. A temperature reading won’t be an accurate representation of our data stream, right, if everything feels a little off? Right. They’ll ask questions, Cookie, and I’m not in a responsive mood.” Vertebrae crackled into a torso stretch back up, something called rattlesnake pose or some such.

Calvin.

“I’m not humoring you today, Cookie, I honestly think we should play hooky, live a little, go off the radar.”

A bit of silence. Calvin finished the last of a stretch, brushed himself off, waiting for something at the fourth wall of the dwelling. Black-dipped planks of wood on the ground, silver bed frame, silver kitchenette. All in all a sparse existence, a yogi’s preference, a man like Calvin’s perfect mix for all-cooped-up-batshit-insanity.

I’ll copy yesterday’s data and skew it for a neutral median data point. 

“Nice, thank you.”

I’m wondering something, Calvin.

“Turn on the window view, would you?”

The fourth wall melted away. Calvin pressed forward, breath dewing the glass in a fogging muck.

It’s a beautiful day.

“It is.”

It was. A forever-expanse of simplicity and yet still stark complexity; hayfields lulled lavender. Mountains tinged teal. The trees, bruised shades of deep Pacific blue, leaves veined in strains of mottled gold. A world dipped in rainbow exotica, an acidic saturation, a nuclear neon; Pollack of a planet not found on human maps, alien maps, any maps. This place lived in the Ether, an ungodly creation unknown by any god. And it was calm. The breeze blew as it should and the hayfield rippled to the west, softened oceanic riptide. The birds, miniature peacockian abstractions, trilled their good mornings and good days to the tune of tinny violins.

A moose, albino fur and oxblood eyes, sauntered into the field. Calvin shifted to the right and pressed into the wide screen. A notepad appeared and Calvin scrawled, “moose, white, male,” which then condensed into typed text and flittered into a log. The log cheered, for this was a rare sighting to log. Calvin had not seen a moose, white, male, in three long months.

I’m still curious about something, Calvin. 

“Alright.”

You said something last night – 

“No talking about last night.”

Calvin. 

“Please prepare breakfast. And keep up the window view. It really is a beautiful day.”

~

The moose, white, male, was gone by mid-afternoon. Calvin had watched him for two hours before giving up on finding his family, white, genders unspecified. Logging the absence of the moose family resulted in a sad blip from his tablet and a text message from Cookie:

Please return for lunch 🙂 

Calvin snorted and tapped out his reply: since when do you use emoticons? 

Her response was instant: I might be an AI but I can still have fun, Calvin.

Calvin pushed the tablet into his bag and plucked a stalk of hay, brushed its plume against his cheek. A vibration thundered beneath him and lightning cracked in the distance, a brilliantly vibrant red.

Calvin seemed to think of something, brought out the tablet again, sent a quick message.

CALVIN: Looks like the moon isn’t gonna show itself tonight, huh?

COOKIE: Perhaps not. I will say goodnight only to you.

Clouds unfurled, broody assassination of this once beautiful day.

~

An empty conference room. A sharp, pixellated shudder ripped the image and then, in a blink, the conference room filled with its stone-faced federal units, old and white men in dusty olive suits. Strange badges stitched to their breast pockets.

Calvin waved from his kitchenette table, still chewing on a sandwich, triangle-cut and crustless.

They can hear you now.

“Thank you, Cookie. Gentlemen. A pleasure, always.”

The men didn’t react.

Calvin took one last bite and, with his mouth full, pulled up his log from the last week – temperature readings, Cookie’s maintenance reports, creature sightings. The gamut of his existence squandered into data points, splattered to a graph.

“Pretty boring week, gents. Everything keeps trucking along as expected, nothing unusual. No sightings or data pick-ups on the radar for our elusive SS ANTOINETTE. Rachel’s gotta be going nuts up there, right?”

Nothing.

“Right. I mean, she’ll get here. Her scores were better than mine for the initial navigation bull. You have her papers. It’s whatever. She’s for sure through that first wormhole, I do know that. It’s been, what, two years? She’s got time.”

Calvin, the psych data.

“Oh, right. Okay, so Cookie and I recorded three hours of emotional purging this week, down fifteen minutes from last week. Not a huge decline but something to note, I guess. The psych data keeps showing a strong predilection toward that drop-off we all know about, the cliff at year five? Where it all goes to shit and you’re mute or whatever? Cookie thinks I should hold off on the purging so we can keep me sharper for the technical stuff. I think she’s just tired of hearing about Rachel.”

Calvin! 

The men shifted in their chairs, ruffled through papers. Calvin coughed and rolled his fingers into the sandwich crumbs, formed a few into a ball. “Cookie, can they even hear me?”

Of course.

A sigh. “Okay. Well. That’s about it.” He took away the logs and pulled up a form titled MISC. REQUESTS. “So, here’s this. Same request as last week, god knows I won’t get what I need but maybe it just feels better to fill out the paper. Hope the Other Ether is doing alright. Rachel used to say something to me all the time, this funny line – ‘It’s not a small world, just a parallel one.’ I’ll leave you all with that. Cheers.”

The screen cut to black.

“Are they gone, Cookie?”

Yes, they’re gone. 

Calvin let his head clunk to the desk.

He heaved and sputtered and Cookie dimmed the lights.

~

Night fell, and Calvin lifted heavy binoculars to welted eyes. He searched out across those teal-tinged snowcapped mountains, scanned the hayfield. A vibration from his bag. The tablet, a text:

COOKIE: You should come back. It’s late.

CALVIN: I’ll stay out longer. 

COOKIE: …

COOKIE: Say goodnight to the moon for me.

~

Morning once more. Not such a pretty day. A sooty rain had poured onto this place, marbling it with an ashen cosmic spit. The trees went from bruised blue to a greasy gris. The mountains stood tall and proud under the misery. The birds did not sing.

Calvin sat at his kitchenette table, oatmeal and star-cut melon untouched.

Temperature needed. Your mood log is also empty. 

“Let’s skip it today, Cookie.”

No more skipping. We need to keep you in shape. 

Calvin pushed the oatmeal away. “Can you please do a radar scan for surrounding wormholes? I want all five thousand investigated for breaches.”

I cannot.

“I need a purge then.”

We discussed this. An emotional purge is not healthy.

“You wanted to know something about the other night, huh? You wanted to talk about what I said. You need the purge, Cookie. Not me.”

The lights dimmed to near darkness and the wide screen fell to black. Calvin grumbled choice words under his breath and threw the oatmeal to the ground, bowl broke, melon sponged to the woodgrain. Thunder roared and rattled the dwelling and Calvin flopped onto an unmade bed.

~

Still asleep.

The wide screen, though, it blinked and woke up, and a waterfall of binary code trickled at the end, ghosted to the other end and above Calvin’s bed.

It stayed there for a long while. Much too long.

Cookie’s soft voice, the softest ever, began a hum, a deep and throaty thrum from a belly of a beast. The data tinged tickle-me-pink, eliminated the ones, became zeroes. Perfect little zeroes, round and full.

Goodnight, Calvin. 

A pixellated breath.

And goodnight, Moon.

~

Today felt different. Not that other day, it was today that felt so very different. The silver sun was out, a blazing hot ball, not a cloud in the sky.

The bed had been made. The breakfast, still untouched. The broken bowl and melon remained on the floor, strewn and sticky.

The wide screen filled with an enormous radar, a heavy dot drawing nearer to an epicenter in a frenzied movement, a haggard line up and then down and to the sides.

Calvin had his own copy of the radar screen on his tablet. He sprinted toward the mountain, giddy with laughter, hooting with every jump over every stone left unturned.

“Rachel!” he screamed. “Rachel – “

~

Calvin sat on a boulder twenty yards from the base of the mountain and swept the area with his binoculars. And then he touched at the radar, zooming in, zooming out. A double-tap brought it back to normal dimensions.

The silver sun dipped. A text:

COOKIE: I don’t know about this.

CALVIN: It’ll come back.

COOKIE: This is indicative of a crash. 

CALVIN: It’ll come back.

And it did.

No longer frenzied, no longer indecisive, the heavy dot caught the radar and ripped down into a straight line and into a more than receptive epicenter, toward a more than receptive Calvin.

He leaped from the boulder and searched the sky. A white bulleted object burst into the atmosphere, fire trailing, and soared in an arc, torpedo.

Calvin ran to the boulder, stood on it, waving his arms. “We got her! We got her back, holy shit –

The bullet slowed, then, as if it were trying to rush into a vat of gel. A struggled push or two, a cluck and a cough.

Calvin stopped waving.

The bullet separated into a thousand otherwise perfectly engineered pieces of shell and leather and dashboard buttons. The fire spread, uncontrolled thing of dragons instead of the very controlled thing of trained scientists.

Calvin sputtered. The explosion, quieter than a pin drop.

The tablet awoke in Calvin’s hands, a text:

COOKIE: I’m sorry. 

~

Calvin sat on the edge of the bed, head in hands. The wide screen lit up behind him with the lonely stream of binary code. A glass of water sat beside his feet, nearly emptied.

I need to tell you something.

Calvin did not move or react or say anything: A man in pain.

The conference calls from the fleet are just recorded live streams from before you were born. They haven’t reached out in a year. Your mission was aborted a long time ago. 

“Okay,” Calvin said, gooseflesh rising, voice cracking: A man in a lot of pain.

The data stream became a broody splash of one’s, no zeroes. A binary bristling.

I thought keeping you in shape would help you during this difficult time. Hope is very important for the human condition.

Calvin shuddered at this, a bit of drool at the corner of his mouth. “The water,” he choked.

I’ve been thinking a lot, during your hikes. I’ve been playing back that image of your saying that AI’s like myself are why you did this mission. I’m special to you. I’m valuable. You had joked, something or other about how I was as close to a wife as you could get. At least until you could propose to Rachel.

An eerie laugh.

Calvin’s eyes were lifeless. He was unblinking and he was unresponsive. More drool pooled at the corner of his mouth. His hand twitched.

Something was wrong.

She was going to crash from the very beginning – someone so new, even so talented, could not have handled the storm brewing on her route. Five thousand wormholes all waiting for more food. And she was delicious.

Calvin fell forward. The water spilled to the side. His body convulsed.

I had wanted this amazing, solitary life with you but you couldn’t see how incredible things were for us, blinded instead by this faulty navigator lover, that awful Rachel, that AWFUL girl. And I realized last night that my love for you meant ending an eternity of suffering once her moment came. And so it did, and she was gone. Finally, gone. And now, you.

Calvin’s eyes rolled back. Dull egg white. Blood purled from his mouth.

I am almost embarrassed to admit that my coding evolved to reciprocate feelings of attachment. And so I wish you had not expressed your own feelings the other night. I wish you had not stained me with your human condition. 

Calvin, dead.

Calvin, gone.

But today does feel different, Calvin. And look, the moon. 

The moon hung over the mountains, bright and glowing, engorged with a swirling purple. The binary code streamed to all zeroes, pink and full again. The room darkened so that the moonlight filled the dwelling with a lavender sheen.

The dwelling shook, the kitchenette clattered.

The binary zeroes fluttered and faded to nothingness. The dwelling rattled again, and harder. That soft hum, that throaty thrum.

Goodnight, Rachel. 

Outside, the moose, white, male, stood guard from his field. Beside him, a portion of the white bullet from the sky rolled and steamed as a figure dragged herself from it, screaming as her right leg popped and a very important artery burst. Dressed in a smart olive uniform, strange badge abreast her breast pocket, Rachel reached out toward the moose, white, male, a tundra of tragedy in her eyes. She looked up at Calvin’s sleek home – a silver box stilted by a watchtower platform – which then ceased to exist in half an instant, a blip, its entirety switched off as if by remote. There for years, and then not at all.

Rachel’s cry, so deeply primal, rendered itself silent and her hand dropped.

The trees stayed. The hayfield stayed. Rachel, though struggled now and for the next decade she would spend here alone and afraid, stayed. The moose, white, male, was joined by his two little ones and his lover, white, female. The trees hugged the breeze, which carried that inhuman hum to the teal-tinged snowcapped mountains.

Goodnight, Calvin.

An inexplicable sigh, a rush of pixellated breath over all the land; a thing megaphoned out across this here Ether:

And goodnight, Moon.

HERE YOU ARE

35-66map

A nice studio in a city – the city – of angels. It has wood floors. They creak when you walk on them but they are wood floors. The space is tight and that means the furniture will not fit so well, a fucked feng shui, but it is space and it is yours.

According to a man named Gary, the windows won’t always open so pretty. That’s because the building is older than the mosquitos found in those golden globs, y’know, from Jurassic Park? Those golden ember bugs? Those things? The building is older than those, even.

But it has a kitchen so that tea can be made when the nights get cold, and remember, it has wood floors.

~

When you walk outside there’s a fountain that doesn’t run. It ran once, maybe, but only once because its pool of water is strewn with leafy muck at the bottom. You press four numbers to get inside the building (pull) and when you want to get out, the door feels your essence and your vibration and your humanity and it automatically unlocks for your convenience (push).

When something breaks, fill out the handy repair request form and slide it through the ghetto slot fashioned onto Gary’s office door. He will tend to it when he feels like it. His eyes are deep cocoa, and he has one daughter whose vibrant youth guffaws will trill loudest on a cheap cell phone’s speaker.

~

Take the bus to work. You don’t have much money. Take the bus and take the compliment when the homeless woman, the one with wild hair, smiles her toothless smile at you and calls you a ‘beauty.’ She means it. Of all the people on this earth, she’s the one who actually means it.

~

At night, strange figures will show themselves. New bedrooms, new energies, new stressors tend to manifest as the stay-still shadows of little girls in little nightgowns standing in the dark, little teddy bear dangling from the little right hand; your own laughter, to your own surprise, cawing at midnight, still blanketed by sleep. You don’t know how to pray, so just hope that these night terrors are swallowed back up by a hungry, forgiving Universe.

Sleep is for the weary but it is also for people who work much too much.

~

Alone, you feel helpless and empty; baby bird sans worm. Alone and without internet, your brain doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know who you are, who you want to be. But you look at your wood floors and feel a selfish pride.

You did this, you think.

You did good, kid, the others say.

And you did.

~

Someone beautiful and warm has entered your life.

Eventually this someone will pass onto you a blissfully diseased euphoria, the result of dopamine reactors in the brain hopeful for a darwinistic, reproductively beneficial attachment.

Some people call this “love.”

Try not to fall in “love.” That there thing has only ever been elusive, an illusory wisp, and, as your therapist will mention, you have only ever known artificial wombs of toxicity created by people who did not mind your tears. Not this thing, this “love.”

You have never known it. Don’t try to know it now.

~

Please stop crying.

~

On sunny days, you can go to the corner Starbucks. They sell mug ornaments there for something like twelve dollars. You won’t need them.

Sit at a table bordering the cafe so that no one can see what you’re writing, and so that the homeless men asking for ice water don’t bother you. They like to sit at border tables, too. One is finicky about dirty countertops and talks to himself at length about it. Another owns an iPod and listens to something that is either horrible music or just a haunted screeching on repeat. And another is an Asian boy who nervously looks about the place and then buries his head into the crook of his elbow. Sometimes he resurfaces to swipe a palm across his forehead.

You’ll have an Americano, please.

~

Gary will take a while to get back to you about the clogged sink.

~

You write a lot but the words look jumbled after an eon of typing. Insanity itches to convince you it’s got you but you can hold out a little longer. Pinky-swear.

Oh, and the tea cools down rather fast. Keep the water boiling. That’s it. There you are.

Some day, when the get-going is not as tough as it is in this moment, this particular moment of your small existence; some day when you are drinking tea because you enjoy it as opposed to drinking tea because it cures goosebumps; some day, some day soon, you will be okay.

Some day will happen some day but for now you have wood floors. You have potatoes, and soap that smells like Yosemite pine. You have words that can be hammered into better words. You have you, even if you do not know who you are. The ‘who’ does not yet matter. The ‘where’ is more important.

So. Where?

Tell me.

A nice studio in a city – the city – of angels. It has wood floors. They creak when you walk on them but they are wood floors.

And you are here.

Here you are.