Goodnight, Moon

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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

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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.

Moscato

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Chunked heels clopped off and her feet unfurled a powerful sour sweetness, a sweat, a long day of work mixed with a nervous flush of hormones. She couldn’t stop giggling. Tumbles of laughter poured from her in such a way that a neighbor might’ve presumed she was crying. Bloated, infantilized belly guffaws gurgled from her, waves and rolling waves of them.

Beside him and her on a salvaged trunk sat Argentina’s best mid-priced sweet white, a bottle emptied before the frost could sweat from the glass. He had sung to her in floaty South American Spanish, a voice far sweeter than the wine, against the soft strum of a guitar.

But here he had lunged for her toes soon as the shoes came off, predator’s prowl in his eyes; and the sensations, the rub of his thumb woven with his tongue over the pad of her heel, had made her ferociously and amazingly ticklish; physically of course, and then spiritually too.

“I would’ve washed them had I known,” she said between fits. “I was on my feet all day.”

He mopped her little toe, the middle one, with a swept, wet breath. “We are all on our feet all day.”

She shrieked with laughter as he massaged deep into her arch, gasps of his own Oh my God’s hissing, when she asked if he had some sort of foot fetish.

He thought for a second and replied simply, truthfully, that he had only a fetish for her.

The Death Wish

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Childhood produces brilliant gulfs of laughter, rivers of tears of joy of unpracticed happiness, and it is an engorged and gorgeous thing to behold.

Extended childhood brings titters and snickers and haughty guffaws, anxious eyes as the mouth gapes for its rising bell and gong of the throat. Rarely punctured with truly outrageous fits of an unhinged and harmless insanity, extended childhood is a maddening cauldron of inner early child mixed with the brewing Adult that will burst from childhood’s sparkling husk.

Remember these facts as we enter the Long Hallway.

Adulthood itself is the omniscient architect of this here Long Hallway. It is this here place that laughter is heard from beyond thick, thicker, thickest walls climbed with portraits of empty doe-eyes staring at plates of microwaved meatloaf – scratch n’ sniff to smell Momma. The laughter from beyond the portraits and walls are ghosts of the children who are not yet aware of their extended childhoods and the cicada form they will adopt when of age, encased in a sticky threading of mucous.

The Long Hallway is where the Adult runs away from childhood and its laughter with a steer-matched gait, an awkward pounce in the front padding of the foot (hoof); where the Adult will feel a strange dragging from the ceiling, a tangled knotting of hair as the scalp (horns) scrapes the top and the narrowing of this place. And this is where the Adult will be presented with doorways that open on occasion to help the Adult see puffings of cloud, and gusts of wind which drag such puffings of white in a smearing not unlike paint probably to be named “melting marshmallow” in the instance that clouds were made of paint, in the event that components of Nature were meant to be named for commercially adorable purposes.

The Long Hallway’s doors will show benches floating on the melting marshmallows, allow the Adult fantasized relief from the pounding of their running feet (hooves). The doors will close when the Adult chooses to instead suffer.

The Adult will mimic the laughter from the childhood ghosts in an effort to conserve inner early child but this is in vain, and it is discouraged. The Adult will only laugh now when he sees a clear and concise conclusion to his suffering (literal leap of faith). It is not a tittering, not an engorging, but a hoarse, clucking roar from the belly of the beast. It will spook the laughter from the childhood ghosts for an eon before they return.

The Adult will not ever reach the end of the Long Hallway unless he finds a door affixed with a small metal plaque reading “fin.” It will only open in the case of absolute emergency and it will only lead to a place of walloping flame (purgatory).

The Long Hallway is largely unfurnished but there is a nice vase at the midpoint, a glossy and ill shade of pink, veins of marbled white. Inside is a bouquet of dead dandelions which, as every inner early child remembers, means a wish if you blow on the mammalian fuzzy cotton, spread its seed in a spray of ambitious prayer.

Few Adults will ever find the vase. Some will smash the vase in a violent triumph. The others will cry when they see it and pluck a dead dandelion and immediately find the door marked “fin” and it will end there and it will all be okay, okay, the one and final wish will come true in a smacking pop of light as that spray of ambitious prayer clouds the hallway in a frothed fog and the Adult will vanish and the door marked “fin” will close with a comforting creak.

The vase will have been purchased from a Goodwill for eighty-nine cents.

The dead dandelions will have been absolutely free but, as any good and true Adult will tell you, nothing is really ever for free and how could you be so dense?

Years From Now

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It is Sunday.

I am young. I am thirteen or fourteen. Perhaps younger.

You are the person who cradled me as a zygote until my first spitting breath of Earthen oxygen.

You are telling me that the family will be relieved of me, my burdensome existence, in the twenty minutes it takes to drive the long and straight and narrow freeway to the Clinton County courthouse. You are telling me to get into the car or the police will be called as an answer to my awful mouth. I get into the car. As we drive, I am screaming. Banshee. I am banging against the car door; begging. I’m not sure what I want anymore but I beg like hell. I keep screaming that I’m sorry, that I’ll do anything short of killing myself to prove I’m worthy of your love again. It was a misunderstanding. We argue all the time like this. You and my father stay pretty quiet. Screams like that tend to silence the world. Screams like that tend to vacuum all noise unto themselves, miserable black hole of poltergeisted emotions, violent and throbbing with a pain in need of protecting.

Ten minutes, you remind me. I scream my loudest at this point because it seems very real now. I thought you were joking earlier. Sick jokes are still just jokes. I repeat that through lobs of snot and, again, I plea for a type of forgiveness I never knew existed.

You explain to me with sterile politeness that a juvenile detention center will probably take ownership of me. You have my journal, by the way, which is filled with angsty exaggerations about how I had wished death upon you, my father, my sister. Scrawled cursive I had learned just a few elementary grades prior, dark fantasies that perhaps begged for the unobtrusive warmth of professional help rather than the cold authoritarianism of federal displacement for troubled youth. I felt alone and sorry, so sorry, I screamed. I did not know how else to express myself and wasn’t that worth further investigation into a gentler ether?

We finally park in the courthouse lot. It is empty here. Clouds froth over a weak sun. I can hardly stand this sort of pain anymore. I’m scratching at the window, curling up like a feral creature. I hate this sudden transformation from girl to scorned demon. We all sit and wait for something and I feel my lungs twist in a fervor around my heart; I imagine my insides curdling black. This is the only way my yet-still developing synapses can register the searing fear that hopes to choke me out.

I heard once that broken hearts kill people. I wonder if this kind of pain is enough to kill me, a kind of chemical primed to be an actual emotional tranquilizer.

My cries die out a bit. I am weak now. The courthouse is a gloomy behemoth looming over me, flags snapping. One flag for this great country tis of thee. One for the state (Pure fuckin’ Michigan, come on n’ visit). One for the county.

My flag snaps white for surrender.

Years from now I will stroll past the courthouse with my very first love, a slow but loving man. I will tell him about this day and he will buy me ice cream to heal me. I will pretend that something as arbitrary as chocolate-chip-cookie-dough could heal something as scathing as personal traumas.

You get out of the car and threaten to drag me out. They’re going to usher me right in, you say. It will be very easy. They will ask me why I’m such a terrible daughter and why I wrote such terrible things and my body shivers from an intracellular implosion.

This is much too much.

It is then, when I think I might be dead within a living body, that you tell me that it is Sunday.

The courthouse is not open on Sundays.

I am free. I am free from the horrors of foster parents. I am free from the violent scenarios my father laughed about: “big black girls” who would want to beat me to smithereens with the mouth I had on me.

But it is Sunday so I am free.

Something in me breaks. There is a flood of calm but from this moment onward, I am a broken person.

Years from now, you will decide that one of my most suitable punishments will be to require that I walk the three miles to work and three miles back. I will be sixteen. In the heat of summer, I melt. In the darkest of nights, I worry about men hacking me to little pieces behind the old barns on the way back. One man will ask if I need a ride in his truck. I will not take candy from strangers and I will decide the same of taking rides in trucks. Years from now I will see rain compounding the darkness after a night shift and I will ask my father for a ride home. I will not be allowed rides home, not even from the Vietnam veteran I work with, nice old man that he is, offering me rides and subverting malicious intent. My father will reject me. Years from now I will presume of every man that I am not worth his protection or love and, years from now, I will require extensive therapy.

You drive me home. I shudder and seize, confused as to whether I should cry for help or cry with relief. I do not yet understand the tectonic shift taking place within me but years from now I will learn to be insufferably alone, woman warrior. Take no prisoners. Take no bullshit. Take nothing and give nothing. Prepare for war because war has been waged on a heart so young.

My father parks in the garage. You offer me a hug. You offer to order a pizza to make amends. I press into you, nodding and numb.

Years from now I will move three-thousand delicious miles away from you.

Years from now I will not be made easily available for conversation and you will wonder why.

THE BOX GIRL

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The first time Box Girl awoke to a peculiar psychological disconnect it had been years and years ago during a surgical excavation she would not discuss openly if prodded. The excavation took place in a small office after she had been ‘put under’ despite her begging for any other way, as anesthesia did not mix well with her brain but still the office drones shushed her and clamped her wrists as fluids flushed into her veins. Hours later, a forever later, she opened her eyes and found herself in a white bed with a white plastic bracelet, the hardened lump in her tummy now a shallow, shoveled thing. Women flanked her in similar beds, similar positions. Palms pressed tight against tummies. Soft clucking moans curdled the air, delicate in their strained weeping. That had been a disconnect of Box Girl’s ultimate choosing, a regret reversed, something of a bittersweet grim reaper to quell the pain of a pain specific to itself. The particular disconnect she now faced was uniquely worse: a separation of mind from soul from body.

“He would’ve been six,” Box Girl murmured, and her head suddenly produced an incredible sharpness at the base of her skull. Her mouth gaped in a vomitous shrieking and yet, no sound escaped her. A dribble of stomach acids spilled from her and onto cement. A camera flashed. And another. Catalysts to a symphony of recording devices so loud in their artificial shutter noises, so blinding in their lights, that Box Girl forced herself to look up. Her brain still lagged though, and it took a full moment to truly understand her reality in relation to the reality existing beyond her. The reality observing her. And could reality truly split like this? she wondered.

The box holding her was not much larger than the twin bed placed carefully against the wall. A desk claimed the other end of the box, wooden to match its old wheeling chair; apropos of the classic college dormitory. A cat stood still in one corner, a watchful eye on Box Girl while she tossed on top of the bed. Its statuesque paralyzation eventually gave away a cheshire secret: thing’s stuffed, thing’s not alive. Thing’s an imitation cat, you see. Do you see?

The walls, crystal-clear glass, so clean were they that Box Girl’s eyes could not right away adjust, and they were this way to allow for a stalking crowd, a sinister herd of salivating strangers. Children smeared oily foreheads against the box. Adults did the same. An old woman knocked to get Box Girl’s attention. A man dressed as a security guard escorted the old woman away. A roaring throttled the box and half the crowd dispersed checking watches, dragging luggage behind them; muttering. The box did not have a ceiling and this allowed for Box Girl to hear such things as, “New York is a rainy mess today,” and “Fuck her, fuck her to hell, I fly out to see her and she does this? Now she breaks up with me? It’s a shit-show.”

The throttle died out to a distant hiss overhead. An announcement bleated: At Denver International Airport, your safety is our priority.

~ ~ ~

Another day might have passed. Box Girl couldn’t be sure – watches and clocks were covered from her view in a way so that when she looked at the giant itinerary screens beyond her glass castle, the numbers fuzzed and disappeared. Her own clock, a thing shaped as a jaded owl, appeared to favor a perpetual midnight.

The crowd was erratic now, a sniveling stream of families smacking their children for eyeballing ‘that girl.’ Men would stand at the farthest end and stare with lifeless eyes, lips parted. And while the men seemed under a spell, some of the women touched the glass with gentle hands, frowns twisting their faces.

And yet still, other other women sneered at Box Girl, spit disgusting words.

“She’s not even that pretty.”

She had a face, then, she still had that. Box Girl touched her lips, felt the soft curve of a cupid’s bow. Pink smeared off on her finger. Rubbed her eyes and charcoal black painted the back of her hand.

“Look at all that makeup. Where’s she gonna go? Huh?”

~ ~ ~

Box Girl writhed in bed that night. She woke with a start at one point to see a ghastly man taking her photo. Box Girl’s awareness of his presence aroused his attention further, and he pressed himself against the wall, gyrating. And then he left, pushing thick glasses up his nose.

Young women passing by scoffed. “Asking for it, look how she positioned herself,” they spat.

The airport was dark.

Box Girl cried.

~ ~ ~

Maybe she chose this? Maybe she had signed a contract. A paper. Did she choose this? Box Girl ripped the desk apart in search of documentation, in search of something to show that this was all, indeed, real. The crowd cheered on the destruction, a growing gathering.

Fine print could not be found. Box Girl sat at the desk, scratch marks grooving into its grain. The notebook she’d found earlier enticed her to draw. A scribble at first and then thorns. And then something of a rosebud.

A little girl pressed closer than the rest to watch, enamored. She and Box Girl made eye contact. Box Girl put the paper up against the wall and the girl smiled.

The crowd ooh’ed and ahh’ed, clapping.

“An artist!” someone shouted. “I knew it!”

“She’s really got something!” another said.

And then a woman barked: “You just wanna fuck her! My dog could draw better!”

A flurry of murmured agreement. The crowd dispersed to catch flights.

~ ~ ~

The next time Box Girl woke up, she was manic. Drawings littered the floor, beautiful and terrible ones alike in a scattered mess. An artist, yes. A struggle, yes. Laughter overwhelmed her in churlish waves, eventually devolving into chittered giggles.

The little girl had returned, dark circles under her eyes. She had dragged her mother who screamed into a cell phone nearly as large as her head, something or other about cancelled this and delayed that. The girl knocked on the glass and Box Girl stopped laughing so quickly that the girl took a step back, disturbed.

Box Girl slid off the bed and to her knees. Crawled in a spidery stretch toward the end of the box. The little girl swallowed a lump in her throat, eyes wide.

“Can you hear me?” Box Girl said from the bellows of her throat.

The little girl nodded.

Box Girl touched the glass. “No matter what you do, no matter what has broken you, no matter how you look: they will watch you as they watch me, but I am trapped in my box and you are free. Bad things will trap you just as good things, beautiful things, will hold you hostage. I have learned a lesson but I am still trapped here. I think that in some ugly way, I have chosen entrapment. I have embraced it.”

The little girl stepped forward.

Box Girl ran her sweaty palm against their barrier. “But as much as these strangers see me trapped, they try to make my box smaller with their words, their pains, their own boxes in their own heads. Everyone is trapped, you see. The same will happen to you, this entrapment, but you are strong enough – stronger than me – to break glass that is meant to be broken.”

And they stared at one another for a long and lovely while, sounds melting into each other as planes passed overhead and the mother kept screaming, and the cameras kept flashing. One such photograph would later headline feel-good news, child and Box Girl connecting despite their glass separation. Internet comments about this ‘news’ would lash out that the little girl was much too plain to be of any interest to the Box Girl and her deranged artistry. That hair! they would type. Those dull eyes! What does this child think she is? Special? 

The Box Girl would dig deep into her own flesh that night, mania now a spreading infection. She would sleep forever that night. The box no longer imprisoned, but protected, that night.

The cat in the corner stayed still, collected dust, but some would swear up and down and on their mothers’ dead, swollen bodies that its tail twitched if you looked close enough.

tree house

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Mountains looked fucking pathetic from so far away. Little triangles. Little pointy majesties. Little points on a little crown on a little planet gone to shit.

Might’ve been my birthday. Still wasn’t sure on that. I kept track of it for ten years and then I was like, who the fuck is going to tell me I can’t just be seventeen forever? Okay?

Like, fuck you.

The wood planks beneath me cranked a righteous moan, reminded me straight up of this homeless chick I’d seen once drifting down the street, demonic and swooning spit-marbled teeth at me. Pennies, she’d moaned. She just needed pennies. A penny, singular, even. Kept moaning like something pretty nasty had gotten her brain stuff, made it all gray and fuzzy with rot. You ever think about that? Rot’s not really green, is it? It’s the same color as a brain is anyway which is horrible because really think about that: If our brains rot, who’s there to say it’s actual rot and not just our brains being terrifying pieces of shit? Huh? Who’s there to say?

So, anyway, whatever, I muttered something snarky in passing to this homeless chick, and she had reached out in a clawing cloy – actually fucking got me. Fucker, man – fucker. I had screamed a shrill call of the wild and she let go but not without cursing me a bunch and hoping all my kids ended up incestuous fuckin’ messes, like something out of a scary movie. She kept talking about all these kids I don’t have, never will have, didn’t want anyway. She kept talking about how ugly they were gonna be but I had tuned her out. You can’t listen to BS like that, y’know? Keep trucking, son. That’s what they say. Keep on trucking and eat your stupid vegetables.

The wood cranked out again, planks clunking together and wheezing away, push and pull. A fight; love-hate. Over and over they all pressed into each other, seemed to recognize their grains as one and the same, and then they bowed in grotesque repulsion. As if they recognized something they didn’t like about being so similar. As if they had wanted to change, be oak instead a’ pine, or some shit. I dunno.

Tree houses. Tree houses make you think shit like this, especially the tree houses that are falling apart. Like mine. That’s when you look at mountains like some hippy on acid, when you start seeing mountains for what they really are: Rocks with huge fucking egos.

And then the big globes up in the air, you see that? Beyond the mountain points, where the tippy-tops meet the froth of cotton cloud, big-ass silver globes. They just sit pretty up there, watching. Waiting. If they see you they crush you like you’re a fleshy bowling pin. That’s it, that’s all. Nothing fancy like in the movies long-gone, and believe me, I saw ’em all before all the electricity and generators ran out. I know what we human-being creatures thought would happen to us, and we were all really melodramatic about it, tell you that much. Like, you wanna talk ego? Talk human beings. Inflated ego up the wazoo. Who the fuck thinks of that shit? Like, aliens coming down in some parade of spaceships like they actually give a fuck what we think about how they look, to us. To us.

Anyway, these globes? They find you and start rolling in this sloping curve, down and down, until gravity breaks and they hit the dirt, supernatural smooth. Psycho kinds of calm. They’re quiet, too, you never hear them coming. And then they just steamroll over you, single smack of gore, and you’re done. You’re finito. There might be a few hundred human-being creatures left or just me. I romanticize on that sometimes. How nice, y’know? Being just me, all alone.

The wood stopped cranking. I counted the globes and one was missing so I counted again. Thirteen total at all times. That was for the last two days, anyway, thirteen sitting still. One might’ve moved to check on a target but I never saw them dip into the trees. Too humid. The machinery, man, that shit gets slow in the humidity. West coast water does that, slows stuff down.

But goddamn, only twelve now. I must’ve stared at the mountain crests too long. I took my notebook and flipped through for my protocol – ‘scuse me – THE Protocol.

“When a globe disappears and there is complete and tangible silence, be fuckin’ quiet,” I read. “Extinguish fires, lights, anything that will draw attention and be fuckin’ quiet. A breath hitching in the back of your stupid throat could draw attention so hold your breath. Hold. It.”

I closed up the notebook – common sense stuff – and turned off my reading lamp. Evening slurred through my window, covered everything in dank darkness. Chilly, wet darkness. I shivered.

I could hold my breath for 30 seconds now. Well, rounding up from 27 seconds. I tried it now, got to 28. New record. Huh.

Wood still wouldn’t crank. I pressed into it, didn’t make a sound. I shuffled to the soft spot, this little wet mark where the stuff was getting soft and smelly, and punched into it – rough hole around my wrist, the sudden gush of natural air choking on my fist. But no sound.

“Fuck.”

complete and tangible silence

Couldn’t read my notes anymore so I sort of sat there and stared at the mountains again. Only twelve globes hovering in different spots, different coordinates. I’d tried mapping ’em out once. It all came back to triangles, pyramids. Even if they moved, even if more joined the herd, I’d still get crisscrossing triangles in my doodles. Stuff of Egypt, I s’pose. Those little monsters love Egypt. They fuckin’ love that stuff. Maybe Cleopatra was in one of those globes. Would love to meet that chick, she seemed legit as shit.

I scratched at my head and it didn’t sound like anything. I mean, I felt it. For sure I did. I hope I didn’t make it up, anyway. I tried to hum a bit. I imagine I made a sound but I didn’t hear myself so it felt sort of retarded as hell, humming like that, so I stopped that real fast.

I guess I knew what was coming before it was coming, so don’t think I’m stupid or whatever. I felt it in my essence first. My purest essence, the stuff that makes you feel alive and dead in the space of a nanosecond. Then I saw the eclipse, total eclipse of any shred of light into my little tree house. Silver blinded me, split my brain and sutured it back up in a melted conglomerate of primal reactions like, what the fuck? and, why now? and i shoulda been better.

And, oh, why not the mountains? Fuck, why not take a mountain? I was so little. I was so insignificant and fuck it, man, take a mountain. Please, please, take the mountain –

Kept rising up. The globe kept pushing into the tree house, and I think it was trying a mid-air somersault. Creative extinguishment, I s’pose. Gotta give it credit for that at least. I remember respecting that even as I wanted to tear my eyes off thick, orbital nerves.

I remember the respect. Yeah.

So, anyway, it kept going. It kept rolling. It was really lugging itself like all of it was some sort of struggle, and I screamed a bunch but you know, I couldn’t hear any of it. The globes swallow sound up like a vacuum. Schwaaaap.

Scwhap-swallow.

I felt my funny bone splinter first. You can laugh about that, it’s whatever. Sort of ironic. Sort of bizarre. Then my shoulder and my spine cracked with that, too, same time. I felt each knub of my spine split to powder and all my muscles fused together before falling into this puddle of muck that suddenly became pretty peaceful. Can you even imagine? Death so painful it’s actually kinda nice. Like, hey, you’re dying. Let’s throw you a bone while all your actual bones smither and splitoon.

I remember the last second. Saw the mountain. Then silver. Another flash of the mountain. My other funny bone broke. I felt okay after that, though. I felt okay.

I think today was my birthday.