all that is necessary

is a single lapse of conversation
for the inexorable drip
of silence
following silence
to flow together over time
in an erosion of tongue and throat
until every syllable gurgles an anarchy of noise
and every word drops away
into a bottomless well of corpses
with all the weight and meaning
of a pocketful of stones.

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do you swear to tell the truth

Gossip is a poisonous thing. It drips, it corrodes, it eats away at the fabric of reality. It sucks the love out of marriage and the fun out of living free. It kills more surely than a bullet to the brain.

Some people live on gossip, like my ex-sister-in-law, who will spread any rumor through her social network as long as it’s juicy enough. She’s a beast of burden grinding the grist of the rumor mill. And what an industrious little beast she is.

Case in point: yesterday I ran into Christopher for the first time in three months. He smiled at me well enough, but I could tell there was something on his mind. And sure enough, after a few exchanged pleasantries, he said, “I hear you’re seeing someone.”

“And if I am?”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit soon for you to be dating again?”

I folded my arms over my chest. “It’s been three months since Don died. What am I supposed to do, float around town in black for a year and a day. Have sudden weeping fits in public?”

“Don’t bitch at me, Joan. I’m concerned. You just wrapped up all that business with the police and got Don’s affairs settled, and the first thing you do is jump in someone else’s bed? It looks suspicious. People are starting to say you got him killed so you could collect insurance and remarry again as soon as possible.”

I started to laugh, then stopped at the look on his face. “For fuck’s sake. Don’t tell me you actually believe it.”

His cheeks flushed dull red, but he didn’t look away. “It’s what people are saying.”

“‘People.’ You mean Patrice.”

The red darkened. “So what if it is?”

I laughed mirthlessly. “Patrice hated my guts even before I married her brother. Of course she’s going to try to spin whatever I do to be as suspicious as possible. If you believe a word out of her mouth, you’re an idiot.”

“She says he never drank, not before he married you. She says you drove him insane cheating on him, and the night he crashed, it was because he’d found out about another one of your affairs and you threw him out of the house drunk.” He took a deep breath. “She’s been saying it all over town.”

“She can say whatever she wants. It’s none of my business.”

“It is if she goes to the police with it,” he said quietly.

“The police already questioned me a thousand times. They found nothing suspicious.”

“There was his insurance policy.”

“Again, nothing. Patrice is grasping at straws.”

“Joan.” Quiet again. “People are starting to wonder.”

“This conversation is over.” I spun on my heel. I could feel his eyes following me until I turned the corner and passed out of sight. People talked; what did I care? I had my money and my life, and words were nothing more than pretty sounds. They could speculate all the wanted; I was the only person who knew what had really happened. Don had too, but Don was dead now. So in the end, it was only me.

And all the gossip in the world wouldn’t change that.

writing exercise: in a world made all of metal

In a world made all of metal, the cities claw against an iron sky. It’s a feat of pride. You’d think metal wouldn’t hold under it’s own weight like that, especially not with how thin the skyscrapers get towards the last few hundred feet, but the architects have perfected the craft of defying gravity. The people spin their towers out of the stuff of the earth to impossibly attenuated threads. Office towers and apartment high-rises twist at mind-boggling angles. When the wind blows the whole city sings like a brass band.

In a world made all of metal every surface is a mirror. Reflection upon reflection, angularity upon repeating angularity. You inhabit a thousand, million, trillion universes. Everywhere you look, oh hello, it’s you again. You are your own constant companion.

In a world made all of metal the people are too, glassy and impenetrable statues of platinum and steel. Beauty is measured by the quality of your carbon content, the absence of scratch marks on your silvery flanks. The elite are creatures of burnished perfection that everyone aspires to. The outcasts are pitted and corroded freaks that grow ever more pitted and corroded until they grow so soft and pliable that they dent to the touch, a bodily disease that’s so against the way of nature that people recoil in instinctive horror.

In a world made all of metal flesh is a curse word.

how to listen without hearing

The scene was something ripped from a hack movie: Heidi, standing between Dani and her desk. Heidi, shouting. Heidi, crying.

Dani didn’t have time for this. She shouldered past and sat. Bright, wriggling streaks of inspiration were flashing through her mind, ghosts on the neurons. She had to capture them before they wisped out of existence.

Behind her, Heidi was still bleating on about trust and how could you. Dave barely registered her. Her pen flew across paper, racing against the speed of thought.

A hand grabbed her shoulder, jerking her back to herself. She whirled around. “For Christ’s sake, I’m working here! Can I get a little peace and quiet, huh?”

The hand released her. She turned back to her desk. It had been so long since she’d known what to write that she’d feared she’d forgotten how to shape the words. But here it came, flooding her parched imagination. Feverishly, she wrote.

Dimly, she was aware of a sound of doors opening and closing as Heidi moved through the apartment. Clothes hangars clattered against each other. All of it, irrelevant.

A door opened, and closed. Silence wrapped her.

Hours later, Dani lifted her head. Her hand ached. To her surprise, the apartment was dark. This time of night, Heidi was usually reading in bed or curled up on the couch watching TV on her iPad. But the bedroom was dark, and Heidi was nowhere to be seen.

Dani stood in the doorway, a vague unease worming through her. It looked different somehow, emptier. The bed had been made and smoothed with crisp edges, the way Heidi always insisted on. Something was missing, though, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

Something to think about another time. Not now. Now, she needed to write. Room by room she went through the apartment, flipping the switches. Light flooded the apartment bright as day. Better.

Back at her desk, she stared at the pages and pages of notes in her fevered, dashed handwriting. Then she sat, picked up her pen, and continued writing.

you, full grown

i died the night they brought you home
entombed in stone,
full-grown,
or as grown as i had ever known.

the wailing was heard round the globe–
the keening of a sick girl’s voice,
emotion to be unseen, unshown,
watered down with salt and wine
’til none of it is told or known–
but couldn’t reach where you had flown.
i would have fled,
i would have run
if this i could unmake, unknow.

i grew you from a seed, a clone,
a cherry pit,
a word disowned.
you, little sprout, so calm and slow
who cut through ice,
who cut through stone.
i didn’t mean to fall in love
but love was in me
(how could i know?)
cancer in the marrow of my bone.

you’d eat me, papa told me,
and he was right, he’d somehow known.
look at me now: a weathered crone
before my time, hollow as a bird
and voiceless, wordless.
all i do is moan.
oh, papa would have sighed,
if only he had known.

i’d have let you wither
had i known, had i known.
but who would have guessed,
who would have known,
that a seed can grow through stone,
that love is cancer in the bone?
i didn’t–i don’t.
it’s not fair at all, but oh,
i should have known i should have known.

an unexpected draft

“Hello, Edwin Lee!”

It was the chirpy tone of voice more than surprise at someone else in his (he thought) empty studio apartment that made Edwin spin around so hard his elbow banged against his seat back. A woman in a shiny dress stood in the middle of the floor, grinning wide enough to bite a slice out of the moon. It dwindled by a few degrees of longitude when she saw his expression.

“You are the great novelist Edwin Lee, aren’t you?”

“Edwin Lee, yes. Novelist, wannabe. Great, definitely not. Who are you?” He rubbed his elbow, wincing.

The smile dwindled even more. “Didn’t you write that epic historical fantasy trilogy?”

He glanced at his laptop. “The one with vampires in the Spanish Inquisition?”

“Yeah!”

“Uh,I’m still on book one.”

Her smile twisted. “The bastards! I told them and I told them, but nooo, what do I know, I’m just the jumper. And now look what they’ve done. They’ve sent me back too far!” She kicked angrily at the wall.

“Hey. Hey! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Increasing urban decay!” She gave one last vicious kick, then slumped down on the floor in a puddle of shiny cloth. “And now this timeline is locked…”

Edwin, whose hand had been creeping for his phone, froze. “What do you mean, timeline? Where are you from?”

“From the future,” she wailed.

“And you’re here for…my novel?”

“Not just any novel. The last one! The completion of the most epic fantasy trilogy of the twenty-first century! Everyone wants to read it, but it can’t be found anywhere. There are no more existing copies in our time.”

Edwin winced. “Chances are good I didn’t even complete it.”

“Oh, but you did.” She sat up straighter, eyes shining with fervor. Or maybe that was just tears. “There are plenty of historical records and literary critiques from future times talking about the trilogy, so we know it exists. But things get lost over time, even if they shouldn’t. This was supposed to be my breakthrough,” she said, so softly now that it was more to herself than to Edwin. “I was going to retrieve your third book and show all those snotty techs that I’m not just a jump grunt. And all those chronologians going on and on about not altering past events…” She sniffed, just once, then scrambled to her feet. “Guess I’ll just have to go back empty-handed.”

She looked so mournful that Edwin found himself saying, “Just for the record, I’m really happy to meet a fan.” Even if it was for something he hadn’t even written yet. He held out his hand.

At least she managed something of a smile as she took it. “What can I say, I’m a big fan. I especially love how you start the whole thing off. ‘Famine starves at a feast for the mind…'”

Edwin frowned. “What are you talking about? That’s not how it starts.”

The woman froze mid-shake. She gave a nervous laugh. “Oh, of course not. What was I thinking? Silly me, always running around not knowing what I’m saying or doing. I mean, look at me, jumping back to the wrong time. Don’t mind what I–hey, what’s that?”

“What?” Edwin spun around. He saw nothing. Except for his novel open on his laptop, and as his brother liked to say, that was so close as to be nothing’s Siamese twin.

Faint wind touched the back of his neck. He turned. The woman was gone.

“Huh,” was all Edwin could manage.

A short while later–just long enough time for someone to reasonably spend searching a studio apartment to make sure no one had ducked behind the futon/couch or into the bathroom to hide–Edwin sat back down at his laptop and rested his hands on the keyboard. Thoughtfully, he stared at the scrawls of text filling the screen. Three years of labor, not to mention his family’s increasingly unsubtle mockery and three meals of instant ramen a day for the last six months.

He hit Delete. Then, elbow throbbing with pain, he began again.

salvage from the wreck of the dancing nebula

“Our first item on the block: a manual of engineering standards dating back to the Annamen Empire. Found in the Dancing Nebula‘s library. Hard copy, with some water damage on the edges, but otherwise good condition. A real collector’s piece, might even have some practical value. Opening bid, five dollars. Do I have five? How about ten? Fifteen, fifteen dollars, anyone? Going once, going twice, sold! to the gentleman in gray for ten dollars. Thank you sir, thank you.”

“Next item up for auction, a handheld railgun, found in the captain’s quarters. Comes with two spare batteries. No damage from exposure to space. Let’s open it up at thirty dollars. Thirty, I see thirty, thirty-five, oh–forty-five! How about fifty? Yes, fifty. Fifty-five? Sixty? Bid sitting at sixty, sixty dollars…going once, going twice, sold! to the lady with blue eyes for sixty dollars.”

“Let’s move right on to our next lot. A gold tiara belonging to the late Imperator Savannah the Third, set with thirty-three identical black diamonds, commissioned for her thirty-third birthday. Recovered from her stateroom. Shall we start at thirty dollars for this one too? Thirty? …How about twenty-five? Twenty-five, anyone? Twenty, how about twenty, and it’s a steal no matter who you’re talking to. Alright, fifteen, and it won’t go lower than that. I see fifteen, thank you. Fifteen, anyone else? Going once, going twice, sold! to the gentleman in red.”

“Our last lot here is a trunk of thirty-six standard meal fare protein packs. Recovered from the Dancing Nebula‘s galley, stasis seals intact. The trunk is commercial-grade aluminum, unmarked. We’ll start this at three hundred. Three hundred–four hundred–five–six–six hundred dollars–do we have seven–eight–nine, nine hundred going once–what–two thousand dollars, we’ve jumped two thousand dollars in five seconds. Two thousand dollars, ladies and gentlemen. Does anyone want to top–three thousand. Three thousand dollars for thirty-six meal packs. Anyone else? Thirty-six meal packs, feed your family for thirty-six weeks. Three thousand five, three thousand six. Three thousand six, anyone? Anyone at all? Going once, going twice, sold! for three thousand and six hundred dollars to the gentleman up front, what a steal. Ladies and gentlemen, someone gets to eat tonight.”