carving season (part 2)

On an island in a lake in a forest outside of town, there stands a stone that speaks only the truth. It won’t come right out and admit so, of course; you must coax it into doing so. For that, you’ll need cigarettes.

Put the cigarettes in your pocket and set out. Leave town, fighting your way through thickets to the lake. The lake is calm, clear as ice, every pebble rendered perfectly even through the shift in refracting mediums. The water chills, but not unpleasantly. You will get wet to the knees before you reach the island.

The island: not an island so much as a flattened tooth of dirt really, barren but for the stone. In the center of the stone is a hole. Here you feed in the cigarettes, pushing them in with your fingertips one by one until they vanish, swallowed up. They must be Marlboros, those cigarettes. Not Camels, not Lucky Strike. The bare dirt is littered with empty cartons of those who came before. Feed the entire carton, and then, at last, the stone will speak.

What do you want to hear? it asks.

Whatever you want to tell me, you reply.

So it tells you how your best friend slept with your wife, how your boss passed you over for a raise you should have earned. It speaks of smeared acts of pettiness and spiteful betrayals. It speaks in the enduring voice of all stones, and the words avalanche into your soul. And the worst truth of all, it says, you know everything I’m telling you. You knew it all before you set foot on this island, before you crossed the forest, before you went to drugstore and bought that packet, which thank you for very much, they are delicious. But really (and you know this), you didn’t need to buy them at all in the first place.

When at last the stone falls silent, give your thanks. It’s only polite. It won’t respond–it’s already said everything it needs to, and besides, those cigarettes will only get you so much.

Now it’s time to leave this place. Cross the lake. Exit the forest. Go back into town, and home. Do it all dry-eyed, and with a face and heart as hard as–well, you already know.

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carving season (part 1)

I saw a hollow woman the other day. Her insides had been scooped out, clean as a pumpkin, leaving behind a rind plastered with preservative serums and haunted by the prescience of wrinkles. With the sun behind her she transluced in a mottled patchwork that touched hands, arms, legs, but left face and neck unaffected.

Standing inert in the midst of a swirling crowd of tourists, she struck a pose and declaimed. “Halfway between the sun and the moon is the meeting spot for armistice deals. Mochas taste better with a touch of sea salt to make the contrast sweeter. Pennies are worthless, but the dollar can still buy you a good cheeseburger. The heat death of the universe emanates from televangelists.”

Her lips, her lips were the reddest lips I had ever seen, bright raw tuna sliced thick and full by a generous knife. Her smile jumped and wriggled, the fish still swimming in a pond.

seabed

global warming, incandescent, swallows oceans,
punishes innocents
blind-swimming in double-cupped handfuls.
salt scales crust earth
newly raw to light and sting in the open air.
seas, evaporated,
residual scarring:
the junction of thirst and bloat
puckering gravel beds to
suppurated seams, strained stitches, ruptured weaves.
net the shallows, haul up, and count.
there’s a bulge of bodies to triumph at,
never mind how cursory the trawl, how still they lie.
never mind how deliquesced the skin over meat still aquiver with pulse.

the wolf in red

I know I’m in for it the moment Red takes the stand. Gone are the low-cut red dresses she wear all the time (red, because she read psychology articles about how red is the color of passion and she wants men to notice her). She wears a demure cream gown that matches the meek, shy expression plastered on her face. She’s always been something of a babyface, and isn’t she just milking it now. Never mind the thousand and one pictures of her on Facebook that are just the opposite. Three bets which photo they’ll use for all the articles next morning.

She takes the stand, and she destroys me. Under the prosecutor’s inquiries, she says yes, she knew me. We had been friends since elementary school. Yes, she had been on her way to visit her grandmother at the Serene Woods Retirement Home. No, she hadn’t been scared to encounter me alone in the woods–why would she? We were friends. No, she hadn’t said yes.

The eyes of the jury chew me to bits.

I wish her grandmother were here. Her grandmother always liked me, said she wished I were her grandson. But her grandmother’s mind slipped years ago. She can’t even remember who the president is, much less me. Much less the last time her own granddaughter visited–a fact that Red’s been exploiting for years to slip out and run with her boyfriends.

The jury doesn’t take thirty minutes. When they hand down their sentence, she beams, tears welling in her eyes. She never once looks my way.
…..

So here I am now, sitting in the cement square that my world has been shrunk down to. I can sit, lay down, and walk. I can do push-ups, jump, and touch my toes.

I can’t run. I can never run, anywhere again.
…..

The other day I got a note from her. Unsigned, unstamped. It could have come from anyone. Seven little words, seared into my brain with the acid and venom that can be no one but Red.

That’s what you get for saying no.

It’s enough to make me howl with laughter. Her poor boyfriend, whoever he is now. She’ll eat him alive with her sweet, little-girl smile, her sleek red dresses, and her lies. Oh, the lies. What big lies you tell, Red.

haunted house

“It’s an ideal property,” Maxwell said over his shoulder as they proceeded down the hallway. “It belonged to my great-great-great-great-grandfather, God rest his soul, and you can see it’s been kept in top condition all this time. The floors and the banisters are all the original teak hardwood. Those chandeliers you see there are the original crystals.”

“What’s the neighborhood like?” the Morgaunte sister asked.

“Easygoing, friendly-like. There’s a cemetery down the end of the street that’s got some Civil War soldiers buried there. They tell the most fascinatin’ tales.”

The tour concluded in the sunroom, which had always been Maxwell’s favorite. Certaintly the Morgauntes, brother and sister, seemed to like it. The sister turned a slow circle, taking in the smoked glass that softened the room’s sunrise orientation. She pursed her lips. “Such a beautiful place…”

“It certainly is.”

“…so I have to ask. Why are you giving up residence?”

Ah. He’d been wondering when they’d get around to asking. “Part wanderlust, I suppose. I’ve been here for near a hundred and fifty years. Truth be told though, the main reason is the new owners. Not that there’s anythin’ wrong with them like that,” he added hastily, seeing the sister’s expression. “It’s just, the fellow that lived here before, he was a bachelor with no family. I got used to a quiet way of life. Then he passed on, and who should move in but a family with children. And not just any children–”

As if summoned, a toddler waddled into the sunroom and stopped dead. His mouth dropped open. “Ghost!” he screamed in delight, poking a sticky finger through Maxwell’s midriff. It felt like being doused in warm water. “Ghostses!” he screamed, catching sight of the Morgauntes. He continued screaming and jabbing Maxwell until his mother appeared and snatched him up. She didn’t so much as glance in their direction. The toddler’s screams bounced off the polished original teak long after he was out of sight.

The Morgauntes stared at the sunroom doorway, astonished. Maxwell rubbed his midriff. “A psychic child,” he finished, grimacing.

dead nights, up waiting

Your gifts for our marriage bed are
long-winding sheets woven from discourse,
words spun out into thread and spindled into sentences,
into whole mythologies of late-night deadlines
and beer out with the boys,
dyed for authenticity with under-eye bags and sleep-drugged slurring.
A flawless fabric, smooth as Egyptian cotton,
satiny on bare, cold, unfeeling skin.