Story 4 – Under The Influence of Agatha Christie

A diner is a terrible place for a murder. Cramped. Dirty. The air is already positively saturated with the smells of thin coffee and old grease so that when a quantity of blood is added to that mixture, it becomes very difficult indeed to breathe easily.

  I would not have chosen the diner, no, I would not have. But it turned out to be the best place for it. He adhered to such a rigid schedule, you know. At his office there was always security, at his home, the dogs. I suppose I could have dealt with the dogs but I have always been fond of animals, and while I admit to the charge of murder, I should not like to add cruelty to my list of sins. It seems much heavier, somehow.

  Because of course, he did need to be killed. I think you can all see that. You might hem and haw and turn to page ten in your bibles, look at me reproachfully and say, “Thou shalt not kill, Miss Dorsey.” And you’re very right to say so. Normally, one should not kill. But there are times, you see, when an antibiotic is required. Anti-life. It sounds dreadful, and it is dreadful to think of oneself as being an agent of anti-life. But it’s no good weeping and carrying on about killing the weeds in your garden, or the worms in your puppy, or the virus in your lungs, because death is required in order for life to flourish. It’s a hard thing to think about, especially now when we are all so distant from the farmyard and the deathbed. But if you will set aside for a moment your dreadful pink and blue nursery school morality, you will see that I am quite right.

  So, it had to be the diner. He takes that huge beastly car there on his way to work every morning, taking up quite three spots on Wafer St. (which is as thin as its name) It was there that I waited, with my chipped mug of coffee, both weak and bitter. Quite good eggs, though, and decent toast. Not really good, not like it used to be, but acceptable.

  I sat in the far corner from the door, facing the counter, my profile towards him when he came in. He was a rather stupid man, not very observant. Not one to remark profiles. Even though mine is very like my son’s. 

  Well, of course, he sat at the counter, where he always sits. He was very rude to the beautiful dark young man cooking because he didn’t drop his spatula and grovel immediately. He’s been going there for years and just doesn’t care to notice that the cooks don’t take orders from customers. He was just starting to yell when the nice red-haired waiter with the round face came up and poured a lot of soothing talk in his ear. He let himself be gradually soothed but you could tell he was enjoying making everyone around him nervous of his temper. A power play. He was truly vile. Yes, ma’am, you in the back. You’ve worked in service? Myself as well, we know the kind.

  So the waiter took his order and was fiddling with something at the drink dispenser, the cook was over the grill with his shoulders hunched like he was expecting to be hit. I have never worked a grill but I should not like to have my back to so many strangers all day.

  He spread his paper out and planted his elbows practically in the plates of the people beside him. And I just pushed my chair out, folded up my napkin and tucked some money under my plate, walked up behind him and cut his throat with Joe’s old straight razor.

  And it was actually rather good planning, you see, because the paper kept the blood from flying everywhere. I worry a bit about the nice boys who were working, especially the cook. It’s not good for sensitive people to see great quantities of blood. But the representative who came to visit me said they’d be getting therapy, so I hope they’ll be alright.

  He died quickly, but there was so much blood! I suppose it’s good they have tile floor there rather than wood, because it would have stained wood, but it pooled in a nasty way on the tile.

  After I was quite sure that he was dead, I walked out the door and sat down on the bench by the picture window. I just sat and looked at the clouds until the police came and arrested me, and booked me, or whatever you call it. They sent me a pubic defender but I can’t imagine he would have done a very good job. He would have lied to you, I’m afraid. He would have had to if he had any sense of duty in his work. He would have tried for an insanity plea, told you that I was out of my mind with grief and didn’t know what I was doing, which is nonsense. Or he might have tried for a guilty plea with extenuating circumstances, that it was revenge for my dear Joe, my beloved boy, and a mother avenging her child was almost akin to self defense. Which is also nonsense. Of course, I miss Joe terribly, and I should not have embarked on this path if he remained in this world. But more than anything, Joe’s death drew my attention to a wrinkle where the world should be smooth. I have endeavored to smooth it. I know that that is not what you’re supposed to say, and that telling the truth when you’re not supposed to is it’s own kind of insanity, but I was raised in an old fashioned way, and I have not forgotten what my dear mother used to tell me, even if the rest of the world has. It’s a sin to tell a lie.

Story 4 – Under The Influence of Agatha Christie

Story 3 – Written Under Self Imposed Duress

This is a tale of a cover band. But not just any cover band. A cover band who reached for heights undreamt of, who opened their calloused palms to receive a gift of the muse spurned by those around them. A gift that traditional halls of music cried out against. A cover band who didn’t let the shortsighted critics, the petty, puling masses or their own faithless families deter them from the truth. Harmony, phat beats, and God were their guiding star. They were The BeachGee Boys. And this is their story. 

“Hey, Sam.”

“What?”

“Heh, what-what if, listen. Shut up, dude, just listen. What if we did, like, a cover of Surfer Girl but had the track to No Sleep til Brooklyn behind it?”

“That’s stupid.”

“No, no, listen. We’d be….The Beachie Boys.”

“Woah.”
“Yeah.”

“But how would people know it was still Surfer Girl if it just sounds like No Sleep?”

“We keep the words and we do fuckin’ sick stacked harmonies but that go with No Sleep chords instead.”

“Dude, there’s like no melody to that song. I don’t even know if it has chords.”

“Of course it has chords, it’s a song, dude.”

“Um, not all songs have chords. Lime in the Coconut is one chord.”

“Seriously.”

“Dude, yes.”

“Fuuuck, man. Well, how do we do it, then?”

“DUDE. OH SHIT, DUDE.”

“What? What?”

“Dude, what if we add another band to the band mashup?”

“Why? Beachie Boys is perfect. You can’t ruin it with some other band, it’ll mess up the name. Man, don’t mess up my name, okay? It’s like the best one I’ve thought of in a really really long time and I need this right now. Clara left and Mom’s sick and, like, everything’s just so shitty, I just need this, okay?”

“Bro, I will not mess up the name. Listen. Are you ready?”

“Dude, what, just say it.”

“Are. You. Ready?”

“JUST SAY IT, SAM, FUCK.”

“The BeachGee Boys.”

“……….”

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT, BEACHGEE? THAT ISN’T EVEN A THING, IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE. THAT SOUNDS FUCKING STUPID, JESUS, SAM!”

“Mike, dude, it’s The Beach Boys and The Beastie Boys and The BeeGees!”

“Woah.”

Right?!

“Woah, okay. We could have a drum machine AND a real drummer! And Mike Leblanc who lives on the other side of Kroger has a killer falsetto, I bet he would be down. Actually, he would totally be down, his mom just got married again and he needs to get out of the house.”

“YES, YES! Dude, yes!”

“This is so sick.”

“So so sick.”

“Sick.”

Yes, there’s a lot of stars in the firmament, but I don’t know if one ever shone so brightly as…The BeachGee Boys.

Story 3 – Written Under Self Imposed Duress

Story 2 – Caffeine

Jitter jitter jitter jitter twitch twitch twitch. I didn’t think I’d have to hide for so long when I had that tea and then that coffee and then the second coffee this morning. It’s not having to pee that’s the bad part (though I do really have to pee) it’s that my eyes won’t stay still in my head. And the angle of the view of the street out the broken window is giving me vertigo. How can I watch that door when I can’t concentrate for three goddamn seconds together?

Whoo. Okay. Okay, I got this. Just gotta keep my knees still and then everything else will fall in line. Breathe in and out.

Beard Guy just opened the window and stuck his head out. He’s yelling to Bald Tattoo Man. Something about the eclipse? Or maybe clippers. He is bald after all. He must own clippers. Very important in maintaining that shiny headed kind of baldness. I wonder if he oils his head. I would oil my head if I were bald. I wonder what he oils it with.

CONCENTRATE.

Okay, Bald Man is going down the alley. Turning…left. Gone. Beard Guy’s gone back inside. If I were a bold person, I would make a break for it now, but I feel like my knees won’t hold me. I think I’ll trip over a pile of empty paint cans and twist my ankle and just be lying there like a dead beetle when all the cultists come for me.

See, this is the problem with urban exploring, it is very hazardous to the untrained. And not to be embarked upon on a whim by people who are bad at falling. Who had too much caffeine. And not enough breakfast. And need to pee. And can’t stop monologuing.

To be fair, it is excellent procrastination and avoidance. Why, I might have actually made it to the job interview if I hadn’t decided this place needed to be urbanely explored post haste. I might have gotten the job. Dodged that bullet, girl, good going.

Oop, Baldy’s back. With bagels. Oh. Oh God. I would sing in the streets for a bagel right now. Not to him, obviously. That would go poorly. I would definitely dropkick him for his bagels if I knew how to dropkick. (Mental note: learn how to do drop kicks.)

He’s…he’s going to throw the bagels in the window. To Beard. Huh. Well, I guess that adds to the sum of my knowledge. Their perimeter watch is fairly serious. Heh. Perimeter. Feel like I’m in a tv show.

You know, the whole reason I have a flip phone is its indestructible quality. When it falls onto hard surfaces, it is supposed to scoff at them, not to burst into ten unhandy pieces. The correct number is three unhandy pieces. That I put back together. Every time. Shameful. I’ll be sending a stern email if I don’t get sacrificed today. 

Guhhhh. I suppose I could pee in one of the paint cans. I wish I had some water. No, I wish I had a sandwich. No, I wish I was at home in bed wishing I was out doing something exciting.

Ope, something’s happening. Door’s opening. Please be the girl, please be the girl, please be the girl.

It’s another guy. New guy. Looks, wow, looks pretty psycho. I think he has tattoos on his eyelids. Oh, jeez, yes definitely has eyeballs tattooed on his eyelids. That is surprisingly gross. Ugh, veiny. Why would you tattoo the eyeball veins in?

He’s talking to Bald. Handwaving. Exclamations. Beard just stuck his head back out the window. He’s yelling. Mehn mehn mehn, not my fault, someone else’s fault, blehblehbleh. Eyelids is not having it. What wasn’t your fault? Come on, Beard, give me some nouns. FUCK YOU, BEARD, USE A GODDAMN NOUN.

Breathe. Breathing. Okay.

They’re missing something that’s supposed to be there, Beard possibly was supposed to get/have it. Bald is mad. Eyelids is mad. Beard is sulking. He just slammed the window down again.

Looks like Eyelids is leaving. They’re doing the secret handshake thing again. Yes, yes, dress up your human trafficking or whatever it is in a Masonic party dress, you fucking skin tags.

Oooh, wait, Bald is going with him. Shit. Shit. I think my time is now.

Wow. I do not want to do this. When they say heart in your mouth, it isn’t a metaphor. I can feel my pulse in my soft palate.

Okay, got my pile of bricks. Knees: mostly operational. Courage: definitely in there somewhere. Here we go.

Hahah! Damn that’s a pretty sound. That fucker EXPLODED. Here comes Beard running. He’s looking at the broken window. He found the brick. You ready, Beard? You ready for six years of softball pitching?

Um. Shit. That was harder than I thought. I think, I think he might be dead. I can’t breathe so well. Ahh.

No time. Got two bricks, I’m going for it.

Jumped the paint cans (good job, knees), avoided the rusty rebar pit trap. I guess I’m just going to drop from where the stairs were. I’ll drop the bricks first.

Owww. Shit. It’s okay, it’s okay, I can get a tetanus shot any old time if I move fast enough and get out of here. Got my bricks.

Okay, I’m in the street. Their door is locked. Madame Brick, would you care to do the honours? Why, thank you, I declare, that doorknob was positively bowled over by your charms. Crap, there’s a dead bolt too. Shitshitshitshit.

You know when they break down doors in tv shows? I think…that might not be accurate. Wow. You have to go at that sucker like you’re in a mosh pit.

Boom! Gotcha, ahaha, noooo problem!

Nobody in the first floor hall, excellent. Stairs, stairs, stairs. Stairs!

Oh. He’s definitely dead. That isn’t what I wanted. God, that isn’t what I wanted. I can’t do this.

Keep moving.

Empty room, empty room. Locked room. Beard’s gotta have the key, right?

Oh man. He’s so soft. Oh, people should not feel like this. Breast pocket, got it.

Dropped it. Fuck, dropped it again, I WILL NEVER DRINK COFFEE EVER AGAIN IF I GET OUT OF THIS OKAY.

Oh Jesus, she’s in here but she’s all tied up. No time no time no time.

I’m just going to carry her out, get her someplace safe or at the very least someplace public and then we can deal with the ropes.

She’s yelling into the gag, I’m taking her blindfold off.

This woman is pissed. Here we go, fireman’s carry. I’m sorry. I know. Please stop yelling at me.

Lift with the legs. Ooh shit. No, you got it. We got it.

Stairs. Stairs are hard.

Run run run, okay, out in the street, heavyyyyy, we’re going, we’re getting we are gone.

Story 2 – Caffeine

Story Day 1 – Extreme Whimsy

Hello friends! I’m writing a story every day (mostly). My only rules for myself is that it has to be more than a page and have some kind of hacked together ending. I’m usually large on atmosphere and dim on endings, so this is my training ground. I’ve gotten rid of some of my social media, so this is the place to roll around in my thoughts if that’s a thing you like. Now…..read on! For EXTREME WHIMSY.

 

 

Once upon a time there was a man. A little teeny wee tiny whiney man named Harold Gerald. He lived in a tree stump with a fox named Sir and a mysterious fungus who never did tell them its name. Harold Gerald and Sir had bunk beds inside the stump and the fungus just stayed right where it was, day or night, and thought its thoughts and dreamed its dreams. There was a clever little kitchen and washroom. A crevice on the outside of the stump that collected rain water had had a small hole drilled into its bottom by Harold Gerald and then plugged with a waxy leaf. When he needed water, he would simply shift the leaf and let the water run into the crevice directly beneath it, which would fill up nicely for drinking or washing or splashing Sir, or watering the fungus when it looked peakéd.

  For the stove, Harold Gerald had bored up at an angle through the outside of the stump and popped a piece of bamboo (liberated from the garden of the Wolsey’s, a modern couple determined to live a thoroughly modern life) through the resultant hole. He would light very small fires (the danger of their home burning down being very much in his mind) on a flat stone and cook tadpoles and bits of tuber and things on it. The bamboo drew the smoke out nicely and their home stayed snug and free of soot.

   For the lavatory, I shall not go into detail, this being a story for the sensitive and those not inclined to indulge in horror. Suffice it to say, it was out of doors. And it was rudimentary.

   Well, when Harold Gerald and Sir and the fungus had lived together a good long time, things began to rub along not quite so pleasantly as they had. The stump felt too small. Sir had that unfortunate oily rankness which he truly couldn’t help, being a wild fox. Perhaps if he had not in his heart of hearts been just a bit smug about his manly odor. But perhaps does not serve us, so we shall let it be. And the fungus was always in the way, anytime you turned around, there it was under your feet, stopping you from whittling or writing letters or just going about your day, blast the thing. Just sitting there, judging you for not being as whimsical and impenetrable as it was, for having some notion of what you wanted to get done, for having the temerity to plan. Hmph. I should like to see the fungus make us all lovely bunk beds, that’s all I have to say.

   And of course, Harold Gerald. I did not deceive you merely for the rhyme when I said he was whiney. For Harold Gerald had a permanent cold. When one cannot breathe through one’s nose, one surely cannot be upbraided if a hint of nasality sidles into the voice. And when one has had a cold for a very long time, perhaps some bitterness, some self-pity and resentment towards people who can breathe through their noses may begin to show itself in one’s character. Alas. We are creatures of clay after all, and it’s very unpleasant when our clay goes awry.

   For a while, Harold Gerald tried to be patient, to be a good stumpmate, polite and circumspect, dutiful with the dishes and diligent with the dirty laundry. But oh when he came home from a long day of tramping through the dew with a basket full of supper and a heart full of poetry and was greeted by MESS. It was more than he could bear. The sight of Sir and the fungus sprawling debauched in acorn crumbs and empty ginger ale bottles, with his good linen dragged of his bed to be used as a pillow and his lovely trivet from his Nanny propping up the intoxicated and intrusive squirrel from next door, well, it lit a fire in his breast.

   “No more!” he cried. “Out! Out, I say! Yes, we’ve all been friends for years and I love you both dearly, but I cannot bear this any longer. Morning and night, I work and I try to give us a nice home and you! You give nothing! You only take! You are blind to my efforts and in your blindness you spoil them again and again! It is infamous and IT IS OVER!”

   And did they apologize? Did they recognize the error of their ways? No. For they had not learned to take the time to feel things, to let them boil as they will and wait patiently until the fire’s gone out of them and you can have a good look at what’s left behind. They drew haughtiness over themselves like a cloak to cover the shock of wounded feelings and they FLOUNCED from the stump. Well, Sir and the squirrel flounced. Squirrels are excellent flouncers, I don’t know if you knew. Try and picture it now. Isn’t it wonderful to behold?

The fungus, of course, couldn’t flounce, but over the following weeks it somehow drifted from inside to outside, moving unseen, and turned its spotted cap away from the little front door so that it should not perceive certain people coming and going.

   Leaving Harold Gerald all alone in the stump with the bunk beds and the clever kitchen and the bamboo chimney. Did he weep bitter tears? Did he feel deeply the loss of companionship and camaraderie? Did he lay awake at night and think with regret of the emptiness of the other bunk?

No.

  He had a wonderful time. He got up when he pleased, went to sleep when he pleased, made elaborate, if minuscule, meals for himself and played the kalimba incessantly, an activity which had been frowned upon by individuals we won’t name. He wrote reams of poetry and turned some of them into songs (accompanied by the kalimba). He thought new thoughts and he remembered all his dreams when he woke. He was happy.

   About a month went by, or moon to moon as they call it in that particular wood. And one cold night when the wind sent the mist right up your nose and the smell of the forest and the rotting leaves made you long for something you could never quite get hold of, Sir (and the squirrel, whom he had moved in with) came a-knocking. You see, they had finally had time to feel their feelings. And when the shock and pain and pride had ended and flowed away, they had left small hard embers of shame in their wake. They had said to themselves, after all, why should we appreciate Harold Gerald, when he is so dreadfully whiney? He is lucky to have friends like us, dashing fellows who tolerate his odd ways. But that line of talk made the embers of shame flare up dreadfully and give them pains in the chest. And when nothing would douse the embers, they dragged on their overcoats (a fox in an overcoat is a sight to see, because tailors always get the sleeves wrong) and made their way through the dark night to the stump.

   Harold Gerald heard the knock and paused in his kalimba concerto (he really had been incredibly inspired). He pushed back his stool and made his way carefully to the door.

   Sir had prepared a lot of fine speeches, none of them admitting much fault, all of them skirting the event that caused the rift, but when the door creaked open and he saw the kindly lamplight shining on the dear wizened face of Harold Gerald, all thoughts of fault or dignity or even hope of returning flew out of his head and he began to cry. Lots of small tears falling very fast, not in the least picturesque. His black nose ran and he opened his long snout and wailed. The squirrel, being very easily led in all things (which is, of course, why he had run into trouble with the drink), began to cry with him. His high piping sobs were a piccolo counterpoint to Sir’s violin bawling.

  Harold Gerald took him by the shoulder and led him inside. No one was looking, there being rather a lot of excitement and action right at the moment, but the fungus oozed quietly in the door as well. Harold Gerald made three cups of tea and from the good blue tin he took three of the nice cakes while Sir and the squirrel (his name was Phyllis, but I don’t suppose that matters very much at this point) got all their crying out. He placed a cup of tea and a cake before each of them and they both began to eat and drink through their tears, which makes very odd sounds if you’ve heard it, but is exceedingly comforting to do, especially when the food seems to come with the prospect of forgiveness from a wronged party.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Sir.

“Me too,” peeped the squirrel.

The fungus swayed a bit and its cap looked decidedly contrite.

Harold Gerald looked around at them. His silly flawed friends. His heart overflowed.

“I forgive you,” he said with the kindest smile in the world, “and you can’t move back in.”

  So Sir and the squirrel set up permanent quarters together and got on very well indeed, both of them being chatty and needing someone else to chat with. And the fungus began a curious nomadic sort of life, going from tree to tree and visiting its cousins and its clones to see how they were getting on. And Harold Gerald kept the bottom bunk clean and sweet with lavender for the nights when the ginger ale and the acorns came out, and all his friends came to sing and laugh and while away the night to the strains of the kalimba.

Story Day 1 – Extreme Whimsy

Socialization

I’ve been having these headaches. Over the years but getting more frequent now, last months, last weeks, more and more frequent. Tension headaches? Mineral deficiency? Social media based stress? Mine, after all, is a pretty nice life. That might be a part of the problem. Denying grief or ill-feeling, “I have no right to complain,” right, but acknowledging suffering or pain in yourself isn’t complaining. How do you let it go when you won’t admit it’s there? When you’re not supposed to admit it’s there? When you believe so deeply, in spite of all your good learnin’ and your positive yet funny yet nihilistic yet hopeful memes about self care and tough love and soft hands and open heart and pop culture puns, that to feel poorly, inside, outside, is to have failed. When that’s the prevailing message. Even the people admitting they aren’t okay (and gosh, a lot of them are coming out of the woodwork) have to do it in a funny way to be successful. Professionally successful, socially successful.

So. I have these headaches. Today it won’t go away. I got a massage, a fine and healing massage and afterwards the headache just flooded over me. Poor backbrain, child brain, still learning, still wondering after all this time, trying to match up experiential evidence to determine if we don’t get punished for trying to fix ourselves, for trying to not hurt.

Came home and ate (I do not want to eat. Summer is hard for that. I forget how valuable appetite is until it goes away). Headache. Stretches. Ow. TV. Ow. Dishes? Ow. Cat petting? Lovely but still, ow ow ow.

So, if you know me in person, you know that I have large breasts. I’m an E. I’ve hated them since the day they showed up (it felt like overnight) when I was eleven. Not fair, not fair. Yesterday I was a person, today I am a target, a target inhibited by its own bullseye, less able to run, less able to fight those now determined to hunt me. Cannot wear the same clothes, cannot make the same jokes, cannot walk all easy through my neighborhood. Lessons down the living room, if she will not stop sneaking out her window to wander through the night, and we have tried to stop her, by God she will learn to walk like a predator, like a man.

I liked that part. Big arms, chin out, tuck your tailbone and keep your hips stiff, let your torso sway like a ship. Smell like violence.

But somewhere along the way, I lost that smell. I started to want people to like me. I started to be afraid. I think the two go hand in hand.

If you want people to like you, you are already preparing to edit yourself. The desire erodes. Not everybody. Some people are protected by their own natures. But many kids, weird and happy and excited and embarrassing, are ready-made to have the legs cut out from under them.

What was I talking about? Breasts. I’m standing in my empty house (an empty house and a solo car trip are the only places I know where I can really figure things out), hurting hurting ow ow, and I think of my corset. My fine plain sturdy corset that was made for me by a friend of a friend for just this occasion. Because, you see, with a boned corset laced not very tight, the weight of my breasts is supported by my hips, rather than neck and shoulders and pectorals. And o don’t they tell me about it when I’ve spent ten minutes twisting and craning (with the headache, ow ow, don’t move like that. but I must, dear, to reach relief) to lace the damn thing up. And then. Spasms. But they’re great, I love my spasms, thank you and please come again. They are a release. They are being let up for air. But. The headache isn’t gone. I lie on the hallway floor and cry for awhile (you see, I really do need to live alone in order to process things, if I can’t perch on the back of my couch like a vulture and such, I’ll never be able to figure out why I turned out like I did) and the headache stays. There’s a firm auntie in my head telling me to get up and do something about this, stop making quicksand in your head and take a stand. Is she a wicked auntie? An obsessive punishing voice? I cannot tell. I get up and put on shoes, trap the cat and walk to a cafe. Caffeine can put a headache to rest better than anything I know. But I experience some relief before I get there. As I walk, I am noticing that even though my breasts are thoroughly supported, I am clenching my pectorals. Hard. And as I gently(ish) watch them, it comes to me that I am always doing this, that this is just the way my body feels. It’s not necessary, it’s just something I do. So why do I do it? Well.

Since I am practicing relaxing them, it is much easier to notice that every time another person passes me, on foot or in a car, and it seems like they’re looking at me, the pecs instantly clench. I keep watching and keep relaxing them. Over and over again. And I have enough interactions that I begin to see that my physical reaction to wanting someone to like me/not think I’m weird (good luck for a crying woman in a sensible corset) and my physical reaction to anticipating a catcall/harassment are exactly the same. It breaks my heart just to fucking write that.

Defense. My pecs are running defense for a tender and enthusiastic heart that is still in shock from adolescence and the utterly pointless cruelty of other people testing their power out on a new player. And some of the power plays they had to defend me from were (are) sexual. A lot of interactions in my life have had a sexual bent because I happen to be formed the way I am. To defend both from the shocked glares of little old ladies and Christian families in supermarkets (13, didn’t wear a bra to go buy pickle chips) and from the aggression of adult men, in cars, at the bus stop, waiting in line, at a museum, trying to cross the street, playing hopscotch, running, jumping jacks, jump rope, dancing, moving, breathing heavily. I wonder if I don’t do sports the way I used to because of that. You can always feel the eyes on you.

So. I’ve been trying to clench myself into safety for 17 years. Trying not to let my breasts move too much, trying to be a good girl, because my body yells to the world that I’m not. And I’m not safe. I won’t ever be safe from either criticism or being harassed, because it actually has nothing to do with me! It’s about them! This cringing coin of like me/don’t hurt me is a false currency that buys you nothing but self suppression. They will never give you that ice cream cone, tell you you’re finally a good girl. You will never be more than your body (whatever its shape, and I know mine is not the only shape that gets tormented) to them, because they do not care to see you. You are a flat character in an index of prey to them. So let it go, let your chest relax, and your butt, let that pleasant half smile fall off your face into the garbage where it belongs. Sit and frown horribly at the trees in your corset and your tear tracks and your dirty neck and nobody, nobody has to like you. And that’s enough for today.

Socialization

No. Yes?

It has been drawn to my attention that I say no. The people who commented on it seemed to think that this was a negative quality. Well, of course it is, inherently negative. A negative. In the negative. At least my blood is positive.

I don’t want to be a smug nasty little person. That person who’s all over the internet using their big words and their tragic English degree to stick knives in the earnestness and joy of others. I don’t want to enchain the hope and flight of the people on my road. But I don’t know if it’s for me. Hope is a terrible luxury. Flight is so dangerous these days, you know.

In my, admittedly, limited experience, those who say ‘don’t live in regret,’ are people who failed to do, rather than exceeded their quota. They are pinched by the no ringing out of their past, rather than scarred by the yesses. I said yes too much, too big, and I’ve been licking my wounds ever since. Do I sound defensive? Good. I feel defensive.

Here is what I have learned. Here is what I must remember. No is vital. No is safety. No is survival. No is love for self. But it cannot live on its own. No is the courtier of yes. No works so that yes can sing. No fights so that yes can laugh. They must hold hands, brothers, lovers, bouncing together through the riptide of life.

I pray for hope, when I pray. I do not pray to be happy. It feels petty, greedy, foolish in a way that praying for my cat or my garden or for those bumps to not be poison ivy don’t. Oh, the Calvinist buried in my belly, she does love to tug my ankles and pull me over. Her and her scattered spendthrift sister, whose name I do not know but I will call Reaction, eyes wide and mouth full of pastry and cream and noise, jewels she bought on credit dripping from her fingers, vegetables she grew so tenderly rotting in the fridge.

The Calvinist is a sickened no. Reaction is a sickened yes. Always pulling on each other, always in battle, never asking, never reaching to each other, never touching or resting. Ascendance or coma. “Does not play well with others,” oh yes, I remember that one.

What do I do with these? With my yes and no, my unreasonable daughters who tumble into my bed in the middle of the night screaming their distress. Punishment? Restraint? The scales tip as I clean at one in the morning, or sit under the moon refusing myself water for hours, or close and lock the doors against the daylight. How about indulgence? “Self-care,” or “I deserve it.” Back the other way, with food I don’t taste, clothes I don’t wear, makeup and clay masks that burn my skin, tears that produce no action and midnight meals with no-one to eat them.

I really don’t know. This one doesn’t end with a pat answer, me posing a question like a teacher who, goddammit, doesn’t want you to think for yourself, he has the REAL answer written down already and anyway, his eraser is missing.

I guess you just keep going and pay attention. Try to remember. Write it down so you can go back and look when you forget. Be kind to your foolish daughters, who haven’t figured out yet that they can build a bower together to house the both of them in comfort. Compartmentalize and anthropomorphize. Look at the trees blowing around and think about what a tremendous little speck of nothing you are, just a momentary thing, just a shape in the clouds, isn’t she beautiful, just like a face, isn’t she wonderful?

No. Yes?

A Letter to the Rider’s Conference

I read this tonight at an artist’s gathering. My thanks to Karen Kunkel and all the other performers.

 

 

My dearest,

I have chosen to write this in epistolary form to you, my best beloved, flower of my heart. Perhaps you are thinking to yourself, “She does not mean me. Not me, here, on this chair, on this couch, hiding in the shadows, light strong on my face. She means some vague and amorphous you.” No. I mean you. You with your skin mites and bacterial suites and arrogance and anxiety. All your organs burbling away. All your desires and problems rattling around in your brain. Because you are specific. We are all made after a template, yes, but you are unique. You complete the universe. Not solely, but uniquely. This isn’t one of those secondhand Goodwill universes with bits missing so you can never build the mousetrap without the whole thing falling to pieces.

If this idea is to hold, then that means that I, too, am integral to existence. And this is where I struggle. Not with the idea that I have value, I was too fortunate in parents for that, but in what my role is. What my place is. If it’s even true that I have one, or that one is necessary.

I grew up with King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. I grew up with many stories of different sorts of knights, be they men or women or dragonish, canny children or tired old ladies, they were bound into one form by the transforming nature of The Quest. Indeed, there were so many of these stories that I quite naturally assumed that this was the order of things and that in my due time I would receive my own quest, set off into the world with sword and self, and life would unfold pleasantly and easily in prescribed story format. I waited. For many many years, I waited for my quest to make itself known. I egged it along where I could, climbing out of my window at night all through my adolescence and walking to the wildest places I could find in urban Minneapolis to stare, frustrated, at the sky, waiting for something supernatural to snatch me. I did homemade spells with spit and hair and blood under the swings by the soccer field after dark, trying to bring my will to bear on destiny. I tailed strangers, other night people, for as many blocks as I could, testing, waiting, maybe this one, maybe this one, maybe this one will start it, will spark the story. What I got were some freaked out dog walkers, a lot of colds and a taste for being alone. Well, what I got was bitterness and deep betrayal. Life was not as I had been lead to believe. There was no cohesion, no unifying principle. There were no proper monsters, only people so cold and dull and unimaginative that they became evil for money. My heart broke, quietly, over a period of years.

Well, if life would not hand me an adventure, I would manufacture one. When I was sixteen, I went to live in France as an exchange student for a year. All my fierceness and watchfulness brought to bear on a new situation, a foreign country, surely stuffed with surprise and wonder, magic and danger. Alas. I learned, more than I had ever wanted to, about what petty power does to decent people. I learned that middle class values are surely based on fear whatever country you end up in. I learned that the heat and energy I felt in my blood and my breath back home, that I had climbed out my window all those nights to find an answer to, only wanted an outlet. That the night walks met and soothed those feelings on their own terms, without squishing them or judging them. But night walks are not permitted to decent people. I learned that quiet plain folks do not want surprise and glory disrupting their tidy lives. I broke in several more places. 

I had wanted this thing so badly, you see. I was embarrassed once, or perhaps I was so intensely private that to speak of my desire was to hurt myself, which is almost the same thing as embarrassment. I wanted beautiful strangers to come to me and say, we need you. You are the hero. You must help us. You must save us. We will bring you to our faerie country, where rules are upside down, and the wonder of it will feel like fire and you’ll win the day and we’ll have a feast and it will all work out perfectly because you’re Elizabeth and that is your destiny.

It was the demise of this dream that dropped me on the shores of adulthood, alongside a brand new panic disorder and the onset of mental illness.

When you are a teenager becoming an adult and suddenly everything feels different, dull and spiky at once, it does not occur to you that it might be mental illness. You just think this is what adulthood feels like. You think all adults feel this and that is why the world is as it is, that is why everyone is so sad and bad and wicked. You begin to understand brawlers and alcoholics and serial killers, because who would not do any mad thing they can think of to get a rest from this feeling.

I spent eight years in that place. I drank a lot. I meditated a lot. I prayed a lot. I learned slowly that, though they were beneficial, the meditation and praying were being used by a hard faced little ringmaster in my head. I had obsessive compulsive disorder and that was why sometimes praying could lead to starving, or sleeplessness, or nesting in a cliffside motel room with my two cats and no money and pacing and pacing. I learned that drinking was a not unreasonable response to this cycle. If the only way that you can switch your hyperaware binary moral sense of your self from 0(BAD) to 1(GOOD) is by blindly following a vaguely felt path of perfect choices, and that same broken sense resets you to 0(BAD) after each one of these choices, why then drinking seems downright sunny in comparison.

I had lost my wildness in madness. I was afraid now all the time. Afraid of making the wrong choice. Afraid of going right when I should be going left, literally. I flipped coins while I was driving so the onus of the next wrong decision (it was impossible that they not be wrong) would land on the coin and be diverted from me. Fear will pull you inside out. Or maybe not. Maybe fear makes caves in you, pits, that you fill up with everything bad or unexpected that might happen. You crawl in after them, huddle up to them. They keep you warm, don’t they.

That driving fear left me in a lot of weird places. A lot of motels. A lot of parking lots. Beaches. Driveways. Rest stops. Circling cities, afraid to roost anywhere. Throwing the I Ching in truck stop bathrooms. Crying in Applebees. Ahh, Applebees. In a way, this period was an antidote to my early desperate rejection of bourgeois life. When you are coming from a technicolor hell of self abuse, Applebees seems like paradise. An oasis of order and kindness and maternal ladies bringing you coffee and asking you if you’re okay. I had to stop hating under the onslaught of casual, effortless love from these women, almost always women, who might not even name what they were doing as love, just keeping their body and soul together and by unthinking generosity with their hands and eyes and time, mine too. Diners are still my refuge.

I’ve been coming out of those pits for a while now. The last couple of years. Popping my head out like a gopher and staring around suspiciously, but all I see is sky. Spending more time under that sky. I’m some better. I am not compelled with as much strength or as much frequency. I know now that you do not give an inch to those thoughts or they flood you, they own you. I do not drink myself to sleep. I rarely pray until I choke. But I am perplexed by the same problem of my childhood. The problem of my story.

I have told you a story of my life. I have pummeled chaotic chronological events into a narrative. But it irks me, it IRKS ME I TELL YOU, that I have to be the one to do that. That I cannot float down the concrete lined lazy river of an external narrative delivered to my address for me expressly. O no, o no. I just realised that’s what country music is about. That’s an attainable narrative. Having a truck and marrying someone from your high school, they just took the thing that was already there and poured syrup and arpeggios over it. Ah God. Huh. I wonder if the Knights of the Round Table were a boring/horrible narrative that was already there that got syrup poured over it. Dang. Conned by history.

So maybe there was never that kind of a path laid out for me. Or if there is and I’m on it, I won’t be able to see its shape until it’s over, like any proper story. Am I acquiring skills right now? Have the last thirty years just been a training montage? No. I won’t collapse myself into that format, because it robs me. Trying to tell myself to you as a story robs both of us. Because what I am, and what I think most of us are, is a flavour. Or a tint, if you’re more visually minded. There are so many things in our lives that try and get us to conform, to consolidate, to make our flavour be just salty or just sweet, to make our tint be just blue or just yellow. But we aren’t. We are complex. We’re massive. We are unending. We have motifs, to be sure, but our whole life is an evolution of our flavour, not a repetition. There’s an incredible density to every moment, that wants to be experienced by us, in all our variety. From this perspective, trying to induce a particular event chain is, well, it’s not silly exactly but it’s not really necessary. Because each event, whether we want it to or not, solidifies us. Makes us more ourselves. People fight against that, for popularity? Or something? For fear of who they are, maybe. Systems try to prevent it, because systems want interchangeable pieces. You are not interchangeable. You are only you. And I pray you become as rich and as vivid and as uncompromisingly yourself as you can possibly be. I pray that for myself. I pray that for all of us.

I hope it’s warm where you are. I hope you’re okay, or wonderful, or miserable but in an interesting way. I hope we see each other soon. Take care.

Sincerely

Elizabeth

A Letter to the Rider’s Conference